Sorry, But...

OK, Maybe The Home Schooling Column Went A Little Over The Top. It's Still A Crummy Idea.

AFTER I WROTE a column about home schooling a few weeks back ("Poor Sports," November 11), someone whom I respect said that I had gone a bit overboard. Actually, he used the word "vicious," which, in this business, is basically interchangeable with "a bit overboard." But, since I respect his opinion, I went back and read it over again and thought I might back off just a bit from what I had written.

That was before the mail started pouring in. I got over 20 letters and faxes the first couple days, all of them expressing outrage, and, to my giddy delight, each and every one of them with at least one misspelled word, grammatical error, and/or syntactical gaffe. But just because somebody doesn't know the difference between "their," "there" and "they're" doesn't mean they can't do a bang-up job home schooling their kids.

Apparently, the home schoolers are all hooked up together on the Web and every single one of them took the time to write in. However, they were nice enough to save me time by all writing the exact same letter.

Actually, one letter was handwritten. The woman who sent it claimed that she home schooled her kids because the Catholic schools aren't strict enough. (That's not true. I know for a fact that at Salpointe they don't allow drinking until Happy Hour.)

Anyway, let's get to that apology: I don't think that in every case home-schooling is a subtle form of child abuse. Only in some. Whew! Takes a big man to admit he's wrong.

However, all the other things I said about the home-schooling movement in general being tainted by paranoia, racism, religious intolerance and parental selfishness -- that stuff still stands.

A lot of the letters (well, that one letter sent from several different addresses) took me to task for what the senders considered sweeping generalizations. So let me clear that up.

Do I believe that all home schoolers are racist? Of course not. But can anyone out there state that none of the home schoolers in America is a racist? (None is singular.) Equally, of course not. Therefore, it's between none and all, so some home schoolers are racist. And it's probably more than most people care to admit.

The same argument applies for religious intolerance. Heck, religiously intolerant people are currently in charge of the Kansas public schools, trying to force their religious beliefs into the minds of public schoolers.

(Let me get something straight here for those who accused me of being an atheist or an agnostic, words which, for future reference, should not be used interchangeably. I consider myself a deeply religious man. But I want my kids to learn their science in school, their religion in church, and the relationship between the two at home.)

A lot of people expressed concerns about drugs and violence in the schools. Those things exist, but not in the proportion that people think. In their combined 20 years in the public schools, neither of my kids has ever seen a fight nor witnessed any drug use. Besides, keeping your kids out of the schools only means postponing their having to deal with the harsh realities of life.

That's probably what bothers me the most: People try to say that keeping their kids in the house for 18 years will protect them from harm and will then somehow magically allow them to enter the world as perfectly well-adjusted young people. I'll stop writing about home schooling if y'all stop telling that one lie.

There is no way a kid is going to learn how to deal with people unless he deals with people. What home schoolers are suggesting is like teaching a kid how to swim by showing him a picture of water. Like it or not, becoming socially adjusted is a grind-it-out, day-by-day matter of trial and error. There is no substitute for experience, no matter how nice Mumsie is.

I coach at a public high school and I know first-hand there are a lot of kids who don't drink or use drugs, who respect their teachers, love their parents, do their homework, and listen to really crappy popular music. This fact, however, doesn't make for hot headlines nor does it fill Pat Robertson's 700 Club coffers.

At best, home schooling is the '90s equivalent of black studies, the kind of thing people look back on a couple decades later and say, "Gee, it seemed like a good idea at the time." Wait 20 years, then mention women's studies and home schooling. It'll be a dead heat to see which one gets the bigger laugh.

Look at it this way: There are three possibilities here. The quality of home schooling is either universally atrocious, a mixed bag, or incredibly good across the board. Considering that the process involves mostly untrained people trying to educate a child in a wide range of subjects, the chances are pretty high that one of the first two is the case. However, even if it is the third possibility, that still means that parents are putting the needs of little Johnny above all other concerns, including the well-being of society in general.

We all make sacrifices for society. We obey laws, we drive in lanes, we give to charity. Most of us find the '80s Republican mantra of "I got mine, now you get yours" to be repugnant. But that's exactly what home schooling is -- selfishness disguised as good parenting.

Even if your kid is getting a great education, society is diminished by his being out of the public (or even private) schools. If we have problems in the schools, the way to fix them is not to take the best kids out. Leave them in and work to improve the overall education for everyone.

That way they'd be welcome on the sports teams, too, which is what started this mess in the first place.

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