Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Are Our Kids Getting Dumber?

On the blog "ideas from free minds" today, there's an interesting post relating to modern education in America (particularly high school education). The post includes a 12-minute video clip, produced by three young men in a Florida public high school, that is well worth making time to watch. I don't agree with everything they say, but the first 8 minutes and the last minute are revealing and thought-provoking.

The blog text also contains some worthwhile information. (A word of warning, though - toward the bottom there is a picture which includes some text that some of you will consider offensive. It's still worth the read - but you might not want to share it with your kids.) The part that caught me most off guard was this paragraph:

Then consider the greater than $48,000 average cost (four years) of state college tuition and the fact that many students (I’ve seen figures as high as 78.7%) require remediation once they are there. Consider that in 2005, starting salary averages for college grads were between $29,733 and $53,279. Add to it all the idea that you need be degreed before you can answer a phone and it becomes clear that our education system has been set up to weigh students down in debt before they make a dime.

What's frightening to me about the average salary for college grads is that while engineering graduates generally make excellent starting salaries, liberal arts graduates (which in my experience constitute the majority of college grads) generally make no more than about $35,000 to start. How long will it take to pay off almost $50,000 in student loans if you're making less than $40,000 per year? And that doesn't count graduate school, which is often necessary these days in order to get a long-term career position in either the arts or the sciences. My husband and I have been looking into graduate schools lately, and it would appear the least expensive M.A. degrees available, generally from public universities, are at least $25,000. Some cost as much as another $50,000. So by the time our kids get their bachelor's degree and their master's degree, they are looking at a debt of perhaps $100,000 or more. That doesn't include room and board, which must somehow be covered while the student is going to school full-time and trying to make time to study besides.

Anyone wonder why I choose to homeschool, and why my children will be going to college early? :) So click on over, watch the video, read the blog post, and see what you think. What are the problems plaguing public education? And how might they be fixed?

Is the Future Dim for Public Schools?

An article published this morning in the Las Vegas Review Journal claims a recent survey shows that most people in Nevada would not send their children to public school if they were free to choose any available option.

The survey was conducted by the Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Foundation for Educational Choice. In the study, only 11 percent of Nevadans surveyed said they would choose public schools if they could choose between public schools, private schools, charter schools, and home schooling. Eleven percent! Of the rest, 48 percent would choose private schools, 23 percent charter schools, and 15 percent home schooling.

The article quotes Nevada Assembly Education Chairwoman Bonnie Parnell (D-Carson City) in defense of Nevada's public schools. She claims "the poll also provides some evidence that residents believe Nevada's public education system could be better funded." However, the survey showed that 61 percent of respondents believe the level of public education funding is "about right" or "too high." So in spite of the media and the government's repeated public brainwashing that education is not adequately funded, only 39 percent of respondents are willing to buy it any more. How much of our money do we have to give up before politicians figure out that the problem is not funding?

The article also quotes Keith Rheault, Nevada's superintendent of public instruction, who says "the support for voucher schools seen in the poll has not been demonstrated at legislative hearings on the issue."

Hmm - wonder if that might have something to do with the people who are invited to speak at and participate in legislative hearings? Certainly the teacher's unions and school organizations are going to do all they can to turn out as many people against vouchers as possible. Individuals who favor vouchers are much less likely to show up than members of unions; for one thing, many of them have children at home, which makes it difficult to attend long legislative hearings. Has the legislature actually surveyed people to determine how many would take advantage of vouchers? I doubt it - my guess is, they don't want to know how badly the public schools are perceived.

Mr. Rheault also claims, "the school choices listed by respondents also don't seem to reflect what is actually happening."

I wouldn't expect them to do that. The survey specifically asked people what they would do "if they had the freedom to choose any available option." While only about 1 percent of Nevadans currently homeschool, 15 percent say they would if they had the freedom to choose. Cost would certainly be a factor in this equation: Can the family afford to pay for curriculum? Can they afford for one parent to quit working in order to homeschool? Private schools, which were chosen by 48 percent (almost half), are not an option for many families, for the same reason. Charter schools may not be chosen by many of the 23 percent who'd like to choose them because they are simply not available in the area where the respondent lives.

