by Gary North
I have been part of the Christian school movement ever since 1962, when I read R. J. Rushdoony's 1961 book, Intellectual Schizophrenia. His 1963 book, The Messianic Character of American Education, only reaffirmed what I already believed.
I came into contact with Robert and Rosemary Thoburn, the creators of the profit-seeking Fairfax Christian School, sometime around 1969. Mrs. Thoburn taught a generation of Christian school entrepreneurs how to teach children how to read through phonics. The founders of the A Beka program were taught by her.
Over the years, I have watched the parallel development of Christian home schooling and Christian day schooling. I have come to the conclusion that home schools are superior on average.
There are reasons for this. Here are a few of them.
Parents are more interested in their children's performance than salaried teachers are. Teachers must concern themselves with a room full of other people's children. A mother concerns herself with a room full of her children. It is a smaller room.
Let me cut short a mistake. Beyond the second or third grade, parents should cease worrying about individual instruction, unless the child has a learning disability. The concern over student/teacher ratios is a concern of the teacher unions. It should not be a concern of parents. The older the child is, the more true the statement is.
I feel sorry for the high school students of parents — meaning almost all parents — who wail, "I want my child to have a low student/teacher ratio." That child is being set up for a crisis on the day he or she walks into a college class of 1,000 students. The mega-class is a cash cow for colleges. Faculties assign their lower-level non-tenured assistant professors to teach them. These classes are graded by graduate students.
Some 17-year-old who has learned how to learn in a tiny class is now thrown to the lions. "Good luck!"
This is even more true of home-schooled college freshmen. Momma is back home. Momma can't help. Momma set up her child for an expensive lesson in the only education that matters in the long run: self-education.
Because his K-12 CD-ROM-based curriculum sells for $200, once per family, it is the best bargain in the history of education. But it is not for parents of Momma's boys and girls.
The best thing about the Robinson Curriculum is that it ends forever the seeming legitimacy of the complaint, "We just can't afford private education." A family can buy this curriculum for $200 — the cost of a pair of running shoes — plus the cost of a set of the Saxon math books. After that, it only costs paper and toner.
Because Christian parents are generally more concerned with protecting their children socially than with training up intellectual warriors, Robinson's approach to education is not widely accepted in Christian circles. The fact that a student who gets through this curriculum can quiz out of his first year of college, and possibly two years, does not impress such parents. This is because so few of them ever mastered the skills of self-education.
Despite Christian parents' desire to provide social environment rather than intellectual tools of combat, I still think conventional home schooling beats private day schooling. Parental concern is very great. Parents have not only pulled a child out of the humanists' established church — the public school system — the mother has also decided to skip entry into the wage-earning work force for the sake of her children's education. This degree of commitment, even when accompanied by the well-meant but ill-conceived pedagogy of showing children how to solve problems with mother's help rather than by themselves, overcomes the low common denominator problem of the k-12 classroom.
Recently, I sent a successful day school's headmaster an inquiry regarding the possibility of adopting a curriculum like Robinson's, but with greater emphasis on success in business rather than training for a career in science. I am now working on it. Such a curriculum might be suitable for both home schools and day schools. Or so I thought. Here is what he wrote to me.
It looks very good to me. It would sell to me on content alone — because I know your work and admire it. Many do not, and that's why packaging would be so critical for initial market success. One substantial item that would be needed would be user-friendly teachers' guides. This would be necessary even if the teacher were just a facilitator, but especially if the teacher actually did some teaching. I'm finding substantial parental resistance to the idea of their students learning in non-traditional (teacher/lecture) ways. But I think it can be overcome if the students buy into it. But most significant in today's undisciplined, child-driven culture is getting the students to buy into it. Parents will do whatever their kid wants today. If the kid likes the material, it will help sell it — not necessarily initial purchase, but long-term.
I wrote back to him the following response.
No teacher guides. So, this means gigantic extra work at my end to sell to day schools. I don't think that would pay off. I think I'm fighting too much tradition. The home schoolers are much less traditional. They also tell their kids what to do. I think day school parents are less confrontational. If I sell to a final buyer — a parent — it's a simple sale: immediate benefits for your child, with a one-year money-back guarantee. If I sell to a day school director, the benefits are indirect: force your change-resistant teachers to change, force your students to change, and maybe the parents will accept it . . . but probably not. You may get fired.
Which market would you rather sell to? But you have clarified my thinking. Thanks.
It's obvious, isn't it? Yet it took me 20 years of watching the home school movement develop to come to this conclusion.
