Not Cool Enough for School

Last night’s Family Guy was about the anti-vaccination movement, which I’ve written a bit about before. That isn’t what this post is about, but it’s interesting in that it has supporters from both sides of the political spectrum. I was thinking recently about homeschooling, something that also has adherents on both the right and left. There was a Family Guy with that, too, but I don’t recall it taking a stance on the subject.

I’ll admit I don’t know much about homeschooling; I don’t think I even knew it was a thing until I was in high school or so. It does seem to be on the rise, although I haven’t looked at the statistics. To me, it mostly just sounds like a hassle. I mean, you can have your kids educated for free, so why make more work for yourself?

In many cases, it seems like the main motivation is to shelter children, both from ideas the parents don’t agree with and from a potentially hostile environment. I still remember the scene in Jesus Camp with a mother telling her homeschooled kid that global warming was a hoax.

I think there’s a certain amount of arrogance to thinking an untrained parent can teach just as well as someone who’s studied to be a teacher. If you’re only staying one lesson ahead of the kids, you’re probably not the most qualified educator. And any good parent should realize that they’re not always right, and that children should be exposed to outside ideas.

While looking for graphics to use in this post, I came across several people saying that one of the benefits to homeschooling was that you could say a vacation is a field trip, or grocery shopping could be a lesson in math. Well, sure, anything can be an educational experience; but you don’t have to homeschool for that to be the case. It just sounds to me like parents are taking their kids to places they would anyway, and insisting that they’re doing it in order to teach.

What? Public schools teach that we’re responsible for our environment and sexuality isn’t binary? How dare they!

The idea of sheltering kids from the school environment is one with which I sympathize a lot more. I guess that would also work with a tutor, but that’s expensive. I went to public school, and it was a very awkward experience for me. So many of my fellow students were mean for no apparent reason, some of the rules still seem arbitrary to me even in my late thirties, and the work was overwhelming. When you get home from a tedious day at school, how would you ever be in the mood to do more work? So I’m hardly a huge fan of the school system, but I think they tend to do the best they can with what they have. There are bad teachers, sure, but schools get too much blame when kids just don’t want to learn. I don’t know much about private schools, but they seem to vary in quality. I don’t know why you’d pay for your kids to go to a place where someone preaches at them. I recall looking at the web page of one Christian school that insists they take the Bible literally. So do they hold that Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar, even though all other evidence suggests otherwise? Yeah, I know that probably doesn’t come up in class, but it’s an example of how Biblical literalism doesn’t exactly fit with academic standards. But obviously not all private schools are religious, and not all religiously affiliated schools are particularly preachy. The fancier private schools are yet another way that rich people can get ahead, which doesn’t strike me as entirely fair.

Still, I’m not bothered by them like I am by what I’ve heard of charter schools, which apparently get government funding but not the oversight that public schools do. That really sounds like a recipe for disaster.

It seems like Republicans are always talking up charter schools, insisting that they present a choice. No, a lottery system is a matter of luck, not choice. But then, these are probably the same people who think the poor choose to be poor.

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3 Responses to Not Cool Enough for School

  1. Several points.

    As an argument against home-schooling, you mention the far-right indoctrinating its kids, which is of course true, but that’s going to be the case for anyone looking to foster an extreme agenda on their kids, whether on the right or left (and yes, there are crap ideas on both sides). I can see where you find it would even more egregious where kids are sheltered from peers and competing ideas (such as in the public school system), but I think greater harm comes from banning it outright. For parents who are themselves educated, balanced, disciplined, compassionate, have places where they can bring their kids to socialize, and want their kids to think creatively, listen to different sides of an issue, do research, and develop a love of learning, home schooling, at least for a few years, is the best way to go. It’s not the easiest way by any means, but educating one’s children shouldn’t be easy. As to the idea of the public school system being a place where there are competing ideas of thought, I think that depends on where geographically one is situated. Frankly, where urban areas get a mix of students of different cultures, religious backgrounds, and ideologies, that doesn’t exist in rural areas, which tends towards a homogeneity of thought. In places such as these, indoctrination is only reinforced, and worse, learning is seen as boring and ineffectual (in large because much of what is taught is useless memorization to meet the requirements for standardized testing).

    It’s not just bad teachers and preventable bullying that’s the problem, the public school system itself is deeply, deeply flawed (some would say broken, and I wouldn’t argue with them), and while still better than the atrocious charter school model, was never designed to provide a balanced education (as they get in many parts of Europe), as much as to indoctrinate youth for the corporations and military, a model that goes back to England and Germany. For evidence of this, I highly recommend the book Teenage: The Pre-History of Youth Culture, by Jon Savage.

    On a separate note, you mention Belshazzar not being the son of Nebuchadnezzar as reason to reject biblical literalism, but this is erroneous. Evidence indicates that Belshazzar was his grandson, and it’s important to understand that Near Eastern literature, including the Old Testament, uses the term “son” to denote not just one’s immediate son, but a grandson or ancestor. There’s actually no real problem with biblical literalism IF one understands the cultural and historical background of the peoples, era and literature. Unfortunately, many on the right do not, and thus they’ve turned biblical literalism into a ridiculous parody, and something far removed from how an educated Jew of the 1st Century would have read the Hebrew Scriptures.

    • Nathan says:

      From what I’ve read, Belshazzar is the son of Nabonidus, who became king by assassinating Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson-in-law, and wasn’t related to Nebbie at all. While not impossible that Belshazzar could have been related to Nebbie (I’ve seen the theory that his daughter could have been Shaz’s mother), it really seems like that’s manipulating the facts to fit the Biblical text. “Son” might have been used to refer to grandsons, but was it ever used for unrelated successors?

      • Yes, even if it’s not a literal son/grandson; when dealing with royal succession, there is precedent. Before we get to that, however, I think it’s significant to note that in ancient history, this kind of puzzle or dilemma is quite common. Data has to be researched and interpreted to come to a correct conclusion, particularly when it seems to conflict with information that’s already been established, and sometimes there’s just not enough information available to do so. Generally, historians/archaeologists chalk such things up as challenges to be met and overcome. Yet, these very same issues–when they deal with the Old or New Testament–result in “controversy” and salacious headlines like “The Bible Contradicted by Archaeology” (which was something they said when they couldn’t find any inscription of Belshazzar.) It’s disingenuous, misleading, and anti-science, but it does reveal the bias that exists in the field.

        Now that there’s proof Belshazzar existed, the question is how do we approach the text in Daniel 5:18, 22 that says he was his son, and how do we do so as students of history who don’t have an ax to grind? Apart from the remaining possibility of a blood relationship between royals, there is the possibility Nebuchadnezzar was his adoptive father; it is also possible that the queen-mother and Daniel referred to the greatest of his predecessors as his father. In Assyria, for example, Omri is called the father of Jehua (as depicted on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III); additionally, the claimants to the Medo-Persian throne are called (on the Behistun Inscription) the “sons of Cyaxares,” and at present the reigning sheikhs of northern Arabia are all called the “sons of Rashid,” although in reality they are not his sons.

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