The Case for Homeschooling (Part 3): Child Safety

“Homeschooling … not only violates children’s right to a ‘meaningful education’ and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.”

This statement was published as part of a mid-2020 Harvard Magazine article interviewing Elizabeth Bartholett, a Harvard Law professor and now infamous anti-homeschooling movement icon. On all points of that statement, I strongly disagree: homeschooling provides a more meaningful education generally, homeschooled kids are safer, and homeschooled kids are often better citizens. Of these three and perhaps all arguments against homeschooling, the most commonly used argument is that sending kids to school is safer. We hear this in the news, from politicians, blogs, and academics. It’s not true; here’s why.

This article is part three of a series of posts addressing the growing anti-homeschool movement, which advocates for the abolition of homeschooling in the U.S. and abroad. Here, we point out the safety of homeschooling as just one argument for the natural right of families to homeschool their children. Click to jump to the previous posts: Part 1, Part 2.

Sexual Abuse at School

I hear anti-homeschoolers go on and on about how “teachers catch the most cases of child sexual abuse.” This is true, but this is a sleight of hand to distract from the reality that the sexual abuse of children likely occurs at school more frequently. Out of the frying pan and into the fire?

A fair comparison isn’t just judging the number of child abuses cases perpetrated by parents vs. teachers, either. Remember a school is a mini-bureaucracy with administrators, athletic coaches, custodians, and of course other students – all capable of committing the same crimes as anyone else.

As a Catholic, I hear nonstop about the sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy, but if you think that’s bad, check out numbers estimated from brick-and-mortar schools. NCR’s Wayne Laugesen reports an estimated 422,000 California public school students would be victims of sexual abuse by the time of graduations. Of course, what constitutes “sexual abuse” is likely to vary from study to study, but imagine only 10% are legitimate. This still leaves us with 42,000 victims from California public schools alone. No study estimates parental child abuse with a rate anywhere near that number.

Think the Catholic Church has a problem? The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.

Charol Shakeshaft, Hofstra University via [1] CBS News

Californian news outlets were not nearly as keen to inform the public on this abuse pandemic as readily as abuses within the Catholic Church. In 2002, 61 of the state’s biggest news outlets ran thousands of stories about the latter, compared to only four stories about the federal government’s report of widespread abuse in California’s public schools.

Several academic studies confirm there is widespread abuse within our educational institutions. A 2003 study reported that just under 10% of students (grades 8-11) claim to have experienced some form of sexual misconduct from an educator [2]

However, teachers may be of relatively low concern for the perpetration of sexual misconduct at schools. From the same 2003 study, among all students who reported any kind of sexual misconduct, the vast majority (79%) of offenses came from other students [2].

The American Association of University Women reports even higher rates of abuse; up to 81% of students (85% for girls, 76% for boys) in grades 8 through 11 reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or abuse [3]. An Idaho educator Bithel (1991) estimated 5% of teachers committed such harassment or abuse, ranging from vulgar comments to intercourse [4]. Further studies looking at the ratio of abuse by parents compared to others concludes that 60-70% of child abuse cases are perpetrated by non-family [5].

While I’m a skeptic of the magnitude of some of the reported numbers, the overall consensus is obvious: that sexual abuse in schools is far more pervasive than at home. Another study found that abuse by parent figures constituted between 6% and 16% of all cases, and abuse by any relative made up about a third of cases [6]. Again, we see that intra-familial cases are in the minority despite the suspicion that “…child abuse reporting systems and clinical programs tend to overrepresent intrafamilial cases” [6, emphasis added].

Some will point out the intrinsic likelihood of catching sexual abuse at school is higher than at home to justify the obviously higher sexual abuse at school; but to posit school is safer without lack of supporting evidence is ridiculous. At the least, one would have to admit a lack of sufficient evidence.

Even if we imagine that sexual abuse was just as rampant in the home as compared to school, the real “safety” of schools comes to light when considering all forms of abuse and violence.

Bullies, Gangs, Drugs, and Psychos

The anti-homeschool movements tends to focus on one, small form of violence: sexual abuse, which as I’ve shown ad nauseam, is a rather potent argument in favor of homeschooling. Nonetheless, don’t concede the premise that sexual abuse is the only form of violence infringing on the safety of our children. Sexual abuse is but one of many forms of violence worthy of attention.

I don’t think I have to break out the statistics (I’ll save it for the book…) on bullying to get the point across that bullying is primarily a school problem. Start homeschooling your kid and voila: bullying eliminated. (Side note: If cyber-bullying is a problem for your kids, get them off the internet. Problem solved.)

Then consider further the other plagues on children that could be eliminated by removing them from the epicenters of child-problems. Gangs formed at schools would be eliminated, and already established gangs could no longer use schools as recruitment grounds. General negative influences of peers would be mitigated severely, leading to a more moral and upright youth. The sphere of influence for drugs and other substance abuses would be diminished as drug pushers would no longer have the market offered by brick-and-mortar schools.

Mass school shootings go the way of the dodo bird with homeschooling.

Common sense of the author

If these few points are not enough, consider at last school shootings. Schools concentrate a large number of defenseless kids in a relatively small area. Homeschooling intrinsically eliminates such crowds by keeping each family’s children in their natural habitat: home.

There’s No Place Like Home

None of what I’ve reported above is meant to scare anyone into homeschooling. Rather, my intent is to combat a silly argument put forth by those who hope to ban homeschooling by wielding the club of “safety”. The sum of the facts on child abuse, bullying, drug abuse, gang violence, and school shootings put to rest the utterly false idea that schools are safer than homes.

Homeschooling offers children the safest, most effective learning environment, as is attested by thousands of dedicated parents. Give it a thought, at the least, because your child’s education is worth the consideration.

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This article is part three of a series of posts addressing the growing anti-homeschool movement, which advocates for the abolition of homeschooling in the U.S. and abroad. Here, we point out the safety of homeschooling as just one argument for the natural right of families to homeschool their children. Click to jump to the previous posts: Part 1, Part 2.

Sources

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/has-media-ignored-sex-abuse-in-school/

[2] https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf

[3] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1746-1561.1993.tb07153.x

[4] https://search.proquest.com/docview/851310187?pq-origsite=gscholar

Original source: (McGrath, 1994)

[5] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00098651003655936

Original source: (Elliott, Browne, and Kilcoyne, 1995)

[6] https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=5LohmJRW2DwC&oi=fnd&pg=PA55&dq=sexual+abuse+of+children&ots=ONwnYKmxRY&sig=xgacoyS8_84itFS4EdSdC8te3Bo#v=onepage&q=sexual%20abuse%20of%20children&f=false page 56 and 57

Original source: (Finkelhor, 1994; Saunders, Kilpatrick, Hanson, Resnick, Walker 1999)

Applying Machiavelli to Life

“It is better to be feared than loved” is by far the most famous quote from Machiavelli’s The Prince, but the short book has much more to offer than a pithy statement voided of its true nuance (for Machiavelli importantly added “…if you cannot be both.” Written in 1513 for the new Florentine ruler, a member of the Medici family, The Prince failed in its attempt to win Niccolo Machiavelli favor from the new government. Nonetheless, this classic political work is the foremost reason Machiavelli’s name has been remembered for centuries past his time. A short yet practical work, The Prince enumerates the principles a successful prince (or any pseudo-absolute ruler) should follow. As there is some symmetry between good principles of political leadership and wisdom in ordinary life, there is something for everyone to learn from Machiavelli.

Be independent

Independence, for Machiavelli, meant using one’s own army as opposed to mercenaries and the armies of allies.

I conclude, therefore, that no principality is secure without having its own forces; on the contrary, it is entirely dependent on good fortune, not having the valor which in adversity would defend it.”

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

As Machiavelli pointed out, using mercenaries and the soldiers of allies meant letting armed men with no true obedience to the prince direct the fate of a conflict. Even if mercenaries help win the day, there’s no guarantee men who fight for the highest bidder won’t find a more attractive offer shortly after a victory.

For us average citizens, applying this Machiavellian wisdom means relying on our own resources, trusting those who are truly friends or family, and only outsourcing tasks when absolutely necessary. This means, for example, taking control of your finances, your data (for our over-digitized world), and your responsibilities to your family, e.g. education (parents are children’s primary teachers).

Consider war in times of peace

Machiavelli praised Philopoemen, Prince of the Achaeans, for his constant ruminations on war tactics. The Achaean prince, out with on a walk with friends, would reportedly discuss various battle scenarios, such as “What if an enemy army appeared there on that wooded hill? What would be the best mode of defense or attack for such a situation?”. This is the principle of preparation, and Machiavelli extends it beyond war to other stately affairs.

