Ban on homeschooling
- 1 Explosion of new learning
- 2 Who sets back progress in education?
- 3 Who opposes homeschooling?
- 4 Arguments against homeschooling
- 5 Homeschooling as a school extension
- 6 Conformity destroys creativity
- 7 Ban on self-learning
- 8 Martha Albertson Fineman
- 8.1 Choosing Parental Rights Over Children's Interests
- 8.2 Ray on Fineman
- 8.3 The making of Martha
- 8.4 Success of homeschooling
- 8.5 Unequal treatment of public and home education
- 8.6 Harm to the student
- 8.7 Unschooling
- 8.8 Intellectual isolation
- 8.9 What does parent-led mean?
- 8.10 Parents control most of the waking time
- 8.11 How to command parental resources?
- 8.12 Shaping the kid
- 8.13 Abolish the Amish?
- 8.14 Superstition in combat against superstition
- 8.15 State paternalism
- 8.16 Fostering the respect for authority
- 8.17 Schools and social diversity
- 8.18 Evening mandatory socialization
- 8.19 Feminism that hurts children
- 8.20 Market failure in education
- 8.21 Fineman's reform: funding, ideas, and energy
- 8.22 Professorial type
- 8.23 Democratic content
- 8.24 Price of scholarly specialization
- 9 Indoctrination
- 9.1 Book burning does not work
- 9.2 Efficient learning trumps indoctrination
- 9.3 Parental values vs. indoctrination
- 9.4 Ban on free speech
- 9.5 Monkey trial and monkey emotion
- 9.6 Indoctrination against coherent models
- 9.7 Religions thrive under fire
- 9.8 Reductio ad Hitlerum
- 9.9 Compulsion destroys religion
- 9.10 Core beliefs are not malleable
- 9.11 Secular indoctrination in fundamentalist communities
- 9.12 Militants dominate under pressure
- 9.13 Militant creativity under pressure
- 9.14 Fundamentalist thinking is self-limiting
- 10 Conclusions
Explosion of new learning
Throughout this book I paint a picture of efficient learning methods that underlie sparkling creativity. This enticing picture is largely irrelevant for most kids on this planet. Large swathes of this globe are limited by poverty, and/or by corrupt or underdeveloped political systems. However, the entire industrial world isn't much friendlier to the kids. Prussian system of schooling has become a default and dominates the years of youth. This system is inefficient and entirely incompatible with the natural creativity cycle or the needs of the learn drive. There is a beacon of hope though. That beacon was born in the cultural melting pot of the United States of America. America gave birth to many early pioneers of new educational approaches, which are basically a return to the old and tried method of elite education from the pre-industrial era: homeschooling and unschooling, as well as a modern variant of the latter: democratic schooling. Now that the new learning has taken root, it is bound to become more and more popular around the world. This process, however, is slowed down by various forces of evil, including evil that comes from a good heart or good intent mixed up with ignorance.
Who sets back progress in education?
Amazingly, all evil begins at family home. In this dog-eat-dog world, parents are busy with earning a living. Sometimes they focus on their personal achievements, or material goods, but more often than not, they simply have little choice. Work is a matter of survival. This status quo entails institutionalization of kids. The whole culture is now refocused and biased by thinking that kids should spend their days away from parents at school and that school is a good thing.
All my grand suggestions of learning reforms for the young generation have little chance of taking root in a culture that already has a pre-designed plan for the first 2-3 decades of the child's life: daycare, preschool, K-12, and college. Support from enlightened educators and psychologists does not matter much. They all face an army of parents, teachers, politicians, and scholars who think using the old cultural paradigm.
I regret to put Sweden and Germany at the front of my hall of shame. Those seemingly most enlightened countries in Europe lead the way in reinforcing the old rigid system of schooling. Both Sweden and Germany have made homeschooling illegal. This makes my prescription for glorious learning unworkable. In Sweden and Germany, my prescription would violate the law! This is so anachronistic that I struggled to understand the reasons behind the ban. It is hard to believe, but there might be kids or parents who read this text and can only dream of implementing my suggestions in their own beloved home country.
To understand the mechanics behind the ban on homeschooling, one needs to dig deep into political systems, history, culture, and demographics of countries involved. Those who dismiss it as just another socialist, communist, or totalitarian whim of history need to re-examine the causes in more detail. There are many well-educated minds who believe mandatory schooling is essential for social cohesion and sheer survival of societies! This is false, but for many, the error in thinking is not as obvious as it is for me.
Who opposes homeschooling?
There are opponents of homeschooling in all walks of life and in all social strata. There are opponents among liberals, socialists, conservatives, or evangelicals alike. However, it is liberals and socialists that seem most active in the name of the betterment of society. Socialists, in particular, fear radical religious indoctrination. Fears of indoctrination become less and less relevant when it becomes easier to expose kids to all information of the modern world (esp. via the web). This is a touchy subject though as we cannot object parental efforts to limit access to violence, pornography, and the like.
Interestingly, we let people kill themselves with tobacco or carry guns while, at the same time, we put little trust in caring parents and their ability to bring up their children as if parental indoctrination was more dangerous than guns. I think it is a matter of social development and experimentation. We have not yet experienced the full extent of the woes of true prohibition (on free learning) and a true prohibition backlash. Where homeschooling is not legal, the society has not yet matured to the point where it could cause problems similar to the prohibition of 1920-1933. It is a matter of time, however.
Freedom can hurt. Freedom can hurt children too. However, transportation kills, disfigures, and hurts many more kids than the worst varieties of homeschooling ever could. The difference between transportation and homeschooling is that most of society has little idea of the benefits of homeschooling, let alone unschooling. There are dozens of myths in circulation. In Poland, it is harder to find a homeschooler than a rare species of birds in their habitat. There are supposedly 12,000 of them, however, they tend to stay under the radar. One of the reasons: social pressure!
Many homeschooling parents are psychologists, educators, or teachers. At the same time, teachers also form a strong group of opponents of homeschooling. If this is all about keeping one's job, we should stress that private tutoring could also provide many teaching opportunities except I do not see your average school teacher doing a good job in one-on-one interaction. Many of my teachers had authoritarian tendencies. They seemed to love to rule their herd. As if it all had been about their power, not child's education. In part, this is a result of conditioning which is an inherent mainstay of the old system. Poor pay adds to the problem. I have seen many great teachers go to better paid, and more satisfactory pursuits. Those include private tutoring. It does not imply that good pay is a solution. The high attrition rate among good teachers comes from their realization that they are part of the system that does a lot of damage to kids and is inherently unworkable. This is how the radical genius of John Taylor Gatto was born. Gatto "refused to hurt children".
Arguments against homeschooling
Opponents of homeschooling most often quote inadequate standards of education, poor socialization, and the potential for extreme attitudes and parallel societies. They also base their superficial views on easily falsified myths such as: "homeschoolers are fundamentalist Christians" or "homeschoolers come from families with (too) many children". Opponents do not see or understand how schooling suppresses the learn drive, or how it conflicts with the creativity cycle. As the Prussian education system keeps churning out a number of reasonably educated and innately smart graduates, the fact that it hurts mental health, creativity, and life-long learning of nearly all kids remains unnoticed, overlooked, or misunderstood. The ignorance of brain science is so widespread that the view that homeschooling is harmful is pretty popular with some seemingly smart individuals taking a radical condemnatory stance.
All education systems will deliver some geniuses, some model citizens, some poorly adapted individuals, and some criminal element. Variety is part of social reality. Educational outcomes are in large part determined by family environment and upbringing. Schools and teachers can hardly remedy bad trajectories. All teachers work with a strong belief they can change kids, but in the end, teacher's life is inevitably filled with a frustrating realization about how difficult the change is. This article shows that family education has the best potential to bring up the best learning standards. Naturally, it all needs to begin in a healthy home environment. Almost by definition, pathological families are not interested in homeschooling. Unschooling, by definition, is the best form of learning. It is most compliant with the fundamental law of learning. Parental intervention within the push zone is also acceptable in homeschooling. Academic outcomes are usually fantastic.
Socialization via schooling is inefficient and may be harmful. Democratic schools provide a good example of efficient socialization. Again, homeschooling can bring a spectrum of good and bad outcomes. Its biggest advantage is freedom from compulsory social interaction which helps filter out the negative aspects of socialization at school. Its biggest drawback is the easy path towards socialization neglect. Those who claim poor socialization in homeschooling are simply unaware of statistics, research, and reality. There is a truckload of materials on the web. Homeschoolers call it "socialization myth". Naturally, this is highly individual. Some kids may be more vulnerable, some parents might be less capable, but socialization is largely a non-issue in homeschooling.
Opponents of homeschooling imagine isolated households under the influence of some kind of Koresh-type guru. Those could allegedly lead to isolated violent groups, religious rebels, or even parallel societies. Rebels, revolutionaries, and terrorists can be born in all circumstances. Limits on freedom are actually the biggest spark for rebellion. In section devoted to indoctrination, I try to explain why religions thrive under fire, and schools are a poor way to put limits on "dangerous" free thinking. In modern world, where kids are bombarded with attractive stimuli from all directions, compulsory schooling may actually be one of the chief factors of youth rebellion. My own rebellions must have been fueled by uninspiring teachers and thinking that "adults have no clue". This is not the type of rebellion that brings a new better world. The rebellion is angry and those who want to quell it with more schooling and tighter rules will only spark the ultimate fire that will end the old system.
One of my colleagues who agrees with the general line of my reasoning urged me to drop that last sentence, which he called propaganda: "The rebellion is angry and those who want to quell it with more schooling and tighter rules will only spark the ultimate fire that will end the old system".
I refused on the grounds that the sentence was prompted by my recent conversations with kids, incl. very young kids. What a well-schooled generation may call "propaganda", I see as my own advance to a new level of understanding of the magnitude of the problem. Perhaps despite all my efforts, the gap of knowledge and understanding is still growing? With my research into young mindsets, I depart further and further from the conventional line of thinking about school and development.
No teacher, no progress
The myth that good learning requires a good teacher is widespread, pervasive, and harmful. A good teacher can make a world of difference but is not a sine qua non of good learning. Just the opposite, good learning achieved without assistance often carries additional qualities that cannot easily be imparted by teaching alone.
When Polish pioneer Marek Budajczak struggled to keep his kids out of a local school in Poniec, he met with scorn of a local teacher and a school vice-principal one Irena Krawiec who complained "I have been teaching since 1967 and I am still learning. I can teach a class on a few subjects, but it is way too hard to teach all subjects". She wondered how Ms Budajczak with "mere high school education" could possibly cope. This would be sub-par learning. In the end, Budajczak kids came out excellent and all worries about education and socialization turned out to be just a result of their courage to step away from a "social norm".
