Rod Dreher today links to this article by Sally Thomas in First Things. It's well worth a read, as it provides a good answer to that perennial question homeschoolers must field, "But don't you think it's selfish to keep your kids out of the public schools?"
I have to admit, that attitude has always bothered me. Do people get criticized or questioned for keeping their kids out of public health clinics, choosing instead to take little Bob and Jenny to a private doctor? Not at all; it's expected that public health clinics are a necessary safety net for those who don't have other options. Why don't we view education the same way?
Of course, part of the reason has to do with the tie between Protestantism and American public schools. It was taken for granted for many, many decades in this country that 'public' schools were going to provide a nonsectarian American Christian education, and that 'religious' schools were suspiciously unpatriotic and probably Papist or Jewish. In fact, in 1922 the voters of Oregon passed a referendum that was designed to force all children to attend public schools and eliminate private and religious schools altogether; this led to the Supreme Court decision in Pierce vs. the Society of Sisters, in which the Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary successfully won the right to continue the religious education of Oregon children.
In recent years religion has been removed from the public schools, but the attitude that it's somehow unpatriotic, anti-communitarian, elitist or the like to choose to educate your children away from the taxpayer-funded brick boxes continues to exist. Just like previous generations' opposition to public school alternatives, this current opposition, I believe, has its roots in hostility to religion.
Unlike countries which identify strongly with one denomination of Protestantism or another, America has always been a nation of many churches and many forms of Protestant Christianity. The hegemony that America achieved was largely the result of creating institutions that stressed a common Christian basis but left the doctrinal details deliberately fuzzy; chief among these nondenominational institutions was the public school.
In the public school, Methodists and Baptists, Presbyterians and Lutherans, Episcopalians, Adventists, and even Quakers could be united under one roof, and engage in a course of study that was acceptable to all of them. And the most important subject was history, which was written in such a way as to prejudice the children against the achievements of old Catholic Europe, and to stress the importance of the accomplishments of Protestantism and of America. The reason the Oregon voters wanted to abolish Catholic education was that they thought it impeded 'assimilation;' those Catholic immigrants were going to be too likely to cling to the customs and traditions of Europe and of Catholicism unless they could be re-educated to understand how wrong, backward, unenlightened, and anti-progressive Europe and the Catholic faith really were.
By the early 1960s the subtle Protestant Christianity of the public schools was being replaced by a new militant atheistic secularism that was, and remains, hostile to any and all public expression of religion or religious values. How that came to be is a topic well beyond the scope of a single blog entry; but it's interesting to note that the same established framework once used to indoctrinate all children into a formless Protestantism was, and is still, used to indoctrinate them instead into that militant atheistic secularism that quietly teaches our children that God doesn't exist and that religion is bunk.
It was easy to expand hostility to Catholicism and make it hostility to Christianity. It was easy to downplay the roles of historically identifiable Christian figures in the same way that Catholic figures had been downplayed. It was easy to translate the loathing for old Europe into a self-loathing for America that was named 'multiculturalism.' It was as easy to tear down the traditional family as it once had been to tear down the traditions of the old world.
But in making this sea-change, the peddlers of public education tipped their hand. They showed once and for all how little grounded is an education that is not grounded in faith and virtue. They showed that whatever the prevailing cultural fad or fancy is, it can be incorporated into the curriculum and taught as gravely and sternly as if it were unchanging eternal truth. They showed once and for all that they, the powers-that-be behind public schooling, are merely the whores of the Leviathan they serve, and that they are more than willing to sell themselves and the innocent children in their charge for even less than the proverbial thirty pieces of silver.
Is it selfish to keep your kids out of the public schools? No; it's just necessary.