Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Taking back the right.

Apparently there has been an increase in home schooling in Australia. I'm told that's happening in the U.S. as well. The press reported yesterday that over 2000 children are registered as home schooled - which in Australia is a significant number, in a population of 22 million. And, the report adds, there are more who are simply not registered, the parents home school them without asking permission of the government.
I can see exactly why! After being a teacher for twenty-five years, I can see why parents decide not to hand their kids over to a school. In fact, without critisizing all schools and teachers, it may be a good thing. It could be called taking back what never should have been given away.
For a start, some kids have a really miserable time at school. Here is some horrible news. There is a school in Australia which has had four suicides in a year. Does that make the blood run cold? And all of them have been associated with cyber-bullying - abusive and cruel messages sent to a kid, or said about them and put about over the net. Can you beat that for rottenness? And bullying did not start with the invention of the internet or the mobile phone. I went to school back in the distant 1960s. Tormenting of some kids by others was horribly alive and well then. In fact it probably happened back in Hellenic Age, when the highly civilized Greeks had schools for boys whose parents could spare them from working at home.
It costs teachers, too. Those of us who try to stop it can find ourselves accused by the bullies of picking on them. They insist it's all a frame-up. They never did anything wrong at all. Sure, and the moon's made of cheese, as well!
That's not the only reason, though.
For as long as I can remember, people have been saying 'schools should be doing something about...' whatever problem has come up with kids. Whether it is teaching them road safety, teaching them the law, teaching them to drive (yes, I've heard that said!) the things traditionally done by parents have been shifted onto schools and their staffs. This can be a huge cop-out by parents who don't want to raise their own children, they want someone else to take care of that and they just enjoy the finished product. Or if they're not happy with the result, they blame the school. That's far easier than doing it themselves. But it is not how it should be. The proverb says "It takes a village to raise a child", which means that children grow up in a community of which all members help to care for them and show them how to get on with the world and be part of it. And God did not invent schools. God invented families. Children need families to care for them. A school is not the same thing, at all. A school, like a hospital, has a specialized function. A hospital is for health treatment and care - hopefully only for a limited time. A school is for education, and only for a limited time. It should not be the whole of a child's care-giving and nurture. In fact, a school, even if the staff really care, would be a poor substitute for a caring family.
There can be a more sinister side to it, in addition. Without getting into too many conspiracy theories, it really is true that totalitarian societies try to reduce the extent of family loyalty. They aim to fix the individual's allegiance on the state, or the leader of the state. People like Karl Marx derided the family. The Khmer Rouge, Cambodian communists, made of policy of trying to turn children against their parents. And years ago the hard line left in the West said things like "until you people are prepared to kill your parents, we will never change this society." (I think that was Jerry Reuben, before he changed sides.) Even without going that far, the family can be an focus of attachment that takes precedence over a person's allegiance to political leaders. And dictators do not like that.
There is a growing number of Christian schools in the English speaking world, because parents object to the secular state trying to teach their children things that contravene Christian teaching. For that matter there have long been Jewish schools, and in Australia there are Islamic schools being founded. Some people object because they say it divides society. Sure, it is not a good thing if a community fractures into groups hostile to those not of their own belief, or race, or anything else. But if a public school system tries to be all things to all people it can only end up not really including some. Secular thinkers, or the politically correct, teach things which Christianity and Judaism reject. And Christians, Jews and others do not have to give up their beliefs to please the state, or the self-appointed judges of what is right. So it is not only understandable that some families decide not to let the school system take charge and decide what beliefs to teach. It is understandable that some parents decide to spare their children the misery of being in a place where they will be miserable and feel victimized. And it is quite right if parents undertake to bring their children up themselves, NOT try to get a government agency to do it for them.
Some teachers I've known respect parents' rights, and just want to educate children in the curriculum in a pleasant environment. But some teachers I've known think it is their right to indoctrinate and programme children. They assume the right to contradict parents, undermine the family's attempts to pass on their beliefs to their kids and treat students as a captive audience for themselves. I do not accept their right to do that to my children, or anyone else's and I when I was teaching didn't claim the right to take kids' loyalty away from their parents. No-one has that right. So the schools system should not be a way of sweeping away parental right and influence, and setting up a society of politically indoctrinated subjects.
I can see why some people talk about unschooling society. The school has been used to substitute for parents, and as a way of getting kids away from the counsel of their parents. God did not invent schools. He invented families. Sure, kids may want to do things in groups so that the learning can be shared. And we all need to learn to get on with others. But families should be the ones in control, not a faceless government bureaucracy. And the school system should not be a way of messing with peoples' minds. It could be that we need more home-schooling.
Critics of home schooling say kids need to learn about the world. School does not necessarily teach people about the world, only that other people can be horribly cruel. Also, the world is full of things we try to protect ourselves from. The world is full of disease and danger. We try to avoid falling victim to them. The bad peer groups that exist in some schools might be another thing worth protecting vulnerable kids from.
I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't been a teacher. But God would have put me where I should be, no doubt. Things change. I wonder what education will be like in another hundred years.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The right stuff

I had a joyful surprise one day, quite out of the blue. My daughter, then aged 7, was playing with her toy horses. Two of them, an adult and a foal, were close together, the big one was protecting and looking after the small one.
"That looks nice" I said, "the mother and the baby together."
She replied, "That's not the mother, this one is," and held up another toy horse.
"Oh, right," I answered, "which one is that?" meaning the one right beside the foal.
She replied "The father."
That was such a small thing, but I was exhilarated - clean over the moon. So that is my daugther's view of a father, a protector she is safe with! It got me thinking because then, as now, there were some news headlines about wildly abusive fathers, and it gets so bad that all male parents seem to be under suspicion. To know my own child does NOT distrust me and think of me with suspicion is a huge relief!
Like any parent, unless they've got serious issues, I like to think I've got the 'rigth stuff' as a father. It is not only bringing home the pay. Mothers do not only wash and cook, they also nurture. Fathers do not only bring home the cheque, they should protect and nurture. The trouble is, you can never feel perfectly sure that you're doing it right - until something like this happens, and it gives you a lift.
Just today there was news about another 'Josef Fritzl' type of pseudo-father. He made a sex-slave of his own daughter. How do you get to be such a freak that you'd do that?!
Some commentators, especially of the hard-line feminist (or female chauvinist) type say that fathers are not necessary. When you hear of a bad bad case like this one they play it right up to the max. But they choose to forget that there are some horror female parents around, too. Just listen to the news if you want to know how bad it gets!
Male and female He made them. Human children need two parents to be conceived and born, and both have a responsibility to make sure their children are cared for. That includes teaching them respect and self-control, and making them feel appreciated and welcome in the world. Or if you want to put it sentimentally, loved.
It is easy to see your own faults as a parent. I feel like a serious failure sometimes. But my wife and I pleaded with God to make us the parents we should be. We just had to make sure we listened. Perhaps with His help we got some things right.