Home Schooling II
Last night’s post on Patrick Henry College has drawn, by OTB standards, quite a lot of commentary and some follow-on posts from John Kalb and Bryan at AWS. I would note that I read the two NYT articles in reverse order, seeing the advanced copy of the piece on Republican congressmen hiring PHC graduates at extremely high levels before reading the introductory article, so my reaction was conditioned toward that issue.
My argument isn’t that such schools should be outlawed, merely that I find the idea of cloistering one’s children for the purposes of religious indoctrination objectionable and, especially, that I fear for the future of the Republican party if it moves even further into the control of such people.
Are there people who home school their children for reasons other than religious brainwashing? Sure. By and large, I’m still not sure it’s a good idea. A large part of schooling is the social process of interacting with other students, dealing with the rigors of a set schedule, learning to live with seemingly arbitrary rules set by others, etc. While I’m often disgusted with the quality of the teachers at public schools, they at least expose their students to views beyond those of their parents. That’s a good thing.
At the university level, a different dynamic is at work. Historically, many if not most of the great universities in this country started as religious institutions. But they quickly became secularized and aimed at broadening the minds of their students rather than reinforcing their preconceived notions. This is even true of most of the religiously based schools such as Holy Cross and Notre Dame. But it’s far less true of places like Liberty, Oral Roberts, Bob Jones, and Patrick Henry. Schools that exist to reinforce the prejudices of the parents and insulate their students from the world around them are anathema to the very concept of higher education.
Furthermore, schools like Bob Jones and Liberty exist on the fringe. Putting them on one’s re’sume’ sends a signal to the rest of the world that you’re likely a zealot. Apparently, though, this is not true of Patrick Henry, a school that didn’t exist a decade ago and which was created with the express view of channelizing home schooled kids through another four years of religious indoctrination. If the intern class statistics mentioned in the NYT piece is not a fluke, it would indicate that many GOP lawmakers are actually recruiting these people for their staff. That is a move toward the fringes that troubles me.
Note, too, that my objection isn’t about religion per se but about extreme measures of indoctrination and the isolation of children from society at large. The U.S. is easily the most religious country in the modern world, a trend that’s existed despite the fact that we’ve got a very long history of public schools and the fact that we send a greater proportion of our youth on to college than any other society. While education can temper religious fervor, it can also strengthen spirituality. People who are forced to examine their belief systems often emerge with a tempered faith. Indeed, that’s the idea behind the “born again” phenomenon that’s part of many evangelical traditions. But exposure to other ideas–and especially close association with those who have different ideas–tends to work against fanaticism and toward tolerance. A society as diverse as ours depends on this to survive.