Obviously more than 11 percent of Nevadans do in fact send their children to public schools; for most they don't feel they have another choice. It's unfortunate for residents of that state that they don't have a voucher system. However, it ought to make the public education system thankful; in the future they will be able to use this survey as evidence for why they shouldn't have vouchers. You see, they are right about one thing - if everyone were given vouchers, the public school system would collapse.

I wonder if it's ever occurred to the education establishment that instead of fighting so hard to force more kids into their failing schools, they ought to fix what's wrong with the schools. If the public schools were competitive with private schools, charter schools, and home schools, then handing out vouchers would not hurt them. Do you suppose they'll ever figure that out?

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Homeschooling" Preschool

I've talked a bit in a previous post about homeschooling during the preschool years. Yesterday's Opinion section of the Buffalo News had a wonderful editorial by Beth Kontrabecki Walters, who has decided to buck public opinion and "homeschool" her 2-year-old. What she means is exactly what mothers used to do all the time - she's staying at home with her little boy and giving him a normal life. And the way she's responding to the criticism of well-meaning busybodies is excellent.

Here's an example:

When I hear about socializing my child, I can’t get out of my head the image of my German shepherd. A dog needs socializing.

Truthfully, I’m not terribly concerned about my son harassing the mailman and neighborhood children who walk past the house.

For generations, mine included, we somehow managed to grow into perfectly happy and functional adults; no socialization with scores of other children necessary. You either had your siblings, your cousins or the kid down the street.

I'm afraid I don't quite agree that a preschooler doesn't need socialization. But what kind of socialization does a toddler learn by being removed from his home (usually against his will) and placed in a room with a bunch of other toddlers? (It can't be good!) The socialization a preschooler needs is best provided by parents, by siblings, and by occasional interactions with other kids (at the park, at church, or at a birthday party) - "Be polite," "Be kind," "Share," "Make friends," "Treat others the way you want them to treat you." Most socialization is learned by modeling. Children watch how people around them interact with others, and they imitate what they see, observing how others respond to that imitation and modifying their behavior based on that feedback. So who provides a better model, the child's parents or their peers? And who can provide more appropriate feedback to the child's sometimes-clumsy attempts to mimic the examples around them - a parent, a teacher, or another child? It seems to me the answer is obvious - the parent is both the best source of modeling for the child and the best able to provide instant, appropriate feedback when the child tries a new social behavior.

Here's another example:

Then there’s the issue of activities. Because I choose not to be a member of any "mommy" group and do not send my son to a facility, it can only be concluded that we sit in a dark, quiet house all day staring at the walls. While this may be hard to believe, one can do the exact same activities as performed in preschool, thereby still gleaning the benefits of a preschool education, in the comfort of one’s own abode.

In my opinion, this is a very wise mother. It's frustrating to realize what poor reasons are being offered for why kids "need" to go to preschool! I've already mentioned this before, so I'll try not to get into a lot of detail now. But preschools spend hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars trying to imitate experiences children can have for free at home. Almost every preschool, for example, has little model kitchens so they can pretend to cook and bake; why not just let them stay at home and help Mom cook and bake for real? Teachers spend hours pasting pictures of fruit and vegetables on a bulletin board - isn't it better to take the child to the grocery store and let them actually see, smell, and handle the real thing (and maybe even taste some if Mom buys it and takes it home)? Preschools organize formal "learning experiences" pouring water from a pitcher into a cup, instead of letting kids in on the joy of pouring their own juice into their own little cups (even if they spill a bit). Toy phones are used to teach telephone manners, rather than let the child listen in on Mom's phone conversations and maybe even try it for themselves. In so many ways, preschool experiences are cheap imitations of what the home can easily do for real. Not only that, in the home, these experiences happen much more spontaneously, usually without interrupting the consistent schedules for naps, meals, and outdoor time these little people so desperately need.

Here's this mother's conclusion:

Generations of mothers before me were the sole educators in the lives of their children, teaching them not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but also how to get along in this world. In fact, some of their nonpreschooled progeny went on to make enormous contributions to history. I doubt Thomas Edison attended pre-K.

