Homeschooling Reservations

When it comes to a child’s primary and secondary education, parents have three choices: public, private, home. Each has both its peculiar advantages and its undeniable drawbacks.

Teaching freshpersons this past semester I was presented with the strangest study in contrasts, all the reasons to home school, and all the reasons not to. The reasons to run screaming from public education were the four female education majors in my freshman-level class. One was a senior, completely incapable of constructing a thesis statement or of taking even the tiniest steps toward stating a position, let alone defending one. She earned D’s and F’s on her papers, which consisted largely of quotes strung together from the text with no interpretive context whatsoever, and she came regularly to my office hours and cried because she found my class so hard. I asked her if she’d taken composition classes. Yes, she claimed, and they were not nearly as unreasonably difficult as my class was. [Clearly someone, or lots of someones, had not done this young lady a favor by allowing her to become a college senior incapable of writing so much as a thesis statement.] The other education majors weren’t much better. One look at them, the future elementary-school teachers of my hypothetical children, and the realization that is the germ of so much homeschooling came to me: I could teach circles around these girls. Why on earth would I put my hypothetical children into their incompetent hands?

But at the front of the very same classroom sat the reason I might want to do just that: an extraordinarily bright young man, whose grasp of intellectual history was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a college freshman, who had won state competitions in Latin, and who [sigh] had no qualms about repeatedly announcing the fact. He was among the most competent writers in the class–his essays were perhaps the most grammatically flawless I’ve ever seen in ten years of teaching. But he was a complete social disaster. He dominated the discussion in an extremely loud voice. He hadn’t the first clue about the basic classroom etiquette I have never even had to hint at for a single other student in all my years of teaching–don’t interrupt the teacher, don’t run roughshod over the discussion, let others have a chance to speak, don’t sit in the front of the class and disdainfully read the newspaper during a discussion you consider beneath you, don’t go on tangents just to show off. I spoke to him several times about toning it down, letting others have the floor, staying on topic, but he never seemed to get it, and finally, after all of this subtle and not-so-subtle hinting around, one day I was forced to tell him flat-out, in front of the entire class, that he was simply wrong about some aspect of his analysis. After that fateful day, he disappeared, and I have to admit that class was much easier to run without him jumping in and attempting to derail the discussion to his own preferred topics every five minutes. I often felt as if this poor overeducated eighteen-year-old was, socially, little more than a toddler yanking on my skirt, screaming for my attention.

I can’t speak to private education, having had no experience with it, but I’ll cheerfully admit that public education is often shockingly bad. I and all of my siblings were subjected to thirteen years of public school each, and when we get together one of the games we occasionally slip into is comparing the dumbest things we ever had to do and the dumbest classes we ever had to endure. There was the substitute teacher several of us had in junior high who liked to tell the story of how a bear had ripped the bone from his leg, and he was forced to use his shotgun as a makeshift bone. (The hunting-and/or-fishing tall tale was a flourishing, almost galloping genre among a certain minority of the faculty.) After a time he had to preface this story by announcing that the principal had asked him to please stop telling it but that–of course!–he was going to tell it anyway. There was the history teacher who didn’t bother much with history but used his eighth-graders as a captive audience for the antics of a bizarre alter ego who placed a prune at the end of the flagpole, pledged allegiance to it daily, and talked a lot about his sacred home in Ulaan Bator and spontaneous human combustion. There was the fifth-grade teacher one of us endured who was obsessed with Satanic ritual, and who didn’t teach much but really liked to coax all of her ten-year-olds into describing the Satanic rituals they were, she desperately hoped (!), performing in their back yards in the middle of the night. (This was the eighties.) In high school there were the inevitable golf and tennis coaches who went through the barest notions of teaching us social studies or math, and there was the brain-searing horror that was drivers’ ed. There was the music teacher who generally couldn’t be prevailed upon to show up until class had been underway for twenty minutes or half an hour. And there were the touchy-feely personality-test and health classes that tried to instill self-esteem and occasionally reviewed all the different kinds of drugs we might be offered and how, precisely, to ingest each to maximum effect. Although we all had devoted and memorable teachers who actually knew and loved their subjects and enjoyed the company of children or teenagers, it’s not surprising, given what public-school teachers are paid, that such were in the minority. To a certain extent, public school is down upon its knees before students begging to be satirized. It’s almost impossible to endure thirteen years of it without becoming a hopeless smart-aleck.

I certainly can’t say I’d never home school. Such decisions ultimately depend on a number of unforeseeable factors–the quality of local public education, the affordability of private alternatives, and most important, the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of the individual children involved. But I have to confess to having as many reservations about homeschooling as I do about public school. Homeschooling was much less common, more bizarre, more suspect in the eighties, but of course it’s always had a serious toehold in Utah. And I well remember the few home-schooled kids who started high school with the rest of us (by then) incurably zoned-out smart-alecks. They were markedly different in ways that exceeded the usual range of difference, almost uniformly socially inept in the same ways that my unfortunate student was, excessively dependent on adults and completely unable to relate to their peers. Perhaps the homeschooling landscape is different now, when so many more home school and homeschooled children have so many more opportunities to interact with each other. But for someone like me who’s already borderline deficient in the area of social intelligence, extended homeschooling would probably have been a disaster.

During our long years of public school, my mother repeatedly informed us that never had any illusions that we’d learn all that much there, but that she believed that we needed to be socialized. She definitely had a point, and she was kind enough about all that that socialization involved to allow us occasional mental health days and to be not-so-secretly amused during the periods I got through school by reading a book all day (although she was, understandably, considerably less amused at my very bad grades).

Hypothetical kid ‘o mine, it’s off to the land of the public-school loonies for you, I’m afraid. But I’m not completely heartless. Just read a book all day to yourself. No one will be the wiser.

61 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Since background leads to bias, let me first state my background:

    1. My mother is a K-5 teacher (all grades), both before I was born and later when most of her kids were gone. She’s taught in both inner-city and tony suburban public school districts. Also, a sister has taught for over a decade, mostly 4th and 5th.

    2. Dad was a professor in the sciences, preferring to focus on teaching rather than research (but he was a recognized published researcher).

    3. Two siblings and a sister-in-law have secondary ed degrees; one taught for a season and left the profession, one is a SAHM who didn’t enter the profession, and the third looked at the salary options and went back to school for another profession.

    4. I have a smattering of extended-family relatives who have taught in both public and private schools; some have served in leadership roles (principal, curriculum designer, etc.).

    5. I have three sets of relatives who have home-schooled, some exclusively and some for just a year or two. I also have at last count, 4 acquaintances who are homeschooling.

    6. I have two children who have been labeled “gifted” by the local (public) school district in Texas. They are involved in some interesting programs here in our local school district.

    7. I have multiple degrees in the mathematical sciences/engineering and in humanties/language, and DW has a background in literature, writing, and art.

    Now, with that particular viewpoint and mindset, here’s my thought:

    – We have been blessed to live in a great suburb with a top public school district, and my children attend those schools.
    – To date, my children have not been able to stump me with a homework assignment. I’m still able to teach them when they have problems.
    – None of their teachers have been “perfect” by any means, but taken all of the subject matters and skills as a whole, each of their teachers has been excellent.
    – My wife and I have opted to outsource parts of the educational experience to their teachers, and we augment that with more specialized stuff. (The 11-year-old and I have been doing more focused astronomy stuff than her school could possibly do, but I let her teacher focus on the stuff I’m not as interested in teaching her, but that it is necessary. The 8-year-old is very into creative writing. My wife and his gifted program spend time on that, and we let his teacher focus on the math.)

