Thursday, February 28, 2013

CSCOPE, Homeschooling, and Appropriate Regulation

I came across a very troubling article the other day, about a curriculum called CSCOPE that is being taught in many public schools in Texas, my home state. The article alleges some shocking content/lessons, everything from an open-ended discussion of hijab, which suggests that the hijab is “freeing because it prevents others from making them into sexual objects,”or that “women need to be obscured so as not to arouse male desire” (what? don't get me started- as if a burqa prevented objectification! What the heck are they thinking?) to calling 9-11 hijackers freedom fighters instead of terrorists, to calling Christianity a cult while simultaneously glorifying Islam and neglecting to mention  the many human rights violations common in Islamic countries or in Sharia law, to calling the Boston Tea Party an act of terrorism. The curriculum also allegedly glorifies communism/socialism without also discussing their negative aspects or any negative results of their implementation in societies so far, and allegedly paints Paul Revere as being involved in illegal drug trafficking (?!?!?) and Christopher Columbus as an eco-warrior. (now that one's just funny.) The most troubling allegation, however, is that the curriculum is not available for public (even parental) perusal and that teachers have to sign non-disclosure agreements about its content. (??!?!?!?!) I'm not familiar enough with the source of this article to give it credence on its own, so I did some digging. I cannot confirm the content, because the curriculum is in fact under wraps- not even parents can get copies of it, and the course descriptions are ridiculously vague on the curriculum's website. What the what? Since when is it ok to teach things in school to children that you refuse to allow their parents to peruse? Since when is it ok to restrict public access to publicly funded, public school curricula? This is wrong on so many levels. Such hubris, and such disregard for the transparency that is crucial to a free state! I think I might have a chat with my congressperson about that.

This brings me to another question-  What part should the state play in regulating education? Who should have the final say in what children learn?

I do not believe in a total lack of regulation, though I do believe regulation should be on a state and local level, as opposed to federal. I was homeschooled myself, and Husband and I are homeschooling our own children. I am very much in favor of homeschooling, as, in my experience, it gives students the ability to go at their own pace and tailor the elective aspects of their studies to their own interests. It's also flexible, allows for family time and can be a good alternative to school situations that involve bullying or harassment or negative peer pressure. It also gives parents the freedom to direct their children's education according to their religious and moral beliefs. In my own experience, though there were a few gaps, homeschooling served me well. Neither my siblings nor I have had much trouble with college, and my parents did a great job of combining their own teaching with co-ops and extracurriculars to give us the best education they could. My own children do well with homeschooling; my older boys both learned to read at 4 and love to learn, especially if it involves 1.Space/Astronomy/Cool Spaceships, 2. Marine Biology/Really Cool Fish And/Or Whales, 3. Trains, especially steam engines, and 4. Dinosaurs. :) It concerns me, though, that not all homeschooling experiences are so positive. I have seen examples of families who claimed to homeschool, but whose children entered high school illiterate (or worse, graduated without being able to read- thankfully, I believe that extreme is uncommon, but I've seen it myself and it breaks my heart. ) or could not get a job above minimum wage upon graduation because they lacked basic reading, writing, or math skills. I see a spectrum of homeschooling, with the "horror stories" or illiterate, isolated children at one end and the high-performing, well-educated, socially adept children at the other. I am, therefore, passionately in favor of some state/local regulation of all education, including homeschooling. While I think education is the primary responsibility of parents, I also think that if a parent has it in their power to give their child a basic education and chooses instead to withhold it, they are in effect crippling their child's future and abusing their child. 
If the state exists to protect freedom and liberty and the punish the infringement of the same, (I believe it does) then the we as the voting, office-holding people of the state have a responsibility to protect the rights of the defenseless, including children- to say nothing of our moral or christian duties towards those who cannot protect themselves. Our responsibility does not only extend to protection from parents who lie and refuse their children an education, however- it also extends to protection from inaccurate, idea-indoctrinating curriculum taught in our schools. Should schools teach that all muslims are terrorists or that God intended men to be the heads of their homes? No, of course not. Schools should teach facts, not ideas, and basic skills, not systems of belief. Schools and school boards also should not have the authority to teach curriculum that is not avaiable for public or parental review, any more than they should control what ideas parents teach their children or any more than parents should withhold a basic education. 

In my opinion, appropriate regulation for public schools must include transparency and the opportunity for public review. As long as the basic facts of science and history (including the history of our justice system and a basic working knowledge of it) and good reading, writing, logic, and math skills are taught, states and communities should be able to vote curricula in or out. Students and parents should never be vilified for having a difference of opinion with the state curriculum, ans students and parents should be able to opt out of any social studies/projects that they find personally offensive or religiously problematic, so long as it would not compromise the student's ability to pass the same basic skills testing that would be required for a homeschooled student.

In my opinion, appropriate regulation for homeschooling would be very basic, and keep in mind the parents' rights to teach their children according to their own idealogical framework. I would be in favor of periodic mandatory testing in math and language skills for younger grades, with basic science and history facts/dates added in for high school. Not knowing when Texas became a state might someday be a disadvantage to a child, but it certainly won't cripple them. Nor will not memorizing the periodic table or not knowing what the laws of thermodynamics are, though we'd hope those things would always be taught. Not knowing basic algebra or not being able to read well  or not being able to put a cogent sentence on paper could very well cripple a child's educational or vocational future. 

Thus, in my opinion, the role of the state in education should be to work towards every child receiving basic instruction in math and language skills and a knowledge of basic science and history facts including how our justice system works and how our country came to be, and to implement public school curriculum that is approved by the state, the community, and the parents. The state works for the parents and students, not the reverse. It is better, in my view, to have students who have the basics and know how to learn the specifics of a particular discipline for themselves than to have students who drink in everything they are taught, and parrot the worldview in which they have been saturated. 

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