“Well, whatever you do, don’t homeschool your kid. Homeschooled kids are weird.” It was the first real comment I’d received from one family member shortly after we announced our pregnancy. Let’s be clear: My son was less than 20 weeks developed in the womb and already I was receiving education advice. That’s precisely how passionate people are when it comes to education in America. Not because the average Joe is worried about competing with China, but because education has become the primary source for acculturation in America. Choosing your child’s school is the equivalent of choosing his religious and political persuasion, let alone his career path. To put it even more simply, schools are the lens through which children learn how to view the world and their place in it.
The selling point of education has always been curriculum, but don’t let that fool you into thinking academics are the primary purpose of the educational institution. Public education was developed to provide slews of immigrant children a forum through which to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, sure. But, the ultimate goal was acculturation: Taking a mass of immigrants from across the globe and acculturating them into American life. Over a century later not much has changed. Academic curricula are still being used to sell specific interpretations of social class, economics, politics, and religion. The main difference is that the interpretations have radically changed.
No one knows this better than the families who homeschool. Most of them are observant Christians who began pursuing homeschooling during the post-Biblical era of public education. Fifty-five years ago the Supreme Court ruled against prayer and non-sectarian Bible reading in public schools as a violation of the First Amendment. The fallout resulted in moral decay among students and teachers: Wardrobe, interpersonal relationships, self-respect and yes, even curriculum all suffered from the lack of basic moral guidance. Wanting their children to be acculturated into a worldview guided by faith, Christian families pulled their children out of public schools and began teaching them at home.
In the decades since, other demographics have followed in Christian homeschoolers’ footsteps. Jewish families seeking a more cost-effective option are pulling away from the religious school tradition while a growing number of Silicon Valley geniuses, disgusted with their own negative experiences in public schools, are homeschooling their own children. With the dawn of the Trump administration, even the most avid public education supporters are reconsidering the homeschooling option. What these diverse groups have in common is the understanding that education is, above all, acculturation. They see through the line that school is about learning basic facts to prepare for adult life.
Every parent needs to understand that how we educate is how we acculturate. Recently I received an email from one Jewish women’s organization that advised “”Who do you want standing under the chuppah beside your kid? Now rewind and choose your schools, friends, and camps accordingly.” Academics are an essential part of education. But when the facts fade from memory, a child’s sense of self-identity and purpose forged during those formative years are what will last a lifetime.