No man is an island, I mean, seriously

Homeschoolers, surprisingly, are a fractious bunch.

On your one hand, you’ve got the biblical-creation, God-hates-gays, keepers-at-home religious crew. And on your other hand, you’ve got your free-to-be-you-and-me, crunchy-granola, curriculum-is-for-the-weak nonreligious crew. And on your other other hand, you’ve got the Objectivists.

Yes. Ayn Rand, unsatisfied with having beyond-the-grave sway over the minds of thousands of underexperienced college freshmen, has extended her skeletal libertarian fingers to clutch at the throats of homeschooling families everywhere. And the results are just as logically unsatisfying as they would be if extended to any other facet of civilized society. ("Irrational exuberance," anyone?)

Here, via Ute*, is a snippet from Rational Jenn’s blog, which is in turn a snippet from something else:

In Case You Haven’t Seen This Yet

This op-ed, entitled “Your Child Is Not State Property,” by Thomas
Bowden of the Ayn Rand Institute is particularly awesome. It concerns
the recent homeschooling hoopla in California, but of course speaks to
deeper issues. Some of my favorite parts (emphasis added):

“Allowing”? By what right does government presume to “allow” (or, in
this case, forbid) you to make your own standards concerning your
child’s education?

Government has no such right. Neither the state nor “society as a
whole” has any interests of its own in your child’s education. A
society is only a group of individuals, and the government’s only
legitimate function is to protect the individual rights of its
citizens, including yours and your children’s, against physical force
and fraud. The state is your agent, not a separate entity with
interests that can override your rights.

Now, first of all, let me say that I agree completely that a child is not the state’s property. However, I don’t think a child is his or her parents’ property either. A child is primarily the parents’ responsibility, and parents have primary interest in their children’s welfare; but children are also partially the state’s responsibility, and states have interest in children’s welfare as well.

And I also believe that a child’s own individual rights trump a parent’s rights to do whatever s/he wishes with that child. A child’s rights to be fed, housed, educated and provided with medical care outweigh a parent’s rights to force that child to undereat, sleep under a bridge, be ignorant or die of criminal medical neglect.

Homeschooling, obv., gets major points in our family. Hanging out with the little guys talking about subatomic particles or permutations or why calico cats are alwas female or Calvin and Hobbes seems to be, so far, doing a pretty good job of inculcating them with the stuff they’re going to need to know through life. (Most importantly: how to figure out what you’re interested in and how to go about learning more about it.) We’re doing quite well without the state leaning over our shoulder, thankyouverymuch.

But I have to say that just because parents exercise their right to educate their children themselves doesn’t mean that the state abdicates any interest in that child. The child is still a citizen, even if he or she isn’t old enough to vote, and the state necessarily takes interest in the welfare of its citizens. If we expect the state to butt out completely with regard to homeschoolers, we should also expect it to butt out when mentally disabled women are left to sit on toilets for months or years or when polygamist cults force thirteen-year-old girls to bear the children of fifty-year-old men. ‘Cause, y’know, there’s no "physical force or fraud" involved.

And that’s why, even though one of our major reasons for homeschooling is to avoid the test-oriented, multiple-choice environment of public schools, I have no problem with my kids being required to take a biannual standardized test. And I have no problem with the idea that, should they fall below the 15th percentile on those tests for two years in a row, they would be required to be enrolled in a classroom school. Because that would be proof positive that I was not doing my job as an educator, and my children’s right to be educated supersedes my right to (not) educate them as I see fit. I would rather see a more holistic means of evaluation used, such as a portfolio of work (yeah!), but I think the need for a baseline standard means that some measure of a child’s learning, no matter how flawed, needs to be used.

OK, that’s the homeschooling part. Now for the Objectivist part:

Objectivism, like pretty much any libertarian philosophy, strikes me as both unworkable and smug.

Unworkable, because a system built on the idea of people behaving as 100% rational and self-sufficient actors 100% of the time breaks down as soon as you encounter any real-world obstacles… you know, those inconvenient sticky spots such as mental illness, physical disability, inequality of opportunity, racial/religious/sexual/heterosexist discrimination, economic vagary, divorce or separation, childbearing, the list goes on.

Smug, because libertarians often strike me as more convinced than just about any other group that they are smarter and rational-er than anybody else in the whole wide world. Because they’re doing so well standing on their own two feet, y’know, and the stupid freakin’ government with its stupid freakin’ rules is just getting in their way and bringing them down, man. If it weren’t for all those ding-dong welfare-queen tax-slurping bleeding-heart Üntermenschen, they would be living fat and happy in their little rationalist encampments, puffing on tax-free joints and stroking the barrels of their unregulated assault rifles.