A wise prince ought to observe some such rules, and never in peaceful times stand idle, but increase his resources with industry in such a way that they may be available to him in adversity, so that if fortune changes it may find him prepared to resist her blows.”

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

Though we aren’t likely to command armies anytime soon, self-defense and anticipating natural disasters and the like are preparations everyone should make. Your “battle scenarios” may resemble those found in the movie Home Alone than those of Philopoemen, but such preparation is vital to protecting your home. Buying a firearm and learning to use it is a great first step, as is installing security devices (flood lights, cameras, alarms, etc.). Run through your head the various points of possible entry for a burglar and know how long it would take you to respond (e.g. retrieving and potentially firing a weapon). I’m running through these types of scenarios more often during these turbulent times.

The second area of preparation is in surviving various environment circumstances: food shortages, power outages, and natural disasters. Consider how long you can go without electricity, access to grocery stores, running water, and where you might take shelter during severe storms. Where would you go if your home was completely destroyed? Asking questions like these may help your react more calmly and rationally if some catastrophic event should happen. You may want to further consider a reasonable stockpile of non-perishable food, bottled water, and perhaps a generator.

Act princely

Machiavelli lived among the aristocracy, met foreign leaders and emissaries, and travelled Europe widely all leading to his “insider knowledge” of what makes a good or bad prince. This third advice from Machiavelli is quite different from the previous two in that this point relates to how a Prince should act, at least in the sight of others. The previous two points largely regarded matters opaque to the ruled people, but Machiavelli knew appearances were everything for a prince.

…a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with … five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand…

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

Our modern politics validates this last statement a hundred times over, that “men judge generally more the eye than by the hand…”. Politicians make many promises, but few are kept. We also know by personal experience (e.g. interviews and dating especially) that first impressions (what we see) matters a lot. A simple fact is that we judge by what we can see (the false promises, the way someone looks) because the truth behind the vision is not often observable. We can see that Jim goes to church every week, but we can’t really know what he believes. Machiavelli knew the people can’t see into the heart of a prince for those five most important qualities (merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious), but they can see how he walks and talks in public.

While I much prefer the interior life of a person to match their exterior life, there are reasons and situations when our self-restraint (an inward quality after all) prudently reigns in our natural habits. For example, a father does well to exhibit those five qualities to his children. He should appear, in the eyes of his children altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious because he is their role model. Children will mimic their father and the examples given to them more generally (recall the Bobo doll experiment where children exhibited the behavior they watched). Appearances do matter to the developing child. Appearances also matter to your boss for getting promoted.

Again, the ideal situation is that you don’t merely exhibit good qualities, but you internalize those good qualities too. But, I think our outward “faking” of good behavior is often the first step toward internalizing what is good.

Separate the Good from the Bad

Apply too much of Machiavelli, and you might be called Machiavellian – not a complement (meaning: unscrupulously, politically scheming or cunning). Any leader who applies all of Machiavelli’s advice would likely be a good politician, but democratic republics also require different sorts of politicians than pseudo-monarchies. Keep in mind, Italy in Machiavelli’s time was a chess match with a half dozen players, so much of what he says is geared toward avoiding utter destruction by one’s own people or a foreign army.

Taking the good, applicable advice out of the political, The Prince should remind us to avoid dependency, prepare for the worst, and demonstrate our virtues.

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The Importance of Good Conversation

Read Plato, St. Augustine, Jonathan Swift, Emily Bronte, or any other classic work and you’ll notice the authors’ composition, vocabulary, and coherence in thought far surpass those possessed by the vast majority of educated people today. Even students of our best liberal arts universities don’t emerge from their studies with the ability to write, speak, and reason as well as students from the early 20th century. How did we lose our ability to think and communicate effectively?

The Decline of Speech

Many factors have contributed to our sharp decline in these skills: the adoption of pervasive public education, the takeover of technology in classrooms and homes alike, reduced parental roles in teaching their kids, poor curricula, and a general disrespect of education in pop culture. Many of these are societal level problems that could require policy reform and the general improvement of whole communities to overcome.

However, there is another contributor to each generation’s declining intelligence: poor conversations. I’m no Aristotle, but when I was a kid, my family had real conversations. The dinner table was the epicenter where we debated or conversed about things outside a normal day’s experience, topics ranging across politics, religion, and to the limited ability of our young minds, philosophy. We weren’t experts on any of these topics, but we did have thoughts about them and a willingness to share those ideas with each other.

These family conversations are the way to kindle the critical thinking and speaking skills of the next generation, a way to reverse the trend of declining intelligence that has occurred over the past century.

Great Minds Talked

Good conversations and asking questions were the methods of philosophical discovery for the Greek schools of Plato and the like. St. Augustine of Hippo similarly debated theology with his friends throughout his journey from a Manichaean to a Catholic, paving the way for his works to become cornerstones of Western thought.

Historically, one’s intelligence was often measured by his wit in speech. Great examples of this are found in Plutarch’s account of Alexander the Great . When Alexander finally conquered the Persian king Darius, he challenged the Persian scholars to answer his philosophical questions with their best wit and eloquence, whereby the participant offering the least intelligent answer would be executed. (Luckily, Alexander was dissuaded from this draconian consequence afterwards.)

This same emphasis on clever speech pervaded other parts of antiquity, perhaps most famously in the Greek city-state of Sparta. Again according to Plutarch, young Spartans were often tested with responding to philosophic questions with pithy answers.

Although education in the sciences would ebb the emphasis of education in speech, the rhetoric and reasoning skills of educated men and women in the 19th and early 20th centuries still embarrasses our rhetoric today. Compare the speeches of Abraham Lincoln (a largely self-educated man) to any speech from the last thirty years. There are very few that will require reading beyond the first sentence to distinguish the difference in skill with the pen.

Re-Education Begins at the Dinner Table

Though all I’ve presented is a depressing reminder at the baseness of our latest generations, the one bright ray breaking through the dull clouds is the fact that one remedy is so easily implemented. The malady to our inability to reason and deficiency in speech is simply to talk – not just any talk, however. We must converse about ideas, potential futures, questions about the past, what is right and wrong, where truth lies, how to live a good life, and the nature of the things around us. It doesn’t necessarily have to be deeply philosophical either. Politics is a fine and relevant topic, but the discussion should really be about politics, e.g. policies instead of “I don’t like his hair.” (The Greeks regarded politics as the highest science, after all, so be sure to give some credence to that science.)

The dinner table is the perfect place to begin this U-turn in education, to begin thinking and speaking at a level our world has lost. Real education might be regained alongside a helping of mashed potatoes and greens beans.

If you find a spontaneous conversation about something other than sports is difficult to get started, try reading something after dinner together as a family. When I was younger, reading a devotional often sparked many of those cherished conversations.

If you can’t get to the dinner table with your family or good friends, the modern world leaves no excuses for avoiding good conversation. The COVID19 lockdowns inspired my family to implement weekly group calls that humbly began as a means to share what’s new in our lives. However, these group calls often diverge into those very same good conversations we used to have around the dinner table when I was growing up. (Ironically, we could have been doing these calls for years but never converged on the idea.) Modern video calling is a great way to have these good conversations, no matter how much distance is between you and your family and friends.

Cheers to you in your next real conversation.

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Don Quixote and The Difference Between Wisdom and Intelligence

Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote excellently portrays wisdom’s distinction from intelligence through the character growth (or at least revelation) of Don Quixote and his trusted squire Sancho Panza. While both play the part of the fool in many respects, both exhibit moments of intelligence or wisdom throughout their adventures.

The Intelligent Don Quixote

Don Quixote is an educated gentleman in the quiet town of La Mancha who loses his bearings on reality through the excessive reading of “chivalrous books”, akin to the modern day fantasy novel. His recruitment of Sancho Panza and subsequent journey in search of fame and glory stem from his desire to rekindle the noble life of the knight, complete with saving damsels in distress, dueling other knights, and protecting the reputation of his beloved Dulcinea del Toboso. Throughout the novel, Don Quixote shows his great intelligence in matters of literature, history, and philosophy through his conversations with Sancho and others. Often, I found these speeches from Don Quixote to be the best parts of the book, as they show a Cervantes’ philosophical mind through masterful discourse. However, while Quixote is very intelligent, I argue he lacks the wisdom that Sancho later grows into (especially in Part II). Quixote shows that intelligence only goes so far as eloquence in speech and the possession of knowledge.