The belief that a teacher must be smarter or more knowledgeable than the student is harmful. It insidiously implies that the kid is unlikely to overtake the teacher, while, in the ideal case, future generations should always advance ahead.
It can be argued that a teacher's strength is his specialization in a narrow field. It can equally well be a weakness as knowledge gap undermines empathy and makes it harder to employ student's learn drive. One of the greatest ills of education is that adults cannot truly get into the heads of kids. Not only do kid brains differ. The curse of knowledge makes the distance ever harder to traverse. The worst teachers in the world recruit from the ranks of those who poorly tolerate the immense knowledge gap. Those teachers simply cannot stand or comprehend the ignorance of the young folks. The intolerance of the overwise good teacher is one of the roots of school hate.
Homeschooling as a school extension
One of the first walls in combating the anti-homeschooling superstition is the claim that all "extra teaching" parents want to do (e.g. in the area of ethics) can be done in addition to normal schooling. In other words, home might be supplementing the education kids get from a public school.
This thinking could only make matters worse for kids. One of the biggest sins of schooling is cognitive overload. Claims of the value of "extra teaching" come from ignorance of the principles of the natural creativity cycle. The idea of extra home education is oblivious of the fact that school totally eats up the useful part of the natural creativity cycle leaving "brain scraps" that should be left alone in peace for rest. Piling up extra learning in addition to schooling is the exact opposite of what best homeschooling should strive at. We need to begin with the hygiene of learning!
Parents with moral or strong religious motivations will also add that no ethical training can undo the damage done by schools. They may claim, falsely, that "once you teach a kid evolution, the genie is out of the bottle". In reality, the opposite can happen in a coercive system. The kid who is forced to think one way will naturally oppose and seek intellectual liberation in philosophies that schooling attempts to root out.
Conformity destroys creativity
Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard noticed that we have two basic needs that lead to conformity: the need to be right (informational influence) and the need to be liked (normative influence). Homogeneous education, based on compulsory curriculum, enhances those influences and leads to an increase in conformity.
In a society educated uniformly, there is less room for the departures from the norm. The uniform force pushes everyone towards the average truth, and the average social norm. This implies lesser space for creative thinking, creative solutions, and novel behaviors. Tolerance for all forms of innovation is reduced.
A 5-year-old able to drive a car should be a badge of honor for his dad. An appearance on a prime-time TV show should be the acme of young man's affirmation. Instead, it meets with negative comments "soon he will kill someone", "when he is ten, he will steal his dad's car keys", "he already dislikes the kindergarten and school, he will be a good for nothing," and "the dad got a screw loose".
With homogeneous schooling, we create a boring homogeneous society, which is a form of intellectual bondage. Creativity is suppressed. It is hard to be different. This can translate to horrible experience for gays, religious or ethnic minorities, for the disabled, or even those who just think differently.
Ban on self-learning
I love to learn, but I hate to be taught. This feeling is universal unless it is undermined by schooling. After many years of being subject to teaching, students often do not know any better. Then they can say "I hate to be taught, but I have to. At least I do not have to learn".
All attacks on homeschooling and unschooling come from ignorance. Ignorance affects everyone. University professors can also be ignorant. If they do not specialize in brain science, they can be as ignorant about the brain as most people with or without titles.
Amazingly, when I look at the characteristics of those who attack homeschooling, they seem to remind me the younger, the more arrogant, and more ignorant myself. However, I have always loved self-learning. For decades now, I have been sympathetic to the cause of homeschoolers, esp. in my own country where it has for long been under serious social pressure and stigmatism. I have seen homeschoolers grow to be highly creative adults.
Martha Albertson Fineman
To promote healthy self-learning, we need to combat a great degree of mythology. To illustrate the problem, I picked a longer analysis from Professor Martha Albertson Fineman. Fineman, Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law, is a prominent, widely cited, and respected award-winning legal scholar with a long list of accomplishments in her field. Fineman believes homeschooling should be banned. If you do not care to go into details, here is my rude summary of Fineman's thesis in my own words: "many parents are backward and their rights to transfer their backwardness onto their kids should be overruled by the right of children to get enlightened education; hence education by the state should be mandatory".
The thesis comes from a just concern and is well intended. However, it is based on the ignorance of brain science. However intellectually elaborate and analytical Fineman's attack is, it is rendered impotent as it starts from a wrong underlying assumption. Fineman assumes "school is good", while this entire book explains in detail why schools are NOT grounds for efficient learning! For Fineman, schooling is like vaccination, however, she definitely picked a wrong vaccine.
In this short chapter, in abstraction of brain science, I will only focus on a subset of the problem: not only is schooling inefficient, it is even inefficient in rooting out backwardness and ignorance. The net result of the approach suggested by Fineman is societal harm of slower learning and slower progress. The main casualty of mandatory education are most gifted kids and kids with most nourishing home environments. Slowing down their development will only slow down societies and slow down cultural transformations. Despite all the good intents, and all the years of good education and wisdom, a scholar proposes a solution that is monumentally ignorant and harmful to society.
It is a bit unfair to single out Professor Fineman for attack. She represents a bigger army. My reason for the criticism is her well-documented line of reasoning. Many bright minds are far from seeing the light which I am trying to shed with this text. In my own circle of closest and smartest friends, I have minds that think like Fineman. The only good thing is that I see an evolution in thinking. I may not cause a paradigm shift. There were greater minds that failed at this effort. However, I am inducing noticeable changes. The revolution in education is slow but it is underway and it is largely unstoppable. It is cultural and based on knowledge that spreads via free access to information on the web.
When I speak of evil in reference to blocking the change, I mean some evil undercurrents of ideology and inner anger that permeate many a heart. Those who promote mandatory education, in private, may utter unspeakable phrases like "we need to stop all that religious drivel". Fineman herself uses societal ignorance of biological evolution as one of the prime examples of what mandatory schooling is supposed to remedy: teach the superiority of sciences over the teachings of the Bible.
In this chapter, I will try to show that not only is mandatory schooling inefficient in accomplishing that goal, it can actually backfire and bring results opposite to the ones intended.
Choosing Parental Rights Over Children's Interests
Martha Albertson Fineman wrote: Homeschooling: Choosing Parental Rights Over Children's Interests.
Fineman's work might not be the best case against homeschooling. It is totally free of considerations in the area of educational methodology. It assumes axiomatically that public schooling is good. However, it is a piece of scholarly work. It is a piece produced by a brisk and respected mind that fears no controversy. As such, it is blunt and representative of a great deal of prejudice directed against homeschooling. In this chapter, when speaking of homeschooling, I will have in mind free home education as a form of unschooling rather than structured homeschooling based on a curriculum. Elsewhere I try to show that forcing a structure on kids may also be harmful. For Fineman though, the problem with homeschooling is mostly that it happens at home and is out of state control.
Even the title of the thesis carries a false assumption derived from the axiom of beneficial schooling. Homeschooling is important not for parental rights or control. Homeschooling is important for children. Homeschooling is about child interest, child freedom, and about the most efficient forms of learning. This leaves most of Fineman's legal argument moot. I am in agreement with Fineman: children are not parental property.
Fineman's analysis is based on a good intent. She wants to fight ignorance, promote secularism, and social coherence. Unfortunately, she picked wrong weapons on the assumption they are efficient.
Most of all, she mentions global good over and over again. She mentions state interest. She mentions parental rights. Her whole text is missing one vital ingredient though: the true love of children! This legal text is coldly totalitarian and kids are spoken about as objects that are supposed to be shaped via coercive education.
Fineman says: Research shows that a well-educated society demonstrates greater levels of trust. Well-educated individuals tend to have lower divorce rates and healthier relationships. She keeps extolling values of education while staying oblivious to the fact that mandatory education stands in opposition to efficient learning. The long list of virtues is just a waste of time. I doubt there would be a single reader of her lengthy scholar dissertation that would question values of "well-educated society"! We all know the virtues of knowledgeable minds. Those truisms and homeschooling stereotypes fill up the thesis and discussing them point by point would be a waste of time.
Fineman speaks of common good, common benefit, and the role of the state. When societies agree democratically to introduce taxes, they agree to provide some common benefit in return. When they agree on mandatory education they impose a burden on children who do not have a vote and the benefit is illusory. Good research can easily prove the inefficiency of the system and its benefits exist only in the heads of those who have little idea of what constitutes efficient learning. Usually, they assume schooling somehow worked for them and therefore it would probably work for everyone else. Had I not spent the last three decades studying efficient learning, I might easily say that 22 years of schooling gave me some education and a job. If I was a lawyer, I might be equally blind to the immense waste of youth and young potential that comes with mandatory schooling.
Fineman begins with a motto from Thurgood Marshall: "[U]nless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together". The problem is that the motto comes from different times and a different context. Marshall's prime concern was segregation. He fought for kids to have the right to learn together independent of their race, social status, religion, and the like. Fineman perverts those ideas by claiming we should force kids to learn under the same roof. Learning and socialization should be optimized independently. Kids should be free to make optimum choices.
In a display of sophistry, worthy of the best lawyer, Fineman uses economic buzzwords to "prove" that homeschooling should be prohibited. She even invokes the greatest proponent of school choice, Milton Friedman, to claim that school choice leads to market failure.
Using Fineman's false logic and her vulnerability theory we could go even further: if schooling is good and brings common good, we should make adult education mandatory as well. This could help root out racism, homophobia, religion, and other forms of "backwardness" to the greater common benefit. Here I wrote a text that is supposed to expose the evil of the idea with a dose of irony: Introduce Mandatory Adult Education!. Perhaps Fineman assumes that good learning ends in youth? Or knows that no adult would ever agree to have his freedom trampled, while kids simply have no vote in democracy? Or are kids just more "vulnerable"? As kids get no relief and no exception, I am sympathetic to the idea for Professor Fineman to be sent back to school to learn a thing or two about brain science, psychology, technology, math, and few other areas that would instantly quash her 19th century thinking for the sake of the greater common good.
Whichever mathematical formula Fineman uses for the optimum time spent on mandatory schooling in youth, the same formula must bring a number greater than zero for an average adult. This math should make adult education mandatory. The only true reason her formula brings up zero is the conditional clause that rests on the fact that kids have limited rights and need to be somehow dispensed off while adults focus on work.
