Acton Commentary

A Hard Lesson on Home Schools

This June, my wife and I had the privilege of attending thehigh school graduation ceremonies of several home-schooled youngsters. These events not only impressed us withreferences to Christian traditions, family values, and heavenly music; theyopened our eyes and hearts to the possibility of home schooling. Student afterstudent spoke with such eloquence, maturity, and depth of spirit, that manytimes tears flowed freely both on stage and in the audience.

Like most parents, my wife and I want to provide ourdaughter with the best possible education. So despite the fact that she is still too young forelementary school, we have given considerable thought to the various choices.While originally home schooling was not our favored option, the graduationceremonies piqued our interest. And we knew several home-schooled youngsters atour church who were smart, mature, and well adjusted. We sought the advice ofeducators in several Eastern Orthodox parishes in southern California.

Big mistake. What we found was not just lack of support, butopen hostility and outright opposition to home schooling from those who workedin public education. We had hopedthat these Christians, so familiar with the system and its many faults andfailures, would understand our concerns. What's more, many of these educatorsregarded our interest in home schooling as almost deviant behavior. We were told that such a decision wouldnot only endanger the social skills and development of our daughter, but alsodamage her future by protecting her too much .

As Christians we are called to influence those with whom wecome in contact: “Let your lightso shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Fatherin heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) TheGospels urge us to work in the world and show forth our Christian nature andcharacter not only through religious faith and talk, but also through how weact and conduct ourselves in our daily lives. Why have so many Christiansforgotten or ignored this work that must be done continually in our lives,especially in the public schools where it's needed most?

Fundamental Problems

Beset by the forces of secularism and educational fads, thepublic education system in California has been steadily deteriorating. And alack of money is not the problem. More than 43 percent of the state general fund and 32 percent of the total budget is allocated to support K-12 schooling. The Heritage Foundation reports that in 2002 California spent roughly $43 billion on K-12 public education. These staggering amounts work out toapproximately $7,000 per student, exceeding the cost of tuition at most privateschools.

All this money is funding some downright wacky practices.For example, most California school districts have banned the use of red ink incorrecting student papers for fear of offending children and damaging theirself-esteem. Many elementary andmiddle schools have also abandoned the age-old tradition of assigning numericor letter grades. Apparently the harsh realities and judgmental stance ofobjective and antiquated methods of evaluating student performance are tooabrasive for the delicate psychological makeup of second and third graders.

Children languish in a system that fails to educate themeven in basic math and English skills.A 2003 survey by the Pacific Research Institute brings to light somestartling and frightening statistics.Although the California State University system only accepts the topone-third of the state's high-school graduates, nearly 60 percent of enteringfreshmen in 2002 required remedial instruction in either English or math. Ifthings are that bad with the cream of the crop of California's high-schoolstudents, imagine how serious the situation must be with the remaining twothirds.

The PRI report highlights more alarming statistics. “Theremedial rates at particular CSU campuses were shocking. At CSU Dominguez Hillsin southern California, 75.4 percent of entering freshmen needed remedialinstruction in math and 78.9 percent needed remedial instruction in English. AtCSU Los Angeles, 64.3 percent of entering freshmen needed remediation in mathand 77.9 percent needed English remediation.”

Admittedly, there are limits to what a public school teacheror administrator can do to stem the tide of secularist ideologies and policiesoverwhelming the schools, but at least some resistance should be offered.Christian educators working in the California public education system don'tnecessarily need to promote religious education - the ACLU has insured theycannot - but they can demand that truth, objectivity, and balance be thenorm. Such active involvement inthe system would indeed be reasonable and fair and would bring about somemuch-needed reforms and improvements.Instead, Christian teachers have resigned themselves to do nothing, andworse still, to acquiesce quietly and promote the same biased perspectives onissues. Is the power of a paycheck that strong that it can co-opt and influenceeven the most staunch Christians among us?

At the home school graduation ceremonies, the light ofChrist shone intensely. The truth and reality of how home schooling can changeyoung lives opened up for us a new avenue full of hope and opportunities.Today, the rise of secularism, and government control of much of theeducational establishment, has blinded many Christians to the value ofschooling aimed at excellence and informed by faith. The one surefire way to spurmore competition among schools is parental choice-exercised, for instance, bychoosing to educate children at home. Maybe that way more schools willunderstand that educating a child involves both mind and character.