The Wise Sancho Panza

Sancho, on the other hand, is a simple peasant with a wife and kids. He is neither educated nor literate, but he experiences reality as it is, unlike Quixote who lives in fantasy and dreams. This experience of reality gives Sancho the greater part of his wisdom, which he expresses (to the annoyance of Quixote) through short quips and proverbs. A few of my favorites:

  • There’s a remedy for everything except death.
  • The foolish remarks of the rich man pass for wisdom in the world.
  • If the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it’s bad for the pitcher.
  • The fool knows more in his own house than the wise man in someone else’s.
  • When they’re asleep, everyone is the same—the grandees and the little folk, the rich and the poor.
  • Make yourself into honey and the flies will eat you up.

Sancho is first portrayed as very foolish. After all, it takes a fool to follow a fool. But later in Don Quixote, Sancho grows steadily in wisdom, largely through the realization that his master is mad. He further demonstrates wisdom, to the awe of those around him who thought him merely a fool, through his brief governorship, in which he skillfully applied practical sense to the city’s problems.

A big theme in Don Quixote is the contrast between idealism and pragmatism embodied by Don Quixote and Sancho, respectively. In the end, however, we observe Cervantes’ view that idealism is second to pragmatism, since Sancho ends his journeys happily, having found both moderate wealth and contentedness with his simple life. Quixote, on the other hand, falls sick and only breaks free of his idealism through the clarity offered just before his death. Such pragmatism, I argue, is a necessary component of wisdom.

The 3 Ingredients for Wisdom

This discussion begs a much larger, question, however. What is wisdom? Wisdom requires three traits that distinguish it from mere intelligence: universality, pragmatism, and humility.

Universality

Wisdom is universal, in that it applies widely for diverse peoples among many situations. Wisdom transcends specific occupations, situations, and even time itself as wisdom is passed down in part from one generation to the next. Mere intelligence is more a quickness of thought coupled with a depth of knowledge. An intelligent man may be either wise or foolish just as well as a stupid man may be wise or foolish. It is merely another trait of the human mind far too often praised instead of wisdom. Sancho’s many proverbs, though used wantonly, capture those bits of wisdom ready for application to his many situations.

Pragmatism

Wisdom is inherently a “practical intelligence”, as opposed to the academic intelligence possessed by Quixote. Wisdom is a trait largely acquired through experience, whereas academic intelligence is obtained through study and perhaps good genes. The former has the advantage of being grounded in reality by its very experiential nature, whereas the latter is artificial and often learned in a vacuum. (Consider, for example, how college is often referred to as a “bubble”.) I personally have some trouble wrestling with whether books can impart wisdom, as I feel some must. Perhaps this is a distinguishing factor between good books and bad books.

Humility

Humility is a key trait for the wise man, as Plato noted through the words of Socrates in Apology, “I am better off than he is, for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know.” Socrates later goes on to say after speaking with many of the experts of his day, “I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and better.”

Sancho was often painfully humble to the point of humiliating himself throughout much of the book. Nonetheless, his humility and unassuming nature cultivated his mind to develop wisdom. Mere intelligence often clouds the mind by inflating the ego. Quixote, if ever ridiculed or insulted, often responded with violence to protect his façade of honor and dignity.

As a member of the “scientific community” (community is a terrible word for a relationship based solely on similar professions), intelligence coupled with pride is pervasive. Every researcher’s “solution” is the “best” solution. Every doctor knows better than the patient. Every software entrepreneur is touting the next big thing. More generally, “Science” is always correct. The very word Science has become a sledge hammer with which politicians, activists, and online hecklers use (without knowing any of the science themselves) to close the door on real discussion of policies or beliefs.

This misuse stems from the innate goal of Science to ascertain objective truths in the natural world, but any historical review of the development of science and its methods reveals that Science seems rarely to find any objective truth, particularly in the realm of human government. Instead, Science is ever in pursuit of measurable truths, at times seemingly closer, at others retrospectively further. (For the latter, take as an example the now disregarded belief in a physical “ether” permeating all space.)

This is not to say real truth does not exist or is unachievable. Science is simply a tricky, complicated business, and we are relatively new at it. Our pursuit of wisdom, on the other hand is arguably much further along, since wisdom is the fruit of learning to cope with our human condition, which has existed from the very beginning.

Wisdom is only achievable to a mind humble enough to learn it.

The Wise Man Down the Street

A common stereotype is a portrayal of rural people as stupid and unworthy of attention. Peasants like Sancho Panza fit that stereotype in the eyes of “gentlemen” like Don Quixote. While I have nearly finished my Ph.D., my uneducated neighbor may have far greater wisdom than myself. There’s no reason to suppose that my 8+ years in college studies has fostered wisdom more than the 8+ years my neighbor has spent working, growing a family, and engaging with the real world.

The owner of your local feed & seed shop may very well possess a wisdom approaching that of Solomon veiled by humility.

Why a Classical Education is Needed Now More than Ever

If you were to ask yourself what single aspect of education is lacking in modern society, what would it be? What topic, if better integrated into school curricula, would benefit the world the most?

Teaching science and technology better? It seems we have plenty of the technical aspects of education in place today: everyone knows how to operate a computer better than a phone book and can comprehend (at least at a basic level) the infinities of mathematics and finitude of Earth. Teaching STEM subjects with even more emphasis may result in more or better doctors, engineers, and other scientists, but the trajectory of education in general has already more than adequately adjusted for these subjects, so I doubt whether further emphasis on STEM would be the single greatest reform of modern schooling. As I’m near to my doctorate degree in a STEM field, one might suppose some partiality to STEM. However, it may be the case that my proximity to it only enables a better view of its flaws.

How about teaching second languages better? No doubt better communication among various peoples would generally improve relations and efficiency of exchange between different peoples. This is a decent answer for the moment. Let’s see if there’s one greater.

Another good answer might be those practical skills that can help us in everyday life: basic money management, automotive care, job-hunting do’s and don’ts, and much more. All these would certainly help those in their young twenties get life started on the right foot and avoid certain troubles, but ultimately all these skills can be learned easily through the counsel of friends, simple trial-and-error, or the Internet – a major advantage to the last few generations. All that’s needed is a proper motivation to learn these skills.

Few Good Things Are New

The answer that I propose to the opening question is nothing new to education in the West; in fact, it predates our modern conceptions of education complete with rows of students in cinder-block-walled classrooms nodding in blank affirmation of a lecture on cell mitochondria. (I have nothing personal against the energy-producing organelles of cells, but they strike me as one particular piece of biology any middle school student knows but will probably never need to know.) I echo many others, such as the great Robert Hutchins, chief editor of the Great Books of the Western World set, when I put forth a return to a classical education approach as the best change to make in schools today.

This classical education primarily entails learning through the Great Books. In a sense, you can think of the Great Books as a record of ideas that waxed and waned throughout the development of the West. This is practical in many ways. Through the Great Books, readers learn far more than simply a command of language and composition. Readers take a journey through many of the most significant historical events in the world, great milestones in human scientific achievement, the philosophies of our greatest thinkers, the evolution of political thought, the theologies of the Western religions, and how many of these different areas of knowledge overlap and influence one another. Our modern brains tend to segment such branches of knowledge into tidy boxes, and this might stem largely from how modern schools silo knowledge in highly structured class curricula. In the Great Books, though an author (e.g. Sigmund Freud) writes heavily on scientific subjects, we will also find their writings delving deeply into sociology and philosophy. Hence, the reader of these Great Books gains an education far beyond merely literature itself.

Why Now

The primary reason for my suggestion of a classical education to be reintroduced today, however, is that many of the cultural problems facing the United States (and other Western nations) is a lack of understanding of the West. Ignorance of Western ideas and history has caused the West to turn against itself, to hate its “history”, to slander its greatest figures, to disregard its laws, to undo its social and economic progress, and to dynamite its very foundations.

Beyond an appreciation for the Western culture, a classical education also imparts students with better means to think critically. Reading the Great Books is a mystery, in part, to uncover the hidden meaning in the narrative. This is an exercise in discovering what truth out of confusion. Much of modern media is a barrage of conflicting opinions and occasional sprinkles of facts. A classically trained mind is best prepared to sift through the various narratives to find the true story or meaning.

Beginning the Journey

The very best thing about a classical education gained through the reading of the Great Books is that it is so easy – not easy in terms of effort required, but easy in terms of accessibility. The only requirement is an ability to read at a high school level. You don’t need a college degree to read the classics, nor do you need $50k. Materially, a classical education is beautifully simple. No instructors, classmates, or study materials are necessary – just good old (no, Great!) books. Can’t afford a new book a month to read? Go to your library. The successes of the Great Books fortunately make them widely available online, in used book stores, libraries, and even garage sales. Books published before 1925 have officially entered the public domain and thus are often found free online. (I am partial to real books, but I admit reading on a phone on the train or in line at the store is often practical.)

