Compulsory Mis-education

There is still a little bit of freedom left in America. Or at least, that is the opinion of Uwe Romeike, who has sold all that he has to move his family from Germany to the United States, where he is currently seeking political asylum. “Political asylum?” you ask. “Isn't that for people being persecuted for religious or political beliefs?” Yes, it is, and the Romeike family believe that they are being persecuted for the crime of homeschooling their children. According to the Associated Press,

He had to pay fines equivalent to hundreds of dollars for his decision, and he's afraid that if he returns to Germany, police will arrest him and government authorities will take away his children, who range in age from 11 to 3.
When the Romeikes wouldn't comply with repeated orders to send the children to school, police came to their home one October morning in 2006 and took the children, crying and upset, to school. "We tried not to open the door, but they (police) kept ringing the doorbell for 15 or 20 minutes," Romeike said. "They called us by phone and spoke on the answering machine and said they would knock open the door if we didn't open it. So I opened it."

The complaints or the Romeike's about German education will be familiar to many Americans:

His oldest child, Daniel, had a health textbook that used slang terms to describe sexual relations - including the German equivalent of the "F-word." Other schoolbooks taught disrespect of authority figures and had images and tales about the occult, that included vampires and witches, Romeike said. "It's really different in public schools today than when I was in public school," Romeike said. "They (the state) believe children must be socialized and all kids must grow up the same and act the same, otherwise they wouldn't fit in society."

The case brings up an interesting question: do children belong to the parents or the state? Germany wishes to socialize the Romeike's children. This is not a bad goal. But in a culture like ours (and Germany's) that constantly preaches “multi-culturalism,” it is somewhat disappointing to see that some cultures don't qualify, and particularly the evangelical culture of the Romeikes. It is true that children are, in a sense, a “public” resource. After all, the future of any nation depends on children and the quality of their upbringing. But they are a public resource only by way of being a family resource. Most assuredly, the state and and should intervene when the family structure breaks down and the children are in danger, but homeschooling does not qualify. Indeed, the best evidence is that home-schooled children are not only better educated, they are better socialized.

We have placed a lot of emphasis on compulsory education, and given the state a virtual monopoly on that education. Certainly the public schools have a monopoly on public funding for education. Yet the results are doubtful. Worse, we are developing—have developed—a two-tier system, where the children of the middle-class and rich get an education—more or less—while the poor send their children to schools that are little more than poorly-run warehouses that keep the children off the streets for eight hours a day so the parents can go to work. No blog can adequately list the problems associated with these schools, and I won't attempt it. But let me suggest that we could solve most of these problems by simply re-examining our assumptions about compulsory education and public funding.

Compulsion is always a suspicious category to lovers of freedom, yet no sane society can do without a certain minimum. Should this minimum include education? Without a doubt, education should be available to all. But not everybody wants to avail themselves of an education. For the grade schools, this is likely less of a problem. But at the high school level, serious problems arise when trying to force an education on those determined not to get one. Further, by the time one gets past grade school, not everybody needs the same kind of education. High school likely ruins a lot of young men who would otherwise be happier apprenticing as mechanics or plumbers. And their often sullen presence makes education more difficult for those who really want one. Indeed, a sufficient number of sullen students makes a school downright dangerous. But the school should be a haven from the danger of the streets, not an extension of it.

But whatever the education provided, the family should be at the center, and variety should be the mechanism. The state monopoly ought to be broken by vouchers to parents, based on a sliding scale. Those capable of educating their children from their own resources should get little or nothing; those too poor to pay but little should pay but little, if at all. To the degree that everyone pays, everyone is aware of the costs, and this tends to make people more involved in the decisions. The state, to the degree that it pays, should have the right to set some standards, but this is a relative right, not an absolute one. It certainly has the right to test students on some mandated minimums, but after meeting state minimums, the schools should be free to do as they wish. Or rather, as the parents wish. Some of the schools will, no doubt, turn out to be awful. But having a few awful schools is much better than having one awful school system. There is no reason in principle why the state should run a single school, although in practice there may be many reasons for it to do so. But local control can sort these issues out.