I beg Prof. Fineman to visualize the day when police come to her door to "please" attend the mandatory evening class. Police taking kids to school is a fact in Germany and Sweden. The shock for Fineman would even be greater if the evening class spoke of the life of Jesus. That's exactly what many kids learn about in Polish schools.
Ray on Fineman
Dr Brian D. Ray is a relentless researcher, homeschool advocate, and a founder of National Home Education Research Institute. Having spent years on proving the excellence of homeschool education, Ray dismissed Fineman's thinking with just a short text in which he remarked:
It is not a good day for scholarship when an author like Fineman uses neither empirical evidence nor a clearly presented theoretical framework to support her claims and recommendations. Such should not be tolerated when discussing State-run public schooling nor should it be tolerated when discussing private home-based education
While Ray may rejoice the explosion in homeschooling and unschooling in America, the case is less clear in Europe incl. seemingly modern confederation like the European Union. For that reason, we need to pay attention to voices like Fineman to better understand the mindset of those who see "parental control" as a threat, and justification for state control and limits on freedom. There are still seemingly enlightened forces that would like to see a return of regimens reminiscent of Nazi Reichsschulpflichtgesetz, or perhaps even ancient Sparta.
The making of Martha
Born in 1943, Fineman was first in her family to graduate from high school. This type of achievement usually elevates the importance of school in anyone's mind. In high school, Martha says, she was labelled as lacking intellectual ability to try for college. In the 1950s, this label would probably affect most girls. Even today, there is a degree of discrimination against girls. Labelling kids early is highly detrimental. It affects self-esteem and long-term prospects. For Martha though, it was the opposite. She showed determination, proved skeptics wrong, graduated, and became an eminent scholar. This battle probably fortified the inner feminist and added to the status of schooling in Martha's hierarchy of value. It would not matter that for most kids mis-labelled by schooling, things do not turn out that well, independent of their true intellectual capacity.
Martha married at 17, had her first baby at 18, then another, and was divorced by 21. Fineman's experience made her rethink the legal status of marriage.
With two more kids (twins) in her late twenties, Martha entered a law school and became one of the most vocal feminist advocates in legal scholarship. She was inspired by great teachers. That inspiration from college years must have colored her thinking about school as well. Her reasoning moved from redefining dependency, legal status of marriage, to the concept of vulnerability. As a pioneer and an extreme outlier, she has not changed the legal world, but her writing inspired many, and she became one of the most cited scholars in her field.
Despite all her fantastic credentials, Fineman came to a disastrously wrong conclusion that homeschooling should be banned. Here I sense the echoes of feminist thought where all reasons and forces that keep women at home should be minimized or abolished. Moreover, feminists never forget that women had to struggle harder for admission to schools while being largely relegated to home education, which was deemed inferior in 17-18th centuries.
That's not what Fineman admits. Her primary concern, she says, is the good of the child where education, perhaps, in a longer term leads to more equitable and rational society. Where we agree on goals, we totally diverge on the means and the method.
Success of homeschoolingFineman is clearly unaware of the positive transformation homeschooling can do to kid's life. She asks
"how was it possible that homeschooling, which can fairly be characterized as a truly radical alternative to traditional public school education, took root so quickly and firmly, and flourished?"
The answer to that question is simple and obvious to anyone who knows the subject. Homeschooling works! Radical or not, parents care about outcomes and they get the right outcomes as long as schooling does not stand in the way. Their success spreads by word of mouth and, these days, via social media. America is ahead of the rest of the world in educational freedoms. Other countries will inevitably move in the same direction unless fears of immigrants, fears of other nations, cultures, and religions prevail in a short term. Setbacks in Sweden and Germany are doomed to be reversed. The good forces are powerful and unidirectional: good example set by homeschoolers, good example set by democratic schools, better understanding of the learning process, progress in neuroscience, psychology, educational technologies, smarter populations, better dissemination of information, etc. Education is its own best ally and helps ignorance fade away.
Unequal treatment of public and home education
While being surprised with the success of homeschooling, Fineman clearly gives public schools preferential treatment. A legal mind should be sensitive to fair and symmetric approach. She defends ineffective public schooling: "existing failure in public schools is not a sufficient argument for the public in general to abandon them". While she criticizes homeschooling as ineffective and proposes an outright ban, in reference to ineffective public schools she proposes a fix with "funding, ideas and energy".
Harm to the student
The chief argument in Fineman's thesis is the harm inflicted on children by homeschooling. That part of the text is particularly weak, poorly researched, and verging on amateurish.
This book extols the virtues of self-directed learning. Homeschooling can be made into a perfect environment for highly efficient learning. Fineman entirely skirts around that powerful reason for homeschooling, and, as a result, produces a false picture of home education. There is no mention of methodology or brain science. That part of Fineman's argument seems to be driven entirely by ideology: the ideology of secular education that eradicates religious superstition via coercive indoctrination.
Fineman takes a tacit assumption that homeschooling is like schooling except it is delivered by incompetent teachers (i.e. parents). In reality, ideal homeschooling works as a student-friendly environment for self-directed learning. Ideal homeschooling should rather be named self-directed unschooling.Fineman wants to prevent backwardness with education for global benefit. She asks:
"What societal response is appropriate when the parental values and morals that homeschoolers teach conflict with contemporary secular standards? What if parents adhere to the value and morality of white supremacy or teach the necessity of armed resistance to the "jackbooted" officials of a federal or international government poised to take over and enslave free people?"
Her solution is to imprison all kids for potential criminal offences of their parents in the form of occasional parental indoctrination. Thus a legal scholar proposes an equivalent of jailing people before a crime is committed (by others). Just in case. This is exactly the type of attitude that raises hatred and fears of "jackbooted officials".
Judging by used references, most of Fineman's attack seems to be inspired by a single article from the American Prospect: "The Homeschool Apostates" by Kathryn Joyce. The article describes cases of kids abused in homeschooling households of fundamentalist Christians. Ironically, the text is based on cases of kids who rebelled against religious indoctrination and limits of freedom as much as an ordinary pupil might rebel against an authoritarian teacher or the restrictions imposed by mandatory schooling.
The abuse stories from fundamentalist families are an obvious call to action except they paint a fractional picture and can never be a basis of a generalization that determines government policy. However outrageous the outcomes, we can never even be truly sure all cases of child abuse in such families are abuse indeed. Sometimes it is just a disastrous outcome of a kid rebellion against an authoritarian regime imposed by otherwise well-intended, perhaps even moral parenting. Ignorance is the root of the problem in those families as much as it is in our analysis of individual cases.
The correct conclusion coming from the quoted article should be the exact opposite. Homeschooler's Anonymous mentioned in the article is one example of healthy prevention initiatives. The article by Joyce shows how indoctrination sparks rebellion and how kids turn against their own parents if their freedom is limited, esp. in the areas of free speech, free thinking, and access to information. We obviously need good mechanisms for preventing child abuse as much as we need mechanisms to prevent crime in general.
Taking cases of abuse as the rationale for a ban would be tantamount to a ban on marriage because some bad people beat up their spouses. Calls for tighter oversight would not be much different from calls for marriage oversight in the name of preventing spousal abuse. Equally well, we might aim at closing schools because of school shootings, or suicide sparked by bullying, or child abuse happening on school grounds.
If we look at homeschooling as a whole, an entirely different picture emerges. Higher academic standards are only a small fraction of what is good about homeschooling. Happy and free kids are the best part of the phenomenon. Fineman dismisses rich research in the field as based on "convenient sample" while relying mostly on a few pre-selected stories from a journal. This is why Brian Ray, annoyed with lack of data references, was so brief in his dismissive analysis.
While dismissing actual research, Fineman mentions that homeschoolers have "difficulty writing research papers", which I could not confirm in the references quoted. This contradicts my own knowledge that shows that few kids show as much creative initiative as those who have been unschooled or homeschooled. In the homeschooled kids I know, the opposite is true. Poor writing or research skills could only be an outcome of seriously botched homeschooling in the authoritarian setting. Most homeschooling parents quickly discover that "schooling" does not work and gravitate towards "unschooling", which is just a form of self-directed learning. That self-directed and creative component is the most essential part of "writing research papers". This cannot be learned in a classroom. It can only be coerced via homework, which would be fractionally as efficient as it is the case in self-learning.
Even though it has been shown again and again that homeschoolers do great, Fineman dismissed the fact with a short note: "one study was designed to support the homeschool experience in the public view and unsurprisingly found former homeschoolers to be "better educated than national averages, to vote at high rates, to have a positive view of their homeschooling experiences, and to be generally well adjusted, productive members of society.""
Then Fineman says those kids are "far less inclined to change their religious or political viewpoints" as if having a firm opinion was a bad thing. Fineman most certainly keeps indoctrinated zealots in mind. To me, having a strong point of view based on a solid model should be a merit. Kids and conformists are malleable. Wise thinkers are open to new ideas but do not change their views as easily. Lack of flexibility may come from indoctrination or from rich knowledge. We should rather value people with firm values and be skeptical of eager flip-floppers.
For Fineman, unschooling is not the best expression of free self-directed learning, but a formula for occasional educational neglect.
She bemourns lack of parental accountability. However, instead of suggesting any accountability formula, she prefers to ban parents outright, and let the state take over. This begs the question about public school accountability. Incompetent teachers cannot be fired. Schools with disastrous results cannot be closed. What Fineman likes in public schools is state control and the illusion that schools might be fixed one day with "funding, ideas and energy". Apparently, parenting is beyond repair.
Bill Maher believes that homeschooling is equivalent to intellectual isolation. So does Fineman. She writes:
A prohibition of homeschooling and other means of intellectual isolation of children will appropriately balance the interests of parents with the responsibility of the state to ensure access to resilience-building institutions.
Intellectual isolation is hardly possible in the era of the Internet. It is only possible in conditions of actual imprisonment, incl. home imprisonment.
Fineman wants to balance interests of parents and the state, while kids are most important in the equation. They should be paramount, on the assumption that a well-nourished kid is as good for the state as a well-nourished business. We rarely balance the interest of businesses and the state. We provide a law for businesses to flourish in their own best interest.
What does parent-led mean?Fineman says:
The phrase many homeschoolers use to describe their educational efforts is "parent-led home-based education," in which parents direct all aspects of education: what, when, how, and with whom their children are taught.
Fineman corrupts the meaning of "parent-led", which was probably chosen as a way of explaining homeschooling to authorities. The correct interpretation of "parent-led" is that the "parent is the leader" (from time to time). This is far less authoritarian interpretation than "parent is the decider". Fineman's conjecture about what homeschooling actually is, i.e. "parent-imposed education" has very little reflection in reality.
