Of Spelling Bees and Homeschool Demagoguery

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I have this
fantasy that I am a young, talented athlete who has achieved a major
milestone in my sport. In my dream I have just left the field, tired,
sweat-drenched but triumphant with adrenaline still flowing. I am
being mobbed by reporters for their obligatory, on-the-spot interviews.

"How does
it feel to be the youngest ever…"

a come back. How did you get your confidence back?"

was the turning point in the match?"

Someone tells
me that I have a phone call, that the President of the Unites States
of America is on the line. Through the noise and commotion, on international
television with all the microphones and cameras shoved in my face,
I take the phone and say, "I will not be used by you. You will
not make my personal achievement that has nothing to do with you
or your corrupt government a vehicle for your political gain."
I drop the phone and exit the press area with my trophy and my integrity.

My fantasy
comes to mind around this time of year, when the Scripps Howard
spelling bee, National Geographic geography bee and homeschool children
are in the news. The pundits love homeschool winners, turning them
into a statement against government schools – although speaking out
against government schools is a noble endeavor at any time, mind
you. The children's impressive showing in contests of esoterica
becomes proof that homeschooling "works" and that government
schooling doesn't.

Even more troublesome
is the conclusion that the Mackinac Center's Samuel Walker draws
in his May 24th commentary ("Homeschoolers
Make the Case for School Choice
"). After a chronicle of
recent homeschool trivia champs, Mr. Walker uses a kind of logic
that my little brain simply cannot follow, saying: "Is it any
wonder that there is a vital, forward-looking school choice movement
to allow parents a wider range of educational choices for their

School choice
is the euphemism for government funded education welfare with a
bit of flexibility thrown in. The individual achievements of thoroughly
independent families that homeschoolers are have no connection whatever
to the education welfarism advocated by school choice proponents.
My decision to homeschool has everything to do with barring the
corrupting influence of government from my family's life and nothing
to do with promoting a government takeover of private schooling.
How could the two possibly be confused?

Seems Mr. Walker
and most of his colleagues “don’t get it.” There is a widespread
lack of understanding of education’s and, more specifically, homeschooling’s
true nature. Part of the problem is the mistaken notion that schooling
is equivalent to education. Another part is the word homeschooling,
since it conjures the image of the government school model transferred
to our kitchen tables. Both these errors lead to the penchant for
measuring academic success the way the government does — through
contests, test scores, and their adjunct, college admissions.

Leaving aside
the valid arguments against these being true indicators of academic
prowess, let me help the pundits with their confusion: education
is not the measurable acquisition of massive amounts of facts. Rather,
education is the lifelong search for truth, wisdom and virtue. Clearly,
government bureaucratic agencies geared to the indoctrination of
other people's children cannot possibly satisfy this definition
of education. To the contrary, they are education's antithesis.
Once this definition and its implications are understood, the confusion
about the nature of homeschooling magically disappears, and any
attempt to equate winning a contest with being educated becomes
plainly absurd.

success cannot be measured by the existing techniques of tapping
into a child's brain. Here's our dirty little secret: there are
homeschoolers who read below grade level, who haven't figured out
long division, who have no idea where Madagascar is. Yet these families
are every bit as successful as the McCarters, the Millers, the Bartons
and all the rest. They are learning what they chose to learn, when
they chose to learn it, and under the guidance of the people who
love them most in their search for truth, wisdom and virtue. And
they don't need vouchers, non-refundable tax credits or any other
government sponsored meddling to do it.

greatest value is not found in academic achievement. It is found
in liberty. If my son never locates Lop Nur on a map, if my daughter
never correctly spells succedaneum, what does that matter? In our
over-politicized, propaganda-dominated world, they have escaped
the dead hand of government. Their minds are free.

And that is
the grand achievement for which homeschool families deserve congratulations.

10, 2002

Cuthbert [send her mail]

is the editor of "The School Liberator," a weekly email
publication of the Alliance for
the Separation of School and State
. She is a wife, mother and
homeschool advocate, who receives no government subsidy of any kind,
living on California's central coast.

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