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September 19, 2006

Imperfect Homeschoolers, Untie!

Wait ... sorry, that's the line for the dyslexic homeschoolers.

Poppins, that smart, smart Mama, has got it exactly right. There is no such thing as doing homeschooling perfectly right. There is no right method, schedule, curriculum. None. Zip. Nada. Just like real life, there are no magic pills.

Frankly, you're insane to homeschool unless you have a wickedly strong independent streak. You've got to use that trait to develop confidence in what you're doing, knowing full well perfection is not possible. Embrace the imperfection and run with it. Dance around the living room with it. Conjugate Latin verbs with it. (It's late, I'm punchy.)

Look, the modern public school system is nearly the most inefficient way of educating children that we've been able to come up with in the last 100 years. And even so, it does provide a decent education for many kids, complete with state-approved gaps. If there are children who come out of the public school system with a decent education, in spite of that inefficiency, you're going to do just fine. Whatever method you choose, whatever curriculum you use, or don't use; you're going to do just fine.

It's the imperfections that make life interesting, anyway.

Posted by lynx at September 19, 2006 10:56 PM

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You wrote:
>And even so, [the modern public school system] does provide a decent education for many kids...

I think you're being a bit overly tolerant here!

I was in the public schools K-12, back when the schools were significantly better by objective standards than they are today. The list of things I learned in grade school would be a very short list indeed: in science and history, in particular, I had to almost completely "homeschool" myself.

I learned a bit more in high school, but that was because I figured out how to "game the system" and actually learn something, despite the system. Three or four dedicated teachers had the decency to help me out in this, and I am, of course, grateful to them. But, had my learning in high school been limited to the official curriculum and had I dealt only with the typical teachers in our school, my high-school experience would have been as worthless as grade school was.

Some kids, like me, do come out of the public schools with a half-way decent education (I say, "half-way" because, for example, I never became fluent in a foreign language, and no classical language was even offered at our school). But I doubt that very many students at all come out of the public schools even half-way educated unless the students, their parents, or some courageous teachers fought the system on the students' behalf so that some real education could occur.

I know that we all want to be tolerant and recognize every family's right to their own educational choices. But let's be honest, by and large, the public schools really stink!

Posted by: Dave M. in Sacramento [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2006 3:21 AM

Dave, the public school system is ideal for turning out desk-bound office drones, and there is a greater need for that than for independent thinkers. What stinks about the public schools is that they are basically the only alternative for most people. If the trade school system were more robust, if we could choose to go to community colleges instead of high school, and if there were a system geared to rigorous education of thought leaders that didn't cost a fortune, we'd be in much better shape.

Posted by: Jeff Medcalf [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2006 6:44 AM

Since I deliberately choose not to send my kids to public school, you know what I think.

But there *are* schools and teachers who do a good job, according to what our society by and large defines as a good education (and what's what I mean by "decent"). A very few even go beyond that. I think many kids do get a decent education. They will graduate from high school, they will be able to read a newspaper, they will be able to get into college, they will be able to get an entry-level job, they will know about Black history and women's history, and the environment. That's what we have defined a decent education to be.

I disagree vehemently with what our society defines a decent, or a good, education. That's the main reason my kids are still asleep right now, instead of in a school building. The public schools are still good at what they mean to do, what they really mean to do.

Posted by: MamaLynx [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2006 8:13 AM

Well, I guess I have to be the voice of experience with modern public schools here. :)

A few days ago you posted that your homeschool has been reduced primarily to reading, writing, math and Latin. With the exception of Latin, I think the public schools do a decent job on those topics. I quibble over the specifics sometimes (I don't think estimation should be taught so early), but I don't think the kids are being short-changed on those main topics.

However, I would agree that there is a lot of unnecessary fluff in public schools, too. Black History Month is my favorite rant. When Michelle was in first grade I thought it was a good idea. I loved that she was learning the "I have a dream!" speech. After seeing the emphasis on it each year, however, I've gotten fed up with it. There's more to American history than the Civil Rights movement, but nothing else gets the same annual treatment.

At one point in my life, I swore Michelle would never see a public school. After seeing the Catholic school system, though, I realized that every school has its issues and internal politics that impact the education. We realized that the public schools were just as viable. With only one or two exceptions, the teachers have all been good and able to encourage learning.

I think the last thing is what is most important - let kids exercise their desire to learn and they will.

Posted by: Mark L [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2006 2:58 PM

Mark, Michelle is not only at a good school, but, far more importantly, you work hard to stay on top of what they're teaching, what Michelle is doing, how hard she's working, etc. What is your honest opinion of how the school would be doing with her if you sat back, said "it's the school's job," and didn't give it much other thought? What is modern public school like when the parents leave it up to the school?

I don't want to argue with you about the education she's getting, because 1) you know far more about how she's being educated than I do; 2) you and I most likely have different assumptions about education. When you say that the schools do a good job of teaching reading and writing, for instance, we might have very different ideas about what that means. I have huge issues with modern writing pedagogy, for starters. Huge.

But I don't think you're arguing with me about either of my main points, that the schools are inefficient, and that they still do a decent job. As you see, you can't say that around homeschoolers without being called on it.

