Friday, June 08, 2007

More On Restricting Homeschooling

A few weeks ago Russell Shaw posted this blog entry on the Huffington Post. Apart from the lack of any evidence for the majority of his claims, his arguments are amazingly inept. His worst argument,

Obviusly there were and are political reasons for this. Lots of
home-schooling parents run with the creationists. Creationists are easily led,
and they vote,

has been well addressed in this post by jacidawn, so I won't go into that here.

Mr. Shaw finds himself "troubled" by a surprising number of issues related to homeschooling, particularly for someone who claims, "I am not advocating that home-schooling should be outlawed." Here are some of the things he says "trouble" him:
I'm troubled by the fact that a significant percentage of home schooling
parents choose this option because of an overriding feeling that they want
their children to pursue curricula from theology or received wisdom rather than
a scientific perspective.
OK, I think I know a few people who homeschool because of such an "overriding feeling." They are far from the majority, however. Most believe their children will get a much better education in "a scientific perspective" as a result of studying at home. Many don't use curriculum based on "theology or received wisdom," and many of those who do choose a curriculum that uses primarily real, secular books and includes only some religious materials. More and more homeschooling parents are leaving Christian textbook curriculum, which I'll admit can sometimes be out of date and can force the issue of religion, in favor of fascinating, captivating, real books that libraries buy and parents who send their kids to public schools buy for them to read at home.

I wonder how many of these types of home-schooled kids take the assumptions
of say, 6,500 year-old earths and other lack of respect for scientific inquiry into
adulthood. Will these people be on equal preparatory footing for jobs where
scientific inquisitiveness, technical insight or critical thinking skills are far more necessary than rote recitation?

Well, Mr. Shaw, I can ease your mind on this issue. Homeschooling graduates are doing just fine in the workplace, not only in easy, nontechnical jobs, but in all different kinds of technical careers: medicine, engineering, even research science. There is far more to "scientific inquisitiveness" than just an understanding of evolution, and in many ways homeschooling is far better equipped to promote that very inquisitiveness than public school is. For example, if a child wonders about gravity, a homeschooling parent doesn't say, "God made gravity; you must accept it as one of His laws," and shut down the discussion. Rather, every homeschooling parent I know (and I know a LOT of them) would say either, "Let's read a book and find out about it," or "Let's try it!" On the other hand, a public school student who wonders about gravity when the class is studying the rain forest is likely to be told, "We'll talk about that later; right now we're talking about the rain forest." (And it might next school year before they get back to gravity again!) So which approach promotes "scientific inquisitiveness," Mr. Shaw? As for technical insight, a belief in creation in no way hinders that. And critical thinking is at least as easily and thoroughly taught in a homeschooling environment as in public school, where the textbook and the teacher are the authority and questions are likely to be considered disruptive. My own daughter's test scores on critical thinking this year ranged from the 85th to the 97th percentile (meaning she scored higher than 85-97% of 6th-graders who took this test) - and she took the 6th-grade test in 5th grade!

I'm also troubled, frankly, by parents who find the world overly complex, and
want to keep their students at home in the service of simplicity and

I'm puzzled by this one. I've never heard of a homeschooler who wanted "to keep their students at home in the service of simplicity and protectiveness." Sure, I know many who find the world overly complex; in fact, Mr. Shaw goes on to say, "Well, the world is overly complex." But unless you count the desire to allow our kids to be kids a little longer, that's not why we homeschool. True, I really don't think my 6-year-old needs to be exposed to the horrors of the Vietnam War - but we'll get to that before my kids leave home, and we'll discuss it in all its gory details. It seems to me, though, that I am the person best equipped to determine when my daughters are ready to learn about the world's complexity, not a teacher who might spend 1-6 hours a day with them for a year and then perhaps never see them again. And this isn't the primary reason I homeschool - the primary reason is because I believe I can give my children a better education than they could get in the public school, and I want them to have every opportunity life has to offer.

