When I was about twelve, the classic British novels I read gave me the idea that I would prefer to be educated by a governess. I contended that I had a right not to be physically battered on a daily basis and that the ostensible purpose of school was for me to learn things, which I was not. My parents didn’t even consider it, but if they had, at that time – my sentence was from 1976-1988 – they would have had great difficulty in getting permission from the government to remove me from brainwashing camp. At that time, only a small handful of genuine nuts wanted to teach their children at home.
It was two years after I was released that I first heard the term “homeschool” and encountered a couple of youngsters who were being educated in that fashion. Since then, thankfully, homeschooling has become steadily more popular, and while the legal rights of homeschoolers are under constant attack, it is nonetheless now possible to keep your children out of the government indoctrination system.
I do not think that the timing is a coincidence.
The parents of my generation went to school in the 50’s and early 60’s, taught by women who grew up in a very different age. (Florence King claims that her teachers were ladies. I cannot even imagine a lady as a teacher.) Then they went to college to smoke pot, protest stuff, and practice free love. Once they had gotten that out of their systems and had children, they did not pause to reflect that their children’s teachers were mostly of the same age and had done the same things in college. When their children reported on the frequent classroom violence and disruption, most of them dismissed it as childish hyperbole. Their teachers would never have allowed such behavior, surely teachers weren’t different now! The kids were just making it up because they would rather stay home and watch cartoons. And it never occurred to them to quiz their kids to check their progress; wasn’t that what teachers were for? I remember one of my English professors being amazed that he had to explain the proper use of an ellipse to my class. It had never occurred to any of our parents to ask us, “Have your teachers told you about ellipses yet?” The result was that an entire generation – mine – was raised by parents who had no clue what was going on in their kids’ schools.
When people just a few years older than me were old enough to have kids of their own, they launched the homeschooling movement, because they knew what schools had become. Those who had been lucky enough to be shielded from the worst of it (generally because they had pushy parents who the teachers didn’t want to have to deal with, or because they themselves were the miscreants) found their illusions shattered by the Mary Kay Letourneau case, which turned out not to be a bizarre fluke but the beginning of a trend.
Which is why I get irritated when people criticize “helicopter parents”. Pick up any newspaper and you will find stories of teenagers raped by teachers, adults murdered by random passerby, and children kidnapped from shopping malls when their parents turned their backs for one moment. And if you are my age or younger, you probably have very bad memories of what classrooms were like. I’m always reading about how in earlier decades or centuries, children roamed much more freely and no harm came to them. That was then. Not being a “helicopter parent” in this age is reckless.
This is on my mind partly because of this blog post. The blogger contends that interacting with teenagers occasionally is beneficial to children. (If we could feel confident they wouldn’t beat up or molest the children, I would agree.) Then he hits the nail on the head:
The General Social Survey shows that sometime in the late ’80s, people’s trust in others started to fall steadily. During the previous decades of high trust, people were afraid for the babysitter — some escaped mental patient might try to hunt her down. When trust started plummeting, people were afraid of the babysitter — now she was the basketcase who would destroy your family. In fairness, some of this decline in trust could be an understandable response to people’s bad experiences with babysitters, even if you think it’s an over-reaction.
He links to the movie The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Hmm, I can think of several “killer nanny” movies. Let’s check on the timing.
1990 The Guardian
1991 The Sitter
1992 The Hand That Rocks The Cradle
1992 Midnight’s Child
1993 Addams Family Values
Just at the time my generation was reaching adulthood. If the GSS is right, people stopped trusting each other at exactly the age when the generation which was raised by former hippies came of age.
That generation declared, “Never trust anyone over 30.” I guess they wanted to prove that they were right.