There were some dissenters, however, & one of the most vehement one was someone who could not understand why I would not continue to support the public school system. To him, choosing my children over "all" children was socially & morally selfish. AFter our interviews in various media, I saw a few people mention this, too. Why not fix the problems from within rather than remove ourselves from it, in part because we could afford to leave?This resonated with me in no small part because of a conversation I had with a colleague years ago. Before I'd done my reading on education and my research on homeschooling, long before I'd married and had children, I mentioned to a coworker that I'd entered college with the intention of becoming a teacher, but quickly soured on it and changed majors. I never quite recovered from some discouraging--even shocking--attitudes that I encountered in my introductory classes within the School of Education. The lectures that I attended did not discuss learning theories or motivational approaches, but focused on crowd management and "results-based" standardized testing and basically every other depressing reality which suggests that public education is not about nurturing a love of learning and an ability to self-teach and pursue knowledge and skills, but rather about producing a consistent product and never questioning whether the quality of that consistency is acceptable. I was shocked, saddened, and frightened away. When I expressed my disillusionment to my friend, he challenged me: "Well, why didn't you stick it out and try to be the one who changes it?"
It was a good question. But let's be frank: it's also a naive one. Hollywood loves the story of the determined educator who nurtures potential in a group of disenfranchised kids. Many of these stories are inspired by real people, and I have a deep respect for the tenacity and determination and sheer resilience of each and every one of them. But--real or fictional--for every Jaime Escalante and Joe Clark, every Erin Gruwell or Louanne Johnson, there are hundreds more teachers who bleed themselves dry trying, and thousands more teachers and administrators and school boards who block their efforts, directly or indirectly.
I do not blame the teachers. Oh good gracious, this is the first thing that many people get defensive about when they hear that I don't send my kids to school. I'll probably explore my feelings on the teacher thing in another post. For now, though, I want to stay focused as much as possible on one point.
Which is, is it nobler to try to fix the system from within and elitist to remove my children from it?
I'll concede "maybe". Yes, it would be terrific to see some real change happen in our public schools. But the problems noted by Holt and Gatto and all of the other reformers, critics, and theorists that I never read about in school (but should have)...these underlying problems (we're not talking test scores!) have not only not been adequately addressed over several generations, but many of them have gotten worse. In many ways, we are so locked into our cultural notion of what "education" looks like, that I often feel that true reform is impossible. It's frustrating to watch well-meaning politicians and administrators try to "fix" schools by doing more of the same. The overall approach seems to be more funding and earlier intervention, and few people are brave enough to suggest that maybe the paradigm itself is inefficient at best and absurd at worst. Imagining that I would be the one person, the one catalyst, who could make enough of an impact to improve things within the generation that I teach is highly unlikely. If that makes me a defeatist, so be it. But it also makes me a realist. I know that I don't have that battle in me. I know that I can't survive that kind of soul-draining effort for the length of a career.
Is it elitist/amoral/selfish to take my kids out of that paradigm and let the other kids presumably suffer? The easy answer is "Yes and I don't care, so eff off." (Boy, wouldn't that be nice to say sometimes!) The more thoughtful answer is twofold.
First and foremost, it is my right and privilege and duty to consider the welfare of my children above all others. If that makes me an unpatriotic citizen, so be it. It is what it is. It's a social and personal choice, yes, but it's also a biological imperative and I feel neither the need to justify it nor to apologize for it. These children are my charges, and you'd better believe that I will make choices that benefit them without feeling like it's my obligation to make sure that *everyone's* kids enjoy the same benefit. Would we make a mother feel guilty for breastfeeding because others only have formula? How dare you give your child an advantage that all others don't have equal access to!
This blends nicely into my second point. Have we not yet gotten to a place in our Enlightened Society where we realize that Harrison Bergeron isn't a fable but a commentary? Guess what? There will never be a perfectly level playing field. Life will never be equal for everyone, and it's absurd to think that we can force such an environment. We cannot raise everyone to the ideal, but why do we insist on then equalizing by effectively asking everyone meet at the lowest common denominator? Just because you can't or won't doesn't mean that I shouldn't. Where is the live-and-let-live? Let me do it my way and stop begrudging me the freedom to try because I do not have the ability to do it for everyone.
I can feel myself talking in circles. That's how so much of the more controversy-stirring aspects of education makes me feel. It's just absurd!
I let my colleague's comment bother me for a long time. I felt as though he was challenging my drive, my intelligence, and my determination. I felt like he'd exposed me for chickening out. And maybe I did. But I've also come to realize something very important.
A public school teacher cannot improve the lives of all children. But a teacher can reach a few...can make a difference for a few, and that's a noble and wonderful thing.
A homeschooling parent cannot improve the lives of all children. But I can change things for a few.
I AM changing things. For MY few. And for them, I trust that it will make a positive difference.