This late conclusion may be an example that runs counter to my theory of child pedagogy. I wish that someone had pointed it out to me earlier. It might have saved me two decades. But I might not have believed it. Self-education is the best education as a general rule.
I can understand a headmaster's problem. He is dealing with child-directed parents. He is dealing with teachers in an under-funded niche profession that pays 60% of what a public school teacher is paid. These teachers are learning on the job. They were taught in public schools. They are (or should be) re-learning everything in their field of interest. They don't know where to begin. They need a teacher's guide in their own field. This is horrifying, yet it is apparently the case.
The standard Christian school textbooks are baptized public school textbooks. If you think I'm wrong, see what they say about the anti-Federalists of 1787, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, World War I, World War II, and the other great crusades of the modern messianic American State.
They are by necessity low-common-denominator products. They are very expensive to produce. To get back the investment, they must be sold by the tens of thousands each year. They are printed on paper — the Achilles' heel of education in an era of the Web and CD-ROM and DVDs. Think of the printed version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It could not compete against Microsoft's Encarta (under $100), let alone the Wiki encyclopedia (on-line and free). It is gone. But students are still assigned printed textbooks.
Show me a printed textbook, and I'll show you a book written to get through a committee with a final market of average students.
I am not interested in average students. Their needs can be taken care of by others. I want the best and the brightest. More important, I want self-starters and self-learners who can quiz out of college mega-classes in high school, and walk straight into upper division — saving themselves two years and their parents $25,000 to $75,000.
We need a hard core of graduates who are prepared to challenge the statist presuppositions of this era and the one to come. We need college students who can think for themselves, research for themselves, and develop comprehensive alternatives. Such students should not be asked to feast on the dumbed-down pabulum of the committee-screened high school textbook.
A pastor I met years ago once complained about the situation he found at a new church. "I wanted to enter an armory. I found a nursery." This is why there is a market for textbooks.
Most parents do not want confrontation. So, most parents allow their children to be educated in the public schools.
Christian day school parents are more confrontational. They have broken with the public schools. But they still want their children to have the social experience of bureaucratic education. They cannot resist the lure of league sports and proms and pom-poms.
There are a few day schools that are self-consciously designed to train up students who are ready for lower-division collegiate intellectual battle at age 17. There are not many schools like this. They are saddled with Christian school textbooks. They must go to special effort in the classroom to get around and beyond these textbooks. These schools are the products of their headmasters' vision. Three years after they retire, the schools may drift back to a baptized version of the local public schools. Dogs do tend to return to their vomit (Proverbs 26:11).
Such schools are rowing against the tide. The students coming into Christian high schools today are almost as committed to the welfare State ideology as public school children are. There is a small organization, the Nehemiah Institute, which provides a test for entering Christian day school freshmen regarding their attitude toward statism. A handful of Christian schools use it. It is called the PEERS Test. The test results are universally grim: in the 30% range. After four years of Christian education, the scores usually go up in those schools that run the tests, but nowhere near 100%. Maybe 70%. A good test of how good a day school's program is, is the PEERS Test. Ask to see the results. If the school does not use it, look for another school.
With home schooling, students miss out on league football games, pom-poms, and high school reunions. Whether they get prepared for intellectual confrontation is dependent on what their parents choose to assign them to read, and then on how well they master the assigned material.
Parents are directly responsible, meaning that mothers are directly responsible. Fathers usually delegate home schooling to mothers.
In other forms of education, both parents delegate this responsibility to hired tutors. The question is: Hired by whom? The State or the parents or a local church?
If Christian parents were willing to be 100% responsible, there would be few non-profit Christian day schools. They would be run as family or corporate enterprises. The fact that most Christian day schools are non-profit organizations reveals the reality, namely, that parents are looking for subsidies from others: tax deduction-receiving donors, church members in churches the parents do not belong to, or the State (vouchers).
Home school parents avoid this dilution of responsibility. This is why home schooling is the wave of the future for leadership development. Each generation of home school mothers is likely to be tougher than the previous one. Better trained, too.
Home schooling has come a long way over the last two decades. Technology is on the side of home schooling: the Web, CD-ROMs, computers, and DVDs. This technology is both decentralizing and individualizing. There are local home school associations. There is the division of labor.
The future of tax-funded education can be seen in the schools of Washington, D.C., where legislators do not send their children.
We are winning this one.
June 15, 2006
Gary North [send him mail] speaks at home schooling conventions on this topic: Home Schooling Works for College, Too: Cheaper, Faster, and Safer. Parents like the idea of saving $50,000, and students dream of getting half the money parents save as a college graduation present.
Copyright © 2006 LewRockwell.com