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To Be or to Do Are the Democrats Crazy?

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Another Vote for Homeschooling

by Christopher Chantrill
May 22, 2004 at 8:00 pm


IN FRIDAY’S Wall Street Journal, Diana West announced that she had removed her twin daughters from school and was now educating them at home: home-schooling them, as we now like to say.  It seemed to her that there was no way on “God’s green earth that [she] could possibly teach [her] girls less than they learned in that school.”  She was referring to the elementary school her children attended in Montgomery County, Maryland in fourth grade.

Of course, on top of learning nothing in school her children were also subjected to a farrago of PC-centric narrative: Columbus viewed from the bushes by a Hispaniolan girl, Thanksgiving celebrated as a diversity of cultures, and a poetry project that turned the classroom into a Greenwich village coffee-house with everyone dressed in artistical black.  As the postmodernists have taught us, all such narrative is about power, and clearly the power interest at the Montgomery County schools does not privilege the middle-class culture of rules, roles, purpose, and discipline.

But won’t these two little girls lack socialization skills if they are educated at home?  Thank you, senator; I’m glad you asked me that.

In his magisterial Blank Slate, Harvard professor Steven Pinker addresses exactly this issue.  What is it that molds children?  Is it nature or nurture?  Is it heredity or is it parental influence.  Is it schooling or is it peer pressure?  As usual, the answer is startling and, in retrospect obvious.  The most important measurable influence is the genes.  The next most important influence would be parenting, right?  Wrong.  The research shows that parenting has almost no effect. 

So what does make a difference?  You guessed it: Peer pressure.  “In almost every case, [children] model themselves after their peers, not their parents.”  When we talk about the importance of a child’s “environment,” we think about “parents.”  But in fact, the important environment is the one the child experiences in the company of other children.

British psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple testified to this in a chilling piece in the Summer 2000 City Journal.  Back in the bad old days, when poor children went to school barefoot, his father was plucked from poverty and the slum by the public education system.  “Having been found intelligent by his teachers, he was taught Latin, French, German, mathematics, science, English literature, and history, as if he were fully capable of entry into the stream of higher civilization.”  In today’s progressive era, this opportunity is no longer available to the intelligent slum child.  “Today’s teachers assume that the slum child is fully equipped culturally by the environment in which he lives... There is no reason, therefore, to induct him into anything” or to bother to teach him anything.   As one 15-year-old attempted suicide told Dalrymple:  “They say I’m stupid... because I’m clever.” 

Another teenager, who developed an interest in French literature, was “mocked, teased, threatened, and humiliated... Excrement was put through her mailbox at home.”  Despite everything she went to college and then returned to the old neighborhood to teach French—until one of her students tried to rape her.

You can see where all this is leading.  If the decisive influence on a child—apart from genetic inheritance—is not parenting but socialization, at the playground, in school, and at the soccer game, then the one important thing a parent can do is to set their child down next to the right peer group, so their child will be socialized by children that are intelligent, curious, inquiring, and big hearted, rather than mean, ignorant, and wearing baggy pants down to their ankles.  The one thing for a parent to avoid would be a neighborhood where a kid could easily get mixed up with the wrong crowd.  The one objective for liberal do-gooders would be to make sure that underprivileged children that showed an inkling of intelligence would be streamed into schools that diverted them from the cycle of violence in the streets.

It’s not that hard to do.  It takes about six weeks in newly opened inner-city prep academies to turn little monsters into docile, well-behaved students, and thereby create a peer environment that values learning and the middle-class virtues of rule-following and good manners.

Diana West believes, like 49 percent of home-school parents, that her daughters can get a better education at home.  But what does such a general statement mean? 

The truth is that public education has always been trying to mess up our kids’ education.  The noble Horace Mann, founder of public education in the United States, was a cat’s-paw of Harvard Unitarians who wanted to cure Puritan children of their Calvinism, of Protestants who wanted to cure the Irish of their Catholicism, and of socialists who wanted to cure children of their individualism.

Today, it’s postmodernists that want to cure children of their Americanism.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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