In his response to my remarks about homeschooling, Ben has taken the debate into a direction and sophistication that is welcome. I hope my response can meet him at this new standard he has set.
I acknowledge that the original essay to which Ben is responding leaves much unstated and too many assumptions implicit rather than spelled out; it was early in the morning and I was on a tight schedule (I’ll take whatever excuse I can get). That said, in my response, I will try to rectify the deficiencies and sloppiness that he has correctly called me on. I guess I have a lot of work to do.
Ben begins his response by observing the haziness of many of my statements and that a central point in my essay hinges on some hazy language. He singles out my claim that homeschooling leads to a “fractured civic ontology.” It’s a string of words which would have made more sense had they been “fractured social order” or “social disunity”/”cohesion” or something less pretentious. Oh well. This is a blog. Pretentiousness is an essential ingredient. That’s my defense and I’m sticking to it.
And he’s absolutely right to state that Heidegerrians and Cartesians coexisting in some pluralist society is something about which I could give a rat’s behind. But I think that being on a philosophically inclined blog (with an audience that, I presume, shares our inclination), I needed to go with something a bit “deeper.” We’re philosophically-oriented folks who use terms such as “tradition” and “historicism” like it’s our job, yet it’s “ontology” at which point we draw the line and say “hold on here. Let’s avoid that silly jargon”? I find that hard to believe.
So, what do I mean? When I use a term like “social ontology” I suppose I mean the structure, including the content, that undergirds and forms the country. It is the unobservable (or unobserved) order that defines the country. I suppose that we can observe it and know it – (operationalize it and study it?) – indirectly through our references to physical and non-physical entities such as flags and statues; creeds, motos and ideas; and institutions of government. This list is, obviously, inexhaustive but hopefully it pushes forward this discussion and provides further sources of contrast and debate.
Ben is correct in his speculation that the definition of “civic culture” that I use corresponds to a “classical,” small-r repulican definition. I would disagree with Ben’s inference that my view of education prioritize civic awareness/inculcation over education as such. I view education as the primary purpose of the public education system; in addition to that, I think that the inculcation of these cultural particulars is within the appropriate scope of the system, too. So, at this part of the discussion, I view there being two roles of the education system, and not necessarily exclusive, either. The primary role is to actually educate (however we define that; a definition would be useful. Perhaps Ben or someone will be able to provide one with which we can work). The second role is to transmit this civic culture, with its implicit and explicit values.
I agree with him that the primary conservative concern is reducible to which civic virtues are being inculcated; I would like to know what “conservative” civic virtues would be; would they or would they not correspond to the civic virtues of the American polity as it existed historically or as it exists today? Rather than strictly theoretical speculation, we have to take a step down and wade into the swamp of the empirical observations that are “conservative” and “civic virtue.” Because, frankly, we don’t know what a set of conservative civic values would be, let alone the relationship between those values and the values of the public education system. That makes it difficult to discuss this with any eye toward the practical activity of critiquing the present culture and replacing it with a restored “traditional” culture that somehow is closer to the western, judeo-christian heritage that we are supposed to be fighting for.
Unfortunately, it is around this point that I think this is where Ben’s critical response goes off the rails, so to speak. The rest of his response presupposes that my view of the purpose of education prioritize the transmission of civic culture over the education of the children.
Ben is correct that I do not make explicit the assumption that the public education system is a better source of learing civic virtue than the parents/family unit. That’s because I don’t hold such a view (side note: reductionism is not apparently the unique purview of rational choice theorists). I think Ben needs to provide some type of evidence for his claim that instilling public and private virtue “is undeniably one of the major reasons parents choose to educate their children at home.” Here is one source that may provide some support for his speculative claim that instilling virtue is a reason, though it would seem to only indirectly support his claim.
When I discuss the potential for extremism, I am stating only one of the potential criticisms of homeschooling. There are others, listed in a the wikipedia entry referenced in my original post, which I will post in this blog entry
Inadequate standards of academic quality and comprehensiveness
Lack of socialization with peers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds
The potential for development of religious or social extremism
Children sheltered from mainstream society, or denied opportunities such as social development
Potential for development of parallel societies that do not fit into standards of citizenship and the community
Extremism is but one of the risks associated with homeschooling. There are other risks which touch upon academic well-being and the social cohesion and values that Ben and I discuss in our posts.
Contrary to Ben, I do not see the positive effect of homeschooling to be the introduction of pluralistic values into a society. In fact, I see the opposite effect, if the studies are to be believed. You don’t even have to reference emprical data to reach that conclusion; all you have to do is read what Ben writes in order to figure out what why his argument is internally inconsistent (in its logic). It boils down to how plurality is weighed or conceptualized. Ben emphasizes the centrality of the parents (as members of the family unit), while I am looking at it from a perspective that, I think, is pragmatically understood (in this discussion) as structural
I think a major problem with Ben’s argument is that his argument presupposes the existence of more mainstream education systems (public and parochial) which exist parallel to the home schoolers, which would provide the necessary foil to produce the outcome that Ben relies on in order to justify the pluralistic value of homeschooling. But, in his critique he seems to imply that pluralism is not the goal of home schoolers; rather, the goal of home schoolers is to instill in their children-students a view of the world that is explicitly contrary to the mainstream or majority view of American society. If we take this homeschooling to an extreme, then we risk a country/civilization of individuals on, for or with whom we cannot build a society. This is because these different home schoolers have sets of beliefs and related manifestations which are so diffuse, that anything resembling a common set of values which can be used to develop a social order would be unfeasible.
