Monday, October 12, 2009

Is is Time for Home Schooling?

An article in The Globe and Mail today is entitled: "The Battle Over Boo Radley: Should Parents be Allowed to Decide What Their Kids Read in School?" It is difficult to believe that so many wrong assumptions could be packed into one title. The idea of posing this as a question could only occur to a person with strong totalitarian tendencies and the concept of parents to be "allowed" or not to do something that is within their natural rights is equally odius. The concept that schools belong to the state and that the state and/or the schools should have authority over families is also a mark of totalitarianism - a concept not to be wondered at in a Nazi or Communist ideologue, but completely inappropriate in a supposedly "liberal" newspaper. It shows that liberalism ceased being liberal long ago in this country.

One of the marks of decadent Western society's descent into the quicksands of moral relativism and tyrannical collectivism is the attempt by the omnipresent, nanny state to usurp the natural rights of parents to raise and educate their children according to the beliefs and norms of their own family.

The modern state fancies itself as having the authority to educate all children according to the beliefs and norms of the elitist class of society and as delegating as much or as little of this authority to a child's natural parents as it deems wise at any given moment in history. This usurpation of parental authority is facilitated and legitimated by the take-over of education by the state in the 20th century through its seemingly high-minded decision to fund education out of general taxation. This funding decision has led to a bloated and elitist educational bureaucracy in which "progressive" ideas of political correctness become a secular religion substituting for the former Judeo-Christian religious foundations of the schools taken over by big government and big teachers unions. These two institutions are the vehicles through which one religion is ousted and a new one imposed on the population and the rights of parents (and children) are trampled in the process.

The purpose of the article appears to be to call into question the status quo under the guise of a "news article." It acknowledges that:

"No work of literature is mandatory at Toronto's public schools: Parents can simply ask the principal to excuse their children from reading any book. And no one knows which books are substituted or how often because no one keeps a tally."
This is exactly as it should be; if parents are going to be gracious enough to delegate part of their responsibility for educating their children to public schools, which the parents pay the bills for through their taxes, then the schools should not get puffed up with childish self-importance and start lording it over their masters - the parents. But the author apparently does not agree:

"Line Pinard has received just two complaints in her six years as high-school principal. The first complaint, near the beginning of her tenure at Malvern Collegiate Institute, was about Russell Banks's Rule of the Bone . It was settled quietly when the parent agreed that the child could read W. O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind instead.

The second complaint put her under the microscope when reports emerged that
the school and the board were considering a ban on To Kill a Mockingbird , by
Harper Lee. (Those who jumped to conclusions could perhaps be forgiven – the
Pulitzer-Prize-winning classic was removed from the curriculum at a high school
in Brampton, Ont., just months ago.) In fact, a parent had merely raised a
complaint with Ms. Pinard about the book's language, and had suggested The Book
of Negroes
by Lawrence Hill as a suitable alternative for the Grade 10
The patronizing statement in parenthesis in that paragraph is a subtle dig at conservative parents implying that they are more likely than not to be racists. S0-called Liberals, who act in racist ways unreflectively typically like to accuse conservatives of racism with or without evidence.

Then we are told how difficult it is for the lumbering dinosaur-like, bureaucratic, top-heavy public schools system to be sensitive to Christian or consdervative parents (though it usually reacts with lightening speed to feminist or Muslim complaints).
“You can't imagine the hours I've spent on this,” Ms. Pinard said. This week school trustees will be asked to debate the policy anew. “I think that we're setting a precedent where we're allowing some parents to micromanage a public system that's supposed to be delivering a common curriculum,” said trustee Josh Matlow, who plans to appeal the policy at a board meeting on Wednesday.

“My concern here is that I think we're being very politically correct,” Mr. Matlow said. “… It's a very interesting discussion: What is the line between intolerance and acceptance, and then the line where we are not supporting our basic values as a progressive society.”
Notice that he thinks the whole ethical issue can be reduced to political correctness, which is simply another name for the currently fashionable prejudices and beliefs of the elite in power. Note that "our basic values as a progressive society" is the substitute for what would have been termed "our Judeo-Christian moral and religious heritage" just a couple of generations ago. The difference is not that ethical and religious values are not being used to determine policy; it is just that moral relativism and secular liberalism have replace the Judeo-Christian heritage. In other words, a narrow and destructive creed has replaced the broad-minded and constructive worldview that built the society the new creed is busy deconstructing.

