September 04, 2007

It’s alive, and it’s arrived! “Back to school” season is here.


It’s that time of year when merchants get downright giddy, as countless pint-sized shoppers peruse and purchase Hilary Duff backpacks, folders featuring beloved superheroes, shiny pencils, and eco-friendly attire. Meanwhile, moms and dads count down the days when a gas-guzzling banana-colored bus will arrive in the neighborhood (or ‘hood) to squire their youngsters to the care of a certified professional.


But amidst the chirpy greeting card mentality that accompanies this familiar rite of passage is another message that won’t get any meaningful airtime: It’s also that time of year when vulnerable youngsters are required to leave their homes to being nine long months of subjection to statist agitprop. As Alan Caruba, founder of the National Anxiety Center, observed in a recent commentary: “From the Head Start program to the International Baccalaureate, the whole purpose of ‘education’ today is to create new generations of Americans who think that the United Nations should govern the entire planet and who uncritically accept politically correct beliefs about gender issues, diversity, multiculturalism, and environmentalism.”


No kidding. Abetted by mandatory education laws, many modern schools now serve as de facto indoctrination centers where little kids, tweens, and teens are compelled to listen to half-truths about everything from the Founding Fathers to the free market. The kiddos are ‘taught’ by folks who are largely too lazy, too liberal, too inexperienced, or too illiterate to teach phonics, history, economics, or mathematics with any degree of rigor or intellectual honesty.


Furthermore, the modern academy is actually intended to be hostile to traditional family values. As James T. Bennett and Thomas DiLorenzo state in Official Lies: How Washington Misleads Us, “Schools are to act in loco parentis – in the place of parents – in matters great and small, from hygiene to morals. Mass education proponents of old repeatedly confirmed that inconvenient truth. Compulsory-education advocate Newton Bateman wrote in the late nineteenth century that government has a ‘right of eminent domain’ over the ‘minds and souls and bodies’ of us all; therefore education ‘cannot be left to the caprices and contingencies of individuals.’ “


Bateman was blunter than Horace Mann, the so-called father of public education, who gave his crusade for Prussian-style schooling for the huddled masses a shred of respectability by claiming that his goal was to diminish poverty by providing education for the less fortunate.


But A.A. Hodge, the 19th century Princeton Seminary theologian, got it. “I am as sure as I am of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.” Have events of the 20th century proved him wrong?


The Pandora’s box of costly social ills that the bureaucratization and federalization of schooling has unleashed upon generation of Americans is mind-boggling. Reams of scholarly and quantitative research, journalistic exposes, anecdotal accounts, and legal affidavits document every educational debacle known to man from epidemic illiteracy rates to rising drop-out rates to bilingual education failures to bullying incidents to sexual misconduct by teachers to intemperate dispensation of Ritalin to the antsy to ever-increasing property tax hikes to error-filled curricula to crumbling infrastructure to construction boondoggles to intrusive psychological testing to schoolyard gang recruitment to absurd zero tolerance safety policies to… fill in your own particular pet peeve. Big Pharma, Big Labor, Big Business, Big Publishing, and Big Government all have their hot little hands in this lavishly taxpayer-funded cookie jar.


The all-purpose solution to any school problem, by the gatekeepers and their legions of lackeys is, of course, money. Well, make that “money, money, money, money,” with apologies to Sally Bowles and the Emcee in the musical Cabaret.


A healthy backlash was inevitable. Just as right-to-work movement was born out of frustration with the coercive practices of the labor unions, there is a modern right-to-not-attend-school movement. It’s known simply as “homeschooling.”


Patricia M. Lines, a former U.S. Department of Education researcher, defined the practice as “Educating children under the supervision of parents instead of school teachers.” Brian D. Ray, of the National Home Education Research Institute, explains that “some families organize homeschools like a conventional school, with structured daily activities. Others view all of life as an opportunity for learning and use a very flexible schedule. Most families provide educational experiences outside as well as inside the home.”


Homeschooling, a grass-roots phenomenon whose numbers hover around two million, is not a movement of the wealthy or of those with elite educations—although there are, of course, well-to-do homeschoolers and public intellectuals among the rank and file. More typical is Joyce Swann. Joyce had only a high school diploma when Alexandra, her eldest child, began her homeschooling days, but Joyce was motivated and organized. By age 16, Alexandra had earned a master’s degree from a California state university’s external degree program, and at age 18 she was hired by El Paso Community College to teach Western Civilization.


Of that experience Alexandra reports, “ I taught hundreds of students, worked for two different departments at the college, and was evaluated by several colleagues. I enjoyed a good rapport with both students and faculty, and no one ever told me that I did not belong or that I was too young or inexperienced to do the job.”


Many parents consider themselves ‘kitchen table’ homeschoolers, which means that one parent, usually the mother, sits with the children and helps them through a pre-planned curriculum, be it classical-Christian in bent or a sturdy, supportive model such as the Calvert School has been offering home educators for many years.


Other home educators describe their homespun endeavor as ‘family-schooling’ or ‘parent-funded’ and want the practice to remain wholly independent of government money and control—although most pay close attention to their states’ truancy laws in order to avoid a messy legal battle.


