I thought it couldn’t get worse, but American presidential politics continues to prove that worse is coming tomorrow. Now I’m shuddering in fear that Rick Santorum, or someone with his beliefs, might be elected president.
There are lots of reasons why he troubles me, but his views on public education worry me to no end, especially as they draw rousing cheers. For those unfamiliar with his views, they can be summarized as follows: eliminate public schools and return to the pre-twentieth century methods of home schooling or one-room school houses.
I admit there is a lot wrong with public education. I also admit that I believe a lot of public education’s failures can be laid at the feet of teachers and teacher unions. But as bad as I think public education has become, I firmly believe that forcing everyone to home-school would be a Titanic disaster for America.
Yes, there are some parents who are quite capable of home schooling; but most parents are not. Most parents are neither capable nor interested. As well-educated as I am, I, for example, would have a great deal of difficulty teaching my children math or a foreign language. I was not particularly astute in those subjects during my school days and I am now 45 years removed from those classrooms.
In addition, much of the American economy is based on a two-person income household. So who would do the teaching? Which parent would give up his or her job? Perhaps the idea is to indirectly force women to become stay-at-home moms, which would fit with Santorum’s other beliefs.
Home schooling is also another way to impose resegregation of America. Even the separate-but-equal classrooms that were finally found to be separate-but-unequal in 1954 would be better for minorities and less-educated and low-socioeconomic families than being required to home-school their children. Do we not have enough problems getting a well-educated workforce in the current system without compounding the problem?
Santorum and believers also want to do away with all federal and state regulation of education, believing that parents can do a better job without government interference. I think they are correct if we are talking about the successful handful of home-schooling that occurs, but are quite wrong when expanded to the population at large.
A program like that proposed by Santorum and friends will turn America from a first-world country into something less than a third-world country faster than any other program that conservatives could invoke. Education is the root of America’s success. The institution of a free public education for all children is what changed America from a follower to a leader, regardless of how we may feel about how well it has fulfilled its leadership role.
But Santorum lays down a challenge that American educators need to pick up. Whether they will before it is too late is doubtful. I haven’t read of any teacher union beginning to fight back; local teachers I know aren’t even aware of Santorum’s ideas about education — they ignore Santorum in the belief that neither he nor his ideas could possibly succeed. They are blind-siding themselves.
American education is really declining. Consider the recent posing in Afghanistan of U.S. Marines with a flag that bore the Nazi SS lightning bolts. The Marines thought the double “s” meant “sniper scouts” and admitted they were unaware that the stylized lightning bolts symbolized the Nazi SS, nor did they know about the Nazi SS atrocities. How can anyone graduate from an American high school and not have at least rudimentary knowledge of Nazi Germany?
The answer is really simple. It is the same answer that I give when asked why so many of the younger generation have such poor language skills. Teachers cannot teach what they themselves do not know and American education underemphasizes fundamental learning skills. Have a discussion with an 18-year-old about almost anything and try to follow their reasoning/logic.
Talk with a teacher about what constitutes a sentence in English (as opposed to a fragment). You would be amazed at the answer you get; the younger and closer to college graduation the teacher, the more incorrect the answer.
Yet, with all the problems of American education, it is still better than the chancy proposition of home schooling, especially among the socioeconomic strata that most desperately needs a good education to break the cycle of poverty.
Santorum and believers worry me greatly. It is not that in the broadest possible sense the idea of home schooling isn’t appealing; rather, it is that few people are equipped to provide the education needed to economically compete and survive in the twenty-first century. How many of these home-schooled children, if there were no state or federal regulations to which they had to adhere, would learn anything outside the corners of the Bible? How well-equipped would a person entering today’s workforce be to compete and survive if the extent of their knowledge is to quote the Bible? How likely is it that such a person would find the cure to cancer, design the rocket engine that will carry humans to Mars, or competently edit a book?
To say that ideas like Santorum’s will go nowhere is to bury one’s head in the sand. Sadly, too many American voters do bury their heads.