Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thoughts on home schooling

I am writing this post partly to respond to "government school scabs", a post on Fiery Ewok's blog, and the ensuing discussion. In this post, a person named Russ showed up to eloquently express his strong support for home schooling, and was roundly cheered on by the posters. My wife and I have had a long-standing disagreement about this topic, and so she asked me to read his post. It triggered a rather unproductive argument, and I don't think that I've ever completely laid out my point of view on the subject here. So I'm writing this post to try to get my views on home schooling into a coherent structure.

First of all, let me make clear my background. This is a bit long and personal, so I've put a bold text heading down below so you can skip to the part where I lay out my views. Still, this is going to be relevant background.

I have been the beneficiary of both public and private schools, as well as parents who really cared about my education at all stages. Both my parents worked. I went to preschool as a young child, then went to early school in Auburn, Alabama until about fourth grade. After that, we moved to Santa Fe, where I was in private school until high school age -- about four years. Then I commuted from Santa Fe to Los Alamos, where I went to LAHS for all four years, taking a number of AP classes before ultimately getting accepted into the UC college system. In my family, it was never really a question of whether I would go to college or not; the only question was where. My parents are both Ph.D's, and they were really active in keeping an eye on my school performance.

Obviously, in many ways I had an atypical public school environment. Los Alamos High has a reputation as a truly excellent high school. I don't remember what my school in Auburn (Cary Woods Elementary) was like academically, but I do remember liking most of my teachers and having good memories. And of course, I got to spend the junior high years in private school, which I hear are pretty bad years for some people, including my sister.

Like many kids, I was picked on sometimes, at every stage, including private schools. At the time it seemed like I was picked on a lot. Looking back, it may have been relatively mild treatment, especially considering my status as an outspoken atheist. I remember being punched on more than one occasion, but I never got into any major fights. I particularly remember that when I was a teenager at summer camp, and during my first year of high school, a lot of people made it clear that they really didn't like me. I had to do a lot of self-reflection, centered around whether I really cared if people liked me, and I decided that I did. I made an effort to change the way I approached people.

You can see this effort gradually paying off if you read my high school yearbooks. In freshman year, I didn't even bother to get a yearbook. In sophomore year, I had a smattering of signatures on mostly lonely pages, some of the comments not particularly flattering. In junior year, I had a lot more signatures, and one senior girl even left a sloppy lipstick kiss on one page. My senior yearbook is crammed with signatures, many of them saying that they'll miss me a lot, and some younger students saying they considered me an inspiration. It was a warm feeling, because it was something I struggled to accomplish. I also remember a seminal moment, which I think occurred during the All-State chorus trip, where I made up with someone I had once considered a nemesis as a freshmen (a particularly snarky girl named Kim Coulter). Kim and I hugged, I was sorry for being such a dork to her, she was sorry for being rude to me, and we were kind-of friends right up to graduation day.

I can't say I was ever really a popular kid, even in college, and perhaps also to this day. But still, social skills ARE something that I came to grips with as a result of being in public school. I learned some things about how to talk so that people will listen, and listen so people will talk. I learned the value of getting involved in community activities, which at the time meant things like the debate team and French club. I learned how to make people laugh with me instead of at me (most of the time) and how to stand up for myself and make sure I got noticed.

Besides that, I had a number of teachers I liked. I also had a number of teachers I didn't like. But the ones I didn't like are growing dimmer in my memory, and the ones I liked are among the important people who shaped the way I am today.

And now, finally, thoughts on home schooling

I'm of two minds about home schooling. On the one hand, I don't see anything especially wrong with the concept, if it is done right. Engage your kids, get them a curriculum, work with them every day, and teach them what they need to know. I don't see why you, as a dedicated parent, should be worse at it than professional teachers. If nothing else, you've got an unusually small class size on your side. That's a huge benefit.

But education is something I take very seriously. The world is a huge, complicated place, full of scientific ideas and confusing technology that didn't exist a hundred years ago. The goal of an effective education is to get you up to speed with correct information on subjects you need to know about. That also includes understanding history and literature, how to construct a personal essay or an original argument, and how to read anything from a few paragraphs to a novel and extract meaning and value out of it.

Being a teacher is a hard job. A good teacher is someone who understands their subject, not just a little better than his or her students, but so much better that they understand both the subject and the best way to get it across. Of course not all teachers are good teachers, but I both know personally and have been the beneficiary of many good teachers, and I can say that their value in kids' lives as both mentors and role models cannot be overstated.

And of course, many parents are also potentially good teachers. And if those parents are willing to dedicate the kind of hours that teachers put in, then that's great for them. But some parents have other interests outside of their kids. There is nothing wrong with that. I didn't pick a career in teaching, and I'd much rather go to work with adults every day than spend twelve years focusing primarily on passing on knowledge to a single student. One reason is that it seems like an inefficient use of my time. I can understand a stay-at-home parent finding it enjoyable to put in the time and effort. But even stay-at-home parents don't always find it stimulating to spend three to six hours a day teaching arithmetic and simple reading. (I've guessed at that range because school lasts six hours, but home schoolers are quick to point out that not all of those hours consist of productive learning time. I've heard many argue that much less than half the time is spent learning; all I can say is that this has never remotely matched my own experience.)

Let me stress that there is nothing wrong with not wanting to put in the time. If I enjoy doing something else that helps me grow as a person, then I shouldn't be forced to spend that time on what I've already said is a difficult and sometimes tedious task. That's one important reason why I appreciate the fact that the state has thoughtfully set up a massive infrastructure, for which we all share the costs, and which provides trained professionals to do the work if I haven't got the time. Frankly, it would seem a little silly for me to feel trapped into doing something I don't want to do if I've already paid for somebody else to do that thing for me.

Public schools receive a lot of criticism, and some of it is justified. I've felt for several years that the public school system has been systematically underfunded. In addition, at least since Bush took office, a lot of ineffective programs have been put in place, such as standardized testing, which has the effect of forcing even good teachers to move towards rote memorization of concepts instead of exposing kids to the exciting parts of absorbing new materials.

Yet as a self-avowed liberal, I do not regard this as the inevitable result of state funding. People who have a more libertarian bent than I do often casually denigrate public schools as "government schools," as if invoking the big, bad boogeyman of government should automatically make it obvious what the problem is.

I reject this completely. I think I can't do much better here than to repeat a point in a post I wrote last year, entitled Why I Am Not a Libertarian:

"...libertarians argue that we should do away with our public school system because it's broken. But what are they comparing it to? Which are the countries that outperform us in math and science? Countries like Japan, Canada, and Germany. Do these countries model the libertarian ideal? Of course not. Like us, they have public schools with national standards. They do the same thing we do, but better. Are there ANY examples around the world of the voucher program being successful?"

It is worth noting that in response to that post, I received a number of examples of countries that had non-traditional school systems, but none of them were what I'd describe as a desirable role models. Instead, I heard a lot about third world countries where poor kids got a bare minimum education.

This post isn't about school vouchers and poor kids; this is about home schooling and YOUR kids. The thing is, though, it's hard for me to take seriously that "government" is what's wrong with all the schools, when I got what I consider to be a damn fine government education at several stages. I didn't get the creativity beaten out of me. I got some bad teachers, and they made me dislike certain subjects, but even in those cases I often had enough appreciation for learning that I later went on to revisit those same subjects and understand them.

Home schooling advocates argue that it's important for parents to be actively involved in their kids' education, and to keep an eye on what they're learning, and I agree. But of course, having this approach to parenting does not exclude also letting your kids learn elsewhere, even if their teachers might get paid by "the government." By all means, keep tabs on your child's homework. Engage in discussion with him or her. Find out how homework is going, and which subjects are interesting. If you're not willing to put in that much effort -- an hour in the evenings each day -- then you certainly aren't ready to be a full time teacher.

Besides the defense of traditional schools that I've just tried to lay out, I have a few more specific concerns about home schooling. I will lay these out briefly in the remainder of this post.

