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Ocean View: Musings of a Homeschool Dad

by Michael Leppert
 
Ethics Dept.

It is easy to discuss amongst ourselves the teaching of morals and ethics to our children, but obviously it is not so easy to accomplish in real life. Many practices confront and test one’s concept of ethics and require hard thought and action. For instance: Is it unethical to copy music and/or movies from the Internet without paying the artist(s) royalties? How would your family answer this question? Would their answer be the same in theory as in practice? Have you overheard someone say, in all seriousness, “Well, it isn’t wrong if you don’t get caught; right?” Most of the time, the only justification you hear is that CDs and movies “are too expensive,” even when there is no financial provocation for such a thought -- one might hear this statement from middle-class kids in the suburbs as quickly as from a child in the ghetto. It seems that something being “too expensive” is all the justification necessary to warrant stealing it! I wonder what parents think about it? They probably don’t think of downloading music and/or movies as stealing, but if the work in question were the result of their daily labor, what would their response be?

Some person may argue that copying music from the ‘Net is no different than photocopying sheet music or a play -- and that is true. In both instances, someone has to purchase an initial copy of the music or play in order for it to be copied. In the case of providing Internet accessibility, someone has to purchase the initial movie DVD or CD of music that is uploaded to the Internet to be offered to download for free. A songwriter or composer who once relied upon sheet music sales for a major portion of his/her livelihood has suffered greatly at the hands of photocopying. (But manual music copyists have always existed and when choirs of old performed music of long-dead, far-away masters, they no doubt purchased one copy of the work if they were lucky to find one, and then made multiples by hand.) Outside of the sacred music field, there probably hasn’t been such a songwriter or composer in at least 40 years, as sheet music accounts for a miniscule amount of royalties. Sheet music may be today what CDs will be 20 years from now – merely a tiny portion of a songwriter’s royalties and made available more as a service than as income generation. Since the individuals whose websites make these products available for free, also make no money from them, their bottom line motivation would seem to be simply trying to ruin the star-making machinery that loses money from their illegal practices. Of course, never mind the people such as the songwriter and/or recording artist who also lose money and eventually the sidemen (accompanying musicians), engineers and others who may lose trickle-down income. And it does trickle down. No matter how humorous critics of former President Reagan make the term, “trickle-down,” anyone who really understands any business realizes that you can’t hurt the big guy without hurting the little guy.

But how much a certain practice damages someone isn’t all there is to a discussion of ethics. To broaden the topic let us ask: Is stealing wrong if the victim will never miss the item and never find out it has been stolen? If one is a Theist in the Judao-Christian tradition, the answer is “Yes.” The stealing is wrong because it violates a specific commandment of God. Suppose for a moment that one reason for the issuing of the Ten Commandments was to help people develop and maintain a healthy, independent conscience (as opposed to a neurotic one) so that they could become capable of living freely, happily and fruitfully, according to the Commandment Giver’s wishes and plans, then it becomes obvious that there is never a victimless violation of ethics and/or morals, because the do-er of the act (i.e. the thief) is always damaged. You cannot simultaneously practice building up and tearing down your healthy conscience. There are non-theists who also reach the same conclusion: That stealing damages the thief no matter what, and therefore, is wrong. I haven’t yet heard an argument that defends stealing from others, but I suppose if such an argument exists “now” is the time in history for it to surface. Anyone care to share a thought with me?

Where Is That Dough?

With all of the recent flurry of activity on the charter school front and with the Supreme Court voucher decision re Cleveland, Ohio, money seems to have taken center stage of the homeschool world once and for all. All of us “middle-timers” (I consider the Colfaxes and other people who homeschooled in 80s as the old-timers) are watching the face of our homeschooling community being transformed almost overnight. Support groups that were formerly composed of traditionalist homeschoolers are seeing an inundation of public school students that are now “homeschooled” in the literal sense of the word. Public-school-at-home is the name of the new game.

John Holt must be rolling over in his grave! Imagine how he would react at having the public school system setting up shop in the living room and disguising itself as parents-teaching their-own-children type of homeschooling we have known and loved up to now! Talk about wolves in sheep’s clothing!

I had read once that an old trick of those adept at manipulating public opinion is to release false information about one’s opponent to discredit him, water down his mission and make him seem silly. In the late 1950s and early 60s, the John Birch Society was stomped by the Leftists in just such a way. So much misinformation was spread throughout the media casting the JBS as a bunch of lunatics, that in no time at all most of America believed it and the JBS could not make a move that was not immediately ridiculed into oblivion. By the public school system invading the realm of true homeschooling, nearly the same thing is being accomplished. Our efforts to remain autonomous and free of the ravages of the system are now being diluted in the eyes of the public to the point that now the word “home schooling” has become obsolete. It does not describe what we parents-who-teach-our-own-without-advice-from-the-system do.

I guess “APIK” is a possibility: Autonomous Parents Imparting Knowledge. So, now do we refer to ourselves as APIKers? I can hear it now, grandma calls from New Jersey to speak with her California relatives. She asks how everything is going and mom answers “Oh, just great. Our APIKing is really fun this year!” Or grandma tells one of her longtime friends that her West Coast grandchildren are APIKd.

Great. Just when we thought it was safe to say “homeschooling” without being completely ostracized and/or misunderstood, we have to get even MORE technical to try to describe our lifestyle to the well-meaning curious. Depending upon the state, some local charter schools receive anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000+ from the state and they pass along less than $2,000 in value in books and a cheap computer to the parents, who think they are going to have a teacher holding their hands, as well. I do not know first-hand, but I have heard from reliable sources that there is no such hand-holding going on. For we original homeschoolers, the great hope of these charter schools is that the word will get around among their future prospective customers that the plan is not what they expect and that those families already engaged in charter schools will see the value of truly, autonomously teaching their own children and simply fade from the charter-school ranks and become APIKs. There is an old saying: “There ain’t no free lunch.” We’ll see how long it takes to sink in this time around. MJL

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