The New York Times had an article that piqued my interest this week: it was an article about a graduation ceremony for home schooled students held at the Miami Zoo. It was written in part to mark the increase in students who are being home schooled by their parents, a trend that has grown significantly. It also pondered the meaning of a celebration for students who only meet for the first time at the graduation rehearsal. They quoted one parent as wanting for her daughter "what she experienced at her high school graduation." What exactly was that?
When I graduated, I graduated with a group of people I knew. Not well, mind you, as I transferred to Williamsport, Pennsylvania from a high school in the western suburbs of Chicago in November of my junior year. It was still enough time to bond over chemistry, choir performances and SAT scores. When we left high school, we did it with a shared understanding of our community, of our future and of who we were as citizens of a country. That was in 1969.
A lot of things have changed since then. I am writing this on my laptop on my lap on Highway 15, returning from a weekend in Santa Monica, California. When I graduated from high school I bought an old Royal typewriter, since I liked the heft and the amount of pressure it took to type, as I had learned to type on an old manual typewriter in typing class. No electric typewriter for me. Technology, the internet, and new communications media like this website have changed how we live and experience the world. The opportunities to make a good living without a college education were abundant then. Not so anymore.
A few things we shared also were the belief that we would get social security when we retired, and that medical care would be available and at least affordable. Social Security and Medicaid were social safety net programs that were premised on the notion that everyone participated and everyone shared the risk. It made it possible for me to spend a life time doing things that I considered worthwhile, if not very lucrative: teaching elementary school and serving as a Lutheran minister.
To me, homeschooling seems to reflect a "me first" kind of mentality. It's also a reason I look at homeschooling with at least distrust, if not outright hostility. Why do parents choose to remove their children from public school? I know that the reason is sometimes religious and sometimes because their child suffers bullying. All too often they seem to be people with an incredible sense of entitlement, the belief that they know better what a good education looks like. Back in Pennsylvania, you are not required to have a college degree to homeschool your children. It becomes a case of "the ignorant teaching the ignorant." In some states all you are required is that you use an "approved curriculum" which you can access online or buy through an organization.
I have no doubt that in many places public education has failed some children. But that's not a reason to abandon public education. It's a reason to invest time and energy into seeing that public education works. After all, those young people will be paying your social security, if there is still social security.
It is especially true for special education. When PL49-142 (The Education for All Children Act) was passed in 1975, it established the right of students in need of special education services access to a "Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)" It's expensive. But no less expensive than the services they will need if we make no effort provide them with the skills they need to find employment and make a contribution to society. Every child I move from dependence to some form of independence as a young person with autism creates significant savings for society, unless of course we decide to "terminate" or "eliminate" "defectives" as did Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.
What kind of graduation address would you give to children who were homeschooled? "Go for it, since you are so much better than everyone else that you deserve it?" Certainly not "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Personally, I think we need to stop asking "What about me?" and start asking "What about us?"