The Collapse of the Family – Part 2
[This is Part 3 of the article “Please Don’t Homeschool Your Children!”]
To understand where I am going with all this, I need to give a short history lesson. If you can follow along, I believe it will help establish why I ask parents to not homeschool their children.
The Industrial Revolution of the mid-1800’s is properly called a Revolution in that it changed the culture of America forever. Especially did it change the family.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the average American family had seven children and, because of this high number of children, the average age of all Americans was 13 years old.
Why so many kids? Because, next to the land, children were the family’s most important asset. Families needed children, and lots of them. Very few adults earned wages since most families farmed their own land and lived only at a subsistence level. In other words, they produced, and made, virtually everything they needed. Who needs money in an economy like that?
One interesting fact is that, in spite of living at a barely subsistence level, American children had the highest level of literacy in the world.
There has always been a desire to improve one’s family’s standard of living and to give one’s family more than it already has. But, when even the simplest things are expensive and have to be made by hand—and when parents and children spend their days working the fields to produce everything the family needs—“getting ahead” is little more than a parent’s dream.
However, in the mid-1800’s, everything changed. The Industrial Revolution began. Machinery was married to steam power and what once was too expensive for a family to afford (or had to be hand-made) suddenly came within reach financially. More importantly, the newly built factories needed workers, with the promise of earning money. The siren call went forth for men to leave their homes and be paid a salary (something new for most men). The possibility of being able to increase one’s family’s standard of living was the draw that caused men to cease being patriarchs of a family enterprise and become employees.
Around this same time, another movement was taking shape: The Common (Public) School Movement. The leaders of this movement were, for the most part, humanists who were concerned about two things they believed endangered America’s future: That parents were teaching their children what these men called “religious superstitious beliefs” and the influx of illiterate immigrants seeking jobs and a better life in America. These leaders believed that realizing their two-fold goal of ridding our society of religion and providing an education for immigrant children mandated compulsory education for every child. Soon, various states were passing Compulsory Attendance Laws and children were being required, by law, to leave home to be public schooled.
So, as dads were leaving home with a promise of employment, children were also leaving home with a promise of being made employable. Within a very short period of time, the family unit—which had been tightly held together as its members worked together for the common good of the whole—became a group of individuals going their separate ways with separate agendas. To the factories went the dads. To the schools went the kids. And, Mom? Her identity within the (quickly dispersing) family will have to be the subject of another (and very important) article.
It wasn’t long before people forgot what it was like to be a family with Dad as the head of a family enterprise with each family member being co-producers. In one generation, the cultural memory of children growing up at home was forgotten. Children belonged “in school” during the most productive hours of their day, learning whatever would make them employable, becoming independent, establishing strong relationships with peers that replaced the bonds of family. What had once been a lifestyle of learning became “book learning” as education became separated from a real life that was no longer being lived.
[Next: pulling the family back home]