Don’t know where to start? I highly recommend reading The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer for further introduction to the Great Books. Robert Hutchin’s The Great Conversation (1952) is the first volume of the Great Books of the Western World book set and gives fantastic context and commentary about the importance of reading the Great Books. Lastly, I’ve compiled several famous Great Books lists that those interested may peruse. There are many proposed methods on the “best” approach to reading the Great Books (various schedules of reading and the like), but the important thing is simply to begin reading. Pick out an interesting title, grab a cup of good (does not need to be great) coffee, and begin.

The Nazi Origins of Germany’s Ban on Homeschooling

Given that we are caught up in terms of the history of homeschooling (see here), there is one notable historical anecdote we have left out: the case of Germany, one of few western European countries with a complete ban on homeschooling.

There is an irritating and pervasive habit to treat the passing of a law elsewhere as an argument in favor of passing it in your own country. For Americans, this commonly manifests as “Europe has laws on this or that, so we should, too.” This bad habit is one still one unbroken by anti-homeschoolers.

The fact that many European countries have stronger regulation and even outright bans on homeschooling is supposed to represent some kind of moral consensus on the matter that should inform American law. This kind of argument is ridiculous even by its own methods, because I can also find several other countries where homeschooling is legal and use it as a cheap argument to keep homeschooling legal worldwide.

Interestingly, homeschooling has resurged most strongly in countries with ties to the British Empire: the U.K., the U.S., Australia, South Africa, and India, most notably. The map below shows the legal status of homeschooling around the world, showing this “British-skew” in homeschooling freedoms, though other areas such as western South America enjoy similar freedoms. The countries where homeschooling is illegal or severely restricted include virtually all of eastern Asia, Spain, Germany, much of eastern Europe and half of South America.

Map of legality of homeschooling [1]. BLUE = legal without known restrictions. GREEN = Lax restrictions. YELLOW = Restrictive regulations, ORANGE = Legal in limited circumstances, RED = illegal with virtually no exceptions, GRAY = unknown/unclear status

The very idea of looking to Germany for policy is ridiculous for even more sinister reasons, and a brief delve into some of Germany’s history with the matter will prove telling of the anti-homeschool ideology in Germany.

First, as we noted in the previous post, modern day Germany may have implemented some of the first public schools in Europe in the 1500s with prominent support from Martin Luther. Nonetheless, homeschooling continued well into the 1900s. Though homeschooling declined with the passing of mandatory schooling laws in 1918 and the subsequent rebranding of the country as the Weimar Republic, homeschooling was still legal and practiced particularly by the upper class until 1938, when a new political party was in full control of German affairs: the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also known infamously as the Nazis [2].

The Nazis outlawed homeschooling upon implementation of the Reichsschulpflichtgesetz (Law on Compulsory Education in the German Reich) in the very first section, which translates to the following [3]:

1. Compulsory general education. In the German Reich there is compulsory education. It secures the education and instruction of German youth in the spirit of National Socialism. It is subject to all children and adolescents of German nationality who are domiciled or habitually resident in the country. Compulsory education must be fulfilled by attending a German school. Exceptions are decided by the school inspectorate.

The first two Reichsschulpflichtgesetz’s signees are household names: Hitler and Göring. This is not to argue on the basis that laws passed by tyrants are inherently bad, however one should examine such laws with a heightened sense of caution.

Signees to the Reichsschulpflichtgesetz, which banned homeschooling in Nazi Germany.

The Nazi Party viewed homeschooling as anti-nationalistic, counter to the identity of the state and a conduit to less loyal citizens. Moreover, Hitler recognized the power of state-controlled education, saying “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” Our children are not tools to be used by a self-serving government. Education is too central to a good society to be controlled by mere men, for if we believe politicians are corruptible, why leave our children’s education and hence their future in their hands?

Germany’s bans on homeschooling are still enforced to this day and have resulted in several criminal prosecutions of parents, resulting in fines, removal of children from parents, and jail [4]. Prayers to all those German families suffering such persecution.

For more articles on homeschooling, follow a continuing series of posts on “The Case for Homeschooling” starting here.

Sources:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling_international_status_and_statistics#

[2] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2300568/Obama-administration-wants-DEPORT-home-schooling-family-Germany-fined-threatened-prosecution-teaching-children.html

[3] http://www.verfassungen.de/de33-45/schulpflicht38.htm

[4] https://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/1389

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling

The Case for Homeschooling (Part 2): The History of Home Education

If the history of education were a painting, homeschooling would be the backdrop upon which each stroke of the brush marks a new development, for better of worse, in how we teach our children. The painting is a very slow one to take shape, having still a countable number of wide strokes despite thousands of years of work. If we pause for a moment to reflect on the state of our painting, there is far more white space than color, there are obvious mistakes in our painting, and its future looks dull in comparison to the promise that our blank canvas began with.

This article is part two of a series of posts addressing the growing anti-homeschool movement, which advocates for the abolition of homeschooling in the U.S. and abroad. Here, we point out the historical precedence of homeschooling as just one argument for the natural right of families to homeschool their children. Part one of the series may be found HERE.

The difficulty in describing the history of homeschooling is just like the difficulty in trying to describe the untouched spaces around the paint; it’s far easier to describe where and with what color the paint has been applied to the canvas. Thus, our dive into the history of homeschooling will take the more sensible approach of not describing how homeschooling ebbed over time, but rather how formal school – brick and mortar schools – displaced them in the western world over the past few thousand years.

One curious fact, and the main point I make here, is that almost all the displacement of homeschooling occurred in the past two centuries, making homeschooling the de facto form of education for mankind.

I’ve found that often a generation takes up the mantle for a particular facet of society of government merely because it was their generation’s status quo – it’s what they grew up with. I think most people today apply this quiet affirmation of the status quo to education without much thought.

Taking a step back from merely our own generation and childhood, we find that compulsory public education is a largely recent experiment, and thus has no historical claim to limit the rights of families to home education.

Education in Antiquity

If you were born before the 1830s, you were probably home educated, whether you were the son of an American revolutionary, the Italian daughter of merchants during the Renaissance, the only child of a farmer in feudalistic Europe, or the eldest child of a Judean carpenter. Western civilization’s normal mode of learning the basics was at the home and through apprenticeship. Though universities have existed for centuries, secondary education was a luxury afforded by few and assumed a pre-existing primary education for admitted students. If you happened to be the children of nobles, you might have been educated by someone other than your parents, such as a tutor or a private school. There are few counter-examples throughout the history of the West.

What we now think of as primary education didn’t emerged as a universal norm until much later with compulsory education laws passed in the 19th and 20th centuries that quickly eroded the popularity and in some cases the very ability for families to homeschool [1].

A ten-stop tour tracing primary education throughout the great western civilizations will show that compulsory public education is the experiment and historically anomalous until recently. This context will return our concept of education to its rightful place: the home.

  1. Ancient Egypt

In theocractic ancient Egypt the priests, whom held extensive knowledge in the sciences and mathematics, primarily exercised the teaching role in an early formal setting, mostly for the education of privileged children bound for the priesthood or to become scribes. However, other vocations generally had to be learned through apprenticeship, tutoring, and participation in the trades of the family [2].

  1. Ancient Israel and Judea

Ancient Israeli education was similarly routed in informal learning from family for non-nobility, as Encyclopedia Britannica notes,  “Like all pre-industrial societies, ancient Israel first experienced a type of education that was essentially familial; that is to say, the mother taught the very young and the girls, while the father assumed the responsibility of providing moral, religious, and handcraft instruction for the growing sons. This characteristic remained in Jewish education, for the relation of teacher to pupil was always expressed in terms of parenthood and filiation” [2].

While Judea required education for all children, it was the parents who had the obligation to teach. Later in the first century AD, formal schools were introduced across the region by Joshua ben Gamla and made compulsory for 6-8 year olds. [3] Note that this time period, however, places Judea as part of the Roman Empire. As we shall see shortly, most of the Roman Empire education was marked by home education, thus placing the schools instituted by Joshua ben Gamla among the minority.

  1. Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek education is admittedly difficult to pin down, as it evolved significantly over time, particularly from neighboring civilizations’ influences. Nobility, as one might guess is nearly universal among all the famous developed civilizations, enjoyed superior education from elder nobles and from guilds and courts. With the emergence of “Ancient Greece” into a collective of city-states (Athens, Sparta, and the like), education may have taken on a more communal form, though peasants remained largely uneducated outside their particular trades [2].

