Republicans Don’t Want Better Schools

DigbyWhat is so great about Digby is that she can blow your mind with a sentence like, “The idea that the Republicans are worried about ‘bad teachers’ when they encourage the practice of kids being taught at home by parents who aren’t qualified to teach someone how to get up in the morning is a joke.” These are the kind of things that seem obvious but which I somehow missed. And this is an issue that I care rather a lot about.

My sister homeschools her son. She has various reasons for this. But she is also well educated and provides the kind of learning and social environment that all but the richest of parents would envy. So I have nothing against homeschooling in general. But we often get into conflict when talking about the issue, because I am critical of the homeschooling movement. I think most parents homeschool their children for the wrong reasons. What’s more, most parents have no business teaching their children and end up being dependent upon prepackaged curricula that are more about protecting children from the great big world of ideas than about educating them.

Consider the National Center for Education Statistics 2006 survey of the reasons that parents gave for homeschooling. Previous open-ended surveys created their own problems, so they offered parents six reasons to choose from as you can see in the following table:

Reasons for homeschooling Applicable Most important
Number Percent Number Percent
Concern about environment of other schools 935,000 85.4 341,000 31.2
Dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools 748,000 68.2 180,000 16.5
To provide religious or moral instruction 793,000 72.3 327,000 29.8
Child has a physical or mental health problem 174,000 15.9 71,000 6.5
Child has other special needs 316,000 28.9 79,000 7.2
Other reasons 221,000 20.1 97,000 8.8

What’s interesting about this is that you can see both what was a factor and what was the primary issue. “Academics” is the smallest of the “big three” reasons. The top two are basically just “moral” concerns: “Environment” and “Religion.” This is responsible for 61% of parents’ primary reason for homeschooling. Now, I’m sure that some of the people in that group were not homeschooling for religious or anti-intellectual reasons. Just the same, I’m sure that some of those who chose the “Academics” reason actually meant, “I’m afraid my child will get a bad education that doesn’t teach them that God created the universe in six literal days.”

So how bad is it? Well, last year, David Wheeler made quite a splash with his short The Atlantic article, Old Earth, Young Minds: Evangelical Homeschoolers Embrace Evolution. The subtitle is, “More Christian parents are asking for mainstream science in their children’s curricula. Will religious textbook companies deliver?” So the fact that some evangelicals actually want their children to learn real science was a big deal. I think that tells you how big the problem is.

So let’s get back to Digby’s insight. These are the parents that Republicans think are just great for teaching our children how to be good and productive citizens. When they push homeschooling, they aren’t thinking of my sister with her Biology degree from the University of California and all her liberal ideas. They are thinking of the people who are trying to keep their children from learning anything that Bronze Age Palestinians didn’t know. And we are supposed to believe that these Republicans are trying to improve public education by destroying teachers’ unions? No. They are trying to destroy teachers’ unions because they want to destroy teachers’ unions. And if they simultaneously destroy public education, that will be an extra benefit.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

5 thoughts on “Republicans Don’t Want Better Schools

  1. I used to be pretty tolerant of homeschooling. It is, most often, a means for parents to brainwash their children into accepting the parents’ religious dogma, but whether or not children are brainwashed 24 hours a day or 17 hours a day probably does not make a ton of difference. Who knows why some kids resist dogmatic programming and some don’t.

    Until a few years ago, when I had a co-worker, who homeschooled his daughter, a nine-year-old who was being horribly abused. I mean, straight-up bruises and wearing unwashed clothes. The poor kid actually asked a friend of mine to take her in. My friend couldn’t; there is no system in place for identifying homeschool parents as abusive, dangerously diseased people. If their kids go to public or private schools, teachers are mandated by law to report obvious signs of abuse. Homeschooled kids have very little such protection.

    The idea of homsechooling has some validity; parents sometimes know their children’s learning styles better than strangers do. I have two brothers who are quite successful, accomplished rich guys (much richer than I) who had a terrible time learning in grade school; the standard methods of teaching literacy did not work for them. The methods used by me and my mother were much more suited to my brothers’ learning styles.

    I can’t accept the lack of oversight homeschooling permits abusive parents, though. That was the saddest, most rawly intelligent kid, and we had to abandon her to being utterly tormented by abusive parents, because there was absolutely nothing we could do. (And the dad wasn’t pure evil; just a completely fucked-up guy who passed on awfulness to his child because that’s all he knew.)

    I understand that in some states homeschooled kids are required to meet with social workers who look for signs of abuse. If those social workers are as utterly powerless to do anything about bruised kids in unwashed clothes as they are in Minnesota, I shudder to think how bad this is elsewhere.

  2. @JMF – The abuse is a good point. Although here in California, I would just set the CPS on them.

    I think the 24 hours vs 18 hours still matters though. The big problem is not so much believing the Creation myth. It is getting the idea that what you believe is what all right thinking people believe. You can see that your teacher who is a normal human being without horns believes something different than you. I don’t so much have a problem with people being creationists; I do have a problem when they claim that it is something other than just faith. It isn’t science and that’s all there is to it.

    I learned to read thanks to my mother and older brother. It certainly wasn’t thanks to my first grade teacher who I remember even now [i]hated me[/i]. I don’t know why people like that go into teaching. But I was very much not like her. She couldn’t understand me.

    But the biggest problem with homeschooling is not that it is bad for the kids but that it provides yet another way to screw over the poor. A single mother working three part-time jobs to get by doesn’t have the luxury to home school.

  3. It’s hard to call CPS on someone. Especially as our foster care system is such a horrid despicable mess. You don’t want to condemn a kid to a life that is actually worse than that they have with their abusive parents. In this case, the father was a pathetic enabler and the mother an utterly insane person. But one semi-loving parent beats none. (And I suppose the mother was loving, in her own insane way.)

    If insane people had their kids in public or private schools, they might be more cautious about visibly damaging their children. Maybe not; they are, after all, rather nuts.

    That’s interesting that your family taught you to read. My brothers were utterly repelled by school and now are the most book-junkies imaginable (bad, libertarian-and-neoliberal books, but still, they read.) I have no memory of learning to read. My mother said she read books to me and one day I stated correcting her when her tired eyes got the words wrong. It sounds implausible but stranger shit has happened.

    Every single one of my friends is a public-school teacher, or used to be one, and none of us know why people who have no patience for children end up in that field. Like any other unfortunate life decision, it probably makes sense at the time.

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