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Your great-great-grandmother didn't have to surrender her children. What happened?
April 1, 2005 7:10 AM   Subscribe

The Underground History of American Education
You aren't compelled to loan your car to anyone who wants it, but you are compelled to surrender your school-age child to strangers who process children for a livelihood.... If I demanded you give up your television to an anonymous, itinerant repairman who needed work you'd think I was crazy; if I came with a policeman who forced you to pay that repairman even after he broke your set, you would be outraged. Why are you so docile when you give up your child to a government agent called a schoolteacher?
posted by anastasiav (95 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
"You aren’t compelled to loan your car to anyone who wants it, but you are compelled to surrender your school-age child to strangers who process children for a livelihood..."

Ah. So being a parent is like owning a car? Children are television sets? Hmm.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:16 AM on April 1, 2005


My roommate doesn't even ask. He just steals the keys out of my pocket when I'm passed out on the couch.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:17 AM on April 1, 2005


Ivan Illich
posted by alpinist at 7:20 AM on April 1, 2005


Great book. Good on Gatto for making it available online.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:25 AM on April 1, 2005


Yes Ethereal, silly! Being a parent is exactly like owning a car.

I haven't had time to read all of the chapters (thanks for the link, BTW) but I'll venture a guess that the public school system doesn't fare too well here?

The thought of surrendering my daughter to the Chicago Public school system gives me the shivers. We know plenty of kids who've done well but man, home schooling is looking more & more appealing.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:28 AM on April 1, 2005


This page was eye-opening.
posted by trharlan at 7:28 AM on April 1, 2005


The book sounds quite interesting, but I am a little scared of what political agenda it will be promoting. It sounds a little nut-job libertarian...

It is very obvious to anyone objective enough to notice that school isn't really about the kids. There is no question that parents could do a better job of educating children than schools can, up to at least the middle of high school.

Of course the above is not true of parents working in modern business and industry, but that is kind of my point...
posted by Chuckles at 7:28 AM on April 1, 2005


Let's throw some raw meat to the ideologues on both sides:

The original justification for American public education is that an educated citizenry is essential in a democracy.

Education has also served more targeted ideological purposes, from teaching immigrants "how to be American" and in the process robbing them of their native tongues, to teaching aboriginal Americans how to be "American" and robbing them of their tongues and cultures. (See also Canadian removal of aboriginals, and missionary schools in general, and the recent attempts by American Christian missionaries to raise Indonesian Muslim orphans as Christians.)

But, contra does "bi-lingual" education that never succeeds in teaching English help or hinder the success of its students?

Not to mention school lead prayers, teachers leading oaths of allegiance or the still continuing provision for organized sectarian religious instruction facilitated by public schools in Virginia and West Virginia.

Having giving reasons for contemporary liberals to be suspicious of public education, let's throw some meat the other way, and consider the sometime suggestions of Richard Dawkins (and Daniel Dennett? -- I'm less sure of him) that children out to be "protected" from indoctrination in their parents' religious beliefs.

And let's note the "environmental" curricula that some parents see as merely teaching children to uncritically think any cutting down of a tree to be an evil act.

Or what of anti-drug education? Valuable lesson or state propaganda?

The essential truth is that almost all education is indoctrination of one form or another. How much indoctrination is required to keep America from being Balkanized? How little does it take to permanently change a child?

Are we an organic community, a single organism with each citizen a cell of the Leviathan, or are we a collection of rugged individuals? Or is the truth somewhere between Hobbes and Rousseau?
posted by orthogonality at 7:33 AM on April 1, 2005


I just don't understand this hatred of public schools. I went to both public and private secondary schools and, without exception, the public schools were *always* better.

Do you feel like the local schools aren't up to your standards? Then get involved with the PTA. Is that not enough? Send your kids to private school. Do you think your local private schools suck also? Then homeschool them.

I'm not really sure what Gatto sees as the solution, other than some vague hand-waving about competative capitalism.

The fact is, it's better for all of us if we guarantee all kids a certain minimum education. That's why we all have to pay our property taxes, even when we don't have kids.

That's also why giving vouchers to parents who want to send their kids to private schools is a bad idea, since you're reducing the overall funding and creating an unfair situation for everyone else.

or, on preview: what orthagonality said.
posted by bshort at 7:35 AM on April 1, 2005


I am very seriously committed to home schooling my kids. It is very clear to me that the majority of public school is a waste of time academically, poorly supervised and under structured socially, and lacking any real merit.

