Home, Schooling

by Tedra Osell on August 19, 2012

So. On the advice of multiple therapists and after failing to get a transfer to the one in-district school that I thought might work for Pseudonymous Kid, and likewise failing to find a private school within reasonable distance that looked like it would work for him, I am becoming a Homeschooling Mom this academic year.

I know I said I was homeschooling PK before, but I wasn’t, officially; he was on what our state calls “home hospital,” which means that a teacher was coming in for a few hours a week to make sure he “kept up.” He and I were doing some stuff on the side, but he was still enrolled in the public system. This week, though, I am going to call and “unenroll” him.

The up side, from the purely selfish point of view: I’ve had about nine months of research time, and have found some awesome resources. Whether or not I can get PK—who is currently spending as much of his summer as I will allow him (which is more time than I care to admit) playing Half Life and Minecraft and Portal—to get interested in them is a separate issue, but they are there. If one wants to be optimistic and positive, one can easily see home schooling as keeping alive the flame of progressive education until the public system rediscovers it in a decade or two.
The down side, however, bothers me a lot. Based on what I have read so far, and the homeschooling forums I’ve been joining, I am not seeing anyone really interrogating homeschooling as a social, political, or pedagogical movement. Somewhere, I’m sure, this has to exist, but so far the only thing I’ve found is a series of articles from Psychology Today, all based on a single survey: “What is Unschooling,” “The Benefits of Unschooling,” “What Leads Families to Unschool Their Children,” “The Challenges of Unschooling.”  (Note that, although homeschoolers themselves differentiate between home- and unschooling, I’m going to use homeschooling as the inclusive term.) They’re all quite interesting, but they’re a pretty thin basis for an educational system (?) that was teaching 1.5 million students at last report.

It is, of course, possible that I just haven’t found work on this stuff yet; if anyone reading has any knowledge of studies of homeschooling, please do let me know. Based on what I know right now, it seems to me that homeschooling is an educational approach that is deliberately and purposefully amateurish; not just because most of the people teaching their own kids don’t have teaching credentials (or graduate degrees), but also because there is a very strong belief that the public system is not only functioning badly, but is actively inimical to education.

Which is a really problematic presumtion, no? If we think that education ought to be universally available (which I am going to assume), then a system that explicitly or implicitly claims that parents ought to be their children’s primary (only?) academic educators has some real difficulties that need addressing: what about kids whose parent(s) did not themselves receive adequate educations? What happens to kids whose parent(s) are unable, unwilling, or uninterested in educating them? Do we believe that “proper” educations ought to be provided/available only to children whose parents are willing to make their children’s education a full-time job? What, if anything, is to be done about homeschooling parents who abuse or neglect either the children themselves or their children’s education? Is homeschooling a reproducible, universalizable system of education at all, or is it just an option that’s available to the most motivated parents? And if that latter, then what does that do or say about our sense of public citizenship?

It’s tough to bring up any of these discussions in homeschooling circles, it seems to me. So far, my experiences of doing so (and you will have to take my word for it that I have been as diplomatic and gentle as I can possibly be) have resulted in (1) being completely ignored; (2) an assurance that “many homeschoolers” care about these things, with no further discussion; (3) a single presumably homeschooling dad who spent several days telling me that I was being illogical and unfair and homeschoolers do better than “government schooled” children and oh, by the way, evolution is no more scientifically based than intelligent design—at which point I said that I didn’t think this discussion was going to get anywhere, which of course merely proved that I was not really interested in discussion or open inquiry. Or something like that.

I know that there are homeschoolers who, like me, are interested in and care about education as a profession; in fact, there are homeschoolers, like me, who are former academics (and many who are former K-12 teachers). But so far all I can find are personal / anecdotal explanations of homeschooling. Many of which are useful to me from the practical point of view as a homeschool “teacher”; none of which are really helping me to think about the consequences, implications or meaning of homeschooling.

I’m finding it truly bizarre that a movement that so clearly values independent research and learning is so unselfconscious and uncritical about what it’s doing.

{ 129 comments }

1

The Raven 08.19.12 at 7:10 am

This National Center for Educational Statistics study might perhaps be of some value: http://nces.ed.gov/nhes/homeschool/

2

John Quiggin 08.19.12 at 7:25 am

My personal experience here is very limited. We considered home schooling for a while, based on concerns about how our kid would manage the school as a social environment. I hung around some homeschooling bulletin boards, and checked out some of the options, but we eventually decided it was better to go in at the deep end. There were some problems, but it was the right choice in our case, I think.

Coming to the post, homeschooling obviously depends on having one parent free from other work on pretty much a full-time basis, and that has only ever been true for a small minority. So, it has to be thought about not as a possible replacement for public schools but as an outside option, in addition to that of private, community or religious schools. I don’t see it as particularly problematic, or at least as not raising problems that aren’t already there with the other options. For example, the problem of creaming off the most able students seems much more severe with high-status private schools, and problems with religiously-motivated home schooling seem to be much the same as with religious schools.

3

Gabe 08.19.12 at 7:38 am

Astra Taylor here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwIyy1Fi-4Q
or here:

http://nplusonemag.com/learning-in-freedom

She’s especially good on the squandered legacy of the 60s and 70s and taking the unschooling philiosophy into adulthood.

4

leederick 08.19.12 at 11:54 am

I’m not sure how common that view is. Most views I’ve come across are along the lines of ‘in my particular case and with my resource I can do a better job than the public system’, not that home schooling is universally superior or right for everyone.

Homeschooling is amateurish in a literal sense, but I don’t see how it’s a challenge to public education. Obviously mass teaching with classes of 25 or so kids requires professionalization and skills and techniques (like classroom management) that have to be learnt and which you don’t have to possess if you’re teaching one or two kids .

5

Watson Ladd 08.19.12 at 12:38 pm

In the United States one of the primary reasons for homeschooling is strong evangelical beliefs on the part of the parents. This may be a factor in the lack of thinking about the broader questions of education: most of the people homeschooling aren’t thinking about broader society, except as something they want to protect their children from.

6

Stuart Buck 08.19.12 at 12:53 pm

You could check out Milton Gaither, who has written a scholarly history of homeschooling in the U.S. and who has a blog that features links to various studies: http://gaither.wordpress.com/

7

Dawn 08.19.12 at 1:45 pm

My experience (and I’ve been unschooling my kids for over a decade now) is much like leederick’s. There are a handful of people in our local homeschooling community who think homeschooling is the best thing for every kid and every family but fortunately they are very few and far between and most of them are of the conservative Christian ilk (although not all) so they’re coming from a moral standpoint, you know, about how evil the schools are or whatever. Most of the rest of us are pretty much happy to trust you with your kids as long as you’re happy to trust us with ours.

I haven’t read any recent studies about homeschooling but way back when we first started there was an academic father who went and dug up all the studies because he was worried about defending their family’s decision to his colleagues. The studies he found say that homeschoolers do “better” but even then I didn’t think the research was all that useful. For one, homeschooling (and particularly unschooling) is so individual that I don’t think the term is generally useful. In the broadest sense it just means, “My kid is not at a school building for most of his or her day” but specifically some homeschoolers ARE at buildings (for extracurriculars or a class or two or are in and out as their needs change), some are in online school, some dip in and out of charters, some are growing up in structured school-at-home programs, some are living wild naked & free in forests far from civilization, etc. So really how can you do a study on homeschooled kids when it means so many different things to so many different people? And then, too, unschooling as a movement is critical of the whole idea that kids need to do “well” or “better than” because most of us question the whole dang system and the definition of “well” or “better than,” which is an ongoing discussion among us. (Many of the hardcore homeschoolers in my local community have kids who have gone to school either because circumstances dictated or the kids asked to do it. Others started in school then left. It’s a very few of us who started out homeschoolers and stayed there and even then we have tended to try on different curriculums and approaches and philosophies as we figure out what works best for our children and for ourselves. It’s all good.)

For what it’s worth though, many of us ARE concerned about abusive & neglectful parents even as we bitch about dealing with the supervision that our state requires (in Ohio it’s very very little — we just send a note in every year with the signature of a licensed teacher who says our kids are fine if we want to skip the standardized testing). For the libertarian-leaning, less is more. For liberals like me, it’s concerning. We do talk about it though.

My saving grace has been my local homeschooling community because support online isn’t all that useful although the information that’s on the web can be a help. I really need to sit with other parents who are willing to listen and share their stories and maybe even carpool to the zillions of things that are happening around town. Plus — playdates!!! I don’t even check in to online resources these days because they are too fraught (as online communities tend to be) and I have my IRL people now.

Good luck in your homeschooling foray! Hope you are able to find your people and be successful however you define it.

8

JanieM 08.19.12 at 2:52 pm

Tedra:

Which is a really problematic presumtion, no? If we think that education ought to be universally available (which I am going to assume), then a system that explicitly or implicitly claims that parents ought to be their children’s primary (only?) academic educators has some real difficulties that need addressing: what about kids whose parent(s) did not themselves receive adequate educations? What happens to kids whose parent(s) are unable, unwilling, or uninterested in educating them? Do we believe that “proper” educations ought to be provided/available only to children whose parents are willing to make their children’s education a full-time job? What, if anything, is to be done about homeschooling parents who abuse or neglect either the children themselves or their children’s education? Is homeschooling a reproducible, universalizable system of education at all, or is it just an option that’s available to the most motivated parents? And if that latter, then what does that do or say about our sense of public citizenship?

It’s tough to bring up any of these discussions in homeschooling circles, it seems to me….

I’m going to try and be as “nice and constructive” as JP Stormcrow said I was in the Generation Game thread yesterday, and if I can’t, I’ll just stop. (That goes for as long as this thread lasts.)

But.

Every time you (Tedra) bring this subject up I start to get riled up (and you’re not the only one), to the point where last time I had to just walk away from the computer. I get riled up partly because the way you frame the issues and questions is already loaded, the value judgments are already made, and you are to some extent purporting to explain my thought processes to me, whereas I would prefer that you not assume what they are.

The fact that I homeschooled my kids without worrying a whole lot about the survival of public education in the U.S. (as if!), apparently makes me “truly bizzarre … unselfconscious … and uncritical,” and that’s a hard position from which to enter a conversation. I know you applied those adjectives to “a movement” (what is that?) and not to an individual, but those adjectives are sitting there in the background of your inquiries, and therefore before we even start the conversation I’m feeling that I’ve been put on the defensive and that I have to justify myself and my way of thinking about this to you. (This of course is partly my own psychology intruding, not just your way of framing the questions.)

This gets coupled with the other reason I end up walking away from the computer, which is that the subject is just too big and sprawling. I thought hard about homeschooling, and the relationship of education to everything else, for twenty years — from before I had kids to well on into their teen years — to the point where I thought so differently about education from everyone around me that I did eventually just stop talking about it. The effort it took to try to build a conceptual bridge over and over and over again just wore me out. And it wore me out with other homeschoolers, too, because almost no homeschoolers within my reach when my kids were growing up were doing it for the same reasons I was. They were mostly doing it for right-wing-like religious reasons … I was not. To say the least.

*****

Apologies for the long disclaimer, but the “meta” — the attitudes, unexamined assumptions, etc. — are a big part of the conversation about homeschooling, schooling, and education in general, so I feel like it’s important to set the context. All that said, I’ll try to address one of your first questions as briefly as I can, and maybe come back for more later.

You wrote: If we think that education ought to be universally available (which I am going to assume), then a system that explicitly or implicitly claims that parents ought to be their children’s primary (only?) academic educators has some real difficulties that need addressing.

I do think “education ought to be universally available.” I do not think of homeschooling as a “system that claims…” etc. In fact, I never thought of homeschooling as a “system” at all, much less did I ever think that it should replace universally available publicly funded schooling. I simply felt, and feel … (though with more reservations than I had twenty years ago, mostly because of who’s doing the most homeschooling — see how messy this is?) … that compulsory schooling on the model that has become the norm in the U.S. (and most of the world?) should not be the only acceptable option for educating children.

Because I’m already getting into the swampy complexity of the subject and my feelings about it, let me cut to a general statement of belief.

I believe that “we” — the collective citizenry — should fund, via taxes, a system of lavish support/resources for lifelong education, but without assuming that all the education has to be done in a classroom and/or via book-learning. I believe that the responsibility for educating kids should be shared by parents and the collective citizenry, as represented by some kind of system of oversight, precisely to make sure that kids aren’t abused or neglected. (We already have such a system, of course, and it is responsible for kids in school as much as for kids outside school. How well it works is another question.)

The novelist David Guterson was a public high school teacher who homeschooled his own kids and wrote a book called Family Matters that came out just about when my kids would have been old enough to go to school. It was my favorite book about homeschooling in that era, because he had a “both/and” approach — he was committed to public education and he saw no reason why a system of universal public education couldn’t include home- or unschooling as well as schooling. In particular, he suggested that public education could be more like public libraries, where the patrons are ultimately in charge, but the resources are readily available to anyone. For education the resources would be teachers, books, labs, a machine shop…who knows, maybe a working organic farm, a working forest…… (I live in Maine, I have certain prejudices. :) )

I love that model. I’m not sure what I’d think of Guterson’s book if I read it now; I’ve changed my thinking (and feeling) about a lot of things in twenty years. But you might check it out if you haven’t found it already, because I think it might suggest a more nuanced, less “either/or” way of thinking about these questions, not least the idea that education should be “compulsory” somehow or other, but schooling should not.

I’ve got notes for a bunch more comments as long as this, but that’s probably not a good idea, so I’ll stop for now.

[With a prayer to the html deities.....]

9

SusanC 08.19.12 at 3:14 pm

My first reaction to this is that many people just can’t homeschool their kids, because they need to work to feed their family. (Teaching classes of 30 in a school presumably uses fewer teacher hours per pupil than teaching them in small numbers at home).