In the not-so-distant future, I will watch my son board the bus to kindergarten, unable to shield him from dirty words and bad habits, and my home schooling days will be a faint memory. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy these precious years to the fullest.

In fact, Thomas Edison not only didn't attend pre-K, but he got pretty much all his education through homeschooling! And so did Albert Einstein; Alexander Graham Bell; Orville and Wilbur Wright; Claude Monet; Leonardo da Vinci; ten American presidents including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt; George Washington Carver; Pierre Curie; Winston Churchill; Benjamin Franklin; Patrick Henry; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Charles Dickens; Mark Twain; C.S. Lewis; and dozens more. None of these people attended preschool - most of them didn't attend much school at all - and look how they turned out!

So, maybe Ms. Walters will put her son on the bus, and maybe she won't. :) After all these years of bucking public opinion and "homeschooling" her preschooler, maybe she will discover that there are similar advantages to homeschooling for elementary school (and for middle school, and for high school . . . !).

Whether she homeschools long-term or not, though, it's my opinion that she'll never regret the decision to keep her son at home during his preschool years. Children are not born in packs like puppies; they generally come one or two at a time because it's best for them to have the full care and attention of their parents, at least for a few years. Preschool deprives these little guys of the loving care, the routines, and the participation in real life they so desperately need and want during these early years. Good for you, Ms. Walters, and all the other moms like you who go against prevailing opinion and give your little children what they need most - you!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Education and Ice Cream: Why Homeschooling Is Better

CrimsonWife over at Bending the Twigs has a great post, highlighted at the Carnival of Homeschooling (which incidentally is huge this week), entitled "Why Education Is Not Like Making Ice Cream." In her post, she quotes from the former CEO of an ice cream business on the topic of education, particularly in our public schools:

I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

She goes on to explain beautifully why homeschooling is a huge improvement over public education, addressing the majority of the issues cited in this quote. She's done a great job - be sure to click over and read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Homeschooling Regulation - How Far Is Too Far?

The Opinionated Homeschooler has a rather frightening post pointing out how far the anti-homeschooling crowd is willing to go in regulating homeschooling. It's an excellent post, and well worth the read. The post quotes these paragraphs from the New York Times article on the Washington D.C. murders, which I referenced earlier:

Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, said school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children.

“Home schooling removes children from a lot of that surveillance,” Mr. Stevens said, adding that the vast majority of home schooling families are “overwhelmingly trustworthy people who place a very high value on parental autonomy.” And thanks to the advocacy of the legal defense fund, he continued, “they have been largely successful since the late 1980s in getting the law to favor parental rights.”

One example of that, in 1991, disrupted an effort by the District of Columbia to regulate home schooling, with rules that included unannounced home visits and required teachers certification for parents doing the instruction. Christopher Klicka, senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, met with District officials, told them they were on shaky ground because of the 1st, 4th and 14th amendments, and the rules were rescinded.

The Opinionated Homeschooler goes on with this comment:

Unannounced home visits. From representatives of the state. With no probable
cause. For families who have done nothing illegal. On the grounds that
"surveillance" is necessary because school officials are "society's best

Wow! They might as well argue for unannounced home visits by police in everyone's homes. After all, police officers, who are required to report suspicion of crimes, are "society’s best watchdogs" of criminal behavior. "The privacy of the home removes people from a lot of that surveillance." Of course, the vast majority of families are “overwhelmingly trustworthy people who place a very high value on individual autonomy.” And thanks to the advocacy of privacy advocates, “they have been largely successful in getting the law to favor privacy rights.” You get the point!

I find the idea of unannounced home visits frightening, not because I have anything to fear, but because of the implications for individual rights and privacy. How is it that my 11-year-old daughter can have an abortion because of her right to "privacy," but if I choose to homeschool her, we have no such right and could be subject to unannounced home visits?

The last time I checked, the Fourth Amendment still preserves "the right of the people to be
secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, . . . , and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Choosing to homeschool my children does not mean giving up this fundamental right.

And as The Opinionated Homeschooler and others have pointed out, unannounced home visits would not have helped the Jacks children. These children were in school! When they dropped out, the school district did their job, attempting to contact the family and reporting
the children's absence to authorities; the social service agency did not, and because they didn't, the children died. In fact, at least six child welfare workers in D.C. are going to be fired as a result of the failure of DC's Child and Family Services Agency to intervene. If the school district had been making unannounced home visits, they would still have reported to the same agency. These children were murdered as a result of failure to enforce existing regulations, not as a result of too few regulations.

