Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Analysis Not To Be Found in Populist News Media VII: Susan Wise Bauer

Susan Wise Bauer is one of the sharpest, most charismatic and intelligent voices on the subject of American education today.  Among other books, she is the author of both The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (1999) and The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had (2003).  Bauer is an eloquent advocate for classical education and she is also an advocate for home-schooling.  What anyone unfamiliar with either home-schooling or classical education may not realize is how small of a minority this places Bauer in.  Today, the majority of our private schools do not follow any sort of classical education model, and neither do the majority of homeschoolers.

If classical education is an obscure concept to you, then first, read the rather famous articulate essay, The Lost Tools of Learning, by Dorothy Sayers.  Second, watch Bauer's half-hour talk on education below.



One day, if we are very lucky, a prudent thinking governor or president will appoint Bauer, and others like her, to positions of authority in our country's education system.  In the meantime, as both a conservative and educated voice, Bauer's points of view are being frowned upon, even in homeschooling circles.

An excerpt from her website (April 19, 2012) reads as follows:

“... I’m discouraged by the conference scene, which is becoming increasingly polarized. Those of you who attend home education conferences may have noticed this.

I love to teach; I love to help parents and teachers teach. That’s part of what I do. But conferences seem, increasingly, less focused in education and more on lifestyle: whether that’s back-to-the-earth, drop-out-of-the-system, or build-God’s-kingdom-through-home-schooling. Check out the workshop offerings at your nearest conference, and look at the percentages: how many of the workshops are dedicated to teaching and learning? and how many focus on parenting, marriage issues, family dynamics, church matters, theology, bread-baking, organic gardening…?

Let me be clear: I don’t pay for the hotels, the meeting spaces, the tech support, the insurance, or anything else for these conferences. If the leadership of a conference wants to make it an Education Plus Preferred Lifestyle sort of get-together, no problem. I’ll still come and talk about education.

But in the past few years, I have been asked, by multiple different conference organizers, to promise to NOT talk about certain theories, or certain types of education; to give any appearance of endorsing certain organizations, life choices, or philosophies; to swear I won’t bring certain books for my book table; to mention certain words. None of which, I should say, have anything to do with what I normally talk about: grammar, history, writing, reading, learning. I have been told that I am not welcome, in some cases, because I talk too much about the psychology of learning, and not about the Bible. Or because I have a theological degree and am obviously pushing a Christian agenda. Because my “professional associations,” however loose, are too liberal, or too secular, or too Christian.

And many of the conferences that put these restrictions on me don’t advertise themselves as “A Conference on Education For People Who Hope To Follow X Philosophy of Life.” They present themselves as “The Official State Home Education Organization For Your State!” or “The Only Education Conference You Should Attend if You Teach Your Kids!” or…

I’m weary of it.

I’m not sure where we go from here, to tell you the truth. I just know that I am increasingly frustrated, and that my particular set of gifts (I am darned good at teaching people how to do things; I inherited that from my mother) do not seem to be what many conference organizers are looking for.

So those are the three reasons why I won’t be at 2013 conferences.

Honestly, I’m hoping that in 2014, I’ll be able to speak at home education conferences again (and that this post plus my sabbatical won’t deep-six that possibility). But that remains to be seen. I do think there’s an increasing need for education-focused conferences that don’t require parents to affirm a particular set of beliefs at the door. The need for home education is only growing greater, not less ...”

The fact that voices like Bauer's are being discouraged from participating in any form of our country's education is deplorable.  If Progressive reforms over the last century have really changed the nature of our education system, then keeping your kids at home and teaching them your own ideology is not going to give them the education that they ought to be given.

A “Christian” education does not mean a good education.  Perhaps, historically, it used to mean that.  But not anymore.  All you have to do now is look at some of the academic results for many a church or private school.  Their test scores, literacy and university admissions rates can often be just as abysmal as the public schools (but at least they won’t believe in modern scientific methods for dating the age of the earth).  The entire model of our education and the foundation of our school curriculum needs to be rethought.  Bauer is one of those people who has produced results concretely demonstrating what some rethinking can accomplish.  And ... Bauer is one of those people that is deliberately ignored by those who insist upon ideological blinders.

The Washington Post even found this worth reporting on:

... “Susan got really beat up by inappropriate behavior,” says Leigh Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations, a North Carolina-based home education movement. “In many ways, home-schooling has grown up, but people don’t always act like grown-ups.”

Bauer’s disagreement with home-schooling proponents who say the public schools are hostile to Christianity also has become a point of contention.

“I’ve been told if I say anything supportive of public schools, even charter ones, I’ll lose my speaker’s fee, and I don’t get my expenses reimbursed,” she says. “Of course, I tell them I won’t come.”...

So she doesn't.  Less and less people hear what someone like her has to say.  Moderate voices are silent.  The extreme points of view become more common.  And more and more schools continue to either (a) adopt the newest and latest progressive educational innovations, or (b) grow only further entrenched within their own enclosed reactionary little subcultures.

Something here needs some serious work.

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