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Was I unfair to Tom Hoopes and graham crackers?

Simcha Fisher - published on 03/01/16


I mean, I pluralized his last name as “Hoopses.” If that’s not unfair, it’s at very least weird and inexplicable. Mea maxima culpa.

But seriously, a few readers protested that I was unfair in my response to Tom Hoopes’ essay Why We (Still) Home School. The main objection from readers is that Tom was just telling about his family’s experience, and there was no reason to get irritable about that. Why try to refute an anecdote? He’s just saying, “This is what we do, and this is why.”

Just the other day on Facebook, I said that Daddy Wars will never catch on, because:

Woman 1: I think such-and-such. Woman 2: I disagree, HOW DARE YOU? Man 1: I think such-and-such. Man 2: What an idiot. Hey, football!

So, I guess Tom Hoopes said, “I think such-and-such about school,” and I responded, “HOW DARE YOU?” Or at least it came across that way.

As I re-read Tom’s post, I see that he was at pains to talk about his experience, his wife’s experience, what he and his wife want for their family. He doesn’t say, at any point, that everyone must or even should make the same decisions they did.

To be fair to me, I also spoke mainly of my own experiences, and about what I had learned from realizing I had been making false assumptions. I never said, at any point, that Tom Hoopes or anyone else must or should make the same decisions my family did. I was a little snottier than absolutely necessary, but that’s how I sound when I’m trying. Mea maxima etc.

He does speak about the nefarious origins of public schooling in a way that implies that present-day public schools have the same goals (and that they are achieving those goals), and this was the part that annoyed me, and which prompted me to respond. He said:

[By the 1970’s] schools had ceased being places that complement home life. They had become places that contravene home life. John Dewey and his followers did that purposely. The fathers and mothers of the modern education system wanted schools to remold young people into good citizens — as they conceived good citizens to be. Families deeply inculcate values in children. That includes good values to reinforce, like altruism, but also bad values to mitigate, like racism. But the reformers threw the baby (family-rooted culture) out with the bathwater (occasionally backward values). Actually, it was even less benign than that: One of the “bad family values” to be discouraged was religion — the basis of meaningful social order. By the 1970s the school system had grown into a kind of Plato’s Republic world of children being educated in a set of virtues that didn’t come from their families or their churches but from secular experts hired by the state. The end result is that, when we began having children and we started talking about school, I instinctively recoiled and April stepped forward and we decided to home school.

If you read closely, he never says that all public schools in 2016 follow John Dewey’s goals to turn children into homelife-contravening, secular state-trained cogs. He does say that public schools were founded for this purpose, and he says that he wants to avoid letting this happen to his kids. I think it’s splitting hairs to claim he’s still talking exclusively about his own experience at this point. He’s inviting us to draw the logical conclusions about the public school system today.

I mean, if someone asks why I feed my sons graham crackers, and I say it’s because they were created to tamp down excessive lust, it follows that I think that eating graham crackers is likely to have that effect. If I write a post called, “Why I Feed My Sons Graham Crackers,” it would be reasonable for someone to write a response called, “Are You Willing To Learn About Graham Crackers?”

You know, I think we’re getting off point here. Maybe a better illustration: the YMCA was originally conceived as a religious organization, designed to promote healthy Christian principles of developing body, mind, and spirit. Some Ys are still overtly Christian (at least according to Wikipedia — I’ve never come across an even faintly religious Y myself!), whereas others are 100% just a place to go to swim, lift weights, and maybe take a fencing class or something.

If I were an atheist who thought Christianity was bad for kids, it would be weird to refuse to sign my kids up for classes at the local Y — or at least, it would behoove me to find out whether my local Y retained its Christian founding origins, or had morphed, over the years, into a facility with completely different aims. It would behoove me to find out if there was a difference between a Y deep in the Bible Belt and a Y in the liberal North. If I wrote a post called “Why We (Still) Lift Weights at Home” . . . well, you get the idea.

My main goal in writing my post was exactly what I stated: to encourage parents who are unhappy with home schooling to look into their actual, local schools, and not make assumptions based on what they’ve heard or on what they remember about their own childhoods. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve talked to parents who say, “I finally bit the bullet and registered my kids in a brick-and-mortal school — and I was shocked at how decent everyone is.” I keep hearing, “Don’t ask me what horrible thing I was expecting, but it was nothing like what I was expecting. It was actually . . . a good school, with good teachers.”

Where would they learn to expect otherwise? Well, from their own experiences, for one thing. From actual bad schools, certainly. And also from essays like Tom’s, which — with only the best intentions — encourage nervous parents to go ahead and listen to their fears.

Well, sometimes fear is telling the truth, folks, but sometimes it’s not. I remember how horrible it felt to be so afraid of school, and I remember how foolish I felt when I realized my fears were ungrounded. I’m hoping to spare other people the same difficulties. And that’s it!

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