Plato holds special credit, in the eyes of many Western intellectuals, as the main advocate for compulsory schooling from his reflections in The Republic, in which he reasons that an ideal society must be composed of ideal citizens, and ideal citizens require an ideal education.It seems far-fetched to think that public schools today (or ever) are anywhere near ideal.

  1. The Roman Empire

Much more can be said of later Roman education, which increasingly treated the Greek civilization as a barometer on education: one was not really educated unless one knew what the Greeks knew. This lead to children of nobles becoming largely educated under the tutelage of native Greek speakers, such that the students would become fluent in both Greek and their native Latin tongue. Pre-6th century, little is known of education throughout the largely rural Roman Empire, of which is noted their attitudes toward education, “ancient Roman education was … an education suitable for a rural, traditional people—instilling in youth an unquestioned respect for the customs of the ancestors: the mos maiorum.” [2]

Further insight into Roman primary education is witnessed herein:

“Differing from the Greeks, the Romans considered the family the natural milieu in which the child should grow up and be educated. The role of the mother as educator extended beyond the early years and often had lifelong influence. If, in contrast to the girl, the boy at 7 years of age was allowed to move away from the exclusive direction of his mother, he came under the control of his father; the Roman father closely supervised the development and the studies of his son, giving him instruction in an atmosphere of severity and moral exigency, through precept but even more through example.”

[2]

Primary schools are theorized to have existed, perhaps as early as the 600s BC due to the existence of a Roman alphabet (borrowed from the Etruscans). These schools, however, likely had very little central governance, as government intervention wasn’t apparent until the 400s AD, even in a limited capacity, mostly to provide guidance on administrative affairs rather than on the minutia of teaching. Most importantly, there isn’t any apparent evidence that these primary schools were compulsory.

  1. The Medieval World

Medieval schooling, where it existed, was largely religious in nature. Peasant children were very unlikely to receive any significant education besides vocational skills learned from family and immediate influences. Increasing class standing generally increased the likelihood of formal educational opportunities, typically through the Church and clergy. Most formal schools were geared toward educating priests and monks until universities began appearing later, spurring on the development of boys grammar schools with connections to the Church and secular guilds.

Nonetheless, the majority of the medieval world was illiterate, largely due to the rarity of books before the invention of the printing press. Sometimes, parish priests provided some form of elementary education in reading, writing, arithmetic, and religious education outside of a formal context [2].

Perhaps the largest counterexample to my claim is the 1400s-era Aztec Empire in the New World, which began what many today view as the first instance of nation-wide compulsory schooling [4]. However, it would be difficult to argue that the Aztec Empire’s educational pursuits have influenced western education perceptibly. Furthermore, the claim is that homeschooling was historically the norm. The existence of one culture in one century that instituted compulsory public education does not refute the claim.

  1. The Renaissance

During the Renaissance era, European education began shifting away from Church-centered education with the emergence of gymnasiums, though these schools were only accessible to privileged boys in preparation for the academies of higher education. They notably incorporated more secular interests including “studies of humanity” (studia humanitatis), which “stressed the importance of man, his faculties, affairs, worldly aspirations, and well-being”  [2]. Note at this point in history, broad compulsory education for the public including youth of all social classes has not existed in Europe.

  1. The Reformation

In this next major era, that of the Protestant Reformation, both religious and educational forces would come to play. Religiously, reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli would bring large swaths of Europeans out of the Catholic Church. At the same time, figures including the very same Martin Luther, began encouraging some of the first “modern” public schools. Luther, a powerful influence in Germany at the time, supported the creation of schools to educate everyone, rather than only the advantaged youth as he expressed in An die Ratsherren aller Städte deutschen Landes (To the Councillors of all Towns in German Countries, 1524).

As a Catholic myself, Luther’s advocacy for greater education for youth of all classes is one of his most honorable aspects, despite my disagreements with his theology and solution to his qualms with the Church of the time. Interestingly, his advocacy for public schools could be viewed as a means to reducing the Church’s influences, which for centuries shepherded education in parishes throughout all Europe. Nonetheless, Luther likely had a genuine desire to better educate the poor and illiterate, such that each could better understand the Bible and Christian theology. Some of the first public schools emerged in the German states of Gotha and Thuringia in the early 1520s. [5] Similar schools would open throughout the following decades reflecting the particular educational philosophies of their founders.

  1. The New World and the American Colonies

The first schools in the New World appeared in Mexico in the 1520s (the same decade some of the first German public schools were established). Southward of the American colonies, schools were largely formed and taught by Spanish Catholics for educating Native Americans. Spanish children usually had tutors toward the beginning of Spanish colonization, though later they would also join local schools. Still, none of these schools were compulsory [2].

In Europe and the U.S., general government intervention into schools began taking a greater foothold in the 17th and 18th centuries, born both of a desire to educate all and for political ends through the better subordination of citizens and ensuring greater economic strength for the nation.

In New England, where Puritan influences were strong, education  was primarily motivated such that “the young learned the ground rules of the good society, as revealed in the Bible.” This need pushed Puritan parents to educate their children in reading and writing well. Later into the 1600s, however, the towns and eventually the larger regions, took greater steps toward formal education with the passing of laws requiring towns to support dedicated teachers of reading and writing [6].

The Massachusetts School Laws, three legislative acts enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1642, 1647, and 1648, are commonly regarded as the first steps toward compulsory education in the United States. The 1647 law, in particular, required every town having more than 50 families to hire a teacher, and every town of more than 100 families to establish a school [7].

Private academies for boys then later for girls in the 18th century would emerge in Philadelphia, New York, and other growing cities, though these remained only for upper class youth. Academies aimed for a more practical education than existing institutions, which were seen as teaching subjects too removed from the real world.
For the southern colonies, the situation was more suited to a rural, independent society, so homeschooling largely prevailed. Not only was homeschooling the norm for practical reasons of a sparser population, but southerners also believed that education, in line with most of antiquity, belonged to the parents and in sometimes the local church. Notably, regional laws would mandate the creation of  “workhouse schools” to educate poor children in the trades. Well-off families would still send children to private schools or hire tutors.

  1. 19th Century Europe and the U.S.

The 19th century saw a dramatic rise in the intervention of governments in Europe and the Americas in the education of their citizens. Proponents of state intervention put concerted efforts into convincing the public and politicians that taxation must support community-wide education for all people. Formal grade and class systems outgrew their origins in Germany from the last century, spreading to schools worldwide. Church influence on education continually eroded at the growth of secularized state schools, teaching with greater emphasis on modern sciences and languages. Schools generally took on a more national character, by integrating topics on citizenship and national history. The nationalization of education was believed to be the means to achieving universal education [2].

Massachusetts would again take center stage in the educational landscape in the United States in 1852 with the passing of state-wide compulsory schooling laws. These laws forced children to attend schools with government oversight and threatened fines and the confiscation of children from parents who did not comply [8]. By 1918, virtually every state in the U.S. had passed similar laws, though most or all of these laws still allowed for private schools as an alternative to public schools.

  1. 20th Century U.S.

Just a few short years after WWI, one of the first real threats (in the U.S.) to the right for choice in education emerged – strangely – by democratic means. The 1922 Compulsory Education Act was drafted in Oregon due to a wariness of foreign cultures and values that were viewed as undermining American identity. The law, promoted by powerful and infamous groups such as the KKK, specifically targeted Catholic schools while allowing for state-monitored homeschooling and other private schools as exceptions. However, the law was amended to ban all private schools and (remarkably) passed by popular vote [9].

A lawsuit soon followed in Pierce vs. Society of the Sisters, which was rightly ruled in favor of school choice by the U.S. Supreme Court and subsequently cited for precedence in over 100 cases [10]. The opinion of the court famously concluded “The child is not the mere creature of the state” and ended the dispute over whether the government had exclusive powers to educate the American youth [11]. Homeschooling, though it always existed with declining popularity since the proliferation of public and private schools in the 1800s, didn’t resurface with any significant societal recognition until the 1960s and 1970s with prominent advocates including Rousas John Rushdoony, John Holt, and Raymond and Dorothy Moore.

Such 20th century homeschool proponents did not necessarily advocate for homeschooling due a perceived superiority of homeschooling, but rather in accordance with my own opinion that the home is by its very nature the proper place for education.

In 1980, Holt said, “I want to make it clear that I don’t see homeschooling as some kind of answer to badness of schools. I think that the home is the proper base for the exploration of the world which we call learning or education. Home would be the best base no matter how good the schools were”[12].

As of 2016, National Center for Education Statistics (NHES) reported over 1.7 million homeschooled students in the U.S., comprising just under 2% of the school-age population. The number of homeschoolers has nearly doubled since 1999 and is showing signs of continued rapid increase [13].