First, there's the issue of getting different perspectives from different people. The simple fact is that no one person knows everything. I certainly don't. Neither, of course, does any one teacher. But if your kid is going to school for twelve years, he or she will be meeting a lot of different teachers who know a lot of different subjects -- some of them (believe it or not) quite well. Now some home schoolers join communities where the kids work with many different parents, in their neighborhood or elsewhere, and that seems like a good move to me. But others do not. If you are your child's only teacher for the vast majority of the time, they'll only be getting one person's perspective throughout most of their education. If there are areas where your own knowledge is weak and you don't realize it, you risk passing on bad information throughout your child's education. If you are bad at (for example) art, your child is never going to get new perspectives from a teacher who is good at art.

For an extreme example, consider the home schooling scenes in Jesus Camp. Levi's mother is feeding her son all kinds of bad information about science, but she has no idea that this is the case because she doesn't understand science and only speaks to other people who don't understand science. She isn't trying to deliberately subvert Levi's knowledge, but she simply isn't in a position to explain something that she doesn't know.

Which brings me to my second major concern about home schooling: The tendency to put your kids in a bubble. The Jesus Camp parents do it on purpose, and of course many well-meaning parents do not. Despite this, I think that the effect can easily be the same whether you intend it or not. Being your child's main teacher is a great way to make sure that he gets your point of view almost exclusively. While this sounds like a good idea in the short term, in the long term it has the potential to be harmful.

What I said earlier about teachers also applies to people in general. People are social animals. We gain knowledge and experience by being around each other. Coming in contact with a lot of people broadens your chance of meeting more really great folks who will influence your life positively. And the ones who aren't so great... well, life is full of those anyway. If you don't learn how to deal with them when you're a kid, it will be that much harder to learn when you're an adult.

It might help to think of it like inoculation to diseases. If you are afraid of germs, then you might want to spend your life in a literal bubble, using sanitary wipes all the time and avoiding direct contact with anyone who might be carrying a disease. The problem is that if you start using that as a way to stay healthy, then you pretty much have to adopt that strategy for the rest of your life. Once you step out of that bubble, all the diseases that you never built up an immunity to will be there, just waiting to get you. On the other hand, if you get those diseases early, under safer conditions, then later on you won't have to worry about those diseases doing more serious damage.

I don't mean to say that people are diseases, of course. I just want to make the point that the more people you meet, the more you figure out how to approach them. You learn that some situations call for a friendly, diplomatic approach to gain trust, while other situations call for caution to avoid being taken advantage of. Again, you either learn this early or you learn it late.


In summary, there are several things that schools provide, and these should not be taken lightly. They provide exposure to a wide variety of people, both students and teachers, many of whom are potentially positive people who will expand your children's horizons. They provide an early chance to deal with challenges, whether they are social or academic, in an environment that is generally more forgiving of mistakes than real life. They provide years of access to dozens of paid professionals who have been doing the job of teaching for a long time and are familiar with the issues of students from all walks of life.

None of this should be taken as an indication that I am fundamentally opposed to home schooling. I believe that there are ways of doing it correctly, which can provide all of the above advantages while strengthening the parent-child relationship. But I wish to repeat, one last time, that teaching is hard work. It is easy to be an armchair quarterback and believe that "government schools" are messing up your kids, if you're not already getting involved with the school and the work yourself.

Thomas Edison is often tossed out as an example of a child who thrived in a home schooling environment. While this is true, the example is somewhat misleading. Edison's mother had been a professional teacher already, and was already especially qualified to teach her son. That doesn't mean that you need strong credentials in order to be a successful teacher, but knowledge and experience shouldn't be scoffed at as valuable tools.

Of course public schools aren't perfect. But they're not perfectly awful, either. In Fiery Ewok's thread, some people were damning school with faint praise by saying: Maybe school helps you by making your life so miserable that your scars make you a stronger person. And that may be consistent with what I've said in this post, but only in a glass-is-half-empty kind of way. There are a lot of things we do in life when we'd rather be doing something else: practice a musical instrument, work out at the gym, take proficiency exams. Sometimes those activities are not so fun, but we do them anyway. Do we do them because we are proud of our ability to withstand unpleasantness and accept scars? No, we do them because they make us better at things we want to be able to do. We do those things because we are smart people who can delay gratification in order improve our lives in the future.

School isn't just bad times for everybody. We meet new people, we learn new information. That's a big part of why I went back to graduate school. When I finished my Bachelor's degree, I felt at the time like I never wanted to go to school again. But after years of not going to school, I had nostalgic feelings about sitting in a room full of people who were discovering information that they never new before, from somebody who knows the subject and is dedicated to passing it on. I don't go to school because I love taking tests and pulling Frappucino-fueled all-nighters and having nightmares when I finally go to sleep; I go because going through the rigors of studying and taking tests and doing homework help me reach new levels of self-actualization.

That's what education means to me, and I hope that you home schoolers out there are working hard to give your kids the experiences they deserve.

24 comments:

  1. I am interested in discussing this topic with you. However, I see the discussion potentially branching into many tangents.

    And since I am new to your blog and do not want to offend, I was wondering what you would prefer.

    I could post a long comment that covers many different sides of the issue.

    Or I could post a series of comments that cover each issue separately.

    Or maybe you only wish to discuss specific aspects of the public school/home schooling issue and no other. Then perhaps I could post an all-encompassing comment and you could just reply to what you want to discuss.

    Of course, we could use email. My email address is johngalt666@gmail.com

    Let me know how you would wish me to proceed, or if you wish me to proceed at all.

    In the mean time, there is an excellent 20-20 investigation by John Stossel entitled "Stupid in America" highlighting some of the flaws with the education system in the United States. It is approx. 46 min long but well worth it.

    It is available for viewing at You Tube here.

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  2. I think home schooling can be done. However, I think that, to do it well, is a project of epic proportions. We do supplemental homeschooling in the summer time and I can say, from experience, that I spend about two hours prepping our week's worth of topics (and this is for informal, non-regulated, "fun" homeschooling). I also know many people who homeschool.
    Some do it well. Very well. These are the people who truly consider homeschooling (teaching) to be their career and dedicate their lives to that endeavor. My friend Andy and his wife homeschooled all three of their children and I know that Andy's wife spent 4 hours a day in direct instruction and "hovering". Then, after the kids went to bed, she spent another hour or two on prep and grading. She kept meticulous records and had her kids take the Iowa Standard as a benchmark. All three of her children attended outside activities (scouts, sports, or music) that kept them from being completely isolated. And, those things added to the burden of the homeschooling parent. I honestly don't see how one could 100% homeschool and have a great deal of free time.

    On the other side of the home schooling fence, we know two families that are just failing completely.
    Family #1 has one child who should be in 6th grade. The mom works and the father is a stay-at-home dad with a bunch of hobbies. He really doesn't put alot of effort into the job of homeschooling. His philosophy is that he's "unschooling" his child. Which, if you ask me, is a cop out. He *might* sit down, once a month or so, and see what kind of progress his child has made...but, that's about where his "teaching" ends. He doesn't read the assignments so that he can help his child or engage the child in discussion. He doesn't require any sort of schedule or routine. He figures that buying the books and providing a space is sufficient. It's not. The child is suffering. At last glance, I would've assessed that the child was performing at a second grade level (the year in which they pulled the kid out of public school). In four years, there's been very little coming in.

    Family #2 adheared to a curriculum, but left the child to her own devices. It was a train wreck. The girl is now 20 and can barely function.
    It would seem that the most common factor in the child's success with homeschooling is the parent's commitment to the endeavor. It is really labor intensive and requires someone who can do all of the planning and shadowing. Just for the little bit of homeschooling we do (supplemental math, science, and literature), I probably put it more effort for curriculum development and goal setting than the children do. Not to mention the expense! Just for our voluntary summer experiment, we typically invest $200 in books and supplies.

