Friday, August 6, 2004

Why Do So Many Home School?

An article here points out that 1.1 million kids are home-schooled by parents who feel that public schools are just not safe or morally healthy environments for their kids:

The estimated figure of students taught at home has grown 29 percent since 1999, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department. In surveys, parents offered two main reasons for choosing home schooling: 31 percent cited concerns about the environment of regular schools, and 30 percent wanted the flexibility to teach religious or moral lessons. Third, at 16 percent, was dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools.

How many more parents are disillusioned with their child's school but lack the resources to take them out? How many children would be home schooled if parents had the time, energy, and expertise to do it. How many children in our public schools would be in private schools if parents could afford the tuition? I suspect the number is substantial and that confidence in public schools is low and declining. Our schools are in trouble and the first person to come along with an affordable way of privatizing education is going to find a receptive public. Why is this?

The problems began to incubate in the sixties, but they emerged in the seventies when legislation and court decisions made it increasingly more difficult to maintain effective discipline in the halls and classrooms. At the same time, schools became more than just educational institutions, today they are full-service day care, offering all manner of social services, therapeutic programs, extra-curricular activities, etc. These burgeoning programs have become the tail that wags the dog in public schools almost everywhere. Many private schools feel that in order to compete with their tax-subsidized neighbors they have to add to their own menu of offerings.

Add to this the fact that many schools are not run by educators but rather by managers. They may have advanced degrees in education, but many of them are in administration because they really didn't love what they were doing in the classroom. Thus to them what happens in the classroom is secondary to everything else the school does. They would not admit this, of course, but it's clear where most administrators' priorities lie to anyone who has worked in the education field for any length of time. All one needs do is to observe how easy it is for students to be excused from class in order to engage in other activities.

There is much that needs to be done if public education is going to be rescued from irrelevance and obsolescence. One thing that must change before anything else will be of any effect is that schools need to be granted the authority to discipline their students, to permanently expel them when expulsion is appropriate without having to employ phalanxes of lawyers to justify the measure, and to use that authority once they have it.

A second step needs to be that people put in positions of leadership in schools need to be themselves men and women who love learning, leaders who will subordinate everything else that takes place in the school day to classroom excellence. School administrators all pay lip service to learning, they all say that the education their students receive is their highest concern, but in too many of our schools, class is simply where students go when they have no other claim on their time.

Many of the problems public schools face are problems they can do nothing about. Viewpoint, for example, has discussed the correlation between the quality of families in a community and the quality of schools in that community (See here, for instance).

Nevertheless, there are things that educators and legislators can do to make them better, and it is an indictment of our schools that so many parents are willing to go to such lengths to find an alternative. Public school educators can no longer afford to shrug these people off as malcontents and cranks. Public schools need to do better, but they won't as long as they keep telling themselves and us that the problems they face can all be fixed by giving them more money.

The Ad

They're accusing him of having betrayed his country, of lying to the American people about the circumstances of the war, of being unfit to serve as president of the United States. Sound familiar? These are the same claims made by hysterics like Al Gore and Howard Dean about George Bush, but this time the claims are being made by calm, apolitical men who have no partisan or ideological ax to grind. This time the claims are made by men who are actually familiar with the service of the man they criticize. In a thirty second television ad they can offer no evidence to support their allegations, but presumably that will be presented in the book due out next week titled Unfit for Command by John O'Neill. The book, if these men are indeed telling the truth, should flesh out the indictment presented in the advertisement.

Meanwhile, it is extraordinarily hypocritical of the left to call this ad "dirty politics", "gutter politics", and to say that it is "as low as you can go". John Kerry has made his service in Viet Nam a major qualification for serving as president, and the Democrats spent weeks seeking to make George Bush's service in the Air National Guard a proof of his fecklessness and unworthiness to hold the presidency. The Democrats want voters to believe that Kerry is a hero and that George Bush evaded war-time service. Now contrary testimony is emerging and the Democrats are acting like this is some sort of dirty trick.

They complain that the ad is funded by some rich guy in Texas, but many of the most virulent anti-Bush ads and websites out there are funded by George Soros and other wealthy donors.

John McCain calls the ad dishonest and dishonorable, but how does he know it's either? It's only dishonorable if it's dishonest. Does Senator McCain know that the men in the ad are lying? If these men are indeed telling the truth then the American people should know it. If it's true that Kerry didn't deserve his Purple Hearts, if it's true that he was awarded a Silver Star for actions in violation of the military code of conduct and Geneva conventions, if it's true that he accepted praise for actions unworthy of praise, then the American people should know that. If it's true that he lied under oath in his Senate testimony in 1971 then the American people should also know that.

Viewpoint takes the position that a lot of men do things, especially in war, which they regret later in life and that it is better to just put all those demons behind us. Senator Kerry and his party, however, thought they could capitalize on deeds that may turn out to be something the Senator should have been content to bury in the past. Senator Kerry and the Democrats, not the Republicans, made the decision to shine the spotlight on his military record, to contrast it with Bush's, and to urge us to vote for him on the basis of it. They cannot now complain if Americans insist on having the record clarified.