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Critical Thinking on Education

05/04/2018 | Comments

In light of the teacher protests across the country, this seems a good time to examine three common precepts that underly conversations on education: public education is required for liberty and our republic; more money for education yields greater results; educators need to be specially trained. These are each demonstrably false.

Teaching is a noble calling — one every parent has, for parents are called to be their children’s primary educators. This is natural law and core Catholic teaching. Parents are the primary educators of their children. No matter who else educates them. Not just until they go off to school. Always.

Teaching is so noble a profession we are emotionally inclined to give teachers a lot of leeway when they seek greater power and funding. Yet recent efforts across our nation also are a good impetus to look more closely at the education we give our children.

First premise: public education is required for a free society, our republic, to function. False. This is simply an exercise in critical thinking (which isn’t taught very often in public schools for a few generations now): the freedom of a republic depends on the general population receiving a quality education, in part so they can think critically when choosing who leads them. If we want to slowly undermine our freedom and our republic, put the education of the people who will choose our leaders into the hands of our leaders. See the problem? It’s all around us. Feedback loop. More evidence? Not a single person who founded our republic received a public education.

Second premise: spend more, get more. False. States on the low end of funding spend around $10,000 per year per student. By way of comparison, homeschool families spend an average of $500 per student. What does that additional $9,500 buy? Lower test scores. Homeschool students score in the 87th percentile (87% of all students score lower than homeschooled students), significantly higher than public schools. Where are public schools? At or near the 50th percentile.

Third premise: educators need to be qualified. Again, false. Again, homeschool provides a great means of testing this out. What benefit do homeschooled children receive from one or both parents being certified teachers compared with children whose parents are uncertified? One percent better test scores. Within the margin of error, so statistically, no benefit whatsoever.

Protesting teachers are right: something is very, very wrong with our education system, but it is neither funding, nor qualifications. Can we begin a conversation about what education ought to look like? I suggest we begin by looking at homeschooling. After all, homeschool is producing the results we want.

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