Though not always true, there's a rather reliable old saying: "If you want it done right, do it yourself." More and more, as government schools' cost- performance ratio goes ballistic, that's profoundly true of education.
I had the pleasure recently of sharing the guest-spot, on Bob Fahrner's Wednesday evening radio talk show on WNTK Hanover, with Mrs Margaret Drye. She is a practising home-schooler who has educated three of her children that way. I did not know before meeting her how simple and inexpensive it is.
Perhaps many share my former view that one has to be either well-trained as a teacher, or well-heeled, or both, in order to school one's own kids. Not so.
New Hampshire, Mrs Drye explained on the air, is one of the easiest States in which to do so: in her words, "anyone can do it, starting tonight." "Anyone" is true, because home-schoolers depend heavily upon course material prepared by a wide variety of publishers - there's a fast growing market in such aids, to meet the demands of any and all parents who are dissatisfied with the government school near-monopoly. You need NO qualifications.
The materials come in the form of books, videotapes and/or interactive computer courses, and I have little doubt that the latter is where we shall see an explosive growth in the next 5 to 10 years, now that PCs can manipulate graphic data from huge CD-ROM libraries, as well as text and numbers.
This is a delightful example of how a combination of market forces and new technology will work to undo the appalling damage done by government. Its school monopoly is dead (as a viable educational force) as we have seen before in this column; but, bolstered by the sectional interests of teachers, administrators and their Unions, it will not quickly lie down. But this burgeoning industry, fortunately operating largely outside government controls, is now providing the solution that parents need - bypassing the monopoly.
As in all other free, competitive markets these materials come at remarkably low prices. Mrs Drye told us that with careful shopping they need cost no more than a few hundred dollars a year, plus a one-time PC purchase if the interactive approach is preferred. A budget of $1,000 per year per child would therefore be generous, and that compares with the N.H. average of $5,000 per year per student in its monopoly. Five times less expensive!!
Of course, that $1,000 is extra to the tax dollars confiscated whether we use the government schools or not. A fine reason to vote to repeal its monopoly.
We may expect a reaction - an attempt by those special interests to slow down the progress, to hang on to their hard-won share of the loot. Their lobbying may be for regulations to be placed on the materials, or for new government tests to be imposed that can only be passed by students enrolled at a traditional school, or perhaps a special tax to be levied on the materials, to be passed along to NEA members in some form. And they are already demanding that nobody be allowed to educate his or her own child until government has "certified" them fit to do so. Their arrogance knows no bounds!
Home schoolers, like all others jealous of personal liberty, must be vigilant against such lobbying and expose it, when seen, to public scrutiny. Government has miserably failed to provide high-quality, inexpensive education, most especially to the poor. It must NOT be allowed to meddle with this alternative.
The parent's choice of style of course materials is wide, and likely to get much wider; and that wide choice nicely complements the differing priorities that people have. Some prefer a religious bias in what is taught, springing from their view that everything that can be learned was put there by a creator and can be properly understood only in that context. Others believe that truly scholarly pursuits can only be followed without depending on a superstitious belief in an unprovable, supernatural entity. And so on; as the market develops, we shall see offerings to satisfy every taste and preference.
Today, such variety is impossible. Whoever wins the election to the School Board, takes all. No school can be BOTH theist and atheist, BOTH disciplined and laid-back. The winner wins and the loser loses, and that's one more source of conflict within our society. In this emerging free market in school courses, everyone wins, for everyone gets just what he or she pays for.
Even with parents with zero teaching skills and a poor record of scholastic achievement, home-schooling is delivering better results than the government monopoly - 40% of whose graduates, remember, are unable to read their diplomas.
The performance of New Hampshire government schools is not that bad - results are skewed by those in big-city ghettos (the very children for whom, in theory, "public" schools are alleged to exist) - but, as we've seen, they cost five times more than need be spent. And the current "debate" over whether to steal that money by taxes on property or on income is 100% irrelevant; a red herring, designed by the thieves to try to divide us and conquer.
A national survey reveals that home-schooled children on average achieve SAT scores thirty percentile points higher than do victims of government "education", regardless of their parents' educational level. While SAT is not the only test of educational effectiveness (and maybe not the best) that figure should persuade any caring parent to give the home-schooling alternative some urgent and serious consideration.