By David Tulis
Every mom and dad is quirky. Each household has distinct ideas and customs that frame the spiritual and intellectual lives of its children. My contributions to my youngest child, 10, are similar to those passed along to his older brothers and and sister. I handle Bible memory work or catechism memorization, Bible reading, a readaloud in a Landmark history, and, of late, legal vocabulary, including today venue and writ of mandamus. The boy has memorized all Christ’s parables, and this month we’re starting on the Sermon on the Mount, portions of which he’d absorbed earlier. I take on other tasks when my wife, Jeannette, is pressed for time, following a schedule she fills out Mondays.
The quirky part is my interest in legal matters. I believe every Christian should have a basic understanding of law, the better with which to defend himself, his family and his property. The threat is not so much from private torts and injuries, but from police officers and regulators acting under color of law — without legal warrant. My boys know about their rights to a jury trial, when a writ of habeas corpus is called for, the rule for probable cause in police searches of private property. They know the main question to ask a cop in a traffic encounter is, “Am I free to leave?”
My interest in these concepts springs from personal history defending my rights in court. I bring up this quirk simply to suggest that as my sons reflect my view of the world, so your children will reflect yours.
Diversity within unity
Your children are made fit for the callings God ordains for them. He ordains them to meet these tests by having put them in your care and by ordaining that you bring them up in the admonition and fear of the Lord with your own unique imprint upon that general message. By your care, your perspectives, your obsessions, your particular genius and wisdom, you equip them and give them experiences for which, later in life, they are able to account. I would suggest this claim is true of your strengths — as well as your faults as a mom. Nothing in a child’s life is ever wasted. Slowly your son finds his center, his moral, ethical and intellectual seat. That seat of the soul, that framework, is one largely shaped by your and your husband’s words, your person and your house during a child’s youth.
I have three sons. None appear headed for law. But all their lives at home they have heard about basic rights they enjoy as citizens of the free state of Tennessee. By being my sons, they become fit for certain tasks, troubles, ordeals and struggles for which God, very possibly, did not ordain your children to handle. Similarly, your conceptions of God’s world and your place in it give the young people in your household a fitness for callings God intends for them — entrepreneurship, the arts, poetry, animal husbandry, farming, biology, operating a river tugboat. These are fields beyond anything a child of mine could have contemplated. By our distinctions God makes members of the new generations distinct, odd, specialized, imaginative. Through Christ, there is diversity in unity.
Home education is an important development in Christendom and in American culture. It prevents our grittiness from being smoothed down in the public school process. It esteems parents, credits the intelligence of the American adult and allows family members to enjoy more holistic and personal experiences.
The quirkiness of your family and of mine are arguably a fault in homeschooling. Children graduate from our homes who don’t fit molds, who think differently than others, who are more difficult to account for. At least let’s hope they have enough oddness and inexplicability about them to make the useful.
It was recently pointed out that bureaucracy and centralized manmade systems (public schools, U.S. government, bureaucracies) are monocultures, brittle, inflexible, not open to reforms. Dissenters provide important signals and information to expansive systems such as those that cover the U.S. landscape today. Let our children be the dissenters who give the system the data and perspective it refuses to consider, as defenders of bureaucratic systems have closed information loops and too many yes-men. Let’s hope your children and mine have enough freedom in their outlook to make them nonconformists, defiant of the system they have escaped and willing to help people trapped in it to escape.
Centralized systems become irrelevant
The factory school system you have escaped is becoming increasingly impotent and irrelevant to true education. Its weakness is evident in its drive toward centralization, its digitized micromanagement and the yielding of state control into hands federal and corporate. A software called EngageSense is being developed to direct cameras on students’ eye movements, smiles and conversations to give teachers and administrators raw data about the student-teacher relationship. Another “engagement pedometer” measures teacher inputs as if it were electrical stimuli. In Tennessee, the school system is being absorbed into a national program with an extensive “big data” interest in student and family details. According to analyst Charles Hugh Smith and others, school systems and universities are legacy entities that are being bypassed by the marketplace. “That which is unaffordable is unsustainable and will go away,” he says in an essay that describes the collapse of the university concept. “The factory model is obsolete in an era where a variety of nearly free instructional materials and methodologies enable the student to select the most appropriate approach for his aptitudes and needs. *** The higher education cartel is intrinsically elitist, as its survival as a rent-seeking cartel is based on limiting what is now essentially free: knowledge and instruction.” In other words, the PDF has destroyed the school. The World Wide Web makes the university and the public school obsolete.