Someone like Tedra (or many of the poster here at CT) is a professional educator, and so is in a much better postion to teach their own kids than the typical citizen. But even so … how often does a single person know all the subjects that are taught at school well enough to teach them? Subjects like art and music have a large physical element to them, and you can’t really teach them unless you can do them yourself. (In particular, you need to be able to see/hear what the student is doing wrong, and understand it analytically enough to explain to them where they’re going wrong).

Some subjects need a lot of resources to teach. Physics – at least, the way I was taught it in school [*] – needs a lot of laboratory equipment to do the experiments. The expense of the lab equipment is justifiable if it’s being used by a class of 30 (and then another class of 30 next year, etc.) – it’s too expensive to acquire just for yourself.

[*] The Nuffield physics syllabus is a really good way to teach physics, but it’s expensive even for schools to run the experiments.

10

occhiblu 08.19.12 at 3:30 pm

I recently read Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from Consumer a Consumer Culture and while it was infuriating in almost every way (each individual family being profiled seemed to be able to “check out” of consumer culture because they were connected with enough resources — money, land, higher education, consumer-culture neighbors or family — to borrow what they needed when necessary, but there was *no discussion* about the unsustainability of such a model), there was a lot of discussion about homeschooling as a progressive political movement. The book itself was all anecdote/memoir, but I seem to remember that almost all the families profiled had websites that were listed in the back of the book. That list might be helpful to you for finding more primary sources, maybe?

11

JanieM 08.19.12 at 3:43 pm

My first reaction to this is that many people just can’t homeschool their kids, because they need to work to feed their family.

Where has anyone said that everyone should homeschool their kids?

In response to both this and Tedra’s mention of the homeschooling “movement,” a “movement” part of whose purpose is to be allowed to do something (legally) is not the same as a movement to force everyone to do that thing. Why does this distinction keep getting blurred? I will suggest one reason: which is that we are so brainwashed to assume that “education” has to happen in the same way, in the same building, etc., for everyone, that it’s almost impossible to think outside that box. So to speak.

Teaching classes of 30 in a school presumably uses fewer teacher hours per pupil than teaching them in small numbers at home

A lot of what goes on at school is crowd control. A lot of learning can be done with minimal “teaching” — where the “teacher” is more like a consultant. People don’t have to do everything in the most efficient “per hours” manner, not to mention the fact that there are all kinds of tradeoffs being made (in both directions, good and not so good) when kids are at home, or mostly at home, instead of at school.

Some subjects need a lot of resources to teach.

Yes. So…..?

See my reference to David Guterson’s model. A choir or a band needs a bunch of people to be a choir or a band, so you can’t do it at home alone. A basketball team ditto. So I’d like to outline in bright colors yet again the assumption that’s being made in comments like this: that education has to be all or nothing: schooling all day every day for twelve years, in the same building/room with everyone else your age, or … something bad.

Why not more options and more creativity?

Maine law requires schools to give services to homeschoolers (all but transportation). My son went to school part-time from the time he was ten years old. Yes, in fact, he took lab sciences at school; we didn’t try to do them at home. (These tradeoffs are quite different for high school age kids than for little kids, as well and BTW.) My daughter tried school when she was 11 or 12 and hated it. They both played basketball and other sports in public (younger kids) and school (middle and high school) leagues.

Now they both say that maybe it would have been better if they hadn’t been homeschooled, and in some ways I agree with them. But I’ve lived long enough, and I know myself and them well enough, to know that if they hadn’t been homeschooled they/we might well be saying the opposite at this point. (They’re both out of college; they both went to highly selective colleges and my son is now back in school after a three-year gap.)

12

Nababov 08.19.12 at 4:16 pm

I’ve long thought the main point of non-home schooling was not what they tried to teach you but what you learnt about people and systems while being socialised outside your family circle.

13

bianca steele 08.19.12 at 4:17 pm

Do we believe that “proper” educations ought to be provided/available only to children whose parents are willing to make their children’s education a full-time job?

I don’t think we believe that. I do think “we” believe the public schools work for the most part and only need to be tweaked. By that I mean that we believe the schools worked just fine when Janie M was a kid, and when her kids were kids, and certainly in Maine.

Probably we also believe that the vast majority of kids do just fine in those kinds of schools. Maybe the very few who don’t need extra help, and the best way they can get that help is for someone to devote the maximum resources to helping them, and those who can’t are unlucky enough to only get second- or third-best.

“We” tend to believe that kids have natural abilities that can’t be altered by instruction, and only slightly by hard work. Anything above that (their natural level) is kind of cheating. Taking them out of the schools is wrong–not because other kids can’t have the same opportunity–but because if the kid isn’t thriving where the other kids are, he or she just isn’t fated to be able to take advantage of that opportunity, sort of. And this attitude is somewhat specific to schools and to very few other institutions in our society. In other places, as the OP noted, trying everything one possibly can is more expected.

14

Scott Martens 08.19.12 at 4:30 pm

Tedra, you will eventually – if you haven’t already – start coming across the names of the more intellectual, secular, and ideological figures in the home school movement. I’ll spare you the googling: Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society), John Holt (several books from the 60s to the 90s), John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing Us Down), and my fave, Grace Llewellyn (The Teenage Liberation Handbook). Illich was a serious intellectual worthy of reading and consideration, but definitely full of it on a regular basis. Holt is okay. Gatto is awful but his name comes up a lot and his ideology and intellectual-sounding style fits the wingnuttery of too many homeschoolers. And I genuinely enjoyed Llewellyn’s book.

Start with Llewellyn, then Holt or Illich.

I do think some things about home schooling, and some of them are not very nice. But I think pretty awful things about school too. If you were living in Canada, I’d give you my mum’s number to ask. She tutors homeschooled kids for a living.

15

jeer9 08.19.12 at 4:35 pm

I would agree that if one chooses to frame home-schooling as a movement the majority of parents seem to be religiously motivated, but I don’t think your particular decision necessarily needs some strong foundational base. The school system isn’t working for your child, and you need to explore other options. I have an English department colleague (with a stay-at-home wife) who has home-schooled both of his kids and they have done very well on standardized tests like SATs (over 750 in English, as you might expect; not sure about about the science and math scores). So if test results are the be-all and end-all of education (and I know they aren’t :>), the process can work and without the sort of destructive barriers imposed by a fundamentalist view (though any curriculum developed for a home-schooler is going to be somewhat skewed by that parent’s priorities).

From personal experience, I would also suggest allotting only a couple of hours a day to your son’s computer game playing. I know it’s a parental easy way out (sort of like plopping the child in front of the TV), they’re happy and occupied and aren’t doing anything “harmful”, but I do believe it dulls curiosity, fosters a closed, hermetic universe which offers easy gratifications not found in the social world and thus can become a poor substitute for the sort of personal skills a healthy individual needs (and especially so if the child/teen already seems to possess an anti-social/asocial predisposition and has difficulty connecting with others). Of course, spending one’s life obsessed with reading could probably be characterized in a similar way, though I like to believe the latter interest encourages critical, rather than just strategic, thought.

In any case, best of luck. Both of mine are off to good colleges but the problems haven’t ceased – and they’re supposed to. :>

16

BenK 08.19.12 at 5:05 pm

There are naturally many things to say here; for instance, in response to the idea that evangelicals don’t think about the broader society… that’s clearly nonsense. The idea that they would like to keep their children away from bullies and drugs until the children can be a positive force in society is hardly uncaring.

The rub can, I believe, be reduced to this principle: people are most responsible for themselves, then their immediate family, then their extended family, their local community and so on in ever widening circles. There is responsibility for global humanity, the environment, and so on, but it is diluted relative to their immediate responsibilities and distributed to many other people. In this sense, then, ‘education professionals’ take the lead on reforming the public schools, supported by (hopefully) politicians, local community leaders, the parent-teacher associations and school boards, taxpayers, etc; but even the education professionals have a deeper, stronger, more immediate obligation to their own children while raising them; to educate them as best they can, regardless of whether that has a small impact further undermining an inadequate local school.

17

JanieM 08.19.12 at 5:06 pm

Second Scott Martens’s suggestions about authors. I read more Holt than Illich, enjoyed Lewellyn a lot (but have to confess I had forgotten about that book; it came after my period of intense reading and decision-making, so I appreciated it rather than learning much from it), and detested Gatto.

18

Barry Freed 08.19.12 at 5:27 pm

The Illich is a slim volume that can be read in a couple of hours at most (in marked contrast to much of his other work). It can be found online here:
http://ournature.org/~novembre/illich/1970_deschooling.html

19

JoannaW 08.19.12 at 5:38 pm

You might check out this recent article plus its reference section:
Martin-Chang, Sandra, Odette Gould, and Reanne Meuse. (2011) The Impact of Schooling on Academic Achievement: Evidence from Homeschooled and Traditionally Schooled Students. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science 43:3, 195-202.

They manage to tentatively tease out unschoolers a bit in the data, too. It isn’t pretty.

I’m planning to homeschool my daughter when the time comes, taking a decidedly secular approach. I’d agree with some of the other commenters that the questions you’re asking assume a unified sense of purpose among homeschoolers that is, as far as I can tell in my initial explorations, entirely absent. I haven’t seen anyone (in my secular homeschooling world) claim that everyone should do it, nor that it should replace traditional schooling. Just some people with a dim view of traditional school outcomes, who happen to have the means and motivation to try doing it themselves. But then, I’m a total n00b, so maybe I’ve missed something.

20

absurdbeats 08.19.12 at 5:55 pm

This likely falls in the anecdotal category, but Susan Wise Bauer, who teaches at the College of William and Mary, homeschools her kids, writes material for homeschoolers, and until recently had a blog devoted to her approach to homeschooling, might be worth a gander.

Wise Bauer is a Christian whose husband is a pastor, but she’s come in for criticism from some Christians for not trying to convert everyone all of the time (see, for example, this post from her professional blog: http://www.susanwisebauer.com/blog/the-raving-writer/life-on-the-border/ ).

Not having read her books, I can’t speak to the quality of her work, but she might be someone with whom you could have a fruitful conversation.

21

absurdbeats 08.19.12 at 5:57 pm

D’oh, the link to Wise Bauer’s homeschooling blog disappeared: http://www.welltrainedmind.com/blog/

22

bianca steele 08.19.12 at 6:06 pm

Also, my parents, who went to US public high schools in the 1950s, have a strong assumption that the school and the community will provide what is needed. I’m not saying that they didn’t provide opportunities outside of school (they did), or that they didn’t offer things they thought were important that they knew weren’t part of school (they did). But AFAICT they had absorbed the consensus of the time that what’s necessary and sufficient for socialization is exposure to a pretty homogeneous peer group, perhaps somehow coextensive with the school, though they often disagreed with this consensus and I’m sure would want me to qualify this quite a bit.

But so anyway I think (hopefully not in a Tea Partyish way) that there is a belief out there that the school is really important and that differing with the school is really problematic.

23

bemused 08.19.12 at 6:17 pm

Another academic who home-schools is the former “Respectful of Otters”, and she has a blog about it. Her kids are younger than yours, she still works in academia, and she shares the home-schooling with her spouse.

24

Displaced Person 08.19.12 at 6:28 pm

I do not know PK or the issues that led to your screening schools and rejecting them. This may be off target, therefore, but please consider the Coalition of Essential Schools (and the substantial research behind the group) in developing a curriculum and organizing your “classes.” I was surprised that no commenter yet has mentioned the late great Ted Sizer and his work which you may find interesting (and is the prime source of the CES Movement).

25

Harold 08.19.12 at 6:44 pm

I think the early teen years are very hard for parents because at this age parents and grownups in general tend to lose influence as their offspring turn to peers. My sense is that the time-worn strategy of giving them tons of organized activities (sports, etc.) and not too much leisure time is probably based on hard-worn experience. Our son did not shine in team sports but came into his own in track and squash.The other thing is that anything that makes them feel useful and grown up is also very welcomed. I was surprised that our son didn’t mind and in fact really welcomed learning to tie a tie (his school made them wear one during the winter months).

Our Waldorf school had the high school students serve soup to the third graders at lunch (in their classrooms). The school also organized a formal dinner (not a prom) for the pre-teeners with lectures on etiquette from a protocol consultant at a near-by hotel that was surprisingly well received. They also had them learn calligraphy — it seems strange, but at this age their bones an muscles are all growing at different rates and they suddenly become clumsy. Even in this day and age, calligraphy is a useful skill to know.

Still, when I asked a fellow parent how they got through their boys’ teenage years (which in some ways is like going through the terrible twos all over again), the answer was, “You know, the day our sons graduated from high school was the happiest day of our life.”

26

Harold 08.19.12 at 6:47 pm

This mother (a Harvard scientist), as reported in the NY Times, used the rigorous French curriculum to supplement her children’s education — even her own children (now grown) don’t know how she did it:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/science/insights-in-human-knowledge-from-the-minds-of-babes.html
“Scaling the academic ranks, Dr. Spelke still found time to supplement her children’s public school education with a home-schooled version of the rigorous French curriculum. She baked their birthday cakes from scratch, staged elaborate treasure hunts and spent many days each year creating their Halloween costumes: Bridget as a cave girl or her favorite ballet bird; her younger brother, Joey, as a drawbridge.

‘Growing up in my house was a constant adventure,’ Bridget said. ‘As a new mother myself,’ she added, ‘I don’t know how my mom did it.’

Is Dr. Spelke the master of every domain? It’s enough to make the average mother fuss out.

27

JanieM 08.19.12 at 6:51 pm

bianca steele: But so anyway I think (hopefully not in a Tea Partyish way) that there is a belief out there that the school is really important and that differing with the school is really problematic.

Speaking as a gay parent who homeschooled, I think it’s telling that it’s so easy to rewrite that sentence: “…[there's a belief out there that] heterosexuality is really important and that differing from heterosexual norms is really problematic.”

We’re getting away from it nowadays, but when I was growing up that belief about sexuality was all there was to see. In fact, you couldn’t really see it, because it was as pervasive and invisible as the air, so ubiquitous that it didn’t have to be noticed or mentioned.

