Who Decides? Part 1
A Reprint from my other blog experiment
Originally Posted 1/18/2007
Just last week the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program on PBS had a segment on homeschooling. As you might expect from that paragon of not-being-Leftist-no-matter-what-content-we-actually-show called PBS, it was terribly narrow in its focus, skewing the presentation into a very anti-homeschooling stance.
As usual, the focus of the report by the mainstream media was on two areas – 1) they’re crazy! And, 2) they are making their kids crazy, too! No matter how many homeschooled kids are Liberal and go to Evergreen State College (a rookery for the far Left), no matter how many homeschool magazines and blogs discuss evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology so that parents can discuss it with and teach it to their homeschooled kids, no mater how many homeschooling parents have a degree in biology or are professionals in fields such as Cell and Developmental Biology, and no matter how many homeschooled kids go on to be accepted at a major university to study biology, the money quote for any, and I mean any, mainstream media discussion of homeschooling is where a parent avows “we don’t teach evolution” and at least one child chimes in with “I don’t believe evolution”.
This is obviously meant to paint homeschooling in a negative light.
The program also refers to homeschoolers’ higher performance in reading, math, college GPA, SAT and ACT scores, but quotes Prof. Reich of Stanford (a professor of Political Science and Education) as, well, dismissing them. I was intrigued by this, did some research, and spoke with Prof. Reich via phone. Mr. Reich was very generous with his time and opinions, especially since I caught him with an unsolicited phone call on a national holiday. In short, I believe that this particular article and several others I have found that quote Mr. Reich do a poor job of explaining his objections.
In the almost 20 minutes that we spoke, Mr. Reich explained that he felt that current measures of homeschoolers’ performance are lacking for a simple reason – we don’t know how many kids are homeschooled. Therefore, we have no real idea what percentage take the ACT, go to college, etc. He even rejects the fact that homeschoolers perform substantially better on the ACT over traditionally schooled students because we have no idea what percentage of homeschoolers take the test – although he did admit that the self-selection to skew the results so much would need to be severe.
Personally, I find this a bit tough to swallow. After all, the ACT is administered to more than 50% of high school graduates in only 25 states, meaning that the ACT average for traditionally educated students is heavily self-selected, too. If the SAT or ACT was a universally-administered test for traditionally-educated students, but not for homeschoolers, he might have a point. As it is, he seems to accept the self-selected ACT scores for one group and to dismiss the self-selected scores of the other.
He went on to state that most information about homeschooling is anecdotal; that for every ‘a homeschooler won the national spelling bee’ story there is an ‘a homeschooler was kept at home to hide abuse’ story, and neither type of tale really told the entire story. He wants, he says, comprehensive data on all homeschoolers, akin to a drivers license for drivers.
With just a touch of prompting he elaborated that his true concern is that some homeschooled kids will grow up so isolated from outside influences that they will be unable to interact with other citizens with different beliefs which is, he states, a problem. In a pluralistic society like the modern world, I would tend to agree that such person could be a problem. When I asked if he knew of any homeschooled people with such narrow outlooks, he admitted he only really knew of… anecdotes.
During our discussion he was adamant that he felt parents have a right to pass on their own beliefs to their children, but was worried that they would not make their children aware of alternatives. At the end, I asked if a fair summary of his concern is,
“Who determines what homeschooled children are taught?”
He demurred, stating he felt a better summary would be.
“Parents should not have unchecked authority over their children’s education, nor should the government.”
Since I did catch him with a surprise call and a pop quiz, I will gently point out that he probably did not realize that his position is, indeed, a discussion of who determines what homeschooled children are taught.
Indeed, in my experience the entire debate about homeschooling always gets down to that bedrock question – who has the authority to determine how children are educated and what they learn?