I teach at Patrick Henry College, the only institution of higher education dedicated specifically to continuing the education of home-schooled students. As a professor, I have taught at several universities. But while every university has exceptional students, nowhere has the general overall quality of virtually all the students been higher than at Patrick Henry College in Virginia. I refer to their diligence, self-discipline, motivation, and deference. I attribute this largely to homeschooling.
It is also due to the ethos that homeschooling imparts. Effective education requires humility and deference: the willingness to learn from – and defer to – those who know more than we do. While this is certainly possible in institutional schools, it is more valuable when it is established among family members. When those to whom we look for knowledge and wisdom are our parents, a powerful bond is formed between parents and child. This bond is a joy in itself. It also contributes to strong families and therefore to strong communities and to strong, cohesive societies.
This bond between parents and children also allows for the transmission of values from one generation to the next (which is largely the purpose of education): moral principles, religious beliefs, historical memory. All such values are important. But especially important is the Christian faith, because it teaches precisely that humility, without which true education is impossible. This is why most homeschoolers are Christians.
At Patrick Henry College, when we are deciding on the admission of a student applicant, we ask if the applicant has a “teachable spirit”. That phase to me succinctly conveys the connection between religious faith and effective education. A student can be intelligent and motivated. But if he does not possess the humility that allows him to accept that he must learn certain things without always knowing precisely why, then much of his learning will be wasted. He must take it “on faith” (so to speak) that his teacher knows more.
Yet this does not mean that we must be passive and unthinking recipients of rote learning – quite the contrary. Another principle of homeschooling is to distinguish between a “critical mind” and a “critical spirit”. This distinction is not only helpful in educating the young; it is also describes much of the malaise that now afflicts education, especially in the West.
At Patrick Henry College, we try to create critical minds: to encourage students to think critically, to question what they are told, and pursue truth. This is the connection between education and a free society.
Too many of us today confuse this healthy principle with the unhealthy habit of a critical spirit: the habit of always finding fault in others, whether it is our teachers, our parents, our country, our social institutions; the inability to accept the imperfections of the human condition and the need to find people to blame for it and to punish. For too many intellectuals, this habit led to Communism, and it leads to similarly pernicious trends today.
I am spending this academic year at Jagiellonian University, where I have observed that Poland still retains much of what we in Western higher education have lost. Your universities are full of critical minds who seem able (so far) to resist the temptation to become critical spirits. It’s easier to preserve this treasure than to recover it after it is lost.
I certainly respect teachers in institutions. (I am one myself.) But education, like values, morals, and religious faith, must begin at home. We must trust parents to have the best interests of their children at heart, unless they have demonstrated otherwise.
Many now recognize this connection between homeschooling and a free society. But while homeschooling is growing in popularity, a counter-trend is also growing among the elites, one that argues that education should be a monopoly of the state. This is very unhealthy. For the government to monopolize information and especially education invites politicization: the state making education an instrument of propaganda and indoctrination. This is already the clear trend in education throughout the West.
In this connection, it is no accident that homeschooling has been sanctioned by all the major human rights conventions sponsored by the United Nations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 26(3): “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”
- International Convention on Civil and Political Rights
Article 18(4): “…respect for the liberty of parents…to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”
- International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
Article 13(3): “States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents…to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities…and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”
Poland has been one of the leaders in Europe in homeschooling, both in terms of the numbers of homeschoolers and the legal requirements that allow homeschoolers to operate. I urge you to continue Poland’s leadership in this vital trend.
Statement of Stephen Baskerville, PhD Professor of Government at Patrick Henry College and Fulbright Scholar at the Jagiellonian University (2015-2016) at the Belvedere Palace, Warsaw, 8 February 2016