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Monday, August 22, 2011

Homeschooling: Dealing with Doubters, Part 2 (the public school crisis)

Homeschooling is the fastest growing educational demographic in the United States. There is no question that homeschoolers fare better academically than public schoolers. Standardized tests bear out this fact, including college entrance exams. The specifics of this information are readily available online. Yet many people are not aware of the statistics, and favorable toward homeschooling though the studies may be, statistics do not measure the intangible benefits of a home education.

My grandma recently asked me if my daughter, getting ready to start the 2nd grade, will be homeschooled all the way through high school. As I tell anyone who asks, I am doing this one year at a time. She asked if I thought Beezy would be prepared for college. I mentioned that homeschooled kids all over the world go to college, and in fact, Ivy League schools are actively seeking out homeschooled children due to their academic excellence. Aside from this facet of simply not being aware of homeschooling's success, as in Grandma's case, there is certainly more to the strong resistance that I and other homeschooling parents have encountered.

Some of it comes down to misconceptions. The other thing Grandma spoke of was whether Beezy would be ready for college after being in "an adult world the whole time." This struck me as a curious thought, considering that Beezy will be an adult when she goes to college. The real, underlying concern is a familiar one to us homeschooling parents, that is, the dreaded "s" word--socialization. One woman even told me that she was concerned about the "socialism." I knew what she meant, and I didn't have the heart to correct her, but that is an interesting avenue to ponder. What most people seem to mean by socialization is really socializing.

Since homeschooling is by far more successful educationally, the only other advantage public schooling could have is in the social sphere. The misconception is that homeschoolers are isolated from the rest of society and won't be able to function in the so-called "real world." Being in the real world involves active participation in one's community, being able to function in society and make a positive contribution where you live. Conventionally schooled children are segregated away from their communities for about 8 hours a day, including bus rides, 5 days a week for most of the year, for 13 years. At some schools beginning at the elementary level, kids have an additional 2 to 3 hours of homework, plus more on the weekends as they progress. At school, they are surrounded exclusively by peers their exact same age, race and socio-economic background (see John Taylor Gatto on the issue of tracking), with very few adults, who have unquestioned authority, even sometimes openly usurping the authority of parents.

Does this scenario mirror the real world? I have never in my life had a job in which I worked exclusively with people my exact same age, race, and socio-economic background. Like our senior citizens who are shoved off to nursing homes, our kids are sequestered away from the rest of the community. When they finally get out, they often don't know how to function in the real world. (My own adult dysfunction in society will follow in Part 3).

I listed some of Beezy's preschool activities in Part 1. Beginning with kindergarten, we joined a homeschooling co-op called Keystone. For two 10-week semesters a year, area homeschooling families get together on Monday mornings at a church. Parents teach various classes, so children get to learn from other adults, and yes, socialize! We also go on field trips together. Such cooperative learning groups are quite common these days, so homeschoolers can be part of a like-minded community and share each other's expertise. Even if one does not belong to a co-op, there are many other opportunities, from scouts, church groups and 4-H to sports and any number of lessons. When people ask me about socialization, I usually remark on that being one of the reasons to homeschool--to avoid negative socialization!

Now back to "socialism." That woman I mentioned earlier was closer to the truth than she realized. In John Taylor Gatto's tome, The Underground History of American Education, the foundation he exposes of American public education is chilling. It was founded on a Prussian model to create a working class of obedient drones who are not prone to individualism or critical thinking, to be controlled by a superior, elite class with all of the money and power. Incidentally, this Prussian model is where Adolf Hitler got all of his grand ideas. If you are interested in getting to the heart of what's wrong with our public schools in a shorter form, go online and read Gatto's articles, such as "Against Public Schools" and order his book, Dumbing Us Down from the library. Gatto taught in public schools for over 30 years and was a NY state and NYC Teacher of the Year winner multiple times. After retiring, he dedicated his life to speaking out against public schools.

The ultimate reason that public schools keep doing what they do, despite the fact that they are progressively failing, has to do with big business. Teachers easily get tenure, which means they can never be fired, regardless of whether they do a good or bad job (see the documentary film, "Waiting for Superman"). Large corporations, such as McDonald's, sell curriculum to schools in order to advertise their products. Children in American society are primarily seen as consumers, socialized to be the unthinking, vulnerable, consumerist, controlled masses! The two largest teachers unions have among the strongest political lobbying power in the U.S., more so than the NRA and other big lobbies. Teachers in Washington, D.C., home of the nation's very worst schools, had the opportunity to vote to be able to receive a six figure income based on performance if they were willing to give up tenure. They refused even to vote, unwilling to give up being stuck with their mediocre salaries or allow systems to be able to fire bad teachers.

Too many people profit from the system functioning exactly as it is. The only reform possible seems to come from charter schools and similar programs, but the kids who need them most have only the chance of getting in via a lottery system. Public charter programs such as SEED and KIPP have proven that the most disadvantaged, at risk kids can flourish if they have excellent teachers, regardless of the nature of their home lives or what neighborhood they come from. The difference is, very specifically, in the quality of the teachers and methods used. But the tenured, unionized system makes universal, high quality public teaching impossible to achieve. There are many wonderful public school teachers, but even the most brilliant often have their hands tied from being able to teach to the best of their ability due to preparing students for standardized tests, which has become the priority in public education. Also, in some schools behavior problems are such an issue that classroom management must take the place of real learning. A friend of mine in an inner city school was applauded by her principal for simply getting her students to sit at their desks!

Surprisingly, "Waiting for Superman" did not even mention the option of homeschooling as a solution to the crisis in public education; and it is a crisis, with the U.S. scoring at the bottom of developed countries in key areas such as literacy and math. This country hosts several hundred high schools known as "drop out factories." However, homeschooling is simply not a viable option for many families, with parents who have to struggle just to make ends meet at low-paying jobs because they, too, received an inferior education. The plight is worst for blacks and Hispanics. I heard on NPR just today that by the time they graduate high school, these kids have only the skills sets of 8th grade white kids. By 2040 it is projected that half the U.S. population will be black or brown, so this educational trend has tremendous consequences for the whole of society.

Considering all of the evidence, how can anyone think that public schools are the superior choice over homeschooling? I think it is because they went to public schools themselves. They may be conformists with tunnel vision; or they are idealists who can't let go of the once promising dream of equal opportunity education for all children. They are simply in denial that the dream has faded and all but died. Free thinkers, parents who reclaim their authority, are threatening to those who are afraid or unable to take the responsibility for the education of their children into their own hands. One of my friends was worried that her children's school was going to close due to the levy failing. When I suggested homeschooling, she said, "I'm not that brave." I had never before considered my choice to homeschool as brave, but yes, you really do have to be just that.

Homeschooled kids do equally well regardless of the parents' educational level. In other words, a mother with a high school diploma is statistically as successful at educating her child as a certified teacher with a master's degree. Do you see the threat? Teacher colleges are big money. Homeschoolers have proven that teacher colleges and certification are not necessary to an excellent education. A stay-at-home mom with a GED can be just as effective.

Unfortunately, some people aren't really curious about why I homeschool. They are defensive, and they wish to pick a fight. You can recommend books to people and print off articles that show the facts in black and white. You can invite them to programs at your homeschooling co-op. You can refer them to this blog! But the short answer will usually suffice, save you a lot of grief, and avoid accidentally offending a public school teacher or parent: "We are able to do it, we enjoy it, and it's what works best for our family at this time." Then change the subject and get on with your life, feeling confident and guilt-free in the validity of your choice!!

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