What's on my mind.

09 August 2007

Public, Private, or Home?

Often I read a blog and I want to comment but my thoughts are too scattered and/or too many to put in a comment. This is one of those times.

Shadowhelm and his wife are considering homeschooling their child. I think this is a mistake. Not because I know better for their child; they know her best and are the only ones competent to decide. I just think homeschooling is a mistake, in general. I'm not a fan of private schools either. (I am also having trouble with the part of me that completely understands not wanting to put a child into a public school system in Alabama** arguing with the part of me that thinks public schools are the only way to go.)

My primary problem with homeschooling is, "is the parent staying home a certified teacher in the appropriate grade(s)?" If not, then why the hell do you think you can teach your child? Homeschoolers must now be enrolled in a recognized program, many of which are internet based, that procribes the cirriculum and provides tests. The actual teaching of the material falls to the parent. I have a Master's degree in a physical science and I'm pretty darn sure I don't know enough to teach anything but science above the 3rd grade. (For example knowing grammar and using it appropriately does mean I can explain it.)

A related question to the above is, "Is the parent (usually the mother, but not always) prepared to spend all day everyday at home with said child/children?" There is no shame is admitting that one was not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. It doesn't mean one doesn't love one's children or loves work more; it just means that one is not cut out to be with one's children 24 hours a day. There is also a difference between being a mom and being a teacher (yes, parents are constantly teaching thier children but it isn't quite the same as being a teacher.); for some I'm sure the two roles are completely intertwined for others the roles won't be. Just because one works with kids all day, or is even a teacher, does not mean that one is the best teacher for one's own kids. I know several mothers who teach at a daycare but can not teach in their childrens' rooms, the dynamic is just not right.

Another big problem with homeschooling is the social isolation of the student. School offers social situations encountered in few other settings. Learning to interact with other people, whether one likes them or not, is an important skill. Homeschooling groups, who organize fieldtrips, sports teams, and other extra-curricular activities, can help with the socialzation skills but since many of the other homeschoolers are coming from similar backgrounds there is little diversity. An added problem is that if the homeschool groups are made up of primarialy one subset of homeschoolers (i.e. people who homeschool for religous reasons) then other homeschoolers may not feel welcome, further reducing the diversity. And diversity is important for its own sake. Children need to learn how to get along with anyone they meet; they don't have to be best freinds with everyone but they do have to get along.

Private schools are better. There is the social interaction, trained and (hopefully) qualified teachers, extra-curricular activities, and a break for Mom and Dad. Private schools, however, usually don't offer much in the way of diversity. Most private schools are filled with middle-middle class to upper-middle class. The really expensice ones have the upper-class kids. Private school kids never have a classmate who only has three outfits to wear to school or whose parents can never make the PTA meeting because they have to work. Most private schools have scholarships for very bright students and good atheletes. Some private schools offer a cirriculum only slightly more challenging than the public schools (this varies greatly with location) and have less qualified teachers. (Please note that I do not think lack of state certification automatically means unqualified.) If public school teachers teach because they love it, private school teachers are simply insane. In Alabama at least, private schools pay less and offer little if no benefits (other than great unpaid vacations!). This can make it difficult to retain top-notch teachers that often have the choice to go to the public schools.

A couple of comments directly to Shadowhelm: No one strives for adequecy; that is a term developed for a law that mandates all kinds of stupid measurements of schools and students and has little to do with actual learning. I'm sorry your 12th grade History teacher wasn't creative enough to have assignments to challenge all the students. No one who goes into education wants to hold students back; not everyone will have the ability to help every student but they all have (or possibly had, before burnout) the desire to help. Last but not least, I find it hard to take your interest in your daughter's education too seriously since you admit your wife does the investigating and you just say 'sounds good'.

Where to send one's child to school is a complicated decision for people who can afford options. One's local public schools may not be very good but they provide a level of diversity (SES and racially) not found in most private schools. Private schools MAY provide a better education but are expensive, often require parental volunteering, and usually don't provide transportation to and from school. By homeschooling one can insure that one's values are taught to one's child and no others but then the child is isolated from peers and other adults and is denied the presence of a qualified teacher (with rare exceptions).