    Public school is, even with it's short-comings, a useful tool in a child's upbringing. They are going to have to learn to deal with different people. They are going to have to learn how to adapt to some sort of scheduled expectations and accept responsibility for their actions outside the house. Public schools are useful in teaching the child that there are multiple sources for information and expertise.

    As a parent, I can see the appeal of homeschooling on various levels:
    1. Some parents like having their kids around.
    2. Some parents do not like getting up at 7am to get the kid ready to go by 8.
    3. Some parents do not like being tied down by the school calendar.
    4. Some parents don't like the interference or opinions of outsiders. It can, at times, feel like YOU (as the parent) are being evaluated.
    However, in all of those circumstances, it's really not the child who has the issue- it's the parent. It saddens me to think that anyone would cite those reasons for choosing to homeschool because it really betrays a less than admirable motivation.

    Anyway...just my thoughts. :)

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  3. Johngalt666:

    I'm always happy to discuss matters in a public forum, so feel free to post your thoughts on this thread. I won't delete it and I won't be offended. Given your Rand-inspired screen name, I'm pretty sure I can sum up several aspects of your own position before you've even said anything. :)

    However, bear in mind that I'm very busy (grad school + job + family; this post took me nearly a week to complete). Given that, I would definitely prefer if we focused on small topics one at a time, and I'd request a bit of understanding if I don't get back to your posts quickly.

    I'm not a big fan of John Stossel. I've seen shows of his that I enjoyed at some point in the past, but in general I find that he oversimplifies issues to an extreme degree and then ridicules straw men.

    I'll try to get around to watching your show when I have time, but I've also just found and bookmarked this commentary from Media Matters on the show you are talking about, and I'll be taking a look at that afterwards.

    In any case, if you want to discuss that show then you can wait for me to finish (feel free to email a reminder in a few days if I forget) or you can write another post telling me a specific area you'd like to tackle.

    Atheist in a minivan:

    Thanks for your input. I think your experiences very much mirror many of my thoughts.

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  4. Your point about the opponents of public education not showcasing fine voucher-education based systems is an especially rhetorically sound point, so long as there have in fact ever been voucher-based systems. Overall, fine post, as usual.

    I am completely the product of public education. Anecdotally then, public schools did not push me to learn how to be sociable -- I didn't learn that until college. Still, I can't see how private schools or home tutelage would have been any better.

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  5. Kazim,

    I think this is one of the most articulate, well-thought-out analyses of homeschooling I've read. Being a homeschooling parent myself, I have some disagreements with your conclusions, but overall I think you've been very fair (something I can't say about most of what is written about homeschooling by those who don't agree with it).

    I do believe your school experience, as you describe it, was exceptionally positive. The quality of your writing and your thought process make it clear you had an excellent education, far superior to that of most Americans (just take a look at some of the blogs and news articles on the Web to give you an idea what the average education provides!). I did not have such a positive experience, nor did most people I've talked to. Being rather bright, I found school boring; since I was a good student, few of my teachers bothered with me. Instead, they poured their time into the struggling students, giving me a pat on the back once in a while but no stimulation to continue achieving. Meanwhile, I had great difficulty with my peers, and because my efforts at friendship were rejected out-of-hand, I ended up withdrawing into a shell of self-protection. I became quiet, withdrawn, and depressed, though that was not my nature. It wasn't until college that I finally discovered I was an outgoing, friendly, positive person, that people really liked me, and that my intelligence was an asset.

    In discussing my own school experiences, both with those who homeschool and with those who don't, I've found most people remember their school days about as positively as I remember mine. Some had a few good teachers; some remember none. Some had some good friends; most maintain few or no relationships with anyone from their school days. In addition, discussing school with children who attend it, I find them generally unhappy. They tolerate their teachers (a few high-schoolers might mention a single good one); they have a few friends and many enemies; and their favorite subject is the least academic one (recess, lunch, art, music, drama). In our school district, testing results become worse the older the children get; the longer they are in school, the worse they do, regardless of which local school they are enrolled in.

    So I think I am not overstating the case when I say that few kids have as positive an experience of schooling as you apparently did.

    At the same time, I have to agree that there are some homeschooling parents who do not put in an adequate effort to ensure their children get a good education. I have seen some who let their kids run wild, and others who don't seem to care much when their child is well under average in many or all subjects. This is not the case for most homeschoolers, however; the majority of homeschooling parents put in many hours of preparation, research, and study. As the child gets older and the subject matter less commonly known, it is typical for a homeschooling parent to invest either significant money in a program that teaches a subject well (often a video curriculum with an expert teacher, or a private tutor or co-op arrangement), or significant time in learning the subject along with the child (the parent's additional life experience enhancing their learning so that they know more than their child).

    It's also important to recognize that a teacher's education in large part equips him or her to teach large groups of children. I took many of these classes before ultimately changing my major to something more fulfilling, and I can testify that relatively little time is spent in really understanding how people learn. A lot of time is spent learning how to manage a classroom and how to motivate kids who don't really want to be there. While a naturally good teacher can become a better one if they pay attention and apply what they learn, it's easy for a poor or mediocre teacher to pass classes and earn a degree without ever becoming even a reasonably decent teacher. Meanwhile, a caring parent who's willing to put in some effort can achieve even better results by getting to know their own child and seeking out the best resources for him or her.

    You acknowledge that the small teacher-student ratio has some advantages. In fact, in my experience, it is one of the primary advantages of homeschooling. A parent who loves their child and is invested in him or her, and who has a small enough class size to be able to match their instruction with the child's needs, is far better able to provide their child with an excellent education, fitted to the child themselves, than a teacher with a classroom of 25-30 kids or more. Whether the child is advanced, average, or delayed, individualized instruction is the key to helping children achieve their fullest potential. A teacher with a big class of kids simply can't provide that.

    As to exposure to different kinds of people, a homeschooler in fact has the advantage here as well. Most homeschoolers are exposed to far more people, of all different kinds, than are most school children who spend most of their day shut in a classroom with 30 other kids of the same age (and often of the same race and social class as well).

    I personally do not believe homeschooling is for everyone. There are parents who are lousy teachers (just as there are some teachers who are also lousy teachers). There are parents who do not have the kind of relationship with their children to allow them to teach well. There are those who are terribly disorganized. And there are those who are simply unwilling to put forth the effort.

    But a loving parent who is willing to put in the time required (and I agree, it takes a lot of time to do it well) can give their child a far better education than the school system can. Even a parent who is willing to put in some time can give their child as good an education as most get in the school system.

    Thank you for taking the time to really think this through, and for writing clearly, concisely, and fairly about the topic.

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  6. Marcy,

    First of all, thank you for your kind words.

    You wrote:

    So I think I am not overstating the case when I say that few kids have as positive an experience of schooling as you apparently did.

    I hope you will appreciate that it is difficult for me to comment on what the typical school experience is. This could well be an example of self-selected sets of friends. I have certainly noticed that many home schooling parents report bad experiences with schools; and since home schooling parents tend to spend time with other home schooling parents, it wouldn't surprise me if you encounter few people who had overall positive experiences in school.

    Maybe it's just that I spend time with a different group of people than you do. But I've had this discussion with several of my friends, and most of them seem to regard school as a positive thing. Like me, no one seems to have had a perfectly idyllic childhood -- I doubt there's any such thing -- but I don't recall ever having heard such universally awful reports about the horrors of school until I started reading material by people who promote home schooling.

    I don't know what accounts for the difference between how "most people" remember their school days from your perspective and mine. Perhaps attitude makes a difference in the overall experience, or perhaps not that much.

    In any case, we agree that home schoolers have certain advantages over traditional teachers. We agree that it requires a lot of work, and is not the right course for everyone. These two factors are difficult to weigh against each other. I'm not all that convinced that either of us really knows how many parents make better teachers than people whose career is teaching. But I'll take your word for it that your own home schooling experience has been good.