In the era during which my kids were growing up, the reactions I got to the information that we homeschooled were eerily similar to reactions about homosexuality, only — and here’s a big irony — from almost 100% non-overlapping groups. Homeschoolers and their supporters were appalled by the campaign for civil rights for gay people (we had several referenda on that subject in Maine while my kids were growing up). Liberals who were on the “right” side (mine ) about homosexuality were equally appalled by the idea of homeschooling.

Now I’m doing the mindreading, but I think these reactions were equally knee-jerk. Homosexuality and homeschooling both made people’s minds go blank, so that all they could do was sputter and react: Status quo good, challenging it bad. Bad bad bad bad bad.

That’s scary. I emphasize the comparison because again, I think it helps frame some of Tedra’s questions in a different way. We should be asking how we can have the best possible system of public education, but I see homeschooling as one little part of a healthy answer to that question rather than as a threat to the whole idea. I think people react as if it’s a threat because we’re so totally accustomed to not being able to imagine any other way of doing education, and our mainstream educational model is so monolithic that everyone models homeschoooling as equally monolithic instead of as something open, flexible, and varied (along Guterson’s lines) that can co-exist with, or in fact be a subset of, more conventional schooling — to the benefit of both.

28

JanieM 08.19.12 at 6:53 pm

 –> meant to be a smiley, transformed into who knows what.

29

Tedra Osell 08.19.12 at 6:56 pm

JanieM @8

Let me start with a sincere apology for frustrating the bejeezus out of you–I truly don’t want to impute motives to homeschoolers (which includes me!). I’m trying to find some kind of coherent narrative/theory about homeschooling to understand it as (yes) a movement, because it seems to me that it is, and a lot of the things I see (some) homeschoolers saying bother me a lot, as an educator.

Okay, with that out of the way: THANK YOU for your helpful and thoughtful comments. Truly. This is the kind of conversation I have been looking for, and unable to find so far.

“compulsory schooling on the model that has become the norm in the U.S. (and most of the world?) should not be the only acceptable option for educating children.” I agree with this 100%, especially now that I’ve really had to come to terms with some of the consequences of the system’s shortcomings. Before PK, I recognized some of those shortcomings, but saw most of them as minor rather than systemic; mistakes that needed tweaking rather than fundamental flaws. Now that I’ve got this kid who is completely unable (unwilling?) to just “let stuff go,” and who is frustrated to the point of explosion when his questions go unanswered, some pretty basic parts of how we do formal education are starting to seem to me like approaches that need alternatives.

““we”—the collective citizenry—should fund, via taxes, a system of lavish support/resources for lifelong education, but without assuming that all the education has to be done in a classroom and/or via book-learning. I believe that the responsibility for educating kids should be shared by parents and the collective citizenry, as represented by some kind of system of oversight, precisely to make sure that kids aren’t abused or neglected”

Agreed on the first one; I can see what you mean by this. Libraries, plus other resources (in Canada there were toy libraries for parents of young kids, which was brilliant)–workshops, salons maybe, that sort of thing. I’m on board.

The system of oversight is a (the?) big sticking point, isn’t it? I agree with you that right now we have one. It’s not working well, in part because it’s so grossly underfunded, but as with public ed, I think that’s not the only problem. I think one of the discomforts I have with homeschooling activism (again, based on what I’ve seen so far, which is only partial and I hope not representative) is that much of it seems to be opposed to any kind of oversight or regulation at all? Which makes me acutely uncomfortable.

Also, from a later comment: “A lot of what goes on at school is crowd control. A lot of learning can be done with minimal “teaching”—where the “teacher” is more like a consultant. People don’t have to do everything in the most efficient “per hours” manner, not to mention the fact that there are all kinds of tradeoffs being made (in both directions, good and not so good) when kids are at home, or mostly at home, instead of at school.” Yes, indeedy. Moreover, the efficiency shibboleth is a real problem in education; in education, learning something thoroughly is more important than learning it “fast.”

In any case. I have to read and think about the other comments in this thread, but I really wanted to respond to this particular comment in some depth first. I will get the Guterson book–I had heard of it, but thought it was just a sort of memoir. As you describe it, it sounds very much like the kind of thing I’ve been looking for.

30

JanieM 08.19.12 at 7:05 pm

Tedra, thanks, whew, I’m glad to have a chance to try to be coherent instead of just sputtering. I also totally agree with you that the question of oversight is one of the messiest parts of this subject, and I’ll try to come back to it if I can get my thoughts in order a bit.

31

Tedra Osell 08.19.12 at 7:11 pm

Nababov @10

“I’ve long thought the main point of non-home schooling was not what they tried to teach you but what you learnt about people and systems while being socialised outside your family circle.”

I’ve made this argument myself, and I still think that one advantage that public schools *potentially* have is they provide the opportunity for kids to actually befriend–as opposed to just sort of coexisting with–kids from different ethnic/economic backgrounds. I still think that was the single biggest (only?) advantage of my public school K-8 education.

I’ve heard many homeschoolers point out that their kids are socialized outside of the family circle, and the points JanieM is making about how we (collectively, as a society) tend to see education as an all-or-nothing proposition (homeschooled kids never leave the house!) are good to keep in mind. Of *course* homeschooled kids meet and socialize with people outside the family circle–there are still clubs, errands, neighbors, local businesses, and so on. I, personally, still worry that these kinds of groups are largely self-selected, and therefore fairly segregated; but it seems to me that that’s more and more true of public schools as well.

Unfortunately, and I don’t know whether this is an accident of history (white flight) or a more structural problem of public education (neighborhood/local schools) as part of the broader society, it’s also true that public schools have, for the most part, resegregated. Moreover, as we’ve decided to focus on Academics and Test Scores and Back to Basics, doing the kinds of things in school that let kids make friends and help them learn to work together seems to happen very seldom; not a lot of group projects, not a lot of collaboration. The anti-bullying movement, at its best, would focus on empathy and crossing social barriers, but for the most part it seems to just be yet another “zero tolerance” policy that does nothing to really help kids learn pro-social skills; there just isn’t time or money for it.

32

Tedra Osell 08.19.12 at 7:12 pm

Also big thanks to everyone–this thread has been far, far more constructive than I feared it might be. I truly appreciate it.

33

No way 08.19.12 at 8:26 pm

Co-sign every single thing Janie M. is saying.

I was fully immersed in the homeschooling world (unschooling branch) from the mid-1970s-mid 1990s). For the first 10 years, the automatic response from any member of the public, upon encountering a homeschooler, was “That’s illegal!”

Generally followed shortly thereafter with “You [or your parents] are going to go to jail.” And indeed, a not-insignificant number of families were in fact threatened with prison, often on grounds of supposed truancy.

I mention this because it does shape the worldview that some of us old-timers have – and part of what drives some of the reaction to those who are “just asking questions” like Tedra’s.

Over those two decades, I sat through literally hundreds of discussions, whether through La Leche League or unschoolers networks or other events, at which families debated and discussed passionately every facet of homeschooling. Was it a year-by-year choice? (yes, for most) Could it be different for different children in the same family? (yes, of course) To what extent was it a political critique of the existing system and to what extent was it about the health and welfare of individual children? What duty did homeschoolers owe to more disadvantaged children? How much (if any) torment should a child endure in order to be sure that the family was not “abandoning” the public schools? (which, to be clear, every single homeschooling family I knew was still paying taxes to support) To what extent did it make sense to think of “homeschooling” as being an activity of an adult such as a parent, and to what extent were the adults merely facilitating the exploration of young people making their own education?

And on and on and on.

The questions raised in the OP were not absent from any of the many, many conversations I was part of for those 20-plus years. Granted, I was in a subset of the homeschooling community. But back then, there weren’t enough of us to really splinter the way people started to do in the later ’90s. We HAD to make common cause with each other.

And we had to deal with academics. People who wanted to study us, people who wanted to criticize us, people who wanted to prove their theory du jour.

During those years, my family must have done at least two dozen lengthy, detailed (and often repeated) interviews with academics. We did not particularly want to talk with them, but we felt it was our duty to help explain the movement to the outside world.

And that meant calmly, patiently, non-defensively, and politely explaining ourselves, over and over again — to strangers on the street, to reporters by the busload, and most definitely to the parade of anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists studying us.

We knew going in that it would be an uphill battle — because by definition, academics are people who were good at school and stuck with it longer than anyone else. They would not necessarily be well-positioned to understand the critique we were making of mandatory attendance,* nor understand what we saw as the positive, non-zero-sum, choice-FOR rather than choice-AGAINST that we were engaged in.

Where we were totally naive was in understanding the academic process. I think I stopped keeping track around the 12th or 14th promised dissertation that never materialized. People would come along, conduct probing and intrusive interviews, make promises, and then vanish. For a long time the only finished study I knew of was Larry Shyers’s, and that one was so problematic due to his (pro-homeschooling) bias that I hated to cite it.

By the time I stopped doing interviews,** I had been to a grand total of one dissertation defense, and had unearthed a couple of other incidental publications due to my own sleuthing.

So when I see a post like this one, a part of me wants to pull the covers over my head. Not that the questions aren’t for the most part legitimate; not that the issues aren’t all too painfully familiar. But the sheer effort involved in socializing+ a newcomer to the movement is, well, enormous.

It’s kind of like — bear with me here — teaching someone about feminism. You know?

*Vocabulary matters; there is no such thing as mandatory education nor mandatory schooling, but there certainly is compulsory attendance.

**I forgot; I did just do one on homeschoolers’ willingness to access mental health services just last year. The sense of obligation dies hard. But my family has long since aged out of the school-age cohort, and we don’t get many requests any more.

+Yep, I did use that word.

34

bianca steele 08.19.12 at 8:28 pm

JanieM: I think it’s telling that it’s so easy to rewrite that sentence: “…[there’s a belief out there that] heterosexuality is really important and that differing from heterosexual norms is really problematic.”

Absolutely. When you read “consensus” stuff from that era, the preoccupation with “manliness” versus some unnamed danger is everywhere once you start looking for it. Presumably they felt the same way about lesbians, but to appearances they didn’t seem very interested in girls (unless forced to write about Jane Austen or something).

In many cases, there’s a real tension between the idea that everyone should do well in school and the idea that nerdly or non-physical traits should be discouraged, either because being gay is wrong, or because kids have to learn to live with a society that supposedly uniformly believes being gay is wrong. (There was also the slightly overweight kid, about 11, who was taunted as gay in Mass. a few years ago, and the principal told his mother his problem was that he denied being gay, and refused to help.) There’s something like that w/r/t girls too, especially if you define “sexuality” more broadly, but not evenly: I get the sense that whether girls are supposed to be “girly” or “sexy” or “serious” varies from place to place.

35

LogicGuru 08.19.12 at 9:24 pm

Homeschooling is retrogressive. Specialization frees us from tasks that we’re incapable or uninterested in doing: we can earn money for doing what we like best and do best, and pay others, who are better at educating kids and doing find it as unpleasant as we do to do that job. I worked so that I could pay others to do child care for my kids when they were babies and toddlers, because I don’t like babies or toddlers, and then paid taxes so that the public school system could do the job of educating my kids.

36

Watson Ladd 08.19.12 at 9:44 pm

I feel that one of the big benefits of not having been homeschooled for me was being around people interested and excited by the same things I was, and with teachers who were able to steer talented students the right way. Homeschooling isn’t always an alternative for students with needs the local schools cannot meet, because parents might not have the tools to meet them either.

Any education policy has to value giving students appropriate educations, and that includes things beyond what we expect everyone to know.

37

JoshM 08.19.12 at 9:50 pm

Tedra:

You’ve embarked on a project that can be positive for PK. I hope you also find it personally fulfilling.

I was homeschooled for eight years (the right-wing variety), and attended public high school for three years. My anecdotal perception is that it can be a good option to tailor education to students with special needs that aren’t getting met by the system. And it’s an opportunity for students to cultivate special skills and undertake unusual projects.

A few words of advice:

Be careful to take a flexible and student-centered approach to pedagogy. Don’t let anybody tell you that there is only one right way to teach math or reading, or anything like that.

Try to create appopriate opportunities for PK to socialize with peers. Social development can be the biggest challenge, next to which learning high school level chemistry, physics or calculus is comparitively easy (and many public schools now work with home schoolers to teach these subjects). Ironicaly, the very misery of adolescence and the oppressive atmosphere of public high schools is arguably good training for life. By the age of 18 a socially competent teen will have had the experience of dealing successfully with, e.g., an unfair or incompetent teacher, or an accusation of cheating, or with being bullied or sexually harrassed, or with dating and being dumped, or with running for student government and either losing, or else winning and then having to collaborate with uncooperative, apathetic people. Those stressors do not go away in adult life. And success in life means learning to deal with those situations. Too many homeschoolers fall behind the curve socially, and it can cause problems.

Finally–though you seem very thoughtful and fair-minded–resist the temptation to push your own ideology on PK. In retrospect, I feel strongly that parents’ right to educate their children according to the dictates of their conscience should not be allowed to trump the child’s right to learn truthful, accurate information about e.g. biology, geology, cosmology, genetics, ecology, US history, basic verifiable economic facts, 20th century English literature, reproductive health, etc. As a matter of public policy, I think it should be more closely regulated.

Best of luck.

38

Julie Ward 08.19.12 at 10:34 pm

I home educated my three children in New Zealand for 11 years. Two are now at university and seem to have made the transition comfortably while the third is now in a public school for the first time at the age of 16. I can appreciate your comment that you are “not seeing anyone really interrogating homeschooling as a social, political, or pedagogical movement” and I understand your frustration that all you can find are “personal / anecdotal explanations of homeschooling.” I know that on a personal level I have interrogated homeschooling socially, politically and pedagogically almost every day for the past 11 years.

The difficulty as I experienced it is that it is hard to research home education other than on a case by case basis because families understandably don’t want to be research subjects. There are some researchers who have had a try, interestingly those I am aware of are not from USA which is really the home of the homeschooling movement. There are sections of the US home schooling movement who actively discourage any participation in research. As an example see http://www.home-ed-magazine.com/INF/FREE/free_rsrch.html

Here is a list of some material I am aware of:

The best academic research I have come across is that of Alan Thomas ( http://www.ioe.ac.uk/staff/PHDT/24653.html ) who appears to be presently resident at the Institute of Education at the University of London.

