There is a common stereotype that home-schooled children are maladjusted freaks who have lived a life so sheltered that they are incapable of functioning in society.
This conception, of course, is not without a basis in fact. I have seen firsthand that children schooled at home — when home is out in the middle of the forest away from anything resembling civilization — can be totally unfamiliar with such common concepts as keeping a schedule or having deadlines.
In spite of these problems, more and more parents are choosing to educate their children themselves within the confines of the home. Before we brand such parents power-mongers or fundamentalist whackos, it would behoove us to look at the potential benefits of home schooling and the particular difficulties presented by the modern educational system.
First of all, home schooling should not be dismissed as unnatural. The desire to educate one’s child springs from a proper understanding of the parent-child relationship. Nothing seems particularly weird about a parent teaching a young child to read or write prior to kindergarten, so for those parents who can, it is completely sensible to continue teaching in this way throughout the child’s school-age years.
Historically, parents have been primary educators for children in virtually all societies. If anything, removing a 6- or 7-year-old child from the home for seven hours, throwing him in with 25 other kids, and having them all taught by a complete stranger is the anomaly in need of explanation.
It was once a radical argument when, in “The Republic,” Plato spoke of raising the children in common. Yet this has become the norm in America today.
The essence of the modern educational establishment is plurality. The dominant criticism of home schooling is that parents betray that plurality by trying to shelter and control their children.
A student in the modern American school system has a plethora of authority figures with whom to contend. In addition to his parents, a child encounters several teachers, perhaps a principal or other administrator, and pressure exerted by the multitude of classmates. Each of these has a particular pull on the child, and presumably each believes different things to be best for him.
As a society, we should and do encourage — or at least appreciate — a pluralistic environment for our adults. But I am more than slightly skeptical about the value of this plurality for a young child.
While the educational system does present many possibilities for the child, providing options of what to believe and tools for making inquiries and decisions about these options, it seems that our system does little to instruct the child how to believe.
Children must be taught many things: how to read, how to write, mathematics, history, and so on. It seems equally clear that children must be taught how to believe in something.
To truly believe something entails more than taking a given view as a best guess as to the nature of the world. Rather, it means incorporating a particular view into one’s self-understanding and making this truth the guiding principle of every action.
How can we expect a child who is constantly bombarded with conscientious objections and diversity of opinion to know how to assent to a belief once he has found it?
If he cannot, it seems the result of his endeavor is not really a belief at all. Through life experiences, a child must learn what it is to live according to a single, guiding authority. Only in this way can he live a life of belief — a life in accordance with the truth as he understands it — as an adult.
The modern educational system, in its affirmation of diversity and pluralism, is structured in complete opposition to this type of learning.
Clearly, there are dangers involved in raising a child incapable of understanding or critically assessing a belief. But it seems far worse to raise a child incapable of belief itself.
In the modern world of television and the Internet, some exposure to beliefs different from one’s own seems unavoidable, and this is certainly a good thing. But rather than raising a child who can fit into the plurality of society like a chameleon, able to conform to every situation without making himself known, we should be seeking children who can stand firm in their convictions while engaging other people in society.
A child of the latter sort is the true goal and allure of home schooling.
When done incorrectly, home schooling can create children lacking in social skills who hold but a narrow understanding of the world. But public schools seem no less dangerous, as they threaten to create a society full of individuals who are simply incapable of belief and conviction. While the former may indeed be freaks, the latter seem totally empty.
I’ll take the weirdo any day of the week.
William Rogel is a junior in Berkeley College.