Sunday, January 16, 2005

#139 - Remind Me Why We Need Public Schools

Every time I find myself vacillating even a little about our decision to homeschool, something like this comes along. Joanne Jacobs points us to an article in the Mercury News about a middle school in Palo Alto, California who invited a rather, er, colorful speaker to their Career Day.

Assuming the salient talking points of the article to be true, I'm not sure which distresses me more: the idea that this fool was invited in the first place, or the fact that the kids thought he was the best speaker of the day.

Understanding that I'm putting myself squarely in opposition to all the ACLU bulemics who may wish to wave First Amendment arguments in my face, let me point out that anyone's right to freely express his or herself only serves to strengthen the argument that I should be allowed to control anything and everything to which my children are exposed. This becomes the essence of why Mrs. Woody and I choose to homeschool. There is no possible way that I or any relatively small group of like-minded people can significantly influence the academic agendas of any given school district to ensure that my children will be taught only those things of which I approve. This assumes, of course, that I tacitly approve of such things as math, history, English, science, and so forth. I draw the line, however, at moral issues.

So far as I can tell, modern schools, in concert with today's popular culture, have a lousy track record where teaching (or even encouraging) morality, integrity, or character are concerned. I see it as the height of irresponsibility to even suggest to any young person that by artificially increasing your natural anatomy you could make a fortune by exposing yourself to an addictive, destructive industry, no matter how legal it may be.

In fact, reading between the lines, the message shifts subtly: You don't necessarily have to work hard to make your way in this world. No one will think less of you for becoming a professional hedonist. Shucks, what do your parents know, anyway? If they nag, just leave. Go find someone who will become your enabler in life, so you can rationalize every dumb decision you seem determined to make.

The Principal, Joe DiSalvo, seems to have wonderful hindsight regarding the decision to hire this "management consultant" (now, there's a frightening thought!) as a Career Day speaker. Such a man would be allowed back if he were paired with a "strong teacher" and his materials were edited in advance. I guess that's why he's the principal, hm? To make those tough decisions and protect the kids, right?

If I were a Palo Alto parent and one of my children were in attendance at that event, Mr. DiSalvo wouldn't be taking quite so cavalier an attitude about it. He would find himself facing one hellatious fight at the District level with repeated demands that he step aside and let someone run that school who actually cares about the futures of the kids. There would be demands for a complete disclosure of every single event taking place at that school, and alternatives provided for activities where parents felt it inappropriate to have their kids attend.

Unfortunately, I'm sure Mr. DiSalvo's job is safe. Parents may be angry over the incident, but few, if any, will demand that level of accountability from their local educators. This has been the trend through most of the last century. Parents continue to abdicate their responsibilities to the schools. We've been conditioned to believe somehow that we are incapable of understanding what's best for our kids' educations. The unions can't see beyond the money they claim to need, administrators feel that only they have enough education themselves to be able to teach our youngsters, and the politicians can't stand the thought of anyone but themselves having control over the entire affair.

To those who do avail themselves of the public education system I say: Stay involved. Don't ever assume that your school is a "safe" haven for your kids. Question everything. Accept only the best. As for me...

Public schools long ago ran out of compelling arguments for why, exactly, I should submit my children to their tender mercies.

UPDATE: It's late Sunday evening, and this post has generated - by far - the most comment traffic I've ever seen on this blog. Between comments posted below, and those on my brother's site, I've been encouraged by the breadth of the discussion. Perhaps I can make more than an occasional ripple in the blogpond. Thanks to all who have commented. Even where we disagree, I have found the discussion to be both enlightening and stimulating.

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