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Posted at 03:35 PM ET, 02/23/2012

Memo to Santorum: Homeschooling not a viable or best option for all parents

Every time I hear Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum talk about how the real responsibility for a child’s education lies with parents and how he has homeschooled his own children, I think: “Well, how nice for him.”


Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is flanked by his family as he speaks at the American Conservative Union's annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Feb. 10, 2012. (Jonathan Ernst - Reuters)

How nice for Santorum that he is in a financial position that he and his wife can stay home long enough to educate their children in the manner they choose. (For a brief period most of his children were enrolled in a Pennsylvania cyber school, but a dispute over who would pay the tuition led the Santorums to resume homeschooling them.)

How nice for Santorum’s children that they have parents who understand the importance of education and have the wherewithal to ensure that they, too, are schooled.

But nowhere in Santorum’s vision of education for America’s children does one hear what his plans are for those children whose parents want their children well educated but don’t have the time to stay home with them and homeschool because they must work one or two or three jobs to put food on the table.

Considering that 22 percent of American children now live at or below the poverty line — and that’s not including those who hover just above it — we’re talking about a lot of kids.

And nowhere in Santorum’s attack on the government’s role in public education does one hear a peep about his plan to educate children whose parents are absent from their lives and just aren’t around long enough to help with a homework assignment or attend a school conference — much less manage an entire homeschooling program. He may think poorly of such parents, but why penalize their children?

There are those folks, too, who want their children well educated but don’t think they have the skills or wherewithal to get the job done well and would rather have professional educators do it.

Indeed, one of the lessons of the public charter movement — given the extremely mixed results of charters — is that the notion that just anybody can successfully run a school is plain wrong.

Here are some things Santorum has said about public education:

2/2012:

“The idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms — where they did homeschool or have the little neighborhood school — and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools.”

(His reference to “little neighborhood schools” is interesting, because it is the neighborhood public school that is in part under assault by a school choice movement that pushes charter schools, which are not rooted in neighborhoods.)

In his 2005 book “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good”:

“It’s amazing that so many kids turn out to be fairly normal, considering the weird socialization they get in public schools. In a home school, by contrast, children interact in a rich and complex way with adults and children of other ages all the time.”

It is clear that Santorum doesn’t believe in the existing public education system, which just happens to be the country’s most important civic institution responsible for raising the standard of living for millions of Americans over many decades.

It is, to be sure, a highly imperfect system that has failed many students, mostly those from poor families, and it needs to be modernized and improved, though not in the way Santorum suggests (nor, for that matter, the standardized test-centric way in which today’s reformers are directing education policy).

But Santorum’s cure for what ails education in the country — having parents do it — ignores social, economic, cultural, educational and historical factors in a rather profound way.

Santorum did a decade ago vote for former president George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind bill, which increased the role of the federal government in the daily goings-on of American classrooms. Now he says it was a mistake.

Perhaps he’ll realize he’s making another one.

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By  |  03:35 PM ET, 02/23/2012

 
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