Friday, 14 January 2011 00:00
I was recently looking at a class picture, a photograph taken of my classmates and me many decades ago in elementary school. In my whatever-happened-to-so-and-so musing, I paused to consider the fate of one classmate. He was a happy, well-adjusted, and eager-to-learn boy the day the photographer came to our class. He died about five years ago, a suicide from overdose after an adult life of addiction and crime to finance it. I didn’t know him that well, but it got me thinking to just how fragile young people are in the teenage years and how, when they are at their most vulnerable, they are the most neglected, ignored, or exploited.
It is at the end of the elementary school years, when youngsters are becoming pre-adolescents, that they are most vulnerable and impressionable and most likely to formulate negative body images and attitudes from the presence of dysfunctional adults. It is, consequently, at this age that many parents, in ever increasing numbers, removed their children from public schools and undertake to homeschool them.
A specimen of this adult dysfunction can be observed by the classic passive-aggressive personality disorder that is found among all-too-many educrats and which deters dedicated, skilled and knowledgeable people from remaining in the field of education.
Back in 2007, for example, my friend Tom jettisoned his escape pod and fled the evil empire that is Long Island’s property taxes to North Carolina. Endeavoring, in his last few months in New York, to donate $2,000 worth of computer equipment to a local school district a few towns over from here, became a fiasco of phone calls, e-mails, letters, and voice mail wherein he repeated his offer again and again and again and again to supervisors, secretaries, clerks, managers, department heads, functionaries, bureaucrats, consultants, and assistants-to-assistants. He was met with doubletalk, doubt, indifference, suspicion, and stone-faced unresponsiveness. Frustrated, he telephoned a local church with a youth group; made the same offer, and later that day he and the grateful pastor were unloading the electronics from his car. The school district so skilled at taxing and spending could not accept money even when it was willingly offered with no strings attached.
I recently told this tale of woe to a local journalist who’s worked for years as a governmental consultant. You know the type: bureaucrats are God’s elect on Earth, needless paperwork is sacred scripture, and paying taxes is the holy sacrament. Of Tom’s boggle, he told me how under funded and understaffed public schools are and that racist real estate people are to blame for the reason students in some school districts perform at academic levels below their counterparts in Europe, Japan, and even in a few Third World countries.
Mentioning Tom’s misadventure to another friend, one who was once president of a civil service union, she defended these hard-working school officials in Tom’s former school district and suggested that any alternative to public education like homeschooling would stunt children’s emotional and social growth by making them “act like little adults.” Seems to me the problem is too many adults that act like big children. It’s a common anti-homeschooling argument made by people attached to public school administration. We are supposed to believe that public schools with drugs, guns, gangs, teenage sex, eating disorders, fashion-obsessed cliques, and indifferent public employees are healthier environments for children than at home with loving parents dedicated to their children’s education and concerned about the kid’s moral and spiritual growth.
The problem isn’t the institution. Back in the 1920s and ’30s, this nation’s system of public education produced some of the world’s best and brightest and accomplished; nobody dreamt of the day when two million children would be taught at home by parents convinced that it was the only way their children would ever receive a decent education. The problem is the profound character flaws and personality defects of some of the people who are running these institutions. We have raised an entire generation that confuses narcissism with self-esteem, appeasement to unreasonable demands with tolerance, the fulfillment of neurotic needs with God-given rights, and pop culture psychobabble with serious examination. Should we be surprised to find so many who have lost any sense of reality? Don’t get me wrong. There are many good people in public education and over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some. It only takes a small percentage to ruin everything. But when we are talking about veritable standing armies of public employees protected by union contracts, the machinations of public patronage, and a minefield of needless bureaucratic regulations, it’s difficult for these good people to do anything effective.
The ironic thing about our situation is that in 30 years, most of the educated people remaining in the country will be those who were homeschooled as children. They may have the prerequisite moral, intellectual, and emotional strength needed to run public schools. In the end, homeschooling might just save public education.