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Living the Outlaw Life

An education in freedom

By Claire Wolfe

 

March, 2003

There are three fundamentally subversive things an Ordinary American Outlaw can do to increase freedom while going about daily life. Two can be dangerous to your well-being. The third is overwhelmingly rewarding and hardly hazardous at all.

Subversive acts #1 and #2 are: 1) don't pay your income taxes and 2) quit using a government-issued centralized citizen tracking number—aka social security number. (See the sidebar concerning a future article that will be about not using your SSN.) Both of these acts of subversion are fine ways to help chop the tentacles off government and to retain some control over your own life and labors. But well...sometimes they can really mess up your tidy little routine.

The third act of everyday subversion—the nice one—is: teach your children at home.

Since homeschooling is legal (mostly), infinitely more effective than the government alternative, healthy for your relationship with your family, cheaper than any of the alternatives, good for freedom, fun (often), educational (always), and these days quite often risk-free—why not do it?

The collective knows why not

Here's why not. Because Liberal Lil doesn't think it's for the common good.

The other day, Lil, an assistant at my local library, was urging me to vote for (yet another) tax levy to (yet again) "Save the Library!" I love the library, I truly do. But when I said, "Why don't you just let those who use the library pay an annual fee for services?" Lil flung herself into a boiling hot tirade about Things That Must Be Done By All for the Collective Good.

We quickly—and figuratively—left the library. Leaping from that institution like some intellectual Douglas Fairbanks, Lil brandished the inevitable #1 argument for the Collective Good, the one that's always supposed to win over the most cranky, unregenerate individualists to the We Must All Pull Together for the Sake of Whatever I Want Everybody to Do cause: government schools. Standardized universal education is supposed to be the great blessing of collective coercion.

"You don't want stupid citizens, do you?" insisted Lil, bringing up the familiar argument. "We all have to pull together to make sure our neighbors' children are educated. It's for everybody's future."

"Seems to me," I opined, "that government schools produce a fair quotient of stupidity (and worse). Maybe we'd all be better off if students and families had an open market in education—including the option to homeschool without being forced to pay thousands of dollars a year for government schools they don't use or believe in."

"But if you let people educate their own children," Lil bellowed (ending the argument in her own mind, if not in mine), "some of them will teach that creationist crap instead of real science!"

Well. Horrors.

Try as I could to argue that parents had a right to teach their beliefs, or that children who learned to think could make up their own minds about any subject as they grew, or that other educators would emphasize hard sciences, or that maybe neither the creationists nor the Darwinians have everything exactly right and a free market of ideas might be the best way to determine the truth—well, I got nowhere with Lil.

No. Everybody must simply be forced to learn whatever the government decides is The Truth. And that's that. For the Collective Good.

And there is why you should not homeschool your children. Because you might—oh nightmare of nightmares—Be Encouraging Individuality. Be Deviating from the Norm. And—well, it's so terrible I can scarcely breathe the words—You might even be Questioning the Godlike Authority of The Authorities.

A tiny history of government schooling

And in Lil's arguments you also have—in a seriously cracked nutshell—a pocket history of the American government education system, its goals and its methods.

For nearly 200 years, through the colonial period and into the beginning of the republic, most education in America was private—and quite good. Alexis de Tocqueville, visiting from France in the early 1800s, wrote of Americans' outstanding literacy.

About that same time, the push for government schooling was well under way. From the very beginning, U.S. government education has not been intended to educate. That is, it has not aimed to produce creative, thinking individuals. It's aim is, and always has been, to homogenize the children of the unruly masses so that they'll all believe alike, serve society as good workers, bureaucrats, and soldiers, and not make waves—just as Liberal Lil wishes.

This article is too short to do justice the above claim. If you want to see the proof, read the works of former New York schoolteacher-of-the-year John Taylor Gatto. Or for a short-but-comprehensive history, read The State vs. the People (which I co-authored and whose second chapter shamelessly rips off ... er, deftly summarizes in a few dozen pages ... the studies of Gatto and many other historians of U.S. education).

A brief lesson in the history of government education:

  • The U.S. government education system was deliberately patterned after lowest of the three ranks of the Prussian education system—whose major purpose was to produce competent-but-conforming citizen-workers and obedient soldiers.
  • Government schools didn't arise because American families wanted them; they were conceived by the New England Protestant elite to be imposed upon the dirty immigrant masses with their dirty foreign ways and dirty foreign religions.
  • One-hour learning periods, bells, rigid age grouping, rigidly segmented subjects, and force-feeding of information to a passive student body were all designed to discourage students from following their own interests, from seeing connections between different subjects, or becoming deeply committed to personal projects.
  • Literacy in the U.S. was higher before government education than it has been since.
  • In some places, compulsory government schooling had to be imposed upon independent Americans literally at gun point—with children being wrenched away from their parents and force-marched off to the new schools.

