Were we still school-parenting, I’m confident that Marylyn and I would be “podding” our five kids – some here at home, the others in age-appropriate pods around the neighborhood.
Berkeley, at least in its overeducated neighborhoods, is fertile ground for the fashion. Of course, down the slope near the bay, there live parents who are not so ready to deliver the good of schooling at home; of that, more in a moment.
First: Podding has proved popular among us well-off parents, and Berkeley is no peculiar island of this phenomenon. Across the country, parents and kids alike enjoy this very social but controlled environment for the delivery of knowledge to their young. Whether the basic goods of the mind are effectively transmitted remains to be seen; I assume that we will soon and for years to come be buried in reports on the blogs from the statisticians.
There are plenty of homeschoolers whose work appears to have paid off for the child, but the present absence of trustworthy statistics with which to gauge the worth of these accounts has made most of the optimistic reports of today vulnerable. And, even going toward fears that the commonly valued information will never come easily.
In any case, given their apparent popularity, pods could occasion a substantial and permanent departure of middle-class families from the traditional modes of schooling. The obvious civic problem that this creates is that the skills necessary to the creation and operation of a pod are not universal. The unreadiness of many lower-income parents to assemble an efficient learning club is plain fact.
But so what?
These people will be no worse off than now. They are today systematically drafted for the local last-resort public school, and so shall they remain when the podding begins among the better-off.
Paradoxically, a principal effect of the odd exodus will be felt by those low-income families that are scattered within comfortable suburban districts but unable to move to a pod along with their neighbors. The whole of it betrays the essentially private character of the existing system for those who can pay. The teachers union will retain its essential monopoly of the poor.
It is, I hope, quite possible that this plain and simple confirmation of America’s essential serfdom of the poor family in order to maintain the comfort of their schoolhouse warders will stir some among us at last to cry foul. No doubt there will be a division among these critics. Some will arise from the never-silent stockpile of envy, to demand the subordination of all parents and children to the state in the name of “equality” – no pods allowed!
But there will be others who will invoke the flag of equality in quite a different way. Instead of forcing all of us back into the old system by eliminating pods for the rich, they will insist that the non-rich be empowered, with vouchers or other devices, to choose a non-public school that waits to prove its special teaching genius.
The wisdom of such liberation has been attested by a host of reports from neutral-minded social scientists, at least in regard to its effect upon test scores.
Are we ready to trust the poor with that constitutional liberty we so value for ourselves? The advent of a true system of choice for all will not come without a period of confusion.
The more adventurous states among the 50 will accept the challenge and discover for all of us the pitfalls that await – and how to avoid them. Others will learn and follow. No doubt the occasional self-appointed “spokesperson” for the poor will do his best to turn the project to his self-interest.
In the end, given the opportunity, the poor will have to liberate themselves; but this will first require their deliverance from the peculiar shackles so long reserved for them. And that awaits the collaboration of us comfortable folk.
Are we ready?