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  7. I am an individualist. I believe in free will. Individuals can and do thrive in any school environment. But to discuss how a nation's educational system is doing over all, one has to turn to statistics and assessments.

    According to 2000-2003 NAEP assessments:

    31 percent of 4th graders are proficient in reading

    32 percent are proficient in mathematics

    29 percent are proficient in science

    18 percent are proficient in American history.

    Low-income students did half as well.

    I got this information from the Heritage Foundation here.

    They got the info from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

    Obviously, over all, there is a problem with the system.

    The issue for every parent regarding their child's education can be broken down into three questions. WHAT should be taught. HOW should it be taught. And WHO should teach it. Then, once those choices have been made the parent should monitor how well the child is doing as the education progresses.

    The simplest thing to do is to turn the child over to the public schools where all the decisions have been made by others (the government). Then just look at the report cards.

    Other parents will choose where to live based on how good the local schools are.

    Others (if they can afford it) will choose private schools.

    Others choose home school.

    Any choice, depending on individual circumstances, can be correct.

    Just don't choose blindly. Realize that the majority of public schools are not doing the job. It you have to choose public schools, be ready to supplement or in some cases re-educate your kids.

    There are great teachers and there are horrible teachers. Which teacher your kids get is a crapshoot, out of your control. When you child "craps out" so to speak, you may need to provide a tutor or some other way to make up the difference.

    Realize that your children's education will not parallel your own. It can be better or worse.

    Obviously these comments have been general comments about the state of public schools today and a parent’s option.

    I would also like to comment alternate views from Kazim's on what should be the goal of education (no matter where it is being taught), socialization, and why even if they were doing great (which they are not) public schools should all be privatized in America and the government regulations kept out. But in interest of keeping this short, I will leave these for some other comment.

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  8. My biggest issue with home schooling, is the socialization issue. I went to public school my entire school career, but I have known several people who were home schooled. They had varying social skills, but without fail, none of them were able to socialize on the level that their average public or private schooled peers were. Learning to interact with people outside of your normal family or group is a vitally important part of the school experience, just as important as academics. It is something almost entirely missing from the home school environment, and is very difficult to properly achieve in that setting.

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  9. Socialization---NOT!!!!10:33 AM

    Godless Geek-

    I see you statistically small sampling of "I have known several people who were homeschooled" and raise you all the hoodlums and brats I see walking down the stree and crowding the aisles of Walmart.

    What social behavior that I see these brutes exhibiting would you like to see in a homeschooled child?

    Teenage sex? Teen pregnancy? Drug use? Peer pressure? Social conformity? Physical bullying? Emotional tormenting?

    Really- what exact social skills does public school teach?

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  10. Hey there! I was bouncing around on some of Ginny's links and realized I had never checked your blog out. And I happened to "bounce" in on a homeschool discussion, weird.

    As you probably know, Ginny was actually one of the first women I discussed homeschooling with when we moved to TX. She inspired me to really take a look at what I wanted for my kids (well one kid at the time). At this point, we are homeschooling and we are LOVING it. Now I'm not someone who believes that homeschooling is for everyone. Education is a very personal choice for every family. I would never look down on or question a person's decision to send their child to school (public or private). You have to do what works for you and YOUR child. (I have to admit, I wish more schooling people would give me the same understanding.)

    Now that being said, I did want to address a couple of points.

    "First, there's the issue of getting different perspectives from different people."

    I personally think my child has WAY more opportunity to get different perspectives from different people. He is not in a classroom with the same teacher and same children 5 days a week. He is out in the world, everyday. He meets new people and learns new things from all these people. We are involved with a large HS group in which we are VERY active (one of those major time commitment things, but I'm a SAHM and I've made this commitment, so time's not an issue). But within this group, he is able to play with children of all ages. He is just as comfortable playing with an 11 y.o. or a 3 y.o as he is with another 5 or 6 y.o. and he is very comfortable conversing with adults. But watching him interact with older children is awesome, they all have something to teach him, a new game, a new way to accomplish something, and watching him interact with toddlers is also cool because HE becomes the teacher, not to mention the fact that he learns empathy and concern for their well-being. He looks after the younger ones. I just know in my heart that all of these experiences with people of all ages helps him understand himself and how he fits into the world as a whole. I don't feel that school has the upperhand on socialization. Humans are social animals and they have learned to socialize over the centuries without the help of an organized school system.

    I do agree that some people do HS to attain that "bubble" effect, but in my world, it's just the opposite. HS is a way to get out there, explore the world and everything in it, everyday. My goal is to expand his mind and his experiences far beyond where he could go in school. Wherever he wants to go, whatever he wants to learn. Any question asked is never stupid and is worth looking up to find an answer and all opposing viewpoints to that answer. Even the simplest question can become a full-blown learning experience for him AND for me! For example, he asked how skunks make their "stink", well we looked online, read some articles, went to the library to check out a book on skunks, you get the picture. Now he not only knows how skunks spray, but what they eat, that they're nocturnal, etc...

    Granted, I realize that my son is only 5 1/2 and what he is learning now is very elementary (no pun intended). But this last year has made me all the more confident that HS is what is right for my child at this time. However, I would never be so ignorant as to say I would NEVER put my child in school. Things change and at some point I may put him in school. I may get to a point where I have nothing to offer him, or he may decide he wants to go to school, or hell, I may need to get a job at some point, who knows? But the great thing about education, is there is ALWAYS options. So the best approach with ANY decision is to keep an open mind, to be realistic and to clearly understand what goals you have set for your child's education and the best way to accomplish that at the time. In my home, HSing is working GREAT right now, henceforth, if it ain't broke, why fix it? But I reserve the right to evaluate my situation anytime and to make changes as needed.

    Anyway, just my two cents worth.

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  11. JamesABrown10:42 AM

    Good post, Kazim. I wish everyone could discuss this issue with the same level-headnesses and without getting so shrill. Just that you can even acknowledge the arguments of both sides puts you above the pack.

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  12. Okay. Disclaimer. This is likely to get lengthy.

