Thursday, April 21, 2005

Homeschooling - Not for everyone is not the same as not for "most"

A post from Spunky brought to my attention this piece - Home Schooling not a good idea for most - by Illinois talk show host Scott Thomas. I don't know Scott Thomas. Based on some of the things that he has to say, I think that I probably agree with him on a great many issues. Homeschooling, however, is not one of them.

We homeschool our four children. When I say "we", of course, I mostly mean "she", as in my wife. She's at home with them during the day, she plans their work and watches and helps as they do it. But it's a team effort. I help out when she's traveling or when there are math lessons that need more explanation.

We decided on home-schooling before we had children. My wife was a teacher in the public schools, and we never considered putting our kids into them. There are many reasons for that but the big one was this - if we wanted to have and raise children, why would we hand them off to other people to raise for us?

Anyway, Scott Thomas is not a homeschooling fan.
I guess, as a true blue (or is that true red) conservative, I’m supposed to be a big supporter or home schooling. It’s one of those bedrock conservative issues, like the right to carry guns and lower taxes. But, I’m not in the home school camp.

To further thicken the soup I find myself in, I am a Christian and, for a myriad of reasons, home schooling has become quite fashionable among conservative Christians who wish not to subject their children to the liberal secularism prevalently found in our public schools.

So, to maintain my conservative Christian membership credentials, let me clearly state that I am not against the parents’ right to home school their children. I just think, by and large, it’s not a very good idea.

Certainly, he has a right to his opinion. But what is it based on?
But, much more common, from my observation, is that parents choose to home school as a form of protection for their children.

Parents "protect[ing]" their children? Outrageous!

Obviously, all parents want to protect their children. Who sends their kids out in the winter without coats? Who doesn't put up gates to keep them away from stairtops, or teach them not to touch hot stoves, or keep matches and sharp objects away from infants? Who doesn't teach them the dangers of smoking and drugs? Of drinking and driving?

So, if "protection for their children" is actually a normal and obligatory function of parenthood, what is he saying here? I think that what he saying is not that parents are protecting children, but that they're over-protecting children. Which is, of course, a very different thing.

Typical of the emails I received from listeners is this: "We don’t want them (children) to be indoctrinated by Tolerance of everything & everyone (except for conservative Christians), Pro-gay lifestyles, Evolution-is-fact teaching throughout the curriculum (and not just science), Prayer in school is forbidden, and many other examples that permeate the academic agenda."

I don’t like all of that junk, either.

So, there are legitimate reasons for the children to be "protected" from the public school. And he seems to agree that there are things for the children to be protected against, but that the parents are somehow wrong for exercising that protection.
But, at what price, protection?

Good. He's going to tell us why.
As one public school teacher told me, "As a teaching professional, I am deeply hurt by the Christian community's pull-out from the public school system. The (public school) teachers I know are excellent! And many of them are Christians! They have a wealth of experience and resources that can't be matched by home schooling parents. Not only are teachers highly-educated (all having Bachelor's degrees, and many having Master's or PhD's), but they are specialists in their fields. We go to conferences, read up on the latest research and have teams of Master Teachers who mentor educators new to the profession.

Every time elections start approaching, or teacher's union contracts come up, we suffer an assault of advertising on the television and radio from those unions, explaining how important it is to give the teachers what they want "for the children." Every time teachers need more vacation time, or more raises, or more sick time, it's "for the children."

The fact is that teacher's unions don't represent children - they represent teachers. And the teacher's interests and the children's interests are not the same. Look at that last paragraph again. "As a teaching professional" (not just a teacher - a "teaching professional" - do they get paid more than teachers?) "I am deeply hurt by the Christian community's pull-out from the public school system." That carries as much weight with me as "as a buggy-whip professional, I am deeply hurt by the pull-out of the traveling community from the carriage industry." Obviously, teachers are losing "customers" when people pull their children out of the school system. That doesn't mean that there can't be legitimate concerns on their part, but they've got a vested interest in having kids in the public school system, and that needs to be understood.

"Most parents do not have the level of expertise that we do. The parents that I have seen home school their children often struggle along needlessly, comparing various curriculums, uncertain of what their children should know.

Of course they "struggle along needlessly" - it's hard work to homeschool, and if you just drop the little urchins into the state run indocrination center, you don't have to do it! And anyone who takes it seriously spends hours "comparing various curriculums." Is that a negative for the children, or a positive? As to whether or not some people may be "uncertain of what their children should know", I consider that to be bunk. Bogus. A complete and total strawman. Everyone learns differently, learns different things at different times. To the extent that there's a common knowledge base that children should know at certain ages, it's not a mystical knowledge, handed down on tablets and hidden from all but the elect. It's easily available.
Add to that children who are struggling with disabilities or learning to read, and the gap between what parents know about teaching and what the trained professionals know, widens. Most adults wouldn't rewire the electrical system of their home on their own, they lack the expertise to do it right. Many would hire a professional.