Many parents may envisage the authoritarian approach to education at the beginning of their homeschooling adventure. This comes from ignorance, is natural, and is entirely excusable, esp. in someone who suffered years of "teacher-led" education at school. Parents often begin with great fears and great plans. Gradually their fears dimish as they discover the power of the learn drive. Their plans get curtailed as kids generally refuse to be directed, unless in the authoritarian home setting, which can be more harmful than schooling. Most parents quickly discover coercion does not work. What Fineman imagines as standard homeschooling does not survive more than a few months or even weeks in a typical household. Self-directed learning does its wonders. Human will and the learn drive prevail. Some parents will persist with their authoritarian approach, but those form a minority. Fineman is arguing with a straw man. She shows ignorance of the psychology of learning and ignorance of the reality of homeschooling! Kids need serious coercion to submit to parental decisions! Most homeschoolers choose homeschooling for its freedoms, not to coerce and indoctrinate. Shielding is possible and easy (e.g. Christians may shield kids from corrupting influences of society), however, the authoritarian imposition of learning is hard in healthy/undamaged kids.
Parents control most of the waking timeFineman says:
a child who attends public school is there for only 23% of her waking hours. The parent controls the remaining 77%. The European Court of Human Rights made this point in its decision to prohibit religious-based homeschooling in Germany.
Majority of the population shows no understanding of the circadian cycle. Professor Fineman also shows that ignorance in the above calculation. Only highly productive individuals truly understand the natural creativity cycle. Waking hours differ dramatically in terms of brain performance at different times of the day. The correct calculation is a galaxy apart from Fineman's reasoning: school takes 99% of child's creative time on a school day, assuming there are any creative hours left in conditions of sleep deprivation. Parents should not control the scraps of mental powers left. Parental schooling is as bad as homework. It should be the kid who economizes his time to the best of his abilities and for the purpose of satisfying its own developmental needs. If parents and schools control all the waking day, there is no self in the kid, and the path to greatness is obliterated.
How to command parental resources?
Instead of celebrating, Fineman bemourns the healthy processes occurring in the wake of the popularization of free learning! She would love to make a totalitarian grab of "political, social and financial resources parents command"! She condemns the help from public funding to private education.
Fortunately, as far as the US is concerned, Fineman is a voice crying in wilderness. The revolution is irreversible and those voices have now become inaudible beyond an occasional analysis like this one.
Shaping the kid
Fineman's prime motivation seems to be the wish to influence the mind of a child. This inevitably means less space for self-development and self-determination, esp. in cases where kids come to school with an unorthodox set of core beliefs!
Kids should develop their own system of beliefs. This is the best formula for avoiding all forms of prejudice!
Fineman notes that parents are still the prime influence in shaping children. However, even that parental molding seems undesirable! Fineman does not say "despite a ban on homeschooling parents would remain the prime influence", or "parents would remain the prime influence". Here are the exact words:
because of the harms homeschooling causes to children and society, it should be prohibited. We reach this conclusion recognizing that even if homeschooling is prohibited, parents would still be the primary influences on children.
The unfortunate use of the word "recognize" here hints to me that Fineman still considers parental influence as possibly harmful.
It is clear that if Fineman had her way, she would design children on a computer to her own perfect model and exclude parental influence entirely. I see here a legal mind at work where an ideal framework is formed in abstraction of actual biology or social context. This utopian idea has an essential problem: designing a perfect child in abstraction of its environmental and social context is impossible. If all information about the past and the future of the system in which a child is immersed was available, the task would still be computationally intractable. However, there exists a simple algorithm that beats all modern AI. This algorithm has been perfected by evolution over the course of millions of years. It is called self-directed learning based on the learn drive. This form of self-organizing design is not computationally complex and is the best design available. See: Tree metaphor. This is a natural neurobiological tool that Fineman would have gladly suppressed with a legal straight-jacket.
Abolish the Amish?
The Amish are a fascinating community. They provide a great inspiration for research. I consider myself rather progressive, and I am surprised that some progressives cannot stand the Amish. For some, this is a backward community that is a waste of planetary oxygen. Such opinions are an expression of extreme ignorance. Such opinions are dangerous and verging on genocidal. We do cherish rare species of plants in the middle of a rainforest. This appreciation is part of human spirit and enlightenment. In the same way, we should cherish the existence of isolated harmless peaceful communities like the Amish. As much as rare plants, the Amish are a part of a larger socio-evolutionary process that should be an infinite source of inspiration for further progress of mankind. They are part of the human cultural ecosystem. We can learn a lot from Amish about work ethic, entrepreneurship, family, community and more. We can learn that in the rush to modernity we lose a lot of values that are worth preserving. John Taylor Gatto actually uses the Amish to illustrate how schooling destroys self-dependence and entrepreneurial creativity, the characteristics that the Amish are particularly proud of.
As much as the evolutionary progress thrives in separated populations, so does social progress where it can benefit from state by state "experimentations" in a federal or worldwide setting.
I am sympathetic to Fineman's position that children should have a chance to make their own choices, however, this cannot be done at the cost of breaking up families, and forcing a group of people to adapt their lifestyle or philosophy to the preferred state-imposed solution. Using the same reasoning we might destroy all existing hunter-gatherer communities and sever the link with our evolutionary origins that infinitely inspired our own progress. Our knowledge of efficient learning is also informed to a large degree by inspiration coming from isolated communities and tribes. Once we lose that diversity, our global ignorance may be on the rise.
Superstition in combat against superstition
Ironically, to eradicate superstition, Fineman wants to use the toolset first developed for the maintenance of superstition. It was the Roman Catholic church that first developed structures and procedures to maintain the hierarchical system of power used to exert control and disseminate "the only truth". That system was later perfected in the Prussian Education System and finally monopolized the methods used in public schools around the world. Fineman's ban on homeschooling is a modern proposition of book burning. It is a quest to assert control. Its prime victims would be future Gallileos and societies as a whole.
As I seem to worship the same religion as Fineman, i.e. science, I am less concerned about the truths disseminated, and more concerned about the methodology. Public school monopoly on education would suppress the most creative forces in society. Best creativity comes from associating remote ideas backed up by strong models, which can but do not have to be correct. Models considered wrong are strong by being internally consistent and possibly weak by failing at the edges to match the allegedly correct reality as delineated by the scientific consensus. Those who we deem superstitious are inspirers of new ideas too. It is only hard to see for those who either stay within their own circle of adoration in world modelling, or those who never truly considered the nature and mechanisms of creativity.
Wrong models also contribute value to science. The geocentric model was religiously inspired, but it provided valuable reference needed for the falsification of its central hypothesis. The mere question about the value of wrong models carries an implicit misconception. In the creative evolutionary process of modelling, all models considered wrong will naturally be deemed inferior, and costly in terms of human wasted brain processing power. This changes on a dime during a paradigm shift that is only possible with a never-ending supply of new models, which should always be considered new value, as all new species, memes, fashions, philosophies, or cultures that are subject to an evolutionary process.
You can say the same about this entire book:
What Fineman proposes is a form of unhealthy paternalism. There is a very short path from good-hearted progressivism to totalitarian thinking with a temptation to design human life and thus, willy-nilly, deprive individuals of choice. These are totalitarian regimes that attempt to regulate every aspect of social life, including education and educational choice. Fineman challenges human autonomy and does so through sheer ignorance of sciences other than her own field of legal interest. When Polish communist government attempted atheisation, it laid the foundations for its own collapse (see: Polish indoctrination see-saw).
For centuries philosophers pondered effective ways of organizing a society and making sure social order is sturdy and unshakable. Over the last two centuries, schooling has grown to be a chief tool of enlightenment. It also played an important role of correcting deviant philosophies children might be bringing from home.
Infected with moral poison, the young 'citizen' goes to the primary school. With difficulty he barely learns to read and write. There is no possibility of learning any lessons at home. The father and mother themselves talk before the children in the most disparaging way about the teacher and the school and they are much more inclined to insult the teachers than to put their offspring across the knee and knock sound reason into him. What the little fellow hears at home does not tend to increase respect for his human surroundings. Here nothing good is said of human nature as a whole, and every institution, from the school to the government, is reviled. Whether religion and morals are concerned or the State and the social order, it is all the same; they are all scoffed at. This child of three has got into the habit of reviling all authority by the time he is fifteen.
This piece did not come from Fineman or any other respected philosopher. However, it accurately expresses the undertones that can be found in the thinking of those who believe schools are a great place for ensuring respect for authority, law and order.
When Michael Pearl says "Train up a child" or Fineman says "teach evolution to prevent religious superstition", they all have the same old idea. They all want your mind. Get inside and change it to their own design. They want to block opposition with learned helplessness.
Strong law does exactly the same. It employs learned helplessness. It makes you conform to democratic rules or be punished beyond a wish to oppose again. Naturally, it is rather easy to follow the law, and rather hard to devote 12 best years of youth to mandatory schooling. Few people get depressed because of the need to obey the law. At the same time, depression at school is rampant and it only gets worse when helpless kids are sent out to fight for survival in the world with no more teachers around to provide instructions.
With this book, I also want to get into your head. However, I use no coercion and I rely on no learned helplessness. I will hopefully induce no depression. You will not even need to regret spending $9 on this book. It is free. Instead, I am trying to get to you on my side with the best weaponry of argument I can find. If I am not convincing, you will just close this browser with a click and return to your happy life as if little changed.
Kids whipped at home, coerced at school, or drafted to an army have no such freedoms. The source of the excerpt presented above is Mein Kempf.
public education has lost sight of its other main purpose: the goal of bringing diverse students together to learn to understand each other and live well together.
If bringing kids together is the purpose of school, it could be done better without the bad impact of coercion on learning. Why not let kids play computer games together, or chess? If school did not run kids down in terms of mental energy, it could actually bring more benefit han regular schooling. Instead, the entire focus seems to be on grades and test performance. The inflow of actual knowledge in a real school is so dramatically slow that it could easily be remedied by a simple interaction with adults, TV news, books at home, surfing the net, and even Facebook socializing.
If so, it should be easy to organize small learning centers for similar purposes: smaller groups, closer to home, bigger flow of students (e.g. to avoid places polluted by bullies), lesser impact of drugs, and other vices. This is actually already happening in Poland. Such safe-keeping centers are very popular with parents and, most importantly, with kids! This is similar to democratic schooling except the rules of operation, staffing, and investments are not determined democratically. However, this is a step in the right direction. Those centers are cheap and popular.
