Homeschooling and Socialism: The Worst Possible Mix
by Jackie Orsi
Last summer on an all-night train from Chicago to Cincinnati, I sat next to a child psychologist who had emigrated from Odessa, Russia three years previously. Our train kept pace with a violent storm front as it moved across the Midwestern plains. He and I moved to the observation car to watch the lightning display and chat without disturbing others.
Sergei is patching together his livelihood, teaching a college course here and there, and counseling children in the foster care system and the juvenile justice system. We talked for several hours about the discouraging plight of children in America today. We agreed that America is headed on a disastrous course paradoxically borne of its own best intentions.
Government Undermines Families
Every failure of families to meet the needs of children is countered by a government program designed to fill the needs or remedy the damage done. But these programs further weaken and undermine the families they set out to help. Slowly, responsibility for the wellbeing of the children is shifting from the family to the state. As I warmed to the topic, I heard myself exclaim, "You know, the United States is getting to be more socialist than the Soviet Union ever was."
Sergei turned to me in astonishment, let out a startled laugh, then said, "But thiss iss vhat my friends from Russia and I are sayink always to each other!"
He couldn't believe an American recognized, much less admitted, that the U. S. is sliding into socialism. Hey, I couldn't quite believe that I had said it.
Four or five years ago I would have discounted such a claim from one of my countrymen as the mongering of a reactionary extremist who was secretly aroused by the prospect of Commies under his bed. Since I spoke those words and Sergei so heartily endorsed them, I have carefully considered whether they were just an irresponsible, over passionate utterance of the moment. I have even looked to see whether I am looking under my bed for Commies.
But no, I think a lightning bolt emanated from my head that night on the train and it illuminated the truth. America is under the spell of an assumption that parents can't or won't raise their children properly nor deal with their family problems through private means. So, schools increasingly function as social service centers, offering breakfast and lunch, before and after school daycare, medical attention, dental attention, sex education. A panoply of other government programs address parent education, substance abuse, nutrition, immunizations, and you-name-it.
America's Growing Dependence
Socialism & Socialization
Growing dependence on government programs causes the assumption to be true. Families weaken as the state grows stronger.
We don't recognize socialism in our own country because we are so much in the habit of associating socialism with repressive totalitarian regimes. In America, we entice families into our social programs with slick salesmanship, sweet-talk, hand-wringing, hand-holding, and bribes. "Look, we're here to help you! Here, come to our special program for your toddler. Here, send the kids in early so they can have breakfast. Look, it's free. Besides, you're a taxpayer so you're entitled!" Threats and overt force are rarely needed to bring families in, but they lurk in the shadows, always a possibility for those difficult cases.
Parents in the Soviet Union at least knew the score, and Sergei theorized that they were actually freer for knowing. The whole point of their government-economic system was to suppress private action and private property in favor of the "common good." In America, we celebrate individual liberty - and deceive ourselves that it exists. We are freer than the Soviets in every way except one: We are captive to our romantic illusions about our own system of government. Totalitarianism that beats down your door in the night may actually be easier to resist than the kind that comes around carrying a salesman's sample case. Whether parents choose to participate or are ordered to participate in government programs really makes no difference; either way they surrender their autonomy to the state.
Serving the Common Good
Like the Soviets, Americans, too, have concerns about "the common good." Homeschooler Cathy Duffy, writing in Government Nannies, tells us why our American brand of socialism is ultimately so dangerous.
"While compassion was, and remains, a major motivation for society shouldering the problems of families and individuals, we must admit that "maintaining the common good" is another motivation. Whether we are fearful of the acts of desperate people, desire a more uniform level of safety, or are concerned about our property values, there is an undeniable element of self-interest to these programs.
Unfortunately, any collective attempt to fix such problems means that the collective entity must impose its beliefs, values, and methods upon the individuals and families designated for assistance. Those who resist assistance are perceived as harming the common good. With this mindset, it is easy for state agencies to slip into intimidation and coercion to enforce their will, which is, of course, for the common good."
The growth of socialism in America disturbs me, but nowhere more than the inroads it is making into home-schooling. In California, and many other states, public schools are enticing independent homeschoolers to their programs by offering "educational goodies," as the Los Angeles Times recently called them (11/1/98).
Thousands of homeschooling families have been lured into public programs by the promise of computers, participation in school band and baseball, use of school facilities, and, of course, kindly assistance. If you are one of these families, you may think you and the schools are enjoying a cozy little win-win situation, but I am certain that you are voluntarily submitting your family to socialism of the most insidious kind.
Whether parents choose to participate or are ordered to participate in government programs really makes no difference; either way they surrender their autonomy to the state.
I know a thing or two about homeschooling. I've enjoyed it for the last ten years with my own children, and learned from all the countless families I've come to know. The truly magical part of homeschooling springs from our acts of self-creation as families and as individuals. To harvest all the possibilities homeschooling holds for us we must be totally free to take command of our lives.
