On who educates children, part 1

I’m currently studying for my teaching credential.  I want to teach middle schoolers history.  This has meant that I’ve had to take quite a few education classes- classes to teach me to be a teacher.  The quality of these has been very mixed, from those that inspired me to those that made me wonder how the professor got to teach anyone, let alone why anyone thought they should have anything to do with teaching others to teach.

Among the classes I’ve enjoyed the most are those that have asked me to think about my philosophy of education. I think this is an immensely good thing for anyone to do about their chosen profession.  It is good to be intentional about what you spend a good chunk of your life doing.  (Hmm, I wonder if I should be more intentional about sleeping…)

In my thinking about teaching, I haven’t been alone.  I have a good friend from my undergrad days who has taken an interest in my decision to teach in public schools.  He cares enough about me, my opinion and, I think, in my correctness, that he’s talked with me at length about what I think on the topic, and even given me a book to read which challenged my thinking.  I take this as a great complement and sign of friendship to me.  All this to say, I’ve given my philosophy of education some thought and Indy, if you ever read this, thank you.

I’ve come to just a few conclusions in my thinking about education.  Characteristically, they seem to be outside the norm.  I want to share about what I think is my most important conclusion so far.

This conclusion has, I think, wide-ranging consequences to any philosophy of education and it has to do with the question of who educates children.

Whose responsibility is it, anyway, to educate children?

Some would say that the state bears the responsibility to educate children.  This seems to be the mindset I find most common among people around me.  The state, after all, both funds and regulates the vast majority of education in this country.  We are told that a “free” education is provided to all by the state.  (For the purposes of this post, we’ll bypass the obvious point that nothing that a tax-collecting government provides or does for us is free.)  From the DC to State capitols to the local school board even to the administration of individual public schools, almost every level of government in this country is dictating what children are taught, and provides the funds for it.  It seems that the state agrees that it has the responsibility to educate the children of this country.  This seems to be the general opinion of those around me as well, whether they define “state” as authoritarian-ly as those who are elected or as democratically as the community at large. (I admit that my sampling may be a bit biased here, as I’m surrounded by those who want to enter public schools.)

I disagree.  One of my concerns about government is that it tends to expand and take control of areas of life which it has no right to control.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from Libertarians, it’s that government is not the only tool to organize or reorganize society.  I think a lot of people forget that, and, well, when all you have is a hammer, I hear that everything starts to look like a nail.  In other words, when the only tool you know of to solve problems or supply needs in a society is government, everything starts to look like something government should get involved in.  I think education is one of those things.  The burden of proof, I believe, is upon the state to demonstrate that it has the responsibility to become involved in education, let alone that it has the responsibility to educate children.

Who, then, should educate children?  In my opinion, parents should educate children.  Put more exactly, parents bear the responsibility of their children’s education.  That doesn’t mean that no one but a parent should teach a child.  It means that parents should have an active, intentional “program of education” for their children.  This program might (and probably should, so far as the quality of the education goes) include others teaching children.  For many, in a society where many families have no choice but to have every parent in the household working, there is no other choice but to have “non-parents” perform much of their children’s education.  (The ways that our oppressive capitalist economic system bars many from being able to “afford morality” is, again, not the topic of this post.)  This usually means paying teachers to teach children (either through taxes or tuition).

Why should parents bear the responsibility to educate their children?  With a three reasons, I will end this, the first part of this post:

1. It is self-evident.

It seems self-evident to me that those who bring children into the world, whom God has given children as gifts to be stewarded, should bear the responsibility of educating their children, for, after all, education is the preparation of the student for life, and what is parenting if not the preparation of children for life?

2. It is the most effective way to educate.

Ask any educator and they will tell you how important personalized attention and tailored instruction are to maximal education. No teacher, in my experience, believes that he or she, all things being equal, could not educate 10 students better than 35. Parents of children make this kind of personalization of education possible.  No professional teacher will know a student in the same way that a loving and involved parent will, though a professional teacher can certainly have deep, important friendships with students.

3. It’s what happens, realistically, whether that’s the intention or not.

This is one some might take issue with.  I’ve heard the argument that parents should take their kids out of public schools and homeschool them because their children were being more influenced by their teachers and fellow students than by their parents.  I disagree.  I think that the children were learning all sorts of important things from their parents.  They were learning about their relationship to the state.  They were learning about how much their parents cared about them and wanted to be involved in their lives. (If their parents were intentionally, intimately involved in the lives of their children, using public education as a facet of their “program of education” for their children, rather than as a way to attempt to shift the job of educating onto the state, I doubt that the would have found their children more influenced by their peers or, especially, their teachers.)  My point is that children instinctively and naturally learn from their parents, and they learn by watching what parents do, not by listening to what they say.  Parents, whether they want to or not, have a deeper impact than on their children than anybody else while they are growing up, and, some would even argue, throughout the rest of their lives.

Tune in next time for a fourth reason and the implications I see that this philosophy of education has.

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