Unannounced home visits to homeschoolers will not prevent child abuse. Requiring all children to go to school will not prevent them from being abused. And quite frankly, "society's best watchdogs" are also sometimes guilty of abusing children. Only enforcement of existing law has a chance of doing that - well, that, and more importantly, the redemption and transformation of human hearts through the power of God.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Is Homeschooling Really To Blame?

On January 12, the New York Times printed an article about a mentally ill woman who was recently discovered to have murdered her four daughters. The article was titled, "Lack of Supervision Noted in Deaths of Home-Schooled," and it began with these paragraphs:
Ten states and the District of Columbia, where Banita M. Jacks was charged on Thursday with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her four daughters, have no regulations regarding home schooling, not even the requirement that families notify the authorities that they are educating their children at home.

The lack of supervision of the home-schooling process, some experts say, may have made it easier last year for Ms. Jacks to withdraw her children from school and the prying eyes of teachers, social workers and other professionals who otherwise might have detected signs of abuse and neglect of the girls.

When I read this, as a homeschooling mom, I was obviously disturbed. It struck me as unlikely that Ms. Jacks was really homeschooling. The further I read in the article, the more I wondered whether it was really the lack of supervision of homeschoolers that was responsible for these girls' deaths.

Apparently I'm not the only person who was concerned about this. Kate, over at "I Think, Therefore I Blog," posted this excellent response to the NYT article. She notes that in fact, five different government agencies had contact with this mother and family during the months surrounding the murders, and none of them chose to act. She also points out that, as noted in the article, Ms. Jacks was required by DC law to submit an "intent to withdraw" letter, which she never did. In fact, her children were not homeschooled - they were truant; and the social workers and police officers who were called out to investigate simply chose to use her claim to be homeschooling as an excuse to ignore her case.

Kate homeschools in Kansas, which requires almost no supervision of homeschoolers. But Ms. Jacks' failure to submit her paperwork would have been unacceptable even there, since it is required that homeschoolers notify the district that they are homeschooling.

I live in Colorado, which requires substantially more supervision. Here, not only is notice required, but our students are required to be tested in grades 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11; and I am required to keep attendance and immunization records as well as teach certain specific subjects. The increased supervision required by the state of Colorado would not have prevented Ms. Jacks from murdering her children, since they only left school in spring of 2007.

Even in the most highly regulated states, those increased regulations would not have stopped Ms. Jacks from murdering her children. No state requires that outsiders visit homeschoolers' homes to supervise on a regular basis - that is an unconstitutional violation of privacy. The most highly regulated states require parents to submit a portfolio each year of the child's work; Ms. Jacks' failure to submit the portfolio at the end of the last school year would have come too late, especially by the time it was investigated and prosecuted. Even if a state did require regular supervisory visits, it would not prevent a parent from committing murder. Ms. Jacks' behavior had already triggered multiple visits from government agencies who could have done something to prevent these deaths; another visit by another person would not have made social workers or police officers any more likely to intervene in an uncomfortable or possibly dangerous situation.

There is simply no amount of regulation that could have prevented this tragedy. Enforcement of existing laws regarding suspicions of child abuse might have proved helpful; further regulation of homeschooling could have done nothing.

Kate's final paragraphs provide an excellent summary of the truth about this case:
In this particular tragedy, the media is attempting to blame homeschooling by saying that it has an inherent “lack of supervision”. The fact is that Banita Jacks’ family had more contact with government agencies than most homeschooling families, and every single one of those agencies dropped the ball.

Homeschooling is not at fault for the deaths of these little girls. A lack of supervision is not to blame for their deaths. The freedom and ease with which families in ten states and Washington, D.C., can elect to homeschool their children are not to blame for these deaths.

Banita Jacks is to blame, as are all of the officials and agencies which did have contact with her but did nothing. They had evidence that she was mentally ill and failing to provide for her children, and they failed to follow up on that evidence.

