Why I Homeschool

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.

AP US History and American Exceptionalism

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.

Hardly.

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 Truth You Don’t Want to Hear About Common Core

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.

Here’s why.

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.

Another Reason for Workforce Participation to be Down

One number in the labor statistics department has conservatives all up in a wad – the workforce participation number. These are people who are not in the labor force. I am not an expert in labor statistics, but from a cursory reading of them (they are available here with an explanation here) does not give me alarm about this number.

The way that conservative pundits put it, an enormous number of people have found that the economy is so bad, that they have simply left the workforce – they have given up looking for work. There is, possibly, another interpretation. It might be that conservatives are winning in other areas.

What?

Since the 1970s, the two-breadwinner family model has risen dramatically. However, conservatives have long been critical of this approach for a number of reasons, many of which are detailed in MicroSecession. In brief, having a second breadwinner doesn’t necessarily increase the productive output of the home, it just means that all the household endeavors went from unpaid to paid workers. For instance, if a wife stays home, she takes care of a lot of the housework, and might even mow the lawn. She takes care of the kids when they are home from school. If a wife, instead, works, all of these tasks must be taken care of in some manner – often times by hiring it out. So, you have a second income, but you must pay for cleaning services, yard services, and childcare services. So the second income doesn’t necessarily benefit the family, it just means that you have to pay taxes not only on the husband’s work, but also on the wife’s work.

So, my guess is that much of the reason that workforce participation numbers are down is because women have started taking a more active role in the home. In addition, a new conservative trend has many women heading in this direction in greater numbers – homeschooling.

What the homeschool movement has pointed out is that it is the responsibility of the parents to take charge of their children’s education. Outsourcing this to schools often isn’t cutting it. Therefore, many parents are making the decision to live on a tight budget during the child-rearing years so that the wife can stay home to educate the children.

As someone who is negative on the current economy, I don’t doubt that we have employment problems. Actually, even more than employment problems, we have income problems because the Federal Reserve is debasing our currency, and the federal government is making getting out of poverty bad business (i.e. when someone tries to get out of poverty, they actually lose money when they first begin to work, making starting the journey out nearly impossible).

However, I do think that some of the numbers reflect some amount of healing in society, even as our government is just as bad as ever.

JP Morgan Getting out of Student Loans

Saw this on ZeroHedge – apparently JP Morgan is going to stop issuing student loans. As I said previously, student loans are a bad idea for quite a number of reasons, and the next financial crisis will probably highly involve the student loan market.

It looks like JP Morgan saw the writing on the wall, and is getting out. Will others do the same? What will the US government do when bankers refuse to finance their loans? Will the government offer them by themselves? Guys, this is a no-win situation. This is bad for both education and our monetary system.

UPDATE (2013-09-09) – looks like CNBC is finding this really ominous, too.

No One is Surprised, So Why Do We Keep Sinking Money Into This?

Fed Shocked To Find Student Loans Used For Anything But To Learn

Federal officials are cracking down on fraud in student-aid programs, responding to evidence that a growing number of recipients—acting alone or as part of organized crime rings—are pocketing federal loans and grants without any intent of going to school.

Since January, the agency said it has flagged 126,000 applicants, about 1% of all those seeking aid for the 2013-2014 school year.

“What we find are very poor students academically that are borrowing to the max, getting the maximum in their Pell grant and just going from school to school,” said Rich Heath, director of financial aid at Anne Arundel Community College

More than 34,000 participants in crime rings improperly received federal student aid last year, up 82% from 2009

“We started seeing student borrowing that was just over the top with no explanation for why,” Ms. Zanders said. “We have individuals that have told me, ‘I spent all this money on graduate school. I can’t get a job. I’m living in somebody’s basement. I can’t afford to live, I need the money.’ It’s not so much about the education, it’s the money.”

When money is being handed out, you are asking people to abuse the system.

One Teacher’s Resignation

My decision to homeschool and the reasons for homeschooling listed in the book are mostly based on structural differences between the two, rather than a criticism of modern curriculum. However, I am aware that between “No Child Left Behind” and other modern movements many teachers these days are becoming disenfranchised from their own profession. Below is a video resignation from one such teacher. To quote from the video one line that strongly correlates with MicroSecession, “I care more about the people my children become, than the scores on the tests they take”.