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Homeschooling for Liberty

Introduction I swear by my life, and by my love of it, that I will never live for another man, or ask another man to live for me. (John Galt) The hyper-rationalism of radical individualism isn’t, in the end, rational at all. You’ll recall that during the Iraq war, we heard a lot of talk about ancient Mesopotamia – the land of the Sumerians, Akkadians and Hittites – being “the cradle of civilization”. That’s the point. Without a cradle, it’s hard to sustain a civilization. (Mark Steyn) The only man of whom I would ever say, “I wish for you to surpass me in every way.” (Augustine, speaking of his deceased son Adeotus) If you are a father or mother, Mark Steyn sounds more convincing than John Galt. Offspring are our time machines, extending the reach of our values into centuries we will not live to see. Unless an outside agency initiates force to change the natural order of things, children normally carry forward the passions of their parents. “Normal teenage rebellion” is such a terrifying anomaly in the history of mankind, that Old Testament law considered it to be a capital offence. Historical background When the Prussian government implemented the first truancy laws in the early 1800s, they had to march weeping kids away from their families at bayonet point. This definitely violates the zero aggression principle. Imagine a commodity of so little value that you can’t even give it away; recipients must be forced to partake. And why the application of force? Because the State needs its docile taxpayers and cannon fodder. With characteristic thoroughness, the Prussian state decided to turn 94% of “its” children into those who simply followed orders. Another 4.5% went into the “talented and gifted” programs, receiving an education designed for the janissaries, the professional servitors of the State: accountants, preachers, lawyers, professors, physicians, etc. The children of the ruling elite, the remaining 1.5%, received a traditional education designed to impart flexibility, creativity, and rigorous thinking skills.

To the rational thinker, handing off children to paid agents of government makes as much sense as hiring the hangman as your babysitter. Yet today otherwise sane people consider it normal to frog-march a terrified five-year-old child to the bus stop, and send him off into a penal system peopled with monsters and manipulators. “After all,” the gulled parent says, “public school did me no harm!” Other than damaging your critical faculties to the point where you are unable to perceive the harm done to yourself …

Do a quick Google search for John Taylor Gatto. Public education, he affirms, succeeds at its design purpose: inducing forgetfulness, confusion, social paralysis, indifference, and emotional/intellectual dependency, under the all-seeing eye of the State and its agents. Application Home-schooling is the place where the love of liberty intersects the love of our children. This is normal, principled, child-rearing, where we take our offspring by the hand to lead them on a guided tour of the real world, the wondrous universe. It is also, in retrospect, one of the few important things I have done with my life. If you are like me, you have met too many parents in tears over how their children were alienated from them, and came to hold in contempt the defining values of their family. In stark contrast, over the course of the last two decades, I’ve met zero home-schooling parents who regretted that decision. Even parents who eventually handed their kids over to the government regarded their home-schooling years as times of unusual closeness, happiness, and adventure.

Is home-schooling hard work? Let me rephrase that: is it an ordeal to spend large blocks of time with the people you love most on earth? With personable youngsters who are alive with questions, alive with the love of learning? Who regard you as their primary expert on everything? Who are eager to try out the things you teach them? Avid readers, well able to engage in intelligent conversation at an early age? So where’s the hardship?

Hard work, yes. Hardship, no. A few tips No, you do not have to be omniscient to educate your own children. This myth is promulgated by educrats, the folks who typically are drawn from the least intelligent members of the college population. By the time “those who know best” are done with the children entrusted to them, 80% are non-literate. They either cannot read, or really do not like to read. They do, however, know how to respond with pavlovian promptness to the bells. Literacy The ability to read well, widely, and insightfully separates the leaders from the followers. If you use a high-quality phonics program, such as Samuel Blumenfeld’s AlphaPhonics, or Marie LaDoux’s Play ‘n’ Talk, you can get a ready student up to speed in about 30 hours. By contrast, the typical Japanese student needs six years to become fluent in his hieroglyphic language. The typical American public school student, after years of being taught to regard words as hieroglyphics, rather than as phonic representations of sounds, is dyslexic or alexic. If your kids can read, they’re already ahead of 80% of their peers.

Kids also do what they see. If Mom and Dad’s favorite form of recreation is a good book, little monkey see leads to little monkey do.

