What 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|
|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|
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.