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Here’s the email I received last week. I was saving it for today, as I’ll be speaking at a homeschool conference tomorrow:

*The subject line of this email was: “Not all public school teachers are the devil.”* 

Hi Matt,

I’ve been a pretty decent fan of some of your writings, and while I don’t always agree I find that you sometimes have an entertaining way of presenting your opinion. Anyway, all due respect, I find myself having a hard time continuing to follow you now that I’ve gone back and read through your views on education.

It doesn’t so much bother me that you seem to be PROUD of your lack of a college education. You seem to be of the lucky few smart enough to get away with having no real education to speak of (congratulations). What I can’t reconcile myself with is your vitriol and hatred for public education and your insistence on peddling “homeschooling” like it’s somehow the answers to all of our problems.

I worked in public education for many years so it’s hard for me to stomach your ignorance. However I’ve enjoyed many of your posts so I don’t want to give up on you just yet. Hopefully you’ll consider this email and consider retracting many of your statements about public school. Public school might not be perfect (we can’t all be perfect like you, Matt) but it’s certainly far superior to “homeschool”. Any number of studies prove this. Studies aside, I’d like to see your response to these two point:

1. The flaws in our public school system have to do with PARENTS. Parents send their kids to school and think their job is done, instead of being involved in their child’s education. How can the system ever improve if the involved parents pull out and do their own thing? We have a responsibility not just to our own family but to our community. Homeschool parents hurt their communities when they isolate themselves and remove their children from our academic institutions. If we don’t help the system, the system will not work.

2. You mock the idea of socialization, but the fact is that kids need to learn how to socialize. That skill is not ingrained in them. How can they learn proper social skills if they aren’t around other children? You might as well try to teach your kid how to swim without ever putting him in a pool. It’s most important for kids to learn the academic fundamentals, but learning proper socialization is very important as well. Public school gives young people the chance to become well adjusted adults.

I look forward to your responses to these two points, and to your admission that “homeschool” does far more harm than good to our society. I don’t think I can read your site again until that has happened.

In Christ,

Dan

 

Hi Dan,

Thanks for reading.

I actually went back to check, and I can’t find the post where I refer to all public school teachers as ‘the devil.’ Now, I can tell you that I had a music teacher in elementary school who once ‘disciplined’ a kid by having him sit in front of the class while she went around the room and asked all of his classmates to insult him. True story. I’m not saying she was ‘the devil,’ but if the devil ever DID teach an elementary school music class, I’m sure he’d do something similar. Let’s just settle on calling her behavior ‘devilish,’ and leave it at that.

But, no, I don’t think all public school teachers are that bad. Some of them are, but not all, and probably not most. In my own experience, I’d say 10 to 15 percent of my public school instructors were so obnoxiously terrible at their jobs that I often wondered if their classes were elaborate practical jokes, or maybe some kind of strange performance art stunt. On the other side, a good 10 to 15 percent were wonderful, dedicated, tuned-in, engaged, and brilliant. The rest fell somewhere in between the two extremes, as is often the case in any profession. The only difference here is that, in most other (non union) occupations, the obnoxiously terrible ones can and will be fired.

I notice that you have no problem laying the blame on parents (or PARENTS, as you call them), but, apparently, leveling even the slightest criticism at the sainted teachers is akin to accusing them of Satan worship. This strikes me as an awfully unbalanced way of approaching the issue.

Also, I’m anxious to read any number of those any number of studies you mentioned. I’m not sure what subject you taught in public school, but I’m positive you’d have given your students a failing grade if their Works Cited page simply said: “-Any number of studies.”

That’s the thing about claiming to have read “studies” that validate your argument about public education being superior to home education — you really have to offer, like, maybe ONE example.

I’m not sure which studies you’ve researched, but I guess it isn’t the one confirming that homeschoolers outperform public schooled kids on standardized tests, or the one showing that homeschooled kids are more prepared for college, or the one showing homeschoolers achieving a higher 4th year GPA.

Really, though, we could go back and forth with studies all day (well, I could — still waiting to see you produce one on your end). What’s the point? This is part of the reason many people are thoroughly disgusted with the way we treat education in our country. We don’t need to be studying our kids like lab rats, running academic experiments on them, and then comparing and contrasting their performance with the other kids across town, and the kids across the world, and the kangaroos in the zoo. Education is not a competitive sport. I’m a little tired of this “quick — learn more stuff faster!” attitude. Education is a much deeper pursuit. It can’t always be quantified and qualified and whateverified. You can’t necessarily measure a person’s knowledge, anymore than you can measure their artistic talent or their sense of humor.

Maybe we should stop turning our kids into charts and bar graphs, and instead work on connecting with them as human beings.

Furthermore, if we treat education like a race (“Race to the Top!”), we only reinforce the notion that the whole endeavor is just a game to see who can absorb the most information, and carry it all across the finish line without having a nervous breakdown.

There is no finish line. Education is a lifelong journey, despite the fact that nowadays we tend to say: “Hey, you graduated college! You’re done! Now go watch Netflix until your eyes bleed!”

So let’s forget the studies and move to your two points:

1) You say we should keep our kids in public school in order to help ‘the system.’

Dan, listen, I have to be real with you: this isn’t just a bad argument — it’s disturbing.

‘Help the system.’

Is this really a priority for parents? When my wife and I make a decision for our family, should we stop first and ask, “wait, but will this help the system?”

Would you REALLY put the welfare of ‘the system’ over that of your own children?

I’d hope that you wouldn’t, and I’d hope that this line of logic is unique to you, but I know that it isn’t. I’ve heard it before. I’ve heard it so often, in fact, that I’m starting to think I’m the strange one for having absolutely no desire to make my children martyrs for some bureaucratic machine.

