Friday, April 13, 2007

Educational standards and the Buskeros case

Cathy Duffy hits the nail on the head with regard to the Educational standards movement. The issues she raises towards the end of the article are at the core of the Melissa Busekros case in Germany. What is especially ironic about Melissa's case is that of six children in her family, she was the only one being home educated, only for the past 2.5 years, and only because she had fallen seriously behind in two important high school subjects.

The basic question is whether the family or the state bears chief responsibility (and authority) for the education of children. It is a sticky problem because governments do have both a duty and a legitimate interest in insuring that its populace is in some wise educated, in providing quality educational opportunities for those who do not have the means to provide or acquire them privately (but let the government also remember that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink!), and in defending children whose parents genuinely neglect or abuse them.

However, is it the proper role of government to engage in social engineering -- to construct culture? Because once you get beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic, that is what education is -- the assimilation of ideas, beliefs, and values which drive our public and private behavior and relationships and thereby shape the social order. Education is enculturation because those ideas are passed on through stories and poetry and art and song, through the handing down of history and the observations of science. All too often this is what is meant by "socialization", that big "s-word" that so many are concerned that homeschoolers will lack -- not merely the opportunity to make friends or to know how to get along with others, how to accept people who are different than yourself and how to behave in a social setting (which is all too often taught rather poorly in schools -- viz all the problems with bullying and cliques), but the acceptance and internalization of a unifying national value system. This is what the German government is concerned about when they wish to prevent the "formation of parallel societies". In the U.S. it is in vogue to wax eloquent about our "pluralistic society"; however, our fear of homeschoolers belies our real fear -- and our superficiality. We embrace the outward trappings of ethnicity and religion -- aren't the Amish quaint in their bonnets and buggies? -- but if we were to allow for the flowering of true internal plurality, what then would be the glue to hold our nation together? I'm not opposed to national values or national cultural identity -- a common culture -- but I am opposed to an artificial, top-down construction of common culture. I am opposed to an insipid, lowest common denominator, media-inspired, market driven common "pop" culture as the basis for national unity. And, as a Christian, I must of course oppose -- at least for myself and my own family -- that which is contrary to the Christian faith.

In our country we have determined that the state shall not establish a religion nor inhibit the free practice thereof...that would be very simple if only religion would stay neatly in it's little compartment. But it cannot because of what it is...our core beliefs about what the universe is and how it works bleed out into our relationships, our work, our politics, our choices.

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