The article does provide one quote from a person on the traditional side and, wonder of wonders it comes not from a lower-class, uneducated clergyman, (which is what one would expect from this sort of propaganda piece) but from an actual educator:
"But parents and students should question the literature they're asked to read, and their right to object deserves to be protected, said Dianne Fenner, program co-ordinator of English and literacy for the Toronto board."
Imagine that; parents and students should question authority figures! Most of the former hippies running public education are so busy questioning traditional morality that they forget that they are now the authority figures; they now run "the system." And they need to be questioned.

Near the end of the article is a totally asinine quote from a spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network, who articulates her philosophy of what should be included in the school curriculum (remembering, of course, that only a tiny sliver of the total number of books in the world can possibly find a place in the curriculum). She says:
Murielle Boudreau, co-chair of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network, said that exposing children to controversial books gives parents an opportunity to discuss important issues at home.

“If it's out there, in my opinion it's better to expose the child and explain whatever it is, rather than not to expose them,” she said. “… If you really have objections you should do home schooling.”
"If it's out there" - well that is a fine criterion, very sage, nuanced and principled. (One hopes this was an isolated quote lifted out of its context. If so, my criticism should be understood as being directed at the use made of this quote in this article.) So every cranky racist, every vicious misogyist, every hate-filled holocaust denier who ever published a book deserves to have it placed on the school curriculum. That is not what she said? Read her quote again: "if it's out there . . . " What shallow drivel. Children - especially younger ones - do not "need" to be exposed to everything; in fact they need to be exposed to the right material while their moral character is in the initial stages of formation.

The whole purpose of a curriculum is to facilitate adult decisions about discriminating between the perennially relevant and the ephemerally fadish. The whole Western canon is a centuries long debate between the greatest thinkers about the issues that never cease to be crucial for every generation. That is what should go into the school curriculum. Dirty talk is a juvenille fad of 20th century literary realism; nothing essential would be lost if students read nothing more recent than the 19th century. However, I would advocate having students read literature from the ancient Greeks and Romans up to the 19th century and then at the end have them read something by Nietzsche and one "modern" novel with bad language and a nihilistic worldview. That should help them combat the silly modern prejudice that society is "progressing" and that contemporary is automatically better than ancient.

The last sentence in the article about home schooling seems to be a taunt: you are too stupid to do what the experts do, so shut up. But I suggest that more and more parents are taking it as a challenge and choosing into the home schooling alternative and that is the ultimate challenge to excessive and arbitrary authority.


mnfu said...

The concept of using education to create a common set of civic or political values isn't a 20th C. development. The American educational system was set up from the middle-19th C. onward as an attempt to inculcate a set of common values approved by the state.

Andrew said...

"our progressive society", perhaps the most revealing phrase of all...

Craig Carter said...

The concept is rather older than that; it goes back to Plato and to Deuteronomy. But my objection is not to schools teaching virtue; it is to schools deconstructing virtue.

mnfu said...

I should clarify that I used the 19th C. and the American system as a point of departure because this situation was one where there was a conscious attempt to create a homogenous society with common values out of a heterogenous group of immigrants with disparate personal and cultural histories. This is different from the idea of merely passing on a set values or virtues to one's progeny - it is more one group enforcing their values on the whole society. It is the invention of a common heritage where none existed.

Craig Carter said...

You are correct that the use of public educdation as an attempt to create a people with a common set of beliefs did originate in the 19th century. The belief system then envisioned was the Judeo-Christian one. What happened in the 20th century was the revolution in education that followed the general cultural pattern of replacing Christianity with modernity.

John Dewey and others substituted a relativistic and individualist mindset for traditional morality as the common civic core of education. We see this bearing fruit in the erosion of the Wester canon, the rise of sex education theory (which implements the sexual revolution) and the decline in basic skill (grammar, writing, math, logic, languages)in favor of "education for justice" - i.e. a social justice agenda as the central purpose of education.

I don't think we are disagreeing. I'm just stressing that what modern educators think is the core set of beliefs that unites citizens of modern, liberal democracies is not either what most parents want their children to learn or what was, until recently, thought of as the core set of beliefs that hold Western civilization together.