In the Q&A after giving my speech on homeschooling at the Let’s Talk Tulsa event, I had a conversation with a Dad about school assignments in public schools that teach students to forego moral reasoning. As a followup to that, I wrote an article about it in Tulsa Today. Enjoy!
I am supposed to give a talk tomorrow on why I homeschool, and it is supposed to be under 3 minutes. Here is my planned talk:
My name is Jonathan Bartlett, and I am a homeschooling Dad. In Oklahoma, the homeschooling movement is growing by leaps and bounds, but some people on the outside are curious about what motivates us. Therefore, I thought it might be helpful for me to take a moment and share a bit why our family does homeschooling, and I think many of these reasons are shared by a large number of homeschooling families.
To begin with, I should say that I graduated from Union Public Schools, and at the time it was one of the best schools in the region, and probably still is. I had great teachers and great classmates. However, after graduating, I started to realize that there were problems with my education. These were structural problems – problems that are innate to the very way that public schooling is organized.
First of all, my own first goal with education is teaching my children the family’s values and morals. I hold this goal much higher than the intellectual education itself. However, as a public institution, schools are not permitted to instill deep values in the pupils. They can instill some surface ones, like don’t cheat and don’t steal, but they are systematically incapable of shaping students to the values of the families they belong to.
Along the same lines, each subject is missing many important aspects because of the need for being secular. Philosophy, morality, aesthetics, human nature, and the design inherent in nature are integral parts of EVERY subject, but are systematically left out of a secularized education. The lesson to children is implicit but quite clear – nothing except the material aspects of subjects are really worth knowing.
Another issue is with family and community. Public schools minimize the importance of both the family and community. After taking the bus, spending time at school, and staying after school for sports, your family becomes just a group of people you happen to eat dinner with. Homeschooling, instead, puts family membership at the center of children’s lives. It also exposes children to more people outside their own age group – younger kids, older kids, the elderly, professionals, and homemakers. It puts them in the center of a much wider community than is available in an age-segregated school, to allow them to see and experience the wide variety of gifts and needs that different members of the community have.
A final issue is that I think that all of our children deserve special attention. The fact is, in any class, there will be kids who make trouble. The only option that teachers really have is to minimize the damage that these kids do. But is that the best option for those kids? When homeschooling, parents can know the problems that their children are causing and actively work to solve them without worrying how that impacts twenty other students.
Thankfully, Oklahoma is the best place on earth to homeschool, both from a legal and social perspective. There are a number of co-ops, support groups, and organizations to help you get started and stand with you in troubled times. Our family takes part in organizations like Classical Conversations, AmbleCommunity, and OCHEC, and these are just a tiny fraction of the groups available to help you connect with other families who have the same issues you do. We are all families working to make our kids productive parts of the community. That means something different for everyone, which is another benefit of homeschooling – you have the freedom to do what works for your family.
I’m from Oklahoma, and many of my fellow Oklahomans are droning on and on about how embarrassed they are to be an Oklahoman, and how this is such an embarrassment to Oklahoma, and how we should feel bad about being Oklahoman because of this incident.
Frankly, I can’t possibly understand this sentiment.
Here’s the deal. Everywhere on planet Earth there are stupid, bigoted people. It is clear that if they have a full chant, the OU SAE is probably not the only SAE chapter to be racist. However, it is only in Oklahoma where (a) a member of the student body had the fortitude to expose their behavior, and (b) the president of the University bothered to do anything about it.
In addition, the way in which it was handled was fabulous. They shut down the fraternity immediately. This made the clear message that this was simply incompatible with the University. Second, they did not (to my knowledge) punish the students. First, students should be allowed to hold ridiculous opinions without retribution. However, the University should not endorse organizations that are clearly anti-social, and, fraternities are such endorsed organizations. Second, clearly, the students are in desperate need of an education.
So, in short, there are ignorant people and organizations in every University, and SAE chapters dotted across the United States, but only in Oklahoma was something done about it.
Now let’s compare this with another state, say, Illinois. In Illinois, they are openly promoting segregation by the state-sponsored schools and nothing is being done about it.
Yep, I’m proud of Oklahoma. You should be too.
If you aren’t proud of Oklahoma today, I’m not sure what you are smoking.
I think that most people misunderstand what American Exceptionalism is about. Most people think that it means screaming “Yay! America!” and ignoring anything that our country does wrong.
American Exceptionalism is not a judgment about the goodness or badness of America. No. American Exceptionalism is a plain fact about America. By “exceptional” it means “unique”. And this is quite true. America is unique and exceptional in that it is one of the only countries in the history of the world to be defined by an idea rather than a border or an ethnicity.