There is another British researcher named Paula Rothermel, but her material is less accessible.

In New Zealand I am aware of case studies by Leo Roche http://www.ioe.ac.uk/staff/PHDT/24653.html who concludes “more research is needed to provide an accurate picture of homeschooling in New Zealand.”

I am also aware of research by Emma Stroobant “Dancing to the Music of Your Heart:Home Schooling the School-Resistant Child”, prepared for a PhD at the University of Auckland.

Having said I was not aware of much US material I did a quick search and came up with http://www.indiana.edu/~homeeduc/ which has a long list of research articles. I think the three key points made by Robert Kunzman are very important and apply worldwide.

“1. We don’t have any comprehensive data about U.S. homeschoolers nationally: total number of homeschoolers, learning outcomes, or anything else.

The broadest set of data we have comes from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), but even that large-scale study likely doesn’t provide a full picture, as many homeschoolers are strongly opposed to any sort of governmental oversight of their efforts, and therefore refuse to participate in any data-gathering attempts (the 2003 NCES survey, for instance, had a 58% refusal rate).

2. Claims that the “average homeschooler” outperforms public and private school students are simply not justified.

3. There is no such thing as a “typical homeschooler.”

In New Zealand there is probably better information because there is a legal requirement to obtain an exemption from school attendance which is complied with by most home schoolers.

It is perhaps unfair to say that “a movement that so clearly values independent research and learning is so unselfconscious and uncritical about what it’s doing.” I think that homeschoolers reflect constantly on their choice at a personal level. Discussions on some forums are often very challenging as to practice and there is also some excellent kind advice. It is however difficult to document such reflection in a conventional way. There is resistance from homeschoolers to being research subjects and there is no way to get a random sample for research as any research subjects must consent and are therefore in effect self-selected.

I concur totally with the comment ““compulsory schooling on the model that has become the norm in the U.S. (and most of the world?) should not be the only acceptable option for educating children.” My wish would be for better integration between the choices. At least in New Zealand once you make the choice “the state has washed its hands of you” and basically refuses to allow you to participate at all in publice education which seems to me a shame as each choice has a lot to offer the other.

On the question of oversight – in New Zealand we did have a review system in place until recently but it was abandoned as a cost cutting measure as home schoolers were perceived by the government as a low risk group. We now rely on a complaints based system. In practice parents want the best for their children and those who feel homeschooling is not working for them make a choice to move back to school.

Sorry my links are not live – my HTML tags knowledge is a bit rusty.

39

JanieM 08.19.12 at 11:34 pm

Good thoughts from JoshM about things to consider in relation to PK, and from jeer9 as well.

As to this:

Too many homeschoolers fall behind the curve socially, and it can cause problems.

… many kids in school “fall behind the curve socially” as well, and this is true of almost anything you could say in either direction.

By any academic measure, I was a dazzlingly successful school child. But a vitally important thing that I failed to learn is that I am essentially “learning disabled about politics” (as a friend of mine phrased it, meaning the social politics of workplace, academic department, etc.). That’s a long story and I won’t go on with it, but having had a lot of experience now in both modes (unschooling and schooling), I would say that assuming one would have filled in the gaps left by the other is over-idealistic either way.

40

JanieM 08.19.12 at 11:38 pm

Tedra: I think one of the discomforts I have with homeschooling activism (again, based on what I’ve seen so far, which is only partial and I hope not representative) is that much of it seems to be opposed to any kind of oversight or regulation at all? Which makes me acutely uncomfortable.

JoshM: In retrospect, I feel strongly that parents’ right to educate their children according to the dictates of their conscience should not be allowed to trump the child’s right to learn truthful, accurate information about e.g. biology, geology, cosmology, genetics, ecology, US history, basic verifiable economic facts, 20th century English literature, reproductive health, etc. As a matter of public policy, I think it should be more closely regulated.

Homeschooling makes strange bedfellows, which is why I resist thinking of it as a “movement” at all. If what you want to do is resist state power over the lives of individuals and families, then homeschooling might be part of your program, but, as a calendar I once had said, “An idea is not responsible for the people who espouse it.” (This goes for a lot of things.) There are other ways to do homeschooling, and many homeschoolers are happy to comply with state requirements for registration and oversight. (Which of course vary wildly from state to state in the US, which is the only place I know anything about in this regard.)

I was once on the mailing list of a statewide Christian homeschooling group that sent a newsletter every now and then. I had met the woman who published the newsletter at a conference once, and she and her husband were sweet and gentle people to talk with.

There came a time when in the same issue of the newsletter there were these articles:

1) a call to arms — “let’s be the silent majority no longer” — exhorting homeschoolers to be visible and vocal in fighting the good fight against civil rights for gay people in Maine. (One of those referenda was happening.)

2) a celebration of the fact that the Constitution (citing some court case or other) gives Americans the right to run their family lives as they see fit, including the right to homeschool.

I wrote the woman an eight page, single-spaced letter pointing out that she was celebrating her right to run her family life without interference from me, while begging people to help her make sure that as a gay person I didn’t have the right to run my family life without interference from her.

Needless to say, I never heard back from her.

State power over the lives of individuals and families is a two-edged sword. Maybe I’m hyper-aware of that fact since I’m gay, but I think it’s important not to idealize what that kind of power can accomplish or underestimate the ways in which it can go wrong. (Fully recognizing that “wrong” is in the eye of the beholder, which is part of my point.)

One of my summer vacation stops used to be at the home and basket shop of Joe Nicholas, a Passamaquoddy elder who helped linguists from Harvard and MIT create a written form of the Passamaquoddy language. Mr. Nicholas told me about this the first time I ever met him, and he also told me that he and the rest of his generation had been beaten in school — by teachers — for speaking Passamaquoddy.

I don’t think “state power” as an abstraction, or the presence of some proportion of petty tyrants in schools, have changed all that much since Joe Nicholas was a kid in school. (He’s gone now, sad to say.) Kids don’t get beaten by teachers as much any more (well, except in Texas), but that doesn’t mean that teachers, administrators, or school boards are all-wise and all-knowing.

Especially in a democracy, there’s a permanent gray area instead of a bright line defining, in JoshM’s phrase, “truthful … facts,” not to mention the question of which of the infinity of “true facts” should be taught to children.

Basically: I’m all for the state having the role of a “bigger bully” in a lot of aspects of life — especially the protection of children from abuse. But state power itself can be abused, so I think it’s important to be careful and somewhat conservative in deciding how far it should reach.

41

JanieM 08.19.12 at 11:42 pm

On the other hand, as far as state power goes, tax the hell out of ‘em as far as I’m concerned, the wealthier the more so, and use the proceeds to create great learning centers for kids of all ages, restore the state universities to their former glories and tuition rates, etc. etc.

;)

42

JanieM 08.19.12 at 11:48 pm

Me: I wrote the woman an eight page, single-spaced letter pointing out that she was celebrating her right to run her family life without interference from me, while begging people to help her make sure that as a gay person I didn’t have the right to run my family life without interference from her.

Implied in this paragraph is of course the role of state power in giving either of us leverage over the family life of the other.

43

Tedra Osell 08.19.12 at 11:53 pm

“State power over the lives of individuals and families is a two-edged sword. Maybe I’m hyper-aware of that fact since I’m gay, but I think it’s important not to idealize what that kind of power can accomplish or underestimate the ways in which it can go wrong. (Fully recognizing that “wrong” is in the eye of the beholder, which is part of my point.)”

Amen to that. And to the idea that homeschooling (as well as a lot of other individualist pursuits) makes for strange bedfellows. I keep waiting for the hippie left and the religious right to realize how very much they have in common, especially where families and kids are concerned. I suppose it’s ironic that where it’s happening, i.e. homeschooling, it’s making me acutely uncomfortable…

44

mir 08.20.12 at 12:15 am

Everywhere All The Time: a New Deschooling Reader, Ed. by Matt Hern, 2008 AK Press

This is a terrific book, pro-deschooling, but relaxed about it. To be very traditional (I fit well into institutions and their habits, what can I say ;-), I’ll quote the preface (I read the book and agree wholeheartedly with the editor’s description).

“This book brings together the best writing I know of about deschooling and resisting monopoly schooling and compulsory education. It covers a pretty wide range of thinking and highlights come of the most compelling projects I know of around the world. the book is still pretty North American centric, because that’s what I know most about, but it includes a lot more pieces this time from other parts of the world: India, Turkey, Israel, Mali, Thailand, Mexico and more. As well, I have included some youth voices, writing from kids that I know, to offer their perspectives on their experiences doing something other than exclusive traditional schooling.”

45

JP Stormcrow 08.20.12 at 12:35 am

JoshM’s discussion of the importance of the socialization aspects of high school reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut’s take on it.

When you get to be our age, you all of a sudden realize that you are being ruled by people you went to high school with. You all of a sudden catch on that life is nothing but high school. You make a fool of yourself in high school, then you go to college to learn how you should have acted in high school then you get out into real life, and that turns out to be high school all over again—class officers, cheerleaders, and all.

46

Bread and Roses 08.20.12 at 1:12 am

I don’t see anyone on this thread claiming that everyone should be homeschooled. If you would like to see that argument made, you can look to Penelope Trunk http://homeschooling.penelopetrunk.com/2011/11/08/the-big-lie-homeschoolers-tell

(trigger warning: she’s a woman with borderline personality disorder and Asperger’s, unschooling her children in a violent marriage that she refuses to leave. If that’s going to use up all your ire for the day, don’t click. But she can be breathtakingly perceptive.)

I tend to react negatively to homeschooling probably for many reasons others do, but also because my schooling (with the exception of 7th and 8th grades) was excellent. But what does that matter to other people’s experience?

I was raised around a lot of homeschoolers, some of them did a better job than others. I absolutely don’t think you can characterize them as a “movement” because they consist of several different movements (plus quite a few isolated people who came to it for their own reasons). And the community I grew up in was rightwingers and hippies who had gone back to the land for very different reasons- thinking about homeschooling is so reminiscent of that. We could all sing “Blow up your TV” by John Prine with equal gusto- after that the Christian Identity white supremacists and the “one love” hippie dope-dealers parted company. So if you were to try to do a rigorous study of outcomes, for that community or for homeschoolers, you wouldn’t get very far.

I agree that the issue of assessment and oversight is very, very thorny. It’s thorny for child abuse as well, particularly when the state bureaucracy and the children’s culture are alien to one another. It’s that issue that gives me the most doubt of my idealistic social-welfare-state ideals- without giving me any probable vision to replace them with.

47

Harold 08.20.12 at 1:15 am

I don’t think there is compulsory schooling in Haiti — at least there are no secular public schools there – to that country’s great misfortune. For my part, I support free, secular public schools, though my personal experience with them has been rather mixed. My impression, though, is that on the whole they are better than private (including many fancy private). They could be even better — and also more flexible, so that periods of home schooling — or of a parent taking children out for an educational trip, say, could be incorporated in the public school experience. There is no reason we Anglophones shouldn’t have schools as good as those of France and Finland.

48

Tedra Osell 08.20.12 at 1:59 am

Jeer9 @10: “I do believe it dulls curiosity, fosters a closed, hermetic universe which offers easy gratifications not found in the social world and thus can become a poor substitute for the sort of personal skills a healthy individual needs (and especially so if the child/teen already seems to possess an anti-social/asocial predisposition and has difficulty connecting with others). Of course, spending one’s life obsessed with reading could probably be characterized in a similar way, though I like to believe the latter interest encourages critical, rather than just strategic, thought.”

A minor point, but one of the things that actually really interests me about PK’s video game habit is how much he engages with the games on the level of story. Think of the way that a lot of sci-fi/fantasy encourages fan fiction and you’ll get the idea; he’s actually extremely critical about the ways that narratives unfold, offering alternate interpretations of characters’ motives, etc. As a lit person, it’s actually quite reassuring and fascinating.

You’re right about the “easy gratification” thing, but I think that it’s a lot like reading there. In PK’s case I suspect the avoidance/fantasy thing is about anxiety and possible depression; my biggest concern, frankly, is just that I want him to get more exercise.

49

Tedra Osell 08.20.12 at 2:00 am

No way #33:

The comparison between homeschooling and feminism, re. teaching folks about it, is a well-chosen one. Touche.

50

Harold 08.20.12 at 2:07 am

My son and his friend had a period of dungeons and dragons at that age — it was quite a craze and seemed to be mostly about constructing ideal (or idealized) characters. No game or anything. Perhaps it is a developmental stage where they are trying on traits. At any rate my son would be immersed in thing like that to the point of obsession (and parental concern) and then suddenly it would abruptly be over and there would be a new enthusiasm to take it’s place.

We did try to see that he had at least a three weeks in the summer where there would be no electronics and nothing to do but read, play cards, or scrabble, or be outdoors. He is grown up and still likes board games. This would not be so easy now that electronics are more ubiquitous.

51

purple 08.20.12 at 2:38 am

Homeschooling is wonderful if you want your kid to learn no more than you and not be substantially influenced by an experience outside of yours.

Public schools now are probably far better than they were 30 years ago, especially when you look at the range of options available to students in high school.

In America, there is always a crisis about education (so presumably there can be a ‘war’ in combating its decline) ; we can dust off well known quotes from Kennedy about this.

52

JanieM 08.20.12 at 3:14 am

Tedra’s flagging of No way’s comment (currently @33) made me realize that several great comments have come out of moderation since I last checked in. (Insert ritual cursing of the numbering/interleaf-ing system.) No way said a lot of things far more eloquently than I ever could have, and I second Tedra’s appreciation of the feminism comparison.

Also, this: *Vocabulary matters; there is no such thing as mandatory education nor mandatory schooling, but there certainly is compulsory attendance.

*****

I’d quibble with Vonnegut via JP Stormcrow only insofar as I think it’s all really a continuation of middle school rather than high school.

