The Common Good

(Home) Schooling Bill Maher

Last Friday, on his weekly show Real Time with Bill Maher, the not-so friendly atheist, Mr. Maher took issue with the Santorum families decision to homeschool their children. Here’s what he said:

Tim King with his youth group's worship band. Photo courtesy Tim King
Tim King (middle on guitar with the 'fro) with his youth group's worship band. Photo courtesy Tim King

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"But I bring up the old tale of the poisoned apple — no, not "Snow White," that's a fairy tale — because the Adam and Eve story is taken literally by half the country and it's no coincidence that the type of tree which god forbade Adam and Eve eating from was the Tree of Knowledge. Rick Santorum homeschools his children because he does not want them eating that f--king apple. He wants them locked up in the Christian madrassa that is the family living room not out in public where they could be infected by the virus of reason. If you're a kid and the only adults you've ever met are mom and dad, and then they're also the smartest adults you've met, why not keep it that way? Why mess up paradise with a lot knowledge? After all, a mind is a terrible thing to open."

Santorum took exception to these comments.  For good reason.

My parents made the decision to homeschool three out of four of their children at some point during our K-12 years. They invested both time and resources because they believed it was the best thing they could do for our development and education at that time.

 I’m sure that Rick and Karen Santorum, as well as a whole host of other parents, are motivated for those same exact reasons. I will be forever grateful in the care my parents took to ensure that I received an excellent education and I hope the Santorum kids will feel the same way about the decision their parents made.

I was homeschooled my junior and senior years of high school. My previous school… let’s just say, things weren’t exactly working out. The problem was, theologically speaking, I was kind of a smart ass. My mom was already homeschooling my younger brother and sister and figured one more couldn’t hurt. So I dropped home room and started showing up in my living room for the day’s assignments.

When I started being homeschooled, my understanding and interaction with education fundamentally changed. I had more freedom to read the books I was interested in and explore the subjects I found fascinating. I started to love learning in a way that had slowly been beaten out of me through a more traditional school system.

I started taking classes at the local community college, studied jazz guitar at a local music school, took online classes with other homeschoolers to discuss the works of Homer, Plato, Aristotle and Euripides. I studied Latin, Greek, philosophy, psychology, history, chemistry and still struggled with math. I got to go hiking while my peers sat in a classroom and learned how to cook with vegetables from our garden while my friends ate microwaved food from the cafeteria.

Not for everybody, but it was great for me.

Yes, I’m kind of socially awkward. It’s not crippling, but all my co-workers do take note of all the little things my mother says makes me special.

Yes, I have met some homeschoolers who probably need to get out more. Some of them were pretty sheltered and transitioning to the larger world was a painful experience.

But, most of the time being “sheltered” just means a high schooler who has no idea who Snookie is or even what a Kardashian is but loves Johannes Brahms and prefers Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos to any of his ballets.  Or, they forgo a poster of emblematic of their commitment to “Team Jacob” or “Team Edward” and instead pick a rather dreaming looking photo of super-star conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Those proclivities might be called weird in high school but give it a few years and it’s called cultured.

The greatest thing about homeschooling isn’t the information that is passed from teacher to student but the opportunity to turn a passive student into a true lover of learning. That’s not impossible in a normal school setting but it isn’t always easy.

But, here is the danger about homeschooling that I’m not sure Santorum fully recognizes. When a young person loves to learn, you don’t always know where that path will lead them.

After writing a column in which I proudly declared my homeschooled past, I got a twitter message from a fellow unabashed former homeschooler.

From @rynthetyn:

@tmking I was hs'd K-12, w/ a library card since I was 4 & reading more books than my parents would possibly have had time to check up on

@tmking That meant by the time I got to my BJU txtbooks' version of events, often I'd have already read the side that they'd leave out.

Let me interpret that for you. Homeschoolers tend to read, a lot. So, if you have a biased text books (like the ones from Bob Jones University) you already have a lot of different perspectives to draw from. All this contributes to critical thinking skills, it doesn’t detract from them.

Rick Santorum said that his own 12 year-old could take on the logic of Bill Maher, he is probably right. And, I wouldn’t doubt that same 12 year-old could take on some of their own father’s logic at the same time. If the Santorum’s are homeschooling their children well, and as I have seen other families do, it’s entirely likely that Rick’s own kids will be some of the first to question what their Dad says. And, in a healthy homeschooling environment, that’s okay.

So, Bill, if you want pick on some homeschoolers, I say bring it on. Because you just might be able to learn a thing or two from us, if you have an open mind.

Tim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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