Homeschooling: The Tyranny of the Parent

Tucked into a very interesting article on BBC News about the increase in popularity of homeschooling amongst black U.S. families are the following horrifying words, included as a sort of informative sidebar:
[Professor Rob Reich of Stanford] says home-schooled children should be tested annually "to discover whether or not they are making even rudimentary progress" - and that public schools often produce better citizens because children are exposed to a greater diversity of beliefs and people.

"What you are looking to avoid is either the tyranny of the state in standardising every child in its own image - or the tyranny of the parent controlling every last aspect of a child's socialisation.

"You want a balanced authority that acts as a check on the potential tyranny of each agent."

The least offensive claim is that public school kids are exposed to a greater diversity of beliefs and people. But it's ridiculous on the face of it, even if we grant that it's a virtue in se, to claim that public school kids are exposed to a blah blah "great diversity of beliefs and people". Have we forgotten how public schools are zoned? My sister played four years of volleyball at a high school that must have been 80% black, and it was only that low because the school board put the I.B. program at that school. Every town, including the one I grew up in, with more than one high school ends up with different "types". The preppy high school. The "inner city" (read "black") high school. The regular kids' high school. The redneck high school. And if you step into the country, there's absolutely no "diversity". Unless you're in the South, in which case each school is divided into two co-existing but separate cultures, black and white. And please note, it's not a diversity in this case, it's a simple dichotomy.

Professor Reich is at Stanford, which is located in a particularly "diverse" area of a very "diverse" state.  It's not like that in the rest of the country. I was homeschooled in that area in the early '90s. Homeschooling will be much more popular and much easier now than it was then, but even then, there was great diversity in the homeschooling community in the Bay Area. Not least the hippie kids whose reasons for homeschooling included the breadth of exposure to new and diverse experiences and people available to homeschoolers. Let us pass over for now that the hippie kids were usually unschooled idiots who couldn't read. They had a diversity of beliefs and people.

One of my readers says, "Madness. As if the socialization of a classroom of 25 kids all one age and only one adult can beat out the depth of experiences my children receive in the community with people of all ages and diversity. I really believe that people such as Professor Reich (really? Reich?) think that homeschooled parents lock their children in closets and never let them leave the home. And yes, 'tyranny of the parent' is frightening."

And that's me ol' seg├╝e. The diversity thing is wrong and wrong-headed, but it's the same stupidity that homeschoolers always have to deal with. "The tyranny of the parent" shows the sort of thinking that frightens homeschoolers, making them abusive social workers and jackbooted lawyers in the night.

Dr. Reich really thinks the state needs to be a balancing force against the authority of the parent? The pure insanity of comparing the might of the state to the decisions of parents is part and parcel with the recent defense of the chicken nugget scandal, in which it was suggested that "education professionals" would often be in a better position to make decisions for the well-being of a child (not simply to teach) by virtue of their training. There's absolutely no recognition that parents have one legitimate authority (the family) and the state another (civic government). But we're used to that sort of thinking.

"The tyranny of the parent". Still kills me every time. We're not talking about criminal cases here. Dr. Reich is suggesting that the inculcation of a strong family culture with its attendant beliefs and ethics is in itself tyrannical. This by virtue, I presume, of its lack of choices. Parents, act as if you don't really believe what you believe. Pretend that value systems you believe insufficient or evil aren't; place them in the display alongside the stuff you believe is best for your kid to choose from.

That's what the state claims to do.

But of course, even they can't do it. It's impossible. You will always promote what you think best and suppress what you believe to be wicked. There's no diversity is state education. There is only one path, and one goal: making good citizens. Good contributors to society. Faithful members of the state. And if parents are interfering with that in any way, it's tyranny of the parents.

This tyranny emerges, according to the good doctor, in the arena of "socialization". Homeschoolers are tired of addressing this issue. Socialization is not a real problem in homeschooling. Now, if by socialization you mean indoctrination as a citizen, then you're right, homeschoolers are poor at that.

Listen, people, I'm just a bearded pseudo-hipster who likes poetry, microbrew, and art galleries. I like watching my wife garden. I like going down to the little Latin grocery on the corner. I like going down to the courts for pick-up basketball. I'm a good citizen, thanks in part to my education as a homeschooler. But this is the kind of thing that makes me want to move up into the hills and do something to get myself placed on an FBI watchlist. I guess I'm badly socialized after all.

Hear that phrase again: The Tyranny of The Parent. Sigh.



  1. Love this, (as you can tell by my "Like"). I love the situation that my family is in -- we homeschool, I teach at a (non-religious) private school (~99% white), and I also work for the public school district (~85% black).

    I could tell you pluses and minuses of all 3 systems, and I can also say that I see parents in all 3 types of education who make their choices for great reasons, and for poor reasons.

    Education is, for the most part, what you make of it.

  2. Awesome post! Looks like Dr. Reich hasn't heard that employers these days prefer homeschoolers for their independence and ability to self-motivate, among other qualities. Now those are people who can contribute to society!

    It makes me cringe that so many people think its bad for children to be educated by the ones who are most invested in their future - their parents! Ugh...


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