Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Problem With (most) Home-Schooling

First of all, if you are a college-educated, intelligent, caring and intellectual parent who home-schools your children (or would like to), because you believe that the public education options where you live are lacking and unable to give your child the quality and level of education you feel they should be learning at, and home-schooling is a more affordable option to paying private school tuitions, then none of what I'm going to say applies to you.  If you are like one of my friends who used to be a teacher but decided to give that up to start a business out of her home and home-schools her children, with all the education and experience of a real teacher, then I'm not talking to you.  Parents who are educated, intelligent and capable of grasping and conveying a home-school curriculum to their children in an effective manner that would rival or surpass a public school education are cool in my book, we gots less beef than Taco Bell meat.

My problem is with the statistical majority of parents who are home-schooling their kids at their children's educational peril.

According to 2007 federal statistics, 83% of home-schooling parents chose to home-school their children to give them "religious or moral instruction."  Now, I'm not opposed to either of those things on principle.  I think it's great to give children a strong, moral foundation from an early age, and I think that teaching children about religion is just as important as teaching them about anything else in our society.  I am personally grateful that my mom took me to church every Sunday as a kid, it taught me a lot about the Bible and Christian theology and it gave me a level of insight that I don't think many people who consider themselves to be secular necessarily have.  When I decided to stop going to church, it was because I had been there and concluded that it wasn't for me, it wasn't because I'd never done it and just assumed I wouldn't like it.  Kind of like, how do you know if you hate peas if you never tried them?  That being said, I am still fascinated with the Bible, I still value the knowledge and teachings that I learned in church and Sunday School - even though I mostly use it now to argue with far-right conservatives - and my moral foundation is largely a result of the things I learned from an early age in church.  That is to say, I looked at what I was taught and what I had experienced in my life and kept the best lessons from both, but still, a moral compass nonetheless.

My issue isn't teaching morality or religion.  My issue is teaching religious ideology as historical and scientific fact.  Teaching things like intelligent design, which no respectable scientist believes in or endorses.  Teaching creationism as the origin of the universe.  Teaching a revised version of American History where America was founded as a Christian nation.  It's bad enough that we're taught in public school that the Indians welcomed colonization with open arms, but to add that they gratefully accepted being led out of their heathenistic, pagan idol-worship into the light of Christ just adds smallpox-laden insult to injury. 

The statistical fact is that the majority of parents who home-school their kids are not interested in the quality of education their children receive, only the content.  They don't care if you progress more slowly than you would have in public school, they don't care if you grow up lacking basic social skills that are acquired by interaction with your peers, they don't care if you test lower and have a harder time integrating into college - which you won't be going to anyway unless it's Oral Roberts University or a similar theological institution, all they care about is that you think God created the world, that humanity was created, not evolved, that every great thing that ever happened in the history of the world was done through Christ and that Jesus is the reason the tides come in and the tides go out.

That bothers me.

Not because I am anti-Christian, I'm not, but because I'm anti-ignorance.  I have a problem with indoctrination.  I know, I know, I can already hear my conservative friends saying "Well, what do you think happens in public schools!?"  Yeah, it's not the same thing.  Like I said, teaching the "White Man's History" is a debatable issue with our public school system and I don't disagree that there is already a biased spin on the education kids are receiving.  However, there's still a world of difference between teaching even the most pro-American biased revisionist history of our country and teaching about an outright fantasy land where your deity crafted everything around you by hand and evolution isn't really evolution, it's "intelligent design" and all the mysteries of the universe can be explained as "God did it."  It used to bother me, as a kid, when I would learn about creationism in Sunday School and then go to regular school on Monday and learn about evolution.  I wondered "Did God create Adam and Eve after he killed the dinosaurs?"  And I wondered how did the big bang happen?  Was that the scientific term for God just always being there and one day deciding to create the universe, as the Bible taught me?  I got enough conflicting information as it was, and that was when my religious education was kept separate from my regular education.  I can't even imagine how confused and frustrated I would be if I grew up being taught that intelligent design and creationism were actual branches of science.  Yes, that's what Christian home-schooling curriculum teaches: intelligent design and creationism as part of it's "Geology, Physics and Origins" science pack.