    Regarding other children I’ve seen:

    – The children who I have seen home-schooled for “cultural” reasons are years behind socially. By these, I mean that the parents are afraid of exposing them to worldly evils, or because the parents have non-traditional beliefs that might make their children targets. These kids are way behind in any social environment that isn’t carefully crafted to match their own upbringing. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. They may know facts but they’re useless in any group situation (I’ve observed this at Church, at family reunions, etc.).

    – The children who have been home-schooled in small groups do much better, but where’s the line between homeschooling and just having a private school?

    – I’ve seen a child home-schooled for about a year after his family had been living in England for several years and they returned early than expected. He had some problems fitting into the junior high, so the mom home-schooled him for a year before he went to high school.

    – The home-schooling situations I’ve seen work out are where the parents themselves were capable of being educators. Sadly, that’s not always the case. In one particularly glaring case I know, the mom just doesn’t being held to a “schedule”. Reading her blog, it’s long past overdue that she give up homeschooling for her own sanity, but she’s determined to stick it out.

    – This is not really a criticism, but I’ve often thought it’s too bad that the good home-schoolers aren’t helping their local schools in a capacity like a PTA leader or other volunteer.

    – Those among us who really do a great job home-schooling, tend to live in school districts where the instruction really is without peer.

    Yes, we’re blessed enough to be able to cherry-pick residency into a great school district. No, we’re not going to apologize for that. We spent a lot of time looking at school districts when we bought our house. I have turned down a couple of lucrative job offers that would have forced me into either a multi-hour commute or reside in a vastly inferior school district.

    Since I’m already paying good property tax dollars to support my school district, I feel that I should be extracting as much value as I can from that, and then combining that instruction with whatever parental instruction/guidance I (and my wife) can provide above and beyond what the schools do. I don’t see it as economically advantageous to throw away that educational access I’m already paying for. Even if there were a different economic model in place (vouchers, etc.), I’d still send my children to their public schools because they are roughly equivalent to most private schools.

    My older two also take music lessons and play a sport (both are mandatory). We also do Achievement day/Cub Scouts. We spend lots of time at the library. My daughter will probably start getting into some advanced summer science programs and my son will get into some summer drama programs. My children don’t have video games.

    In short, I prefer to partner with my community schools. Let them do well what they can do well, and I’ll then have fun with the “cool” stuff, help my children with the basic if they need it, and otherwise just be a parent.

  2. What’s that saying about hard cases making bad laws? I think running from public schools based on a few bubble-headed education majors is unwise; running from homeschooling based on one socially inept student is equally unwise. You didn’t say anything about the dozens of publically-schooled students you have had who have done just fine in your class and you didn’t say anything about the kids who you never even knew had been homeschooled because they didn’t see the need to advertise that fact.

    I think what you need to give to your future children based on your experience is this: if you send them to schools, you don’t get to ignore their education (even if they come home with good grades). You need to periodically evaluate their work and be sure that they are learning what they need to. You obviously have the background to do this on your own, but if you didn’t, I’d recommend the _What Your X Grader Needs to Know_ series as compact, easily accessible way to determine what a child should be learning.

    If you were to homeschool them, then you’ve learned from your experience that you need to teach social skills to your children just as deliberately as you would need to teach writing to them. Attending homeschool groups, coops, book groups, story time at the library, field trips, etc., etc. will help; in the absence of a peer group dictating behavior, you may (I do) need to explicitly teach things such as not dominating the conversation, etc.

  3. <blockquote>I think running from public schools based on a few bubble-headed education majors is unwise; running from homeschooling based on one socially inept student is equally unwise. You didn’t say anything about the dozens of publically-schooled students you have had who have done just fine in your class and you didn’t say anything about the kids who you never even knew had been homeschooled because they didn’t see the need to advertise that fact.</blockquote>

    Sure, I’d definitely agree. I didn’t mean to suggest I’d actually make schooling decisions for my own children based on a few random experiences with my own students in a single class. I started by describing my experiences with these students for a couple of reasons: first, because it was those experiences that got me thinking about the thorny problem of how to oversee the education of one’s children, and second, as a lead-in to further, somewhat more abstract reflections, as immediate personal experience so often is. But I meant it as a personal story in which the students I encountered represent the risks of either approach, not as any kind of a representative sample of outcomes.

  4. I know people who home school that also send their kids to public school for certain subjects. It’s not always an either-or scenario.

    I personally love the idea of kids taking responsibility for their own learning, which home school can really perpetuate. But I went to a very unusual elementary school in the 70s (open concept, kids learned at their own pace).

    When my kids started middle school I told them point blank, getting good grades is not about how much you learn. It’s about figuring out what your teacher wants and giving it to them. Sad but very true. My smartest kid has been getting horrible grades for two years because he just couldn’t get his homework turned in. (Straight A’s on tests.)

  5. I’m on the verge of pulling my first grader and homeschooling. His teacher is a complete nincompoop- one of my pet peeves is grammar, and when a teacher cannot conjugate a verb, I cringe.

    Currently I’m giving myself a month to demonstrate I can stick to a schedule and be disciplined enough to actually do this. In our school district we have the option Susan M mentioned; we can check in with the local school for social aspects and certain subjects, but conduct much of our study from home. This gives me confidence that I might be able to do this without ending up with a bunch of socially inept kids who can recite German verbs but can’t take turns in a discussion.

  6. getting good grades is not about how much you learn. It’s about figuring out what your teacher wants and giving it to them. Sad but very true.

    This is certainly true, in my experience. It occurs to me that there’s a parallel with the programs of the church; sometimes we have to choose between fulfilling the requirements of the program to the letter and really ministering to the needs of the individual.

    So what do you do, either as a student or as a parent, when you find that getting good grades gets in the way of learning? (I think Kiskilili’s thread on giftedness may be more directly related to this question, come to think of it….)

  7. I agree that the choices are not usually so stark. My current freshie had the choice of at least four different public high schools: International Baccalaureate, Cambridge program, university demonstration school, or local public high school She chose the local public high school because of the outstanding band program, and because of the many AP courses offered. They also offer statistics both at the AP and regular level, which is a great fourth year of high school math. All her AP-level teachers have a master’s degree; our recently retired American History teacher had a doctorate.

    Plus there were other magnet programs for health care and agriculture (which many pre-vet students take), but just for a college-bound kid, she had that many choices just within the public school system.

    I consider that I am responsible for my children’s education, of which public school is just a part. We do other things as well, like after-school art and music, and our summer film series (they have to watch 2 films per week, generally classics or educational value like Gone With the Wind, Three Sovreigns for Sarah, Lawrence of Arabia, The Picture Bride, The Atomic Cafe, etc.). We also travel a fair bit, and that’s contributed to their education as well.

    I think that the organizational skills they learn (turning in homework, meeting deadlines, not losing handouts) are very important life skills.

    I homeschooled for a semester when we went on sabbatical, so I keenly understand how much my children get from their school experience, and from me.

  8. I never said getting good grades can get in the way of learning. I just mean that grades are not always a reflection of how much a person has learned.

    Our school system is very much geared towards certain learning types, and kids with other learning styles just tend to get medicated.

