Help! M’aidez! Salve! While perusing your excellent September 1992 issue, I was horrified to see two articles espousing inaccuracies about homeschooling.
First, E. Christian Kopff. In his article “Ignorance and Freedom,” he repeatedly states (without any source) that “‘Bible-believing’ Christians are strongly opposed to learning [Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and German] and allowing their children to study them.” This is news to me. My Big Book of Home Learning, one of the standard resources for Bible-believing homeschoolers, includes four chapters on resources for learning foreign and classical languages. Many of the programs I reviewed are also widely advertised in homeschool magazines, which largely eater to Bible-believing Christians.
I also object to Anita Evangelista’s essay. The burden of this article appears to be that homeschoolers, dullards that we are, force our children to sit for hours at school desks filling out workpapers and breaking for new classes at the sound of a bell. As the author of eight books on homeschooling and as someone who is in close touch with homeschoolers from around the country, I must say that I have never met even one homeschooler who meets Mrs. Evangelista’s description. If anything, homeschoolers tend to be too fond of “unit studies,” meaning unpressured time spent researching areas of personal interest, often with the sketchiest parental guidance.
The article is filled with other inaccuracies as well. To name just three. First, Mrs. Evangelista says that estimates as to the number of homeschooled children range between 10,000 and 200,000. Actually, knowledgeable estimates range between 200,000 and 500,000—the “10,000” figure dates from ten years ago. For example. Teaching Home magazine alone has a data base of over 200,000 homeschooling families, many of whom are teaching more than one child. Second, she claims, “Not all government districts ‘permit’ homeschooling.” In fact, homeschooling is legal everywhere in the United States, although the conditions under which it is legal may vary. See the Home School Legal Defense Association’s publication Home Schooling in the United States: A Legal Analysis, which includes the actual statutes for each state. Third, she claims that state mandates require homeschooling children to be “subjected to tests of their ability to memorize certain ‘official’ facts.” Even in Missouri, her own home state, this is not true. The Missouri law specifically states, “Nothing in this section shall require a . . . home school to include in its curriculum any concept, topic, or practice in conflict with the school’s religious doctrines.” Missouri, like many other states, allows families to document their homeschooling efforts by maintaining either “a plan book, diary, or other record indicating subjects taught and activities engaged in,” “a portfolio of samples of the child’s academic work,” and “a record of evaluations of the child’s academic progress” (which does not necessarily mean national standardized tests); or “other written, credible evidence equivalent to [the first three options].”
I also object to the use of John Taylor Gatto’s credibility and ideas (used, as far as I can tell, without his permission) to blast all homeschoolers who are not ideologically pure unschoolers and extreme libertarians. If John Taylor Gatto thinks homeschools, in Mrs. Evangelista’s unhappy phrase, are “perpetuat[ing] some of the public schools’ greatest failings” and are “in the process of creating . . . a permanent underclass,” let him write a Chronicles article himself. If not, quit using him like a ventriloquist’s dummy.
I object, too, to Mrs. Evangelista’s Marxist tactic of dividing homeschoolers into “educationally correct” and “educationally incorrect” camps. Let’s get clear about this—the vast majority of homeschoolers would fight to the death for the right to homeschool any way they want. With bells. Without bells. With desks. Without desks. In real life, most homeschoolers use a combination of techniques, ranging from unschooling to “living books,” to textbooks and workbooks, to unit studies, to apprenticeships, etc. The pros and cons of the different methods are vigorously debated in the homeschooling press. None of this openness of thought and practice
is reflected in this shallow and deceptive article.
Dr. Kopff Replies:
Mary Pride writes under the misapprehension that my remarks about “Biblebelieving Christians” were aimed at homeschoolers, many of whom, I agree, are attempting heroically to salvage their heritage and America’s future. They represent a goodly number in absolute terms, but only a small percentage of America’s Christians. My generalizations were based on some four decades of attending church services and Bible classes in different parts of America and on a more recent survey of local schools. Mrs. Pride represents la creme de la crime of America’s middle class and yet she can write “Help! M’aidez! Salve!” The French she intended is “aidez-moi,” though she might have tried “au secours.” “M’aidez” are syllables that might appear in a French sentence, e.g., “Vous m’aidez a comprendre la profondeur de l’ignorance du peuple Americain.” For “salve,” which means “ciao,” Mrs. Pride meant to write “salva,” which, however, is not classical Latin and usually means “save” in the Christian sense, not “help.” There are several ways to say “help” in Latin, e.g., “fer mihi auxilium.” I use the plural for the French and singular for the Latin because Mrs. Pride does. Is there a meaning to this variatio? It takes a paragraph to explicate the amount of error and confusion packed into three little words. I can see only one future for an urbanized, industrial society whose educational standards have sunk this low. You can see it, too, on the evening news, when they show pictures of Somalia.
Mrs. Evangelista Replies:
I have great respect for Mary Pride and her efforts on behalf of homeschooling. Therefore, I can only assume she has defended homeschooling from government bureaucrats for so long that she has misinterpreted my article’s intent and purpose. At no point did I suggest that homeschoolers were “dullards,” that all homeschoolers used enforced routines. or that I favor Marxist tactics. In fact, I homeschool my own two children, ages 12 and 10.
Though Mary Pride insists none exist, I have met homeschoolers regionally and in Southern California who fit my descriptions with frightening accuracy. The article’s intent was to point out these homeschoolers’ error of following public school processes while eschewing public schools. As to the accuracy of my figures: since there are no headcounts of homeschoolers, it’s ridiculous to argue over numbers that cannot be proven. I seriously doubt that a magazine’s data base (of subscribers? people who have written to ask a question? families that homeschooled for a semester and gave up? anybody who showed up at 3 homeschool convention?) is a legitimate count of anything other than its data base.
Homeschooling, for many state and local governments, is a questionable activity that the state allows parents to undertake with the state’s children, but only when parents agree to meet the state’s requirements. It’s not “legal” in the same way that growing a garden is “legal”; that is, a personal decision outside of state control. It is naive to assume homeschooling has been accepted at any level of government as an inherent “right” of parents. In fact, Mary Pride herself clearly describes Missouri’s restriction and regulation of homeschoolers, as I stated in different terms in my article (“State mandates require that parents record the time that their students spend on various topics and keep test papers and representative samples of the child’s accomplishments”). Should state scrutiny of a child’s records indicate the child falls below minimum state educational levels, a charge of “educational neglect” could follow. (I know one homeschooling family of seven that was harassed by social workers for two years for this reason.) In Mary Pride’s estimation, homeschooling is “legal”—even if parents have to meet outlandish requirements, such as declaring their home a “private school” and registering it with the state. This is not “legalization”; it is a grant of permission. Permission can be withdrawn.
The use of John Taylor Gatto’s excellent essay as inspiration for my article does not require his permission; quotation of his writing is covered by “Fair Use” provisions of copyright laws. As an author, Mary Pride should know this. Her criticism of Mr. Gatto, an innocent bystander, is unwarranted.
Finally, if the use of “bells, desks,” or other techniques are “vigorously debated” in the homeschooling press, it’s an indicator of critiques and doubts about the validity of various homeschooling practices. Since that’s what I did in my article, I only request that Mary Pride grant me the same access to free speech and a fair hearing that she gives other homeschoolers.