    I too am a product of public schools. My elementary years were quite good. I had teachers I loved, I did well. I had zero friends. None. I was, due to several odd illnesses and being raised by grandparents (weird, not accepted by my peers) the pariah of the entire school.
    Junior high: due to our location, I was sent to the junior high that was located in the projects. In. The. Projects. I had never really been victimized before. Teased yes. Ridiculed yes. Junior high was horrible and dangerous. My wonderful grades fell precipitously because I was physically afraid each and every day. Couldn't concentrate at all. Finished junior high in Baptist school. Got my grades back up, but had my first experiences with sexual groping and harrassment, which occurred in the classroom. Male teachers did nothing. Baptist.
    High school: Went back to public high school toward the middle of sophomore year. Back with the kids who tormented/victimized me (they all went to the same large, urban high school). As I had picked up smoking, drinking and pot smoking in Baptist school, I did find a few friends, but not exactly the best type.
    Moved to San Francisco at the end of sophomore year. When I started Junior year, I discovered that they school system there was about three years behind the school system in Denver. Bored to death, and faced with the option of walking 3 blocks to Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury district or spending an hour and a half on public busses to go to school, the choice was a no-brainer. I dropped out.
    Fast-forward: I am now the mother of 3. They are 22, 17 and 15. The oldest grew up with his dad, seems to have done okay in public school. The younger 2 have had many and various experiences in school, and neither are currently attending. My issues for them with school (and we have tried multiple program options: advanced programs, alternative programs, traditional programs, small schools, large schools... you name it.) They are both very independent thinkers, who test off the charts. They both do much much much better in an environment of autodidactism (self-educating) than they do under any type of formal structure. They have both been college-level readers since about age 9, they are both deeply interested in science and history, art, literature, world culture, music. My youngest is incredibly strong in math. I know them very well. They both are able to move among people of all socio-economic levels, ages, races with ease. I have no doubt that they will attend college, and do very well. If I could get the 15 year old into college right now, I wouldn't hesitate for a minute.
    I did not provide a curriculum. We have found people who will help to teach if needed, but largely I've found the work of Grace Llewellyn, a former educator who is now a proponent of unschooling, to be incredibly helpful, along with the work of John Gatto, a former Teacher of the Year, who writes in support of home/unschooling after deep disillusionment.
    I have innumerable teens in my life. I'm a communally claimed 'MOM', which I adore. I see the kids as people, and this is something many of them do not experience in their lives, either at school or at home, sadly. I usually have 2 or 3 in addition to my own on any given night, sleeping on couches or futons. Many of them have had or are having good experiences in their schools, both public and private. Many of them have become so filled with hate toward the world that it is hard to counteract with love and listening, largely attributed to how they have been treated in school.
    As an example of what we have dealt with this year (my son, who skipped 6th grade to go into a highly-capable program, did attend a traditional public high school for sophomore year, which he just completed), I will offer this short collection of stories. There are many more.
    While reading Julius Ceasar in English (which he had done the previous year in the accelerated program, for one class unit, where in the regular program they devoted an entire semester!!!), they had to read the work aloud. My son's group got through Act Two. Only because he can read. A girl in his group (10th grade, remember) got to the word 'good', and stopped to make sure she was reading it correctly. Good. Yikes.
    In his history class, they were 'learning' about the Civil War. The teacher (who is a good teacher, just overwhelmed) was reading the Gettysburg Address. As he began the opening line of "Fourscore and seven years ago..." a kid in the class says, "Bitch thinks he's Martin Luther King."
    In an accquaintence's english class, a kid got out a bag of pot and started rolling a joint on his desk. In class. The teacher confronted him, and he pulled a knife on her.
    Let me also add, I returned to college at age 25. I graduated Magna cum Laude, went on to grad school, and am currently working on another MA. My husband (father to the two teens) is working on his PhD. So, I am in sort of the same boat as Kazim in that I am teaching adjunct at the local University, I am a grad student, married to a grad student, and parenting 2 teens. Some days I'd give a limb for one dull moment. But I know those are coming, probably sooner than I'd like.
    My kids are also, and have always been, involved in the outside community. Theater, choir, swimming, martial arts, art, social justice volunteer work, mentoring younger kids... all kinds of stuff. Mostly when they have been out of school, because they just have more time to be genuinely productive in their own lives, and the world at large.

    Oh! Just one more thing, and I'll go away.
    One of my current students, a man somewhat older than I, has been having regular after class conversations with me. He is the father of two unschooled kids. He got them the resources he felt they needed as they were growing up. Mostly books. His daughter did no math whatsoever until age 9. His son was diagnosed with ADD, but as he did not attend school, he was never medicated. They found ways to address his needs. Anyway, these kids are now 18 and 20. At ages 16 and 17 they both received AA degrees from a local community college. The son is starting at University of Michigan this fall. The daughter, the one who did no math, is a double major in Chemistry and Engineering at Purdue. Pretty damn cool.

    Peace.

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  13. Zoe-

    Do you keep a blog? I would love to read more of your experiences. Please e-mail me at
    *atheisthomeschooler at yahoo dot com*

    (no spaces, etc...)

    Looking forward to hearing from you!

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  14. It's interesting to hear about an Un-schooler's experiences. Russell and I have argued vehemently over the value of un-schooling...It's good to know there are some success stories out there that support my point of view. I'm sure there are miserable failures too though.

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  15. Ah, the weekend! Finally, some time to respond.

    I am an individualist. I believe in free will. Individuals can and do thrive in any school environment. But to discuss how a nation's educational system is doing over all, one has to turn to statistics and assessments.

    Agreed, of course.

    According to 2000-2003 NAEP assessments: 31 percent of 4th graders are proficient in reading 32 percent are proficient in mathematics 29 percent are proficient in science 18 percent are proficient in American history. Low-income students did half as well. I got this information from the Heritage Foundation here.

    While it's a good policy to look for statistics, something is clearly missing. These statistics are probably true, but they are also significantly lacking in context. You present a single number, "proficiency," as explaining something, but knowledge is not a binary quality. In order for your statistics to mean something, you'd have to indicate a breakdown of what the students' abilities were before entering school, and compare them to how they changed when they were in school, before you conclude that schools are useless.

    Then, too, you are using these statistics to imply that these students would all be better served by homeschooling. The problem is that there don't seem to be any comprehensive statistics available for how homeschooled students do. This is one of the problems I encountered when I was trying evaluate the homeschooling issue in the first place, several years ago. Most of the information available about homeschooling naturally comes from homeschooling advocacy groups. Yet either no one seems to be willing to do any kind of rigorous scientific study on the subject, or homeschoolers are such a diverse crowd that gathering such statistics are impossible. I've seen lots of anecdotes, and I've seen lots of studies that purportedly show overall benefits to homeschooling, but all of the ones I've come seem to have huge disclaimers saying that they couldn't get a representative sample.

    It's no big surprise, since there are a wide variety of homeschooling methods used, ranging from rigorous curriculum-based education to "unschooling." Many of these methods are inherently opposed to measurement and accountability, and so those who participate in the available studies tend to be a self-selected set.

    One study that I'd like to see is a total overview of some Ivy-league school's enrollment for a given year, with a breakdown of how many of their students were homeschooled. That, it seems, would give an accurate picture if you compared it to the total percentage of the population that does homeschooling. If you are aware of such a study, I hope you'll let me know.

    What I'm looking for here is a straight-up comparison of how effective homeschooling is when stacked up against public schools. Not by individual anecdotes, because many parents clearly do make good teachers, but in total.

    For instance, you point out that low-income students do half as well as high-income students. That too, is no big surprise to me. But if this is a problem, then what's your solution? Poor parents should homeschool their kids? Because I'm sure there are tons of poor families that both (a) are two-parent households, and (b) have one parent staying at home and not working, so they can devote however many hours it takes to do better than their schools.

    In order to make a fair comparison, you need to consider both:
    * How poor homeschooled kids do against poor kids in poor public schools, and
    * How affluent homeschooled kids do against affluent kids in affluent public schools.

    Again, let me repeat that I am not saying that no one should homeschool, or that there are not plenty of bad public schools out there. I'm just trying to point out that homeschooling is not a panacaea. If you have dedicated parents who consider education important, then chances are good that they can homeschool well; but chances are also good that those kids are the ones who are especially likely to do well in school anyway. That's all I mean here.

    They got the info from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Obviously, over all, there is a problem with the system. The issue for every parent regarding their child's education can be broken down into three questions. WHAT should be taught. HOW should it be taught. And WHO should teach it. Then, once those choices have been made the parent should monitor how well the child is doing as the education progresses. The simplest thing to do is to turn the child over to the public schools where all the decisions have been made by others (the government). Then just look at the report cards.

    Interestingly, you were perfectly willing to accept the information coming from the NCES -- a government organization -- as a valid indicator that public schools are failing their students. Yet here you are complaining about "the government" making decisions about how kids can be taught and what constitutes success. I'm thinking you can't have it both ways. If you want apply some universal measurement of accountability, then it sounds like you would endorse the idea of centrally decided national standards. If you don't think that a central body should determine standards, then there's not going to be a way for us to tell whether homeschoolers are actually outperforming public school students.

    I may be reading your above paragraph wrong, but there seems to be some subtext in it that parents who entrust teaching to people other than themselves are lazy and/or don't care. I think that is not a good way to think about it. One of the advantages of living in a non-primitive society is that you don't have to specialize in everything. If I want something done right, I am in the habit of entrusting the job to professionals with more experience than I have every day. Example: I wear contact lenses. I don't administer my own eye examinations, I don't manufacture the contact lenses myself, I am not required to go to medical school in order to get the benefit of modern technology, and I don't research unregulated contact lens solutions to make sure that they will not cause a debilitating eye infection.

