This month’s issue of the Notices of the AMS contains an interesting article on “Mathematics and Home Schooling” (see reference below). I think the title is slightly misleading, as the article deals more generally with the past and current state of home schooling in the United States, with only a minor focus on science in general, as opposed to mathematics in particular. But no matter– the article is still a great informative read. The following are merely highlights, reactions, and rants.
I found particularly interesting the survey of legal precedent and various interpretations of the states’ assumed responsibility for childrens’ education. For example, the “Amish exemption” resulting from Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) allowed the Amish community in Wisconsin to sidestep the state’s compulsory school attendance law, “because [the court] believed that the very nature of the religion would be undermined with exposure of its young people to the worldly culture of education beyond the eighth-grade level.” But this allowance seems to be unique; “attempts by other religious groups to claim an “Amish exemption” for their educational practices or lack thereof have not been well received by the courts.” It is not clear to me how these differences of treatment of different religions are justified or reconciled.
One rather disturbing feature of religiously motivated home schooling addressed in the article is the potential lack of gender equity. For example, quoting guidance from Stacy McDonald (who a quick web search suggests is associated with FamilyReformation.org):
A girl’s education “should be focused on assisting her future husband as his valuable helpmate, not on becoming her ‘own person’.” Girls are counseled to “[r]emember that a strong desire to be a doctor or a seeming by-God-given talent in mathematics is not an indication of God’s will for you to have a career in medicine or engineering. Sometimes God gives us talents and strengths for the specific purpose of helping our future husbands in their calling.”
Sigh. Of course, at the end of the day I suppose it is necessary to consider whether any of this matters– that is, it’s nonsense, but can anything be done about it? Should anything be done about it? Getting between parents and their children can be a pretty nasty subject. To answer these questions, I think you have to consider the extent to which you think that withholding education– or providing absurdly inaccurate education– is harmful or abusive to a child.
For my part, I think education is as critical to quality of life as medical care. If a child grows up without learning what the rest of the modern world is learning, then that child has been denied the chance to be great, to possibly make the next ground-breaking advance in astronomy, biology, physics, etc.
Reference: Acker, Gray, Jalali, and Pascal, Mathematics and Home Schooling. Notices of the AMS, 59(4) (April 2012): 513-521. [PDF]