You know what my kids need me to be? A parent. Their dad. Not a cog in the system, not a member of the community, not a loyal townsperson in the village, not a ‘team player.’

Sure, I’ll tell them not to litter and I’ll make sure they play nice with the other kids in the neighborhood, but when it comes to making choices about something as serious as their education, I don’t frankly care how our decision effects the community. Does that make me callous? I don’t know. I think it just makes me a man with priorities.

Would the school system be helped if my family ‘participated’ in it? Maybe, and I’m sure the circus would be helped if you went on stage and stuck your head in a lion’s mouth. But you won’t sacrifice your scalp to the Ringling Brothers, and I won’t sacrifice my kids’ brains to public school. I guess we’re even.

2) You say that homeschooled kids aren’t properly socialized.

I give you this: with the exception of about 14 thousand other times, this is the first time I’ve ever heard this argument.

It’s an argument that seems to march on, even after its been disproven, discredited, deconstructed, and decapitated. I just promised to stop tossing around studies, so I won’t link to an article (here) that cites at least two different studies proving your assertion to be a myth.

I’ll only say that you chose a pretty strange analogy to prove your point. You can’t teach a child to swim without bringing him to a pool? I agree. But do you bring a child to the pool, drop him there with a thousand other kids, then come back 6 hours later, and repeat that process every day, five days a week, for the next 12 to 13 years? Or do you bring him to the pool, hang out with him, maybe even get in the water and play some Marco Polo, and then leave with him after a couple of hours?

I can tell you this: if you decide to just abandon your kid at the pool for hours and hours and hours on end, every day, for over a decade, he probably won’t do a lot of swimming. If he doesn’t drown (drowning is a very real possibility, especially if there’s only one lifeguard for every 40 kids), he’ll likely spend more time playing on his iPhone and smoking pot in the bathroom than learning the backstroke.

Indeed, when it comes to teaching your kid any other skill — whether its swimming, or driving, or riding a bike, or catching a baseball — all parents understand that their hands-on involvement is crucial. It’s only with the skill of ‘socializing’ where many of us suddenly decide that the matter should be outsourced to a factory in China (or a factory down the street, in this case).

Why do I even need to debunk the socialization claim? You’ve seen our society, haven’t you? You’ve interacted with people, right? Homeschooling might be increasingly popular, but the vast majority of the people you meet have been public schooled. And you’re telling me that the vast majority of the people you meet are ‘socially well adjusted’?

Really?

You and I both know that’s a lie. Sure, you can probably tell me about a homeschooled kid you met once who was totally weird and awkward and stuff, but I could see your anecdote and raise you school shooters, the bullying epidemic, youth suicide rates, a youth culture utterly dominated by cliques, fads, and trends, and then this:

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Well adjusted adults?

WELL ADJUSTED ADULTS?

Go to a college campus — any college campus — and tell me again how these public schooled ladies and gentlemen are such well adjusted adults.

For God’s sake, Dan, they literally cannot socialize without inhaling a barrel of urine-flavored light beer ahead of time.

Public schools teach our kids how to socialize? Then why is this such a common sight:

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I’m not claiming that homeschoolers don’t use smart phones or beer bongs, but I am saying that an overwhelming preponderance of our society has been exclusively public schooled, and if public school helped ‘socialize’ us, you’d think we’d see SOME positive results SOMEWHERE.

Expecting your kid to learn ‘social skills’ from public school, is like sending him to live with chimpanzees so that he’ll learn proper table manners.

‘Socialization’ — in the public school context — means that your child will simply absorb behavioral cues from her peers. She learns to socialize by aping her friends, who are themselves only copying other girls. She learns to repress the parts of her that don’t fit in, and put on an exterior designed to help her fade into the collective. I’m not theorizing here, this IS the social process in public school.

It’s also competitive; your social status depends on your ability to cut your peers down, until your can easily step on them and elevate yourself.

Expressing your ideas, showing vulnerability, communicating your deepest thoughts and feelings — these are all fervently discouraged. Kids are tasked with expressing not their own thoughts, but sufficiently imitating the thoughts and views of the peer collective. Children who can’t keep up, or who have no desire to keep up, will either have to be the most self-assured human beings on the planet (which is unlikely, since they haven’t been given the tools to develop that self-assurance), or they’ll become bitter, self-conscious, and depressed.

There is nothing positive about any of this. Nobody is better for it. Nobody benefits. The psychological damage can be lasting, maybe even permanent. Again, this is not my theory. This is just the way it works. How could you be so oblivious, Dan?

Now, homeschool socialization is different. Here, a child learns his social skills from his parents. He is oriented by adults, not other children. He matures, and grows, and is provided a safe environment to, as the phrase goes, be himself. Despite common perception, I don’t think most homeschool kids are locked in a tower like Rapunzel, and forbidden from human contact. They have friends, they play sports, they emerge into society and interact with people.

The only difference is how they learn to interact. The public school kid learns to interact based on how his peers carry on in the hallways and at the lunch table, whereas the homeschool kids learns to interact based on the guidance of his parents.

Who has a better foundation for becoming a well adjusted adult?

I’m not insinuating that homeschool is perfect, or that homeschool students are perfectly adjusted, but I am absolutely declaring that ‘socialization’ is the WORST part of public school.

Find a different selling point, Dan.

I appreciate the email.

In Christ (whose Word, incidentally, exhorts us to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it”),

Matt

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Note: every Friday I’ll go through my inbox and respond to one (or maybe more than one) email from the previous week. If you want to send me an email on any topic at all, here’s the address: TheMattWalshBlog@gmail.com

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