The Trouble with Homeschooling

Some fine skitching there.

Moral failure confession time: while I was a graduate student working on my doctorate, on a nearly daily basis, I committed an act that most everyone would regard as “bad.”  I worked at an organization which operated a coffee pot in the lounge for its employees.  The idea was that anyone who used the coffee from this particular coffee maker would drop a few coins in the tin can next to the pot to help purchase coffee and filters to keep the coffee flowing for everyone.  Very early on, however, I came to realize that this procedure was never enforced, and I could take as much coffee as I liked without paying for it. Though I did feel guilty about this, I justified my theft of coffee to myself with the fact that I was a broke college student doing a poorly paid job, but the reality is, the reason I took the coffee without paying for it is that I experienced no negative consequence from my bad action. For a long time,  I was able to shove the nagging guilt aside, but I am happy to report that before I left that job, I attempted to make amends by buying several large tins of coffee for the office. Perhaps this act made up for what I had taken, but honestly, I’m not sure.

It seems self-evident that I ought to feel guilty for taking coffee without paying for it, but it’s not self-evident exactly why I should I feel guilty.   Our intuition about the wrongness of my action is that I’ve violated an implied contract.  There is a tacit social agreement by everyone who uses the coffee pot to offer compensation for what they take, and when I take coffee without offering compensation, I am in violation of this contract. In this case, I am what philosophers and economists refer to as a free rider, a person who obtains a share of a common good without sufficiently contributing to that good.  Free riders seem to violate our sense of fair play, which is why we tend to frown on people like me in the workplace.  Nobody likes a freeloader.

Perhaps aside from the immorality of free-riding is the idea of its irrationality.  On first glance, the easiest argument against free-riding is, “If everybody else adopted the same attitude about the coffee as I have, very quickly the shared collective good of the communal coffee pot would expire, and then no one would get coffee.” If I value the lounge coffee pot, it is, then, in my rational interest, to contribute meaningfully to the coffee fund. A rational person recognizes that her participation is necessary in order to have a shared good.  Another consideration involves recognizing that one feature of rationality is consistency, and the good life is one marked with internal consistency.  It is impossible to be a rationally consistent person and remain a free-rider, because it is inconsistent to expect other people to constantly pay for a collective good while refusing to do so oneself.

A lot of ink has been spilled over the evil, irrational free rider, and lately I’ve been taking these ideas into account as I try to make a decision about the direction my family is headed.  My oldest daughter is headed to kindergarten this year, and as any responsible parent does, I’ve been examining all the options for her education, trying to figure out what form of education would produce the best possible outcome in her life. One very compelling option is to begin my daughter in a home school program.  There are a number of reasons this seems really attractive, however I do worry that the free-rider problem bears consideration as I opt out of the public school system in our county.  Given my civic commitments, in the long run, it appears that educating my children at home is irrational, and perhaps it even might be immoral–though not a mortal sin, to be sure.

Isn’t Homeschooling Best? So What’s the Hangup?

Homeschool advocates in the United States are fanatically trumpeting from the mountaintops the virtues of educating one’s children at home, and their arguments are fairly compelling (on a personal level, some of the smartest people I’ve ever met were homeschooled or are homeschooling their children).  They’ll assert that studies such as this, and this clearly point to the fact that homeschooled children have far better learning outcomes than those who attend public schools.  There is even evidence that suggests that homeschoolers (defying many stereotypes), are better socialized than children in public schools.

I should point out, though, that there is good reason to suspect that such data is not entirely reliable.  As far as I can tell, all the empirical studies that compare learning outcomes of homeschoolers to that of public schoolers are unfairly skewed in favor of  homeschooled students.  Public school testing data is readily available for examination, but in order for researchers to examine the learning outcomes of students taught at home, parental permission must be obtained to collect such data.  It makes sense, given the voluntary nature of the testing done on homeschoolers, mostly high-acheiving families would participate.  While the results of the studies described above are impressive, it seems to me that they should be taken with a fair amount of skepticism.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that our brothers and sisters in the homeschooling movement are entirely correct in their assertion that home based learning produces the best sorts of social and educational outcomes for those who are homeschooled. Even if this is the case, I can’t see this as a justifying reason to remove my daughters from the public school system, as it seems to me that if we choose to do this, our family becomes free riders.  There are at least two collective goods that I (and I think most western liberals) value with which a decision to avoid public education would conflict:

