“All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.”
—Sir Walter Scott

Educate, educare, Latin, from educere “to lead out.” Education is thus, etymologically, a leading out of young minds from inherited prejudices and superstitions. That, or something like it, has been included in dozens of textbooks on education. Like most pop scholarship, it is wrong. Educare may or may not come from educere (though the formation has problems), but if it does mean “lead out,” it is the sense described in the Oxford English Dictionary: “To bring up from childhood, so as to form habits, manners, mental and physical aptitudes.”

In other words, education is neither the naturally unfolding of the chrysalis into the butterfly nor a liberation from parental moral attitudes: It is a careful indoctrination of wholesome mental and moral habits. So far from being a radical project for detaching children from tradition, it is the process by which the little savages are disciplined into decent specimens of humanity.

So much for Latin. The Greek word paideia is more revealing, since its primary meaning is nothing more than childrearing. The Greeks knew that children could not rear themselves and eventually came to use the word to mean something like “chastisement,” which is how it is employed in the Greek version of the Old Testament. (Kenneth Grahame’s Badger, who insisted he wanted to “Lauren”—not teach—the weasels was modeled on a philologist.)

Although (Greeks hired tutors for their sons, schools as such were a fairly late invention, and no Greek (apart from Plato and a few other professional eccentrics) was mad enough to think that the education of children was anybody’s business but the parents, Aristotle did concede that it was logical to assume that it was a community’s business to oversee the rearing of the next generation of citizens, but he knew better than to buck the trend of common opinion.

Today, we assume that education is the business of everyone but the child and his family, and when a few parents take the radical step of teaching their children at home, they set up desks stocked with textbooks and call it a Home School. The real lesson they should be teaching is that even parents can only do so much: Education is ultimately the lifelong duly of the learner.

Perhaps we should agree to call home “home” and content ourselves with merely “teaching” our children without setting up a mirror image of the government factories of mediocrity.