Surely, the problem is not reducible to the phenomena that the children will not encounter views that contradict their parents’ own, right? I think it is safe to assume that no two families hold the same views, so even when home schooled, the children-students will encounter views that are contrary to their parents. What Ben seems to be suggesting is that plurality down to the level of individual families is preferred and provides the necessary foundation for a healthy, vibrant and developing political order. I don’t think that it does. This is because if this homeschooling inspired pluralism is fully embraced and logically developed, then the result is a society of individuated families, each with their own views and not being open to the other, which would preclude the development of the type of social order that conservatives would want. We can speculate that the home schooler is a conservative and would share and participate in a value system that the individual conservatives would collectively share, but we would be risking a lot for a theory that, unlike other
theories, we have usable data to determine the propriety of the theory. To simplify it: we’re still left with conservatives battling the status quo. We still have to determine whether or not conservatives are in the right to home school. Or that we’re right about why conservatives choose to home school.
That said, I’m not buying the whole mind reading thing. The result of this kind of behavior, contrary to Ben’s implication, would not be a more open society in which pluralism would be a benefit; rather, the result would be a more closed society, of which pluralism would be a hazard. The children-students would be exposed and inculcated at very young ages against the variety of views that fit outside of the parents (or homeschoolers’) worldviews. The world is not limited to particular christian or conservative sects; yet, I suspect that is what would be te result. A society full different and sometimes contradictory sects. How do you build a society on that?
I don’t think there is an “obvious double standard” with my argument. I would like Ben to make more explicit his reasons for suggesting that there is a double standard in my argument. As for my view that my problem is not with pluralism, but rather with the permissiveness of what I think to be the “wrong” view: I disagree with that as well. I would like it if Ben would expand upon that speculation. Until then, it has no support.
How is it morally confusing for conservative children to be “thrust” into environments that differ from the ones from which the come? Presumably, the conservative parent will have prepared – or will be prepared – to protect their child from the negative effects of the public school environment. But, the question that arises is, what are those negative influences/effects from which the conservative child must be protected? Is the culture that bad – that progressive and contrary to conservative values – that the conservative must resort to homeschooling – to separating his or her child from the larger environment – in order to properly educate and guide the child? It would seem that the spotlight should be shone upon the conservative, and not the public (or parochial) school system. What is it that the conservative has – except for conservatism – to support the home school movement?
I disagree with the assertion that Ben makes, which is that the fractured civic ontology “totally precludes us from teaching moral values to our children, but it is wholly unclear why this should be the case.” It does not completely shut out parents. Parents are free and obligated, I think, to teach the moral values that they believe their children should learn.
So we are left with why the broad, institutional forms of education (public and parochial) developed in the first place.
I think logically that there has to be a limit to the home school movement; there has to a logical limit to the conservative embrace of this movement. I think there are two ways to interpret the argument Ben posits. Neither of these ways is positive for the homeschooling movement. One is to reduce it to its rationalistic, individualistic core – which is fine, if we recognize that it sits on a number of assumptions that may or may not be real (and we conservatives seem to pride ourselves on our realism); the other is to assert that what we are talking about is real. But then we have to contend with the fact that the “facts” may not comport to our narrative. So then who is right? The conservatives, or the facts that conflict with their realism? If we are to be historically sensitive and speaking of something that is “real,” then we have to be more philosophically and empirically aware than we are. I do not think our criticisms of the culture can survive otherwise. (and please for the love of God, do not anyone bring up Thomas Kuhn unless you want to include his post structure stuff. the same goes for anyone else).
To me, at least, much of Ben’s response is in the realm of speculative theorizing. It is out the desire to be victorious, which is a lost cause. I think that a better response would be one that would make use of the data from various sources which detail the positive and negative effects of homeschooling. I think we conservatives have a duty to step away from the “conservative” theory – and the language – and enter into an engagement with the available evidence that exists on the topics about which we are concerned, and which are discussed here on the blog. Too often we have conversations with ourselves. And that only marginalizes us.
That said, I am not opposed to homeschooling. Neither am I opposed to private or public schooling. As a product of private schooling, I am grateful for the type of education I received. As a citizen of this country, I try to be sensitive to the public good that education is and the implicit conservatism that the idea of local public education can be, even if in practice it is far from it. I appreciate what Ben has done in his response; I know that my response is not up to the level I want it to be, because it does not adequately answer the criticisms that Ben provides. That, to me anyway, indicates a strength of the conservative case. Or it may just be indicative of Ben’s brilliance and my intellectual sub-parity. Anyway, I hope that contributors and readers alike will recognize the value in this type of exchange. It forces us to refine our theoretical and empirical points and places matters such as causality; at the foreground of the debates we have with each other; it sharpens conservatives and conservatism. It gets to the meat of the matters and forces us conservatives to take a long and hard look at ourselves as we attempt to respond to a society that is always escaping our grasps.
Conservatives need to do better than just to theorize. But we don’t seem to do better than that. At the end of this long-winded and irrelevantly linked blog post, that’s all I’ve got.