A recent article in The Atlantic tells us that the pandemic has families leaving the public school system in droves and embracing homeschooling. This shift, we are told, may be permanent. From the article:
“Homeschooling families, which included roughly 3 percent of school-age children in the United States in 2016, have lots of different reasons for wanting to educate their own kids. But they’re united in a common assessment: They want out of the traditional system. The question is whether COVID-19 will cause a temporary bump in homeschooling as parents piece together their days during the pandemic or mark a permanent inflection point in education that continues long after the virus has been controlled. Some families may find that they want to exit the system for good.”
The data seems to bear this out. A Gallup poll released last week finds that 1 in 10 families with school aged children are now homeschooling. That means the number of homeschoolers in America has doubled in just one year. Granted, a portion of these families may return to the public school ranks once the lockdowns and mask policies end (if they do end any time this century) but there is reason to think that, as The Atlantic says, the change may be lasting.
After all, these are families who have unenrolled and severed ties from the school system completely. And in some parts of the country, the number of parents who have taken that step is even more staggering. Texas, for example, has seen a 400 percent increase in parents withdrawing from the public school system, which mirrors pretty closely the reported 300 percent increase in traffic to homeschool.com, an online community for homeschoolers.
The trend towards homeschooling has been given a significant shot of adrenaline recently, but it didn’t begin with the pandemic. Over the last two decades, the size of the homeschooling community had already doubled even before the lockdowns began. What was once considered a fringe movement for Christian fundamentalists on one side of the political divide and hippy granola-crunchers on the other, has been increasingly embraced as a possibility for people of all ideological persuasions.
What makes this moment so significant is that the lockdowns have broken the final barrier that prevented many parents from exploring the homeschooling route. That barrier was psychological more than anything. It was the belief that public schools do something special that the average parent cannot emulate or improve upon. It was thought, even by people who are otherwise skeptical of government control, that parents teaching their own kids is somehow disordered or weird or backwards. We need the school system, it was thought. Education is the system’s thing, its speciality. Parents do not have the ability or resources to take its place.
That was always a facade. In fact, parents are the primary educators of a child, whether they accept that role officially or not. There is nothing the school system does that a parent cannot do. There is no role the school system is better suited to fill. The most natural and, for the child, healthiest, choice is to be taught full time by parents who know them, love them, understand them, and can meet their specific needs. If large-scale, government controlled education has any role, it should be as a back up, a Plan B (or maybe C or D), not as the automatic, default option.
It is not as though the public school system has been a rousing success up to this point. Headlines this week tell us that young people today have a “shocking” lack of knowledge about the Holocaust. Over half of the respondents in a recent survey did not know that 6 million Jews died in the genocide, and 1 in 10 could not recall ever hearing the word “Holocaust” in their lives.
None of this is actually shocking. Polls and surveys for years have shown that Americans have a very tenuous grasp of basic subjects like history, science, and civics. A survey conducted a few years ago discovered that only about 30 percent of Americans could pass a citizenship test. Less than 30 percent could identify the 13 original colonies or one thing Benjamin Franklin was famous for. Almost 40 percent thought he was famous for inventing the lightbulb. Another study reveals that 1 in 5 Americans cannot name a branch of government. A survey released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in 2015 showed that half of Americans can’t say when the Civil War was fought. In science, a Pew study finds that just 39 percent of Americans have a high level of scientific knowledge, with 29 percent having little knowledge, and everyone else falling somewhere in the mediocre middle.
The media likes to trumpet headlines like these, showing that many Americans are embarrassingly ignorant, but they don’t like to connect the dots and draw the obvious conclusion: our education system is an abysmal failure. Indeed, ours is an education system that produces citizens who cannot pass a citizenship test. What more needs to be said?
Of course, we must stipulate that the education system has failed to do what it should be trying to do, which is to equip new generations with the strong base of knowledge and critical thinking skills they will need to be well rounded, well adjusted, contributing members of society. It has not failed to do what it has actually tried to do, which is to indoctrinate new generations into the religion of leftism. The rioters terrorizing our cities, screaming about the imaginary bogeyman of “systemic racism,” illustrate at once both sides of this dichotomy.
Public schools simply do not deserve the faith we have had in them, nor have they earned the credit we have often given them. They also do not deserve to be seen as inevitable or necessary. And the school system itself has now admitted as much. By shutting down suddenly, for months on end, and even protesting to ensure that it can remain shut for longer, insisting that it is not an essential service like Walmart or the local liquor store, the school system has let the truth slip: we don’t actually need it. Society can function without it. There is nothing it is doing that can’t be done at home.
Parents are discovering this, too. They are trying their hand at educating their own children — which is something they were already doing, and all parents already do, whether in official capacity or not — and many are discovering that it’s not so hard as they thought. Let’s hope even more parents have this revelation, and that the government school system is rendered finally obsolete and superfluous. That would be one good thing — one extremely good thing — to come out of this godforsaken year.
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