And irony of ironies, the descendants of those same working-class families whose children were forced into government propaganda camps because the elite felt threatened by "their kind" now see the modern versions of those schools as one of their proudest "rights."

Here's a final irony, and a question. A typical person requires only about 100 hours to learn to read and do basic mathematics. After that, people can basically teach themselves anything they need to know, or they or their families can find resources—libraries, museums, experts, mentors, specialized equipment, volunteer employment, vocational training programs, book clubs, magazines, affinity groups, books, books, books and more books—to help teach what they need to learn. A hundred hours for the basics. Then a world of infinite educational possibilities, at a cost far, far less than government schools and with infinitely more interesting and varied results. So what are the other 11 years and 50 weeks in the government schools for?

"Socialization"? Ick. You can get more well-rounded socialization in neighborhoods, church groups, civic clubs, and volunteer work. But in government schools you can get...Boredom. Propaganda. D.A.R.E.-to-rat-on-your-family programs. Peer pressure (increased markedly by the school-enforced idea that your only reel peers are people your same age). Outcome-Based Education whose outcomes emphasize political correctness over education. Bar coding—of students, for crying out loud. Metal detectors! And, if you're fed up with all that, some heavy doses of Ritalin (basically the selfsame "speed" the nice D.A.R.E. officer warned you about) to make you behave.

Maybe that all explains why an estimated two million students are now being educated at home —and why that number has been growing at about 11 percent per year.

You've come a long way B-A-B-Y

Homeschooling has come a long way since 1979 when John Singer was shot to death by Utah police for insisting upon educating his children at home. (Well, for that and having more than one wife—as if consensual adult relationships were any business of the state.)

Today, homeschooling is legal in nearly every state. Education bureaucrats and the cousins of Liberal Lil still fight rearguard actions against it, and most states regulate homeschooling to some extent, but healthy homeschooling support groups and legal advocacy organizations are gaining the day.

In part, the battle for homeschooling is being won by the sheer, undeniable force of capital-R Results.

The old fears that children wouldn't be properly "socialized" and that home education would be substandard—have collapsed in the face of the overwhelming positives. Homeschoolers consistently wipe out the competition in the national spelling bee. In one recent year, 12 of the top 15 scorers were homeschoolers. Can you spell W-O-W?

Homeschoolers' SAT scores are notably higher than their government-schooled counterparts, and homeschoolers have gone on to do well at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and other colleges and universities. In a survey of test scores conducted by the National Center for Home Education, homeschoolers routinely scored many percentile points higher than their government-schooled "peers" in reading and math.

Far from being undersocialized (as opponents of homeschooling were absolutely certain they'd be), homeschoolers have proven, typically, to be blessed with well-earned self-esteem, and to have stronger leadership skills than their government-schooled counterparts.

Anyone who has spent much time around homeschooled children can't help but be struck by their typical poise, self-confidence, and intelligence. Homeschoolers have a very low quotient of brattiness, since most of them are treated as whole human beings. They often not only read, but think, years ahead of their nominal peers. And I'm occasionally moved to envious tears by the sheer, exuberant quality of their way of learning. When my homeschooling neighbors decided to construct a separate building on their property to serve as a schoolhouse, their children used their education in math, art, science, and vocational training—and built the schoolhouse and its furniture for themselves, from the ground up.

Of course it's true that if the government schools were all closed tomorrow and Washington ordered all parents to home-educate their children, you'd suddenly have a fair number of ignorant and lazy homeschoolers. Homeschooling is only as good as the effort everyone puts into it. Some parents would also turn out to be mean, godawful taskmasters. That's reality.

But here's a compelling bit of data about what kind of families can do good homeschooling. The National Center for Home Education also found that—very much unlike government-schooled students—homeschooled students performed almost equally well whether their families were poor or well-off.

The big achievement: Independence

We can go on and on about the achievements of homeschoolers. But what does that necessarily have to do with freedom?