  9. Our school system is very much geared towards certain learning types, and kids with other learning styles just tend to get medicated


    Oh man, you’re not kidding! A teacher actually called a friend of mine to proclaim that said friend’s son needed meds. As far as I know, she violated the law in doing so, and about a dozen ethics codes in the process.

  10. I grew up in Southern California and my parents were on the lower end of the income scale. I am the product of really poor schools. My high school was the type that had 600 freshman enter and only 300 graduate. And only 30 or so of those who graduated went on to college. I witnessed at least 2 fights in class that involved things like chairs being thrown, etc. My sophmore year of school we actually had a riot between two gangs that shut down the entire school. After that we had random searches and metal detector testing and the entire school was on lockdown. We also had some pretty crappy teachers. On the other hand, I enjoyed most of my high school time. I never felt physical unsafe. I joined the Geography Bowl and Knowledge Bowl teams and several other clubs. I had a great group of friends and we all took classes together. My family moved to another state on the east coast right before my senior year and it was like a whole different world. I’d never even heard of AP classes before I got to my new school, for example. I think in some ways my academic preparation wasn’t very good, especially in math and science. On the other hand, I got a four-year scholarship to BYU and I’m currently applying to PhD programs. I’ve never considered homeschooling my kids, probably just because I figured “if I could survive that, you can too”. On the other hand, I recognize that education in school is only part of the equation. Much of what I know I learned outside of school from reading, travel with my family (my mom is a big history buff and always took us on adventures), and things like that. I think I also just have the sort of personality that works well with school. Some kids don’t. I do plan to be more proactive than my parents in being involved in my children’s education and their schools. I think one benefit of public education for me was introducing me to the idea of academia and going to college. My parents didn’t go to college and I didn’t really know many people who had, so the influence of teachers and other kids who were going to college was a big help for me.

  11. Public schooling didn’t prevent me from being an obnoxious, self-centered, little know-it-all who constantly talked over everyone else in a conversation and had hardly any good friends.

    Just a guess, but I doubt it would have made one iota of difference, one way or the other, whether Eve’s obnoxious homeschooler had gone to the local junior high and been a dork there as opposed to just being a dork at home. At a certain level, socialization is not learned. It’s just something you are as a result of personality and family upbringing.

    Also keep in mind that we aren’t just talking about generic family A and generic family B, and one of them homeschools and the other doesn’t. People choose homeschooling for a variety of reasons. A lot of parent choose it because their child has a “mental/personality disorder” that prevents them from having anything resembling a productive time in class. Some of these people pull their kids out after finding that their kid was held in a restraining position for an entire hour at school today.

    That kid is just going to be a social trainwreck, no matter what you do with him.

    Other homeschool parents choose to do it because, to put it bluntly, they are unstable, conspiracy-theory, fundamentalist, basket-cases with plenty of ammo and a Holy Bible in their bunker.

    Again, their kids are going to be rejects no matter where they get their schooling.

    And then you have to actually look at the public schools and question whether “socialization” via Lord of the Flies methodology is really socialization at all.

  12. I have had some of the same experiences with homeschooled students as Eve. Homeschooled students need to know what to do when people disagree with them. This is not based on one or two students, but the two dozen or so I’ve taught over the years. As Julie says, I’m sure that can be dealt with by the homeschooler, but in my experience it usually hasn’t been — maybe because it interferes with the reason for homeschooling in the first place? Also, isolating gifted students in homeschooling makes their giftedness a learning disorder rather than a gift.

    Like FoxyJ I went to very tough schools with mediocre teachers. I feel like the lessons I learned there are beyond invaluable: how to deal with conflict and even violence; how to get what I need out of an apathetic system; how to network with the right people for the right reasons; how to be interested when things are boring; and most important, how to be an individual in a world that wanted to deny me that.

  13. There’s been some kinds of quantitative research on home schooling versus public schooling. The research is problematic because there’s not even a ghost of random assignment; people who are home schooled are probably really different in a lot of ways from people who aren’t. But the research suggests that there’s probably not a lot of difference, on the average, between home-schooled kids and public-schooled kids on academic achievement or social skills. When there’s a significant difference on either dimension, it usually cuts against home schools — but the studies with the richest sets of covariates find the fewest differences.

    All that aside, I think there’s one clear, serious drawback to being home-schooled: loss of the culture-defining misery that is public school. That experience is pretty much the one and only shared aspect of American-ness, and losing it seems a perhaps irreplaceable barrier to full membership in our society.

  14. I think in some ways my academic preparation wasn’t very good, especially in math and science. On the other hand, I got a four-year scholarship to BYU

    But see, that’s the advantage of NOT being in such a competitive program. Your class rank and grades are higher.

    My girls could never get in to BYU and will struggle to be admitted to our state’s flagship school. In their Honors and AP classes, the grading is tough. They generally keep about a B+, which is fine with me because I know that when only 1-2 As are given per class, the grades have real meaning.

    But it screws the kids for college entrance.

  15. Naismith, if they have B+’s on average, they would most probably qualify for BYU. It’s a common myth that BYU is very selective, but it’s actually less selective than most state’s flagship state universities.

  16. You can definitely get into BYU with B+s

    My biggest reservation with homeschooling is that I don’t believe I can do a better job than the public school teachers (I can’t teach Latin or Greek or Grammer or Math as well as I think they can.) I’m not brilliant like Julie Smith is.

    We have a friend who pushes for everyone to homeschool who’s kids are doing well, but I am discouraged because some of the people they are pushing to homeschool are frankly, completely unable to speak english properly (and not because they speak a different language). It boggles my mind that anyone would promote homeschooling to someone in such circumstances.

    I think Julie is spot on that as parents, we have to be very assertive in our children’s educations and make sure our kids are getting the best they can. I would move to make sure my kid got into the right school (If vouchers were not available.)

    My wife is a private voice teacher and works in connection with 3 local high schools, and the cultures within the schools are different. Part of it is because the school in the wealthier part of town has students with parents who hold teacher’s feet to the fire. These parents are very involved and many teachers are afraid of being fired. (I think all teachers should be afraid of being fired.) The other schools are different culturally, and while the kids typically like the other schools better, the one school outperforms it’s peers consistently in almost every program (not counting football)

  17. Seth, I think I pretty much agree; home-schooling versus public schooling is a minuscule treatment in comparison with differences in genetic endowments. Actually a lot of research also suggests that most parenting decisions are also totally irrelevant in child-rearing outcomes; what seems to matter most are genetics and peer networks. Home-schooling may allow parents more control over peer networks — but that has its own drawbacks, doesn’t it?

    RE socialization via Lord of the Flies, it seems like an approach with a long and perhaps even venerable heritage in Western civilization, doesn’t it? If you ever want to feel positively wonderful about American public schools, read Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel about Peruvian military schools, La Ciudad y los Perros, or The Time of The Hero in English, for reasons I can’t quite understand.

  18. You can definitely get into BYU with B+s

    No, you can. But you appear to be a male. Many more women apply to BYU than males, but they try to maintain some kind of parity, so many more women are rejected (at least in the data I saw a few years ago).

  19. Naismith, the most recent published data showed that BYU admitted about 77% of its female applicants and about 80% of its male applicants. The university has sometimes allowed its incoming classes to be as much as 60% female.