Then again, I’m so old that I grew up before there was any such thing as middle school, at least in Ohio. So what do I know? (We had grade school, K-8, and high school, 9-12. Some places had junior high school, 7-9.)

53

Julie Ward 08.20.12 at 3:15 am

@purple #51 – “If you want your kid to learn no more than you” is a misconception. Home schooled children do not learn only from their parents, they just don’t learn at school. My son is studying engineering and we have no engineers in the family but we found resources to prepare him for his chosen discipline. If your child wants to learn something school doesn’t offer (as an example – ballet) then you would find a teacher outside of school. Likewise if a homeschooled child wants to learn something the parents can’t facilitate then the parents find someone outside the family to teach.

The criticism “not be substantially influenced by an experience outside of yours” can also be levelled at private schools and public schools with a prescribed catchments. In many places the experience of No Way #33 – “We HAD to make common cause with each other” – is still the prevailing norm for home educators. The consequence ishome schooled kids often know a far greater range of people of all ages, with a far greater range of beliefs than they would have met at the local public school.

54

BJN 08.20.12 at 3:19 am

also @purple: Your claim implies that education is the repetition and explanation of facts and nothing else. Which maybe it is, but if that’s true then you can get an awful lot of education from books, taped lectures, and internet resources, all written by people smarter than your parents. No personal experience with home schooling here, but I came of age with the internet and learned an awful lot more from that than most years of my schooling.

55

jeer9 08.20.12 at 3:37 am

Tedra,
Yes, my son is also fairly sophisticated in his analysis of the various narratives and characters in the numerous games he plays and, while this perception transfers to film criticism well (long interesting discussions of Inception and Source Code), I have been (and still am) frustrated that these skills have not aroused any greater interest in literature. The time spent in video game competition seems to become a form of procrastination which masks (quite poorly) the anxiety you mention and does indeed lead to depression (though God knows we do need an escape from this harrowing world). Exercise and relationships are good.

56

JanieM 08.20.12 at 3:41 am

For the sake of full disclosure: Tedra’s post on this subject a few months ago made me realize something I had never actually thought much about: that after kindergarten I never went to public school myself until I took up linguistics as a hobby a few years ago.

When I was in kindergarten, my mother told me very seriously one day that I was going to be sent to “Catholic school” for first grade. I had no idea what that meant, but one interesting thing about it is that while my dad was Catholic, my mom was Baptist. She had had to agree to let her children be raised Catholic in order for my dad’s church to have anything to do with their marriage, but that promise certainly hadn’t included sending the kids to Catholic school. When they got married there wasn’t even a school in existence in our parish, and lots of Catholic kids in my town went to public schools.

No, the big reason she wanted us to go to that school, which was just starting out, was that they taught reading via phonics and the public schools didn’t. For her it was all about pedagogy, not about either religion or some kind of private vs. public tradeoff as such.

For college, I came down to the very last day before deciding between the University of Michigan and … a private school. But it wasn’t because I cared about public vs private, it was because I wanted to get out of the midwest, and also because I felt that I would be most at home at the place I chose.

Similarly for grad school.

The reason I bring it up is to at least partially refute the notion (which nobody has asserted in this thread) that sending kids to private schools, like homeschooling them, also “undermines” public education. Tedra lumped home- and unschooling together; I’d lump public and private schooling together. There’s one discussion that can be had about trying to ensure good tax-supported education for everyone, but that’s not the same discussion as the one about education inside vs. outside institutions. Those discussions only partially overlap.

To put it another way, a big part of my decision to homeschool my kids was a set of tradeoffs involving school as such, not public school. Most of the tradeoffs I saw us making would have been the same regardless of whether the alternative to homeschooling had been public school or private.

57

JanieM 08.20.12 at 4:22 am

Last for tonight:

My kids and I had a lot of those encounters No way mentions: “That’s illegal” etc., and a lot of hostile inanities like those from purple a few comments upward in the thread. But not only did my kids have lots of involvements outside our home, so did I. I ran a writing group at the public middle school up the hill; taught Sunday school at a UU church; helped coach rec basketball (4th-6th grade girls); later helped run the rec basketball league along with my daughter, who was then on the high school team, and her former rec coach; and helped with speech and debate practice at the public high school, also up the hill. I still occasionally get called to judge speech events.

And that’s only the activities that directly involved kids.

But again and again I had to listen to people crapping on us, and on homeschoolers in general, for being selfish isolationists who, as a commenter said a year or so ago on a blog I used to frequent, “eschew the problems and responsibilities of community.” Several of the op-eds I wrote during those years were in response to newspaper columnists sh!tting on the idea that homeschooled kids should get to participate in school sports. To them, as to most people, school was an all or nothing proposition, and if you opted out of it for some things then too bad for you, nyah nyah nyah, you had opted out of it for everything, and if state law said you could participate, then state law was an a$$.

In my op-eds I would try to explain that kids belong to the community before they belong to the school; that the school is just a mechanism by which the community tries to accomplish certain tasks; but that the particular mix of tasks is not set in stone for all eternity. There was obviously a time when public schools weren’t the “owners” of kids’ sports, and there’s no logical reason why kids’ academic learning should necessarily come from the same source as their sports learning or their music learning. Schools are now running so many aspects of kids’ lives that a lot of people connected with schools seem to think that we’re all here to serve their purposes rather than the other way around. But that’s another whole rant.

58

Maggie 08.20.12 at 4:33 am

“if you want your kid to know no more than you”

Huh? As *much* as me would be excessive for a high-schooler. I’m certainly not rich enough to live where Latin, calculus, Shakespeare, correct French, European history – or even more than the most superficial survey of American history – etc. are offered routinely in the public schools, and anyone who does is not well-positioned to judge me on the democratic scope of my social interactions. Nor can I afford a private school. As for the subjects I personally can’t offer, I’ve got enough work privately remediating the children of rich suburbanites to keep my kid in music lessons and drama camp through high school.

59

Alex SL 08.20.12 at 7:29 am

Why are the questions raised in the blog post even considered questions any more? There was a reason why all civilized societies have introduced public schools at some point, often way over a hundred years ago, and why people in places like northern Pakistan are so desperate to keep theirs going even under pressure from the Taliban and even though their schools are just dilapidated rooms with a blackboard.

Yes, too many parents did not themselves receive adequate educations. Duh.

Yes, quite a few parents are unable to, unwilling to, or uninterested in educating their children, especially very religious parents, and that robs the children of the chance to participate fully in society. Duh.

No, homeschooling does not work and cannot work outside of exceptional circumstances (such as highly motivated and educated parents with a lot of free time on their hands). Again, this is why public schools were invented.

If you want your society to have a lot of people who (1) are unable to take up qualified jobs, (2) believe in plain nonsense and (3) consider everybody outside of their insular religious sect or ethnicity a weirdo who is to be avoided if not exterminated, then you need to allow homeschooling. If you want a qualified workforce and a non-balkanized society, you need to make or keep public school attendance compulsory so that children learn something, not least that children from other sects or ethnicity are not as bad as their priest or tribal elder claims.

60

Scott Martens 08.20.12 at 9:20 am

Alex@59:

If you want your society to have a lot of people who (1) are unable to take up qualified jobs, (2) believe in plain nonsense and (3) consider everybody outside of their insular religious sect or ethnicity a weirdo who is to be avoided if not exterminated…

Over century of public schooling sure hasn’t prevented that so far. You’re comparing homeschoolers at their worst – insular, religious nutters – with an idealized vision for public education that has never been the norm anywhere. What jobs does American secondary education train people for? Really? Since the disappearance of shop classes, as far as I can tell the answer is “none whatsoever.” Survey after survey of public beliefs shows it has had no impact to speak of on the prevalence of belief in nonsense. And I’m not treating religion, per se, as nonsense – I mean astrology, homeopathy, birtherism, creationism, Ayn Rand… flourishing ideas that can only be qualified as non-reality-based if not purely idiotic. And as for tolerance: In so far as children learn that against the grain of their parents social circles, it’s from Sesame Street and diverse peers, not pubic education. Way too many schools simply reinforce existing social intolerance.

Frankly, public education in any country has difficulty exceeding the low standards of producing functional literacy in a common language and basic numeracy. Why do people in obscure parts of the world fight for their schools? A lot of the time, it’s because that low bar is still very important. But do you really think homeschools in the developed world are producing scads of illiterate and innumerate children?

I’m *not* a fan of homeschooling. I am especially not a fan of homeschooling as propaganda. But your reasoning here is just wrong.

61

liberal japonicus 08.20.12 at 9:38 am

Lots of interesting stuff . It was mentioned that the US is the center of the homeschooling movement and it is worthwhile to think why that is the case. It is not simply that there is a larger number of people motivated in the US by religious considerations, it is that the system of schooling has created a larger niche for homeschooling. Some things that contribute to this are: the school schedule with a comparatively long summer vacation, the relatively low pay and status of teachers, the absence of school imparted information necessary for college entry, the credit based and relatively fragmented nature of secondary education in the US, the extracurricular nature of clubs and sports and the constant questioning of the education system by any number of people all work to encourage people to take up homeschooling. I would be surprised if there were a large homeschooling movement in, say, France, because as a parent, I wouldn’t really be sure if I could prepare my child to pass a high stakes Baccalauréat exam, but in the US, I would feel relatively confident making sure my child earned enough credits to get a high school diploma. Some of these points are also what drives many supporters of the charter school movement, which also is centered in the US.

Here in Japan, foreigners comprise a large number of people homeschooling their children, for any number of reasons and anyone who wants to raise bi-cultural children has to do some homeschooling. There are a small number of Japanese who have opted out of the system, and a small movement, but here, the socialization that schooling provides is much more extensive than it is in the US and it is difficult to get back into the system after being out of it.

I’d also observe that there have been several previous threads here about university education through lectures and the relatively poor outcomes that produces. It may be the case that the commenters who agree with that are different from those who are questioning homeschooling, but the basic question, which is whether schooling based on an industrial model is really the best way to go about things, seems to be the same. Part of the gap is the agency that we assign to college students versus that amount we might assign to primary school students, but I don’t think that explains all of the resistance people have to homeschooling. It might be because the statement ‘I’m homeschooling my child’ is often taken to have an implicit corollary denigrating public school education, which then leads to the kind of back and forth that is more heat than light.

62

Katherine 08.20.12 at 11:15 am

This is a fascinating conversation for me because my daughter is about to go to school for the first time in September. I have some worries about that. The school is rated “Outstanding” by Ofsted, but it seems to me to be somewhat over-regimented and stiff. It has a uniform (as do all the other primary schools in the area) and is very much about the discipline. All of these factors seem more than a bit over the top for 4-5 years olds.

I like the ideals behind the type of homeschooling I’ve come across and the homeschoolers I know – the lefty hippy types. But I enjoyed school. Most of my family are academic types, and I suspect my daughter will too, so I think we’ll muddle through okay.

But here’s the main point – even if I felt strongly enough about the benefits of homeschooling and worried enough about the school she’s going to, I still couldn’t homeschool, because I’d be utterly shit at it and would hate every minute of it. I can’t be the only one.

What I’d quite like is a school that had some of the ethos of homeschooling. Also, a pony.

63

tomslee 08.20.12 at 11:52 am

Alex@59.

Commenting without reading the whole thread carefully is fine; many people here (including me) do it all the time. But if you use “Duh” (twice!) without reading the whole thread carefully you’re going to look like a bit of a jerk.

64

mpowell 08.20.12 at 3:12 pm

Alex @59:

The problem with your argument is that it is contingent on certain social facts. Certainly, some homeschoolers are doing their kids a disservice. But some kids will also struggle in regular school for a variety of reasons and their parents will do a better job on their own. Whether the society on the whole benefits or suffers from allowing homeschooling depends on the population you are talking about. And Pakistan couldn’t be further from the US in this degree. I’m not sure that home schooling is a net benefit in the US, but I’m very confident it is not enough of a net negative (if it is at all) that I’d be willing to disallow parents the option. Parental choice is an important social value as well.

65

Shelley 08.20.12 at 3:43 pm

Create a quiet space. Read real literature out loud. Take turns.

66

curious monolith 08.20.12 at 4:42 pm

A friend who homeschooled one of her children for a number of years once remarked to me that homeschoolers tended to fall into one of three categories: the right-wing religious ones, the left-wing political ones, and the desperate ones who are trying to find an alternative for a child who feels tortured in school. There is no content that holds these groups together; the first is usually rejecting the curriculum as too conformist, the second is usually rejecting the pedagogy as too conformist, and the last one is usually rejecting the social environment as too conformist. All parents probably recognize some “failure” in their kids’ school in one or more of these categories on a regular basis but tolerate and/or supplement it outside of school. Homeschoolers have been pushed beyond such toleration. If they are united in anything, it’s probably in trying to save their children from what they perceive as a threat to their fundamental well-being (although they would never in a million years agree on what constitutes that threat). Ideally, all kids really should be served by their local public school system, but in practical terms there is probably not a school anywhere in our solar system that could simultaneously alleviate the concerns of all of these three groups.

67

Darin London 08.20.12 at 4:59 pm

I personally agree that all parents should have the right to home school their children. I also totally empathize with your reasons for homeschooling your children, and understand that you are not driven by a perceived crisis in the public school. I think some of us are skeptical of the ‘movement’ that exists, and I, personally, would reify that skepticism into a feeling that there is a bunch of money spent by various groups which are trying, in general, to privatize all aspects of society that are currently be provided as public goods by democratically elected governments. Basically, public schools provide the best education to the broadest segment of the population at the lowest cost to any one person being taxed to pay for the service. Private schools are either ideologically driven, or elitist. The latter, and many of the former, are priced to exclude, and will always be happy to raise their prices by the exact amount that a government voucher supports in order to maintain that exclusivity. Home schooling, in my opinion, tends to undermine the economy of scale provided by public schooling. While not exactly education at retail, it is pretty close. That, I think, is a big incentive for the education product/service industry to influence public debate, and create a crisis in the public schools that really does not exist.