An Educated Populace

In an 1816 letter to Charles Yancey, Thomas Jefferson wrote that a healthy democracy is one “where the press is free, and every man is able to read.” I don’t think it a overstatement to claim Jefferson held the view that in an educated citizenry is necessary to a functioning society of self-governing individuals.  From the early colonial era, Americans’ commitment to educating the young for the benefit of the community has been nearly universal.  There are political, practical, and productive goods to be gained by supporting the collective good of an educated populace.  Politically, an educated individual is better equipped to manage her world via the democratic vote.  Practically, I think we can all agree that having a teller who can count correct change at the grocery store is a significant public good.  In the realm of productivity, public education has been central in the cultivation of wealth and development in the modem era.

I can’t imagine living in the United States without a reasonably educated population, and I recognize that compulsory public education is intrinsic to our ability to live a flourishing life, as it aims to empower people to best maximize their intellectual potential. Regardless of our participation in the public school system, we all benefit from its existence.  If I am truly committed to the good of an educated populace, and I daily benefit from this good, I can’t justify my lack of participation in the social convention that makes that common good possible without somehow overlooking the free rider problem.  If I am to be rationally consistent with a pro-homeschooling position, I have to say that it would be best if everyone homeschool their kids, and as a former high school educator who has dealt with my share of parents, I can say with a good deal of certainty that this would have a dramatically negative effect on the collective good of an educated populace, for reasons I’m sure you can imagine.  Even if I could perhaps instruct my children better than their public school teachers (I’ll admit, I have an earned doctorate, and I don’t think I could handle high school math), I still don’t think this justifies removing my children from the system outright while still reaping the benefit public education provides my family.

Civic Identity

Conservatives frequently bemoan the lack of patriotism in younger generations of American culture, and to some degree, their critique is salient.  While I’m certainly not a flag waver that tears up at Fourth of July parades, it does seem that there are some positive benefits of a sense of civic responsibility.  In a flourishing life, I ought to regard my neighbors with concern and care, because we have a shared experience.  Whether I recognize it or not, my community helps make up my identity, and as a result, I owe something morally to those who make up my community. A sense of civic pride and responsibility is a common good that helps us look out for one another and work toward the betterment of our shared world.

An important way that civic pride is cultivated in the United States is through the school system.  Children from the community are brought together daily, and without much direct instruction about community responsibility, these schoolers’ common experience helps them build a sense of identity and loyalty to their location and those in it (if you doubt this, go to a high school football game, and you’ll get a powerful sense of how much civic pride exists even in our narcissistic, anti-patriotic age).

I don’t see that homeschooling my children can be squared with valuing the common good of civic responsibility cultivated in the school system.  I can’t bemoan the lack of patriotic or civic spirit in 21st Century America on the one hand and remove my daughters from one of most powerful forces for cultivating such a spirit in their lives.  If politics is important, I must be involved to the degree that my neighbors are involved, and the nucleus of that involvement is the neighborhood school.

Trade-Offs

One might fairly point out that there are trade-offs that I am making with my children’s involvement in the public school system, provided that we accept the evidence of homeschooling’s effectiveness in producing positive learning outcomes.  Am I sacrificing educational excellence in my family for less important collective goods?  This to me, seems a very live question, but I think there are two responses to this worry:  First of all, its not clear to me that my children will be all that educationally disadvantaged by their involvement in the public school system.  As a university professor, i have taught students from all educational backgrounds (urban and rural public schools, parochial/private schools, home schools), and I have to say that I have had the privilege to interact with brilliant students (and absolute morons) from all of these backgrounds.  Even in the struggling American urban public school system, it is still possible to get a great education that sets one up for future success.  Secondly, even if I am trading a bit of educational excellence for some collective good, this may be a trade-off worth making for the goods I’ve described above.  I believe that I prefer my girls lose a couple hundred SAT points in favor of their obligations to the community and commitment to an educated society.   But again, I doubt that this is a trade-off that one must make.