Unfortunately, this is all happening in addition to the burden of schooling. In that, it will never be an effective form of education. After many hours spent in a boring and tiring school, kids need to detox from books and will rather play computer games tired of teacher's droning and commands. Homework is not happening in those centers either. For true learning to happen there, the center would need to be used instead of school at times of day when kids are most hungry for learning, with no mandatory waking time, and other limits on timing and self-regulation (i.e. along the rules of the natural creativity cycle).
In an ideal case, schools should be used for socialization and integration. When Singapore engineered mixed-ethnicity neighborhoods, they delivered in improved ethnic harmony. The same is supposed to be accomplished in desegregated schools.Fineman says:
When entire demographic groups use choice to abandon public schools, it undermines the goals of diversity both for the students abandoning the public school system and for those left behind.
However, this social goal should not be accomplished at the cost of learning. It would make far more sense to let kids learn on their own, and use their best brain time for the purpose. In the ideal case, along the natural creativity cycle, this would mean kids would get enough sleep, and spend morning learning at home. I oppose coercion, but if Fineman wants to see integration, it would make more sense to force kids to interact throughout their evening, with fewer academic goals and more actual social interaction. This naturally sounds preposterous and unacceptable. Academic learning would suffer less, however, the solution would not be too convenient to parents. Those who believe in education at school might question if the whole system for the mere sake of socialization is worth a while.
Like we developed cultural acceptance for forced learning, we have never developed tolerance for forced socialization. Socialization should also be a matter of free choice. Fineman's goals are good. Tools are awful, again.
By extending that integration reasoning, adults could also benefit from forced integration. However, we do not have mandatory adult socialization programs. Few adults would agree to limit their freedoms and attend compulsory evening socialization classes. Instead, we do it to our own kids just because they have less power to strike back and complain. We push them to accept the status quo via learned helplessness with awful long-term impact on self-reliance, self-discipline, and creativity.
See also: Mandatory Adult Education
Feminism that hurts children
Fineman does not express it in her article, but we know that she is a prominent feminist. She got an honorary doctorate from Swedish Lund University (2013). Lund is known for early admission of women (1880). Ruth Ginsburg studied there in the 1960s. Fineman says: "family is the most gendered institution". As much as atheists would love to root out religion via mandatory schooling, feminists often work hard to remove all reasons that keep women at home. In addition, feminists are aware that religious beliefs are a rich source of anti-feminist sentiments. Here I see some parallels between Fineman's thinking and Swedish social engineering (see later). A bigger picture emerges in which women are more inclined to support social engineering solutions. The arrival of universal sufferage (1919, 19th amendment) coincided with the enactment of prohibition in the US (1919, 18th amendment). I support gender equality. However, it cannot mutate into an obsession that hurts children. With feminist reasons or not, Fineman would have destroyed the best avenue towards the true qualitative revolution in education!
Market failure in education
In a piece of voodoo economics, Fineman "proves" that homeschooling should be prohibited. In her use of economic terms, Fineman only showed that a lawyer can prove anything if she only really really wants it very much.
Fineman claims that education is non-rivalrous, non-excludable, and as such it is a public good. From this she concludes that school choice will result in market failure, and using the old trick of lesser socialists, she invokes the need for government intervention. She even invokes the name of the greatest school choice proponent, Milton Friedman, to disclaim school choice.
I would then quote Milton Friedman to note that a cure can be worse than a disease, and government failure can be worse than a market failure. By conflating schooling with its hypothetical outcome, education, with the use of charlatanic sophistry, Fineman would impose on you rivalrous and excludable school seats to deny you choice in achieving the public good of education. With that idea for a monumental government failure, there is only one thing to add: O.J. really didn't do it.
The whole line of Fineman's reasoning could easily be used to make evening socialization, adult education, or exercise clubs mandatory. In the same line, private exercise should be prohibited.
In contrast, Milton Friedman's actual idea is to create a healthy positive feedback loop in which the government powers the forces of learning (e.g. with vouchers, tax credits, or school funding), which can then employ rivalrous and excludable resources of the school system, to achieve a greater global public good of education, which then benefits everyone. Education also boosts the pool of resources that can then be fed back to strengthen the loop.
Fineman speaks of positive network externalities as if value of learning could only come from public education and was not possible in the case of private schools or homeschooling, which can all accrue a network effect: "in a market with network externalities, the benefit of a public education for any student increases the greater the number of other students who attend public school".
For Fineman, market for education is special for the possibility of market failure. If a widespread concept of market failure was to be employed for such reasoning, we could quickly prove superiority of socialism over market economic. Superiority of command economy is based on the same illusion with the same control theory basis as that of the value of curriculum-driven schooling.
Fineman is right that school choice can indeed quickly marginalize public schools, and this could only be labelled market failure if we could prove inefficient redistribution of resources on a market with intangible performance criteria. It is that difficulty in measuring progress in education that calls for individual optimization decisions at the place of best available information.
While economic failure is clearly in the cards for public schooling, the government failure comes from the command economy approach in which utopian curriculum is imposed from the top by omniscient "experts", while enslaved kids, at the very bottom, instead of being enlightened, develop a lifelong hate of learning.
In my model, public schooling is the lowest denominator default. If other forms of learning take over and the default falls even lower, we will depart from the utopian egalitarian model and face the reality. Some kids will lag behind. Some parents may be unable to help or even do harm. The system can only try its best, but some kids will be left behind one way or another. A brilliant society is less likely to let the weak minority suffer as a result of poor education. Marginal improvements to learning can be replaced with major leaps of social and economic advancement.
I agree with Fineman in one point though: "Schools are not tomatoes". It is not easy to develop optimization criteria based on measures of performance in education.
We all need to start thinking of education as the market of ideas, not just an economic market. Even the concept of "school" should be slowly phased out. A kid can do math with non-rivalrous Sal Khan and physics with Carl Wieman, or in a dozen of other places that are bound to crop up soon.
When systems get complex, when information is incomplete, we often resort to the wisdom of markets or crowds. In case of education, we need a free market of ideas.
Fineman's reform: funding, ideas, and energy
Fineman wants to ban effective learning methods, and, while admitting public schools are a failure, proposes her own plan instead: "funding, ideas, and energy". All practitioners of economic system reforms know that funding of badly designed systems is tantamount to throwing good money after bad. Funding does not work if it goes into bad projects. Fineman simply proposes an increase in the waste of taxpayer's money. Energy is a filler word. We all want kids to do well, so it is hard to muster more energy, esp. in proposed conditions of limited freedom. As for ideas, many come in this book. However, they are all rejected offhand by a proposed ban on educational freedoms. How can education be reformed if the most efficient forms of learning are made illegal? It is like a health reform combined with a ban on doctors. Like democracy without free speech. Or population growth sparked by a ban on sex.
Ideas limited to a classroom will have a limited impact but should be tried too. The only necessary condition is that all experiments should be made on a voluntary basis.
Despite all my criticism of schooling, I have never tried to discourage any kid from going to college. Just the opposite. I consider academic environments largely conducive to growth. One of the pillars of college brain-friendliness in the 1980s was that lectures were not compulsory. I never attended lectures of the omniscient professors who want to impose their way of thinking on you. This is just too painful to bear.In the end, I am happy with my 10 years in college. In addition to relative freedom spoilt partly by the threat of conscription, the best part of college in communist Poland was that it was free! There was no added pressure to learn with the thought: if I am getting deep into debt, I better make some good use of it. For me, learning was done for its own sake most of the time. This is how it should work for everyone
Fineman mentions "democratically determined content" of the curriculum with the suggestion that this is how all core learning should be determined for all kids. There are three main issues with this thinking:
- while democratic knowledge items may be useful, democratic curricula can have disastrous effects (see below),
- the wisdom of crowds needs to be extended by the wisdom of individuals (see below), and
- democratic content should rather be a guidance than a mandatory dish.
For an average individual in conditions of average urgency for knowledge of average importance, it makes sense to save time and go with the wisdom of the crowds. It makes sense to pick a democratically voted for item of knowledge and assume it is true. For example, an average student may learn that "the extinction of dodo was caused by humans", and leave that knowledge unexamined. The same student may change the approach if the suggested item is "the government can help protect natural environment". That item may require further examination, and it is not healthy to just cram it at school in hope of leaving a permanent imprint on behavior.
Democratic curriculum, understood as the curriculum determined by the party in power, is a totalitarian tool. This can be a Christian curriculum, or a secular curriculum, or an isolationist curriculum, depending on current political contingencies. This is exactly the problem with the current Polish education reform. If she lived in Poland, Fineman might be horrified to find out that her kids or grand kids will need to learn Christian dogma at school, i.e. exactly the knowledge she would like to see eradicated with the help of schooling. Democracy is ruthless in that respect. Schools show no respect to the minority view. Schools are totalitarian in imposing democratically elected content.
The wisdom of crowds works great for Wikipedia. But Wikipedia is no oracle, and can only be used as a starting point when investigating an area of knowledge. This SuperMemo Guru wiki was born from my inability to sustain the attack from the crowd. For me, the wisdom of crowds was not empowering. It was overpowering. Only at this wiki site, I can freely present my point of view without being flattened out by the power of democratic averages.
Wikipedia is just an appetizer. All actual learning should proceed from there. It is the individual wisdom, individual models of reality, and individual investigations that need to guide learning.
Without knowledge differentiators, humanity will always be weak at thinking out of the box. This is a formula for getting stuck in a local optimum, which in the end may result in a premature end of civilization.
If you think I am kidding, you may have already been lulled into self-complacency.
Mandatory democratic content
For a kid looking for its ways, "democratically determined content" could form valuable guidance. For those who are not sure of the future, this could provide some light at the early stages of the journey. However, mandatory learning always implies inferior learning. All citizens are subject to the law, and, in some sense, knowledge of the law is mandatory. Ignorance can be costly. For drivers, the knowledge of traffic regulations is mandatory, but I opted out from the driving school. I do not see the need to drive a car today or in the future. Making the knowledge of traffic regulations mandatory would be a waste of my time and a waste of human resources in general.
One of my smart colleagues said: "why learn about bullfinches, nobody needs it, no adult knows it". That colleague has been brainwashed by the school system into a default instinctive thinking that only things that "most adults know" are worth knowing. Naturally, only a bit of reflection is needed to figure out that this approach would result in no interest in bullfinches whatsoever. With "no adult knows it" attitude, we would have no Darwin. If a 5-year-old learns about bullfinches, he should be encouraged. He might be on his way to becoming a future Darwin or Copernicus.