68

Watson Ladd 08.20.12 at 5:56 pm

Darin: Ever been to the East Coast? Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Hunter, are all fairly elitist and cost about 0 to attend. Living in the suburbs is expensive, so going to a non-elitist, non-selective public school is much less of an option for lots of people than hoping they can attend an elite school. (I went to a magnet school that included three Abbot districts in its catchment area. All of us would not have been served by our local schools nearly as well: after all, that’s why we went. But for some of us, that would not resulted in doing nearly as well)

As for the nonexistence of the education crisis, Scarsdale doesn’t have a problem. South Side Chicago does. 54% of students who enter high school in Chicago do not graduate. source
There are cheap public schools and good public schools, and I don’t think there is much in the intersection.

We have an education problem in the US. Homeschooling isn’t a solution for most of the problems people face. It can be the most appropriate solution for people, but it isn’t a solution to every problem, and the structural problems education face aren’t addressed by it.

As Tedra pointed out long ago, the parents of the children who are going to be having problems are exactly the kind who aren’t going to be helped by solutions requiring them to be involved. From this perspective the lessons we should get from homeschooling is not “people should homeschool” but “how should we educate our children?” by looking at the educational approaches parents take.

69

bianca steele 08.20.12 at 7:31 pm

@Katherine, re. discipline

I totally agree. My mother, and elementary teachers I know, too, talk a lot about how much more is expected of kids now. They don’t have all of first grade and into second to settle down. They’re expected to be able to sit still for the better part of six hours by kindergarten, if not earlier. They’re expected to already know their alphabet and how to hold a pencil properly by the time they start first grade. There’s little time for “math stations” and things like that, because they have to do lots more drills. I can sympathize with people who don’t think the kind of education schools offer, by itself, is worth that kind of discipline for six year olds. And it can be really hard to keep track of what’s going on in the school, and whether something is a problem or not.

In my twenties I toyed with the idea of homeschooling someday, but got a lot of arguments against. The schools seem decent here but if knock wood something happens, . . . More and more I think, important as education is, it doesn’t need to be the only center of social life and interests for a lot of kids. And middle school is the worst. The only good thing about it is the chance to start on extracurriculars before high school (though we had a good intro to science 6-8 too). Academically it’s often mostly a waste for anyone who hasn’t been falling behind.

70

mpowell 08.20.12 at 7:43 pm

bianca @69:

I’m not trying to say you’re right or wrong, but I am really curious: if you think American schools are pushing kids too hard (I assume that’s what you’re talking about), what do you think about other countries kids’ doing better on standardized tests? Do you have an explanation for that?

71

bianca steele 08.20.12 at 7:48 pm

mpowell:
Would you like to read the comment again? I’m at a loss as to how you interpret “schools plan not to have to teach kids the alphabet and how to hold a pencil” as “schools do lots of intensive teaching.” Plus you (whom I don’t know) seem to be asking me to write a dissertation in response to an actually very terse comment.

72

Tedra Osell 08.20.12 at 8:07 pm

JanieM @56:

“The reason I bring it up is to at least partially refute the notion (which nobody has asserted in this thread) that sending kids to private schools, like homeschooling them, also “undermines” public education. Tedra lumped home- and unschooling together; I’d lump public and private schooling together. There’s one discussion that can be had about trying to ensure good tax-supported education for everyone, but that’s not the same discussion as the one about education inside vs. outside institutions. Those discussions only partially overlap.”

I actually have, for a long time, been one of those people who is adamantly opposed to (well-off, well-educated white) folks sending their kids to private school–I don’t know if I mentioned this earlier in the thread, but my own folks kept me in public schools during the white flight era and that influenced my thinking on this stuff quite heavily. I still kinda have a hard time with the idea of relatively privileged folks sending their kids to private school from the get go, on the grounds that private schools are “better” than public ones, because I feel like that kind of thing perpetuates class- and race-based segregation and prejudice. I’m not sure how I would address the equality of access problem: scholarships don’t seem enough, and voucher systems seem unworkable for a number of reasons.

I suppose that if/when public schools actually offer real educational options and flexibility that private schools won’t be as easily perceived as “better” (except for particular situations, e.g. parents who want to educate their kids in a specific educational/religious framework). Will have to keep thinking this one through, too…

73

Tedra Osell 08.20.12 at 8:15 pm

Katharine @62:

“even if I felt strongly enough about the benefits of homeschooling and worried enough about the school she’s going to, I still couldn’t homeschool, because I’d be utterly shit at it and would hate every minute of it. I can’t be the only one.”

Oh, you’re not. I would have said the same thing a year ago. It’s amazing how one will step up to the plate, though, when more than one psychologist has told one that one’s kid needs X.

More generally, though, I’m starting to realize that in a way “homeschooling” can simply be thought of as more of what parents in our socio/economic/educational class do anyway. Here, kid, are all the books you can read. Here’s the internet. Let’s go to the library and the museum. Let’s sign you up for a sport/art class/music lessons.

(I will say that not having to think about packing lunches and school paperwork and keeping track of PK’s homework is going to be an absolute joy.)

74

Tedra Osell 08.20.12 at 8:38 pm

Darin @67:

“I, personally, would reify that skepticism into a feeling that there is a bunch of money spent by various groups which are trying, in general, to privatize all aspects of society that are currently be provided as public goods by democratically elected governments. Basically, public schools provide the best education to the broadest segment of the population at the lowest cost to any one person being taxed to pay for the service. Private schools are either ideologically driven, or elitist…. Home schooling, in my opinion, tends to undermine the economy of scale provided by public schooling. While not exactly education at retail, it is pretty close. “

Generally speaking, I agree with your sense of things, and this is my concern about homeschooling. The problem lies here: “Basically, public schools provide the best education to the broadest segment of the population at the lowest cost to any one person being taxed to pay for the service.”

What is one to do when the “best education at the lowest cost” is not an adequate education–it’s merely the “best” one can do with the (meager) resources that society is willing to offer?

An analogy: most cities and towns in the US have public transportation; it’s just not very good. I believe in public transportation, and I use it. But it is true that, where I live, there are places one cannot get to on public transit, and trips that are so long that they’re impractical to take. Part of this is because so many people have cars that there’s not enough incentive to build a decent public transit system, and my family has deliberately chosen to own only one (very old) car. So PK and I take the bus, or walk, or bike–and there are places we don’t go unless it’s a day when we have the car.

My family has been thinking for quite some time about going completely without a car when ours dies (it’s over 300k miles). We’ve decided that just isn’t possible, especially as we’ll be homeschooling, so we are looking at electric cars and talking about what range would be workable, whether we could rent if/when we need to go further than an electric charge can carry us, etc. Yes, we are lucky that we’ll be able to afford an electric car (barely) when the time comes. If not we would have to undermine the public good by having another gas-powered vehicle (and let’s be honest: we’ll be undermining the public good by owning a vehicle full stop).

Public education in this country is far better than public transportation, yes; but there are a lot of factors combining to make public education sort of like a public transit system that only has a certain number of routes, keeps to very strict timetables, and has very inflexible rules about what one is and isn’t allowed to do/carry on the bus. It may still be the most cost-effective way of getting the most people where we want them to go. But…

75

JP Stormcrow 08.20.12 at 8:52 pm

Create a quiet space.

In quiet space no one can hear you whisper.

76

Steve Sailer 08.20.12 at 8:54 pm

The growth of homeschooling is analogous in some ways to the growth of private schooling for secular Jews. When I was growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a point of pride among Jewish parents to send their children to LAUSD public schools. Their kids tended to look at us Catholic school kids as slightly un-American. Since then, however, there has been a huge growth in the number of Jewish private schools in the San Fernando Valley, some for the new ultra-Orthodox population, but many for secular Jews in liberal occupations such as entertainment. What common denominators are behind the growth both in home schooling and in the exodus of Jewish students from the public schools?

77

JP Stormcrow 08.20.12 at 9:05 pm

What are two things that have never been in my kitchen?

78

Tedra Osell 08.20.12 at 9:09 pm

mpowell @70:

“if you think American schools are pushing kids too hard (I assume that’s what you’re talking about), what do you think about other countries kids’ doing better on standardized tests?”

Your question wasn’t addressed to me, but I’ll bite.

First, my understanding is that if you account for poverty high school attendance rates, the numbers are quite different. So, for instance:

“-In schools where less than 10 percent of students get free or reduced lunch, the reading score is 551. That would place those U.S. students at No. 2 on the international ranking for reading, just behind Shanghai, China which topped the ranking with a score of 556.
– U.S. students in schools with 10% or less poverty are number one country in the world.
– U.S. students in schools with 10-24.9% poverty are third bhind Korea, and Finland.
– U.S. students in schools with 25-50% poverty are tenth in the world.”
(from http://www.artofteachingscience.org/2011/01/05/pisa-test-results-uncovering-the-effects-of-poverty/)

I also suspect American schools also have more second-language learners, speaking a greater variety of first languages, than almost any other school system in the world. I wonder, too, if raw test score comparisons take into account things like what percentage of students in different countries continue school past the age of 16, whether different countries track students earlier, etc.; but I think that the poverty statistics alone tell the story.

79

JanieM 08.20.12 at 9:39 pm

Tedra @ 8:07 (currently # 72) — I do understand the point about privilege, access, etc., but it’s one of those areas where I’m a bit of a … not sure what: contrarian? cynic? Defeatist?

It seems wildly unlikely to me that are ever going to be enough people acting on that principle (the one your parents acted on) to bring about a change in the system as a whole. So if acting on the principle isn’t actually going to bring about the change you want, the question arises: what are you willing to trade off for the sake of … a gesture? a symbol? (I really don’t mean this as negatively as it may seem.) Something, perhaps; but not the overall health of your child, right? Because that’s the tradeoff you’ve been facing with PK for the last while.

It’s easy enough to say, as an activist (I’ve said it myself…..), sure, but if everyone would stop thinking like that (i.e., contrarily or cynically or indifferently) then we could change the world. It’s just never true — in practical terms and a practical time frame — that enough people are going to stop thinking like that. Which doesn’t lead me to complete despair, just to try to think about other avenues toward change.

I truly did not think of our choice to homeschool in the framework of supporting or not supporting public schools — it just wasn’t high on my list of things I thought it was important to consider in counting up the tradeoffs. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but I think it really just means that I, like everyone, see the world in my own particular (perhaps peculiar) way. Still, my kids and I remained engaged in our community and our local public schools via volunteer activities (e.g., my son tutored kids in math and was a Big Brother), sports, and other involvements. We didn’t turn our backs, in other words, and I say that neither defensively nor to brag, but as an illustration of the fact that there are a lot of ways to have an effect in the world, and working consciously and directly toward a specific kind of change is only one of them.

I don’t know what the answer is about education, privilege, and access. But one area where homeschooling issues and the question of privilege and access have intersected in my thinking is in relation to compulsory attendance and school quality. In a book I really enjoyed called Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution, Evan Gerstmann, the author, does a whirlwind review of shifts in Supreme Court thinking over the last century or so. He introduces the era of the Burger Court with a summary of a 1973 case called San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, in which the Court said that there’s no fundamental Constitutional right to an education, much less a good education. (The case was about property tax funding and the disparities resulting therefrom.)

I have always been bemused by the intersection of the two ideas: school districts have no obligation to actually give kids a good education, in fact schools can be as rotten as can be, and yet kids are compelled to attend. And of course this matters most in places where parents are least likely to have the resources to homeschool.

Quality is optional, attendance is not. That’s fncked up.

80

JanieM 08.20.12 at 9:44 pm

It’s just never true—in practical terms and a practical time frame—that enough people are going to stop thinking like that.

This is an overstatement, obviously, or change would never happen at all. But I mean things like: private schools are not going to wither and die away because a small number of principled people decline to send their kids to them….

Sigh, it’s a blog comment, I’ll stop trying to plumb the depths of complexity.

81

Substance McGravitas 08.20.12 at 9:53 pm

Relief from the kooky racist please.

82

LFC 08.20.12 at 9:57 pm

He introduces the era of the Burger Court with a summary of a 1973 case called San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez

Many state constitutions, unlike the federal Constitution, do have provisions on the right to an education. That said, San Antonio v. Rodriguez was a bad decision. So was Milliken v. Bradley (US Sup Ct 1974).

83

JanieM 08.20.12 at 10:03 pm

Do the state constitutions have provisions on the right to a “good” education? I imagine no state allows kids to opt out if the school is terrible.

84

JanieM 08.20.12 at 10:04 pm

What Substance said. This has been a great conversation, it would be a shame to have it taken over by

85

JanieM 08.20.12 at 10:04 pm

[sent to soon] … the dark side.

86

Alex SL 08.20.12 at 10:24 pm

Scott Martens@60, mpowell@64,

Of course I am talking about homeschoolers at their worst, because that is what you have to take into account when you design school policies. I am not at all worried about somebody on an isolated farm 500 km from the nearest school, if they are well-meaning and find the time. But when you allow people to opt out in numbers, many who do it are religious wackos. As the saying goes, you do not design traffic laws based on how the very best drivers drive.

Nor did I mean to imply that compulsory public schooling is a sufficient condition for a good outcome; you could have an underfunded system that won’t educate well, you could have teachers who fail to teach critical thinking skills, you could have sectarian schools that keep people balkanized, etc. (And sadly we have all three.) The point is, and I stand by it, that compulsory public schooling is a necessary condition for a well educated and secular/tolerant populace; without it, you are guaranteed not to have it.

“Parental choice is an important social value as well.”

This sounds so nice … if you see it only from the parents’ perspective. Religious people are allowed to mutilate their children and keep them ignorant of all the options that should be available to them. Is that fair to those children? They are humans and not their parents’ property.

87

William Timberman 08.20.12 at 10:43 pm

My compliments to Tedra, and to JanieM and the rest of the commenterss. This really has been an enlightening thread. I’m recommending it to my own PK, who will soon be facing decisions like this with my grandkids. Thank all of you.