One might also point out that even if I remove my children from the public school system in my district, I am still supporting the institution with my tax dollars, and therefore I am entitled to the public goods that the system provides. Perhaps this is a way out of the dilemma that justifies my kids’ lack of participation. However, this objection fails the consistency test I’ve described above, because if everyone removed their kids from the system while still paying their taxes, the schools would stay open, but the common goods of an educated populace and a sense of civic responsibility would not be achievable.  Again, in order to live a rational life, it is important that our values can be carried through consistently, and the tax “out” fails the consistency test.

if you regard my coffee pot etiquette as a moral failure, and you condemn my act as immoral and/or irrational, does it not follow that removing my children from the public education system while still enjoying its positive benefits is similarly immoral or irrational? Honestly, I’m sort of terrified to send my children into public school, but I can’t see a way to around it if I hold the above described civic commitments.  I know that a number of my readers have a lot more experience with home schooling than I do.  Perhaps there is something I’m missing.  Is there a justifying reason for removing my kids from the system that still affirms the collective goods I’m concerned about?  Understand that I am honestly asking, as I am very interested in navigating this problem.  Right now, however, I have to conclude that if I value an educated populace and a the virtue of civic identity, I need to involve my children in the institutions that make such collective goods possible.

36 thoughts on “The Trouble with Homeschooling

  1. Jeremy, I feel your pain. Really, I do.

    But there appear to be three assumptions required for your argument to work:
    1. Academic excellence in the public school would be indirectly proportionate to academic failure should all parents remove their children from the system
    2. Public schools are the only (or even the best) way to build civic identity
    3. Your duty as a citizen equals or exceeds your duty as a father

    I’m not sure that I’m prepared to concede any of these, though I fully support your decision, even as I continue to homeschool my own children.

    Also, I realize it may completely unChristian to point it out, but a couple hundred SAT points could end up being worth thousands of dollars to you!

    1. Aaron, thanks for the comment, and you largely (with the exception of #3) characterize my assumptions correctly, however I would be interested in why these assumptions should be called into question:
      1.I’m drawing upon a lot of experience here, especially in an urban area, when I say that a large percentage of parents are unequipped to educate their children. If everyone did this, I can’t see any scenario where the populace would be better educated that they are now. Do you have reason to doubt this claim?
      2.It seems to me that the burden is on you to suggest an institution that could better instill civic responsibility than the public school system. As far as I can tell, it’s uniquely suited for such a purpose. In a world without public schools, what would contribute to the public good in this way?
      3.I don’t think at all that my duty as a citizen exceeds my duty as a father, however citizenship has to be a greater force in our moral decision making than the typical 21st Century American parent takes into consideration. Citizenship isn’t the greatest consideration, but it ought be part of our decision process.

      Mostly, though, Aaron, I’m interested in your perspective. Do you consider yourself a free-rider, as a home school parent? Why or why not?

      Thanks again for reading and the feedback.

      1. Our contexts are so different, and so our assumptions! Given an urban setting, I would probably have to agree with you on number 1.

        On number 2, you are right again that the public school is ideally positioned to instill a sense of civic responsibility. My question would be the content of that responsibility, or who determines the vision of a healthy society. I might not agree, and the public school could – in my opinion – end up incubating a great evil. Not saying that’s where we are, only that those questions remain.

        On number 3, I agree, but would prefer to look for other opportunities for civic involvement that don’t jeopardize my children.

        As to my personal feelings, yes, I would feel like a bit of a free rider, but more as a citizen than as a participant in an educated society. This may be because I view public education as a privilege afforded a prosperous nation, as opposed to the duties arising from citizenship. I actually tend to view education as a parental responsibility first. Accordingly, I won’t necessarily feel guilty for providing something for my kids because other parents won’t or can’t provide the same thing for theirs.

        However, I am thankful and quite gratified to be able to use my talents in the arts to serve our local public schools. That takes care of my feeling like I’m ignoring some civic responsibility. In fact, I think that even if I weren’t officially involved in the schools, I would probably try to find ways to serve the educational interests of my neighbors. So, I suppose I agree with you in principle but have found a convenient way of avoiding your conclusion. Convenient for me, anyway, just maybe not too terribly consistent.

  2. Jeremy, I think that it isn’t entirely obvious that by removing some children from the school you become a freeloader. Indeed, as long as you continue to support the school financially, you may even enhance the educational opportunity of the children left behind by lowering the teacher-student ratio.