Final Thoughts

From this brief overview of the history of education in the West, it’s clear that compulsory public schooling is the experiment, the historical anomaly bearing the burden of proof of its utility.

Simply from a historical viewpoint, advocates of compulsory public schooling and anti-homeschool advocates should have to prove compulsory education’s superiority in merit for lack of historical precedence. The efficacy of homeschooling relative to public education stands strong – even using the same standards implemented by public schools in many cases, as we shall cover in the next post. Stay tuned.

Sources

[1] http://www.quaqua.org/utah.htm

[2] https://www.britannica.com/topic/education

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_education#Primary_schooling

[4] https://www.google.com/books/edition/_/WMrNE7uq-tMC?hl=en

[5] https://mises.org/library/education-free-and-compulsory-1#7

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massachusetts_School_Laws

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massachusetts_School_Laws

[8] https://archive.org/details/conceivedinliber01roth

[9] https://www.jstor.org/stable/25018244?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierce_v._Society_of_Sisters

[11] https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/268/510

[12] https://www.naturalchild.org/articles/guest/marlene_bumgarner.html

[13] https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2019/2019106.pdf

The Case for Homeschooling (Part 1): The Strangeness of the Anti-Homeschool Movement

With the COVID19 crisis virtualizing school instruction and giving many parents a taste of homeschooling life, the topic of home education is hotter than ever. Particularly, a recent Harvard Magazine article by Erin O-Donnell has brought a firestorm from homeschool supporters – and for good reason. The article denounces the practice of homeschooling through remarks from Elizabeth Bartholet, the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law at Harvard. Bartholet’s other role as Faculty Director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program informs her ultimate argument against homeschooling on the grounds of concern for the children. Her position pits a child’s right to “a meaningful education” against the natural rights of parents to educate their children.

The central narrative of Batholet is that homeschooled children are victims of their parents’ oppressive ideologies, but the State is there to intervene as the children’s saviors. The Harvard professor’s commentary reveals a motivation to eliminate homeschooling for no more reason than her own ideology. No statistics. No historical perspective. No practical benefits. No trace of any research on the topic of homeschooling at all.

To remedy this informational gap, I have consulted the most comprehensive sources I could find to get that hard data that proves that public schools are safer, that public education is more effective, that children and society benefit more from government funded primary education. And, there is hard data and a significant body of research on the subject. The only problem is that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of homeschooling.

In my initial research, I fully expected to find reasonable disagreement between the data; but I was thoroughly surprised to find near-consensus on the positive outcomes of homeschooling versus the average public schools in every metric. Without any research, one might off-handedly expect that if homeschooling methods prevail in one area (e.g. academic performance), it might fall short in another (e.g. social skills). Such is not the case according to the relevant research.

You will find that anti-homeschoolers will straw-man homeschooling in advocating their positions. On the other hand, even if I “steel-man” the anti-homeschool position, as any good student of Aquinas would, their arguments turn to straw nonetheless. If you detect the airs of confidence herein, it’s because in few matters in one’s life does the body of research so resolutely support one’s position as now.

However, note that in writing this article, I’m not advocating for the abolition of public schools, nor of any other brick-and-mortar school, though I would not be surprised at its suggestion. Instead, I’m advocating, in the strongest terms possible due to the utter society-shaping nature of education, for the right of families to educate their children at home without undue intervention.

Given the book-worth amount of material I’ve encountered on the subject, I’ll present merely one aspect in this post, leaving the various historical, practical, and outcomes-based arguments in favor of homeschooling for upcoming articles, so that my full response to the anti-homeschool movement forms a series of articles over the coming weeks. Then, at the end of the series, I’ll create a master essay containing and expanding each major argument.

Here, we’ll first break down arguments posed by a growing anti-homeschool movement while revealing its underlying ideology, particularly those advocated by Bartholet.

The Case Against Homeschooling

The arguments against homeschooling are few yet pervasive to varying degrees. I broadly categorize them as either 1) based on outcome or safety and 2) ideological. Given the lack of data supporting category 1, (which I will demonstrate in coming articles in this series) all objectively unverifiable arguments against homeschooling are thus purely ideological. The most common arguments typically revolve around the idea that homeschooling creates an environmental bubble that hinders the development of children, particularly in social development. I don’t blame most people for holding this opinion: I believed it myself in the recent past but have changed my opinion in light of research.

Another, similarly innocent argument is that school provides an effective means to identifying legitimate cases of child abuse. It is ironic that Bartholet, a leader of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, holds this position. I would hope a professional dedicate to advocating for children’s well-being would have a better grasp of the relevant research.

While it’s true that school teachers and officials raise the red flag to child protective services most often for cases of potential child abuse (as mentioned in the Harvard Magazine article), it’s not a reasonable argument. To be a reasonable argument, it needs to ace the following two questions 1) Do public schools catch a significant percentage of intra-familial child abuse cases? And, 2) are children actually safer at school than at home with all forms of violence accounted for? The argument, as you might expect, fails on both counts, as most experts believe a majority of cases go unnoticed by schools and children are statistically much safer in their home environments, as will be expanded upon later.

This leaves the anti-homeschooler position as purely ideological: it stems from a belief that the State can better handle family affairs than the family itself. It’s Marxian from the get-go. Bartholet apparently scours the societal landscape for areas with too little government oversight.

“We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling,” she says. An unregulated regime? Regimes are, by their very nature, over-regulated, over-controlled, authoritarian, hierarchical entities. The homeschoolers, if anything, are the opposite of a regime, being much more akin to a loose collection of clans connected by their opposition to the big-government regime that Bartholet advocates for.

The Harvard Magazine article goes on to reveal the real ideology driving the anti-homeschool movement: “But surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families (by some estimates, up to 90 percent) are driven by conservative Christian beliefs, and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture. Bartholet notes that some of these parents are “extreme religious ideologues” who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy.” 

What is wrong with the majority of homeschoolers being conservative and Christian? What is wrong with removing our children from maintstream culture? Our culture is defined largely by violence, sex, social media, politics, vulgar speech, and beyond. Who defines what an extreme religious ideologue is? To Bartholet, I am the extremist. Homeschoolers are extremists. Christian conservatives are extremists. Which science is it anathema to question? It’s ironic that the anti-homeschoolers are ignoring the scientific research on homeschooling.

Bartholet, while supporting an authoritarian intervention into the lives of families, then goes on to call homeschooling parents authoritarians: “The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think that’s dangerous.”

This is the utter strangeness of the anti-homeschool ideology: parents educating their own children is authoritarian. Those parents that sacrifice so much time, effort, and income to educate their children are tyrants that must be stopped from indoctrinating their own children. Who is more a tyrant, the one who shapes the worldview of their own children, or the one who shapes the worldviews of all children?

Lastly, in Howard-Zinn-fashion, the law professor states her underlying worldview, saying “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” It’s a worldview of seeing society only in terms of power dynamics, ignoring all other facets of life. Not only that, but she doesn’t recognize that she is siding with the largest power on face of the earth: the U.S. government, which already educates the majority of children in the U.S.

Even if we play the power dynamics game here, her position gives no power to “the powerless” children; instead it merely removes power from the child’s parents and transfers it to the state. There is no increase in power to “the powerless” there. Then, at what age would we even apply her ethic? Why would we allow parents “24/7, essentially authoritarian control” over their children before school age? Since our psyches are largely formed by the age of four, won’t those Christian conservatives have already done too much damage by the time school comes around?

The logic of this anti-homeschool ideology falls apart very quickly. The case for homeschooling, however, is very strong, and I look forward to sharing the immense case for homeschooling throughout this series.

Stay tuned.

COVID19: A Call for Greater Family Independence

The lockdown initiated by government reactions to COVID19 (the coronavirus) has imposed a rare glimpse into how elements of dystopian novels manifest in the real world: restricted travel, skyrocketing unemployment, an economy in recession, police arrests for routine outdoor activities, masks and gloves merely for grocery store visits, and semi-rationed groceries (for the very high demand commodities). The coronavirus lockdown has changed more people’s lives in a month than probably any event in history in terms of daily living. (Note,it hasn’t changed lives more drastically than other events – not by a long shot.) I have been overwhelmingly fortunate in keeping a steady paycheck throughout the lockdown and for the foreseeable future, and I’ve founding nothing in my situation to classify beyond a mere inconvenience. Zero hardships by God’s mercy. 

A crisis, even if relatively small, is a test of the strength of a nation, a community, and a family or person. Storms find the leaks in the roof, and the big leak in society (at every level) is over-dependence.