I'm equally troubled by the fact that a non-trivial number of home-schoolers
are taught in that way because their parents are overly rugged individualists
who lack the impulse or skills to mix in as collaborative members of everyday

OK, this is a completely unsubstantiated argument. Among the hundreds of homeschooling parents I know, I can't think of one who fits this description. (I'm sure there are some, since homeschoolers come in every variety imaginable - I just have never met one!) "Lack the impulse or skills to mix in as collaborative members of everyday society"? Prove it! (Oh, yes, and while you're doing that, Mr. Shaw, would you mind letting us know how those parents were educated? How many of them were homeschooled?) I was homeschooled and have been both a high-level administrative assistant and a private-school teacher. Now I homeschool my own children; am actively involved with my daughter's swim team, including becoming an official through USA Swimming; assist in my children's one-day-a-week homeschool enrichment program; volunteer at my church; blog; interact on several Internet bulletin boards; help sort food for Thanksgiving baskets with a local charity; participate in our homeowner's association; and am otherwise involved in various activities. Every homeschooler I know is equally active, though obviously not always in the same capacities. Many work in food banks; others visit nursing homes and make friends with the elderly; others help in homeless shelters; others are involved in agriculture co-ops. Some homeschooling parents work full-time (even some single parents find ways to make this work); others own their own businesses; many (perhaps most) work part-time; and some don't work a formal job but do significant amounts of volunteer work. In what way are we not "collaborative members of society"? Only because we don't choose to put our children in schools that sap their enthusiasm for learning; hold them back from becoming all they can be; destroy their self-esteem; subject them to intense peer pressure; put them at risk of their lives due to bullying, alcohol and drug abuse, and angry fellow students; teach them values we believe are wrong; and ultimately turn them out ill-equipped educationally or socially for the demands our society and our world place upon them. If that's the only criteria for Mr. Shaw's claim that we "lack the impulse or skills to mix in as collaborative members of society," I plead guilty!

It is precisely because we want our children to grow up with "the impulse and skills to mix in as collaborative members of society" that we are educating them at home. Most parents who have been homeschooling for long believe strongly that home education is by far the best way to give our children the social skills they need. We believe mixing with real people while they are still young will make them much more collaborative members of society than sitting day after day in a classroom full of kids all the same age (and mostly the same race and religion). My children have friends of many ages, races, national backgrounds, social classes, religious affiliations, and economic strata. My 6th-grader thinks it's a shame that her public-schooled friends won't mix with 5th-graders - she has several 5th-grade friends. She also has friends in kindergarten and in high school - as well as many adults. She already has years of practice interacting with all different kinds of people, and I believe she is more than adequately equipped to become a collaborative member of society.

Hmm . . . I wonder if I've managed to ease Mr. Shaw's "troubled" mind about homeschooling as a result of this post? Somehow I doubt it - not because my arguments or evidence are unsound, but because his real objection to my homeschooling is not in the feeble arguments he posted. Mr. Shaw, if he is like most people I know who object to homeschooling, is really protesting the fact that the U.S. Constitution gives me the right to teach my child what I believe is right, rather than what the state or government or Mr. Shaw himself believes is right. Oh, he says parents can teach children what they believe at home, during the time they have them; but how much time is that, really, between school and television and peers? And how much authority does a parent really have when weighed against a teacher who is an "expert" in the subject? Most critics of homeschooling understand this, and want my kids in their system precisely for that reason - so they can also become obedient little "sheep," believing whatever the authority of the moment wants them to believe.

Sorry, Mr. Shaw - I don't buy it. I will not sacrifice my children's education to the whim of those who care more about tolerance than about truth, just to ease your "troubled" mind. You have provided no evidence of your claims of "significant percentages" or "non-trivial numbers." I recommend you get to know some homeschoolers - preferably a lot of them - and then see how "troubled" you remain. Home education, for many families (though certainly not for all), provides the best possible education. Restrictions and regulations are not the answer. The few million children who are home educated in America today are not going to be able to reverse the trends of our society in general, especially if their education is as poor as Mr. Shaw claims. If he wants to be "troubled," I suggest Mr. Shaw look instead at the current condition of public education in America, where the vast majority of our children receive their schooling. Now there's a reason to be troubled!


Meli said...

Good stuff.

I also recommend NHERI for comprehensive studies showing exactly how homeschoolers really turn out--they have studies on academic success, social and emotional comparisons with public schooled kids, and characteristics of adults who were homeschooled. In all of these areas, homeschoolers more than surpass their peers.

The research is clear.

Marcy Muser said...

Meli: I avoided quoting NHERI because many in the national spotlight don't respect them, in spite of their credentials and excellent research. They say NHERI is "an arm of HSLDA" and therefore suspect. The author of this post apparently has little value for figures, statistics, and evidence anyway - he quotes none in his post, only his "troubled" feelings.

Anyone who makes the statement, "Creationists are easily led," clearly lacks much value for truth as demonstrated by evidence anyway. After all, statistics show the majority of Americans are creationists, and certainly the majority of Americans came through our public school system. If creationists are so easily led, how on earth did they come through 13 or more years of public education still believing in creation?