In addition, it has always seemed odd to me that parents who profess to love their children would rather spend time at work than raising and teaching them.
posted by ewkpates at 7:36 AM on April 1, 2005


"Why are you so docile when you give up your child to a government agent called a schoolteacher?"

Ummmm... cuz I want my kids to learn to read and write and stuff.
posted by MikeMc at 7:39 AM on April 1, 2005


Most kids that are frequently read to by their parents can read and write just fine by the time they enter school.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:40 AM on April 1, 2005


Me = Proud to be Homeskooled
posted by MaxVonCretin at 7:40 AM on April 1, 2005


h. So being a parent is like owning a car? Children are television sets? Hmm.

EB, I'm pretty sure that his point is that children are more valuable than television sets or cars, but maybe that's just me.

I understand that most people won't have time to read the entire on-line book. However, reading the 8 page prolouge gives a very good feeling about what the rest of the book is about.

FYI, the author (John Taylor Gatto) was a public schoolteacher in NY state for 30 years. He was named NYC Teacher of the Year three times and quit teaching the same year he was named NY State Teacher of the Year for the second time. If the prolouge is even too long for you, try The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher or Against School.

I'm not really sure what Gatto sees as the solution, other than some vague hand-waving about competative capitalism.

He's become a leading proponent of both homeschooling and an educational theory called "unschooling". I'm not going to google unschooling for you, but look it up. Its sometimes called "delight-driven learning".
posted by anastasiav at 7:42 AM on April 1, 2005


Most kids that are frequently read to by their parents can read and write just fine by the time they enter school.

Citation? Sounds pretty improbable to me, particularly the "most" part.
posted by duck at 7:45 AM on April 1, 2005


There is no question that parents could do a better job of educating children than schools can, up to at least the middle of high school.

I think there is indeed a very large question to that statement.

Have you met many of your "fellow americans"? Do you believe the average person you know could adequately teach their children literature, mathematics, and science?

I had a co-worker call me at home the other night because she could not help her child with his 5th grade math homework.

There are very, very few parents that are indeed qualified to homeschool their parents. And fewer still who have the maturity to admit that.

Also, a frightening number of parents who wish to "homeschool" actually mean they wish to give their children a solely religious education.

In my state, homeschooling practically MEANS "religious indoctrination". People here don't homeschool because they can teach Geometry better, they homeschool because they want Jr. to know his scripture.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:45 AM on April 1, 2005


Most kids that are frequently read to by their parents can read and write just fine by the time they enter school.

That's just not true.
posted by bshort at 7:45 AM on April 1, 2005


That may not be true. I only said that based on what friends and family have told me about their own experiences. Sorry.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:47 AM on April 1, 2005


"Have you met many of your "fellow americans"? Do you believe the average person you know could adequately teach their children literature, mathematics, and science?"

And do you believe the "average person you know" is the "average person"? Even if they were equivilant, don't forget the half the population* will be below average.

* yes, I know this is not strictly necessarily so, but the point is that even if the average person were qualified, that wouldn't mean everyone or even most people are qualified.
posted by duck at 7:51 AM on April 1, 2005


I just don't understand this hatred of public schools. I went to both public and private secondary schools and, without exception, the public schools were *always* better.

Well, it seems that public schools have taught you an unhealthy overreliance on induction.

Do you feel like the local schools aren't up to your standards? Then get involved with the PTA. Is that not enough? Send your kids to private school. Do you think your local private schools suck also? Then homeschool them.

Or, how about fomenting a groundswell of those who realize that radical reform is necessary?

I'm not really sure what Gatto sees as the solution, other than some vague hand-waving about competative capitalism.

Well, it's not like you red the entire book in 25 minutes. In the section I linked above, it's made clear (at least in Gatto's narrow example) that the system is either managed by utter fucking morons, or rendered woefully ineffective by too many disparate interests.

That's also why giving vouchers to parents who want to send their kids to private schools is a bad idea, since you're reducing the overall funding and creating an unfair situation for everyone else.

That's preposterous. There are many reasons to propose vouchers, but in and of themselves, they needn't "reduc(e) the overall funding."

or, on preview: what orthagonality said.


You and orthogonality wrote what I perceive to be dissimilar arguments.
posted by trharlan at 7:52 AM on April 1, 2005


heh. I write a snarky post (with a sic, even), and I can't tell read from red.
posted by trharlan at 7:54 AM on April 1, 2005


or oppose from propose. Think I'll go kill myself now...
posted by trharlan at 7:56 AM on April 1, 2005


Most kids that are frequently read to by their parents can read and write just fine by the time they enter school.