Dave, have you read any Albert Nock?

Posted by: MamaLynx [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2006 6:30 PM

Well, I certainly won't put myself in an argument with you about how they teach reading/writing. I think you're much more qualified than me to gauge it. OTOH, with math, I am sometimes both amazed and disappointed. They are teaching concepts to Michelle much earlier than I remember having them, and she's getting them. So, that's good. But, they also are teaching shortcuts that I don't think they should reach for so quickly, and I think that's bad.

I remember my mom complaining about my math education, too, though, so I can't help but think that maybe I put more stock than I should in what and how *I* was taught. :)

Posted by: Mark L [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2006 8:55 PM

Obviously, Jeff, MamaLynx, and I are not really disagreeing with each other.

Jeff, one of the things that does dismay me about the current school system is that, as you suggest, if some kid has no intention of learning about Shakespeare, Latin, physics, and world history, then why on earth do we torture the poor kid by forcing him to spend 12+ (or 16+ !!) years in school when he could be out in the real world doing/learning something useful or at least having fun? My grandfather was a high-school dropout back in the 'twenties -- a bright, energetic, but "difficult" kid. He became a skilled tradesman (machinist), eventually moved into management, and continued educating himself as an adult in science, history, etc. I do not think that was the ideal course, but it is clearly better than what many kids pursue today.

Mark, I cannot (and do not want to) debate the personal details of your kids' experience in the public schools. Perhaps, you have found a truly exceptional public school, in which case you have my congratulations. As I mentioned above, I had a handful of truly gifted teachers in my own public high school: a school that was fortunate enough to be staffed completely with teachers like that and (a supportive administration) would be a very good school indeed, whether public, Catholic, or secular private.

However, I would note that objective statistics comparing the US public schools to many nations in East Asia and Europe (and to the US schools many decades ago) do indicate that, comparatively, the US public schools are, on the whole, doing a very bad job indeed. Similar data (e.g., SAT scores of education majors) indicate that, on average, public-school teachers are not very bright.

If all you want is basic competency in the three Rs, as you suggest, then, at least for most middle-class kids, the US public schools do still deliver (although not terribly well compared to other countries and to past US experience). However, if you read MamLynx' long-term plan that she has posted elsewhere on this site, you know that she has in mind a *lot* more than just basic competency in the three Rs. To me (and clearly to her), education is more than just basic competency to get, as Jeff says, an "office-drone" job. Education should convey the best knowledge that humans possess about the natural world and about human beings and human experience. That's more than just the three Rs.

But, of course, different people have different goals, don't they?


Posted by: Dave M. in Sacramento [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 4:25 AM


I know Steph has more in mind. I normally don't bother to respond to her posts about public schools simply because I know we agree to disagree about several things in that area. I just found it ironic that two days after talking about her stripped down (for now) curriculum, she talked about the ineffectiveness of the public schools. Where I think the public schools do poorly is not in the basics, but in the specialties. Jeff mentioned similar things in his post about how we need more trade schools. In that respect, I think we agree.

Now, I'm not going to claim we're getting an exceptional education out of public schools, by any stretch. However, we're fortunate to live in a good district with good teachers that work with us. As it so happens, I'm home this morning instead of at work so we can go meet with all of her teachers. It's not lost on my daughter (I hope) that I'm doing this.

On top of that, we provide time outside of school for the things she's interested in the most (music and drama). I think you would agree that it's there she'll pick up the really good stuff.

I realize that defending the public schools on a homeschool site is a losing proposition. Still, I figured it was worth chiming in for once to give an additional perspective.

Posted by: Mark L [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 7:43 AM

Stephanie, yes, I did read Nock's "Free Speech and Plain Language," way,way,way back when I was an undergraduate. I suspect you're alluding to Nock's famous essay, "Isaiah's Job," published in that book, which presented his idea of the Remnant?

Are we homeschoolers the Remnant? Personally, I think the twentieth century will prove to be a temporary (though disastrous) detour in human history: as late as the 1920's my paternal grandmother was actually studying Latin in a rural high school in the Midwest (the town, appropriately, was named "Farmington.") All of those ideas so cavalierly rejected by "progressives" in the early twentieth century -- the market economy, limited government, a rigorous education, a real understanding of classical culture -- are now looking pretty good since we have seen the alternative during the last eighty years.

I'm pessimistic about the future of the West in its traditional areas of settlement, but I'm actually optimistic about the future of Western civilization globally. My wife is the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and within her family and among Asian immigrant friends, I see more interest in traditional Western culture than among most Americans. For example, her "niece" (actually her cousin's daughter) who immigrated from China early in grade school and recently graduated in CompSci/EE from Berkeley chose to take most of her humanities electives at Berkeley in the Classics Department, partly, I suspect, to minimize the content of "political correctness" (most engineers have little patience with PC) but mainly because she is simply fascinated with ancient Greece.

As a female Chinese immigrant, she has no guilt at all about studying "dead white males." The classical Greeks, as well as the Europeans of the Enlightenment era (Locke, Jefferson, Newton, etc.), believed that their ideas transcended any particular "culture" and were of universal human importance.

Looks like they were right.


Posted by: Dave M. in Sacramento [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 3:36 AM

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