What Would a Pluralist Say About Homeschooling?
- Friday, May 31, 2013
An academic author’s argument might sound good at first. He might pull you right in. Terms used by thinker-writers, such as good society, pluralism, and parental choice, are engaging or at least appear benign. And you might hear one write something that really draws you in, such as "...A truly good education system will...honour the deeply-held commitments of the parents whose children are being educated.”1
And then the author, such as academic fellow Ashley Berner at the University of Virginia, continues by laying out a perfectly accurate claim like the following:
In fact, most U.S. citizens continue to think of their public schools as somehow ideologically neutral. This is simply inaccurate. Education, like all human endeavours, is shot through with belief and longing, with affirmations about what matters and what does not. (page 76)
Berner, in her piece titled “Making Space for Civilization: Educational Pluralism,” has just articulated something you know to be true and that leaders in the Christian home-education movement have been trying to get across to fellow believers for three decades. In fact, non-Christian home educators have been trying to convey the same thing. Now you are tracking with this academic and are ready to jump onto her wagon and recommend her article to policymakers and others.
But wait a minute, slow down, and carefully consider her next few steps.
Berner does a decent job of addressing three of the four main questions she posits about education: What is the aim of education? What is the nature of the child? What is the role of the teacher? But when she gets to the fourth and final question, Who has ultimate authority?, her argument breaks down as she reveals, unwittingly or not, some fundamental presuppositions and her worldview.
Academic Berner suddenly leaps to an unfounded claim. She asks, “Who decides [about a child’s education]?” Her answer?
When honest brokers disagree, who adjudicates? A good society in the twenty-first century must, it seems to me, find a way to embrace educational pluralism. That is, the State should establish certain standards which even strong disagreement may not overrule. These could include compulsory education up to age sixteen or seventeen; a strong curriculum that insures literacy and numeracy in the early years and that builds up the intellectual, emotional, physical, and even spiritual sensibilities of every child until graduation; a plan to sponsor individual interests, particularly at the upper grade levels; an agreement to promote civic and moral duty; the provision of adequate facilities and staff training across the system. Each of these components, of course, deserves its own essay! (page 76)
Hold on! Please define “good society,” Ms. Berner. And why did you pull, out of thin air, the position that the State should hold the position of god over the education of children? Why did you begin with the presupposition that the State has first and final authority over children’s education and upbringing? Why not the church (or synagogue or mosque or soccer team)? Why not the parents? Why not the child? Why not some invisible cosmic force? What happened to freedom and limiting the power of the State?
Why did you not clearly lay out your worldview’s relevant building blocks for us on this question, the one about authority over a child’s teaching, training, and indoctrination?
Berner’s worldview assumes that the State has a claim on children. From a statist perspective, the State does. From a scripturalist perspective, it does not.2 Christians should know that God gives the duty and authority over a child’s education (e.g., discipleship, nurturing, training, schooling) to his or her parents, with the father leading. Statism assumes that the State has a claim over a child’s education in order to control what the State thinks is best for “the people” who comprise the State. Scripturalism gives the State no claim over the teaching, training, and indoctrination of children. Scripturalism gives the State the duty and power to punish anyone who would harm a child, not the power to control a child’s education.
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