There can be endless arguments on what does and does not constitute an adequate curriculum. I will not enter that debate except to say that there can be any number of curricula that are adequate. Vouchers would break the state monopoly and bring about a true multi-culturalism, one that is really cultured (educated). In this system of support, homeschooling ought to be supported. This will not only strengthen education, it will strengthen family life. A mother (or father) who demonstrates an ability to teach (perhaps inferred from the fact that her students pass the state tests, should receive some support for at least books and materials, and perhaps even a modest stipend.

Uwe has come to this country seeking freedom. Those of us who are already here ought to seek it as well.



10 comments:

B. Lee Wainscott Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 8:39:00 PM CDT  

Another problem is the lack of a liberal education, liberal in the sense of general and well-rounded, not progressive. The liberal education is the foundation for the virtuous, sensible man, while the modern system creates nothing more than bankers. That is why it is best to avoid it, as it creates men with no other end than profit, and with "values" at best, rather than virtues.

An education should today very much include mathematics for the sake of expanding the space programme, something I think was wise for the US and Soviet Union to do during the Space Race--the exploration of space should be considered very important. But in a sense mathematics and hard science are too much emphasised, sacrificing philosophy, logic, and the humanities. Children need to be cultured--learn to appreciate the Good, the True, and the Beautiful and to find in it virtue itself.

But with modern compulsatory education this is impossibe.

B. Lee Wainscott Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 8:46:00 PM CDT  

And on a second note, those who show a great competence in mathematics and the hard sciences should perhaps be spend to special schools which can heavily emphasise the more sophisticated phystics, which normally intelligent students and dull students would not comprehend.

But the end of education must be higher than "making a bigger salary" as the posters in schools push student to do by advertising college. It must most importantly form man for his supernatural end, but in terms of his natural end it must help him achieve the nobler pursuits of temporal life, rather than the baser one of a higher paycheck. For example, the temporal end of space exploration is very good since there may be much to gain from our discoveries in space. Or medicine is very important for the sake of the health of society. Or philosophy and ethics are important, not only for our religion, but for acting jutly in political and economic regards.

Hans Lundahl Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 6:16:00 AM CDT  

I've linked to your post in the post "Obligatoire n'est pas gratuite" on deretour blog

Charlie Roy Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 7:19:00 PM CDT  

Perhaps it is best to let local communities and groups of families create their own schools outside of the central control of the state. Catholic schools in America were and are a response to the secularist state and their mandate of public compulsory education. The best Catholic schools still operate a traditional liberal arts model of education.

The world "progressive" can be used to describe instructional methods (not aims) that are of value. Being lectured at no matter how traditional is not the optimal way to learn.

Johanne Friday, April 3, 2009 at 2:54:00 AM CDT  

Children belong to their parents. Unless the parents abusive, that's the only time government should take action. The Romeike family's decision to home-school their children isn't remotely abusive.

B. Lee Wainscott Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 5:48:00 PM CDT  

Mr. Lundahl, is there an Enlgish translation of the blog you linked?

Hans Lundahl Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 4:02:00 PM CDT  

Feel free to make one, but do not call it authorised unless you submit it to my approval first.

I avoid translating my own texts, but I won't stop others from doing so.

Hans Lundahl Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 5:41:00 AM CDT  

On sitemeter I saw someone had used an automatic translation from Swedish.

I sincerely hope that is not you.

A) The post was written in French, not in Swedish.

B) Computers are so not able to translate correctly.

If you do not know French (or for that matter Swedish, for posts written in that language), please use a professional translator.

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Hans-Georg Lundahl Friday, November 13, 2009 at 7:06:00 AM CST  

and now there is a spam comment to delete above this one and below my former from April this year

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