Democratic homogeneity leads to deadlocks or the elimination of outlier creativity. Every democracy, however mature, faces the risks of deadlocks and stagnation. Checks and balances are essential, but an occasional disruptor, like Trump, may appear beneficial. We do not factor in such disruptions because they could equally well end in a nuclear war. Similarly, peer review in science is notorious for the elimination of all departures from the mainstream. Many a great theory struggled to break through or failed to surface because of the peer review practice. Today we celebrate the freedom of unrestricted free speech on the web. All the reader needs is a bit of skepticism and solid knowledge as a form of armour against fallacy.
Price of scholarly specialization
Prof. Fineman is a bright mind. However, I wish she stuck with her own area of expertise. It is amazing how a scholar who thinks of maximizing common global benefit can depart that far from humanity, and to remain ignorant of millions of families who employ natural learning capacity of the brain to build fantastic knowledge, amazing passions, and wonderful family relationships. To ban homeschooling is to make the best expressions of love and learning impossible. It is to deprive millions of people of the dignity of choice.
Book burning does not work
Many thinkers have a mission civilisatrice in mind. Civilizing missions often misfire or even backfire. The negative outcomes can span centuries.
Those who want to burn books subscribe to the same myth as Nicholas Carr in Freedom of education when he complains about fake news and distractions coming from the net.
Book burning, compulsory schooling, propaganda, and indoctrination have this in common: they all attempt to exterminate ideas and they all fail. As much as we want to separate the state from religion, we need to separate education from the state. Funding is good. Interference and handcrafted design are not. The best tool for the job of shaping kids and exterminating superstition is knowledge itself. Enlightenment is slow but it comes!
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr explained that free thought is "not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate" (1929).
I believe in no hate, and in no book burning. Those who do shouldn't be muzzled either.
Efficient learning trumps indoctrination
The fundamental problem of epistemology is that knowledge always introduces a bias, while bias may impede further acquisition of knowledge. This provides a temptation for forming perfect unbiased models of reality that might be promulgated and might facilitate education.
However, the history of humanity shows that exchange of information and freedom of speech carry far more benefit than harm. I speak of goodness of knowledge here, and convergence of knowledge in the direction of a true model here. Both require freedom of thought and, consequently, freedom of speech.
As I keep insisting that acquisition of knowledge leads to convergent models and, statistically, increasing speed of acquisition leads to faster convergence, we should then pay less attention to how we indoctrinate kids, and more attention to the efficiency of the learning process. Part of that efficiency includes the methods in which children seek and acquire knowledge and how well they develop their ability to think critically and approach sources with skepticism. Kids that learn fast and learn well are far better protected from superstition than kids who get indoctrinated in the right system of thought from the cradle.
Parental values vs. indoctrination
Parents often want to act as filters. They want to present to their kids a world that differs from the real one. They want to shield kids from violence, stress, or bad influence. Some may want to avoid pornography, non-Christian attitudes, non-Muslim attitudes, "bad" peer example, etc. I personally think that filtering information is rather counter-productive. I believe that honesty is the best policy. Instead of filtering bad influence, I would rather try to explain the truth with two provisos: (1) loving adult provides a commentary, and (2) the kid is in the peak of her reasonable mind as determined by the natural creativity cycle. The commentary should not indoctrinate. It should rather provide a psychologically healthy interpretation. The peak of mental performance may be necessary to avoid emotional interpretations that may indeed turn out to be stressful or unhealthy.
For example, I do not think we should hide death from children. Just the opposite, the earlier the natural interpretation of death is presented to the kid, the less traumatic the realization. I am strongly influenced by my own development here. I was discovering a great deal of existential dilemmas only in my teens. My early childhood was shielded with the help of religion, which pushed all philosophical topics off the mental agenda for many years. This is why one of my early teen goals in science was to make people immortal. Some psychologists argue that my honest approach to upbringing results in de-sensitization. I agree, and I claim this might actually be healthy. We do not want kids to lose empathy. We only want them to have a cool-minded interpretation of the world. Hence the need for "peak brain" and the adult commentary.
I oppose filtering and indoctrination, however, I would never deny a parent such an option. Families need to run their lives congruent with their own system of values. This is necessary for the mental health of society.
For comfort, I insist that some basic core values are the same in all religions and philosophies. For example, with minor exceptions, this commandment is pretty universal: "you should not kill other human beings". Natural values and behaviors coexist in harmony with reason, biology, and/or culture. Values and behaviors that do not arise naturally may require a degree of convincing (education or indoctrination). For example, some people disagree with the assertion: "we should pay taxes".
Fineman and others worry about superstition. I say that all values with a staying power are welcome. All forms of superstition are not, but they will clash with reality sooner in later. For a vast majority of kids, superstitious influences will get corrected. We should mostly focus on making sure indoctrination does not become abuse.
Ban on free speech
When foreign governments ban political parties, we complain and call it a violation of liberty. Compulsory education in fear of parental indoctrination is a classical curb on free speech. In Sweden and Germany, evening parental indoctrination of tired minds is legally acceptable as much as totalitarian political systems may accept unaffiliated party politics in a circle of friends. In both cases, freedom should prevail, and the law should intervene only in cases of dangerous pathology.
Monkey trial and monkey emotion
Ever since the Scopes Trial there is a loud battle for young minds to explain the origins of the universe and life. If the battle occurs in the classroom, it spills onto all kids, including those who come from moderate families or are hardly interested in religion. This only magnifies the divisions between the camps. This split has led to the development of the Creation "Science". This is also how Intelligent design has come to be. The fight isn't intellectual. It only uses a semblance of the scientific argument to provide a vent to angry philosophies of both sides. I hear echoes of those ideological battles in Fineman's ridicule of religious textbooks that contain falsehoods in reference to evolution, geology or history that are "sharply out of touch with the rest of the modern world". I hear the same echoes in Maher's "Christian madrassa". The solution to the problem is not to impose answers on young minds, even if answers are backed by science. The solution is to let each kid figure the truth out on her own. Once the kid is involved in the battle, the debate becomes emotional and it is difficult to speak to reason. It is difficult to speak to reason of those who support science as well.
Indoctrination against coherent models
Indoctrination soaked in via cramming is shaky. It is based on memories of low coherence. Self-gained knowledge is far more powerful. It is based on high-coherence high-stability knowledge network. As I write in Freedom of education, knowledge can be biased, it can be fundamentalist, but it is likely to converge to reason over time. That's the right path in seeking enlightenment. No indoctrination has ever produced bright minds!
People stick with their core beliefs and add evidence to their pre-existing models. This is largely due to the way how the brain works. The core model forms a cognitive bias in that inconsistent information is de-prioritized and forgotten, while consistent information enhances the model.
There is very little correlation between education and religious beliefs. Science-minded people live with the conviction that fundamentalist Christians are close-minded and poorly educated. This has been disproved. The link between education and fundamentalism is weak, and it is the cultural change sparked by modernization that plays a more important role in shaping modern open-minded attitudes. It is true that learning science undermines religion, however, this rather happens with free learning, not with coercive learning that stokes natural opposition.
Indoctrination that goes against inner beliefs can only spark anger. Incoherence faced with a stable coherent knowledge network of inner beliefs cannot break through via interference-based forgetting (or re-learning). Instead of new memories, we can build toxic memories associated with emotions. In this case anger. In the era of terrorism, we should have learned long ago that freedom, toleration, and non-intervention are the best paths towards mitigating the psychological mechanisms that lead people to violent acts in the name of a consistent model of reality, even if that model may seem absurd to an average man in the street.
Those who insist on pushing evolution as a tool against Biblical teachings adopt the thinking that leads to totalitarian systems. It is the wish to control other people minds that leads to dictatorship, authoritarian parenting, censorship, book burning, or, in this case, ban on homeschooling.
I am not innocent here. All my writing is sparked by a wish to see a change in thinking. However, I just hope that sheer rhetoric dumped on an unadvertised server is all that is needed to do the job. The truth is its own best defense. Where my models clash with a coherent knowledge network, where they spark contradiction, they will be ignored. Where my words resonate, I will hopefully inspire and thus change minds. Truth needs no coercion.
Religions thrive under fire
I admire and love Richard Dawkins. He is doing a great job in promoting rational thinking. However, I don't think he is making much dent in combating the opposing views. Just the opposite. I think that under attack and ridicule, his opposition only closes ranks and fights harder.
Dawkins makes me grin. He makes science-minded people get energized, but his most profound effect is on those who he criticizes. Anger is one of the most overwhelming and decorticating emotions. Dawkins may want to root out religion, but instead, he seems to help his opponents consolidate and refine their angry argument. Ridicule is a very poor educational weapon. Fundamentalists take secular schooling as an attack on their values. The conversion rate is poor.
Mandatory education will backfire in the same ways as Dawkins's attack on religion. A course in science often leads to weakening of religious sentiments. However, such a course should not be compulsory, especially when it comes with an ulterior motive of undermining religious convictions.Fineman says:
homeschooling by parents who have [fundamentalist] beliefs may instill hatred, bias, ignorance, and fear in their children, which may well affect the children’s ability to function as adult members of the community. If significant numbers of alienated and maladjusted citizens reject widely held societal norms and values, it may represent a threat to the well-being of society.
Fineman is right, however, she overestimates the dangers and underestimates the value of freedom and the moral aspect of education grounded on a clear philosophical model. Poland is steeped in Catholicism. There is a great deal of hatred and ignorance, in all camps, but those forces are weak and waning. The evil streak is drowned and silenced in the modern world based on the cacophony of social media. There is only one truly dangerous force that can re-awaken and re-consolidate backward forces: coercive indoctrination. The threat to the well-being of society is negligible and in decline. This might change if religions felt under pressure of Marxist indoctrination, or if secular values were suppressed with the Christian curriculum.
Bismark's Kulturkampf in Prussia (1871-1880) backfired. It was to weaken Catholic and Polish elements in the kingdom. It ended up making them stronger. Similarly, Germanisation usually strengthened national sentiments. Suppression of the Catholic Church in Poland by the communist is the best example of how not to play with religious fire.
