For the past several days, I've been discussing the pros & cons of homeschooling versus a traditional public school education. At the outset, I should state that both my wife (who teaches in one of the larger public school systems in the US) and I are products of public education. Clearly, my views are going to be affected by that background.
First, there is the sense of, "This was good enough for me, so it oughta be good enough for my kids." I know that this thought has passed through my mind as I've thought over this, but I also am well aware that the educational system of today bears only a passing resemblence to the one that was in place in from 1967-1978. (I skipped 6th grade, so I only attended school for 11 years.)
But when I consider the possibility that the schools of today might NOT be as good as what I experienced, I stop and ask why that might be. Is it because we, as parents, aren't as (appropriately) involved as we used to be in our children's education? Have we either delegated all teaching (including morals and social values) to others, or have we gone to the other extreme of pushing our influence into the classroom at every opportunity (trying to turn the current teacher into my surrogate)? The extremes trouble me, and don't represent the participation that I recall my parents having as I grew up.
Second, there is the question of socialization. I have read most of the arguments on both sides about the social education that naturally occurs within a school. For instance, one might argue that my son doesn't need to go to school with a bully in order to learn how to deal with such personalities, and that isolating him from such behavior may allow him to mature without such influences, and not learn "inappropriate" behaviors. Likewise, you can suggest that by shielding my son from the bully, you are crippling him socially--preventing him from learning necessary socialization techniques that we adults use when dealing with others. Though I suspect that the former scenario is possible, I KNOW that the latter scenario is, because this was the case for me.
Lastly, there is a question of overly homogenous education. That is to say, is there a benefit to my children being exposed, even at an early age, to differing points of view, teaching styles, and even interpersonal styles for adults. Here, it becomes a question of the value of socialization with adults, and not with my son's peers.
For me, this is truly the key issue, and my feelings about it relate to a core value that I learned from my father, relating to religious truth: "If what we believe is really true, no amount of closer scrutiny will reveal it to be false. If anything, the scrutiny will reveal it to be true, and we'll have even greater faith in what we believe than before. On the other hand, if what we believe is false, and it's in danger of being revealed by scrutiny, are we 'blissful in our ignorance,' instead of being committed to the truth?"
From that core teaching, I thoughtfully listen when I hear a differing viewpoint on religion, politics, parenting, or even home-schooling. I hear what others present, try to remove some of the emotion from the equation, and assess the results as objectively as possible.
With regard to home-schooling, it translates into me being quite happy to have my son's teachers challenging things that I have taught them. Since I've taught my sons to question what they believe anyway, they respond to differing opinions by engaging the teacher (and me) in a debate about the subject, which in turn translates into deeper understanding. (Much deeper than the superficial learning that occurs from blindly memorizing the information.)
Am I afraid that they may discard those carefully formed "truths" that I have passed on to them, in favor of what they learn from the teacher? Not in the least! In fact, I'm anxious for them to prove me wrong, and educate me in the process (which they LOVE to do!). In this way, the knowledge that they gain as part of the educational process is far greater than what they could have ever achieved if they had simply parroted what they learned at my feet.
Have I carefully examined what I believe/know/think to determine that it's true? Of course! However, I'm not so arrogant as to believe that I have a monopoly on truth.
In summary, I think exposing my children to various teaching styles, differing viewpoints, and varied (and sometimes contrary) personalities has benefits that far outweigh the downsides to public education. For the downsides that remain, it behooves me as a parent to engage myself in the process sufficiently well enough to affect change where change is beneficial.
A good friend of mine once said, "We all want our children to grow up in a culturally rich and diverse environment, but to ultimately hold the same values and prejudices that we hold so dear." The dichotomy of this statement is amazing but true. I choose to push myself out of that, and encourage my sons to not be limited by the knowledge, values, beliefs, prejudices, and biases that I have. I choose to push them to being smarter, more moral, more faithful, less bigoted, and more unbiased than I.
P.S. In the case of my oldest son (16 year-old), some of these issues came to a head this semester, as we were confronted with the possibility of him having another class with a teacher that had demonstrated an apparent bias against him. My response was, "I don't always have the option of choosing who I work for, or who I work with. At some point, you're going to have to learn to deal with people who don't like you, and who you feel are out to get you. Learn from it. Deal with it. Get over it." So far, he seems to have learned far more from that class than any other in the current semester.