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Home School Fever

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The other day after listening to a friend extolling the virtues of her home-schooled son and his exquisite sensitivity (he found a tree branch in the backyard, named it Tree Willy, and asked if it could move inside and be part of their family), I got to thinking about how much that boy could use some time on a playground hanging out with, well, other kids.

I thought but didn't say: Being home-schooled is a great idea if your father is a blacksmith.

I always thought one advantage of attending school was to go into the world and meet people who are not blood-related.

You know, socialize. Figure out who to befriend. Who to avoid. Learn stuff your mom and dad might not know. Like conversational German, or how to play the xylophone, or why the government has occasionally rounded up Native Americans and Japanese Americans and locked them up.

I thought people went to school to read books that they might not find in their parents' library. You know, books that don't include words like "thou" and "begot" or phrases like "he dwelleth in the land of Canaan all the years of his life which numbered 848."

And then discuss these books with classmates. You know, classmates? Those people who sit next to you in school but don't follow you home and sleep in the bottom bunk.

Before this evening I had never met anyone who home-schooled her children, probably because I don't hang out with the Amish or with the well-to-do in Topanga.

The home school mom reminded me of what I, a public school teacher, observe every day: the splintering of America, the intentional segregation of America's youth.

Every morning as I head to work on the west side of Los Angeles I see kids in uniforms hurrying toward religious day schools. Some of these families fall in line with liberal Kennedy-style types, while others attend schools where the instructors are Santorum-style true believers. Still others attend Orthodox Jewish day schools that pledge allegiance to God and Israel before America. Still others send their kids to culturally Jewish schools so they'll connect to the Judaism their parents abandoned years ago.

There's at least one Muslim school in my part of town, though I admit I don't know its politically leanings. What I do know is that the concept I was taught in elementary school -- the idea of the melting pot, the dream of a nation of people of different colors and religions and ethnicities and classes coming together to be stronger for being united, has all but vanished.

Whatever happened to "e pluribus unum?" Out of the many, one.

Standing in line at Starbucks behind the wealthy and their children, watching them grab their lattes before speeding off in luxury sedans to drop their kids off at $30,000/year schools, I mourn. We Americans are headed in opposite and opposing directions; instead of coming together we're becoming once again a nation of tribal loyalties. Different, distinct, distant and with little or no hope of uniting for the betterment of us all.

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