One thing leads to another…and another…and another…

Men treat women as ontologically-inferior brood mares—>women resent their natural role as mother—>women reject motherhood—>children lose their primary educators—>new demand for State schools—>…

Such, at least, is what Marrou (1948) implies here:

These early years were in fact primarily a time for play, and from the literature of the time, the vase-paintings and terra-cottas, and toys found in tombs, we can get some idea of the games played by Greek children. They were indeed the same old games on which children always expend their bursting energy, discovering with delight their marvellous faculty of movement and the tricks they can get up to because of it, and copying the grown-ups in their own juvenile way. Then, as always, they had rattles, dolls (some of them jointed ones), rocking-horses, little carts, cups and saucers for their dolls’ dinner-parties, small gardening tools, and balls and especially knucklebones for games of skill.

This is all quite ordinary, and the Greeks did not look upon it as important; it was merely παιδιά—“childishness”. The Ancients would have laughed their heads off if they could have seen our infant-school and kindergarten specialists, Froebel or Signora Montessori, gravely studying the educational value of the most elementary games. In Greece, of course, there were no infant-schools. These did not appear until quite recently—out of the barbarous womb of the Industrial Revolution, when the employment of women in factories meant establishing day-nurseries, so that mothers could be “free” to respond to the sound of the factory whistle. In antiquity the family was the centre of the child’s early education.

[The U.S. Department of Education was formed as a Cabinet-level agency in 1979.]


This passage, from Marrou’s History of Education in Antiquity, has helped me put my finger on what bothered me about yesterday’s little stat-comic (aside from the basic fact that, like all such colorful and vulgar compilations of statistics, it is propagandistic and inherently argumentative, and therefore superficially suspicious). It was the top image, that of the homeschooled student arm-wrestling with the public-schooled student, that made me uncomfortable at first. There’s little point in going into the effects that widespread intolerance of homeschooling among those who don’t do it have had on homeschooling parents, specifically that of making them defensive. So such a combative attitude as the cartoon had is understandable, but it commits the same sin of bigotry as the ignorant prohibitor of homeschooling. As a defense of homeschooling against the usual attacks, the cartoon does admirably, but, by pushing back just as hard on precisely those points on which the homeschooling parents are most often challenged, instead of putting the tension to rest, it exacerbates it.

Homeschooling being as small as it is in the US, it is impossible for trends among homeschoolers to represent (and have predictive power about) homeschooling as such in the way that trends among public school students represent and have predictive power about students in the public schools. If there is a trend among homeschooled students, it is indicative of the sort of people who choose to homeschool. If there is a trend among public school students, it is indicative of the school.

That being said, however, the parents being invested in their children’s education is what makes homeschooling so much better than public schooling. I have seen this as a student and teacher in public schools, in private schools, and in home schools. The point is the same: when the administrator and the teacher are totally divorced offices, disaster ensues. And when the parent thinks he can purchase an education for his child with money, drop his child off at the bus stop, pick him up in the afternoon, and not have to think about it any more than that (or, as I know from teaching the fatherless children of Southeast D.C., far less), disaster ensues. The rich and the poor alike are guilty of being bad parent-educators because they can.

I don’t hate public schools qua schools. I hate the centralized administrative apparatus staffed (currently) by more than 17,000 employees and with an annual budget of over $14.2 billion, who do not actually teach children, mandating to teachers the substance and methods of their curricula and pedagogy.

I don’t know what ought to be the substance of a child’s education—nor do I have the right to mandate it, except in the case of my own children and those entrusted to me by those who do, i.e., parents. We all have a stake in this, it’s true. That’s why we all have to be resolved that the decisions we make be informed not only by careful theoretical deliberation, but also by the wisdom of trial and error.

This cannot be done by a secretary of education, or even by a Secretary of Education with 16,999 subordinates, for 76 million children. It’s hard enough, as anyone who has tried knows, for an individual to do it for a class of 20 or 30, or for a faculty of a couple dozen to do it for a student body of 300.

To say nothing of the grim institutions of thousands of students that are the US public high schools.

The endless back-and-forth about what is the real ratio of teachers to administrators, in which the administrators are going to lie and their political opponents on the other end are going to lie, is pointless. If there’s one indisputable thing to take away from the comic-propaganda piece, one thing useful, imperative, urgent for parents, it’s that the distinction of administrator-teacher is pernicious to the education of the child. Every administrator should also be a teacher. And every teacher, to the extent that he has any autonomy at all, is an administrator. And also, not that the parents should be the primary educators, but that the parents are the primary educators, whether anyone likes it or not, as any father who has seen his son imitate his own most shameful habits, to his chagrin, knows.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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