There has been a tantalising exchange of views between Chris O'Donnell at his US Home School Blog and Expat Teacher.
Expat started it off by providing an argument supposedly for schooling, declaring that:
There are three options for the goals of education: Democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility.
To start with, if one is to take this particular hypothesis seriously, it is not immediately clear why it is supposedly an argument in favour of schooling. What we do have here is a theory about the goals of education and since schooling is not synonymous with education, the argument does not seem to answer the problem it purports to solve, ie: to provide the argument for schooling. It is not at all clear either whether schools can actually achieve these goals, or whether schools can uniquely achieve these goals. Expat also doesn't want to address the issue of why HE fails in this regard, so we cannot even infer a clear argument from this source either.
In point of fact, if one were to take these goals seriously, it is very questionable whether schools are the best place to achieve them. Schools, routinely being authoritarian institutions, do not offer a genuine model of democratic equality, nor when children are coerced, as they frequently are in schools, does it offer the chance to learn in a genuinely efficient manner in a way that would underpin genuine social efficiency. Finally, for good measure, by keeping children firmly in their place, schooling does not offer the chance of genuine, freely initiated social mobility.
By way of a contrast, rational criticism and creative thinking, which are the very tools that do underpin democratic equality, genuine social efficiency and the possibility of social advancement are much more possible outside of school, where the constraints of authoritarian schooling do not present a problem and where a parent can offer theories tentatively and help a child enact their autonomy.
For more explanation on what I mean here: the statement "There are three options for the goals of education: Democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility" can be used to demonstrate certain epistemological problems very nicely.
Firstly, it makes manifest the problems of authoritarian pedagogy. There is seems to be an assumption here that teacher knows best. Indeed it rather seems that the teacher believes themselves to know things for certain, that these ideas are irredeemably, infallibly right. Even if this is not the case, and teacher is holding these theories tentatively, there would, in a school situation, be very little opportunity to question these assertions deeply, which to all intents and purposes means that these assertions seem infallible.
This is, of course, very poor epistemology and one very good reason not to send kids to school, since it is a commonplace problem there. Knowledge is, of course, always tentative and up for improvement, and though we may dismiss bad ideas through falsification and criticism, we cannot know that even our best ideas are the very best. I only remember a couple of examples of this epistemology being modeled throughout my whole time at school. (University was significantly better in this regard, incidentally.) Most of the time we were led to believe that we should believe what we were told, since it was unquestionably right.
This declaration also seems to demonstrate the epistemological error of assuming that you can pour knowledge into the head of someone else as you would water into a bucket, since it is seemingly predicated upon the idea that the declaration of goals is sufficient to their realisation. This is not the case. Learning takes place in the mind of the learner when theories are active within the mind. The learner is responsible for this. Imposition of ideas into a mind that is not addressing the ideas results in coercion, ie: being forced to enact a theory that is not active in the mind. This in turn results in an inability to apply reason and creativity to the theory.
It seems to me that any goal of education should be constructed upon the basis of what actually happens in the learning process. To deny the basics of how the mind works in the setting of educational goals, is equivalent to deciding to walk round the world without addressing the fact that humans are not constructed in such a way as to make this possible. Given that learning takes place in the mind of the learner and that you cannot simply imprint an idea upon his mind, this being a physical impossibility, the goal of education should be to facilitate the theories that are actually active in the mind of the learner. Therefore, far better to respond to questions that the learner asks. This way one will have a much better hit rate with regard to providing information which will receive active criticism and creative thought.
Schools do not easily have a chance to do this. At the very least, they are frustrated in achieving this goal since they cannot address the active theories in the minds of a class of some 30 odd children. More often than not, though, this aim wouldn't even be adopted by the staff, since traditional pedagogy is the unquestioned ethos of most schools.
HE is frequently superior to schooling, since there is a much greater chance that an adult can be on hand to answer a child's questions, to address the theories that are active in the mind of the child. Plus, HE adults very frequently hold this as their stated intent.
So in answer to the question, "why do you teach your child?", I would say that education should, given that it takes place solely in the mind of the learner, be about giving children the opportunity to address the theories that are active in their minds. Given that theories are always up for improvement, I would not dream of setting a curriculum of pre-prescribed ideas, but will offer my theories tentatively. In addition, given the fact that a child will need to enact their autonomy within the context of society, it is almost inevitable that a discussion of issues such as civic responsibility (or the other goals that Expat mentions) will emerge. Indeed the learner may choose to adopt these goals, but this process does not involve an coercive imposition of any of these goals. What would be the point? Coercion limits rational criticism and creativity and therefore does not optimally or genuinely contribute to any of Expat's stated goals of education.