…Public schools can teach knowledge. Whether the knowledge they teach has any relevance to the real world, past the primary school grades, is open to debate, but the fundamentals of education: reading, writing, and arithmetic, the public schools CAN—and traditionally HAVE—done a reasonably good job of. The thing is though, any functioning adult, with the willingness to do so, can ALSO teach those, and will—in my experience—do a much better job of making them accessible to the child, than a school teacher.
My seven year old is an age-peer with second graders. She is currently reading Wildwood Wisdom, by Ellsworth Jaeger. Slowly, but she is reading it, and she carries it with her, all the time, reading sections that interest her, or come to her attention because of something she sees around the farm. Wildwood Wisdom, for those poor, sheltered souls unfamiliar with this classic of woodcraft, is a 474 page tome on outdoor living skills, written in 1945, and generally targeted at teenage and adult readers.
She also does basic arithmetic, including addition and subtraction, and is working on multiplication. She has also written letters and notes to friends and family, on paper, with pens and pencils.
It COULD be argued that we are a special case, because I have a post-graduate degree, and formal training in pedagogy, but that would be a bullshit argument, because people have been teaching their own children how to read and do arithmetic and write, as long as there has been reading, writing, and arithmetic. Again, ANY parent—or interested, functional adult—can teach the same basic knowledge that a public grammar school teacher can. From there, learning is—or should be—largely self-directed anyway. Sure, kids should probably know the basics of things like the Scientific Method, and Civics, etc, but guess what? If you know how to read, you can learn those things by….reading…and all it requires is interest. If that interest is not present, no amount of threats about “failing,” “bad grades,” or “permanent records,” is going to create that interest in a “student.” You know who does a good job of eliciting interest in young people about any given subject? The adults they are familiar with and respect, who display an interest in that subject…not public school teachers.
Values and beliefs have no place—whatsoever—being taught in public schools. Period. Values and beliefs are cultural artifacts depending on religion and cultural worldviews. It MIGHT have been possible, once upon a time, for teachers in small, rural communities, who attended church with the local community, and spent their social time within the community…and ideally, was raised within the community…to effectively teach values and beliefs in a schoolroom setting, but I have to be honest…