88

Watson Ladd 08.20.12 at 10:56 pm

I think that’s a far more generous assessment then any I can give. Public education works very well if you live in the well-off suburbs where people can afford to pay for public services. Even if you are there most of the so-called “good schools” aren’t actually that good, because a lot of people involved with them don’t know how to teach or what to teach. Math and science are particularly hard-hit for a number of reasons: poor curricular choices, teachers are not recruited from the tracks where people who know something about it are, and school board meddling.

I once had a conversation from a math teacher whose school was not going to offer calculus anymore. Anyone in that catchment area can kiss their dreams of going to MIT goodbye.

In the schools which are having trouble, the new incentive structure focuses on those who are marginally able to pass the mandated tests. This isn’t good for everybody else. Frequently resources vanish between taxpayer and classroom: I can’t say I know anything specific, but it is suspicious that some schools in Chicago can afford nice things and others cannot. These tests are a low bar: college preparatory curricula are going to get squeezed out.

My high school sends four people to MIT each year. Most schools are happy to get one person in every four years. The nature of the school curriculum we have had prepared us far more for university level sciences than our classmates, many from similarly good schools in terms of test scores. Something is missing from what most of the country regards as a science education.

If there is no crisis, why do the great metropolises of this country send so many children to university, while the smaller cities don’t? If you are from a small town at Chicago, your parents are professors, doctors, or lawyers.

Our public education system is segregated by hipness: those who know what to look for send their children to the best high schools in the country and to careers as doctors, lawyers, and professors. The rest, even if well-meaning and able to provide for their children, don’t end up doing that. And as for those with no idea that University of Phoenix and University of Chicago are two very different places, they are left to the whims of politicians who know that they don’t know anything about education.

89

Bridget McKenzie 08.20.12 at 11:01 pm

I haven’t managed to read all the comments so I may be repeating somebody else’s points here. Mine is a perspective from the UK. I’d like to challenge assumptions that home schooling is primarily delivered by the parents (or one non-working parent) only to their own children, mainly within the home. In London and also elsewhere in the UK, for many families, although not all, home schooling might actually be better described as ‘flexible family-based learning’. We group together to hire teachers/facilitators or take turns in leading activities. Some schools are open to allowing home educated children to use facilities for exams or informal activities. And increasingly we’re seeing what’s called ‘flexible education’ where children go to school part time in response to a growing shortage of school places. The economics of living in London mean that both parents have to work for some or all of the week. I know people who insist that home schooling via co-parenting arrangements can actually make it easier to manage working than if you send children to school every day. In our experience, if we tried to send our school refuser daughter to school every day we’d be worn ragged and unable to cope with work at all! I agree with many who have argued it isn’t a system, and not a coherent movement, but it is an emergence. We will see more and more people opting out of the overly disciplined and constraining institutions of school, as conservative administrations continue to manipulate schools to become producers of ‘strong characters’ who will contribute to economic growth without question.

90

John Quiggin 08.21.12 at 12:51 am

As I expect Tedra is asleep, I’ve unapproved a bunch of comments from Steve Sailer, and also banned him from my comment threads. I expect a comprehensive ban soon, unless other CT-ers have a more charitable reading than mine. In the meantime, let’s get back to homeschooling.

91

Watson Ladd 08.21.12 at 12:59 am

JamieM: Depends on the state. New Jersey has Abbot, which has attempted to equalize funding between rich and poor districts. Sadly Abbot does nothing to improve the management. I’m sure research has been done on this issue, but the results have been less then stellar, even with significant funding equalization. Kansas City was the site of a federal court order equalizing funding, and that also had marginal results.

92

Barry Freed 08.21.12 at 1:38 am

Thanks for that JQ, it was most disturbing to see that crap all over the blog.

93

Barry Freed 08.21.12 at 1:41 am

On a more substantive and constructive note I wanted to add earlier that whenever I’ve met people who’ve been homeschooled I’ve almost always been impressed by their social skills so the whole argument about lack of socialization due to not going to public schools really rings hollow for me.

94

Tedra Osell 08.21.12 at 1:52 am

“As I expect Tedra is asleep”

JQ knows my nap schedule far too well.

95

harry b 08.21.12 at 4:47 am

Harold (#47): “There is no reason we Anglophones shouldn’t have schools as good as those of France and Finland.”

Well there is a reason why the US and UK shouldn’t — very high child poverty rates. We’ve chosen to school large swathes of kids raised in very high concentrations of relative disadvantage (that is, we’ve chosen to condemn large swathes of kids to such circumstances and then decided to send them to schools). Its very hard to convince talented people to work in schools with such kids in them when they have easier ways of making more money, and when nobody tells them how to teach them effectively (because nobody knows).

96

Jessamyn Polson 08.21.12 at 5:55 am

I am a homeschooled/unschooled kid, who had a three month stint in a small private school. I am now in university pursuing a degree in political theory with plans of becoming a university professor. I am not the over-achieving-whiz-kid that is often given as a justification for homeschooling, but I do, now, sincerely enjoy school, despite the trouble I have had getting into and adjusting to it.
In my experience there are significant problems with both home schooling and the public education system. Not the least of these problems is the position of privilege contained in having the option between home schooling and public education, not to mention private education. That being said, many of the individuals in my life who have chosen homeschooling for their children have done so despite significant obstacles – the list includes single parents as well as high school drop outs. My mother, the primary facilitator of my education, never finished her BSc. And my parents have both always had full-time jobs.
Another problem is, as mentioned, the belief that the current public school system is actively opposed to learning. However, I would hesitate to say that that presumption results in any sort of widespread anti-public education dogma. My experience has been that my parents, my homeschooled friend’s parents, and my friends who now homeschool are engaged in a constant discussion with their children about the whole ordeal and are often willing to, when able, try other options depending on the student’s needs and wants. For example, in my family I homeschooled myself right through high school, one of my siblings decided to go to a private high school, while another sibling tried a few different high schools before deciding that homeschooling offered her the flexibility and pace that she was most comfortable with. I don’t think my experience was too exceptional. I think most parents who choose to homeschool do so out of a concern for their child’s education, and are willing to reevaluate the system periodically to better suit everyone’s needs.
However, on a systemic level, education inequality is a serious problem that makes me angry and sad. The problem exists at every level of the educational institution from pedagogy to administration, and it frustrates me because there seem to be few tools that can be applied to making schools better for everyone.
I am forever thankful that my parents engaged in a conversation with me about my education.

97

LFC 08.21.12 at 2:25 pm

Watson Ladd:

Our public education system is segregated by hipness: those who know what to look for send their children to the best high schools in the country and to careers as doctors, lawyers, and professors. The rest, even if well-meaning and able to provide for their children, don’t end up doing that.

Watson Ladd pronounces in an olympian, authoritative, confident way, as usual (though, as always, writing “then” when he means “than”), and yet this particular pronouncement strikes me as dubious. I would guess the public education system is not mainly segregated by ‘hipness'; it is segregated, and, I would guess, (somewhat) unevenly so, by class and income. The notion that there are parents who can afford to live in areas with decent or better-than-decent public schools but don’t b.c they are not “hip” as to where the “best” ones are located strains credulity, at least if one is suggesting this happens on a wide scale. Has it ever occurred to Watson that people live where they do for various reasons (including employment-related reasons), and some of those reasons are not at all school-related? It’s probably not lack of ‘hipness’ (i.e. knowledge) of the parents which “condemns” a student to a high school that (horror of horrors) sends fewer students a year to MIT than Watson’s ideal.

98

Mercy 08.21.12 at 4:31 pm

@Alex, I’m fairly certain you are wrong about the justification for compulsory public schooling. It was mostly to stop people pulling kids of out school and sending them to work. In this respect it’s an excellent example of choices that should be constricted: people were being coerced into choosing not to (let their kids) attend school by the whip hand of poverty, so remove that choice from them. But once you’ve created a social norm that says kids have to study full time until they reach majority, there’s no particular reason this has to happen in school.

So homeschooling is a symptom of the success of compulsory education – that it’s no longer necessary to pull kids from their homes to enforce it.

And, reflecting on the point upthread about the ease of homeschooling a child in a country depending on the flexibility of it’s education system, I’m starting to think that homeschooling – something as a UK resident I’ve always thought about as a weird american thing – might be a rather good thing for a society to approve of.

Not because homeschooling itself is good but because an education system in which homeschooling is a good choice is one in which education is necessarily flexible and where getting into university is a matter of displaying the right knowledge, whereas in any system where success is dependent on your institutional position, with that position potentially being dependent on zero-sum competition or arbitrary factors homeschooling will be strongly disfavored.

If you have a system that penalizes kids who’ve received their education at home, purely because they’ve received that education at home, you can be pretty certain you’ve got a system that will penalize kids for coming from the wrong family or neighborhood or social group, and that will offer no second chances to those who fail at any point.

I did know a lot of kids in school who dropped out in sixth form for one reason or another, who after recovering completed some a-levels independently and went on to university. I hadn’t thought of this in terms of homeschooling before but I think it’s connected to what I wrote above. A setup which gives children flexibility in how they complete their education is surely a good thing, independent of the example of full-on homeschooling.

99

Mercy 08.21.12 at 4:51 pm

@LFC “hipness” strikes me as a good way of looking at class advantage though. Yes middle class parents have the money to move to get a good school but they are also better at fooling their way into religious schools and getting the test-books and so on that’ll let them into selective schools (magnets in the us? Grammars here- I remember being slightly put out in my first year to find out most of the kids I was with had studied for the tests, though it did explain the math questions I hadn’t been taught how to answer) . There’s a money element to it but also a collective knowledge thing, you don’t have to be really dedicated to getting your kid into a good school, as a middle class parent, because your social circle probably knows all the good tricks and will pass them on to you. Like with internships – the rich kids pick up a lot of information about who the good employers are from the adults in their life, so they aren’t as screwed by not being on the ball.

100

Harold 08.21.12 at 4:56 pm

Harry B @ 95 — I completely agree with you about the reason. But why do we / why should we tolerate these high rates of child poverty? That they are the real problem with our educational systems is apparent to anyone with the least perception — high rates of child poverty, and, in the USA, the malign effects of outsourcing the educational curriculum to the for-profit commercial text-book industry which puts hanging on to its rents before the public welfare.

101

Watson Ladd 08.21.12 at 4:59 pm

LFC, class and income are definitely factors. But even if you have money and live in a wealthy suburb, your schools might not be that good. If we take equality of opportunity seriously, and believe that all students have the potential to achieve, then it does matter that even the “good” schools aren’t that good. Hipness explains the difference between the decent and the better than decent, as well as the choices people making $60,000 a year make.

The difference between the Bronx and Ridgewood is money. The difference between Ridgewood and Montgomery Blair can’t be explained economically. One high school generates more Intel semifinalists than the entire state of NJ, the eleventh most populous state in the US. Long Island, sociopolitically similar to its eastern neighbor, is far better at getting people to do research.

Far more then money matters in education. The richest towns in the US are nowhere in Intel. If we understood the factors that lead some places to do far better then others, we might be able to replicate those factors elsewhere. I refuse to believe that the students on the South Side of Chicago cannot do as well as students anywhere. Solving child poverty isn’t going to magically convince parents to be involved, or get better teachers into the classroom. (If someone shows me a causation study, I’ll change my mind) It won’t fix broken curricula, and it won’t magically make parents push for changes. It would be an important step, but much, much more needs to be done.

Students drop out because they don’t see a high school diploma as helpful. In Chicago, they may be right. Why do we consider the job done for the children of others when we wouldn’t accept that for our own children?

102

Harold 08.21.12 at 5:46 pm

There is more to being an educated person than being an “intel semi-finalist”.

103

LFC 08.21.12 at 6:37 pm

Watson:
I’m sure that there are variations in quality among suburban public high schools, and no doubt not all supposedly good schools in affluent suburbs are “good”. But much hangs on one’s standards and what one means by “good”. That would be a whole other discussion.

(Fwiw, I attended, many years ago, a suburban public high school, by reputation one of the best in the country, and from there went to an ‘elite’ private university. On paper, I should have received one of the best educations available in the U.S. at that time. In fact, however, my education was not, IMO, all that ‘good’. I was not especially interested in science and math, though, so I can’t speak to that particular aspect.)

104

LFC 08.21.12 at 6:41 pm

P.s. Not all “good” US high schools are located in wealthy suburbs anyway. That should go without saying.

105

acm 08.21.12 at 6:46 pm

I feel that part of the problem is that while some homeschooling parents are indeed “trying to keep progressive education alive,” many others are explicitly trying to keep their children from being taught things that they don’t like (and/or keeping them available for alternative indoctrination). That latter thread is never going to be either interested in or open to objective evaluation of their results — some probably don’t care if their kids end up less well educated, as long as they learn the “right” things. I grew up with communities who started alternative schools for much the same reasons — it certainly wasn’t to foster greater independence and inquisitiveness!!

106

Watson Ladd 08.21.12 at 7:13 pm

@Harold: But do you think schools would do more evenly in whatever you thought of as education then they do in my example? The South Side of Chicago is not churning out humanists who know nothing of the sciences because they aren’t particularly interested, or are content with what they do know, and if it was I bet some students would be interested in the sciences instead. A teacher who enables his students to do interesting things is doing a far better job then one whose students merely do what is required. And the South Side of Chicago has no teachers of either type.

@LFC: Yes, I’m aware of Bronx Science and Stuy. And I can heartily concur that quite a bit rides on what we consider ‘good’. Fundamentally I would argue for a system that recognizes the plurality of educational values and offers different ideas of what education should be. But such a system would need to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to do well, which isn’t always easy in the US. The politics of gifted education and disabled education is toxic, and pretty much for the same reasons on both ends.

Tying it back to the topic, homeschooling depends on being able to access a lot of resources individually. With history there is a lot that can be done from books, and same with literature, but foreign languages would be tough, and the sciences would depend on some creativity. Mathematics, if your grasp on it is not that good, is a nightmare to teach: like music it requires practice by the student and judgement by the teacher. Tutoring can help but is expensive compared to classroom instruction. Maybe the internet will make it possible for some enterprising entrepreneur to create good resources for some of these, but it’s a tall order. On the plus side, if it encourage students to develop the skills to learn independently it might do significantly better.

