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Common Objections to Homeschooling

4. If you don't send your children to school, how are they going to learn to fit into a mass society?

5. If you don't send children to school, how are they going to be exposed to any values other than the commercial values of a mass society?

Educators often ask me these two questions in the same meeting, often within a few minutes of each other. Obviously, they cancel each other out. The schools may in fact be able to prepare children to fit into the mass society, which means, among other things, believing what most people believe and liking what most people like. Or they may be able to help children find a set of values with which they could resist and reject at least many of the values of the mass society. But they certainly can't do both.

It seems to be one of the articles of faith of educators that they, and they alone, hold out to the young a vision of higher things. At meetings, they often talk as if they spent much of their time and energy defending children from the corrupt values of the mass media and the television set. Where, but from us, they say, are children going to hear about good books, Shakespeare, culture? We are the only ones who are thinking about what is good for them; everyone else is just trying to exploit them. The fact is, however, that most schools are far more concerned to have children accept the values of mass society than to help them resist them. When school people hear about people teaching their children at home, they almost always say, "But aren't you afraid that your children are going to grow up to be different, outsiders, misfits, unable to adjust to society?" They take it for granted that in order to live reasonably happily, usefully, and successfully in the world you have to be mostly like most other people.

In any case, the schools' efforts to sell children the higher culture seldom work, since they obviously value it so little themselves. In my introduction to Roland Betts's Acting Out (Boston: Little, Brown, 1978), a frightening account of life in New York City's public schools, I wrote:

Our big city schools are largely populated, and will be increasingly populated, by the children of the non-white poor, the youngest members and victims of a sick subculture of a sick society, obsessed by violence and the media-inspired worship of dominance, luxury, and power. This culture, or more accurately, anticulture, has done more harm to its members and victims, has fragmented, degraded, and corrupted them more than centuries of slavery and the most brutal repression were able to do. Every day this anticulture, in the person of the children, invades the schools. If the schools had a true and humane culture of their own, which they really understood, believed in, cared about, and lived by, as did the First Street School some years ago, they might put up a stiff resistance, might even win some of the children over. But since the culture of the school is only a pale and somewhat more timid and genteel version of the culture of the street outside... nothing changes. Far from being able to woo the children away from greed, envy, and violence, the schools cannot even protect them against each other.

A friend of mine, in his early thirties, is a journalist, generally liberal, and sympathetic to the young. Not long ago, he visited a number of high schools in the affluent suburbs of Los Angeles where he grew up, talking to the students, trying to find out what they seemed most interested in and cared most about. I asked eagerly what he had found. After a silence, he said, "They seem to be mostly interested in money, sex, and drugs." He was clearly as unhappy to say it as I was to hear it. We would both like to have found out that these favored young people wanted to do something to make a better world, as many did fifteen years ago. But we should not be surprised that young people should be most interested in the things that most interest their elders.

Nor is it fair to blame the schools, as many people do, for the interest of the young in these things. Attacked from all sides, the schools say plaintively, "But we didn't invent these values." Quite right; they didn't. What we can and must say is that to whatever extent the schools have tried to combat these values, they have almost totally failed. In any case, to return once more to my first point, they can hardly claim that they are at one and the same time teaching children to accept and also to resist these dominant values of our commercial culture.

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