Late 20th-century demography hardly helped. Public institutions reflect public expectations. Expectations for the schools declined markedly. As divorce split up families and the job market siphoned off the achievement overseers generally addressed as Mom, families tended to see classrooms as holding pens for underfoot kids. Schools ventured into new terrain, such as sex education and the representation of the American story as a narrative of racist imperialism. God was advised rudely to get Himself off the school ground, fast. Teacher unions rated pay and benefits as more important to them than standards and teaching methods.
How fast did the customers catch on? Fast enough. Parents moved themselves and their broods to suburban districts. Private schools, especially religious ones, multiplied. Still other parents took on themselves the task of educating their children. By 2007, an estimated 1.5 million young people, 2.5 percent of all students, were learning at home. Networks arose to provide school opportunities and curricular materials.
To the charge that they were undermining public education, parents pled self-defense. What did the schools expect anyway -- that savvy parents were going to let their children's minds and prospects perish in second-rate settings or worse?
Home schooling isn't the answer for everybody. For one thing, it requires the oversight of highly motivated parents. The best thing to call it, I think, is an end-run around political and cultural obstacles to the flourishing of young people whose parents love them very much.
The two kids -- pardon me, young men -- I addressed on the occasion of their Going Forth into the World (by way of good universities) are individuals of high promise, imbued with ambition, drive, intelligence, sensibilities of various sorts and, not least important, religious instinct. The public schools might have had them but for the schools' perceived inability to maintain the right environment for success and the breeding of character.
Goes to show as a nation we may be smarter than our standardized test scores make us out to be.