The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 17, 2017

FEATURE ARTICLES
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Crime Against the State: Why Progressives Hate Homeschooling
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. - 02/14/08

Not surprisingly—but again, unfortunately overlooked by scholars of the Progressive Era—the period was marked by numerous efforts to devise a new ethical system and a new foundation on which to ground moral behavior. The ethical culture movement, founded in 1876, sought to do exactly this: to construct a nonreligious ethic that could serve as the foundation for a better and more humane world. That sentiment persisted into the Progressive Era. In 1918, the National Institution for Moral Instructionawarded $5,000 to Oberlin College professor William J. Hutchins for his code of morality, which began with an exhortation “to be physically fit” and concluded by declaring loyalty to humanity to be the highest law. Another such proposal came from Lake Forest College’s professor Henry W. Wright, and still another from Harvard president Charles Eliot. In the Harvard Theological Quarterly Eliot proposed a nondenominational, nondogmatic “religion of the future.” In place of the personal God of old-fashioned Christianity he would substitute a “sleepless, active energy and will” that is recognized “chiefly in the wonderful energies of sound, light, and electricity.” Naturally, the religion of the future would also abandon “the official creeds and dogmas of the past.”

The rationale behind all these systems, in an eerie anticipation of modernbanalities, was that they had the potential to unite rather than to divide. That none of them survives as anything more than an interesting curiosity is perhaps a fair indication of how well they resonated with the population.

Education was a central plank of the Progressives’ plan to bring about the national community they sought. If children were to be emancipated from the stupid prejudices of their parents, educated in the values of progressivism, and lifted out of their “parallel societies,” they would have to be instructed in a government-run school staffed by people who shared the Progressive outlook. Private and/or religious education only compounded the problem that Progressive education aimed to solve. No wonder John Dewey said, with regard to the Catholic school system, “It is essential that this basic issue be seen for what it is—namely, as the encouragement of a powerful reactionary world organization in the most vital realm of democratic life, with the resulting promulgation of principles inimical to democracy.”

This had been a Progressive theme from the beginning. William T. Harris, the most prominent figure in the American educational establishment after the Civil War, and who possessed the mystical reverence for the state so characteristic of Hegelians, warned in an 1871 address to the National Educational Association: “Neither is it safe to leave the education of youth to religious zeal or private benevolence,” since “our State [will] find elements heterogeneous to it continually growing up.” We certainly can’t have that.

In my experience, the average homeschooled student is far more likely than his public-school counterpart to show good manners, to interact well with others, and to be able to hold a serious conversation with an adult. And, significantly, they are better equipped to interact with people unlike themselves (their unusual maturity and knowledge base serve them well in such situations), one of the very reasons they are typically said to need public education. (If a dignitary from a non-Western country came to town for a visit, would you expect a public-school student or a homeschooled student to be more likely to do or say something stupid and embarrassing? Does the question not answer itself?)

Someone who truly cared about the welfare of children would be delighted by homeschooling and the astonishing fruits it has borne even as it continues to receive no mainstream cultural support. But homeschooling is the ultimate repudiation of every grandiose scheme to pull children away from their families and train them in the values of social democracy. That, and not transparent claims about child welfare, is why all the usual suspects detest it, both in Germany and at home.

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