I'd like to comment breifly on a topic Shadowhelm touched on in another post with a link to Neal Boortz - communal school supplies. To me, it sounds like Boortz is saying that public schools are a communist plot. BULLSHIT. Democracies require an informed electorate and therefore must have some level of public education. The issue of having indivual parents purchase supplies (this can run from a box of crayons for the class' art supplies to paper towels and surface cleaner) is an issue of funding. When I went to school (and this is probably still true there) students didn't have to buy the school's supplies. There was a supply room that contained supplys. Today in many underfunded school system there isn't a supply room. Not only is every student expected to have his own glue stick but to bring a large bottle of glue to share with the class because the school can't buy these things. This is not, as Boortz asserts, a war on the idea of private property but a consequence of the poor funding of schools. The light bill has to be paid so money for the teachers to buy construction paper doesn't exist. I also suspect that most of the time the list is clear as to what the student needs for herself and what is being bought for the class. If there isn't a distinction, there should be. Because who can forget the joy that was a brand new pencil, eraser, and your own box of 16 perfect crayons?

*Sorry, Sarah, education trumps smut. I may still get around to putting down my thoughts on that. Thanks for the tag.;)

**baby Sis started 4th grade last week at a Tuscaloosa Co. school. Mom says "YEA!"

1 comment:

Shadowhelm said...

Ok, where to start?

First, why don't you link to your website when you post on my blog? That is a bit unfair if you are going to address me directly. If it is a technical issue, let me know and I will fix it. I found your site mostly by accident (a link from sarahetc.com) as I thought you didn't keep a blog but other readers might be interested in your dissenting opinion.

Secondly, neither my wife or I have been trained to be educators but I know people who have and many of them I would not trust to teach my dog how to take a dump. Having a teaching certificate does not mean you are a qualified teacher. Oppositely, not having a teaching certificate does not preclude someone from being a hell of a teacher.

Thirdly, I would advise against making statements that I don't take my daughter's education seriously. While I may feign disinterest for humorous effect nothing could be farther from the truth. However, IF we as a family are going to do this it is going to be my wife's responsibility most of the time so she is involved in the research more than I am at this point. She has to make the decision on whether or not she can do it. So please, don't confuse my humor (bad as it may be) for disinterest.

Fourthly, I am tired of the socialization argument against homeschooling. It sounds like something the teacher's union has concocted to try and fight the movement. Just because a child goes to public school does not mean they will be socialized properly. I think the growing problem of bullies is a great example. Social isolation is just as possible in a school setting as it is at home. What public school does teach well, however, is how to keep your head down, how to form protection groups of like minded people, how to make jokes at the expense of others (nerds do this just as much as anyone else) and how to learn to "play by the rules". I argue that maybe we don't want this in our society.

Fifthly, I don't believe in plots, communist or otherwise. Most humans are not that organized but I do believe that the systematic reduction in a person's property rights makes them less likely to fight for other rights when the time comes. It is not my family's responsibility to provide ANY supplies for anyone else. I have a hard enough time making ends meet. I don't need to be responsible for little Timmy's crayons because Timmy's dad was too busy drinking and screwing to pay attention in high school. What I will not stand by and accept is any policy that teaches my child that her property is to be surrendered to that state (in the form of the school) because someone else made poor decisions. Believe this is ok long enough and you have a population of slaves working for daddy government. Wonder why it is easier to pass new taxes today than it was 100 years ago? We are being brought up to believe that it is just the nature of things. The government takes the fruits of our labor to give to others on a daily basis. I don't call this freedom. I call it indentured servitude.

Sixthly, a small point, but important. The United States is NOT a democracy. This is a failure of our school system to educate our people about our form of government. It was never supposed to be one and I don't think you will find the word "democracy" in the Constitution. The US is a Republic. Every citizen does NOT have a voice at every level of government. Our founding fathers understood that a true democracy is only slightly different than anarchy and formed or government in a way to avoid that trap. Majority rule was not the original idea for the US. Think about how the electoral college works and you will find that majority doesn't rule anything. Our electors have chosen to follow the people, but they don't have to. You say "democracies require an informed electorate" and you are right, but this can not occur on any scale and certainly not on a national scale. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the myth that we live in a democracy.

Finally, my issue of adequacy is valid. If the federal government really cared about the education of our children, adequate would not be used as any kind of standard. Words become goals when people are expected to live up to expectations and I never want a goal of being "adequate". The standards are stupid, but let's at least use some language teachers, students, and parents can get behind.

The real issue here is "What is the purpose of school?" Is it to educate or socialize or both or neither? I feel it should be to educate. In that one task the government is consistently failing so as a parent one must look at other options. Does homeschooling work? Oh yes. Test scores of home schooled children are consistently higher than public school children. I am sure there are other statistics that also show that home school is a viable alternative to public school. One just needs to know where their priorities are when dealing with raising their children. I'll sacrifice a little socialization if my child can have a better chance at competing in the world market.

I could go on, but I should probably get back to work. As always, never take anything I say personally. I just love to argue!