It’s “back to school” time, and many families are purchasing school supplies. Even homeschoolers and unschoolers, such as ourselves, are hitting up deals and stocking up on things their children may need in the upcoming year. It was around this time last year, that I read a post written by a well-known blogger concerning this topic. She, too, was stocking up on school supplies in preparation of sending her child off to school. However, rather than viewing these sales as a way to more affordably stock up on supplies, her post took a different tone. She was incensed that she should have to purchase any supplies for her child. A public education, in her mind, should be a completely free education. She believed that the government should pay for everything her child may need at school.
To say I was bothered by this post would be an understatement, but I didn’t at first realize what it was exactly that bothered me so much. I found myself examining my beliefs and digging deep. Did I think she should have to pay for school supplies, just as I was for my children? Did I harbor her ill-will for her educational choices? I had a list and each time I examined what I believed, I found that that wasn’t what was bothering me.
Finally I realized that it was attitude that bothered me so much. As parents, we are responsible for our children and for providing for them – whether that is food, clothing, housing, or education. As much as our country is dependent on the public schools, it isn’t our government’s responsibility to provide education for each and every individual. It is our right to an education, not our right to have an education provided for us, that prompted early public education. Public education in the US was born as a way to help those who may not have other resources and to provide an opportunity so that everyone could pursue learning. Public school weer never meant to be a litmus against which all other forms of learning should be compared. Public schooling was, and still is, essentially a public assistance program with an age requirement rather than an economic one.
Now, before someone accuses me of not wanting to fund public education. Stop right there. I am not in favor of educational vouchers, either for families who choose private schooling or who choose homeschooling. Taking money away from the public school system doesn’t do anyone any good. I wouldn’t advocate defunding public education anymore than I would advocate defunding public assistance for housing, food, welfare, or healthcare. Although, I am a proponent of reform for all of these areas so that we are more efficient in our help. As a society, we look out for those who need help. Public assistance, in any form, is just that – help. Helping others in our society does not mean that we become solely responsible for them. That responsibility, or lack there of, was what bothered me so much about the person’s post.
As parents, we are responsible for facilitating our children’s education, regardless of what choices we make. If someone needs help to do that, that’s what public assistance is for. The responsibility for our children’s education remains with us, though. Outsourcing that with private or public schools doesn’t mean that some mental checkbox next to education receives a check with no further thought to the matter. It’s a slippery slope. If you expect someone else to step in and be fully responsible, then you also hand over your rights. Parents, regardless of educational choices, need to continue being the individuals responsible for facilitating our children’s learning. That isn’t to say I believe we are responsible for our children’s learning. Learning is an individual journey best left to the person doing the learning. It’s our job as parents, however, to be responsible for facilitating, i.e. providing the resources and access to those resources, which result in learning and a continued love for the search for knowledge that our children are born with.