What they have no evidence of is their claim that Banita Jacks was ever truly a homeschooling mom.

The prejudices of the New York Times and their "authorities" notwithstanding, the only way to have prevented the murders of these children was for those government agencies already in contact with the family to have made different decisions. The fact that she claimed to be homeschooling should not have prevented them from making those decisions. Those girls were public school students, all of them; when they dropped out of sight, absent a notice of intent to withdraw, the school should have pursued action.

Instead of accepting responsibility for their failure to act, authorities representing the position of public education, with the support of the New York Times, are blaming homeschooling and recommending more regulation. In truth, homeschooling families do not require more supervision; school authorities need to learn to discern between true homeschoolers and truants who claim to be homeschooling in order to avoid school involvement. Does this require some adjustment on the part of the schools? Perhaps. But given that the Supreme Court has determined that parents may determine how their children are education, it's the school's responsibility to make that adjustment.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Beginning the Homeschooling Process

I saw a blog entry today from a relatively new mom who's just beginning to think about homeschooling. Her little guy is just two, and she's already evaluating whether he needs preschool or not. She has a lot of serious questions, and I am impressed with her thoughtfulness as she begins the process.

As I wrote a comment on her blog, it occurred to me what a privilege it is to be homeschool our preschoolers. Many women are not even at home during these special years; and of those who are, many don't take seriously the process of teaching, loving, and guiding these precious little people. Here's what I wrote to her, and what I'd recommend to any mom at home with preschoolers:
I remember being in a similar situation to yours. There are so many
questions when you are beginning to think about homeschooling. Fortunately, you
don’t have to decide right away. The best place for your son right now -
regardless of what some may say about how he needs preschool - is at home with
you, as you love him, care for him, and teach him. You have several more years
before you even have to begin the formal process of education, whether you
choose homeschooling or private school or some other option.

By the time my daughter was ready to begin kindergarten (and few states
even require that), I knew I could homeschool her - I had already taught her
more than she would have learned in preschool, just by remaining involved in her
life. She learned her shapes, colors, numbers, and letters - she learned to
count and to help cook and to figure out how many would be at the table if we
had our family and two guests. She learned to take care of a baby (by watching
me, not playing with baby dolls!), to enjoy an excellent story (by cuddling on
the couch, not sitting on a story carpet), to button and zip and snap her
clothes (by doing it, not having Mom finish in a rush and then imitating it on a
doll), to choose healthy foods (by going to the grocery store, not looking at a
food pyramid), to draw a pretty picture, and so many other things that would
have had to be simulated in preschool but could be done in real life at home
with me.

At this point, rather than answer all your questions about
homeschooling (which would make for a REALLY long post!), let me encourage you -
read about it, mix with other homeschoolers, and experiment with home
preschooling for a few years. Check out some homeschooling curricula so you
begin to get a feel for what you do and don’t like. Don’t get too formal about
it - just have fun and get to know your little guy, and guide him as you would
anyway. Go to the library together - and consider checking out books on a
particular subject each time (baby animals, firemen, the circus, sharks, the
mail, poetry, etc.). Play games and do fingerplays and read stories and bake
cookies and take care of a pet and do all the other things you can think of to
keep his life (and yours!) interesting and fun. And by the time you’re ready to
decide whether to homeschool or not, you’ll be so hooked on your little fellow
(and any future siblings) that you won’t be able to imagine sending him off to
school all day!

Here’s a really excellent homeschooling curriculum I used for many
years: They have just put out a new, younger
preschool curriculum that’s perfect for beginning the process - in a year or so
when your son is ready, or even now if you think it’s time.

Have fun - you have a wonderful adventure ahead of you!

I forgot to add - take them for walks, especially to parks or other wild places if you have any available. Let them try "science experiments" - my younger daughter delighted in mixing soap and water or sand and water and seeing what happened. Let them play with bubbles and see what happens. Pray with them.

In the midst of the pressures of living with preschool children, hopefully this will be an encouragement. You don't have to do it all or know it all, and you don't have to decide on a schooling option today. All you have to do is be the best mom to preschoolers you know how to be. That way, whether you homeschool your kids all the way through high school, or send them to school at some point, you've given them a solid foundation for life.