School: what is it good for?

What is the role of the school? Why do we send children to school? I think we send children to school be educated. Some people will put up with a substandard education because they believe that, equally important to education, another purpose of school is socialization.

Story Time At A Country School A Painting by Norman Rockwell

Because our children spend so much time in school, the culture of the school becomes a strong influence on the culture of our children. If religion has been historically the transmitter of culture, but schools will not allow, or teachers do not perceive any allowance of the discussion of religion or the influence of religion on curriculum, then a type of secular culture will be transmitted to students. Is the culture secular humanism? Or is it also driven by marketing, as I have argued many things are?

My only experience in sending my child to school consisted of the local state preschool. Discussion of religion was not included when celebrating or learning about holidays. Christmas was about Santa and this fact was hammered into them through re-written classic songs. They did not learn any Christmas hymns as we did while we were children, “Silent Night,” and all that.

What else happens at school? Organizers of the school, apart from religion determine the virtues children should develop, without a sound virtue theory. Locally, character traits encouraged in school programs consist of six pillars: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, citizenship. They aren’t bad things, but without a foundation and without also emphasizing prudence, which helps one determine the right response in the given situation to the right degree, the character traits will, in the end, be empty, flat, and forgettable.

Another quality I have noticed is that school is intent on filling in where parents are failing. Children are mandated to go to school. For those who do not choose private or home schooling, public school is available to everyone. Therefore, the public school is where “we” have access to children, so this is the best place for vision tests, dental hygiene, and now, to the interest of many in California, mandating vaccines.

SB277 would require children without medical exemption to be vaccinated or they cannot attend public school in California. Whether or not I think children should be vaccinated, the use of school as the place to enforce it, seems to me, a gross overreach of the point of school. Public school has become the place where the state becomes the caregiver. They provide breakfast and lunch for free, even through the summer, because many kids would not eat otherwise. They bring in health professionals to make sure kids are up to the mark, even in preschool, even when a physical was required for admission, without informing or the consent of the parents.

What is the goal of school? Is it free daycare? Is it free parenting? Is it what we want our children to inherit? I think my children would benefit from the social opportunities that comes with school. They love to be with people and other kids. But I can’t get past the fact that I believe community and church equally provide social opportunities (nicer one’s in fact since they are more stratified), and that school is for education. I do not attend a church of a different religion just because nice people go there. I attend a Catholic Church because I want to practice my Catholic faith. The religion is the point, the people are the plus. I do not want to live in a community with a nice house but terrible neighbors. The people are the heart, the home is the plus.

I can’t get over the idea that school is for education, learning. So even though I would love to send my children out of the house for schooling, to be with others, to enjoy the revelry of their age group, I will find other sources. I radically disagree with the utilitarian approach to education couched in our school programs, at the heart of the common core curriculum. I disagreed with it when I was in junior high and high school. I disagree with it now.

Let learning be for learning’s sake. Let education make us better people. Let it teach us empathy by great literature. Let it create opportunities to develop skills such as memorization, and mental flexibility through music. Let it transmit culture by not rejecting European culture. Three quarters of my heritage is European: Greek, German, Irish. One quarter is non-European: Chinese. Would my children encounter the classics of these cultures in the common core? I doubt it.

I want them to have a childhood full of stories, of rhymes, of imagination, of natural science. I want religion to part of their way of life, not just something that happens at home and Sundays. How can I explain why for a majority of their hours God is never mentioned?

You may make a different decision. It comes down to that question. What is school for? We’re free to decide for ourselves what qualities we value most, and decide from there.