    There is nothing wrong with going to medical school of course, and I am sure it improves your life enormously. But if I don't want to go to medical school, then I'm glad to get the benefits of modern medical technology anyway, so I don't have to go around legally blind. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with applying yourself as a parent, learning to be a superior educator, and doing a good job with your own kids. But please don't indicate that this is something everyone must do if they care about their kids.

    Other parents will choose where to live based on how good the local schools are. Others (if they can afford it) will choose private schools. Others choose home school. Any choice, depending on individual circumstances, can be correct.

    Just don't choose blindly. Realize that the majority of public schools are not doing the job. It you have to choose public schools, be ready to supplement or in some cases re-educate your kids.

    There are great teachers and there are horrible teachers. Which teacher your kids get is a crapshoot, out of your control. When you child "craps out" so to speak, you may need to provide a tutor or some other way to make up the difference. Realize that your children's education will not parallel your own. It can be better or worse.


    I agree with you here. My objections are not to homeschooling per se, but to the assertions that
    1. Public schools are "broken" and should therefore be eliminated (instead of trying to bring them up to the standards of public schools in other countries)
    2. Homeschooling is universally a good replacement for them.

    Obviously these comments have been general comments about the state of public schools today and a parent’s option. I would also like to comment alternate views from Kazim's on what should be the goal of education (no matter where it is being taught), socialization, and why even if they were doing great (which they are not) public schools should all be privatized in America and the government regulations kept out. But in interest of keeping this short, I will leave these for some other comment.

    These are, of course, two completely separate issues that you are bringing up. One of them would be addressing the claim that homeschooling is a superior alternative, for most students, to either public or private school at the present time. I dispute this, even though I have said before that there are many dedicated parents who can do a good job with homeschooling. The second claim is that a system of vouchers for private schools is a desirable replacement for the public school system which I also dispute.

    We are forestalling this discussion until later, but it might be a good idea for you to go back and look at the post I mentioned earlier, "Why I Am Not a Libertarian," and search for the section header titled "We Don't Need No Public Education." I'm fairly convinced that a voucher system would reduce the availability of decent education for the poor -- such as it is -- rather than increase it.

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  16. What I'm looking for here is a straight-up comparison of how effective homeschooling is when stacked up against public schools. Not by individual anecdotes, because many parents clearly do make good teachers, but in total.

    There are none nor ever will be straight up comparisons. Each homeschooling family is an individual unit, with its own successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses.

    This discussion seems to flip flop between...
    Is homeschooling right for Russell Glasser's family? and

    Is homeschooling right for everyone in America?

    When you place your child in public school you have very little control over your child's education and the educational environment. Will your child be bullied? Will your child's teacher treat him like a pariah? Will your child fall in with a bad group of friends? Will your child be the prom queen? Will she become so stuck on her own beauty and popularity that she says to hell with learning, people worship me? Will your child get teachers who can connect with him and help develop a love of learning? Will she finish school with a thirst for knowledge, a driving desire to succeed, an eagerness to face life and all it's challengs?

    With public school you have no way of knowing, very little control and worse absolutely no guarantees.

    With homeschooling, you have the ultimate control over your child's education. What classes? What teachers? Even what friends and social activities?

    If you want to turn your child over to the public school fine. But be warned, you will need to pay very careful attention to what they are taught and more importantly what they are actually learning.

    The discussion about whether or not public school is broke is irrelevant.

    It exists. There is no hint of any real change coming to the institution. As individuals all we can do is take care of our own children the best we know how.

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  17. Kazim, I know this is long, but I don't know how to shorten it any more, so there you go.

    While it's a good policy to look for statistics, something is clearly missing. These statistics are probably true, but they are also significantly lacking in context.

    Did you follow the link I provided? All the statistical context you want from that study is waiting.

    You present a single number, "proficiency," as explaining something, but knowledge is not a binary quality. In order for your statistics to mean something, you'd have to indicate a breakdown of what the students' abilities were before entering school, and compare them to how they changed when they were in school, before you conclude that schools are useless.

    Or you could just see just how badly the bulk of the students in public school are doing and jump to the conclusion that the public schools are not doing well. I am at a loss actually. Almost NOBODY disagrees about this. Even the public school system is aware of how bad they are doing. They make claims that they are fixing it or that they need more money or that it’s getting better but they don’t argue about the fact that it is bad. Now maybe you are making a distinction between bad and useless. To the approximately 70 percent that don’t get even basic skills out of the public schools (by the schools own numbers!) I think they and their parent would agree with useless.

    You need to keep the distinction between individuals and the system as a whole distinct. When looking at a nations students as a whole it is kind of ridiculous to demand what their individual abilities were before entering, how each changed during and then compare them with after. I already said that individuals can and do thrive in any school environment. But when the national “grade” so to speak is a failing grade (30%) the conclusion seems pretty clear to me.

    Then, too, you are using these statistics to imply that these students would all be better served by homeschooling.

    Look back again, Kazim. I do not state or imply that all these students would be better served by homeschooling. Later I even list four options for parents (not intending it to be an exhaustive list) and then state that ANY CHOICE can be correct.

    The problem is that there don't seem to be any comprehensive statistics available for how homeschooled students do. This is one of the problems I encountered when I was trying evaluate the homeschooling issue in the first place, several years ago. Most of the information available about homeschooling naturally comes from homeschooling advocacy groups. Yet either no one seems to be willing to do any kind of rigorous scientific study on the subject, or homeschoolers are such a diverse crowd that gathering such statistics are impossible. I've seen lots of anecdotes, and I've seen lots of studies that purportedly show overall benefits to homeschooling, but all of the ones I've come seem to have huge disclaimers saying that they couldn't get a representative sample.

    It's no big surprise, since there are a wide variety of homeschooling methods used, ranging from rigorous curriculum-based education to "unschooling." Many of these methods are inherently opposed to measurement and accountability, and so those who participate in the available studies tend to be a self-selected set.


    When you talk of public schools you seem to want to throw out studies of the nation as a whole and when you talk of homeschoolers you only seem to want studies that include the whole nation. If national studies of public schools leave you unsatisfied, why would national studies of homeschoolers be more satisfying?

    While I am starting to doubt seriously that any study by any source will satisfy you if it doesn’t agree with you, I will point you to some more info you may not have seen here. Though it seems you didn’t follow the link to the national studies of public schools above (based on your writing), I hope you will follow this one and read it. Google the articles sources and that sort of thing. I won’t spoon-feed it to you, as I don’t really think it matters too much. See below.

    But if this is a problem, then what's your solution? Poor parents should homeschool their kids? Because I'm sure there are tons of poor families that both (a) are two-parent households, and (b) have one parent staying at home and not working, so they can devote however many hours it takes to do better than their schools.

    Not my solution. See below.

    Interestingly, you were perfectly willing to accept the information coming from the NCES -- a government organization -- as a valid indicator that public schools are failing their students. Yet here you are complaining about "the government" making decisions about how kids can be taught and what constitutes success. I'm thinking you can't have it both ways.

    Am I willing to accept when a person screwing up admits he is screwing up? Of course. There is no contradiction here. What, when you admit you are bad you are therefore no longer bad? Is that what you are implying?

    To put it another way: The government admits it is failing at the job. I believe them. I also think that the government is the problem. Where is the contradiction?

    If you want apply some universal measurement of accountability, then it sounds like you would endorse the idea of centrally decided national standards.

    I do not. See below.

    If you don't think that a central body should determine standards, then there's not going to be a way for us to tell whether homeschoolers are actually outperforming public school students.

    What kind of standards are you looking for? There is a wealth of information out there showing that: homeschoolers that enter collage do above average, homeschoolers that take standardized exams do above average, and homeschoolers that take SATS perform above average. I provided a link above but if you cant find this info by a simple search, you are not looking for it very hard.