    1. Michael, you might be onto something here. However, it does seem strange to assert that by lack of participation in a collective good, I am somehow contributing to it, for at least 2 reasons: 1)This action fails the consistency test (how am I morally justified in expecting others to participate and contribute to the common good while I abstain from it?) If everyone behaved as I did for the same reasons (sounds a little like Kant, eh?) the common good would not be achieved. 2)It doesn’t seem to me that abstaining from public school for the sake of smaller classroom sizes is a sufficient contribution for the amount of collective good I am receiving. Imagine, for example, that instead of actually paying for coffee that I take from the lounge, I decide that I am going to arrive early for work every morning and make sure that I’m the one who cleans the coffee pot and makes the coffee for everyone. Would this action sufficiently contribute to the collective good enough to cancel out my lack of participatory pay for the coffee? I don’t think that this would be an acceptable substitute for most of my colleagues. Similarly, I don’t think your lack of participation, even if it has residual benefits to the collective good, is sufficient to get you off the hook of the free rider problem. Make sense?

  3. I’m not convinced that public school does as much as you say it does to bring about the collective good. And I’m saying this as someone who plans to put my daughter in public school. I think private schools and some homeschooling can also contribute to that collective good in similar ways. I’m a product of private school, and I believe you are too. I am an educated person, and I feel like I have contributed to the collective good of society even without being in the public school system (and also in spite of being raised on Abeka Book). I can get more on board with the idea of collective good when we’re talking about things like vaccinations and herd immunity. In those instances, we can see what happens when people opt out of vaccinating and how it can harm other people. This is a whole separate argument and one that gets people hot under the collars, so I’ll leave it at that. I’m going to go get coffee — coffee that I buy for the whole office because I don’t trust other people to contribute. 😉

    1. Kinsey, you write, “I’m not convinced that public school does as much as you say it does to bring about the collective good.” Imagine a world without public schools (actually, it’s not that hard, read historical accounts of the Pre-Reconstruction South, and you’ll see what that world is like). Can you honestly say that your community would likely have as educated a populace or as strong a civic identity? I think that unlikely.

  4. In a world without public schools yes, I can see your point. But when a minority chooses an alternative they consider to be better for their children, are they hurting the collective good? In the same way, non-vaxxers are hurting the collective good when they don’t vaccinate their kids?

    1. Kinsey, do you think that non-vaxxers are hurting the collective good when they don’t vaccinate their kids? Because I think the analogy is apt.

  5. Yes, I do think that. From my first comment: I can get more on board with the idea of collective good when we’re talking about things like vaccinations and herd immunity. In those instances, we can see what happens when people opt out of vaccinating and how it can harm other people.

    But I think the outcome is more obvious when non-vaxxers don’t vaccinate, like recent outbreaks of measles, etc. I don’t know that the outcome is quite as obvious with the public schools argument, unless you are talking about not educating kids altogether. Then yes, we have a problem.

  6. Disclaimer: So you know my perspective/personal experience, I come from a background of both homeschool and private school education.

    Jeremy, I find your conclusion does not follow your analogy, and the analogy also needs to be adjusted for the situation. As your mentioned later, you still pay taxes for the public school system whether or not you choose homeschool, but if you choose to homeschool your children you would not be partaking in the benefit that is provided by the taxes you pay. Therefore, you would not be a freeloader (one who gets benefit without contribution), and the analogy should be that you are paying into the community coffee pot fund without drinking the coffee and instead choosing to go get coffee somewhere else (perhaps making your own coffee, because you think your coffee is better). To carry the analogy further, everyone else who has the opportunity, time, and funds to make their own coffee or buy coffee from somewhere else (say, Starbucks, which may be analogous to private school) may do so if they don’t want the community coffee; meanwhile, anyone who does not have the time/opportunity/money to make their own coffee or buy Starbucks can partake of said community coffee and still have coffee. Thus you achieve the goal of everyone having access to coffee and everyone who has the means can seek better coffee elsewhere.

    But enough about coffee. Concerning schooling, I myself see no benefit to sending a child to public school versus private school to gain a sense of patriotism or civic identity. I haven’t noticed any lack of patriotism, national pride, desire to route for sports teams, or any other civic identity from the homeschoolers I know. Granted none of the ones I know had a high school football team to cheer for, but that didn’t stop them from rooting for their after school soccer teams, their martial arts classmates, their boyscout troops, their college teams (before, during, and after college), the US olympic teams, etc, and I have noticed at least as much patriotism and respect for our troops from homeschoolers as from public schoolers.

