Monday, January 17, 2005

School Killings and the Great Tragedy...

How's that for an uplifting title?

Sometimes a person will say something that just sticks with you, almost haunts you on a daily basis for the rest of your life. That seems to happen to me quite a bit.

Shortly after the Columbine High School shooting tragedy of 1999, I was talking the incident over with my dad. I, as most of the nation, was horrified by the event. I was imagining the helplessness and trauma of being a parent whose child was held captive those long hours - the terrible uncertainty of not knowing whether your child was alive or dead - the utter inability to do anything other than wait and pray. I railed against this violence and lamented these deaths as insensible and almost unbelievable tragedy. My dad agreed with me, and then he said something that shocked me and left me forever a little changed.

"An even greater tragedy than these kinds of school killings," my dad slowly said, "Is the murdering of children's natural love of and instinct toward learning that occurs every day in our public schools."

Holy cow.

Not a day goes by that those words do not echo in my mind. Certainly, for the parents who lost their children that horrible day, the murder of their bodies is more significant than the mass-murdering of children's minds that passes for public education in our country; however, as a national tragedy, the latter holds more significance. Public education is not geared toward fostering a life-long love of learning in our children, but more, I do believe, toward indoctrinating them. Great teachers manage to fly under the radar and offer amazing educational experiences to students, but they are a more endangered species than the annoying little spotted owls that interfere so greatly with property rights in the great PNW.

If the public schools only taught to a degree of competency the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic to our children, they would not fall under my censure. Surely, the young adults graduated from our high schools would then be able to face their futures with some level of confidence. Oh wait! They already do! Instead of teaching basic skills our schools excel in teaching self-esteem, so, even if Johnny can't write a coherent sentence, he sure feels good about himself.

I'm not writing here about anything new or revelatory. These issues have been discussed and pondered with greater scholarship and skill than I can ever hope to achieve by such incredible writers as Thomas Sowell, Martin L. Gross, and John Taylor Gatto. What, to me, is a little new and different is the perspective of my father. The idea that the failure of the public education is not merely something to be ruefully discussed or criticized or poked fun at, but is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions.

From that moment on, my dad's unexpected observation caused my resolve to homeschool my children to become as much a moral commitment as it had previously been an ideological commitment.

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