    Personally, I don’t really care if homeschoolers outperform public schools or not. There are many indicators that they do but that is irrelevant to why I don’t want public schools. See below.

    I may be reading your above paragraph wrong, but there seems to be some subtext in it that parents who entrust teaching to people other than themselves are lazy and/or don't care. I think that is not a good way to think about it. One of the advantages of living in a non-primitive society is that you don't have to specialize in everything. If I want something done right, I am in the habit of entrusting the job to professionals with more experience than I have every day. Example: I wear contact lenses. I don't administer my own eye examinations, I don't manufacture the contact lenses myself, I am not required to go to medical school in order to get the benefit of modern technology, and I don't research unregulated contact lens solutions to make sure that they will not cause a debilitating eye infection.

    First of all, in your example of contact lenses, you had better make sure the person administering the exam and sticking things into your eyes knows what he is doing. Make sure he is (as you say) a professional. Make sure that a reputable company makes the contact lenses. Don’t just stick anything into your eyes with no idea what it is. And I assume you don’t just buy hand labeled solution bottles off of a truck or something. You make sure it is real contact solution. I equate that with making sure that the people teaching your kids are trained and know what they are doing.

    Second, I remind you that I clearly said, “Any choice, depending on individual circumstances, can be correct.” I listed 4 choices or options. Three of them had someone other then the parents teaching. I don’t understand how you form your conclusions. Not from reading what I write, obviously.

    Likewise, there is nothing wrong with applying yourself as a parent, learning to be a superior educator, and doing a good job with your own kids. But please don't indicate that this is something everyone must do if they care about their kids.

    As I said, I don’t imply or indicate that at all. Four choices. Three of them are NOT homeschooling. Do the math.

    My objections are not to homeschooling per se, but to the assertions that
    1. Public schools are "broken" and should therefore be eliminated (instead of trying to bring them up to the standards of public schools in other countries)
    2. Homeschooling is universally a good replacement for them.


    You may be referring here to general assertions by others because #2 at least is an assertion I have not made. And as for #1, I do think that Public schools should be eliminated but not because they are broken. See below.

    These are, of course, two completely separate issues that you are bringing up. One of them would be addressing the claim that homeschooling is a superior alternative, for most students, to either public or private school at the present time. I dispute this, even though I have said before that there are many dedicated parents who can do a good job with homeschooling. The second claim is that a system of vouchers for private schools is a desirable replacement for the public school system which I also dispute.

    Here is where I get really confused. You list two issues that I am bringing up and yet I did not bring up either of the issues you name. I never said homeschooling was a superior alternative for most students. I also never said anything about vouchers. So though it LOOKS like you are responding to me, I find myself looking around for the person you are actually talking too.

    We are forestalling this discussion until later, but it might be a good idea for you to go back and look at the post I mentioned earlier, "Why I Am Not a Libertarian",' and search for the section header titled "We Don't Need No Public Education." I'm fairly convinced that a voucher system would reduce the availability of decent education for the poor -- such as it is -- rather than increase it.

    As you say, this was for later but I can’t resist mentioning that I am not a libertarian either and I am not for vouchers. Perhaps you are assuming the wrong things from my name (as you mentioned some time before). My name is appropriate for me. But maybe you don't realize that Ayn Rand did not like vouchers and she hated libertarians. I don’t agree with her on everything. And I don’t hate libertarians like she did. But I am not a libertarian. Just information for you in case that was what was causing some of the confusion.

    NOW , I have said several times now to see below. Time to make good on that promise.

    There is a fundamental issue that is usually ignored in these types of discussions. The question asked should not be, what should be the proper way to run the publics schools? Instead the question should be: Should we have a system of public schools in the first place?

    We are talking about American public schools.

    America.

    America is built on the principle that Man possesses Inalienable Rights.

    What Are the Inalienable Rights of Man? The inalienable Rights of Men are: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. (See: The Declaration of Independence.)

    The important one for our discussion is the Right of Liberty.

    The Right of Liberty means Man's right to individual action, individual choice, individual initiative, and individual property. Without the right to private property no independent action is possible.

    Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.

    A right cannot be violated except by physical force. One man cannot deprive another of his life nor enslave him, nor forbid him to pursue happiness, except by using force against him. Whenever a man is made to act without his own free, personal, individual, "voluntary" consent -- his right has been violated.

    Which brings us back to the question of whether we should have a public school system.

    The answer to this question becomes more evident if one makes the question more concrete and specific, as follows: Should the government be permitted to remove children forcibly from their homes, with or without the parents' consent, and subject the children to educational training and procedures of which the parents may or may not approve? Should citizens have their wealth expropriated to support an educational system which they may or may not sanction, and to pay for the education of children who are not their own? To anyone who understands and is consistently committed to the principle of individual rights, the answer is clearly: NO.

    There are no moral grounds whatever for the claim that education is the prerogative of the state - or for the claim that it is proper to expropriate the wealth of some men for the unearned benefit of others.

    The doctrine that education should be controlled by the State is consistent with Nazi or communist theory of government. It is not consistent with the American theory of government.

    The totalitarian implications of public education (preposterously described as "free education") have in part been obscured by the fact that in America private schools are legally tolerated. Such schools, however, exist not by right but only by PERMISSION.

    Further, the facts remain that: (a) most parents are effectively compelled to send their children to public schools, since they are taxed to support these schools and cannot afford to pay the additional fees required to send their children to private schools; (b) the STANDARDS of education, controlling ALL schools, are prescribed by the government; (c) the growing trend in American education is for the government to exert wider and wider control over every aspect of education. Well, by now the government basically does control every aspect of education.

    When the government assumes FINANCIAL control of education, it is logically appropriate that the government should progressively assume control of the CONTENT of education -- since the government has the responsibility of judging whether or not its funds are being used "satisfactorily." But when the government enters the sphere of IDEAS, when it presumes to prescribe in issues concerning intellectual CONTENT, that is the death of a free society.

    Educational texts are necessarily selective, in subject matter, language, and point of view. Where teaching is conducted by private schools, there will be a considerable variation in different schools; the parents must judge what they want their children taught, by the curriculum offered. Then each must strive for objective truth. . . . Nowhere will there be any inducement to teach the "supremacy of the state" as a compulsory philosophy. But every politically controlled educational system will inculcate the doctrine of state supremacy sooner or later, whether as the divine right of kings, or the "will of the people" in "democracy." Once that doctrine has been accepted, it becomes an almost superhuman task to break the stranglehold of the political power over the life of the citizen. It has his body, property, and mind in its clutches from infancy.

    The disgracefully low level of education in America today is the predictable result of a government-controlled school system. Schooling, to a marked extent, has become a status symbol and ritual. More and more people are entering college -- and fewer and fewer people are emerging properly educated. Our educational system is like a vast bureaucracy, a vast civil service, in which the trend is toward a policy of considering everything about a teacher's qualifications (such as the number of his publications) EXCEPT HIS TEACHING ABILITY; and considering everything about a student's qualifications (such as his "social adaptability") EXCEPT HIS INTELLECTUAL COMPETENCE.

    The solution is to BRING THE FIELD OF EDUCATION INTO THE MARKETPLACE.

    There is an urgent ECONOMIC NEED for education. When educational institutions have to compete with one another in the quality of the training they offer -- when they have to compete for the value that will be attached to the diplomas they issue -- education standards will necessarily rise. When they have to compete for the services of the best teachers, the teachers who will attract the greatest number of students, then the caliber of teaching -- and of teacher's salaries -- will necessarily rise. (Today, the most talented teachers often abandon their teaching profession and enter private industry, where they know their efforts will be better rewarded.)

    Education should be liberated from the control or intervention of government, and turned over to PROFIT-MAKING private enterprise, not because education is unimportant, but because education is so CRUCIALLY IMPORTANT.