This is the simple, factual truth about America. If you ignore this fact or minimize this fact, then, you are simply not teaching the facts.
America may be exceptionally bad or exceptionally good. It may live up to its ideals exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly. The ideals it chooses may be chosen exceptionally superior or exceptionally inferior. But the fact that it has ideals to live up to, that it could in fact cease to be America simple because it is not living up to its ideals, is something that is uniquely and exceptionally American.
Some people also complain that America is held to a different standard than any other nation. However, this is because America must be held to a different standard than any other nation. The standards that one judges another nationality simply do not apply to America. However, when someone denies American Exceptionalism, but then applies a different standard to America, they are in fact conceding the point.
Now, as is the case with most truths, ignoring American Exceptionalism leads to very bad results. In fact, most of our foreign policy blunders in the past two decades are based on our forgetting American exceptionalism. The problem isn’t that we aren’t gung-ho enough about America. The problem is that we forget that we are the exception. When dealing with another country, we aren’t dealing with another country that is like America. We should not expect that. When we deal in Iraq, Iraq is not an America that has simply not lived up to its ideals as well as we think that we have. If we view Iraq as a wayward America, we do injustice to who and what Iraq is. I am not a foreign policy, international relations, or history expert, but I do know enough about human nature to know that what binds Iraqis together as a nation is likely much different than what binds U.S. citizens together as a nation.
This is true even of Britain. While many of the values that America is based on comes from British history, Britain is itself founded on quite a different conception of nationhood – more of a national will and spirit than a national ideal.
Thus, in order to understand others, we must understand in what ways we are different than others. In order to understand how others judge us, or even how we judge ourselves, we must understand why our scales are different.
Therefore, I applaud the efforts of my representatives in Oklahoma for pushing back against the AP US History standards which put American Exceptionalism on a back seat and identity politics in the front seat. Ignoring American Exceptionalism isn’t just problematic, it is straight up incorrect history. I am perfectly fine letting students decide if America is exceptionally bad or good, but its exceptionalism is just a matter of fact.
Personally, I homeschool, so it makes little practical difference to me. Actually, what it means to me is that my children, who will learn the truth about history, will be better equipped to lead the nation in the future. So, unless you want your country run by right-wing religious zealots (also known as “my children”), you should probably insist that your children be taught better history as well.
Postscript – for an amusing take on American Exceptionalism from a British Author in the early 1900s, you should read GK Chesterton’s What I Saw in America (or listen to it from LibriVox). The first two chapters especially give a hilarious account how the U.S. differs from other countries using the follies of its Visa application process to underscore the point.
The issue of Common Core has been making rounds in many conservative circles lately. It was common talk at CPAC. I know many who have campaigned against it. I’m not necessarily in disagreement with you all. But what you should know is that your efforts aren’t likely to do much good.
To some extent, Common Core does dictate standards to states. Whether good or bad, there is only so much that an educational standard like Common Core can do. The truly problematic part of Common Core isn’t the educational standards themselves. The real problem is that the move to Common Core gave all of the publishers an excuse to rewrite all of their textbooks.
Think back with me to 1999 and the Y2K bug. Yes, there was a Y2K bug, but it was not nearly as problematic as people had indicated. However, IT managers across the country used the Y2K bug as a justification to budget for the revamp of their entire network and database infrastructure. The same thing has happened with Common Core. Publishing companies have used Common Core as an excuse to rewrite their textbooks to pull in the insane leftist propaganda that they’ve always wanted to include but never had the justification to do previously.
So, the problem is this – let’s say you are successful in repealing Common Core. What then? The textbooks are already rewritten. If Common Core goes away, the textbooks stay. They can just remove the Common Core logo on the front, and stay as-is.
The problem is deeper than Common Core and must be dealt with at a deeper level than Common Core. What Common Core did was give everyone an excuse to put their every dreamy imaginative spin on education. Removing Common Core won’t fix that.
What conservatives really need is an education plan. We need conservatives writing textbooks. We need conservatives leading education forward. We need private schools run by conservatives, producing great students, and telling people how and why they are successful.
To some extent this is already happening in the homeschool movement.
If the present trend continues, I think that in 25 years the bedrock of our country will be today’s homeschoolers. The question for everyone else is, are you ready and willing to do what it takes to keep the rest of the children of this country from falling behind the homeschoolers?
By the way, if you are interested in a well-thought-out curriculum, you should check out what they do at Classical Conversations.