And, after running away from my main point as hard and fast as I could, I’ll finish up by shambling groggily back in its general direction:

Society is made up of individuals, but it also transcends the individual. A society does not collapse because one member leaves or dies, whether that society is a government, a college or a homeschooling support group. And part of society’s responsibility is to protect the rights of every member from the uncontrolled excess of the individual. Whether that takes the form of "infringing the rights" of a corporation by not allowing it to dump chemicals into a river that runs past a group of houses, or "infringing the rights" of a mother by requiring her to give her daughter a basic education in math and science so that she has other career paths than "helpmeet" available to her… that means society is doing its job. It is protecting entities with less formal power from those with greater formal power. It is ensuring liberty and justice for all.

* I am hoping, hoping Ute will still be my friend. I’m hoping, hoping that since I went all rantificational at a quote cited on her blog, rather than anything she wrote herself, that she’ll still hang out with me and swill red wine and complain about creeping Christofascism. Whaddaya say, Ute?

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About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
This entry was posted in Homeschool, Pointless Rants, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to No man is an island, I mean, seriously

  1. Ute says:

    Well, wow!! 🙂 You’re making some great points, and once again I can’t help thinking that you are one very smart cookie.
    I do completely agree with you by the way. I don’t see my children as my property at all. I love them, I’m responsible for them, but no, they’re not my property.
    Just one thing. You say you don’t mind your child going back to public school if failing the test two years in a row. Okay, fair “punishment”… I guess. But what about the child, that is public schooled and fails two years in a row. What are they going to do about them? Send them to be homeschooled? I mean, besides repeating the same grade over and over (which won’t happen of course)… why can we be punished, and they can’t?
    Having said that, both my kids will be registered. We have no plans of flying below the radar. I’m not too worried about the 15th percentile. Celine and I sat down with a test prep book, and it was so ridiculously easy, that she laughed, and said she’s looking forward to the test (which is of course still two years away).
    Thanks for posting this. Looking forward to sipping wine again. Which makes me wonder… when’s that Margarita party??? I should ask.

  2. Helena says:

    Sounds good to me!
    You can learn lots of cool stuff from Calvin and Hobbes.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    This post clarifies some thoughts that I’ve had swirling around in my head over the whole California thing…and how much of a responsibility that the state has to our children and how much we’re responsible for keeping our kids in line with what the state expects of them. And I think I agree with most of your points. I do disagree with your ideas about testing. I do have a problem with testing, especially on the younger side. We have “flown below the radar” on that one, while being registered.
    But our society does have a legitimate interest in making sure it’s children are safe and well cared-for. I have no problem with there being checks and balances on that for homeschooling or any other issue connected with the raising of our children. As long as the checks are fair to all choices.

  4. Jac says:

    YOU GO!
    Even in rant mode, you’ve nailed what’s wrong with libertarianism in some rhetorically-outstanding prose.
    No wonder my godsons are so smart (and funny).

  5. Lori V. says:

    You make me prouder every day to call you my friend. This was a fantastic post.
    Now go write something about chiggers for me… 😉

  6. My favorite post yet, I think.
    If I thought I could homeschool/unschool without incredible disaster, I would seriously consider it.
    As it is, I’m going to visit a honest-to-goodness-through-eighth -grade Montessori next week, the kind with a four acre campus and an organic garden. Yes, it will mean a 30 minute drive every day, but I’m already doing 15 to a school our district is closing next year.
    If I see my eight year old with another scantron I may shoot up the school district.

  7. mariagwyn says:

    So, I have nothing to say about homeschooling since I have no kids, though I have been rather intrigued by the debate in CA. However, I had the pleasure of catching the last half of “The Passion of Ayn Rand” on TV the other day, a movie I have seen before. Aside from the very accurate assessment that Libertarianism is “Unworkable, because a system built on the idea of people behaving as 100% rational and self-sufficient actors 100% of the time breaks down as soon as you encounter any real-world obstacles,” the movie highlights another lacuna in Objectivism: the dismissal of love, compassion and human dependence.
    I must admit that as an inexperienced high school junior, I LOVED The Fountainhead, until my discomfort with Rand’s treatment of the roly-poly social worker blossomed into full blown horror: she was constructing a world where compassion and love were not just weaknesses to dismiss, but which were signs of human depravity and evil which should be eradicated in the name of the autonomous, self-made individual. Who, as far as I am concerned, is an ideal construction of a very male-oriented Enlightenment (based on some not-so-helpful Greek thought).
    There is no such person, there never will be such a person. We are shaped by and through our communities, and we are dependent on the relationships and structures which shape our lives, for better or worse. Laws are meant to curb the “worse” part, lest we descend into some sort of Hobbesian nightmare. We can’t legislate the “best,” though I certainly think that we can do our best to construct a society that encourages us in that direction.
    Which is what made the movie so interesting: It is Ayn Rand’s passion for her much married younger protégé that in the end alienates her from her own husband, her lover, and some of her students. Of course, the movie is based on the book by the wife of said lover, so it is a bit biased. But her expectation that passion and love could be reasonably controlled and agreed upon by all involved was undermined by her own inability to deal with her lover’s betrayal. According to the movie (yes, biased), her obsession with rationally controlling passion devastated the lives of those around her. Peter Fonda makes a very good crushed husband.
    All this is to affirm that Molly is right on, no one is an island unto themselves.

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