  20. Roasted Tomatoes, can you link to your research? I agree that all hsing research is problematic, but what you write of is the opposite of the research that I have encountered. Here is one example concerning socialization:

    Norbert, as for your second paragraph in #11, I’d just caution you to think about your classmates: What % of them were also able to overcome the difficulties of your educational experience and what % of them were harmed by it?

    Matt W., I think one of the biggest myths of homeschooling is that the parent has to be really smart. S/he doesn’t. If you gave me a high school educated person with decent oral language skills (i.e., her kids don’t hear s/v disagreements and “ain’t” all day) who is organized and disciplined, she’d do just as well by her kids as I do. The only issue is whether, based on her own education/experiences she’d choose good curricula. If she thinks, ‘well, I never had pre-cal and I turned out OK,’ then you may have problems. Once past that, I don’t think the parent’s knowledge/education level matters much.

    I do agree with Matt (and, presumably, others here) that homeschooling is not a good option for many (most?) families. There are opportunity costs, financial costs, etc., involved. I dont’ push people to hs because if you need pushing, you shouldn’t do it.

    One final reminder: please don’t commit the fallacy that just because you knew 1 or 12 messed-up homeschooled kids that all homeschooled kids are messed up. Not only is that a problem of over-generalization but there are two other issues: (1) the kids who you never knew were homeschooled aren’t part of your sample, and they are more likely to be the normal ones and (2) no one ever sees a weird ps kid kid and thinks, “huh, must be the public school” but when they see a weird hs kid they often think “huh, must be the homeschooling.”

  21. Interesting thoughts, Eve.

    I have to say, my impression from the limited description isn’t necessarily of a kid who was damaged by homeschooling (though that may be the case). My first thought on reading your description was, that’s a classic Asperger’s syndrome kid.

    Public schools can be both easy and hard on Asperger kids. Easy, because the material covered is often easy to master. Hard, because schools really don’t teach socialization, kids are expected to just pick it up. And Asperger kids don’t.

    I’m generally with Julie on the problem of extrapolation. I’ve known very normal and very messed-up kids from each environment.

    As for where there rubber hits the road — well, my kids have gone to public schools. In part, because M. and I don’t have the time or energy to home school; in part, because we did fine in public schools, and the kids all seem to be in one piece so far, too. 🙂 It’s a collaborative process, though. We have talked with teachers and such when there are concerns, and we work with the kids on homework, extra projects, and such. Ultimately, I think that public schools are most effective (just like home schooling, I’d guess) when parents get involved.

  22. If you gave me a high school educated person with decent oral language skills (i.e., her kids don’t hear s/v disagreements and “ain’t” all day) who is organized and disciplined, she’d do just as well by her kids as I do.

    Except her kids wouldn’t know greek. Oh, and what if she didn’t do well in Math? (Are you good at Math?)

  23. Matt W., the Greek program that I use now [and the Latin program that I have used in the past ] could [both] be used by parents who didn’t know the language as long as they were willing to put in the time to learn along with their children.

    As for math: there are plenty of curricula for math-phobic and/or math-ignorant parents.

  24. Thanks to all for a lively discussion. I admit that I expected no less on this topic–parenting and schooling and breastfeeding and such certainly have a way of generating lots and lots of opinions!

    I’m a bit swamped at the moment and can’t respond in the depth l’d like to, but I’m reading with interest..and now contemplating the possibility of taking myself out of graduate school and homeschooling myself. On mature deliberation, I think my peculiar combination of assets and deficits might just require the personalized touch of in-house management (read: less stress, easier access to peanut butter, chocolate, and junk fiction).

    (Of course, do I trust myself to do a good job?)

  25. I should also point out that I’m not entirely certain that a high level of education and technical competence really translates into a good K-12 teacher. I’ve seen some highly educated people that would be utterly lost in a classroom. However, my younger sister would probably do very well. But she has always received poor marks in key subjects in college. Yet, it is precisely because she had to work so hard for those subjects that she is exactly the sort of person who would teach the subjects very well. By contrast, often people for whom the subjects come easy are at a complete loss when it comes to explaining it to others.

    In short, I think the role of smarts in teaching is over-stated.

  26. I’m going to do this too! I’m planning to found a university for myself and develop a curriculum for subjects I’d like to study. I want to have a trivium and a quadrivium, since I like these medieval terms. Also I’d like to have a coat of arms, and school colors, and maybe a school song. Maybe even a school uniform. I want to be able to express solidarity with myself, after all.

  27. Eve, it should be known, actually attempted to homeschool me when we were younger. Not only did she teach me to read, when we played school, it was quite serious; I still recall being assigned to read Johnny Tremain, and answer discussion questions about it. (And I thought it was fun!) So maybe she is a closet homeschooler after all. 😛

  28. <blockquote>Yet, it is precisely because she had to work so hard for those subjects that she is exactly the sort of person who would teach the subjects very well. By contrast, often people for whom the subjects come easy are at a complete loss when it comes to explaining it to others.</blockquote>

    Thanks, Seth, for a good point which is causing me to rethink my perhaps hasty dismissal of my education-major students. Some of my experiences have tended to confirm this as well. When I was tutoring high-school students, I often found that I was a better math tutor than I was an English tutor, precisely because I’m so far away from my math at this point that I had to sit down with the book and figure out the concepts myself before I could explain them to the students. Having just gone through the process myself, I found it much easier to walk them through it. But trying to teach them how to do things I do intuitively, like organize an essay, was often much more difficult.

    Lynnette, heh heh, I’m afraid I don’t remember that particular episode. I’m not sure whether I should be more alarmed at my schoolmarmish behavior or at your pleasure in it!

  29. Hey, Kiskilili, how about we form a homeschool musical play group alliance between our two homeschools so that we can ensure we have a social skill or two. We can play Bach badly and then have chocolate snacks. While we eat the snacks, we can assume the parental role and stand around the kitchen and confide in each other in hushed, horrified tones shocking tales of our respective bad behavior. Eve wouldn’t learn a word of ancient Greek this week, she simply refuses even to look at the aorist, I’m positively at my wits’ end

  30. I’m not at all sure what to think about home schooling, so what follows is just my thinking out loud.

    What I really like about the idea of public schools, more than anything else, and in spite of my own negative experiences, is the potential for developing community. I feel reluctant to give up on that.

    But: in the example in your post the out-of-control homeschooled student had not been socialized for appropriate classroom interaction specifically (among other things?), and I can see how being in a very small, intimate learning environment might lead people to see themselves as the logical center of attention around which all discussion necessarily revolves, and unprepared to relinquish the floor for other perspectives or defer to the instructor.

    But do you think there’s a possibility that public schooling might inappropriately socialize people negatively in the opposite direction–to believe that comments or questions are unwelcome or to defer excessively to the instructor (having endured tyrannical displays of authority in the past)?

    I always personally gritted my teeth at the explanation that 6 1/2 miserable hours a day was necessary for some vague and bizarre socialization process masquerading unconvincingly as an education; to me it smacked too much of a convenient Hairshirt Approach to schooling. When I was in sixth grade I remember being really struck by the amount of time we spent congratulating ourselves that, unlike private school or home school brats, we managed to be proletarian and still be brilliant. This all leads me to suspect that parental insecurities lie at the heart of many of these discussions. In the end, public schools are in most respects the easiest choice for parents, but no parent wants to believe that they are doing anything other than what’s in the best interest of the children. (The most desirable situation is to have “bargain” children: with minimal exertion of effort on your part, they nevertheless become brilliant, well-adjusted, educated adults!) So there might well be genuine socialization benefits to be had in our public schools, with the teachers pledging allegiance to prunes and explaining how to make marijuana brownies. But there’s also reason to want to believe that, if you know what I mean. Who wants to admit that all those hours upon hours spent learning to add zeroes or being forced to sing cheesy songs at the top of one’s lungs were exactly what they appear to be: a complete waste of time?

