Saturday, April 26, 2008

A More Substantive Answer to Homeschooling "Essay"

On Thursday I posted on Summer's humorous response to Jack Lessenberry's "Essay: Homeschooling." Yesterday, Dana over at Principled Discovery posted an excellent and substantive discussion of the same essay.

Dana's major criticism relates to the quote Jack used about the Hillsdale College honors program director who reportedly said that homeschoolers are "badly deficient in science." Unlike Jack, Dana actually did a bit of research - she actually looked up the quote, for one thing!

Here's Jack's version of the quote:

Hillsdale College is about as conservative a liberal arts school as exists on the planet. But Hillsdale’s honors program director recently told the Detroit Free Press that the home schooled children he sees are typically badly deficient in science education.

Not surprisingly, Jack significantly distorted the quote. In the first place, the original quote came from the Michigan Education report in 2002 - not exactly "recent." In the second place, the original quote did not say they were "badly deficient," only that they were "typically deficient." Inserting the word "badly" makes the situation sound worse than the original statement sounded.

Dana then contacted David Stewart, the former honors program director. She got an answer in less than 12 hours. Not surprisingly, Dr. Stewart made it clear that even the original quote was taken out of context:

I am generally favorably-disposed towards home-schooling (indeed, two of my own children are currently home-schooled), and my 2002 comments to the reporter were positive. He was looking for balance, so I said something to the effect that if homeschoolers have a consistent weakness, it’s laboratory sciences: students are typically better prepared in math, history, English, etc. than in laboratory sciences. I also said that many parents recognize that deficiency and enroll their children in a local community college during the senior year of high school.

Let's see . . . "IF homeschoolers have a consistent weakness" doesn't sound like students are "typically deficient," much less "typically badly deficient." Taking a community college class or two during your senior year of high school also doesn't sound like "badly deficient" to me. And isn't interesting how the reporter managed to completely leave out pretty much the entire context of the quote - Dr. Stewart's favorable disposition toward homeschooling, the fact that he homeschools his own kids, and his statement that homeschooled students are typically better prepared in math, history, and English. The "balance" the reporter was looking for was all that showed up in the original article. Hmmm - why do I sense an agenda here?

Dana also requested a response from Hillsdale College, and got an answer from their Associate Vice President, which included this:

I asked our admissions office to compare last year’s ACT science scores of omeschooled students with their conventionally-educated counterparts. The homeschoolers averaged in the 85th percentile on the science portion of the test, scoring one point below the average of all admitted students. Their scores in non-science areas were generally superior to the conventionally schooled students, and by a much greater margin than the alleged “deficiency” that Mr. Lessenberry suggests would warrant an enormous intrusion into the lives of homeschooling families.

All in all, our experience is that homeschooling is not only more cost effective but can produce results comparable to or better than private, parochial or public schools. For those interested in academic studies, there is a vast amount of literature available to the public supporting this conclusion.

It seems clear that Jack is badly distorting both the wording and the meaning the original quote. I posted this comment on his blog less than 48 hours after he posted his "Essay" - not surprisingly, he did not respond.

I have a question for you: Why is it that with all the comments left here, the responses you've given relate to typos and to your own credentials to speak to the issue (which quite frankly aren't all that impressive)? Why have you not dealt with the substance of the comments posted here?

You see, throwing more money at a broken school system isn't going to fix it. The schools in our state get well over $6000 per student per year, and still can't educate their kids; I spend about $1000 per year for two students, and my kids are far ahead of most public schooled students both academically and socially. And that's the norm for homeschooled kids - they are far better off than most public-schooled kids in all areas, including academic, social, and emotional.

So some homeschooled kids might need some make-up work in science. They can take some classes or do some reading and take care of that kind of deficiency. At least my kids can read well, write well, and do math; they can find Alaska on a map (even though they've never been there); they can identify the Vice-President of the United States; they have a solid understanding of history, including not only what happened but why; they know how to learn and actually WANT to continue doing it; they can relate well to other people who don't live in the same neighborhood with them, as well as to older people and to children. I don't mean to say that science deficiencies are OK - science is a critically important part of our homeschool curriculum, and my own kids will not get to college deficient in science education; but there's more to life than any one academic subject, and my kids' ability and desire to learn mean that if they should have any academic deficiencies, they will be able to make those up fairly

So where's your answer to the substance of these comments? How do you justify advocating that the current education system, which even you admit doesn't do a very good job of educating the children it does have, should regulate and control and prescribe the education of homeschooled kids?

Not only did he not respond to this comment, but he also ignored two comments from faculty at Hillsdale College, including one from the man who has been the honors program director there for five years and has never spoken with the Detroit Free Press or with Jack.

In short, not only is Jack's essay badly researched and poorly written, but he has taken quotes out of context, added words to them, and failed to respond to substantive disagreement. So much for objective criticism of the homeschooling movement.

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