In Atlas Shrugged, Galt’s Gulch was an objectivist utopia where laissez-faire capitalism and individuality took the place of government bureaucracy. America seems to have given up any hope in becoming such a place, but there is a way to raise your children in Galt’s Gulch: homeschooling.
I would be remiss not to begin by saying that this is not a critique of the decision not to homeschool. A good friend of mine is a mother who sends her children to the public school that my son would have attended. We mutually respect one another’s choices for our children and trust that each of us has made a fully informed decision. As I will later discuss, my decisions are not an attack on others’ choices and I am anything but threatened by their choices— nor am I threatened by attacks on my own.
Too often I have heard criticism of the choice my husband and I made for our son’s education, claiming that he will fail to receive the socialization or well-rounded education that public schools provide. What it really comes down to, however, is that those who oppose homeschooling do so generally for one of two reasons—either ignorance of what homeschooling means, or insecurity over their own choices.
In regard to socialization, I fail to see what is so beneficial in having my child exposed to the influence of children whom I would abhor to have in my home. Children who are using drugs before they are even in junior high, ones who are permitted to address their parents with vulgarities, and students who deliberately waste their teachers’ time by interrupting class—all of these are children who represent a negative influence that my son will not have to contend with.
That is not to say that homeschool children are denied opportunities to form friendships with a diverse and varied group of other children. Homeschooling associations are more popular than ever, allowing parents to network and share responsibility. Those with exceptional writing skill can teach English “classes”, those who scored 750 in the math section of the SATs can assume that role, etc. Exposure to the “one teacher, many students” model that some claim to be a necessity for college preparedness is not mutually exclusive of homeschooling.
In addition, most states provide for homeschoolers to take select classes at the local school, and even to participate in sports. While homeschooling, I took Driver’s Ed at my sister’s future high school. It served as a good reminder of why I was thankful for the ability to choose my own friends.
Returning to the issue of why homeschooling parents receive so much criticism, I find that a lack of understanding is actually less frequently the motivation. The majority of hostility toward homeschooling is from those who take another family’s choice as an indirect attack on their own. Their insecurity over whether they really did what was best—whether they felt they didn’t have the option to homeschool, or they enrolled their children in public school by social default—it seems a great many parents are too blinded by their own feelings of inadequacy to accept that for a great many children, homeschooling is the ideal choice.
Many such parents will huffily respond, “Well, my children went to public school, and they turned out great. Homeschooled kids aren’t prepared for college and the real world.” I’m sure that’s true in some cases, though the statics prove that such stories prove very much the exception, not the rule.
Homeschooled children outperform public K-12 students by 30-37 percentile points in all subjects—disproving the stereotype about how parentally- and independently-educated children are denied proper access to the sciences. While those new to homeschooling tend to rank around the 59th percentile (a noteworthy amount above average), those who have doing so for two or more years are at an amazing 86th to 92nd percentile.
As for preparation for college, 72% of 18-24 year olds who were homeschooled have taken college level classes, compared to 46% of the general population. The overall trend is that home-educated children grow up to be better-educated, more likely to attend college, and ready for the adult world sooner than their public school peers. It’s not uncommon that a homeschooler would already taking college coursework while underage; I began college at 15 with a high school diploma from an accredited homeschool resource center—ironically more than a full year prior to taking Driver’s Ed with what would have been my peer group.
There are children in the government-run education system who have the potential to meet or exceed these remarkable statistics. However, the system itself is not designed for those students to do so, it’s a one-size-fits-all in which parents must have determination as well as luck. The potential outcomes in education are akin to cooking for one’s self at home verses eating out. In a restaurant, whether or not you like your meal depends on where you eat, who prepared it, and whether what you expected lines up with what the chef was trying to create. In homeschooling, as in cooking at home, there’s a much better chance your end result will be what you intended– provided you know what you’re doing.
Assuming the parent does know what they’re doing, educating their children at home can also be a more time-efficient choice. Because homeschooling and independent learning don’t waste time covering subjects longer than necessary for the benefit of slower students, most homeschool parents find the portion of their child’s day dedicated specifically to learning is far shorter than that of a traditional school day.
Also, there is a general trend that homeschooling parents seek out ways to make recreational time educational as well. While baking together, my son and I discuss fractions and the chemistry involved in the cooking process. When I discuss politics with him, his unprompted queries are– almost without exception– ones asking why the government thinks it should be involved in matters that the free market could resolve. He is four years old.
The statistics on homeschooling outcomes and our promising start are encouraging. The choice to push forward– like all my decisions as a mother– is based on another of Ayn Rand’s ideas: the virtue of my selfishness.
My love for my son and my conscience as to whether I am doing right by him are fully selfish feelings. All that I do for him is grounded in the joy that he gives me, and the joy that comes from giving him all that I can. Many misunderstand what selfishness really means, or how it differs from inability to love anyone but one’s self. But as Rand has said in both novels and interviews, “In order to say ‘I love you’, one must first be able to say the ‘I’.”
Acting out of the love of myself and acting out of my love for my son are one in the same. I love him as deeply as Dagny Taggert loved her railroad, as deeply as Ayn Rand believed in the power of man to achieve. To give all of yourself in service of what or whom you love is to abhor the cowardice of not giving them the whole of yourself. For me, a large part of that is to homeschool.
The values that Galt’s Gulch was founded on—the ability to reason and a recognition of the value of one’s self—are ones that are already fully established in my son’s personality. I provide him what he needs educationally, but far more important parts in homeschooling are helping him learn to reason rather than blindly accept, and to teach him that personal responsibility can overcome any obsticle.
While responsibility for his education falls primarily on my shoulders, his identity is in no way a mere extension of my own.
There is no literal Galt’s Gulch for me to raise my son in, but I fully intend to raise him in one of my our creation.