  31. Yeah, Eve! You ruined us with your unauthorized homeshooling and your willy-nilly curriculum! In the summer after first grade, just for fun, you taught me how to “borrow” arithmetically. Then when I started second grade I discovered we were going to spend the entire year learning how to borrow–every day it was explained to us again, exactly the same way, in hopes that yet more people would understand it. Painfully boring.

  32. Kiskilili, good points. As I’m thinking about what I got out of public school, I think what I value as much as anything is the hilarity of sitting around at family gatherings telling tales on all of our poor overworked understandably half-insane public schoolteachers. (You in particular tell it so well as to make it an almost irresistible infliction on the next generation.) It seems like public school is above all such a great place to get…good material for stories.

    On the other hand, I really loved school as a child. I hated it as a teenager, but I would have felt seriously, seriously deprived if I’d been homeschooled in elementary school. I loved the rituals and the alphabet over the blackboard and my second-grade teacher who played the cello and inspired me to do the same and my desk and crayons and my friends….For the most part, my elementary-school teachers were good. I think that overall it was a lot more positive experience for me than it was for you. It wasn’t until junior high, which is also when everyone starts treating all students with automatic suspicion, like little convicted felons (and of course all of the social persecution), that I started hating school.

    So I guess I’m back to the ambiguity of Square One: as much as anything it depends on the individual child.

    Oh, yes, I wasn’t supposed to be here at all. Speaking of school, I’m supposed to be grading papers….

  33. While we eat the snacks, we can assume the parental role and stand around the kitchen and confide in each other in hushed, horrified tones shocking tales of our respective bad behavior.

    Fabulous! And then we can send ourselves to detention together!

  34. On a slightly more serious note, I’d actually be interested to know if there’s much research on the role of siblings in education (whether of the public, private, or home-school variety); my memory of elementary school is that I’d picked up a lot of what was taught there from my older siblings long before we got to it.

    But back to the topic of this post, one of the potentially valuable things I see in public education is that the variety of teachers means that you’re exposed to a lot of different views. In high school I took classes from characters ranging from ex-Mormon atheist feminists to dedicated Rush Limbaugh disciples, and I think it was good for me to have to consider their various perspectives. (At the very least, it honed my debating abilities and encouraged me to question authority, which may or may not have been an unambiguous good. 🙂 ) But I do think there’s something to be said for having to interact with teachers (and peers) who see the world in fundamentally different ways, and it seems like it would be more difficult to do that in a homeschooling context.

  35. “I would have felt seriously, seriously deprived if I’d been homeschooled in elementary school”

    How can you know that? You might have hated it, but you might have adored long afternoons curled up against a sunny window with a historical novel or spending hours at the creek with other homeschoolers doing whatever it is kids do when you finally relent and tell them that they can go in the creek or doing science projects at the kitchen table with your mom and siblings.

    “I do think there’s something to be said for having to interact with teachers (and peers) who see the world in fundamentally different ways, and it seems like it would be more difficult to do that in a homeschooling context.”

    I’m glad that you had the experience of having high school teachers of a variety of political persuasions; most kids probably won’t be that lucky. Yes, it is possible for a homeschool parent to thoroughly inculcate their children into whatever crazy beliefs that they have, but it is also possible–in a world liberated from textbooks and state standards and waiting for the slowest 10% of students–to expose your own kids to a wide variety of viewpoints. Just to give you an idea of one way that I do this: we don’t have a history textbook. When we study ancient Egypt, we read a half dozen books about it from the library. Unlike a textbook, they won’t agree on every detail (even a 6yo will notice this). It becomes a great opportunity to discuss how people, even experts, don’t always agree–even on something as basic as whether to write it as Ra or Re. This lays the foundation for much larger disagreements among experts later on.

  36. Eve, I just want to third Lynnette and Kiskilili’s votes that you’re a closet homeschooler, because I recall you teaching me when we were in elementary school. I remember you teaching me some cursive writing (which I clearly didn’t retain) and perhaps my times tables (which, fortunately, I did).

  37. One point that has not been discussed enough is that on one hand there are a lot of good teachers in the public schools who do a fabulous job. A parent would be foolish to deny their children the opportunity to learn from these excellent teachers. On the other hand, there are some teachers and school districts out there that are very bad and even dangerous. Home schooling may be the only option. Sometimes a student may have a particularly poor teacher and it might be in the best interest of the child to wait out the year at home.

    I’m not a big fan of home schooling. All of the adults I have met (family, roommates and friends) who have been home taught for an extended period of time have had big problems in their social and educational development. I could tell lots of stories, but I don’t have all night. If I had to do it, I would not do it for more than a couple of years.

  38. Missing the point guys. K-12 education is only secondarily about the teachers you have, if at all. The real stuff is happening on the playground.

    Humanity has survived for thousands of years on the homeschooling model. Only in the last century have we switched to a socialization model that forces kids into a social model composed entirely of children their OWN AGE and no others. You are now only allowed to have friends your own age, to interact with people your own age, and to form groups of people your own age. This age segregation continues until you hit the work force, and then you have to readjust to reality.

    It is the public schooling model that is the freakish aberration, not the homeschooling model.

  39. Julie, you might be right that some of the statistically significant studies show a socialization advantage for home-schooled kids. Although there’s a dilemma of how socialization is measured. Some of the studies in your link, for example, measure socialization as self-confidence or self-image — which probably isn’t a terribly good operationalization. I haven’t looked closely at this literature for a few years. The part of my statements that I will stand behind, though are: (a) that the most credibly designed studies almost always find no differences between home-schooled and public-schooled children, and (b) that we know nothing whatsoever about the effects of these schooling choices because of the huge pre-treatment differences between children whose parents choose homeschooling and those whose parents choose public-schooling.

    Seth, I’m not at all convinced that pre-industrial child-raising reality was in any way similar to a current-day homeschooling situation. Children were put to productive economic work, rather than “educated.” They usually lived in multi-family residential situations of one kind or another, so their days were spent interacting with a wide range of people, not just parents and perhaps a couple of siblings. The expectation, and generally the reality, was that children would do exactly the job their parents did, and usually in exactly the same way. All of this means that neither homeschooling nor public schooling is really comparable at all to pre-industrial practices. That is, both homeschooling and public schooling are “freakish aberrations,” because any model in which children receive “education” rather than narrow trade or labor training is a novelty.

  40. “I would have felt seriously, seriously deprived if I’d been homeschooled in elementary school”

    How can you know that? You might have hated it, but you might have adored long afternoons curled up against a sunny window with a historical novel or spending hours at the creek with other homeschoolers doing whatever it is kids do when you finally relent and tell them that they can go in the creek or doing science projects at the kitchen table with your mom and siblings.

    Oh, I’m sure I would have enjoyed all of those activities immensely. But I was one of those perhaps strange children who really did like school, and once I set off for kindergarten, I would have been very sad to have had to give it up again–however much I would have enjoyed the alternatives.