    With regards to your perspective of the goal of national education, if other people sought to have their children educated via homeschool, they may very well gain a good education and, to entertain your consistency test, if everyone had the chance to homeschool their children, the country’s population might very well be better off (and public schools would not be open without students). Something you may not be aware of is that there are “homeschool” options that include parents not homeschooling their own kids. I and some of my friends (who didn’t homeschool with me, by the way) partook in homeschool programs run by teachers; some such programs meet in privately own bookstores, some at rented locations, some after hours on grounds of other schools, and two I know of were run out of private homes. These options gave the freedom of homeschooling to many people who did not have time to learn and teach their own kids or were not confident enough to oversee their child’s entire curriculum. Further, some homeschool program options give children more freedom to pursue extracurricular activities because of how the classes are arranged; one school I know of had classes twice weekly while students still covered the same material as other schools and that school has a reputation for working with students’ schedules to help students graduate high school early or participate in joint enrollment with nearby colleges. Additionally, homeschooling programs are required to submit evidence of compliance to educational standards, just like private and public schools, so the worry of insufficient education is not higher with them than with public schools.

    If homeschooling provides parents and students better options for education and the potential for more flexible schedules while still satisfying the desire for universal education and instillation of civic identity as well as not removing the public school option from those who do not have the means/opportunity to attend homeschool, what then is the reason to not choose homeschooling?

    1. Nate, thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment here. I really appreciate the feedback. That said, I think that you misunderstand the force of the free rider problem, perhaps because you are getting caught up in the analogy. The free rider problem is centered around receiving collective goods without sufficiently contributing to those goods. The point I’m making is that we all benefit from the collective goods of an educated populace and a sense of civic identity cultivated in public school, whether or not we actually contribute to them. So your revisiting of the coffee analogy does not exactly work, as in the analogy, as you correctly point out, we don’t have to drink the coffee.

      Sorry for the confusion, but the coffee pot illustration wasn’t really intended to be a direct 1:1 analogy for the situation with public schooling. It was merely meant to introduce the free rider problem.

  7. Jeremy,

    I see what you mean, but I didn’t point out that we don’t have to drink coffee. Suppose everyone had to have some coffee, but it didn’t matter where we got the coffee. If we seek to educate our children via homeschooling, we are contributing to an educated populace, and if the homeschooling is superior to public schooling, then we are contributing more to the educated populace than public schooling does. If there is still no loss of civic identity, as I have no reason to think there would be, then why would you be a free rider if you pay taxes to support the public school and still make sure your kids are educated and have a sense of civic identity?

    1. I actually think there is a reasonable solution to the free rider problem I’ve presented here, and you’re on the verge of it, Nate. However, what you fail to consider in your responses is that your action fail the Consistency Test I describe in the post, namely, what justifies my making a moral/rational decision that I wouldn’t want everyone to make?

  8. Why wouldn’t you want everyone to make the decision if they were able? I’ve already addressed the consistency test, the educated populace issue, and the civil identity issue in the above comments.

    1. Nate, I wouldn’t want everyone to make this decision precisely because they are not able. I’ve worked in public education for a decade, and I can tell you a dramatic majority of parents are not equipped to educate their kids appropriately. If we suddenly outlawed public education in this country, there would be a radical decline in the common goods that I’ve described above as valuable. As I pointed out to Kinsey above, read about the Pre-Reconstruction South, and you’ll get a good idea of what a world without public education is like-it ain’t pretty.

      1. “Nate, I wouldn’t want everyone to make this decision precisely because they are not able. I’ve worked in public education for a decade, and I can tell you a dramatic majority of parents are not equipped to educate their kids appropriately.”
        The problem with this reasoning is what would follow from it. Not everyone is able to send their kids to college, enroll their kids in AP classes, buy their kids instruments for band, or even drive their kids to school, so are you going to avoid all those things because other people are not able to? The fact that not all parents can personally educate their kids is irrelevant, as I have already mentioned homeschool options can include teachers doing the teaching for parents in homeschool programs. Part of the reason education is so great is because it gives people opportunities, but if you don’t take advantage of opportunities then the education is worthless. Malcolm Gladwell talks in his book Outliers about how the most successful people in the world became that way because they took advantage of opportunities. If you avoid opportunities on principle because you think that not everyone could take advantage of the opportunity, you squelch the possibility of excellence.
        Further, supporting options other than public schooling does not equate to encouraging it to be outlawed, so drawing an extrapolation to what would happen if public school was outlawed is an irrelevant point. If I decided to go to law school, that doesn’t mean I think medical schools are awful and should be outlawed, and I should not base my decision to go to law school by what I imagine would happen if everyone went to law school. I can support the production of Mac computers by buying one, but that won’t put Windows out of business, even if millions of people did the same thing. The fact that a point in history existed when not everyone had even one option of being educated to high school level does not mean that supporting homeschooling for some or even all people who have the homeschooling opportunity will cripple the education of the nation.