In some cases, indoctrination may seem to work and then backfire decades or centuries later. The French considered it their mission to bring a higher culture and Christianity to colonial territories in Africa. French president in the making, Jules Ferry (1832-1893) had a major contribution to French schooling making it free (of charge), secular, and mandatory. In 1885, in the role of a Prime Minister, Ferry justified the French mission in Africa: "The higher races have a right over the lower races. [...] They have a duty to civilize the inferior races". That racist thinking targeted at exploitation may have had some temporary intended effects, however, in the 21st century, it still leaves a powerful imprint in the ideology of domestic Islamic radicals in France. The long term effects of coercive indoctrination are often opposite to the ones intended.
While religions thrive under fire, in a wider sense, rebellions thrive under pressure. Karl Marx changed the world. His father admired liberte aspects of the French Revolution. No wonder he did not take Prussian Ordnung too well. He had to convert from Judaism to Christianity (Lutheranism) to avoid discrimination. Karl Marx himself was exiled for his political views. Those little injustices and violations of freedom led Marx to a philosophy that got more followers than any religion in existence. An effort to Christianize Prussia might have planted seeds of global communism. Now socialists want to root out religion while praying that pendulum of history does not swing back again.
Creativity lays at the root of every rebellion. This is why indoctrinators need to suppress creativity. In a spectrum of human responses, learned helplessness predominates, but a spark of a new revolution is always just one creative brain away. This makes the pendulum of history swing.
Polish indoctrination see-saw
The last century in Poland is a perfect illustration of how indoctrination backfires and strengthens the opposition. We have moved from a quasi-religious independent state, to an atheist totalitarian regime, back to free religiously intolerant nation where indoctrination occurs under the banner of Christian values.
Polish Constitution of Mar 17, 1921 began with the word "In the name of Almighty God!" and hinted at religious indoctrination in schools:
Art. 114: The Roman Catholic religion, being the religion of the preponderant majority of the nation, occupies in the state the chief position among enfranchised religions ...
Art. 120: Instruction in religion is compulsory for all pupils in every educational institution...
Four short years later, under Concordat of 1925, Catholic instruction became mandatory in all public schools.
In contrast, after World War 2, Polish communist government planned a systematic atheisation of society starting in 1948. In 1961, the government banned religion in schools. The ultimate outcome of this effort was the major contribution of the Catholic Church to the collapse of the communist system in Poland by 1989. Then again, in 1993, religion has entered Polish schools on the basis of Concordat of 1993. Needless to say, the system is skewed towards Roman Catholicism, which makes little difference to non-believers, but verges onto offensive for other denominations. When left-leaning local authorities of Czestochowa planned a resolution on financing teaching of Islam for three local kids, the furore reached national news and caused outrage in nationalist circles. In 2016, Poland is one of the least tolerant countries with respect to admitting refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict. The primary cause of the opposition is rooted in "defense of Christian values and religion", even against the appeal from Pope Francis and Polish bishops. The new Polish education reform brings new curricula steeped in backward notions compliant with Christian dogma (first draft).
To ban homeschooling is to expose American fundamentalists to evolution, or expose Polish atheists to medieval doctrines, or expose Swedish Christians to the "corrupt heart" of an average kid. In all cases, freedom is the victim.
Those who would love to see homeschooling banned for the sake of secular indoctrination need to remember that school curricula are subject to political influences.
Fineman hopes that mandatory schooling will remedy backwardness. This hope is shaky because the direction of change is only a matter of democratic majority which is a reflection of cultural averages. Fineman may hope that Christian fundamentalists get a lesson of science. The tables may turn though and science-oriented kids may be forced into state-sanctioned prayer or mandatory Bible reading. If fundamentalist Christians are denied the right to homeschool, they will bring their idea to mainstream schooling, e.g. fighting for "intelligent design" in the curriculum.
Curricula change with the change in the composition of political forces in national legislatures. In today's Poland, curricula are being rewritten to promote Christian values in areas such as abortion, sexuality, reproduction, and family. The first draft of the curriculum de-emphasized, for religious reasons, evolution, climate change, and contraception. For political reasons, the curriculum made little mention of Polish hero Lech Walesa.
Instead of rooting out backwardness, the new curriculum, in the opinion of many scientists, de-emphasizes biological evolution. This is exactly the opposite of what Fineman wants schooling to accomplish. If you fight with a sword, you can die by the sword. Those who want to impose evolution on someone else's kids may get creation "science" imposed on their own kids. Intelligent design is actually an attempt to masquerade creationism as science so that it could be pushed back into the classroom. The movement is very strong and all eradication efforts will only make it stronger.
In today's Poland, constitutional right to homeschooling makes sure kids are not forced to attend biased curricula. Kids have ways to avoid classes on religion or ethics. At the moment, parents who do not wish their kids be taught religion can submit a written statement. Older kids can also do so in defiance of parental wishes. Naturally, this little freedom can also change with a stroke of a legislative pen. The curriculum rests in ministerial hands and is just a matter of political contingency. The current parliamentary majority is glad to introduce elements of religious and nationalist indoctrination to schools. The extent and impact of those changes is limited only because of political fears. A backlash from parents could derail a more extreme variant of the reform.
Fineman understands that "if law attempts to move too far ahead of where people are and where politics are, what you will have is backlashes". Homeschoolers are a growing army and there would be a major revolt. Luckily, this will never happen. Not in America. Pity it has already happened in Sweden and Germany.
There is a temptation to think that a narrow-focus thinking may favor bringing up a little terrorist in a homeschooled setting. In reality, homeschoolers deserve no more scrutiny than other citizens. They should actually be placed in the low-risk category. With respect to the threat of terrorism, here are the reasons:
- terrorism is rooted in anger which mostly comes from limits on freedom and the resulting injustice. Narrow focus that leads to wrong models, like in my own youthful case, is subject to fast/easy correction when confronted with the reality/truth. If anything, schools contribute to the sense of enslavement, esp. in all forms of indoctrination that goes against student's own convictions
- even university education does not seem to prevent terrorist leanings. Again, college is a great place to get radicalized
- schools break parent-child bond, while parents might and should be best correctors of educational, philosophical, and political trajectory
- homeschoolers, on average, show better socialization and as such provide a good fit to the social picture. This fact may naturally come from elitist homeschool averages that will change over time as homeschooling becomes more prevalent
There was a lot of recent coverage of Townville Elementary shooter Jesse Osborne, aged 14. He was homeschooled at a time, but he was not your typical homeschooler. He was expelled from his middle school for attacking a classmate with a hatchet during a class. The headlines should speak of "school-expelled terrorist", not "homeschooled terrorist". Homeschooling takes years to shape the mind, and its impact might be severely distorted, or even derailed, by effects of prior schooling, as it might have been the case with Osborne.
There might be more concern for religious schools. However, most religious schools in the western world resolutely state their goals in terms of social benefit. In addition to ethical considerations, they do it so precisely to dispell any doubts and facilitate their own existence within the legal framework.
Whenever authorities worry about terrorism, they should first focus on the causes of perceived injustice. Closing a religious school may be seen as an act of oppression with far worse consequences than tolerating a degree of seemingly dangerous free speech. Muslim communities, e.g. in France, are often presented as an example of a dangerous clustering of radical Islamic thinking that refuses integration with mainstream society. However, I see the roots of this radicalization in the rejection of foreign cultural values, as well as cultural, racial, and religious discrimination. Conversations with French Muslims or with my Islamic wanna-be-terrorist friends painted it very clearly for me: social rejection and injustice are far more powerful forces than any ideas carried inherently by radical Islam or Islam in general (as evidenced by 1.6 billion Muslims who consider all radical ideas alien). Consequently, religious schooling should, on average, be as harmless as the communist and nationalist indoctrination I received in Polish schools in the 1970s and through the 1980s. In my case, the only traces left are universal truths that connect all philosophies of the world. There is even an added benefit to being a bit more open to universal values carried by radical philosophies that were born in conditions of state-mandated indoctrination.
These days, most kids in Poland receive lectures in Catholic catechism at school. The kids may still hear a biblical claim on 6000-year-old earth in a state-sponsored class. In my case, this only sparked my interest in evolution. No wonder then I am rather not worried. Christian teaching in Poland goes under the umbrella of promoting ethical attitudes. A reader in Bangladesh or Haifa might have a different sentiment.
- my mom, as a single parent, was a sole breadwinner. In addition, during my most riotous period, she was working on her Master of Science degree
- my mom was a Catholic, while I rebelled early and labelled myself an atheist
Reductio ad Hitlerum
Parental rights inspired by the Nazi
In December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It says that "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children". The inspiration for that point came from the Nazi era. It was the Nazi who made it a crime not to send kids to a Nazi school. Those who oppose homeschooling, often call this claim of Nazi origins a myth!
Value of Mein Kampf
A recent publication of an annotated "Mein Kampf" in Germany sparked quite a degree of protest. I was born long after the end of World War 2 and tend to approach that period of history in an analytical fashion. For this, I may not fully appreciate psychological or ethical sensitivities. I consider "Mein Kampf" a historical document that should be studied.
I spoke to a teacher of Polish who is sympathetic to the idea of a student-elected reading list as opposed to a compulsory reading set. However, her sympathy evaporated instantly when I admitted to never have read "Sir Thaddeus". Her feelings verged on a polite outrage when I added that I am reading "Mein Kampf". The strange use of present continuous here comes from the fact that I keep reading many things that I will never complete reading. I simply use incremental reading in SuperMemo. I insisted that "Mein Kampf" is one of the best insights into an evil mind that all psychologists and educators should study. Murderers should be studied, not executed. Genocidal murderers should be studied with triple intensity.
"Mein Kampf" is not a piece that I read for better sleep or for pleasure. I read it to research individual threads relevant to my work. Proponents of homeschooling in Germany often call the ban on homeschooling a Nazi law. They get criticized for knowing little of the legislative history of compulsory schooling. However, loud echoes of totalitarian thinking about schools can be found in "Mein Kampf" indeed. As much as Fineman would like to see kids educated in the secular spirit in inter-racial harmony, Hitler wanted to use the same tool, schooling, for the purpose of raising a generation of racially and nationally pure breed of healthy Germans. Where Fineman's goals might seem lofty, the freedom-limiting approach of a mandate is always condemnable. It is important to note that Hitler's goals as originally stated in "Mein Kampf" do not sound that reprehensible either. It is the historical context that gives his words a chilling effect. We never know how the use of totalitarian tools ends up affecting society. Hitler sought harmony via national indoctrination away from tribal conflict. Fineman seeks harmony via secular indoctrination away from racial and social tensions. Hitler wanted to use a geographic melting pot. Fineman wants to use a cultural melting pot. The goals are good, the means are awful.