    “One point that has not been discussed enough is that on one hand there are a lot of good teachers in the public schools who do a fabulous job.”

    Yeah, I’m somewhat concerned that my post didn’t give good public schoolteachers their due. Especially in elementary school, I had some excellent teachers; in all seven years I had only one who was a really bad–mean and sarcastic, qualities that should automatically bar one from working with children. But my other elementary school teachers were all good, and some were really excellent.

    Although elementary school was often boring, for me anyway, it was at the secondary level that the pervasive mediocrity began. I had a lot of teachers in junior high and high school who either didn’t know their subjects very well, or didn’t much like kids, or simply didn’t do their jobs, or all three. A number of them would spend math or music or whatever rambling about their theories of government or reminiscing about their childhoods. Others would share their personal problems with us, and process their divorces and theories of marriage with the class. And still others just didn’t show up for the full hour. And then there were teachers who just passed out endless worksheets and then had us all fill them out together, as a class–they stood in front of us and told us the answers, and we wrote them down in the blanks (good preparation to take dictation, I guess). This kind of thing was pervasive enough that the good teachers, those who loved their subject and actually taught it, really stood out. In particular I remember one English teacher who really loved literature, and a history teacher who really loved history. My math teacher one year in particular was quite good.

  41. Missing the point guys. K-12 education is only secondarily about the teachers you have, if at all. The real stuff is happening on the playground.

    I certainly wouldn’t want to neglect the importance of the playground, but I think this is overstating it. Teachers do matter, and for me anyway, what happened in the classroom was generally more significant than what happened on the playground (although I’m sure that’s not true for all children).

    I’m also wondering if part of the reason I found elementary school a generally positive experience was that I didn’t have any older siblings who’d already taught me all the material?

  42. My sister is a public school teacher and she is AWESOME. She works twelve hour days teaching and grading and also coaches the debate team, which includes trips all over the country. She loves her kids.

    The administration and sclerotic school bureaucracy hinder rather than help her do her job, however.

  43. I’m following this discussion with interest. We have one in public school kindergarten who is LOVING it there. She has very well developed social skills, is making lots of friends, and doing a very acceptable job of learning academics along the way. With her little personality the way it is, I think that the highly social atmosphere of school will be very important to her development. She truly could not be herself without it. Where we live, the schools are safe and academically adequate, if nothing to write home about. We certainly can, and do engage in learning at home as well, when she is not in school, and we try to maintain an atmosphere of inquiry and learning at home, taking particular time to follow each child’s passions.

    We also have a fifth grader with Asperger’s Syndrome who was in public school through third grade, but whom we now home school. For him, public school was a constant torment. He does not have good social development, and never did. When he started kindergarten he read at a third grade level, having picked up reading on his own at age three. He was well ahead of his class in math as well, as he could add and subtract and was figuring out some beginning multiplication. His real passion, though, was life sciences–he’d already memorized the names of all the bones in the human skeleton, read about the body systems, and was learning about different facets of the animal kingdom. None of this was pushed on him, by his parents, mind you, though we did help him find library books about various interests, and bought him puzzles, toys, and games that seemed like things he’d enjoy (what parent doesn’t try to tailor gifts to their child’s interests and skill levels?). But his social skills were abysmal, no matter how much I tried to get him involved in play groups, preschool, community activities for children, etc. He did advance, with training and practice, but was clearly struggling socially from the get-go.

    At school he had a special education plan in place, with a one-on-one technician, various therapies, and all sorts of accommodations to help it work. However, he also had sensory issues, and a group of thirty children tend to make a LOT of unexpected noises and movement, brush up against each other frequently, and so forth. And of course they noticed the first day that he was “different”, and took every opportunity to torment the poor soul. We had wonderful staff working with us at the school, but it just got worse and worse. At school he had major behavior problems and shut down to the point where he wasn’t learning. At home he was so stressed out that he wouldn’t interact with other family members. It even started affecting his physical health. He had constant headaches and stomach aches, appetite issues, sleep issues, toileting issues, you name it. He was put on medication for anxiety, which helped some for a while, but the school situation just got worse and worse.

    Frankly, though, we were very concerned about taking him out of school and teaching him at home. Yes, we were two reasonably intelligent college-educated adults, but at school he had a whole cadre of “experts” working on him. And what about socialization? His social skills were dreadful to begin with. How would they get better sitting at home? By the middle of third grade, though it became pretty apparent that things were not going to improve at school no matter what experts we had working with us, and no matter how many special accommodations were made. We discussed alternate placements with our IEP team, but none of them were really appropriate for our son. He was much too high functioning for the autism unit. He could go to the unit for kids with emotional/behavioral issues, which would have smaller class size and more structure, but we were all concerned about putting a socially inept child who was a prime target for bullying in with a class full of bullies who constantly demonstrated inappropriate social behavior. How was that going to help anything?

    Eventually, we became very concerned about his mental and physical health, and it dawned on us that this was a child who was never going to be “normal” socially no matter where he received his education. At least at home we could focus more on his strengths and build on his weaknesses in a more private, kinder way than throwing him to the wolves every day. So as third grade drew to a close we began researching homeschool requirements and curricula and decided to give it a shot over the summer to see if we could make it fly.

    Homeschooling this child has been such a blessing to us all! His academics had not advanced significantly since kindergarten and it took a while to convince him even to try. But he’s back on track now, and beginning to let that inner passion for KNOWING things emerge again, which is wonderful to see. Also, his social skills have improved dramatically since being home. He’s really emerged from the tight little shell he was balled up inside at school. He now has 5 neighborhood boys who’ll play with him (he had none before, and little interest in friends–peers were more likely to be tormentors than allies). He will go to scouts, he’ll go to class by himself at church, he’ll strike up reasonably appropriate conversations with other kids at the playground. He’s learning to interact with checkout clerks, bank tellers, the mail carrier, docents at museums, etc. He plays with his little sister. The best thing, though, has been hearing him laugh again. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I’d heard that (too loud, not quite socially appropriate–we’re working on it) belly laugh of his.

    But this is not a child who will EVER be socially adept. I think we can get him to the point where he’ll scrape by all right, but he’ll most likely always be a bit awkward and unintentionally inappropriate. And I know sometimes there will be people who look at him and say, “Oh, yeah. That’ one was HOME SCHOOLED,” and nod and wink wisely at each other. But they just don’t know what kind of antisocial basket case public school was turning him into. Now, I’m not saying there are no homeschoolers whose social awkwardness stems from being homeschooled–clearly they’re out there, I’ve met them too. But please don’t be too quick to judge either the student, or their educational method.

    That said, I’m reasonably sure that homeschooling would make my daughter as crazy as public school did my son. She has such a HIGH need for social input that we just would not be able to meet it adequately at home.

    I really think we sometimes spend too much time debating about which method of education is the best method, when our focus should not be on the method, but on the individual. What are this child’s needs? How can we best meet them? As a mom with a foot firmly on each side of the fence, I think both sides spend too much time pushing their agenda, and often lose sight of the real goals.

    Anyway, my (very long, sorry) two cents.

  44. I’m not particularly taken aback by the various generalizations people here have made of homeschooled and public schooled kids–we’ve been through this before. What about those poor education majors and inept teachers, though? It seems most people here are ready to write them off as the uncontested majority.