The homeschooling public have told pollsters and researchers that scholastic excellence, avoidance of negative peer influence, flexibility of schedule, and family togetherness are among their favorite reasons to bypass institutionalized schooling. But spiritual instruction remains of utmost importance, especially to the denizens of American Christendom, be they evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or Old-Order Mennonites. Faith-based homeschooling has always had strong representation in the movement, and some citizens have endured punitive penalties for their ardent views regarding separation of school and state and religion.


In 1984, Sam and Marquita Shippy, Christian pacifists, agrarians, and land levelers, spent several weeks in an Idaho jail for failing to comply with draconian school-building mandates imposed upon their homeschool by local commissars. The educrats also claimed that Sam and Marquita had violated truancy laws by not giving their children an adequate education (whatever that means). Consequently, the six Shippy children were placed in foster care for several months, before they returned home for good. (A black and white photo of one of the Shippy children being carried away forcibly by local law enforcement officers while his mother helplessly looks on, is the cover of Samuel Blumenfeld’s book, Is Public Education Necessary?)


During that time, the family’s dress, recreation, and educational standards, motivated by their conservative beliefs, were violated. For instance, daughter Sherri Shippy, then 14, was made to attend a graduation dance against her wishes. She also had to wear jeans to school instead of her customary long dress.


In some ways, Sherri was fortunate that her nightmare didn’t occur in 2004. Had she lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, her state-appointed guardians might have made her sit through the Amherst Regional High School’s performance of The Vagina Monologues, that cutting-edge piece of ‘art’ by radical feminist Eve Ensler.


But thanks to the efforts of Idaho legislators like Bob Forrey, who advocated on behalf of this long-suffering family and who shepherded legislation which softened the state’s stance toward alternative schooling methods, home education is, today, an established educational choice in the Treasure State.


The attractiveness of homeschooling has only increased as government schools grow at once more hostile to Christian traditions and more tolerant of alien and “alternative” views, ranging from radical Islam to gay unions. Mary Frances Stevens, a substitute teacher in a San Diego elementary school recently told talk show host Roger Hedgecock that a Muslim prayer meeting took place in a sixth grade classroom she was minding. In 2004, in Mustang, Oklahoma – the heart of red-state country – Superintendent Karl Springer ordered that a nativity scene and the classic “Silent Night” be removed from a Christmas program being performed at an elementary school. In 2005, David Parker, a believer who adheres to the notion that marriage is “the holy union between a man and a woman,” was arrested for refusing to leave his then 6-year-old son’s Lexington, Massachusetts elementary school. The Boston Globe reported that a verbal dispute occurred between Parker and school officials over his request that he and his wife be notified “about classroom discussions about same-sex marriage.”


Fed-up parents have gone home and are no worse off for it.


Writing in First Things, Sally Thomas, a Catholic mother, unapologetically explains the daily routine at her not-taxpayer-funded mini school, “Most important for us in the ordering of our life is that our homeschooling day unfolds from habits of prayer. We begin the day with the rosary and a saint’s life; we say the Angelus at lunchtime; we do a lesson from the catechism or a reading in apologetics and say the evening office before bed. Our children have internalized this rhythm and, to my intense gratification, the older children marshal the younger children to prayers even when their father and I are absent. The day is shaped and organized by times of turning to God.”


Darrell Dow, a Baptist and another enthusiastic homeschool parent, also doesn’t shy away from airing impolitic thoughts about schooling and the Almighty. On his blog he wrote, “Education must be as to the Lord, and if either church or State is primarily responsible to provide education, they will still instill fealty and subjugation to an institution rather than God.”


Try broadcasting that sentiment at the school board meeting at any John F. Kennedy school in the United States. Like David Parker, you just might be escorted out of the building.


So, what do the products of a religious home-based education look like when they become masters and mistresses of their destinies? Often they are accomplished, confident, and willing to honor the faith of their fathers and mothers.


· Jason Murphey is a homeschool graduate and a member of the Oklahoma legislature who attends the Church of God Outreach in rural Logan County. Like his parents before him, he and his wife are homeschooling their two young sons. Rep. Murphey is not only making his mark as a small-government reformer who refuses to accept gifts from lobbyists, he’s also a champion of educational reform.


· Only 15 years old, Jessica Long a double amputee—and an accomplished swimmer and. The Baltimore resident was awarded an ESPY from ESPN for the category of “Best Female Athlete with a Disability.” Jessica was adopted by Beth and Steve Long from a Russian orphanage. The pretty paralympian isn’t shy about sharing her beliefs on her Web site. She simply writes, “I’m a Christian. When I was very young, my parents taught me about the sacrifice that Jesus paid for me.”


It would be easy to fill a book with examples of such young people who are leading productive, interesting, and even newsworthy lives. Americans, looking for rays of hope in the often bleak educational landscape, should take comfort in the can-do attitude of modern homeschoolers.


Then again, good things can occur when you bypass the yellow bus ride and remain in the care of loving adults, who teach you that that fear of the Lord, not trust in the State, is the beginning of wisdom.


Domus, dulcis, domus.


Isabel Lyman is author of The Homeschooling Revolution.


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