Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ignorance, and Bigotry, and Stereotyping- Oh, My!

I never gave much (if any) thought to either Cal State-Fullerton or Cal Poly-Pomona prior to reading a couple of idiotic op-ed pieces by persons affiliated with those institutions. Now they've got me wondering just what exactly it is that our family's tax dollars are subsidizing. Objectivity? Looking beyond tired stereotypes? Doing a little bit of research? If the two op-eds are any indication, those things appear to be sorely lacking at the lower-tier state colleges.

The first op-ed called "Ignorant Education" from the Cal State-Fullerton student newspaper was bad enough. Right from the get-go, it serves up a mountain of stale stereotypes about homeschoolers:

"Homeschooling advocates, headed mainly by Christian zealots, are calling for Gov. Schwarzenegger's protection of their fundamental right to teach their children to be bigots and idiots."

Incidentally, the commenters over at "Principled Discovery" are having a field day mocking this lead- definitely head on over there for a laugh!

The op-ed goes on and on in this manner:

"In general, those who homeschool their children are Christians with a narrow view of the world. They shun crazy theories like evolution and seek to protect their kids from the evils of the world - especially gays....let's face it: Not many moms who are homeschooling for religious reasons have a serious education."

For the record, there are plenty of homeschoolers who are:
  • not Christian
  • Christian but not ultraconservative Fundamentalists
  • believers in evolution (theistic or atheistic)
  • not holders of traditional Biblical views on sexual morality
  • more highly educated than some kid who has completed a year or two at Cal State-Fullerton (according to the Natl. Ctr. for Education Statistics survey nearly half of all homeschooling parents hold a bachelor's degree or higher)
Given that this is a student-written op-ed piece, I simply left a comment and was prepared to ignore it...Until I read today's L.A. Times and saw a slightly more sophisticated-sounding op-ed with the same basic message written by a couple of professors emeriti at Cal Poly-Pomona:
"It's evident that the vast majority who teach their offspring in front of the television do so because they don't want their children to be subjected to such dangerous doctrines as evolution, abortion, global warming, equal rights and other ideas abhorrent to the evangelical mantra."

I'm not quite sure exactly what Professors Coombs and Shaffer are referring to by "equal rights" abhorrent to Evangelicals. Since the traditional meaning of racial equality doesn't make sense, I'm guessing it's an Orwellian code phrase for being in favor of homosexual "marriage".

Based upon what evidence do the authors assert that "the vast majority" of homeschoolers are teaching their children at home in order to avoid these particular "hot button" issues? According to the NCES survey, only 30% of homeschoolers said that their primary motivation was "to provide religious or moral instruction". That statement itself is pretty broad and families of a wide variety of beliefs may still agree with it. Conservative Evangelicals don't have a monopoly on "morality" in this country (regardless of what some individuals may believe).

Whereas the author(s) of Titan editorial seemed to believe that homeschoolers were uneducated, Professors Coombs & Shaffer believe it's an elitist phenomenon:

“There has always been something decidedly elitist and anti-democratic in home schooling. It smacks of a belief that privileged children should not have to associate with the other kids in the neighborhood and that by staying home, they would not be subjected to the leavening effect of democracy.”

I'm going to save the question of democracy for a follow-up post because that's a long discussion in and of itself. So that leaves the second charge: is homeschooling the domain of the economic elite? Research suggest that it is not. According to the NCES survey, 78% of homeschooled students in 2003 lived in families with an annual household income below $75,000. This is compared to 75% of students attending government-run schools and only 50% for students attending traditional private schools.

Which is more elitist- spending a few hundred dollars on homeschooling curricula or tens of thousands on private school tuition? The government-run schools are not exactly bastions of class integration either. The elementary school my DD is zoned to attend has only 5% of its students come from low-income families. The school I attended growing up has a mere 0.1% of its students classified as low-income. My family is not any more economically privileged than our neighbors who send their kids to the government-run school and probably less so than the ones who send their kids to private schools (since we can't afford the pricey tuition).

It's time for homeschooling critics to look beyond their own stereotypes and prejudices and actually do a bit of research. Otherwise they just look like they're talking completely out of their you-know-where...


Hanley Family said...

I love some of their lines. And I, too, think I shall be revisiting their editorial, although next time will be more general. : )

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Sigh. I think the terms "ignorance" and "bigotry" are best ascribed to the writers of these pieces.

It does make me wonder exactly what kind of research techniques these students have been taught. Maybe we should ask the 'govenator' for a review of the college journalism curriculum as well. More oversight there would be a good thing, eh?

Anonymous said...

Equal rights most likely means rights for women. Like having the right to sign contracts, inherit money, ask for a divorce, etc.

Hanley Family said...

Personally, I think "equal rights" is one of those little buzz terms that allows people to state something you think you agree with without being entirely sure what it is you are agreeing with.