The Education Liberator, Vol. 1, No. 5, February 1996
by Chris Cardiff
Recently, the public radio station in my area broadcast a panel discussion on homeschooling. During the course of the program, the statewide homeschooling leaders present deliberately avoided making any comparative comments regarding government schools, despite repeated attempts by the host to elicit them. In listening to these exchanges, I was aghast at the missed opportunity to draw the critical distinctions between the government school system and homeschooling.
Homeschooling and the government school system are based on completely opposing principles. At their core, the ideological differences represent viewpoints that can not be reconciled and are key elements of the school and culture wars being fought throughout our society today. To understand this, we need to take a closer look at the underlying premises of these two dissimilar educational models.
Freedom versus coercion
Homeschooling's bedrock principle is liberty. Freedom for children and families to learn and teach what they want, how they want, and when they want. Freedom for parents to spend as much, or as little, of their own resources as they decide is necessary on educating their own children. Freedom for families to make their own educational choices.
The government school system is founded on the opposite of liberty — various forms of compulsion, coercion, force are used to effect its mandates. Compulsory attendance laws are backed by inquisitions (Student Attendance Review Boards in California) that have the power to take our property (fines) if we fail to comply. The system is funded by the annual seizure of our property (taxes), backed up by the threat of imprisonment and additional confiscation of property.
Children failing to learn the state-required material (mandatory curriculum) can be required to sit through it year after year until they demonstrate that the material has been sufficiently implanted. This method of "compulsory education" meets my dictionary's definition of brainwashing. Whether the material "taught" is based on liberal, conservative, religious, communistic, democratic, or fascist ideologies, the government school system method of delivery is founded on compulsion, coercion, force.
The dichotomy between homeschooling and government schooling is the difference between a moral and an immoral system. Homeschooling respects the rights of individual families to choose for themselves, while government schooling imposes its ideology on all children through predatory financing and its monopoly of force. Jefferson eloquently described the immorality of our current system when he said: "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
Keep in mind that there is a distinction between the government school system and the people working in it. Many of them are motivated by the best of intentions and, on a local level, are able to achieve some modest, positive results. However, their intentions do not invalidate the immorality of the system.
More importantly, the system defends itself by corrupting those who seek to work within it. Faced with the noble goal of "educating our children," many will sacrifice their principles — either unknowingly or by rationalizing that "the ends justify the means." They choose to force all parents to submit their children to the government school system in order to "help" those few children who might have neglectful parents.
Economically, people who depend on the system for their livelihood, as individuals looking out for their own best interest, will defend it from attacks and endeavor to increase its scope, power, and budget. To illustrate this, we need look no further than teachers who lecture their captive audience of students on the evils of vouchers, or the California Department of Education's opposition to homeschooling, or the National Education Association's continual political battles to wrest more money from taxpayers.
By contrast, homeschooling, based on individual and family liberty, protects children from having the values of the political majority (or active minority) imposed on them. Homeschooling also removes the economics of education from the political arena and returns it to the family.
Missing the point with misguided reforms
Many people both inside and outside the government school system seek to reform it. Huge political battles are fought over issues like vouchers, phonics, school prayer, curriculum content, and sex education. There are minor battles as well, over such issues as reimbursing homeschoolers in government school Independent Study Programs for educational materials.
Parents and concerned citizens participating in these battles completely miss the point. They are each part of a special interest group seeking to impose their views and values on the next generation through the medium of the government schools and other people's money. From a moral standpoint, it doesn't matter who wins any particular battle — the key point is that someone loses and is forced to support and subject their children to a system imposing the winner's values or beliefs. From a practical standpoint, winning a battle doesn't solve anything, it just sets the stage for the next round. There are no compromises in the school wars.
Most educational reformers also fail to recognize that arguments about how taxpayer dollars should or should not be spent on various government school programs/issues serve only to validate the system itself and its use of compulsion, coercion, force. Even worse, parents fighting for their "share" of educational tax dollars risk being corrupted by the system. Other People's Money (OPM, pronounced "opium") can be highly addicting, as many organizations and individuals have discovered.
There is no way to reform an immoral system founded on the principles of compulsion, coercion, force. Efforts to do so contribute to legitimizing and supporting an institution antithetical to the principles on which our country was founded. The only way to "reform" such a system is to replace it with a proven, superior approach — a free market in education, exemplified by today's homeschooling families.
Homeschooling provides a glimpse of the potential for a free market in education. Within the burgeoning homeschooling movement, one begins to see the true breadth and depth of educational innovation and experimentation possible. Parents spontaneously create their own educational communities to support each other and solve common educational problems. A huge variety of educational relationships result: relatives and friends assisting as teachers; professionals hired for specific subject matter needs; co-op teaching (parents trading off); blended schooling (part home, part campus-based); distance learning using new technologies; and more.
Replacing the current, immoral government system with a moral, free-market educational system requires the separation of school and state. As Sheldon Richman argues in the November, 1995 issue of The Freeman, we need to remove education from the democratic (or political) arena and return it to families because "democracy is inimical to education, if by 'education' we mean the family-based assisting of children to become moral, competent, and well-rounded human being."
Homeschoolers are the "freedom fighters" of educational reform. As such, they need to be more vocal about the ideological differences between government schooling and homeschooling. Representatives of the government school system are continually trying to impose regulations and controls on homeschooling and have succeeded in some states, like Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. The government school system clearly recognizes the financial and ideological threats posed by homeschooling and is already counter-attacking. Keeping a low profile vis-a-vis the government schools will not help at this point.
Marshall Fritz describes homeschoolers as the "leading edge of the wedge" in the fight for educational freedom. By separating school and state, the creativity, innovation, and freedom glimmering in the homeschool movement would shine for children and families everywhere.
Chris Cardiff is Executive Director of the National Center for Independent Education. He is also editor of The Educator Liberator.
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