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Sorry, Home-Schoolers

Mike Birbiglia tells a very funny story about his encounter with a bear. The tale meanders a bit, drifting at one point to a claim that, if Birbiglia were a fish, he’d want to leap from the water too, and grow arms and become human, “which is what happened, over time.” To which he adds, “…sorry, home-schoolers.” It gets a big laugh.

That euphemistic insult for the willfully ignorant is oh-so-tempting; only a conscious act of wisdom and self-control keeps me from trying to spread it.

After all, home-schooling doesn’t necessarily mean ignorance, or religious intolerance, or any of a lot of ugly things. Parents may choose to home-school for a variety of reasons: to enjoy as part of the larger parent-child relationship, for fear (rightly or wrongly) of poor teachers in their local school, to avoid an enormous commute in some of those sparsely populated arid states, to give their kids attention and a customized education that teachers in a factory education system cannot afford. And, while many parents underestimate the quality of education public schools may provide, or the difficulty of providing a better one, or both, a parent with or without an education degree can still provide a perfectly satisfactory education.

Nevertheless, we all know that one of the biggest motivations for home schooling is to preserve doctrinal purity. Creationists are the most celebrated case. Knowing in their hearts even if unwilling to say it aloud that they’ve lost the debate and lost it big-time, their only defense is to keep their kids insulated from the evidence, open debate thereof, and ideally even from awareness of the issue at all. But fundamentalist Christian creationists are hardly alone in their urge to minimize their children’s contact with scary ideas coming from outside the tribe. The garb of orthodox Jews doesn’t just “preserve the old tradition;” it also serves to make the kids look alien to the larger community, one link in the armor against cultural contact. Eileene narrowly avoided being raised in the INC, a Filipino church whose internal policing verges on cultish.

Home-schooling doesn’t have to isolate a child from his peers, though it does act as a barrier that a wise parent will work to diminish. When that isolation is the primary appeal of home-schooling, however, it’s child abuse as well as an act of willful ignorance, a plugging of the ears and shouting “LalalalaIcan’tHEARyouuuu… And neither can my child!” that is the last refuge against ideas—good ideas that will triumph in honest examination, else why fear them? Bad enough to embrace ignorance yourself; unconscionable to inflict it on your children.

It’s this deliberate stupidity that makes the idea of using “home-schooler” as an insult so appealing. But I’m bigger than that; I don’t need to insult home-schooling with the label of fundamentalism just because so many home-schooling fundamentalists insult public education.

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