Until now, a major percentage of homeschooling families have been libertarians or other flavors of freedom lover. Many have been conservative religious folks who object to what the government wants their children to learn. But increasingly, parents who pull their children out of government schools are simply intelligent, concerned people who see that their children will learn more and better—without all the dross, politicization, time-wasting, and regimentation of government schooling. A homeschooling groundswell has begun among black households who see that the government schools have failed them, their children, and their communities.

But no matter what cultural background or political persuasion, these families all have two fundamental things in common. First, they're declaring their independence from government schooling. Second, they're all saying that we—families, individuals, small groups, independent schools—can do it better.

Think about it: Individuals can do something better than government. In the current climate, that's about as wild a heresy as you can commit.

Homeschooling begins with those two very independent assumptions. Then it goes on to increase students' ability to evaluate information, to act on their own behalf (rather than wait for learning to be handed to them), to see themselves as competent rather than helpless and passive, and to question received wisdom.

All this—politics aside—is an important part of the foundation of freedom, whether for an individual or for a country of free individuals. While everything else looks bleak for the future of freedom, homeschooled citizens of the future, may yet lead the way back to liberty.

"But I can't do it!"

There are two big reasons many parents think they can't homeschool their children. First, because they aren't degree-holding, certificated teachers. Second, because they have to earn a living and don't have time for home education.

The first objection is psychological nonsense. Unless you're a hopelessly bad communicator or have a seriously adversarial relationship with your children, of course you can teach them. (Think about it—you do teach them, all the time, and have since the day they were born). It's not necessary for you to know everything. When it gets right down to it, children will educate themselves; all you have to do is guide and inspire them. And, like Professor Bernardo de la Paz (the innovative educator in Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), you can teach anything just by staying one step ahead of your pupil.

Some states do try to impose a credentialed teacher requirement on homeschooling parents. In the resource section you'll find information to help surmount or defeat such requirements.

The second objection—no time—is all too valid in this over-taxed day. If both parents in the family go off to jobs, or if you're a single parent who works for a living, it can be tough.

But think creatively. For instance, if both parents in your two-parent family are holding outside jobs, before you assume that both "must" work, take a closer look at what that second job is actually costing you.

Editor's note: Concerning the Claire's comment where she wrote, "...you can teach anything just by staying one step ahead of your pupil," I took a college math course in probability and statistics (I was a math major, so this wasn't some flunky remedial math course). The instructor admitted he hadn't taken the course, and he said he planned to do exactly what she said can be done—he stayed one step ahead of the class. (I did, too.) This was a nontrivial course. And we all learned a lot. So, if it can be done at a university level, it can surely be done for homeschooling. — John Silveira

Consider not just the obvious expenses of holding down a job (gas for the SUV and such), but all the costs associated with that second income: clothing you wear only at work; the extra taxes you pay; family meals you eat out because you're too tired to cook; lunches you eat at restaurants because you can't go home to eat; medicines to help you handle job stress; the extra vehicle you have to own to accommodate two commutes; the toys you buy for the kids out of guilt at not being home with them; all the little workplace gift exchanges and football pools. You can probably think of a half dozen more expenses you could eliminate if one parent stayed home.

By the time you factor everything in, your family's second job may very well be costing you a bundle and one of you (not necessarily just mom) might well be able to stay home with the children.

Even a single parent can homeschool—by working at home, by sharing co-op teaching duties with other parents, by sharing teaching duties with grandma, grandpa, aunts, or uncles.

If freedom is an important goal for you (and I hope it is), then you undoubtedly know all about frustration. So many efforts to regain freedom go nowhere. So many others (like Subversive Acts #1 and #2) can be effective but hazardous to your health. Homeschooling may be the most important thing you ever do for freedom—as well as being its own reward for you and your children.

Resources

Home School Legal Defense Association
http://www.hslda.org/
P.O. Box 3000
Purcellville, VA 20134-9000
Phone: (540) 338-5600
E-mail: info@hslda.org
A good starting place for general information on homeschooling, but especially for information about existing and upcoming legislation affecting homeschooling.

Jon's Home School Resource Page
http://www.midnightbeach.com/hs/
It's just one homeschooling dad's work. But this Web site will connect you to almost anything you need to know about home education, including whether you should do it and how to find a local support group.

The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto. This book is a real eye-opener about the purposes and rather sordid history of government education. The book is available by special order from any bookstore or from Amazon.com. You can also order it—and get a brief online history—at http://www.johntaylorgatto.com.

Separating School and State: Liberating America's Families by Sheldon Richman. A passionate polemic against compulsory schooling and the futility of "reforming" a fundamentally flawed system.




Read More by Claire Wolfe

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