Friday, April 25, 2014

Behold: the two absolutely worst arguments against homeschooling

I just want to focus on one of the two arguments that Matt Walsh addresses (see below).'

But before I do, I should just remind everyone: Matt has a vested interest in publicly supporting homeschooling. He likely gets paid when he speaks at homeschool conventions. Not to say that he doesn't believe what he writes... just want to point out that financial incentives also drive his writing.

Back to the argument. So this guy, Dan, emails Matt and says he doesn't like Matt's attitude about public education and homeschooling. One of Dan's arguments against homeschooling is that it undermines public education.

Before getting to Matt's response, let me elaborate Dan's point a bit. Not everyone can homeschool their children. You have to have some amount of privilege to be able to do that - families with single parents, or two working parents, cannot homeschool their children. Consequently, one would expect homeschooled children to have respectable educational outcomes:  children of privilege always do. (And I can already hear Matt protesting that he's not rich; but you don't have to be rich, you don't have to be a doctor or a CEO, to be privileged.)

Now, there IS evidence that, for disadvantaged children, there is nothing better for them than public schools. (If you want to read more about it, I suggest starting with Diane Ravitch - an authority in the field of education who did a complete 180 after years of examining evidence.) If you undermine public education, then you most assuredly are damaging one of the only means that disadvantaged children have to improve their lives.

But Matt Walsh says: so what? I don't care about anyone other than my own children. Let's jump into his post.

Matt Walsh writes:

1) You say we should keep our kids in public school in order to help ‘the system.’

Dan, listen, I have to be real with you: this isn’t just a bad argument — it’s disturbing.

‘Help the system.’

Is this really a priority for parents? When my wife and I make a decision for our family, should we stop first and ask, “wait, but will this help the system?”

Would you REALLY put the welfare of ‘the system’ over that of your own children? Well, let's replace "the system" with the word "society." Do you really want to put the welfare of society over that of your own children? One could, of course, create all sorts of extreme dystopian scenarios where no one would hesitate to answer, "No! I care about my children!" But generally, what helps society helps your children. If the things that seem to help your child in the short terms are damaging to society in the long run... your child's future is not going to be too bright.

I’d hope that you wouldn’t, and I’d hope that this line of logic is unique to you, but I know that it isn’t. I’ve heard it before. I’ve heard it so often, in fact, that I’m starting to think I’m the strange one for having absolutely no desire to make my children martyrs for some bureaucratic machine. We're talking about real people here. You don't have to make them martyrs to do what is in the best interest of the community. There is no reason to suppose that the needs of the community are always in contact with the needs of your children. (Anthropologically, this assumption is utterly false.)

You know what my kids need me to be? A parent. Their dad. Not a cog in the system, not a member of the community, not a loyal townsperson in the village, not a ‘team player.’  Yup, no better way to set a good example for your children than to be a selfish asshole.

Sure, I’ll tell them not to litter and I’ll make sure they play nice with the other kids in the neighborhood, but when it comes to making choices about something as serious as their education, I don’t frankly care how our decision effects the community. Does that make me callous? I don’t know. I think it just makes me a man with priorities. Yup, nothing more important than whether Suzie learns multiplication in the building down the street or at the kitchen table . A quarter of all children in the U.S. live in a food-insecure household? Eh, don't care, I have other priorities. 

In order to argue, convincingly, that sending your child to a public school would be soooo life-changingly detrimental to her well-being that it is worth undermining an important community resource, you would need to marshal a lot of evidence. I don't believe any such evidence exists. Yes, college students drink a lot and public school students text a lot (things you bring up later). But guess what? Humans have been getting drunk, like, for forever. Sometimes you seem to overestimate the respectability of the behavior of human beings in times past. People graduating from public schools today are not harmed by it. They might not have like school; but there are many things kids don't like, including church.

Would the school system be helped if my family ‘participated’ in it? Maybe, and I’m sure the circus would be helped if you went on stage and stuck your head in a lion’s mouth. But you won’t sacrifice your scalp to the Ringling Brothers, and I won’t sacrifice my kids’ brains to public school. I guess we’re even.

Once again, Matt, you operate under the fiction that families could function apart from a community. They can't. Anthropological fact. Human beings need community to survive. There is nothing more absurd than saying, "I am putting my children's needs above those of the community." Your children's needs are intertwined with the needs of the community, and in general, you help your children when you help the community as a whole. Showing such utter disregard for community is not healthy, and not the right way to raise children. It also seems quite oppositional to the principles of your professed religion.


  1. Your blog posts are all among the lengthiest straw-man arguments I've ever seen. I guess you sit down at your computer for hours on end and put words in a guy's mouth so that you can feel like you were at least right about something that day.

    Example: "Once again, Matt, you operate under the fiction that families could function apart from a community. They can't. Anthropological fact. Human beings need community to survive."

    Says who? What science says this? We have countless historical examples of people surviving 10, 20, 50 years without any human contact whatsoever. Is it beneficial for humans? No. But can they survive? In many, many cases, yes.

    But the point is MATT IS NOT SAYING THIS. You just completely made that up. Sending your child to public school and separating them entirely from the community are not synonymous things, no matter how badly you want to believe it.

    Your arguments are childlike and riddled with errors. Clearly, your day job has nothing to do with literary analysis.

    But by all means please continue to waste your days writing ignorant tripe you just make up as you go.

  2. Why do you feel that a parent placing their own children's needs over the needs of the community makes them a selfish a**hole? I think that if I made my decisions about my own children based on the needs of the other children in the community; my children would be justified in calling me a selfish a**hole. Just because I put the needs of my own first does not mean that I never consider the needs of others. It is impossible to do everything simultaneously so everything must be prioritized. Are your own children a bad priority in your opinion?

    1. Hi Catelyn Julia. Thanks for your questions/comments. What would make a person selfish (and kind of a jerk, to be honest) is the "I don't need to be a loyal citizen or a 'team player'" attitude (which are the statements by Matt that my comment follows). That is what I found disturbing. In terms of the needs of children vs. community, my point was that their needs are not in opposition or even really separable from each other. I said that what helps the community helps your children, and harming the community has long term negative consequences for your own children. So, I never made any arguments about prioritizing the community over your own children. I said that they should be seen as intertwined. This view may not always fit well with modern presumptions about individuality and society, but it is very well backed up by anthropological/sociological research. I should also mention (I meant to put this in my post) that I am not intending to scorn particular families who choose to homeschool for whatever reason. My problem is more with this movement that exists (that Matt Walsh supports) which actively does try to undermine public education. I think there a lot of well-meaning families who have good reasons for homeschooling, without turning it into some larger political/social agenda.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.