That's just not true.


Serious question: Do either of you have the data to back that up? Honestly not a snark. I'd like to see some data from both sides. My Google-Fu is failing miserably.

Do you feel like the local schools aren't up to your standards? Then get involved with the PTA. Is that not enough? Send your kids to private school. Do you think your local private schools suck also? Then homeschool them.

I think the point is that the system is broken, private and public. Maybe time for an alternative? I'm well aware of what choices are out there but when 80% of them suck, it just isn't going to cut it.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:57 AM on April 1, 2005


I was read to frequently by my mother, yet I couldn't read till first grade. I didn't know anyone who could read before they entered school.
posted by faceonmars at 7:57 AM on April 1, 2005


I just don't understand this hatred of public schools.

You know, you could try actually *reading* some of the linked material; it's well-documented stuff from (as anastasiav pointed out) a former NY state Teacher of the Year who goes directly back to source material from the folks who *created* the modern U.S. school system, like Alexander Inglis, who were quite clear in their desire for "students" with great deference to authority and high conformity. It's hardly mindless "hatred" of public schools. The online book might seem overwhelming, so be sure to read Gatto's 2003 Harper's piece:

Inglis, for whom a lecture in education at Harvard is named, makes it perfectly clear that compulsory schooling on this continent was intended to be just what it had been for Prussia in the 1820s: a fifth column into the burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians a voice at the bargaining table. Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever re-integrate into a dangerous whole.

It's a tough pill to swallow, but damn does Gatto make his case. Here's the bit the really got me when I first heard of his work:

We don't need Karl Marx's conception of a grand warfare between the classes to see that it is in the interest of complex management, economic or political, to dumb people down, to demoralize them, to divide them from one another, and to discard them if they don't conform. Class may frame the proposition, as when Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909: "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." But the motives behind the disgusting decisions that bring about these ends need not be class-based at all. They can stem purely from fear, or from the by now familiar belief that "efficiency" is the paramount virtue, rather than love, liberty, laughter, or hope. Above all, they can stem from simple greed.

It doesn't get much more blatant than that, eh? As a former high school teacher, I find Gatto's historical documentation of disgustingly elitist and corporatist attitudes in the folks who created and spread a certain kind of public school system to be extremely valuable. I'm a big fan of Gatto's attempt to publicize the roots of what's wrong with that particular system.

In my state, homeschooling practically MEANS "religious indoctrination".

You're probably not looking very hard, then. In North Carolina, there's been a minor groundswell of non-fundamentalist home-schooling over the past decade. The same's happening all over. What anastasiav calls "delight-driven learning" is the key here; Gatto makes clear that religious home-schooling and corporatized public schooling aren't the only two options.
posted by mediareport at 8:00 AM on April 1, 2005


Or, how about fomenting a groundswell of those who realize that radical reform is necessary?

Or how about realizing that we're better off if we work together to make sure that our public schools are effective, rather than trashing the whole system? A lot of kids are a lot better off by being required to go to school.

In the section I linked above, it's made clear (at least in Gatto's narrow example) that the system is either managed by utter fucking morons, or rendered woefully ineffective by too many disparate interests.

False dilemma, much?

That's preposterous. There are many reasons to propose vouchers, but in and of themselves, they needn't "reduc(e) the overall funding."

Actually, considering you're working from a fixed budget, and you're taking money out of the school system to give to a parent who wants to send her kid to a private school, then yes, school vouchers reduce the overall school funding.
posted by bshort at 8:05 AM on April 1, 2005


There is no question that parents could do a better job of educating children than schools can, up to at least the middle of high school.
---
I think there is indeed a very large question to that statement.

-------------------------------------------
I think parents do better b/c the key ingredient is relationship between student and teacher, not as is often supposed, knowledge. Both are important, but relationship trumps.

The homeschool families that I've seen turn out junk education are the ones who have cruddy relations with their kids already.
posted by iwearredsocks at 8:08 AM on April 1, 2005


And do you believe the "average person you know" is the "average person"? Even if they were equivalent, don't forget the half the population* will be below average.


Looking over the linked material I find a beautiful rebuttal to this useless assertion.

All theories of child-rearing talk in averages, but the evidence of your own eyes and ears tells you that average men and women don't really exist except as a statistical conceit.