Not recognizing this trend, the groups that depend on the state for their incomes do the only thing they know how to do: centralize their functions and homogenize their product. Public systems do not realize their purpose is spent, their financial resources are nil, the public goodwill largely depleted, that they exist by the toleration and grace of the taxpayers, who could abolish them if they had a mind to. People don’t abolish them because they prefer the tyrannies with which they are familiar rather than the toils and uncertainties of liberation with which they are not.
The decentralization revolution lets people bypass ineffectual, overpriced and nonresponsive systems such as public schools. That’s you, dear reader. Homeschoolers aren’t making war on the factory school. They ignore it. They do their own thing, their efforts undergirded by the marketplace, by events such as the Chattanooga homeschool expo and by the online market. Why in the age of Facebook and mp3s would anything need to be centralized under a vast external bureaucracy? Except for the property, sales and other taxes, families that don’t patronize the factory school have nothing to do with it, and have little reason to care about it. That is why the position of critics of Common Core seems so fragile, so hopeless. The critics are conservative, Republican and liberty-oriented. Many are Christians. But they are unable to intellectually or spiritually break with the system. They spend their time and energy trying to stop its dehumanizing and centralizing tendencies, and making the best of their commitment as clients and beneficiaries of the public weal. That they receive “free money,” as it were, makes it almost impossible for these parents to register market signals and to shift their investment elsewhere. They are invested, and somehow unable to sell.
States’ reform efforts confirm megatrend
Tennessee government is responding to its school cartel’s loss of market share. It is joining the vandals in their sack of Rome, almost. The state has an online academy run by K12, a for-profit business that also serves the homeschooling market.
Gov. Bill Haslam in July signed up with a nonprofit online college system, Western Governors University, to create WGU Tennessee, a “competency-based” university intending to make college more readily available to state residents for less. The program runs in several state and has 35,000 students, including 700 in Tennessee. The state’s tab in the arrangement is $5 million. Tuition is pricey — F$3,000 a semester. The group will be self-funded and perhaps become a profit center for state government.
My children have long had curriculum online, through Amblesideonline and other outlets. A son is taking an antiquities course online with George Grant at Kings Meadow in Franklin, Tenn. Where homeschoolers lead, state governments follow.
An analysis by Peter Klein, a professor at University of Missouri, suggests that reforms by giant institutions will not be enough to address problems fundamental to the schools framework. Correspondence courses and distance learning aren’t new, but the Web “has made it possible for people to educate themselves, independently or in groups large and small, on an unprecedented scale.” Companies such as Khan and groups such as Mises Academy (a free market think tank named after Ludwig von Mises) “are offering modular, flexible and specialized alternatives to the medieval model that continues to dominate the establishment universities,” Dr. Klein says. Universities are trying to use the best features of the online world to resist the downdraft that another free market economist, Gary North, says will destroy universities within 50 years.
One is the “flipped” model of study, Dr. Klein says, “in which students watch lectures at home, online, and do problems and exercises in class, with the help of instructors and classmates. I personally like the flipped model a lot and often use these techniques in the classroom.” But the problem for the school is that coaching systems are not the most economical use of high-paid tenured professors. It’s not cost-effective for professors to repeat live lectures every quarter, either.
Dr. Klein is writing about the university. But the trend of decentralization promises to overturn places of learning for high schoolers and 6-year-olds in their first year of school, too. The Internet is bringing the price of education down. Schools in Hamilton County extract about $10,000 in taxpayer dollars per student per year. That amount is untenable. The pain of paying it will become increasingly odious to members of the public. An online program is 25 times cheaper than traditional schooling. To survive, the factory school is going to have to prove itself 25 times better — an inconceivable task.
David Tulis hosts Nooganomics.com weekdays from 1 to 3 p.m. at Copperhead 1240 AM radio. The show streams live online via 1240wsdt.com. Please join his uplifting and lively talks and interviews and make a point of supporting his advertisers.
Sources: • Charles Hugh Smith writes the website oftwominds.com. • Andy Sher, “Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam launches online college,” July 10, 2013, timesfreepress.com • Michael Thalen, “‘Biometric classroom” Monitors Students’ Eye Movements And Conversations,” storyleak.com, Sept. 19, 2013