        1. Nate, you seem to be getting lost in the weeds here. I’m framing a choice of schooling in terms of moral choice, and I think we can clearly see that choosing to buy band instruments for children is hardly a moral choice (at least one in the same category of general education). I’m saying that we have a moral mandate to participate in the goods we take advantage of (Identity and Educated Populace), and you seemed to understand that earlier, but I feel that your comment here loses its way a little bit. You also fail to appreciate the Consistency Test, as you fail to acknowledge how a universal mandate to homeschool would engender dramatic inequalities that compulsory public education does not. Who are we to decide who ought be fit to homeschool, and who isn’t?

          1. Jeremy,

            I am extrapolating your perspective and your use of the consistency test. Let’s look at the consistency test another way. What if everyone used the consistency test as you are using it? No one would homeschool their kids or put their kids in private schools because those options are not universally available. If we assume, as you did earlier, that homeschooling provides superior education (and we also know that at least some private schools offer superior education), then the average education of the populace would drop as a result of using the consistency test as you do. If everyone used the consistency test for colleges as well, no one would send their kids to college because not everyone is able to send their kids to college. Again, the average education of the populace will drop, and now no one will be sufficiently educated to teach the next generation. Long story short, using the consistency test and deciding not to do something because not everyone can is not very useful when you know that not everyone could or would do the same thing. Why should the fact the not everyone has the same opportunities dictate the choice of those with different opportunities? I have explained how homeschooling achieves the desired outcomes of gaining civil identity and education for the populace. What is left now is whether or not to take advantage of an opportunity.

            “You also fail to appreciate the Consistency Test, as you fail to acknowledge how a universal mandate to homeschool would engender dramatic inequalities that compulsory public education does not.”
            Irrelevant. I mentioned no universal mandate nor implied it, nor does it matter since we know not everyone could or would make the decision to homeschool. Further, not all teachers teach equally well in public school which means not all classes are equal, not all schools are equal, and not all educations will be equal. Dramatic inequalities within an exclusively public school population already exist. Besides, if everyone had access to a homeschool program like I have mentioned (and arguably everyone does, since at least one such program exists via an online school), I don’t have any particular reason to believe the education of the populace would suffer with universal homeschooling.

            “Who are we to decide who ought be fit to homeschool, and who isn’t?”
            Educated adults. Homeschooling parents/homeschooling programs must have been doing a good job figuring out who is capable of homeschooling if homeschoolers are doing so well on SATs, ACTs, and in colleges. Meanwhile, I have plenty of stories from friends, family members, and news stations of public school teachers who are unfit to teach yet are still teachers. How do you know if the public school teachers will teach your children well and instill them with a sufficient sense of civic identity?

  9. Jeremy,
    The flaw in your assessment of logical consistency is the assumption that the system of education you and society are participating in is the public education system. No, the public education system is merely one aspect of the larger system of general education of our youth. Homeschooling, public school, and private school are three separate ways to support the larger system of educating our youth and changing your participation from one to the other does not provide an inconsistency of the support of the system, but rather it changes how you support the system.
    As a result, choosing to homeschool is not a form of free loading at all. To use your illustration, it would be more like offering to pay part of the electrical bill instead of buying the coffee.
    I could elaborate more, but you clearly value sound logic and you can extrapolate further without me.
    P.S. I and my wife were both homeschooled and public schooled and we just pulled our 3 school aged children out of the public schools to be homeschooled.
    Aaron

    1. Aaron, I like this response a lot. What you are describing seems roughly like the distinction of a “political constitution” and the actual Constitution that Ronald Dworkin talks about his political philosophy. I do think that there are teeth in this response.

      1. I would ask how far you think one can go and still support the “general education system,” though? Is “unschooling” an acceptable means of supporting this general education system? What if one of these alternative modes of supporting the GES actually undermines the others (as I’m suggesting homeschooling, and-though i haven’t argued it here-private schooling, actually does)?

