Not Just for Scary Religious People

  How quickly things change. Not long ago, the educational establishment derided the idea of homeschooling, claiming that mere parents couldn't teach kids adequately -- after all, education is for professionals. But now, after homeschool students swept this year's national spelling bee, the education elites are objecting that these kids are too well-educated. So what's it going to be? The defenders of America's failed education policies can't seem to make up their minds. A homeschooler first won the National Spelling Bee in 1997. But this year first, second, and third places ALL went to homeschoolers. When the results were broadcast, the establishment circled the wagons: "These kids are not socialized," they cried. "They spend too much time studying." Really? Well, this year's winner, 12 year-old George Thampy -- who also placed in the National Geography Bee -- wrote an excellent article about his education for the Wall Street Journal. In it, young Mr. Thampy soundly refuted many of the mischaracterizations of homeschooling. In addition to taking trips and classes with other homeschoolers, he says, he participates in sports and Boy Scouts, and has friends in his youth group, neighborhood, and from competitions like the spelling bee. The socialization objection is specious on its face. One of homeschooling's greatest strengths is the quality of learning it provides. Since homeschool kids don't spend hours in sensitivity-training, or putting condoms on bananas in sex-ed class, they're free to learn in ways public-school kids cannot. Moreover, as Helen Cordes writes for Salon internet magazine, homeschooling allows parents to tailor education to their kids. Easy material can be taught quickly, but difficult material can be given all the time it deserves. A tailored education allows students to visit museums, learn a musical instrument, and devote themselves to things they're passionate about. And it's not just Christian kids who homeschool these days. An episode of the ultra-hip teen drama "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" even showed Buffy asking her mother to consider homeschooling. After all, Buffy reasoned, "it's not just for scary religious people anymore." Well, even these unflattering remarks reveal that the stigma is disappearing, as 1.7 million homeschool kids are entering the mainstream. Homeschoolers are having phenomenal success getting into top universities. According to Cordes, homeschoolers are accepted to Stanford at "twice the rate of schoolers." Now spelling bees and college admissions don't necessarily prove that home-schooled kids are better educated -- but they certainly illustrate the importance of educational options. Some public schools do a great job. Others don't. And homeschooling isn't for everyone. Some parents lack the training, temperament, or time to teach kids. But the principle is clear. Bureaucrats ought not to be the ones deciding how we educate our children. And that's why we need school choice and vouchers, to allow parents to send their kids to schools that are best for those kids. Education isn't something we can compromise on. It's the vehicle for transmitting our intellectual heritage to our children. Homeschooling's recent successes ought to serve to remind us that educating our kids -- not propping up a failed bureaucracy -- is what really counts.


Chuck Colson


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