As COVID-19 grows to consume every element of our society, the focus has now landed on the subject of education. When should schools re-open? What protections should be put in place for teachers? What should “the new normal” be for children and their education? While these are all important questions during these unprecedented times, another stunning question is also being discussed: “Should schools re-open at all?”
While portions of the American Left engage in an absurd battle over demands from teachers unions who see this crisis as an opportunity for political gain, some on the Right are in danger of failing to fight in favor of reopening schools. The reason for this is the widespread view that alternative educational solutions, such as homeschooling, make the debate over public schools redundant.
The issue here is not whether homeschooling should be permitted — it is obviously the right of any parent to choose the style and substance of their child’s education — or whether homeschooling is effective — data suggests that “homeschooled children tend to do better on standardized tests, stick around longer in college, and do better once they’re enrolled.” The issue is the underlying assumptions required to enable the general conclusion that all parents should homeschool their children as a solution to the COVID-19-induced educational crisis.
Schools don’t want to open, and they don’t want to educate the children? Okay, problem solved. We can all keep our tax dollars and we’ll home school our kids or work with our neighbors to find local solutions. Thanks.
— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) August 2, 2020
Such statements certainly don’t come from positions of malice or spite. In fact, they are almost exclusively motivated by an honest desire for children to receive the benefits of a good education. However, while there are certainly legitimate criticisms of the public school system, including curriculum, school choice, and funding, some conservatives are making the mistake of providing arguments rooted in idealism over realism, and make a few critical errors by claiming that homeschooling is an appropriate solution to the broken — and now closed — public school system.
The first is that these arguments assume the existence of the resources homeschooling demands. Children require basic supplies, an established space in which to study, and access to resources such as the internet. The unfortunate reality is that many families are not able to afford the supplies required to homeschool their child. Some 9 million children (14% of children between the ages of 3 and 18) don’t have access to the internet at home. Without adequate funds or internet access, it’s unrealistic to expect poorer families or neighborhoods to provide their children with appropriate or equitable levels of education.
The second mistake is the assumption that all adults are either able or willing to homeschool their children. Speaking frankly, the fact that some parents may wish to homeschool their children does not mean that they are either educationally or financially capable of doing so. When it comes to poor neighborhoods, the concept of finding “community solutions” seems somewhat lacking in compassion when everyone in that community is under the similar financial stress.
In addition, considering the familiar statistic that 72% of children in the African-American community are born into single-parent homes, many of those households would be left to decide between providing for their children financially or educationally.
Finally, the brutal fact is that some parents simply do not value education and would not provide their children with any educational support.
When it comes to education, conservatives often approach this area of debate by focusing on successful examples of alternatives. Yes, the benefits provided by private or charter schools are often preferable to public schools. Yes, an involved home support system is optimal for a child’s success. Yes, parents should have the option to choose their child’s school.
However, when it comes to early education, conservatives must also acknowledge that equality of opportunity must be a primary goal. It is the purpose, and duty, of our public school system, as imperfect as it is, to provide those who were born without the benefits of others with the opportunity to better themselves through the meritocracy of education.
Conservatives should reject the attempts to use the closure of public schools as leverage to achieve radical political aims, while also taking the lead when it comes to the fight to re-open schools for those who depend on them. If we abandon public schools by assuming that the alternatives for some are realistic options for all, we abandon future generations to real and inescapable inequity. If we truly believe in equality of opportunity over equality of outcome, then we must also work to provide children with the opportunity that some parents cannot, or unfortunately will not, provide.
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