The COVID19 events has given us a rare glimpse at problems we may face in far more severe circumstances and opens my eyes to two categories of things: 1) the conveniences we take for granted (but are not “essential”) and 2) what we depend on to survive. In the former are the abilities to buy what we please, travel where we want, and find information on the internet. In the latter are stocked grocery stores, the availability of medicines, and access to water, gas, and electricity. We have become dependent on both categories, but the the latter things are the dependencies of most concern.

How Dependence Forms

Man seems stuck on a trend toward increasing dependence on others or the state for survival. Whereas at some point in history an average peasant knew how to convert a live bird to that night’s dinner, the average 21st century man can hardly stomach the mere thought of reverting to such base practices to get a meal. Our comfortable lives now come at the cost of increased dependence, which has  developed in two ways throughout history: either as 1) an adaptation to circumstance or 2) as an evolution of efficiency. The former often has a formula resembling this: 

group B has resource X

group A doesn’t have resource X

group A needs resource X

group A depends on group B

Here, group may be a either a person, family, community, or nation, though in the context of this essay it’s the family. Dependence formation by an evolution of efficiency (#2) occurs not for want of something, but rather as a byproduct of efficient production.

A good example of this is Henry Ford’s assembly line for car production in the early 1900s. Instead of a group of workers making an entire car, each worker has a scope of work limited to only a part of a car. This is beneficial because each worker becomes very efficient at their particular job and increases overall production efficiency. However, now each worker relies on the other workers in the assembly line to make a complete automobile. A formula for this evolution of efficiency might look like as follows:

group A makes X and Y

Y is made from X 

group A is divided into A1 and A2

group A1 makes X

group A2 makes Y using X

group A2 depends on group A1

And many variants like this, but with the basic idea, that each group specializes in an area while coordinating with other groups to achieve a goal. For a company, that goal is usually to produce something efficiently. For a person, that goal is to acquire everything necessary to survive.

Likewise, a society’s work force usually specializes, such that each worker can be more efficient in their work, produce more, and earn more income. This usually evolves naturally in most societies but comes at the price of each member of society depending on others to get everything they need. A professional blacksmith makes horseshoes much more efficiently than a banker could in his spare time, but the blacksmith, at the cost of specialization, thereby must rely on others by trading (with or without a currency as a trade medium) to get food, clothing, and other necessities.

Such specialization has greatly benefited society and enabled an explosion of growth when coupled with a free market economy.

Preparing for the Worst

However, when is one over-specialized? Perhaps a definition of over-specialization is quantified by how many self-preserving skills we maintain (those skills needed to survive on our own). I’m in no way expecting societies or individuals to abandon the workforce structure of specialization that has been so successful for 150 years, but the recent COVID19 lockdowns cause the imagination to wander in to apocalyptic-like territory. 

What if the grocery stores can’t keep up and food shortages come? What if we lost electricity to our homes for a prolonged period (always a possibility no matter the season)? What if gas supplies ran out and we couldn’t commute or fetch groceries? Such worst-case scenarios should be in the mind of every adult from time-to-time. 

All this is on my mind, especially as I contemplate where I’ll live once I move my family from our current living situation. Rural life looks more enticing every day, as COVID19 dominates the news.

Having a decent sized garden or some livestock on a few acres sounds like a reasonable step toward self-sufficiency. 

Growing up on 80 acres, I know that, at a minimum, the cabin-fever experienced during the lockdowns would abate with a few acres replacing the row upon row of suburban homes. Out of the city, the airs a little fresher, freedom a little wider, and personally, God a little closer. City buildings rarely inspire awe toward God, but nature sure does. I miss the sound of the wind in the trees.

Family Independence

A family, as the basic unit of society, should strive for greater independence from society in terms of survival. This idea, however, could easily devolve into family isolationism, if not properly explained. What I’m not suggesting is for everyone to build a fortress without a gate – to shut themselves off from other people entirely. Mankind, even introverts like myself, were made for community, for friendships, and for engaging with others on a frequent basis. However, families can maintain community while ensuring their interaction with larger society isn’t a lifeline on which the livelihood of the family depends.

If the internet died today, could you get from point A to point B if needed? Do you even own a map? Can you read that map?! Items and skills like these should be universally known. It could makes all the difference in survival –  or at least in avoiding some inconveniences. 

A few things that can further our independence as families include growing a small garden, keeping some livestock, homeschooling, acquiring an energy source (like solar or wind), identifying where to get good drinking water if public water becomes unavailable, and learning how to hunt, fish, fix basic things, make a fire, etc. A nice way to semi-prepare and have fun at the same time is to take a camping trip – a real one (no “glamping”!): Tents, a fire, portable water purifiers…you get the idea.

If it seems a more rural life is needed to achieve some or most of these aspects of independence, I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence. Urban life is naturally more likely to yield dependence: higher density of people using shared infrastructure. We get used to shared spaces (like public parks) and the spending time in a place that we do not own. None of that is bad in itself, but overexposure to it breeds a culture of dependence nonetheless. It’s one of the main reasons I love the country and plan to move out of an urban environment as soon as possible, mostly for sake of the formation of my kids. 

Our nation and communities will be stronger against more severe shutdowns if we all take a step back and examine our dependence on things much taken for granted.

Epiousios: The Mysterious Greek Word in the Lord’s Prayer

This post is not the same one I originally intended. Several days ago I thought a nice subject to write about would be the history of the Lord’s Prayer (also known as the “Our Father”). It does have some interesting history, as we can trace its origin directly to scripture in the books of Matthew and Luke with various translations to Latin and then to the English version I say every day. Here’s the version I’m most familiar with:

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

When going through the background research on the prayer, the sixth line bore very interesting fruit – enough to consume several hours worth of research and change the course of this post. The line causing such a digression is Give us this day our daily bread, and I have come to conclude this line contains one of the most important words in  Catholic apologetics: daily.

Our Daily Bread?

The word daily is the commonly cited translation of a mysterious Greek word epiousios – a word nowhere written down before in any Greek literature yet comprising many possible etymologies. This marks it immediately as a word deserving disproportional attention in its translation. The word’s translation to daily relies upon the interpretation of epi- as “for” and ousia as meaning something to the effect of “for the being” with an implicit context of the current day. [1] This interpretation was used in the famous King James Version, the Tyndale Bible, and a majority of English Bibles today [2]. Latin works by early Tertullian of Carthage (155-240 AD) and the Vetus Latina (or “Old Latin”) Bible translations also used this interpretation of epiousios [3]. Similar translations include “bread for today”, “bread for the day”, and other such minor variations [4],[5].Other etymologies hinge on a speculated link between known Greek word epiouse found in the book of Acts meaning “the next” and our mysterious word epiousios, with some suggesting the former is a feminized version of epiousios [6,7].

Nonetheless, the daily interpretation is by far the most commonly printed English translation despite reasonable evidence as to its inadequacy. The strongest argument against “daily” as correct is the fact that every other reference to “daily” is written as hemeran (ἡμέραν, “the day”) in the Greek texts [8-18]. It would be odd that, given a readily available and common Greek word for “daily”, the Gospel authors would choose a completely esoteric form of the word in this one instance without good reason. Lastly, a translation of epiousios to “daily” is clearly (yet incredibly easy to go unnoticed) redundant in the line Give us thisdayourdailybread. To satisfy those who may simply explain away this redundancy as merely accidental or the result of a habit of speech, consider that this word epiousios is the only non-possessive adjective in the entire prayer. Then, recall again, this word epiousios has never been found elsewhere in Greek literature. Most of us do not use obtuse language when we speak to others nor when we pray, except for some older English words such as “thy” and “art” (as we say in the Lord’s Prayer). The early Christians likely did not haphazardly include a word never once recorded before in Greek to our knowledge. Whatever word he said in Aramaic, the earliest Greek-speaking Christians must have recognized the uniqueness of the word to justify giving it a unique Greek translation.

Super Substantial Bread?

Now, we come to the part where my Catholic readers and my Protestant readers will have quite different emotions upon the remainder of this article. This is because, the most plausible translation of the the word epiousios is something that Catholics will recognize immediately as the Eucharist – the “summit and source of Christian life”, the literal body of blood of Jesus Christ.

Now, to my Protestant brothers and sisters – fear not. I am not pulling a fast one on you with the goal of a converting you to the Catholic faith; I am merely pulling apart the translation of a word that has gone under the radar far too long to the utmost scrutiny that I can muster. Again, when I set out to research the journey of the Lord’s Prayer through its various translations from its first recordings in the Gospel to today, I did not expect to find any reference to the Eucharist at all. The most plausible translation among scholars points in this direction, so that is the direction I followed. Nonetheless, I will help my Protestant brothers and sisters (for I was once among you) out of the conundrum you may find yourselves in momentarily by pointing out that the definitive understanding of the translation is still disputed. I simply encourage you to consider where you place your bets based on the evidence. Furthermore, there are a few similar yet “un-Catholicized” interpretations that you may find rest your mind on the matter, though I find they still point the compass toward Rome.