107

Tedra Osell 08.21.12 at 10:03 pm

Jessamyn @96:

“I am forever thankful that my parents engaged in a conversation with me about my education.”

You know, I think this is key. And part of the problem with the school-based system of education is that we seem to think that’s a conversation that the students themselves don’t need to/shouldn’t be allowed to engage in.

We want them to do it once they get to college, and by then many of the “good” students have learned that what matters is “what teachers want.” Whereas (ime) many of the students-from-bad-schools have had to have that conversation, with themselves at least, and are therefore far better at that whole “critical thinking” thing.

108

Tedra Osell 08.21.12 at 10:11 pm

Which gets to a point about the whole “good schools” issue that Watson, LFC and Harold are having, which I think is implicitly about whether or not things like class, race, and income = “good.” And even apart from that, do we mean “good test scores,” “going on to college”, etc? Because those things are not divorced from the other issues.

So, for instance, PK went to the “best” local public school in first grade: best test scores, most affluent parent population, lots of homework, etc.

It was awful. Not only was he enormously stressed and anxious about all the homework (which there’s no evidence supporting, but which is of course legally mandated), but there was a great deal of implicit social pressure to look/dress/behave in a certain way–including from the teachers.

IMO, that wasn’t a “good” school. But it gets good test scores and good outcomes.

109

Harold 08.21.12 at 10:44 pm

Watson, @ 103, I don’t understand this question:
“Harold, but do you think schools would do more evenly in whatever you thought of as education then they do in my example?” Perhaps you are not a native speaker?

I have my own ideas of what being educated entails, but no doubt those ideas of mine are very behind the times.

110

JanieM 08.21.12 at 11:29 pm

Tedra: You know, I think this is key. And part of the problem with the school-based system of education is that we seem to think that’s a conversation that the students themselves don’t need to/shouldn’t be allowed to engage in.

100% agree on this, and I’d go even further and suggest that there’s a “we” that seems to think that’s a conversation that the parents really don’t need to/shouldn’t be allowed to engage in either. Leave it to the experts, keep moving, and especially, don’t step out of line….

But it’s another thorny, complex, and tangled question, as every last question about education seems to be. On the one hand, schools have taken over more and more of the tasks (?) involved in getting children to adulthood (school-based clinics, sports and extra-curriculars, pre-schools so that kids are in an institutional setting at younger and younger ages, the list goes on), yet we also have a whole meme (and reality) of the “helicopter parent.”

I’d like to say more about stepping out of line; maybe later, when I have more time.

Also, it would be interesting, and I think quite educational, if every time we — or “we” — used the word “we,” we stopped to think who we meant. ;)

111

JanieM 08.21.12 at 11:49 pm

Me: Also, it would be interesting, and I think quite educational, if every time we—or “we”—used the word “we,” we stopped to think who we meant. ;)

That was triggered by Tedra’s use of “we” but not aimed at her; it’s just one of my little linguistic obsessions, possibly originally triggered by this passage from Quantum Mind, by Arnold Mindell:

<blockquote
We are inextricably linked with everything we observe. Yet, most of us focus on consensual, classical, Newtonian connections with the environment that are clearly causal. It's important and easy to recognize that the environment's sixth great extinction is only hastened by toxic waste. If the amount of toxins killing our eco-systems depends on how much we recycle, why not recycle?

The problem is that not everyone feels included in the “we” that would recycle. Most environmentalists place far less emphasis on how the create a community than on the Newtonian physics and chemistry involved in destroying plants and animals.

Working through environmental problems would be easy if we knew as much about getting along with one another as we know about getting to the moon or recycling paper.
</blockquote

Of course, if we knew very much about getting along with one another we might make teaching something about it a higher priority in the schools, too. And I might even have learned to be a little less learning disabled about social politics.

112

JanieM 08.21.12 at 11:52 pm

Drat the html. The middle paragraphs shouldn’t be doubly indented.

And I wanted to add my own afterthought, to tie it back to the topic at hand: Of course, if we knew very much about getting along with one another we might make teaching something about it a higher priority in the schools, too. And I might even have learned to be a little less learning disabled about social politics.

(If I didn’t close all the tags in the previous comments, my apologies. This comment should tell the tale.)

113

JanieM 08.21.12 at 11:53 pm

Okay, I give up. Maybe some dinner would help my thought processes. Obviously the “Of course” paragraph is mine and not Arny Mindell’s.

114

Substance McGravitas 08.21.12 at 11:58 pm

Tags lose their effectiveness with every paragraph break.

115

JanieM 08.22.12 at 12:01 am

Substance — yes, that’s why I put sets of tags around each paragraph. But I see now that I missed a bracket in a couple of places. I shouldn’t be doing this when I’m tired and hungry. Sorry.

116

Substance McGravitas 08.22.12 at 12:02 am

I’m not complaining. Thanks!

117

Watson Ladd 08.22.12 at 12:31 am

Harold: I’ve lived here long enough I should be, but that example was just a nested sentence structure. The then/than thing is my growing up in an area that phonetically doesn’t make that distinction, so I never learned it in speech. No matter what you think of as education, some methods of teaching and organizations that provide it are likely to be better at it than others. So quite rightly pointing out there is more to education than succeeding at Intel or the Olympiads doesn’t change the conclusion: whatever kind of goal you set is unlikely to be attained equally by all schools.

Retif I think gets to the same point more snarkily, but this does suggest that one size doesn’t fit all. I think this, more than anything else, makes assembly line models of public education problematic. What this has to say about inner city schools which can’t seem to do much of anything is a topic for another time.

But there is an elephant in the room: it does matter that the children of the metropolis go to particular schools which the children of more rural, less education focused areas don’t. Nerd geography is a thing, and it shouldn’t be.

As a friend of mine pointed out, you know you are on the Upper West Side when the cards have “Getting a PhD” as one of the events. Some of this is genuine preference and cultural difference. But what is it going to mean for our society when those tasked with commentating critically upon it are themselves the product of a very particular segment? What does it mean when the development of the members of society as a whole is largely abandoned or restricted to very particular paths? I don’t think anything good.

118

Emma Jane 08.22.12 at 2:51 am

This is less than helpful, and nothing but anecdote, but the Trolls With Wooden Spoons forums include, among their many — well, mean, that’s what they are over there– threads several detailed critiques of particular homeschoolers who post to MDC. Often they take particular note of the apparent lack of education and/or borderline abuse on display.

Most of the posters are MDC refugees themselves, so not exactly un-crunchy or pro-mainstream.

119

JanieM 08.22.12 at 3:06 am

I had never heard of Trolls with Wooden Spoons or MDC until a few minutes ago, and I wish I had stayed in that state of blissful ignorance. Not to mention the minutes of my life wasted trying to find out what the heck “MDC” stands for.

Am I the only such super-un-cool person here?

Also, as a person who does a lot of editing both as a volunteer and as part of my paid work, I could go to town on “the apparent lack of education” (in writing a decent sentence, anyhow, never mind a paragraph or two) among people who have been “educated” in very highfalutin schools and college.

120

Julie Ward 08.22.12 at 3:59 am

@Mercy #99 “@Alex, I’m fairly certain you are wrong about the justification for compulsory public schooling. It was mostly to stop people pulling kids of out school and sending them to work. In this respect it’s an excellent example of choices that should be constricted: people were being coerced into choosing not to (let their kids) attend school by the whip hand of poverty, so remove that choice from them. But once you’ve created a social norm that says kids have to study full time until they reach majority, there’s no particular reason this has to happen in school.”

Absolutely. If school became optional tomorrow in the developed world I am sure the vast majority would still choose to attend. Most would still want their children to be literate and numerate because that is what is required to be functional in the 21st century.

121

Harold 08.22.12 at 3:48 pm

Watson, only one to three percent of the US population have advanced degrees of any kind (in law, medicine, Ph.D.s, etc.). Naturally, they are going to be concentrated in areas near universities or large cities. Naturally, too, children whose parents are physicians from India or Lebanon, or physicists from China, or mathematicians from Russia are going to a have big heads up in those subjects. I don’t see what difference this makes for educational policy for the other 97-99 percent. As far as money making a difference, see Jonathan Kozol’s book, “Savage Inequalities” (no other country finances its schools through real estate taxes).

122

km 08.22.12 at 5:41 pm

Tedra, re your comment at #108, the problem you’ve observed with “good schools” is one that other parents have run into as well. In particular, the third group that curious monolith (comment #66) mentions sometimes finds that highly rated schools are more inflexible in dealing with outliers than somewhat less highly rated schools. (This was the group of parents desperate to help their kids who feel tortured by school. I’m assuming this is your group. I’ve been in this group too, though not there at present.)

I’m not sure why you have difficulty with the decision to homeschool. You’re doing it because it is necessary for the emotional well-being of your child, you have even been told so by experts. The school options that you had were not acceptable for your child, but that doesn’t mean that they are unacceptable for other kids, so there is not necessarily any benefit to those other kids if you stay in the public school system and attempt to change it to meet your child’s needs. ( Of course the school options are bad for all in some places, but apparently not where you are. )

I used to be uncomfortable with homeschooling, but then I met several people who homeschooled when it was needed and returned to the schools when it wasn’t. You’re allowed to change your mind later.

123

Harold 08.22.12 at 6:00 pm

124

Watson Ladd 08.22.12 at 8:46 pm

Harold, let’s say we do as you say and leave the 97% without calculus. Don’t you think we have a fairness problem? If we say that learning about society should be left to those who will be payed to do it, then suddenly we’ve left the majority of people without a means to reason about their social environment, in a democracy. Workmen also deserve to think!

125

Harold 08.22.12 at 9:05 pm

I never said we should leave 97% of the populace without calculus. Though I also don’t think it necessary to fetishize it. I entirely agree with you that we have a fairness problem — that is certainly the message of Kozol’s book, “Savage Inequalities” — it is a problem in all aspects of American life, not only in education, but in housing, healthcare, jobs and many other things.

126

Norwegian Guy 08.23.12 at 8:49 pm

I do have to wonder about the gender politics of homeschooling. We have had long struggles to get enough affordable kindergartens, both because they are considered pedagogically and socially valuable to children, and because they give women more opportunities to participate in the workforce. It would be sad and odd if women would have to go back to the kitchen when their kids get to school age. For both economic and cultural reasons it will mostly be mothers who will stay at home teaching their kids, so it’s perhaps not so great when seen through a feminist lens?

127

JanieM 08.23.12 at 10:51 pm

@Norwegian Guy — did you read the thread? Did anything get through about the complexity and variety of approaches to, and attitudes about, homeschooling on the part of homeschoolers themselves, many of whom took the trouble to write at length? Did you get any notion of the complexity and nuance of the tradeoffs people are making, both personally and societally, in relation to choices about education?

Some quick thoughts:

1) No one is forcing anyone to homeschool. No one here has proposed that anyone be forced to homeschool.

2) People — yes, even women! — get to make their own choices for themselves and their families. But this is a very old debate, and I will leave it to someone else to flesh it out. Or not.

3) People do homeschooling in a wide variety of ways. For a particularly apt example, see Bridget McKenzie’s comment (Aug 20 @ 11:01 p.m.) about balancing work and home life in London, which is also a great illustration of the fact that homeschooling is not necessarily a matter of one parent staying at home with the kids all day. Many homeschoolers, at least as of when I was paying more attention, combine a critique of compulsory schooling with a critique of consensus assumptions about work and family life. I worked part-time, mostly at home, while my kids were growing up. My kids’ dad was also based at home. He traveled a lot more than I did for work, but when he wasn’t traveling he was at home and available to the kids far more than most parents with day jobs. (Yes, we were lucky. Not everyone can arrange that.) And like many homeschoolers, a lot of the time we weren’t actually at home in the first place!

*****

This is the kind of thing that brings on that “pull the covers over my head” feeling. People are quite sure that homeschooling must be what they imagine it to be and not what you’re standing there explicitly telling them it is. Then they judge and dismiss what they’ve invented, and you along with it. And anyhow, how we raise and educate our children, both in individually and as a society, can’t possibly be as important as … something else.

Getting cranky. Where are those covers, anyhow?

128

Sylvia 08.24.12 at 2:33 am

km said

I used to be uncomfortable with homeschooling, but then I met several people who homeschooled when it was needed and returned to the schools when it wasn’t. You’re allowed to change your mind later.

We homeschooled our middle-school aged son for a gap year when we were moving. He was a very shy kid and it seemed the ultimate cruelty to put him in an 8th grade class of all new kids, then move him to another new school with all new kids for 9th grade. We talked with him about it first and he decided that h.s. was the best idea for that one year — we offered him the option after that year, but he decided to head back to “regular” school. But we enjoyed that one year tremendously. Since we thought he would probably be going back into school we tracked the curriculum so he wouldn’t be behind in math or science and covered the same areas being covered in history. But he read! And read. And read. My husband schooled him in Latin and I handled the other stuff. If he’d gone on for more homeschooling I would have had to farm out the math and science because I’d reached the ends of my abilities. We both remember that year very fondly…and it WAS the year that he learned to write an essay and discovered LOTR.

129

D Pomerat 08.24.12 at 4:18 pm

What a great discussion. I want to add a few points:
*Some school systems are already starting to look beyond the factory model. I posted about this in 2010: http://postinspace.blogspot.com/2010/11/changing-view-of-attendance-proposed-in.html
* Generalizations about the US school system are hard on many levels. The system is huge and what is true here is not true there.
* I have noticed a pattern over the years. Among new homeschoolers, working class parents are usually very concerned about being legal, knowing and following the law. Middle and upper class parents are usually concerned about those who abuse the regulations or those who are not really homeschooling. Very few long term homeschoolers see these issues as being important to the same degree. My take? I think there is a psychological process that happens starting with stepping outside such a large institution and the longer you work outside, the more relaxed you get about it.

Comments on this entry are closed.