For Hilter, compulsory schooling was not enough though. Compulsory military service was to follow to ensure a good filter put on the weak, however smart they might have been. That service was to be a requirement for obtaining the citizenship. As if inspired by ancient Sparta, Sweden has recently banned homeschooling and restored conscription. Swedish conscription is aimed at military defense, not indoctrination, but it all makes Sweden look far less attractive as a welfare state. This is quite a contrast with what I used to learn about it in my courses in economics.
Excerpt from Mein Kampf:
The young boy or girl who is of German nationality and is a subject of the German State is bound to complete the period of school education which is obligatory for every German. Thereby he submits to the system of training which will make him conscious of his race and a member of the folk-community. Then he has to fulfil all those requirements laid down by the State in regard to physical training after he has left school; and finally he enters the army. The training in the army is of a general kind. It must be given to each individual German and will render him competent to fulfil the physical and mental requirements of military service. The rights of citizenship shall be conferred on every young man whose health and character have been certified as good, after having completed his period of military service. This act of inauguration in citizenship shall be a solemn ceremony. And the diploma conferring the rights of citizenship will be preserved by the young man as the most precious testimonial of his whole life. It entitles him to exercise all the rights of a citizen and to enjoy all the privileges attached thereto. For the State must draw a sharp line of distinction between those who, as members of the nation, are the foundation and the support of its existence and greatness, and those who are domiciled in the State simply as earners of their livelihood there.
Compulsion destroys religion
Those who want to destroy religion with compulsory classes in evolution should remember that compulsion always raises opposition.
A friend commenting on my text sent me his own story of the transition from Catholicism to atheism. The story is very similar to mine except he did not mention the compulsion factor. It is science and reason that beat the dogma in his case. This is what he wrote:
My own atheism is a consequence of the internet. The internet makes it much easier to find information, and contradictions. I turned atheist at around age 16. I was raised as a Catholic, in a traditional family. I was an altar boy for many years. At around age 16, I started going to college. One of our neighbors was a pastor for a Protestant group. I asked him many questions. About a proof for God's existence. He was teaching theology too. So that he gave me texts on Aquinas arguments in favors of the existence, his text included counterarguments. I found the counter-arguments much stronger. And I started researching that topic more on the Internet. Interestingly, the pastor would homeschool his kids, and I would babysit them. He taught them creationism. I got to be in contact with his kids, and learned about homeschooling. My thoughts about their homeschooling were really positive. The only negative point was the teaching of creationism, but my own view on the topic was that it didn't matter much. With internet around their fingertips, they couldn't be shielded from the world. The eldest graduated at the top of his promotion in engineering. The youngest is currently doing humanitarian work for a church.
Core beliefs are not malleable
Core beliefs are intractable. All humans build models of reality based on core beliefs. Through the power of abstraction that leads to confirmation bias, all contradictions are stripped away from the model to maximize memory consistency. Correct or not, models survive through non-interference of coherent memories that is build on memory stability. This leaves the core strong and hard to move. Core model's coherence and consistency prevent interference. New learning to abolish old models is difficult. Indoctrination via schooling verges on impossible.
Accelerated Christian Education has a clear purpose: help a child develop a crystal clear set of core beliefs that would survive a lifetime. There have been many attempts to ban schools based on ACE or to ban ACE itself. This is counterproductive. I was just 10 years old when attempts at Biblical indoctrination failed just because I found self-chosen books based on consistent scientific theories far more appealing and convincing. If I was forced to learn evolution to the exclusion of everything else, I might rebel and move in the opposite direction.
All atheists tend to attribute their departure from religion to their superior intellect or superior knowledge. Sometimes models, brains, or knowledge matter less, and the personality of the teacher can make a world of difference.
A true rendition of a model as promulgated by Karol Wojtyla (John Paul the Second) might be perfectly convincing to a kid. My priests were not too clever, and it showed at every class. Add to this getting up at 5 am, and religion was dead for me! Now imagine I had a lovely priest, who understood my problems and explained the world beautifully in religious terms. That model might fit my kid models of reality and my needs. After that, I might go to school to a class with an old grumpy unattractive lady teacher trying to tell me that all that "Good God" is just a piece of "religious drivel" (actual quote from one of my critics). If that teacher tried to teach me evolution while confusing details, facts, and timelines, I might get even more discouraged. If I then got smacked for making an honest mistake, it would be evolution, not religion, that would die as a plausible model in my kid's head. Indoctrinators need to remember that it is the executioners of ideas that will do the ultimate hatchet job that may backfire big time. The ideologues who write curricula will have little influence over that outcome.
I had fun to participate in many Jehova witness gatherings. The purpose of those meeting was recruitment. I was the target of that recruitment process. I was friends with one of the members of their community and agreed to participate. My purpose was an attempt to argue the merits of the theory of evolution. They were eager to present their point of view. I was a new student of biology and was keen to show what I know.
Anyone who attempted this type of effort knows how futile it is for both sides. This book explains the abysmal futility of schooling. As schooling is very weak at arming students with knowledge, and knowledge is very weak at changing well-jelled core convictions, schools have a negligible impact on religious beliefs. In education-vs-religiousness correlation, the Flynn effect hints at the confounding variable.
Schools are particularly poor in equipping kids with tools needed for self-learning and critical thinking. In many ways, schools strip students of self-dependence and the learn drive (see: Schools suppress the learn drive). Critical thinking and vibrant learn drive are best defenses against skewed beliefs. Without those defenses, a significant change in convictions is unlikely. The process of secularization in Europe is evolutionary in nature and is the slowest in the areas of hottest conflict. Societies that no longer argue about religion see the most rapid cooling of tempers and rationalization of thinking.
Freedom is far more conducive for convergence towards the truth than knowledge imposed with coercion!
Secular indoctrination in fundamentalist communities
In a rural community dominated by fundamentalist Christians, you may find it hard to locate a teacher ready to indoctrinate against the Bible or for evolution? It has been 170 years of compulsory schooling and there has hardly even been a dent in those communities! Ban on homeschooling would hurt the gifted and open-minded far more than it could possibly hurt the backwardness. Fineman would like to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome! Even college students from fundamentalist families easily filter out knowledge that does not match their religious convictions. In addition, very few of those kids actually get to college.
Militants dominate under pressure
Like with all radical philosophies, systematic eradication efforts give credence to more militant forces within a group and become counterproductive in the long run. When European politicians worry about militant Islam and popularity of ISIS on Facebook, they should increase freedoms rather than quash them. All forms of compulsion will make young people seek ideologies that they equate with freedom. While ISIS may seem like the exact opposite of freedom, to a young man enslaved by the modern society, this may seem like a pure remote paradise as depicted in ISIS propaganda. The enslavement may have many faces: it can be cultural, ethnic, political, or economic. It can be the school system, the law, the social norm, or peer pressure. A ban on homeschooling is as bad as a ban on burqas or burkinis. It stirs up opposition.
Militant creativity under pressure
This is how limits on freedom backfire:
- Limits on freedom raise opposition
- Limits on freedom of religion lead to militancy
- Militancy strengthens creative opposition
- Creative opposition is an effective force able to swing the balance of forces
I write in The roots of creativity and genius that negative emotions kill genius. A genius in emotional setting easily loses focus, forgets his goals, forgets overarching principles, and focuses on his emotions instead. However, emotions can also be a powerful force in problem solving. This includes negative emotions such as anger.
I explain the model of mental computation in How to solve any problem? Anger is one of those perpetual self-activations that help one focus on a single concept map. In simple terms, an angry militant wakes up with one prime goal on his mind, e.g. destroy the system, destroy the oppressor, overturn the government, etc. Keeping one concept map active for long stretches of time is the key principle in problem solving. This is why angry opposition is often very effective in accomplishing its goals. Anger has multiple neurological side effects, however, it also has this one powerful activating capacity that makes creative problem solving easy.
An angry man is no universal genius, but a solution to his real or imaginary problems may approach genius levels too.
In response to my article, someone wrote that genius can be evil too. The example provided spoke of Osama's plan to destroy WTC. I responded to that criticism with an observation that destroying buildings with planes was an old idea showing up here and there, incl. blockbusting movies. However, it is true that there is a long way from a movie plot to an actual execution. Only an obsessive mind can figure such complex execution to the last detail. Osama is no genius in my book, for the universal genius takes a bird's eye view of the universe. However, this may be a matter of terminology. In the context of this chapter, an important conclusion is that attack on religious freedoms, or an attack on any freedoms in general, will often bring results opposite to the ones intended. The historical law of creativity says that each oppressive force will meet an opposite and a greater creative force. This is how all oppressions end eventually (until now).
Fundamentalist thinking is self-limiting
Those who neglect education shut themselves out from a further impact on social life. An unschooled Christian fundamentalist is unlikely to extend his appeal beyond a narrow circle of lesser achievers. Over time, those influences wane in favor of strong minds that sport extensive knowledge and coherent models of reality. That's the fundamental law of the progress of knowledge that can now be impeded globally only by major disasters (nuclear war, asteroid impact, etc.), or locally by dictatorships, wars, cultural fads, and the like. See: Fundamentalist beliefs have a negative influence on educational attainment
For its roots in political ideology, a ban on homeschooling is not much different than a ban on Muslims, transgender military, contraceptives, burkas, Japanese-Americans, or even a ban on words.
In reference to home education, there is some meeting of minds between socialists, progressives, atheists, multiculturalists, feminists, Swedish culture, and German culture. Feminists use schooling to free women. Atheists hope to kill religions. Egalitarians and socialists hope to educate kids "equally". Politicians want obedient masses to build a better world. Germans are fond of their Prussian ordnung, and Swedes focus on the social function of school. Those forces have many faces and many goals.
I am sympathetic, or at least tolerant of different points of view here, however, lofty goals cannot be accomplished at the cost of scything out the best options for kids, or muzzling those who think differently. As it often is the case with social transformations, one good leader is often backed and followed by a crowd with darker motivations. That crowd is then hiding in a mass of uninformed and non-directional forces of culture.
At the root of the ban on homeschooling you will find ideologues who want to own your mind and your future. Ideologues with a deep dislike of those who think differently. Ideologues who want to eliminate people who block the way to a certain utopian pre-designed future reality. On a wider scale, there is also a fear of independent thought, or hate of those who think differently. Those raw emotions are then masked by lofty goals of social engineering.
This sad conclusion on the inborn human drive to deploy social pressure to shape minds of others can be counterbalanced with the positive message that flows from this entire book: for most kids, homeschooling and unschooling are optimum pathways towards education compliant with the Fundamental law of learning.