Another breakdown of the mysterious Greek word renders epi– as “super” and ousia as “substance”, which the early Christian scholar Jerome of Stridon (342- 420 AD) put together to form “super-substantial” in the Latin Vulgate, which brings to mind the Catholic belief in transubstantiation. The Catholic Church has since rendered the translation similarly as “super-essential” in Latin and regards it as the most literal possible translation of epiousios. One of the major advantages this interpretation has over the “daily” interpretation is its support by a majority of early Christian scholars, including Augustine (the famous author of Confessions – a must-read in the study of philosophy and Christianity), Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyprian of Carthage, John Cassian [19,20], and other early Church fathers [19,20,21], as well as by the Council of Trent [22]. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a summary of belief, retains this understanding of epiousios to this day. The Catechism addresses the word directly as follows [23]:

2837 “Daily” (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken in a temporal sense, this word is a pedagogical repetition of “this day,” to confirm us in trust “without reservation.” Taken in the qualitative sense, it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence. Taken literally (epi-ousios: “super-essential”), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the “medicine of immortality,” without which we have no life within us. Finally in this connection, its heavenly meaning is evident: “this day” is the Day of the Lord, the day of the feast of the kingdom, anticipated in the Eucharist that is already the foretaste of the kingdom to come. For this reason it is fitting for the Eucharistic liturgy to be celebrated each day.

Catholic Biblical scholars (and I suspect others as well) recognize that Biblical verses can have several simultaneous meanings, as reflected by the Catechism above. The word simultaneously holds temporal, qualitative, and literal meanings, the last of which is the interpretation I have presented today. Some may argue, the Catechism is here presenting a look at every possible interpretation, but again it also recognizes the word has been used nowhere else in scripture where other words suffice for the temporal and qualitative meanings. Thus to ignore the literal interpretation of the word in the Matthew’s recording of the Lord’s prayer is to ignore the intent of the specific usage of epiousios here. Note also the Eastern Orthodox churches hold the same opinion in the translation of epiousios as the Catholic Church.

However, there is further nuance to this story not as yet fleshed out. The Lord’s Prayer appears in both the books of Matthew and Luke. The Matthew version and the Luke versions of the Lord’s Prayer were slightly different, resulting in Jerome translating epiousios as “supersubstantial” in Matthew but as “daily” (quotidianum in Latin) in Luke. Much later, Martin Luther originally kept the interpretation as “supersubstantial” but retranslated it as “daily” later in life.

One of the leading experts on the early understanding of the Eucharist and its Jewish roots is Catholic theologian Brant Pitre, who writes in his book Jesus and the Last Supper (2015) concerning the understanding of epiousios I have presented here: “despite being widely held among ancient Christians, [the supersubstantial interpretation] receives virtually no support among modern exegetes … despite the fact that it is easily the most literal translation”[20]. I have felt a similar exasperation, not in any engagement with experts of the field, but the sheer ignorance I had regarding this part of the Lord’s Prayer, which I had been reciting since my youth. What bliss there is in learning when not looking for it, especially with things too familiar to be questioned. 

Further support of the “supersubstantial” interpretation, if you are not yet convinced, is found in fact that in the native tongues of Jesus (Aramaic and Hebrew), there is no word that translates into the Greek epiousios, thereby suggesting that the word was invented or first spoken by Jesus, his followers, and the earliest Christians. Typically, we do not invent words by mere accident; the word came about for a purpose, as it had to convey a meaning beyond that of merely “daily”: the tremendous importance that the Bread of Life would play in our relationship with Christ throughout the future ages.

Final Thoughts

Again, to my Protestant readers, you are not alone if you might disagree with the interpretation, as other Protestant and even some Catholic theologians have voiced. But, even if you dismiss what I’ve presented here, I hope it at least brings about an appreciation for just one of the legitimate reasons we Catholics believe in the Eucharist as the literal body and blood of Jesus in the first place: both tradition and modern scholarship offer good reasons to believe so. In fact, there are many more reasons; I would not even count the content of this essay as among the best evidence, though it is certainly an undervalued part. More evidence may be found in Biblical passages, the writings of the earliest Christians, and in its continuity with the Jewish Passover and Bread of the Presence found throughout the Old Testament.

The more I dig into the Bible, the early Christians, and all of Church history, the more I am intrigued. I have gone down a rabbit hole I do not regret, as I know that, personally, to study the faith is to love it all the more. Though my errors might well include “over-intellectualizing” my faith, I also know such curiosity is ultimately driven by the Holy Spirit; a desire to learn more of God is never a bad thing. 

So, the next time you are praying the Our Father, remember when you come to Give us this daily bread, that Jesus meant much more than simply the earthly food he gives us, but rather something “supersubstantial”.

Sources

[1] Brant Pitre (23 November 2015). Jesus and the Last Supper. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 172. ISBN 978-1-4674-4404-0.

[2] William Barclay (1 November 1998). The Lord’s Prayer. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-664-25815-3.

[3] Colin Brown (1975). The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Zondervan Publishing House. p. 251. ISBN 978-0-310-33230-5.

[4] “Matthew 6 – WNT – Bible Study Tools”.

[5] Craig A. Evans (6 February 2012). Matthew. Cambridge University Press. pp. 147–. ISBN 978-0-521-81214-6.

[6] https://biblehub.com/greek/1966.htm

[7] Meyer, Ben (2009). The Early Christians: Their World Mission & Self-Discovery. Eugene, Oregon, USA: Wipf and Stock. pp. 20–21. ISBN 1606083708.

[8] “Matthew 6:11 Interlinear: ‘Our appointed bread give us to-day”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/6-11.htm

[9] The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, 1993, The United Bible Societies, (UBS4 Greek text), page x of Introduction

[10] “Matthew 20:2 Interlinear: and having agreed with the workmen for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/20-2.htm

[11] “Luke 9:23 Interlinear: And he said unto all, ‘If any one doth will to come after me, let him disown himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me;”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/luke/9-23.htm

[12] “Acts 6:1 Interlinear: And in these days, the disciples multiplying, there came a murmuring of the Hellenists at the Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily ministration”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/6-1.htm

[13] “Acts 17:11 Interlinear: and these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, they received the word with all readiness of mind, every day examining the Writings whether those things were so;”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/17-11.htm

[14] “Acts 17:17 Interlinear: therefore, indeed, he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the worshipping persons, and in the market-place every day with those who met with him”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/17-17.htm

[15] “Acts 19:9 Interlinear: and when certain were hardened and were disbelieving, speaking evil of the way before the multitude, having departed from them, he did separate the disciples, every day reasoning in the school of a certain Tyrannus”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/19-9.htm

[16] “2 Corinthians 11:28 Interlinear: apart from the things without — the crowding upon me that is daily — the care of all the assemblies”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/2_corinthians/11-28.htm

[17] “Hebrews 3:13 Interlinear: but exhort ye one another every day, while the To-day is called, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of the sin”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/hebrews/3-13.htm

[18] “Hebrews 10:11 Interlinear: and every priest, indeed, hath stood daily serving, and the same sacrifices many times offering, that are never able to take away sins”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/hebrews/10-11.htm

[19] Nicholas Ayo (2002). The Lord’s Prayer: A Survey Theological and Literary. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 59–. ISBN 978-0-7425-1453-9.Get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Lords-Prayer-Survey-Theological-Literary/dp/0268012911/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+lord%27s+prayer%3A+a+survey+theological+and+literary&qid=1586829645&s=books&sr=1-1

[20] Brant Pitre (23 November 2015). Jesus and the Last Supper. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-1-4674-4404-0.Get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Last-Supper-Brant-Pitre/dp/0802875335

[21] Ratzinger, Joseph (2007). Jesus of Nazareth. Doubleday. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-58617-198-8.Get the book: https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Bendict-Ratzinger-Jesus-Nazareth/dp/B00RWSH18W/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=978-1-58617-198-8+isbn&qid=1586829760&s=books&sr=1-1

[22] Trent, Session 13, Chapter VIIIhttps://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct13.html” with such piety and worship as to be able frequently to receive that supersubstantial bread, and that it may be to them truly the life of the soul, and the perpetual health of their mind”

[23] 2837 in “Catechism of the Catholic Church – The seven petitions”. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p4s2a3.htm. Retrieved 7 April 2020

[24] General reading from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiousios

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