    I am an educated and intelligent public school teacher (not without my faults, of course). I work hard, too (so probably most of you have moved on, but I couldn’t get to this thread until now). I am not alone. Every teacher in my state, and several others, possess graduate degrees–it is a part of our certification. Obviously, education does not perfectly correlate with intelligence, I hope you will take my word for that part. Back when I was an Education Major, I was deeply embaressed about the generalizations made about me. Still, I was committed to spending my professional time in a worthwhile endeavor rather than simply a personal passion or passionless income generation.

    I had bad teachers (in 5 states and 2 countries) and I have witnessed bad teaching amoung colleagues (in 3 states and 2 countries). It is, in my experience, the minority.

    Every teacher I know is well aware that some people’s intelligence is easily demonstarted in a formal school setting, and other people’s intelligence is better demonstrated through other skills. I would hope every parent would help their children realize this too.

    Most of the time I just think about the kids, but occassionaly I wonder how students will learn from teachers who their parents suspect (some know) are ridiculous, lazy, conspiracy-theorist types who cannot form or support a thesis statement.

  45. What about those poor education majors and inept teachers, though? It seems most people here are ready to write them off as the uncontested majority.

    I think this is a bit of an overgeneralization. My impression has been that most of the discussion has acknowledged the existence of smart, dedicated teachers. (On the other hand, the question of whether such teachers are in the majority or the minority is a pretty complicated one, well beyond the scope of this post.) If you yourself are a smart hardworking teacher, good for you, I say.

    “occassionaly I wonder how students will learn from teachers who their parents suspect (some know) are ridiculous, lazy, conspiracy-theorist types who cannot form or support a thesis statement.”

    I can certainly see the concerns about parental suspicion of teachers, and in many cases I’m sure it’s certainly a valid concern. On the other hand, lazy teachers who don’t do their jobs and teachers who don’t know how to form and support a thesis statement really do exist, and (in my experience, anyway) in significant enough numbers to be a real problem. I don’t think anyone here would claim that all teachers fall into those categories, but some certainly do, and that’s a matter for legitimate concern. It’s definitely unfair that bad teachers give the profession in general, and the good teachers among them, a bad name, and I’m sorry that that’s the case for you.

    On the other hand, I have to admit I would tend to be more concerned about the actual problems in the profession more than I am about its poor reputation. To analogize to other professions with poor reputations: is it a bigger problem that lawyers and used-car salesmen suffer from a poor reputation, or that significant numbers of lawyers and used-car salesmen are actually dishonest? I think it’s important not to deflect a discussion of genuine problems in a profession to a discussion of the poor reputation the profession has garnered as a result of those problems–although I can certainly see and sympathize with your frustration as a hardworking and intelligent member of that profession. (That is the inevitable problem with bad reputation: it always ends up dogging people who don’t deserve it.)

  46. Hey Amy, thanks for your wise 2 cents, I can’t put my finger on why, but you nearly made me cry. I’ll be pondering your words more…

    OK I do know why. My boy is like yours only a few years behind. No time to write a novel back to you, but man, these decisions are so important, and some kids are fragile and the school systems aren’t customizable enough…

    I’m in the mood for a thread on school choice.

  47. Eve–

    True, most people have thrown in obligatories such as your own comment #42 wherin you frett about giving public teachers a bad name and then spend most of the comment talking about bad teachers. I understand that I ought not be concerned with reputation, yet the other “bad reputation” professions you mentioned never have the public debating and public voting about reform. We defer to experts when discussing other fields: leave medicine to the doctors and nurses, law to attorneys to regulate themselves, but education, well, anyone feels free to pontificate on needed changes. It is just frustrating. The major problems in education are systemic (in my opinion), so I focus on my classroom and my kids.

    I too “think it’s important not to deflect a discussion of genuine problems in a profession” but this thread has hardly been that.

    A friend of mine who is a professor told me that people always compliment her on the fact that she clearly likes her students, which makes her laugh because she can’t figure out why anyone would choose to teach (at any level) without loving students. Implicit in that compliment, however, is the admission that professors are not expected to like their students. Conversly, teachers at the elementary and secondary levels are expected to like their students, but people are surprised when we actually know our fields, too. That’s a shame.

  48. This has been such an interesting thread! Eve, thanks for the great post.
    I’ve been considering homeschooling for a few years. This year, however, I realized with a new baby coming (he’s here now!) I couldn’t make homeschooling happen, so I sent my 5 year old to Kindergarten at a public school. It was a disaster, and after a few days we switched to a charter Montessori school. I like it much better, and the staff has been willing to work with my son’s behavioral issues (we’re seeing all kinds of specialists about ADHD, Asperger’s, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc) that have really just emerged in a school setting. (although they are present to a lesser degree at church as well)
    So, the Montessori approach is working well for now, it’s closer to homeschooling than a regular public school. I like their approach to education: work through play, learning life skills, different ages of children (3-6) in the classroom, more movement, outdoor environment, and especially the peace garden. Luckily for us, as a charter school, the state pays for his education. I looked into having my 2 year old go next year for preschool, and found out the tuition is $6,000 a year. Wow. So, I also feel like we are getting some benefits of a private education with public funds.
    However, I definitely see homeschooling as a possibility in our future, especially if conforming to public school will require me to put my son on a stimulant medication to control his ADHD behaviors (but that’s another topic).
    As far as the quality of teachers, I thought when A Spectator said this
    “occassionaly I wonder how students will learn from teachers who their parents suspect (some know) are ridiculous, lazy, conspiracy-theorist types who cannot form or support a thesis statement.”
    he meant that parents can undermine teachers ability to teach if they tell their children the teacher is incompetent.
    I had bad teachers, of course, but my mom always took their side (with one 2nd grade exception where the teacher had age-inappropriate books in her classroom) and made me deal with it. There is benefit to learning to deal with people you don’t like.

  49. Amy’s situation really lays out the complexity of the homeschooling/public-schooling decision–and I think nicely illustrates the very individual and particular considerations that have to be taken into account in such decisions.

    Spectator said,

    True, most people have thrown in obligatories such as your own comment #42 wherin you frett about giving public teachers a bad name and then spend most of the comment talking about bad teachers.

    I hope it hasn’t sounded like simply an obligatory acknowledgment. I do deeply respect good teachers at any level, and I would wholeheartedly agree with you that many of the problems are systemic and very difficult to solve (and certainly there’s much disagreement about what exactly to do). I find at least some of the same challenges teaching college, and I too try to focus, as much as possible, on my own classroom and my own students, since that’s the level at which I can do something.

    At the same time, though, I think we have to acknowledge, as you say, that certain problems are systemic, and that those systemic problems aren’t unrelated to problems of pervasive bad teaching (as opposed to the occasional bad apple). To pick just one example, teachers are very badly paid. I suspect that isn’t completely unrelated to the kinds of incompetence I and you have both experienced. If teaching were much better paid and much more highly respected and much more difficult to make one’s life work, if education colleges could afford to be selective in who they admitted in the way medical schools are, I suspect the profession would look different.

    The question of homeschooling the thread originally takes up is, in part, a question of what to do when at least some aspects of the education system simply aren’t working for a particular child or a particular family. So I don’t think it’s unrelated to a discussion of genuine problems in the profession–and to what degree a family should continue subjecting their children to a system that isn’t working for them.