Most adults wouldn't rewire their own home, not because they lack the expertise, but they know that it would be a poor use of their time and resources to acquire the expertise. That's a poor analogy to home-schooling. There's no skill set or knowledge base required to educate your children that you won't develop if that is what you choose to spend your time doing.

That, in one sense is what teachers are hired to do."

Bingo! That is what teachers ARE hired to do.

In one sense. In another, their hired to maintain discipline on a group of kids for an hour at a time, and hopefully impart some knowledge at the same time. Let's be honest here - the people complaining about school vacations and teacher education days aren't complaining that their children aren't learning during that time - they're complaining that their day-care has been shut down.
That’s why I like the sound of "school choice" or "school vouchers".

Well, I like the sound of those things, too. But tell me this - if parents aren't capable of choosing a curriculum or understanding what their children should be learning, how are they capable of telling a good school from a bad one?

Let’s give parents, most of whom are NOT great teachers, the option to send their kids to real, professional, great teachers.

So most parent are not "great" teachers, but most "real, professional" teachers are?

Give me a break.

Listen, this sounds like a slam on teachers, and that is NOT my intent. I'm painting with a broad brush here, and I understand that. I grew up on a high school campus. I lived in dormitories until I was 12, I ate in a cafeteria until after I'd graduated from college. My parents are teachers, my brother's a teacher, I married a teacher. There are great teachers in this world, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them.

But it's silly to the point of being offensive to pretend that the percentage of "great" teachers in the public school is somehow much higher than the percentage of "great" pitchers in Major League Baseball or "great" talk show hosts on the radio or "great" engineers in the computer industry. There are a small number of great teachers, there are a small number of bad teachers, and a vast middle-ground of interchangeable ones. Just like in any other walk of life.

And no teacher who has a child in their classroom as 1 of 20 in 1 of 5 classes has the desire or motivation or time to devote to my child's needs as my wife does. Or I do.
Let’s hold teachers accountable to high teaching standards, and only hire and maintain those who do. Let’s insist on not allowing public schools to trample on the constitutional rights of our children, and let’s hold our elected school board officials accountable for maintaining the standards that we, as citizens of each school district, demand.

Hey, those are great goals - sign me up.

In the meantime, until we accomplish them, we'll keep teaching our kids at home.
If you perceive problems with your public schools, you can choose, as a family, to be part of the solution, or you can run from the problems and home school.

Nonsense. Poppycock. There is absolutely no other "business" on the face of the earth where someone would say that continuing to patronize an inefficient, non-competitive and non-productive business would be called being "part of the solution". Ridiculous. If you take your family out to a restaurant where the tables are dirty, the service is slow and the food is bad, are you "part of the solution" to go back again next week? Preposterous.
While that may be the right decision for a few, in my opinion it is more often a decision that deprives students of some very fine teachers, and doesn’t teach them a thing about how to get along in the real world.

This is the socialization canard. If you don't put your children into the fantasy world of the public schools, where everyone goes at the same pace, waits in line for lunch, moves onto the next project when the bell rings whether it's done or not, are bunched in only with people of the same age and raises his hand to get permission to go to the bathroom, you're not preparing them for "the real world."
There’s the key. Feel free to open the box. But, before home schoolers email me in droves, I hope you’ll ask yourself if you really are, at the end of the day, the very best Algebra, Trigonometry, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Spanish, English, German, Latin, Literature, Grammar, Health Science, Physical Education, Music Appreciation, Composition, Psychology, Social Studies, Current Events, American History, World Geography, Communications, Astronomy, Computer Skills, Graphics, Art teacher, classmate and soccer coach your child can possibly have within your school district.

Straw. Man. The only way that question is remotely relevant is if putting them into the public school system is somehow going to insure that they get "the very best Algebra, Trigonometry, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Spanish, English, German, Latin, Literature, Grammar, Health Science, Physical Education, Music Appreciation, Composition, Psychology, Social Studies, Current Events, American History, World Geography, Communications, Astronomy, Computer Skills, Graphics, Art teacher, classmate and soccer coach" available. Does that match anyone's real world experience in the public schools?

Of course not..
If the answer to all of those is "Yes", then home school. If not, then ask yourself if the "price" of missing all that is worth the protection they’re getting.

Again, it's an utterly preposterous construct. It's an intellectually dishonest argument.

The whole piece is intellectually dishonest, featuring appeals to authority ("one public school teacher told me"), biased samples ("parents that I have seen home school their children often struggle along needlessly"), appeal to tradition ("I am deeply hurt by the Christian community's pull-out from the public school system"), appeal to emotion ("let’s give parents, most of whom are NOT great teachers, the option to send their kids to real, professional, great teachers"), begging the question ("parents, most of whom are NOT great teachers"), hasty generalizations galore and strawmen.

I agree that home-schooling is not for everyone. But I think "most" people could do it, and do it effectively, if they chose to. And I disagree entirely with the premise that it's somehow bad for the children not to be institutionalized at the age of 6.

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