Finally, block out an hour a day to read to your children. Put them to bed an hour earlier, then spend that time introducing them to Peter Rabbit and B’rer Rabbit. As novelist C. S. Lewis said, “A book that isn’t worth reading at age 50 isn’t worth reading at age 5.” There’s a lot of good material out there, and you can often find incredible bargains at library sales. This regular period of concentrated attention compounds over the years to nurture hearts and minds. Socialization The primary advantage of socialist education, we are told, is socialization. The ability to sniff the behinds of those around you, and ascertain your position in the pack, your place in the pecking order. In adult prisons, rapists help to put and keep “fresh meat” in its place. In kiddy penal institutions, bullies serve the same purpose. Several studies, including my own MS thesis, have measured the social maturity of home-educated children. This characteristic is normally far higher in kids who were raised in their families, than in those who were surrendered to The Lord of the Flies. It’s easy to pick out the home-schooled kids at family reunions. They’re the ones who can organize the younger cousins into games, or comfortably discuss politics with the sober aunts and uncles.

If most people today could aspire to government work from high school graduation to retirement, public education might make sense. Training people to beg permission before using the bathroom makes them more dependable line workers. In terms of preparation for the real world, however, the home-schooling family links effort with reward, input with output, in a direct manner that social promotions obscure. The discipline of independent learning, imparted early, equips kids with the preparation they need to excel on the university level. The typical home-educated child can handle selected community college classes soon after he hits puberty, and hungers for adult-sized challenges. Resources Successful home-schooling families view the character of the child as a primary resource. Education is not a “right,” a government “benefit” to be “given” to all good children in “equitable” servings. Rather, education is a duty. A characteristic of good character is the desire to find, and act upon, good information. Civilizations that honor “wisdom” tend to outlive and outperform any governments that happen to hold temporary power. Think of the European Jews, the Armenians, and the overseas Chinese. To the extent that parents can shape the attitudes of their children, bending them in this direction early makes the whole process work well. We don’t pull our kids out of public school to recreate a “classroom” in the basement, with neatly regimented desks, and a blackboard at the front. Rather, learning is part of everyday life. You spend an hour or two completing your daily work in order to keep up with your peers. Then, time invested beyond that in your area of passion takes you leagues ahead of your peers. Do your work quickly, do it well, and your time is your own.

Allies also are important. America still has an astonishing number of voluntary associations that are not sponsored by the state. Although the Boy Scouts of America are under assault by the devotees of the juggernaut state, there is enough residual stamina in that organization to flip off their would-be masters. A good scout troop will expose a boy to a number of learning opportunities, a wide selection of mentors, and the survival skills that backstop a tough self-confidence. Many home-school families participate in, or even create, 4-H clubs. Again, if you are involved with the troop or club, you have more opportunities to experience life with your child. More “teachable moments.”

Co-belligerents can also be helpful. God-talk makes some libertarians and most Randians nervous, for example. But many of the most influential people in the home-schooling movement are Christians. You may not agree with their basic premises, but you share with them a common foe. Typical Christian home-schooling families view it as sin to (sur)render unto Caesar that which is God’s, the precious children entrusted to their care. They have staked out one zone of resistance to the state, and defend it with the passion a mother bear has for her cubs. The liberty of the family has become a third rail of American politics on every level. These people watch their legislatures with jaundiced, suspicious eyes. They often invest $100/year in the Home School Legal Defense Association to secure the services of rabidly fanatical lawyers in case an agent of the state tries to infringe their familial liberties. Many regard with suspicion any government that demands more of them than their God does, the tithe. These fighting fundamentalists are even now throwing sand into Caesar’s gears. Respect them for that.

Hope Lovers of classic movies recall Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. At one point, the young protagonist’s eyes are opened. The factory gate that the workers are trudging in lockstep into suddenly becomes the mouth of Moloch. The State needs a steady stream of resources to continue its work of cancerous expansion. The most valuable “resource” we can hand over is our children. Well, suppose we politely refuse to hand our children over. Suppose we raise our children to regard all the claims of the state, starting with its asserted claim to 30 hours of their lives every week, with skepticism. How likely will these children be to go along with other statist demands in the future?

The level of government that most directly impacts our lives is local. More than half of the typical county’s budget goes to “education.” As home-schooling becomes mainstream, folks begin to wonder:

  • IF we are pouring $200,000 a year into a classroom of twenty students,
  • AND IF the teacher is making $40,000 a year,
  • AND IF $10,000 a year should be gracious plenty to pay for the classroom and its utilities,
  • THEN WHERE did the remaining $150,000 go? As Odell the mover said, after pocketing a client’s certified check and before unlocking the van, “Some damn body made a buck today.”

When people start asking these questions, a major societal transformation is afoot.

July 26, 2004