Letter to the Editor of Liberty magazine defending homeschooling

March 29, 2000

John Cobin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2000 by John Cobin

Liberty has published one of the most amazing — even preposterous — and cowardly (because anonymous) swipe at homeschoolers.

Pages 31-32 of the article, "Is It True What They Say About Hillsdale" in the February 2000 issue of Liberty say:

"This points to another problem Hillsdale faces: its student body. Hillsdale may manipulate the students' lives, but many of the students like it that way. An active recruiter of home-schoolers, Hillsdale attracts the sort of students who have led intellectually cloistered lives, being taught comfortable traditions rather than challenging ideas. Many of these students arrive believing, for instance, that Genesis is the literal truth, and that evolution is a hoax. Roche himself wrote an entire chapter in his book A World Without Heroes attacking Darwin's theory of evolution."

"...tradition, dogma, authoritarianism, are central to Hillsdale College. And the students who are willing to accept that are intellectually, much like medieval peasants. And this is why so many Hillsdale professors praise the Middle Ages, as a time when people "knew their place." Hillsdale education stops before the nineteenth century begins — read Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Adam Smith — but no Foucalt, no Derrida, and no Darwin."

I think that I have hardly read anything so uninformed and outright inane. Even though I read a lot of things about homeschooling from various political views, including the hard left at times, I scarcely find such bald and baseless insinuations or attacks. Of course their are exceptions, but homeschoolers are widely recognized for having exceptional academic achievement and ability.

My wife and I have homeschooled our children for over eight years with considerable success. None of them has ever attended a public or private school. Yet they are all socially adroit, enjoy neighborhood sports, skiing, swimming, chess (where they compete in tournaments regularly), and are computer competent for their ages. I would invite everyone to have a look at the web page the three older kids put together (be sure to sign their guest book when you do). Our kids also excel academically, and are perfectly bilingual (English and Spanish) and are learning French to boot. Our two oldest boys read for pleasure for 2 or 3 hour a day (note: we do not have a television). The kids do receive strong "tradition" in their education but they are not isolated from opposing or a liberal dose of different views. Of course, I must admit that my children are ages 3 to 11 and the oldest is only in 9th grade. Thus, there is not as much discussion of conflicting premises as there will be later. The younger ones especially do not find much need to discuss different theories of cursive writing or whether 3 + 3 is really 6, and we do not encourage such debate. You will note, however, that my boys have a link to Darwin's Origin of the Species by Natural Selection on their homeschool page (and it has been there for months).

I know some homeschooling families who are less successful than ours, but I see a general tendency towards betterment and success in all of them. One young lady we know well has been a straight A student at a secular Texas college for two years and has received a full scholarship. She was homeschooled by Genesis-believing, Baptist parents with little more than high school diplomas.

Moreover, not believing Darwin hardly makes one cloistered intellectually. After all, many academics and scientists — some of whom do not accept Genesis as "literal truth" — also reject Darwin. Think of Berkeley's Paul Johnson or Lehigh's Michael Behe to name just two of the more prominent ones. Roche (despite his sins) is neither singular nor academically loony on account of his views on Darwin. So far as I know, no one has refuted biochemist Behe's claim that "irreducible complexity" makes in impossible for a darwinian scheme to explain the development of the eye or certain specialized cells.

Maybe Darwin is not read as much anymore because he is simply not believable anymore, just like so many other forgotten giants of the past. No one in my family devours Pelagius, Anslem, Newton, or Semmelweiss nearly as much as people once did. Does that mean we are akin to "intellectually cloistered" and unchallenged "peasants"?

By the way, in spite of being in universities for nearly 10 years and having 5 earned degrees — and I didn't go to Hillsdale — I have no idea who Foucalt and Dirrida are. Should I care? I did have the misfortune of attending public schools. Perhaps I missed Foucalt and Dirrida there, whereas I would have got them if I were homeschooled or at a private (even cloistered) school.

If the writer of this piece really wants to blame a primary and secondary system of education for producing "intellectually cloistered lives, being taught comfortable traditions rather than challenging ideas", and for causing pupils to miss out on intellectual greats like Foucalt and Dirrida, perhaps he should find another whipping boy besides homeschooling.

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