I feel bad for kids who are going to grow up thinking that something as simple as gravity is, in fact, God's will acting upon the planet or whatever nonsense Bill O'Reilly gets on when he argues with atheists on his show.  I feel bad for kids who are going to passionately argue that evolution doesn't exist when they get out among other young adults who are going to look at them like they're out of their minds.  It's not right to teach ignorance, no matter how much you believe it to be fact.  You may as well teach kids that all black people are good at basketball and dancing or that everyone from San Francisco is gay, or any of a hundred other ignorant, laughable beliefs that are still, inexplicably, held by people in this country.

I mostly feel bad because this isn't what home-schooling should be about.  Home-schooling should be a healthy thing.  It should be a way for parents to bond with their children and take an active role in their education.  It should be a way to teach values and lessons at the same time, and as much a primer for parents as it is a learning experience for the children.  Home-schooling should be the next best thing to paying the outrageous tuitions for a private school, not the next worst thing to sending your kids to Jesus Camp for 8 months out of the year. 

I appreciate the desire for Christian parents to give their children a strong, values-based upbringing.  I appreciate that parents of any religion who have strong beliefs would want their children to be raised with those beliefs as well.  I get that and I understand it and I don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with that.  However, when teaching your religious ideology super-cedes teaching them about basic history and science and things that have been absolutely, scientifically proven as fact, literally decades ago, then that becomes a problem to me.  Because, if and when I decide to have kids, they're going to grow up and eventually interact with these kids and God forbid my kid becomes an adult and ends up working for some kid who was home-schooled and thinks Jesus makes the ocean waves and evolution is a fraud and global warming is a myth.  Our country is regressing.  It's moving further and further away from embracing science and learning and more and more towards theology and superstition.  The more people embrace theories and beliefs that are outdated and have long since been dis-proven, the further we drop behind the rest of the world in educational performance.  There's something wrong with that picture, and I have a real problem with that.

The "civil libertarian" in me wants to say "Hey, teach your kids whatever you want, they're your kids."  But the rational, intelligent person in me says "No, you can't teach your kids a bunch of hogwash that simply isn't true, that's not right or fair to them."  I don't have a problem with all home-schooling.  I'm not flatly opposed to it at all.  I don't paint all home-schooling with the same broad strokes.  However, I see this large, majority segment of home-school parents who are using the medium to basically indoctrinate their children into their narrow-cast view of the world, and I have a real problem with that.  You can't re-write history, you can't change the laws of science, you can't short-change your children's education and hide behind the excuse of wanting to give them a more "religious and moral instruction."  I'm not trying to take away, infringe upon or suppress your freedom of religion, I just don't want to see an entire generation of ignorant, brainwashed Americans who are perfectly content to live life 100 years behind the rest of the civilized world.

If you are a good, caring, intelligent, intellectual, involved and pro-active parent, who makes sure your children eat a nutritious diet, gluten-free and all that good stuff.  If you are a mom or dad who wants to build a stronger bond with your kids and connect with them through their education, so that you can have a more interactive role in their learning, as well as help them better understand and retain the things you're teaching them.  If you want to give your children the best possible education they can get, and you don't trust anyone to do it better than you can yourself... well, then by all means, you go and do it and you have my support, 100%. 

If, however, you want to make sure your children learn about "Christian History" and "Christian Science" and make sure they don't have to worry about hearing that fags are normal and not, in fact, the product of Satan.  If you want to make sure they don't learn about sex until they get pregnant.  If you want to make sure they grow up with your ignorant, myopic, prejudiced view of the world and hide behind your "religious" convictions to justify it... well, then I have a problem with that.  And, when 83% of the country is home-schooling their kids for basically that very reason, I have a pretty big problem with it.