I personally really like the term (and title) "The Myth of Ability".
posted by Chuckles at 8:10 AM on April 1, 2005


you are not compelled to surrender your child...try homeschooling. I am compelled to go into the military if drafted; I am compelled to pay taxes; I am compelled to stop at red lights; and on and on....this is what is called the public sphere...I disliked Bush but he is still myu president...why should this be?
posted by Postroad at 8:12 AM on April 1, 2005


"I didn't know anyone who could read before they entered school."

Hello.

But I don't think it's generally true that if you are "read to" you will learn to read. I was taught to read before I entered school, which explains why I could. I'm far from convinced that "most" parents are capable of teaching pre-school kids to read or that "most" pre-school kids are capable of learning.
posted by walrus at 8:13 AM on April 1, 2005


Or how about realizing that we're better off if we work together to make sure that our public schools are effective, rather than trashing the whole system?

Oh, yes, if we'd just start cooperating, everything would be peachy! Rent-seeking and bureaucracy would disappear!

False dilemma, much?

I'd love to hear another plausible explanation, then.

Actually, considering you're working from a fixed budget, and you're taking money out of the school system to give to a parent who wants to send her kid to a private school, then yes, school vouchers reduce the overall school funding.


No. If you're working from a fixed budget, then overall school funding stays the same. Maybe school vouchers necessarily reduce public school funding-- but that's not what you wrote.
posted by trharlan at 8:13 AM on April 1, 2005


Oh, yes, if we'd just start cooperating, everything would be peachy! Rent-seeking and bureaucracy would disappear!

trharlan has convinced me. This "cooperation" menace has to stop now.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:15 AM on April 1, 2005


Oh, yes, if we'd just start cooperating, everything would be peachy! Rent-seeking and bureaucracy would disappear!

It sounds like you're the one who isn't actually interested in a solution.

No. If you're working from a fixed budget, then overall school funding stays the same. Maybe school vouchers necessarily reduce public school funding-- but that's not what you wrote.

I was clearly talking about public school funding.
posted by bshort at 8:18 AM on April 1, 2005


These people denigrate the public schools at every turn, yet never provide ANY alternatives except "WE HAVE TO CHANGE IT!" Yet the public continues to choose to send their kids to the public schools over the existing alternatives. From here (fictitious zip/bday/sex required):

A reorganization of Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Newark will result in the merger of nine schools into four and the outright closure of two others.

The changes, part of the largest realignment of schools and parishes in the archdiocese's 151-year history, are being driven by declining enrollment and financial problems, according to the archdiocese.


I seriously doubt the 90%+ parents out there are so apathetic as to send out their children to be "harmed" by a public education.

[this is fringe nonsense]
posted by urlnotfound at 8:24 AM on April 1, 2005


[this is fringe nonsense]

urlnotfound, please just read the link. Its not fringe nonsense. Its a man with 30 years experience teaching in the public schools outlining what is currently wrong with our public schools and suggesting ways we could make them better.
posted by anastasiav at 8:26 AM on April 1, 2005


No. If you're working from a fixed budget, then overall school funding stays the same. Maybe school vouchers necessarily reduce public school funding-- but that's not what you wrote.
---
I was clearly talking about public school funding.

----------------(I like that quoting style)----------------

Forced fragmentation implies at least some cost due to inefficiency, especially during the transition period. Vouchers reduce all school funding, it's just that they reduce public school funding more.
posted by Chuckles at 8:27 AM on April 1, 2005


bshort writes " That's also why giving vouchers to parents who want to send their kids to private schools is a bad idea, since you're reducing the overall funding and creating an unfair situation for everyone else."

This isn't necessarily true. In some systems (such as Washington, DC), funding for vouchers doesn't come out of funding for public schooling. Per pupil spending doesn't decrease. Additionally, DC's per pupil spending is among the highest in the nation, and yet it's schools are among the worst. There isn't always a direct correlation between funding and student performance.

But to address the topic at hand, Gatto seems to assume that parents not only want to take charge of their children's education, but are entirely qualified to do so. While my parents could (and did) help me with math and english, they would have been hard pressed to help me with German, advanced chemistry, so on and so forth.

If the author is advocating home schooling through the third grade who has the time or the money? Children whose parents have already chosen to disinovolve (is that a word?) themselves in their education are hardly the most likely candidates.

