When I was younger, I found a great deal of amusement in watching a commercial that showed parents gleefully engaging in back to school shopping with despondent children, set to the tune of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” but recently a similar advertisement that claimed “when school is in, parents win” troubled me greatly. As is the case with many subjects, my thoughts on education are very complicated . As a person I am very well educated, with two master’s degrees, one a Masters of Science in Engineering Management and the other a Masters of Art in Military History. Clearly, I am not hostile to education as a whole, and my relentless pursuit of self-education in the absence of formal credentials is no less notable. I wish this to be stated at the outset, because I do not want to be misunderstood as some sort of anti-intellectual who is opposed to education. I care very much about education, and have for my entire life, and I do not see it stopping as long as I draw breath.
That said, there is a great deal I disagree with in the statement. How do parents win when kids are in school? Obviously, as an advertisement, this phrase is spouted off to sell something. Going back to school often involves the expenditure of large amounts of money, even for ostensibly free education. Kids buy a new wardrobe so that they avoid being looked at as uncool for wearing all of the same clothes they wore last year. There is the requisite purchase of notebooks and folders and large amounts of paper and pens and pencils and other related products. Clearly companies win when schools are in, to the point where some areas engage in sales tax holidays to help encourage such back-to-school spending among the working class families from whom the sales tax is mostly collected. So, knowing that some companies win when school is in, it makes sense that these companies would wish to encourage parents to feel like winners too.
Still, there is something that many parents see as a win from the beginning of school, and that is having their children off their hands. The public school in particular has a well-recognized role as behaving in loco parentis, and no doubt many parents–especially single working parents or families where both spouses work outside of the home–rejoice in not having to be responsible any longer for their children for large stretches of the day. Somewhat sadly, it seems that not having to be responsible for children and not having to keep them occupied for long stretches of time is something for parents to celebrate. I’m not sure what this says about us as a society, but celebrating that one doesn’t have to spend time with our own offspring is probably not a good thing. Certainly, many children are needy and demanding, but all the same parents should want to be around their children and enjoy the time spent with them.
There is certainly plenty of evidence to demonstrate that children do not particularly enjoy school. As much as some of us enjoy learning, school itself, especially public school, is not an enjoyable experience for many people. People with nothing in common besides the same birthday and the same geographical area–where busing is not an issue–are forced to be together for hours engaged in tasks that few of them enjoy doing for their own pleasure instead of doing what they would rather be doing. It is little surprise in such circumstances that so much bullying and abuse happens, similar to what would happen at a prison, because in many ways a school is a prison. The despondency that children feel about the approach of school is easy enough to understand, but the happiness of parents is somewhat more problematic. Should parents celebrate sending their offspring to places where ridicule and abuse are likely, where conditions are restrictive, and where the utility of what is learned is often dubious?
Let us make no mistake, parents do not win when it comes to what schools educate their children in. Do you want your children educated in cheating, political correctness, and immorality? Most parents do not. Yet this is the sort of education that can easily be found in the vast majority of public schools. Do parents win when children cease to look to their parents as authorities and look instead to corrupt agents of the state, or other children? That does not seem like a win for parents, to be sure. In that context, it is little surprise that many parents who take the worldview of their children seriously engage in homeschooling, despite the fact that this requires a great deal of intensive effort at instructing children and in at least some cases becoming better educated themselves through the effort. Yet this is no doubt a win for parents as well–as these parents certainly take education seriously and their children have no doubt of it, even at the effort required of becoming teachers, which is no easy work if one does it with a great deal of effort as is often the case. Many other parents spend a great deal of effort and expense educating their children in private and parochial schools for similar reasons, because they care greatly about the quality of education their children get and recognize that many schools do not do a good enough job at it.
What, ultimately, counts as victory? Do we count it a win when we keep people too busy to bother us? Do we win when we spend a great deal of money in taxes and in our post-tax expenses for people to educate children in ways that we do not wish and must spend a great deal of effort and toil to attempt to counteract? Is victory having a bit more free time or a bit less responsibility because our adorable ragamuffins are not at home, or because our children are learning the sort of lessons we wish them to learn? Does victory take into account either or both the well-being as well as the interests of the children themselves? Do they have a say in what they consider victorious? Is not any victory worth having something that serves not only our own interests for today, but the interests of ourselves and of the universe at large both now and for all time? How is such a victory to be attained?
 See, for example: