Monday, November 16, 2009

The Public Option

Another reason to homeschool is revealed in this conversation between mother and daughter:
"How many movies do you watch a week?"

She thought a bit, counting up on her fingers and trying to remember. "Oh--I don't know--five or six, maybe more. We watch t.v. pretty much every day in at least one class and any time we have a sub they put in movies or something. We watch stuff like Mythbusters a lot and call it chemistry."

She paused a moment then said, "At least it's not like my history teacher who flirts with girls in the class then shows us pictures of himself without his shirt on and talks about his tattoos."

You can read the whole frightening post at Scribbit.


  1. Two thoughts pop into my head: 1) one story (with credibility issues inherent) does not constitute a solid indictment of any system of education and b) you act like this sort of thing is impossible in a homeschooling environment.

    I think that source of funding is less significant than you'd think and that the biggest issue by far is the culture from which teachers spring. Sure, public funding breeds complacency and furthers a government agenda but a private school is not necessarily going to do anything different. Not every private institution is run by a VanDamme or LePort. (For the record, I find public funding of education quite odious. And that post, if true, is horrifying.)

    When I was evaluating preschools for my kids, I ended up taking them to a preschool attached to a church after evaluating four or five Montessori schools--all of which were suffused with multicultural and environmental agendas. The preschool was quite secular and I've now got my third child going through their program.

  2. Bill,

    First, this is obviously not an intellectual argument for the indictment of the public school system. (I very rarely make arguments like that on this blog, which sets the context for this post.) But frankly, I don't think any further arguments other than what we all see every day are necessary to know that public school is one of the worst elements in our culture. (I shared this story for my readers who already share that premise. If you don't, then you don't, and I won't try to convince you otherwise.) And you're right, that includes most private schools too, and the philosophy behind education is the fundamental problem, not the source of funding, although that contributes, especially to inertia. None of that takes away from the purpose of this post and link, which is just to share a story "from the horror files." You seem very defensive about it. Do righteous homeschoolers bug you?

    Next, this is a story on a blog. My readers will have to be responsible for assessing its credibility (and the daughter's, for that matter!). If this were intended as some kind of evidence or argument, that would be different. Again, the context of my blog and my casual, "Another reason to homeschool..." introduction with almost no comment from me indicates the purpose of my post quite clearly, I think.

    Finally, this situation would absolutely be impossible in MY homeschooling environment, which is the only one I care about. Again, I'm not making an argument that everyone should pull their kids out of school. This story is, indeed, another reason why I will probably homeschool. Because even if this particular story is not true, it could be, and it might be, at any public school, and many private schools, anywhere.

  3. You wrote "another reason to homeschool" not "another reason why I'll homeschool" and that's why I thought it was more of a general argument. I made my comment primarily to point out that funding source isn't the most pernicious problem in education.

    And that point dovetails perfectly with your desire to homeschool. Clearly, you will not suffer from the cultural problems that have degraded education.

    I have big problems with homeschoolers who don't take it seriously--I've seen plenty of them--and my only issue with homeschooling as such is that there's an inherent problem with socialization that's not easily remedied. In a school, kids must learn to learn from many different teachers and handle situations from children and adults who are often very different from them. Kids in homeschools become experts at learning from the parent and dealing with their siblings (if any) but that will not adequately prepare them for adult life. Attempts to mitigate this through playgroups, "teacher" swapping, and extracurricular activities can only go so far.

    (I only have one other problem with homeschooling in general and that's that most of the "teachers" are unqualified. One cannot be a master of every subject at the levels K-12 plus at pedagogy. Specialization in education is valuable for the same reason it is in the economy. But that doesn't mean that any particular homeschooling parent is unqualified and I've seen some outstanding ones out there, so it's not an indictment of homeschooling as such.)

  4. Bill,

    Do you honestly think that most teachers in schools are experts in what they teach? I would be willing to bet that less than 30% have any kind of knowledge even approaching expertise at the subjects they teach.

    As for socialization, I live in Minneapolis and am doing everything I can not to have my children "socialized" in its substandard government schools.

    Dean Kriegel

  5. Bill, I should say that I do think that stories like this are a reason to homeschool, not just for me, but for anyone who is considering it - I just meant that this blog post was not an argument for such and I wasn't trying to convince anyone by it.

    I don't lump the homeschooling issue of being insulated (one or very few teachers and less diversity of experience) with "socialization." I agree that being insulated is a major challenge when homeschooling, but I don't think socialization is. I want my child socialized by her father and me, other adults I trust, and a smaller group of children. I think in the natural course of events she will come across irrational people and have to learn to deal with them. And as she grows more and her scope widens, she'll encounter more and more of those challenges, but she wont be thrown into the viper pit before she is equipped to defend herself. That's how I see socialization at public school.