Should independent of thought be encouraged? Absolutely. Does the public school system have flaws? Absolutely. Is the solution a whole-sale abandonment of the current system? Probably not.
posted by asnowballschance at 8:28 AM on April 1, 2005


*independence of thought. yeah.
posted by asnowballschance at 8:31 AM on April 1, 2005


It sounds like you're the one who isn't actually interested in a solution.

My solution starts with the realization that the thing we're trying to fix is hopelessly broken. If you want to try to fix a severed head with a band-aid and some gauze, be my guest.

I was clearly talking about public school funding.

This is what you wrote: That's also why giving vouchers to parents who want to send their kids to private schools is a bad idea, since you're reducing the overall funding and creating an unfair situation for everyone else.

And I doubt that I'm the only one who didn't automatically assume that overall funding = overall public school funding. If I am in a small minority, mea culpa.
posted by trharlan at 8:31 AM on April 1, 2005


Kevinskomsvold,

Google results for Family literacy. I also found this abstract, and a few other things by searching for "parents who read" "children who read". I think sonofsamiam overstated his case, but there is definitely a well documented correlation between literate children and literate parents. It is pretty obvious that at a young age kids pick up the habits, both good and bad, of their parents. I would imagine that this is a factor of time spent together.

This is a great post. For what it's worth, I have really liked Gatto's stuff ever since I read an article by him in Harper's Magazine. I have since spent a few nights reading the articles on his webpage, but had kind of forgotten about him. One of the things that has greatly troubled me, inasmuch as I agree with him, is a concern over where he gets his money. Knowing that he was funded by the Cato Institute or the AEI wouldn't really change my opinion of him, but I am kind of curious about who is bankrolling him. Does anyone know?
posted by mokujin at 8:33 AM on April 1, 2005


Chuckles: quit dodging the point via semantics.

Do you believe that your neighbors, friends, and family members can give their children an education as valid and comprehensive as professional educators?

The allure of homeschooling preys upon the vanity of parents believing they are so much smarter than professional educators.

Yes, some parents may be smarter than an individual educator, almost certainly. But it is unlikely they are smarter than the 50 or so educators a child will encounter in their school career.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:33 AM on April 1, 2005


Who could read and who couldn't really means f-all in the long run. And that's what we're talking about here, the long run. Yeah, homeschooled kids can do better test-wise. But there's lots of evidence that they do poorly in early adulthood due to a lack of socialization.

But none of this matters. Public schools are a stunningly good idea which is why virtually every democratic society implements them as soon as it can get them up and running. The only way we could home-school the entire populace is if we instituted a welfare state on such a high order that it would make France look like a libertarian paradise. You see, most people have to work to afford children.

I work in an educational non-profit in NYC and the worst stories you can tell about public education are probably true somewhere here. There's also a lot of success stories, but let's put that aside. There's no doubt that the system here is screwed beyond belief. But if you want to start dismantling something, my suggestion would be with the city government. Cronyism, pork-barrel, and out and out crime is so rampant here, that the suggestion that the schools are somehow at fault is almost laughable. Mayor Bloomberg, who specifically promised he was going to fix the schools and not use public money to build a stadium, is busy slashing educational spending to build, not one, but two stadiums. Good news if you're a building developer. Sucks for everyone else.

In short, if this guy really wants to help schools in NYC, he should run for city council on an as yet untried anti-corruption platform. He'd lose, and might get shot, but he'd get a lot of media attenion.
posted by lumpenprole at 8:34 AM on April 1, 2005


Damn, the knees are jerking like crazy in here, aren't they? Anastasiav, thank you so much for the post; I'm delighted the book is online.
posted by mediareport at 8:36 AM on April 1, 2005


I seriously doubt the 90%+ parents out there are so apathetic as to send out their children to be "harmed" by a public education.

Are we talking about why parents choose public schools over other institutionalized schools? I think that is a false debate, there just isn't that much difference between public schools and Catholic schools. There isn't even _that_ much difference between public schools and independent private schools. There are "alternative" schools of course...

The reason 99%+ of parents send kids to schools is economics and social status. Poor people know they have to work. The middle and upper classes feel pressure to conform and compete with their neighbors.

So, most people couldn't afford not to use the school system and those who could afford not to think they need a 2000sq.ft home and two cars...
posted by Chuckles at 8:36 AM on April 1, 2005


lumpenprole, I don't think he wants to help the public schools. I think he wants to get rid of them, or at the very least scale them back significantly.
posted by mokujin at 8:42 AM on April 1, 2005


In addition, it has always seemed odd to me that parents who profess to love their children would rather spend time at work than raising and teaching them.