    I guess when it gets down to it, my concern is this: on the one hand, I can see that you feel unfairly picked on by discussions like this that tend to feature incompetent teachers so prominently. That makes a gut-level sense to me, and I certainly don’t want to be unfair. On the other hand, though, I do think there are real systemic problems that tend to promote burnout, exhaustion, and poor teaching, and I think it’s unfortunate if we can’t discuss those real problems for fear of sounding negative. I see a similar dynamic in attempts to discuss problems in the church or in church culture; sometimes the accusation of negativity deflects the discussion of genuine problems. In one sense, negativity is a red herring. It’s become one of those things none of us are supposed to be; we’re all supposed to have positive attitudes and be appropriately polite. But if we want to solve problems, we have to face them–and that’s going to involve acknowledging them, for starters. And that, in turn, is going to open up the dreaded accusation of “negativity” and “complaining.”

    Does that make sense?

    Jessawhy, glad you’ve enjoyed it! Good luck with your sons.

  50. Jessawhy, congratulations on the new baby, and good luck with your kids. I’m glad that you have found a solution that is working.

  51. One opinion I have read, which I think sums it up nicely, is that children will tend to be as competent or incompetent socially as their parents. I’m guessing the parents of the loud-mouthed, socially inept student were similarly cursed. Of course, you will get the odd child who is completely opposite the parents, but I really think socialization and social skills are a case where the apple rarely falls far from the tree.

  52. Wow. I think there have been 53 comments and I don’t think any of them came from a homeschooled kid. Now I feel all, like, obligated. ^_^

    Homeschooling was a life saver for me. I would have been incredibly miserable in high school or junior high school — it was borderline in my public elementary school, which only worked for me because the teachers and students were expected to keep up this culture of high attainment and intellectualism (it was a gifted program.) The parts of my day that I hated were the twenty minutes before school started, the twenty minutes we had for recess, the hour we had for lunch, and the two hours between the time that school ended and my dad came to pick me up. In the intervening periods we did things like bury civilizations we’d made up ourselves, then dug up a different class’ civilization and try to figure out all its secrets. I wrote a history book in a made-up language and got school credit for burying it in a hole! Yay! Unfortunately I was moved out of that district and the folks in our new town wanted me to go from 6th grade to 9th grade. Right.

    Anyway, homeschooling let me have all the bits of school that I liked, and none of the stuff that kept me up till 5am worrying (I can’t be the only kid who was more anxious about recess than the math test.) I also finally had the time and energy and interest in doing things with other kids: people my age were no longer presumed monsters to be avoided at all costs, and as a bonus, if one of them decided to be horrible, I could just find a different activity to enjoy. Without them around. Ever again. Except at church, but that was only four hours a week, which beats 36+ hands down. And the adult-to-kid ratio was in my favor. Plus most of those girls did eventually apologize, albeit to my mother rather than to me.

    It probably isn’t for everyone (I find a lot of the arguments less than persuasive, but I’m not a home education evangelist so I don’t have a lot invested,) but every aspect of public school that didn’t resemble homeschooling, was torture to me. As a bonus, once we started homeschooling I got to do a lot of things I really wanted to do, and some things I didn’t know I wanted to do till I had the opportunity (like volunteer at a reenactment site.) Part of me was always a little “man, I wish I could have gone to Polytechnic” and when my friends went off to the Columbus School for Girls I was jealous, but I know that it was better for me, psychologically, to be homeschooled.

    Anyway, if I ever have kids, the assumption will be that we’re educating at home, and alternatives will be considered if that doesn’t work out. I’m not worried about them becoming freaks or not learning the things they need to, and if they were in public school I’d be annoyed at the amount of time they’d be wasting and the social nonsense no one should have to put up with. Torture as our only shared cultural experience? Thanks, but I’ll just be okay with being weird.

  53. Sarah,
    What a great post! It’s nice to hear from normal homeschooled people 🙂
    My most normal cousins (not the incarcerated ones or the ones with mental illness) were homeschooled, as was a girl who is in my husband’s MBA program (she’s a devout Catholic). Apparently she’s the smartest and easiest to get along with of all of his colleagues.
    It’s good to hear from someone who knows about the subject, and who also struggled most in elementary school.

  54. I am glad this thread was resurrected. I have been thinking about these issues a lot lately. I VT a 19 year old girl who was homeschooled her whole life. I agree with mindy 53 – she is a carbon copy of her parents. I think that the problem with homeschooling in her case is that she was never exposed to anything else. My 10 year old exceeds her developmentally in all areas – ability to work, reading and writing, social skills, hygiene. I don’t think that this is her fault. She is a bright girl, but she has not been pushed or taught what is appropriate. Her situation is completely bizarre, and I am at a loss. I worry about her. (And yet she has this superior attitude and seems to think she knows everything. She might if she was 4.)

    That said, I have considered homeschooling my second child. He is very bright but hates school. We’ve tested him for all sorts of stuff. He got into speech for next year. I also got him into the dyslexic program (he is a gifted dyslexic, which means that he performs at grade level because he can compensate enough for his weaknesses, but he should be performing at a higher level based on his IQ). I am hoping that these programs will help him. If not, I will likely pull him out and homeschool for a bit because I don’t think keeping him in school is worth the damage done by how much he hates it. I want him to continue to love learning – not shut down. But, I would likely need to find some kind of private program to help because I don’t know how to teach a child with phonoligical processing disorders.

  55. As an Education Major (let it be said…that I was a poli sci major first- have excellent marks, great test scores and I currently have an internship at a GT magnet school in the second highest ranked district in the country…and I still sometimes, obnoxiously believe that I am way too smart for this major and feel superior to many of my peers, though I probably shouldn’t). I went kicking and screaming into this major, but God told me to do it.) whose first day of teaching is tomorrow, I will be the first to say that teaching starts in the home.
    Don’t knock teachers until you have a room of 35 screaming children, all of different educational levels, most of whom don’t want to learn- while you are saddled with funding, about a million specific educational standards you must fit into a year, and legal limits to what you can do with your children ( I can’t drive them down to a museum, or hike with them up a canyon on a weekend. I can’t mention current political problems for discussion or keep teaching them late into the night if they need it.)
    All the while, depending on the parent, I am to be the arts and crafts specialist , interior designer( being, bizarrely, judged on the quality of my bulletin boards), babysitter and psychologist.
    Here me out. My job is to teach your kid to read and write.
    You teach your kids at home- build in them a passion for learning. Take them to a museum, and the beach. Talk to them about what is important to them, and show them how to find out more. But, just so you know…there is at least one Feminist Mormon Elementary School teacher around here who can write a thesis and got a lovely score on the ACT, and on CPAS ( the teaching quality observation assessment). Give me your feminist Mormon children! Just excuse the bulletin board.

  56. There is at least one absolutely unnecessary parenthesis and two missing periods in the quote below. I blame my computer…and stress level. So sue me. (Please don’t sue me…I’m very poor. I’m a 22 year-old teacher.)
    Also, Eve…while you say you could teach circles around that student of yours ( and I know I might say the same think), teaching college is a whole different ball-game then teaching elementary school children, and there is a lot of theory involved and procedure, and teaching 5-7 subjects every day accommodated for individual learners.
    So, I’m not really sure you could. Not to suggest that you couldn’t write thesis statements around her though. You sound pretty competent in that.


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