    I also disagree partially with the unqualified teacher issue. You don't need to be an expert on much of anything when the child is young, but you certainly need to do a lot of work to find the right resources. (Older kids probably need classes with experts or specialists.) But I do agree that homeschooling needs to be taken seriously and that pedagogy is an issue. But it's hard to do worse in that department than 99% of professional teachers. Well, maybe 90%. I don't really know, but certainly the majority. Methodology, not content, is my main problem with what I call "standard" school (public or private). I suspect that most homeschoolers, even lazy, unthinking ones, can do better than the public school system simply because they are less indoctrinated with those bad ideas we spoke about.

  6. Yes, I honestly think that most teachers are experts in what they teach but I suspect from your dismissive attitude that we have vastly different views of expertise. Is a fourth-grade teacher a PhD in biology or English literature? Do they publish groundbreaking studies in peer-reviewed journals? Decidedly not. (I won't address your pulled-from-thin-air figure.)

    But that fourth-grade teacher is likely an expert in teaching a particular fourth-grade curriculum to students of a particular age. After a year or two with a particular curriculum, most teachers can answer *their* students' questions and do a competent job of transferring the knowledge they are assigned to transmit.

    Think of the situation of a homeschooling parent. He or she must teach a more or less new curriculum every year and there could be gaps of several years before that curriculum is revisited. He or she cannot focus on a particular age group and a particular subject area--the homeschooling parent must be prepared to teach every subject every year. It is a tall order; one that we would not think of asking of any other educator. Moreover, the homeschooling parent is not just an educator: he or she is also a parent. I couldn't do it. I think my wife could (she was a teacher before) and I know others could but I wouldn't feel comfortable suggesting it for many.

    I am sorry that you took my comment as some sort of a defense of public education or an attack on homeschooling. It was neither. I think a public school can be great, a private school can be terrible, and a homeschool can be wonderful. In general, publicly-funded schools are going to gravitate towards mediocrity (or worse), private schools are going to tend to be better than that (self-selection, expense, and ease of expulsion will attract above-average kids), and homeschools are going to be mixed (given that they're predominantly religious, there's going to be a lot more time given over to religious instruction than the other types of institution).

  7. I think your and Dean's view of teachers is a caricature. My wife was a teacher for 10 years at public, private, and charter schools. I've met a lot of teachers (and I went through public education my entire life) and I would put the number that are unprofessional, which I take to mean not concerned with improvement and generally in it for the time off, at 10% or less. That's an arbitrary number but it seems like the right ratio. It is most certainly not 99% or 90% or even 30%.

    But if your child is stuck in the wrong end of that ratio, it could be big trouble. You can avoid that by selecting your teacher with forethought and research. In the end, bad teachers last a year. With dedication by the parents, that bad year can be mitigated considerably through at-home work or interventions with the principal and teacher.

    Again, I'm sympathetic to those who wish to homeschool. If my neighborhood public school were worse or if I lived in a tougher part of town, then I might be more inclined to do it as well. But it's not a panacea and there are good schools out there (public and private).

  8. Bill, Just a clarification: Dean's 30% number was his "bet" (I take that to mean his guess) at the number of teachers who were experts or had a high level of knowledge in their fields. My 90% number (admittedly a total guess and really a bombastic way of trying to emphasize my point of a strong majority, as I said) was the number of teachers whose success could easily be surpassed by any homeschooler.

    Neither of us were speaking about a number who "cared" or were professional.

  9. Bill,

    Your statements are contradictory: "public schools tend toward mediocrity" and "the majority of teachers are experts."

    There are 3.3 million teachers employed in public schools (those ones that tend toward mediocrity) and 0.5 million teachers employed in private schools (most of the rest of them). This means 85% of teachers work in a public school system that tends towards mediocrity but the majority of all teachers are experts. How probable is it that both of these things are true?

    If 85% of all auto mechanics worked for a chain of garages that tended toward mediocrity wouldn't it seem an improbable claim that the majority of auto mechanics were experts?

    Also, that anyone believes a grade school teacher must be an academically active scholar to have a level of expertise to adequately teach grade school is a straw man.

  10. Got it. I guess I should have taken both of your numbers literally rather than giving either of you the benefit of the doubt. So he really means that less than 30% of teachers have "any kind of knowledge even approaching expertise at the subjects they teach" and you really mean that 99% (or 90% or 'a strong majority') of teachers aren't "an expert on much of anything" and "could easily be surpassed by any homeschooler."

    No point in any further participation on my part here, as I'm clearly not part of the choir you're addressing.

  11. Well, it's my blog, so I'll add a final word. Dean, I don't think Bill's statements in that regard are contradictory. Being an expert doesn't guard against mediocrity. Bill, I have no idea what your last comment meant, but I'm sorry you feel the way you do.