All Commentary
Monday, August 1, 1994

At Home, But Hardly Alone

Why Do So Many Families Want Their Children Out of Public Schools?

Jim Christie is an Oakland, California, writer. His review of Reclaiming the American Right appeared in the June issue of The Freeman.

Any time the leaders and followers of certain causes—like, say, civil rights, gay rights, and abortion rights—descend on Washington, D.C., flexing their political muscle, those who may be opposed, indifferent, and just plain uninterested are lectured on the grandeur of direct democracy.

But when, let’s say, a movement that is little known and completely uncovered by the media, like the homeschooling movement, does something similar—in this case with a recent massive telephone campaign to Capitol Hill—the press sounds all sorts of alarms that a clear and present danger is at hand.

After all, many homeschoolers are Christian activists. The telephone campaign was orchestrated by one Michael Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association and a Christian conservative who unsuccessfully ran last fall for lieutenant governor of Virginia.

Liberals in the press can be mean enough to Christians. (Remember the flap last year after a Washington Post reporter in a story essentially called Christians a bunch of trailer trash?) But the coldest cuts are often the sectarian ones, like that delivered by a San Francisco columnist who most often writes from a conservative perspective.

In a column on Farris and the home-schoolers’ telephone campaign, for instance, this right-of-center journalist called the homeschoolers “lemmings.”

That’s just plain mendacious and misses the point completely. There are many solid reasons why the homeschooling “lemmings” united to exercise direct democracy, albeit at the behest of a Christian activist, a member of the official strawman class for the 1990s.

In all too many public schools, reading, writing and arithmetic are taking a backseat to backseat-of-the-car subjects. Some parents have come to the conclusion that there is an unstated effort in the public schools to promote promiscuity even though not much good has come from years and years of sex-ed as the country’s teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates soar.

And let’s face it, public schools are also on the skids academically. Certainly, bleak SAT scores and drop-out rates prove this. Just ask any employer or college-level instructor, and you will hear that young adults are not only lacking in basic skills but in basic manners.

Then there’s the politically volatile issue of cultural curricula in politicized public schools. Now, for instance, instead of learning the broad themes of assimilation and cosmopolitan tolerance, children are subject to politicized multicultural sloganeering—while being used all too many times as cannon fodder in the continuous power grab of teachers unions.

To borrow from the title of one of the more celebrated special-interest texts, Heather may have two mommies, but can kindergartners appreciate lesbian studies? And must we subject small children to all the shrill self-esteem-based racial and ethnic cheerleading (and its distortions and frequent outright lies) in many new textbooks even as many American classics, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are denounced by the oversensitive?

Besides, children in public schools just aren’t going to have enough time to bolster egos, sink into guilt trips, and absorb every “ism” if Ms. Marple is keeping them busy in class with letter-writing campaigns to governors and legislators any time education budget cuts or school reforms are in the news. For example, throughout California public schools last year, much class time was devoted to badmouthing the concept of school vouchers.

And let’s not forget some basic and shocking truths about our public schools, like the fact that parent input into educational matters is kept to a minimum by bureaucrats. Why else does busing still persist when in practically every public school district, whether white, black or other, parents want their children close to their own neighborhoods—and want funds for their neighborhood schools to be made top-notch instead of being used to subsidize social engineering?

Then there are purely selfish reasons for a family not to send their children to some public schools. Simply put, some public schools are no better and no safer than prisons, often featuring police-state details—metal detectors, drug-sniffing dogs, armed guards, barbwire—that leave the impression that education, when it’s there, and even indoctrination, is of secondary concern to coercive efforts to maintain order.

Instead of depicting homeschoolers as tools of a nefarious Christian right plot, the media ought to look into why as many as 350,000 families want to keep government from getting its hands on truly private education.

The findings may not mesh with the welfare state advocacy of liberals within the press, nor sit well with conservative journalists who consider anyone on the right and outside the country club gates to be part of the dangerous rabble, but they would hold the hard truth of life in the public schools up for view.

Then it would become clear why a growing number of Americans aren’t keeping their children from getting an education, but simply keeping them out of school.