Lulu, my buddy in the blogosphere, recently did a post about the crazyChristian home schooling Duggar family. Her post made me laugh, and the Duggars gave me ammunition for an argument I frequently make about both home schooling and private schooling: they should be illegal.
Students belong in public school regardless of their parents’ political or religious beliefs. The mission of public schools is to educate citizens for participation in democracy, or at least that's what Jefferson said. The mission of home schools -- and to a somewhat lesser extent private schools -- is to insulate children from the other so that they don't stray too far from their parents' values. If the motto of public education is "Question Authority!," the motto of home and private education is "think as I think."
Democracy does not work with a citizenry that's unwilling to question authority. In fact, questioning authority is at the very heart of democracy. If parents are permitted to teach their children at home or to send their kids to schools that discourage students from questioning authority or thinking for themselves, democracy suffers.
When I taught Government, I used to post what I called a "better world tip of the week," a thing that, if everyone did it, the world would be a better place. Occasionally it would be 7:15 on a Monday morning and I wouldn't be able to think of one and the kids would be coming into the classroom and I would just write "Question Authority!" on the chalkboard. Again. "Can we question your authority?," my kids would always ask. "Go crazy," I'd respond, "question yourself silly." And they'd question my authority all week long. It was great. I like to think that a lot of those kids are out there somewhere, grown up and questioning authority (but in a nice way).
Can you picture the Duggars conducting morning lessons in the face of "Question Authority!"? Can you conceive of how they might explain to their 16 kids, while the chalkboard shouts "Question Authority!", that homosexuality is something for which its practioners will eventually burn in hell? Try instilling the message that women should be subservient to men with "Question Authority!" looming over your shoulder. Imagine arguing that the president is always right and that real patriots don't ask questions while the ghost of Jefferson flits about, whispering, "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."
Indoctrination (or, as the Duggars call it, "training") is not education. And accepting what other people tell you without thinking about it yourself first is not learning. I have a quotation posted in my classroom: "Teach the young people how to think, not what to think." (I can't remember who said it, nor can I find it through Google.) Public schools, although they sometimes fail at the task, at least attempt to teach kids how to think, while home and private schools are largely focused on making sure they transmit what to think.
It was through public school that I learned there were points of view other than those of my parents. Public school teachers invited me to consider whether the US was justified in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whether Atticus Finch should have represented that black guy, whether Bill Clinton would be a better president than George Bush (part one), and whether the Rolling Stones rocked more than the Beatles. It was in public school that I discovered both Ayn Rand and Karl Marx, and through public school that I decided I love a radical named Thomas Jefferson best.
In short, public school changed me. It made me better than I would have been otherwise. Not because I abandoned my parents' conservatism (although that is a bonus), but because I learned to think for myself. My sister attended almost all the same public schools that I did and also learned to think for herself. It just happens that she thinks like my parents.
I'm aware that public schools are not without their problems, and that some private schools -- especially in urban areas like my own -- are a lot more academically rigorous. But one of the purposes of education is for people to learn tolerance and acceptance. I’m not sure how one learns to tolerate differences in religion, culture, or ideas if one never has to examine those differences. If I shielded her eyes every time my (hypothetical) child encountered something that was contrary to my own beliefs, how in the world would my child ever learn to get along in a world full of differences? And are my beliefs so lame that I have to make sure they're not challenged?
Plus, don't you feel sorry for these kids? They seem like nice kids, right? Kids who deserve to grow up normal. Send them to school, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!