Thursday, February 23, 2012

Home School for Homeless Kids: The Genius of Rick Santorum

Wouldn't it be great if all families
home schooled their own kids?
It depends in part on the family.
If you haven't noticed, the debate about the "school crisis" in America keeps gets dumber and dumber. And just when you think it can't get any dumber some politician or "expert" steps up to the plate and we sink to some new nadir.

Speaking recently on the correct role of government in schools, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum made clear he sees no role for the federal government in U. S. education.

Mr. Santorum might have been on decent footing had he stopped there, but comments that followed were the last link in a chain that critics of public schools never follow to an end. For years we've been told, usually by conservatives, that if we give all parents vouchers, and let all parents send their children to  schools of their choice, and to do it with tax dollars, our problems in education will go away.

People didn't buy that idea. So the push for charter schools began, instead. Now we were told that if a kid had a problem in school, the solution was obvious. Just pack the child off to a different building.

Mr. Santorum now has an even better idea. He takes the school reform movement one building farther.

The federal government is out. So, too, are the states. Taxes are reduced and government gets a long-overdue shrinking. Parents take on the role of educating children. The "school crisis" is solved by eliminating the root of all evil.

We get rid of the school buildings.

If you don't know:  Mr.Santorum and his wife prefer the home-school option, themselves. They're well-to-do and Mrs. Santorum can afford to stay home and focus on educating their seven children. The parents are good, stable individuals (as far as I can tell). So it's working for them.

The problem critics like Mr. Santorum never see, either because they're naive or because it doesn't fit their agenda to see it, is that not every family is the same or even sane. First of all, many poor and lower middle class families are in no position to have mom or dad stay home to home-school the kids. Single parents are out of luck, too. And there's an even bigger hole in Senator Santorum's logic and a gaping hole in all the arguments that fault public schools for all our problems. It would be wonderful if every parent gave a damn about their children, in school, or out, like the Santorums. But the public schools have to educate every child. So they  take children from good, stable families, and children from the families where mom and dad are useless, at best, dangerous at worst.

Consider an old example, but one of my "favorites," from the Lebanon Daily News, a small Pennsylvania paper I picked up once on vacation. Reporters noted that in May 2008, a neighbor called police after spotting Elizabeth Ann Fox’s two young sons, 4 and 2, crawling out a bedroom window. A state trooper arrived to find the “kitchen floor covered with garbage and half-eaten food. The stench of rotting food and human waste forced him back outside.”

A second trooper located mom soon after, “sitting in her car and eating a sandwich at a fast food restaurant in neighboring Union Township. State police said the children had been left alone for at least two hours.” Picture mom if you will, happily stuffing her face with a Big Mac and fries, while her children remain at home amid piles of garbage. 

Then ask yourself:  Does anyone think the problems these children will have in years to come are going to be about schools?

That's the blind spot in all the bold plans being floated to fix American education. What plan out there addresses the needs of the kids who most need help, when their problems aren't in the classroom, but in the bedroom at home?

If you'd like a current example, consider a story in today's New York Times. It's about a family in Dayton, Texas. Agents of the child welfare agency raided the home one recent afternoon. Inside, they found 11 children, several tied to their beds. An 11-year-old had a black eye, finger marks on his forearms, and one front tooth had been knocked out. Eight kids were confined to a single 10 x 10 bedroom, in the dark, the window boarded over with plywood, when investigators entered the home. Two infants were removed immediately for signs of "failure to thrive" and pneumonia. None of the older children were enrolled in school; and, needless to say, these weren't the kind of parents who were going to have much aptitude for home-schooling their own kids.

That's the problem with plans to fix education with vouchers and charter schools and now Mr. Santorum's call for parents to home-school their kids. The public schools take all kids from all kinds of homes. We even take kids whose families may be good, but who have no homes, who can barely put bread on a table, if they can locate a table to put bread upon.

Senator Santorum's backward thinking on education is enough to make Charles Dickens cringe. Call his new plan: “Home School for Homeless Kids.”


  1. I can't tell you how many times in the classroom I've looked at a kid and thought "If only I could take him/her home with me... maybe then they'd be okay." A fellow teacher of mine in Baton Rouge just got approved to open a charter boarding school in Baton Rouge to save kids from their families. I will be the first to tell you that I've taught some kids from the worst neighborhoods with wonderfully involved parents. The boarding school is clearly not meant for them. Unfortunately, the ones that are being ruined by their homes are far too prevelent and poisonous. I have a few choice words that I would like to say to Santorum...
    -Mandi Vargo

  2. yes i think Santorum has a narrow view of the bigger picture of kids and their real life family circumstances. i would love to see the system of education become child centered vs. test driven....with enough funds to have enough staff on board to create a secure atmosphere where kids have real relationships with teachers and classmates...where comparison , competition and judgement does not inevitably "divide" kids into the good, bad, smart, dumb, cool, geek, etc....and drive kids to feel inferior in some way by the age of 7 or 8. Kids will not believe that they are in a place that is concerned with their education and better yet "who they are". Here is a quote from a 1963 publication related to education: "The very first impact of this new relationship is based on confidence, which the child may never have had before, will help toward a natural communication, without the child regarding the elders as a threat to be feared. A child who feels secure has his own natural ways of expressing the respect which is essential for learning. When he has a feeling of security and acceptance the child's conduct is not something imposed by an elder, but becomes part of the process of learning. The child will naturally be considerate; and it is only in this atmosphere of security that emotional openness and sensitivity can flower." The author goes on to speak of love as being essential in educating which is expressed as humility, gentleness, consideration, patience and courtesy. Aren't these qualities that we all want our children to learn as well? Isn't is possible that the parents who have descended so low in their own well-being to treat their children so horribly have fallen through the cracks of a very inadequate educational system which thinks more of children as a commodity than a human being? The testing "priorities" have got to go!! I believe that the transformation in our system of educating children must address children as loving, sensitive, curious, capable and unique human beings FIRST!! Maybe then they will actually want to be there for the right reasons.
    Cheryl Maegly