The fully independent home-schooling family is no longer in the thrall of experts, nor subject to the pressures of peers, nor reacting to the demands of an uncaring institution, nor following obediently the demands of government. It's scary and thrilling and fabulous to be so free. You can dream a dream of how your life is supposed to be, then go and make it happen.
New Family Member
So think carefully about what really happens when you sign up with a government school program. A San Jose Mercury article (9/7/98) recently quoted a home-schooling mom rhapsodizing over the new charter school program in Fremont, CA, "'It's not a teacher-parent relationship you have anywhere else... It's like having another member of the family." It does not surprise me that homeschooling families routinely report that their resource teacher is "nice" and "helpful"; her employment rests in great measure upon being nice and helpful. It is essential that she ingratiate herself, establish a place in the family, and entrench herself there.
When the state becomes a partner in your homeschool, you bring the state into your family. An agent of the state is assigned to your family. She has a benign title, like "resource teacher." Your resource teacher holds her job because the state deems that she is superior to you in knowledge and understanding, therefore she is fit to supervise you.
Public school programs have another sad effect on families: I've witnessed honest people turned into cheaters and liars.
That presumption of her superiority is working on you, whether you realize it or not. I've seen the erosion of confidence that takes place in parents who sign up with public school programs. I recall what happened to a mother I knew well. "Allison" had been homeschooling her two boys beautifully and independently for years, but then she signed on to a public program that promised her goodies (and, significantly, escape from the threats of prosecution for truancy that our school district annually hung over home-schoolers' heads.) Within a week of joining the program, Allison regressed into a seventh grade mentality; she literally began to fret over how to get good grades from the teachers. She'd call me (of all people!) before her bimonthly meetings with the resource teacher to get advice on how to please him. In panicky tones, she'd say, "I wrote thus-and-such on our reporting form. Do you think it's enough? Do you think it's okay?"
Public school programs have another sad effect on families: I've witnessed honest people turned into cheaters and liars. The ubiquitous weekly summary forms, the meetings with teachers, the constant, subtle pressure to educate the children along traditional lines cause parents to "fictionalize" their reports. Maybe Mom and the kids actually spent a glorious day at the park, flying kites and watching the clouds roll by, but their official paperwork, you can bet, says that the math, spelling, grammar, and social studies lessons got done. To be safe from discovery, parents make the kids parties to the deception. "If Mrs. Brown asks, don't tell her about our day at the park."
Let's think a little more about "Mrs. Brown," the resource teacher. She is a stranger to you, a fact that will not essentially change no matter how many hours you and your children appear before her, or how many hours she spends in your home. She does not love you and your children, beyond a certain thin "love for humanity" veneer that all human service professionals are expected to cloak themselves in. She must retain her professional detachment, but that is not hard for her to do because she is trained to think compartmentally about people. She understands that you are her inferior, not worthy of love among equals.
Your resource teacher keeps detailed narrative records about your children, your family, your meetings together, your home. Her reports are permanent records belonging to her employer, the state. They are read by utter strangers, higher agents of the state, who do not love you, do not even know you, but who insist that you need the services of their program. All the agents of the state are convinced of the worth and necessity of what they do for you, and they'll testify to that, if need arise. At some point in the machinery of the state, your family will cease to exist except as a series of ciphers, financial and otherwise, to keep an army of state auditors employed.
But don't concern yourself about the auditors. Think again about your nice resource teacher. "Mrs. Brown" and all other public school program personnel are legally mandated to tell about you to other highly powerful agents of the state. These ultra agents are authorized to take your children away from you without notice and keep them from you for a long, long time. They are not bound by constitutional rules of due process. To them, you are guilty before proven innocent.
And there must be findings, always findings! Without a steady production of findings, the resource teachers, the auditors, and the ultra agents cannot justify their paychecks.
The first wave of modern day homeschoolers, the pioneers of the 70s and 80s, answered to no one but themselves. They were a refreshing new arrival in society: parents who could and would raise their children without reliance upon the state. They were a turn-around movement, a new consciousness, and a complete challenge to the status quo. The education establishment was momentarily flabbergasted, then fought back viciously in the courts and legislatures for many years -until now, when it discovered that you can catch those pesky flies with a little bit of honey.
It's a tragic irony that the homeschooling movement, which started out hell-bent for freedom, has become the state's most willing thoroughfare into the lives of families.
I hate being the one to break the news to you that homeschoolers' voluntary participation in public school programs is socialism, but that's what it is. The good news is that independent home-schooling is still your right and your opportunity in most states of the Union. Believe me: you don't need your kid to play the clarinet in the school marching band nearly so much as you need to be free. Home-schoolers, stay away from public school programs. To borrow a slogan, "You have nothing to lose but your chains."
Jackie Orsi now lives in Ohio and has homeschooled two daughters, the youngest of which is 16.
This article originally ran in The Link Homeschool Newspaper in 2002, reposted here with permission.