Home-schoolers represent the only authentically radical social movement in the United States (Occupy Wall Street was a fashion statement) and so they must be suppressed, as a malevolent committee of leftist academics and union bosses under the direction of Governor Dannel Malloy is preparing to do in Connecticut, using the Sandy Hook massacre as a pretext. The ghouls invariably rush to the podium after every school massacre, issuing their insipid press releases before the bodies have even cooled, and normally they’re after your guns. But the Malloy gang is after your children.
Malloy’s committee on the Newtown shootings is recommending that Connecticut require home-schooling families to present their children to the local authorities periodically for inspection, to see to it that their psychological and social growth is proceeding in the desired direction. For anybody even passingly familiar with contemporary government schools, which are themselves a peerless source of social and emotional dysfunction, this development is bitterly ironic.
Adam Lanza was the product of madness, but he also was very much a product of the public schools and their allied institutions. He was briefly — very briefly — homeschooled after his parents had exhausted every other option. His mental troubles began long before he was home-schooled and were in fact well known to and documented by the various credentialed authorities under whose management he spent his youth, from his kindergarten therapists to the scholars at Yale’s Child Study Center. Far from being removed from the public system, Lanza was still attending student-club meetings at Newtown’s high school just before the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
As City Journal notes, the Malloy gang says that Lanza’s educational and medical records support its proposals, which is curious: Its members have no access to those records. But a government commission says that it is so, so it must be so.
If you have not followed the issue closely, it is probably impossible for you to understand how intensely the Left and the government-school monopoly hate, loathe, and distrust home-schooling and home-school families. Purportedly serious scholars such as Robin West of Georgetown denounce them as trailer trash living “on tarps in fields or parking lots” and write wistfully of the day when home-schooling was properly understood: “Parents who did so were criminals, and their kids were truants.” The implicit rationale for the heavy regulation of home-schooling — that your children are yours only at the sufferance of the state — is creepy enough; in fact, it is unambiguously totalitarian and reduces children to the status of chattel. That this is now being framed in mental-health terms, under the theory that Lanza might not have committed his crimes if he had had the benefit of the tender attentions of his local school authorities, is yet another reminder of the Left’s long and grotesque history of using corrupt psychiatry as a tool of politics.
But take a moment to fully appreciate the absurdity of the Malloy gang’s assumption. Our public schools are dysfunctional, depressing, frequently dangerous places. Their architecture is generally penal, incorporating precisely the same sort of perimeter control as one sees in a low-security prison, with dogs, metal detectors, and the whole apparatus of control at hand. They are frequently run by nakedly corrupt, self-serving men and women who are not above rigging test scores to pad out their bonuses and who will fight to the end to keep pedophiles on the payroll if doing so serves their political interests, as in the case of California. They cannot even keep their teachers from raping their students, but they feel competent issuing orders that every family present its children for regular inspection in the name of the children’s “social and emotional learning needs.”
Contrary to all of the sanctimony surrounding them, the government schools are in fact the single most destructive institution in American public life, and they are the bedrock of the Left’s power, providing billions of dollars in campaign contributions and millions of man-hours for Democratic campaigns. But they do more than that: They are the real-life version of those nightmarish incubator pods from The Matrix, and home-schooling is a red pill. We entrust our children to the state for twelve or thirteen years, during which time they are subjected to a daily regimen that is, like the school buildings themselves, more than a little reminiscent of the penitentiary: “bells and cells,” as one of my teachers used to call it. They are instructed in obedience and compliance, as though the most important skill in life were the ability to sit quietly and follow instructions; those children who are more energetic than the authorities care for are given psychiatric diagnoses and very often put on psychiatric drugs: Since the 1980s, the rate of antidepressant prescription for children has increased five-fold, while the rate of antipsychotic prescription has increased six-fold. Locking children up for the largest part of the day, in a dreary room with 20 to 30 other children all born within nine or ten months of each other, is a model that make sense — that is something other than insane — only if you think of children as batches — if you believe, as our president and those who share his views believe, that the children are the government schools’ product rather than their customers.
The Left’s model of society is still the model of Marx and Bismarck: one big factory to be managed by experts. The government schools are an assembly line for human widgets, who are in theory there to be taught what the state requires them to know in order to fulfill their roles as workers, administrators, and other bits of human machinery. That is the assumption behind President Obama’s insistence that “if you quit on school, you’re not just quitting on yourself — you’re quitting on your country.” Students are also there to be instructed in the official, unspoken state ideology: submission to official power.
The Left’s organizing principle is control, and the possibility that children might commonly be raised outside of its control matrix is an existential threat from the progressive point of view. Institutions such as free markets and free speech terrify progressives, because they are the result of arrangements in which nobody is in control. Harry Reid and Senate Democrats just tried to repeal the First Amendment because they are horrified that anybody so inclined can broadcast a political message without asking the government’s permission or being subject to official oversight. The states of Ohio and Minnesota went so far as to create “truth” police, secular inquisitions that determined who is allowed to speak and under what circumstances. (Blessedly, these have been thrown out by the courts.) The idea that people could be teaching their children practically anything, without the input of credentialed education experts, is a nightmare. (Never mind that those credentialed experts are intellectual under-achievers, education majors typically having the lowest standardized test scores of any college cohort.) If people discover that they can live without overseers in the matter of education, who knows in which other of life’s endeavors they might be inclined to go their own way?
Professor West of Georgetown is scandalized that parents “have virtually unfettered authority to decide what subjects to teach, what curriculum materials to use,” etc., and, naturally, worries that this will result in parents who teach “from nothing but the Bible.” (Question: What is the opposite of “unfettered”?) She is particularly offended that in some states, home-schooling families are not even required to notify the authorities of their intent to home-school — as if they could manage their own families any way they saw fit, as if they didn’t need permission. The Left’s war on school choice is mostly about money, but its jihad against home-schooling is about power.
Contrary to the crude cartoon of them, home-schooling families are a motley bunch, including everybody from heartland Evangelicals to Brooklyn’s quinoa-and-yoga set. Many of them are amused and surprised when I describe them as “radicals,” but that is what they are — people who have told the state that they’ll pay their taxes but are not handing over their children, that they will render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s but not a mite more. Home-schooling isn’t for everybody, but every home-school student, like every firearm in private hands, is a quiet little declaration of independence. It’s no accident that the people who want to seize your guns are also the ones who want to seize your children. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s desire to imprison people who hold the wrong views on climate change and Harry Reid’s plot to gut the Bill of Rights are not aberrations in an otherwise genuinely liberal agenda; the Left desires to put every aspect of every human life under political discipline, from which history books your children read to what kind of cheese you eat.
Of course this had to be Connecticut, which isn’t a state so much as it is a Venn diagram overlap of everything that is awful about New York and everything that is awful about New England. Connecticut is a backward place with a heavy public sector — it has almost as many state agencies as it does towns — and it is almost comically rapacious, if ploddingly so: I lived there for less than a year many years ago, and I’m still getting Connecticut tax bills. And if you’re interested in having it run your family, consider what a bang-up job it did with the Lanzas.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.