Voices

Homeward bound

Public-school advocates cannot compete, so they try to control alternatives

Issue: "Faith-based campaigning," Jan. 27, 2007

It always amazes me how quickly someone with a liberal, open-minded, no-absolutes, loosey-goosey, tolerant mindset is able to move on to try to take total control. And especially so in the field of educating our children.

It happened again this month in a PBS television segment on homeschooling in America-which in some respects was remarkably fair and accurate (if quite limited) in its portrayal of a movement that now involves somewhere between 1 million and 2 million children in America.

But that portrayal was bracketed between two ominous references. Even in his brief 66-word opener, anchor Bob Abernethy made a point of serving notice that "in some states there is very little or no government oversight of what the kids are learning-which is just the way most homeschool parents want it." Just why it was important to kick off the description of the movement with that sort of jab was hardly clear.

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Things got clearer, though, when the program got toward its final minutes. The evidence until then seemed pretty positive. But now, interviewer Lucky Severson brings on Professor Robert Reich from Stanford University, who from his lofty academic perch worries that the state might find itself shortchanged in its "interest in knowing that children are growing up to become well-rounded public citizens."

"If parents can control every aspect of a kid's education," the professor frets, "shield them from exposure to the things that the parents deem sinful or objectionable, screen in only the things which accord to their convictions-and not allow them exposure to the world of a democracy-will the children grow up then basically in the image of their parents, servile to their own parents' beliefs?"

Then the professor shows how generous and liberal-minded he is, by adding that "I'm not anti-homeschooling in the sense that I want to see homeschooling banned. I just want good regulations to apply to those parents who choose to homeschool." That's all. Reich says that without some kind of regulation, the states won't have any way of knowing who is being homeschooled, how well they are doing, and who is not being schooled at all.

The idea, to be sure, is to have those regulations drawn up by the people who are already setting such a high standard for education for the nation at large-the state departments of education, the federal government, and the National Education Association.

To its credit, PBS gave the final word in that particular program to Bruce Shortt, an attorney, a homeschooler, and an activist in a movement to encourage Christians to leave state schools. "I think it's ironic," Shortt responded, "that someone with an obviously authoritarian agenda is attempting to lecture others. Unfortunately, education seems to be one of those areas in which the failures astonishingly insist on trying to regulate the successful."

After the program, Shortt told WORLD: "Reich's attack is fundamentally ideological. He is clearly a collectivist who, like his fellow travelers in the universities, is seeking complete cultural hegemony. What he is really objecting to is not the ineffectiveness of homeschooling, but its effectiveness. A homeschooled child is effectively a child outside the grasp of the state and, therefore, outside the grasp of those who control the state's educational institutions. He fears that these children will have a worldview of which he disapproves and that he finds threatening. That is what drives Reich. His real concern is not 'ethical autonomy' or the welfare of children in any conventional sense; it is ideological control. Frankly, his ostensible arguments are so weak that it is difficult to view them as any other than a smokescreen for his ideological and cultural agenda."

That which is true of such efforts to control homeschoolers is just as true of those who would impose rigid state control on private and parochial schools. The evidence is in-and no one truly worries anymore about the educational prowess of such efforts. Graduates of these schools, like homeschooling graduates, tend to excel wherever they go. And that's precisely what people like Prof. Reich are so worried about.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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