        1. Unschooling is a different philosophical approach to education which is in contrast to “no-schooling”. Many lazy parent say they are using unschooling, but in reality are simply not educating them at all. The no-schooling is clearly violating support of the educational system, however an unschooling approach does not directly violate the general welfare of our society because there are (at least theoretically) still receiving a strong education as handed down from their family just in a different format. As long as the family strongly applies the unschooling approach to educate it does not violate any logical inconstancies.
          To offer another angle for consideration within your evaluation, the education system is still yet a subset of a higher system of the general welfare of our society. A common mistake is maximizing efficiencies is the maximizing of the individual parts assuming that maximizes the whole, when in fact, by establishing strategic inefficiencies it can actually create a more efficient whole. I propose that homeschooling does create an inefficiency within the education system, but adds to an overall increase in the overall system. My argument is one of homeschoolers who can finish high school early and begin either working on college at a young age or start their careers earlier. In either event, this adds more value to the whole even though it could be argued the public school is lessened by such actions.
          Let me know if you have further thoughts.

          1. Here’s what I think are the two biggest challenges to your ideas here, Aaron.
            1)You seem to have a pretty flexible idea about what counts as the General Education System. Under what you’re describing, I don’t see why I can’t just make up my own method of living for my kids, call it “schooling,” and under your argument, think that I’ve avoided the free rider problem. You seem to be defining the problem away by adding a new idea (the General Education System), instead of actually dealing with the problem.
            2)You seem to think that I’m defending the General Education System here, and the that the free-rider problem I’m describing is about someone taking advantage of school system. This is a subtle, but important misunderstanding. The free rider (in this situation) is one who receives social goods produced by the Public Education system, not someone who merely receives an education from the General Education System. I’m not defending the public school system by any means, and the way I’ve explained the FRP does not necessitate such a defense. Does that make sense?

          2. Jeremy,
            First I want to say that I am enjoying this discussion, it is not often that I encounter someone who is well reasoned in their logical applications and legitimately having discourse to explore the topic at hand.

            To respond:
            1) Yes, I am offering a flexible idea of what education can look like. It is illogical to assume one method of education is solely superior to all others when each person is different and learns in different ways as well as teachers. Our entire education system is built upon a classical model that I believe has flaws, and as such alternative educational models can be equally effective (but that is another topic).
            I do not believe I have avoided the problem at all by redefining the situation because the parameters you established addressed a subsystem and as such defining the scenario to include the larger system allows us to incorporate a wider solution set and evaluate its higher level impacts.

            2) I actually don’t think you are defending the General Education System or the free rider is taking advantage.
            In my scenario, the ‘free rider’ is receiving the social goods, but not returning them in the expected or traditional way, and thus the assumption they are a free rider. However, the truth is that because they are giving back in an alternate manner there are contributing just as much to the system as anyone else is. To take this point of logic further, you could argue that the nontraditional support of the system is actually more important than the normal methods of support. To borrow a principle from the Bible, all cannot be the head, nor the eyes. Taking this principle and applying it to our topic indicates that the system in fact needs the nontraditional support as well as the traditional support to ensure that a more well-rounded system is created.

            New) To add yet another aspect to consider: The second law of thermodynamics identifies that any closed system left to itself decays. With that in mind by having homeschooling available we keep the system open to fight off entropy which would inevitably occur should everyone be a part of the system.

  10. By the way all, I really hate that I used the term “freeloading” at all in this post, as I think it has a negative connotation that “free riding” does not. It seems to me different to refer to someone as a freeloader than a free rider, because there is an idea of deliberately taking advantage of some good wrapped up in freeloading, whereas free riding may or may not be maliciously intended.

    Also, a question for the group. Why do you feel compelled to disclose your educational background? What difference does it make to the argument the mode of education we received?

    1. The reason I shared my and my family’s educational background is to demonstrate objectivity in my argument. If I had only been one or the other then it could be argued that I have a bias towards the familiar or that I don’t understand the impact of my decision. By offering up the fact that I have experience both worlds personally and as a father I am able to indicate that I have evaluated these same topics which have led me to the conclusions I am standing upon.

  11. Jeremy, I think that we feel compelled to disclose our educational status–I was raised by Martians, myself–in order to avoid the appearance that we are unaware of our biases. it is insurance against claims of bad faith argumentation.
    As far as the quality of the arguments involved goes, I feel that my Martian education perfectly positioned me to see through your obvious mistakes. I benefited from what was surely free riding in your analysis. And my upbringing gives me a special insider-free-rider nsight into the object you inspect from a distance.

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