Category Archives: education

HSLDA and other conservative logic

I know it’s not a flawless parallel, but the HSLDA’s position and response to Libby Anne’s recent posts reminds me very much of three other issues: prayer in public schools, abortion and gay marriage.

Anti-abortion advocates seem to assume that outlawing abortion will remove both the need and desire for abortions. In their eyes the answer is so simple because making abortion illegal will magically make women think twice about engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage and, when they do, abortion’s illegality will make them magically want to carry a child to term and keep or seek adoption.

Likewise, it reminds me of the over-simplistic argument against gay marriage. In particular, the idea that children need a mother and father so gay marriage will take away one or the other from a child, stunting their development. I guess if gay marriage is kept illegal then the family will magically revert to a mother and father who live together and are sexually attracted to each other.

Finally, I hear repeatedly that if we could just put prayer back in schools then our country would return to the wholesome, wonderful state it was in sixty years ago. Never mind that students can still pray on their own in the school and the “Meet You at the Pole” event is perfectly fine with schools, apparently there is something magical about prayer when sponsored and led by the school.

Maybe it’s because I subscribe to more liberal thinking that I see this sort of across-the-board simplistic thinking from conservatives. I would certainly assume that the HSLDA and its members are against gay marriage and abortion and for prayer in public schools (even if they are a homeschool organization) although that might not describe every single member.

Some might think it a contradiction because I argue as an atheist that people are fundamentally good and that Christians assume people are fundamentally bad since inheriting original sin. This isn’t really a contradiction. I still believe that the vast majority of parents love their children and act in their best interests.

It seems, however, like the HSLDA intentionally overlooks the possibility that there might be a few bad parents in their membership and seem steadfast in their refusal to help the children caught in those situations.

The HSLDA’s overarching mission is to free parents of any restrictions to homeschooling with the assumption, I assume, that when parents are free of restrictions then they can turn their full attention and energy to providing the best education possible to their children.

As Libby Anne has pointed out, though, the idea that some parents are not fit to provide that education or are even abusive seems to be completely outside of the HSLDA’s comprehension. It’s pretty telling that their mission isn’t to provide the best possible homeschooling environment to kids but rather provide the freest possible environment to the parents. They assume that parents always want the best and provide for their children while working to eliminate any safeguards.

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What is the purpose of public education?

I recently finished a book that has altered my perception about the purpose of education. E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What every American needs to know brought up some very interesting points, even if the book was published nearly three decades ago.

When Libby Anne first posed the question I had just started listening to the Cultural Literacy audiobook and honestly couldn’t have written this post. The book helped crystallize my thoughts although I now sound like a Cultural Literacy disciple.

The big educational reform in the past decade was No Child Left Behind (NCLB). With NCLB has come a backlash against the increasing number of standardized tests and the amount of time spent by teachers preparing kids for those tests. Keep in mind that I don’t think there is anything wrong with the intent, but here’s what’s dangerous about the practical implementation of something like NCLB.

The purpose of public education should not be merely to crank out individuals with good test scores. Hirsch provides ample evidence and a persuasive argument that schools should provide students with a shared knowledge because life is a collection of interaction with other people, not just a series of individual achievements.

My purpose isn’t to recap the book, so an example would be that instead of giving young readers an arbitrary fiction book, like Cat in the Hat or Go Dog Go, that beginning readers should learn something about history or geography or literature in those books. Hirsch argues that treating reading as a skill – decoding the words – is fine until students look for meaning in what they are reading. Understanding the meaning in the words requires a backlog of knowledge and that knowledge can only be gained through learning – usually through memorization.

This memorization is not an end unto itself, though. The purpose of having this knowledge is to provide clear, articulate communication and understand incoming communication. Education doesn’t occur in a vacuum and students don’t depart from school into a vacuum. We need to ensure that public education prepares them for social interaction. And one way to smooth that interaction is to ensure they are taught a broad swath of what is considered common knowledge by the rest of the nation.

This doesn’t mean doing away with programs and classes that encourage and develop critical thinking, just a realization and acknowledgement that knowledge and understanding require more than just pure logic. Critical thinking skills, for instance, won’t help you know the importance of the year 1776 or what states fought on which side in the Civil War.

Even without this social component, the general importance of public education cannot be overstated because of the need for informed citizens as part of democratic politics in the United States. Since much of the world now has some form of democratic government and the globe has shrunk with the advent of worldwide trade and communication via the internet, the need for a high standard of national education is necessary for the U.S. to remain relevant economically and scientifically.

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