    What must be challenged is the prevalent belief that education is some sort of "natural gift" - in effect, a free gift of nature. There ARE no such free gifts. But it is in the interests of statism to foster this delusion -- in order to throw a smoke screen over the issue of whose freedom must be sacrificed to pay for such "free gifts."

    As a result of the fact that education has been tax-supported for such a long time, most people find it difficult to project an alternative. Yet there is nothing unique about education that distinguishes it from the many other human needs which are filled by private enterprise.

    I for one would rather not be homeschooling at all. I wish there were excellent schools to choose from to send my children to. Where qualified teachers taught my children by a educational philosophy that I believed in. (or else I would not have picked that school)

    But right now, where I live, there are no better alternatives to homeschooling. There are no excellent public schools near me. There are no excellent private schools near me. I know at least one school that would be an excellent choice for my children but I can not move several states over to enroll them.

    Public Schooling is not the only area where our government needs to remove itself. It is the area that we are talking about.

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  18. It seems to me that the idea of moving education into the [insert worshipful adjective here] MARKETPLACE has serious flaws.

    How could corporate-sponsored schools fail to prioritize wealth over health, profit over social responsibility, the interests of the corporation over those of the individual? Free Market High School seems likely to me to churn out graduates with Pfizer or Exxon tattooed on their foreheads.

    Maybe public control of education is just the best of a series of choices, none of which is optimum.

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  19. Socialization---NOT!!!!11:08 PM

    Maybe public control of education is just the best of a series of choices, none of which is optimum

    Wow. That's your solution? "Public" control? There is no "public". There is sometimes the tyranny of the majority in a "democratic" system. Or are you suggesting that we settle for what we've already got? Yeah, public schools are doing a bang-up fucking job. Been to the mall lately?

    Did you read all of JohnGalt666's post? Or did the words "PROFIT-MAKING private enterprise" eliminate all the other points that were made from your conscious mind?

    Did you read the rationale BEHIND the private enterprise or are you a socialist who runs in fear of the free market?

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  20. Wow. That's your solution? "Public" control? There is no "public". There is sometimes the tyranny of the majority in a "democratic" system. Or are you suggesting that we settle for what we've already got? Yeah, public schools are doing a bang-up fucking job. Been to the mall lately?

    Did you read all of JohnGalt666's post? Or did the words "PROFIT-MAKING private enterprise" eliminate all the other points that were made from your conscious mind?

    Did you read the rationale BEHIND the private enterprise or are you a socialist who runs in fear of the free market?


    soc-not,
    simmer down, there's no need to get your knickers in a twist.

    First of all:

    I happen to agree with much of the criticism put forth here about public education. I am a supporter of homeschooling. fwiw, my kids were homeschooled during several critical years when
    a) it was the best solution for them, and
    b) it was within our ability.

    however: the fundamental causes of the things that cause you so much angst (rudeness, teen pregnancy, lack of empathy, whatever) is not the public school system, it's the decline of social structure and societal consensus on what desirable behaviour is, and bad (or non-existent) parenting. Doing away with state-run schooling won’t make kids pull up their pants, be nice to each other and stop saying f**k all the time.

    As to what I think:

    The HS vs public shool question is far to complex and nuanced to be served well by simplistic “Homeschool good, public school bad” analysis. I understand your point about the bad parts of “socialization”. School is miserable for a lot of kids – I know it was for me. As Robert Morley said, "Show me the main who has enjoyed his schooldays and I will show you a bully and a bore"

    But as kazim has pointed out, it’s not efficient for everyone to be a generalist – specialization is why we have bridges and hospitals and space shuttles. Which means not everyone will be teaching their own children; a certain percentage will be taught be professional teachers of some sort.

    Furthermore, a degree of standardization in education is a desirable thing. We want a certain amt of consensus on curriculum, especially in the “hard” sciences. Which means someone has to decide what to teach.

    So who’s going to decide what the important fundamentals of education are? I hope it’s not MTV or Walmart, because (just a guess) there may be times when what’s good for Walmart and what’s in the public interest may not align perfectly.

    To address your semi-coherent first sentence: “Public” means community (ie, society, “the people”); in a democratic system, state policy should (theoretically) be aligned with the public will. And of course we fear the tyranny of the majority – that’s why we’re not a pure democracy; that’s why we have most of the stuff in the Bill of Rights, etc. Pointing out the flaws or the tradeoffs in a system is nothing like the same thing as proving the system is “bad”.

    As well, some measure of compulsory education is to the benefit of society. “The market” is another way to say “what people will pay for” or “what people want” – and a significant part of society isn’t that interested in education – they just want beer and a blowjob. And I *am* willing to make laws that force their children to go to school. I think to accept JohnGalt666’s paranoid jackboot fantasy and utopian vision of the State’s optimal role also requires us to accept a vastly different society, characterized in large part by social Darwinism. Which means a large underclass – poorly educated, in poor health, with self-destructive habits and class revolution on their mind. (Incidentally, this would be convenient for the Market, since it ensures a generous supply of employees who will work in exchange for toilet paper and Spam...)

    And no, I’m not a communist – I believe in the free market. Just not as the primary controlling authority when it comes to public education.

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  21. Socialization---NOT!!!!2:48 AM

    BT-

    Pfeizer, Exxon, MTV, and Walmart are NOT privately owned businesses. They are MASSIVE corporate behemoths corrupt and benefiting greatly from the idiot masses churned out by public schools.

    We want a certain amt of consensus on curriculum, especially in the “hard” sciences. Which means someone has to decide what to teach.

    Really? You think that a private school that neglects to teach reading is going to have many students? How "in demand" do you think a degree from that school would be? It would fold very quickly.

    What "hard science" classes do you see as being so necessary that they would NOT be obvious to any school as being beneficial to teach? That a school would elect not to have them in their curriculum and still be able to attract students?

    in a democratic system, state policy should (theoretically) be aligned with the public will.

    Wrong. The US was never designed to be a democracy. It is a republic designed to prevent exactly that kind of crap from happening: the tyranny of the majority who declare their "public will" to be more important than the rights of the minority.

    “The market” is another way to say “what people will pay for” or “what people want” – and a significant part of society isn’t that interested in education – they just want beer and a blowjob.

    Is this not the "public will" you were so excited to see alligned with state policy especially concerning the schools? If that is the current public mentality why would you want schools alligned with that?

    And I *am* willing to make laws that force their children to go to school

    Force. Listen to yourself. You wish to FORCE parents to do X with their children. What happens if the public will you are soooooo enamored of determines that all children SHALL go to public schools which then continues to churn out nothing but red necks yearning for their next "beer and blowjob". Are you going to stand up and cheer and say "Look! Schools have given us exactly what the public wants. People concerned only with 'beers and blowjobs'!"

    Who are you to determine what is best for everyone else's children?

    I ask that you read the following and tell me afterwards how you can morally justify forcing parents to send their kids to school.

    Should the government be permitted to remove children forcibly from their homes, with or without the parents' consent, and subject the children to educational training and procedures of which the parents may or may not approve? Should citizens have their wealth expropriated to support an educational system which they may or may not sanction, and to pay for the education of children who are not their own? To anyone who understands and is consistently committed to the principle of individual rights, the answer is clearly: NO.

    There are no moral grounds whatever for the claim that education is the prerogative of the state - or for the claim that it is proper to expropriate the wealth of some men for the unearned benefit of others.

    The doctrine that education should be controlled by the State is consistent with Nazi or communist theory of government. It is not consistent with the American theory of government.

    The totalitarian implications of public education (preposterously described as "free education") have in part been obscured by the fact that in America private schools are legally tolerated. Such schools, however, exist not by right but only by PERMISSION.

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  22. Thanks for the kind words and the plug. Much appreciated.

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  23. I am very interested in your blog. A lot of good articles!

    Remember the the high school student asking for the source code of your hanoi tower written in Microsoft foundation class?

    My first blog:
    http://yujiaoguo.blogspot.com/

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  24. For further discussion on this topic, please go to the next post.

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