God, that's smarmy. There are soooo many assumptions in this statement I can barely begin. "Rather" spend time at work? How about - HAVE TO spend time at work to, I don't know, feed the kids? Keep the water running? Lights on? Many parents I know would love nothing more than to quit working and stay home to teach their kids, but they've yet to find a way to EAT with no income. Let's not forget single parents, either. Jeez.
posted by tristeza at 8:42 AM on April 1, 2005


Chuckles writes " So, most people couldn't afford not to use the school system and those who could afford not to think they need a 2000sq.ft home and two cars..."

Or . . . upper and middle class parents may find that the public schools in their communities do a decent job of educating their children, especially literate parents who encourage reading for pleasure, questioning the status quo, and independant learning. You've yet to convince me that sending children to public schools is, in and of itself, a poor parenting decision.
posted by asnowballschance at 8:43 AM on April 1, 2005


Parochial schools are no picnic, staffing-wise. A friend of mine got a job at one right out of school with no background in education and no teaching certification. One girl that she worked with was a history major that they picked to teach chemistry instead.

This school and ones like it are far from cheap. Go figure.
posted by dr_dank at 8:43 AM on April 1, 2005


We have to destroy social security in order to save it.
We have to destroy public education in order to save it.
We had to destroy the village in order to save it.
Same old same old.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:45 AM on April 1, 2005


Thanks mokujin.

I will admit some knee-jerkery on my end. Speaking as a parent of a four-year old daughter, there is the normal amount of irrational fear of turning her out into the wild and trusting the education process. I know of the wonderful success stories of those who had a public education yet the paranoid parent in me still resists letting go.

Again, thanks for the thread and the links. I'll be following this one closely for sure.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:45 AM on April 1, 2005


Scanning the links, the author seems to conflate three arguments: 1) Public schools [often?] produce bad results 2) public schools are underfunded and bureaucratic, which can contribute to 1) and also make them unpleasant and 3) the "public" nature of public schools is normatively bad.

It seems that (1) demands a credible counterfactual (under what system would most kids get a good education), (2) also needs a good counterfactual (name a large institution that isn't hopelessly sclerotic) or at least a large-scale policy analysis.

(3) is political, of course. I tend to think that common education is good for society, and reject notion that individuals always know what's best for the long term. At very least, a quote on the page trharlan links to shows that there are some positive benefits:

Each year the child is coming to belong more to the State and less and less to the parent
— Ellwood P. Cubberley, Conceptions of Education (1909)


I'd say that the State has done a pretty good job of looking after the kids, considering the progress from 1909.
posted by allan at 8:54 AM on April 1, 2005


Ynoxas, I think my reply was directed squarely at the fallacy of the logic. It was not semantics at all.

As for the direct question, yes I do believe that most people, given the time, are capable of teaching their own kids reading writing and arithmetic better than the public school system. I'm not sure where that gets us and I don't expect either of us to come up with evidence, so...

lumpenprole: But none of this matters. Public schools are a stunningly good idea which is why virtually every democratic society implements them as soon as it can get them up and running. The only way we could home-school the entire populace is if we instituted a welfare state on such a high order that it would make France look like a libertarian paradise. You see, most people have to work to afford children.

Yes indeed, public schools are a stunningly good idea if maximized productivity is the goal...
posted by Chuckles at 8:59 AM on April 1, 2005


I'd say that the State has done a pretty good job of looking after the kids, considering the progress from 1909.

What?! They've done a terrible job.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:01 AM on April 1, 2005


You aren’t compelled to loan your car to anyone who wants it, but you are compelled to surrender your school-age child to strangers who process children for a livelihood.... If I demanded you give up your television to an anonymous, itinerant repairman who needed work you’d think I was crazy;

No, and I'm not compelled to force my kids into a public school. I can send them to a private school or educate them myself. So long as they are EDUCATED.

To make this a proper analogy (or at least more like the present situation) "If I demand you give up your television to a government employee to be worked on, or let you send it to your own repairman, or fix it yourself, you'd think I was being told to fix my television".

If this is supposed to be the founding argument for this book it isn't worth reading further. It's clearly full of strawmen examples so they can make some sort of "point".
posted by inthe80s at 9:02 AM on April 1, 2005


urlnotfound, please just read the link. Its not fringe nonsense. Its a man with 30 years experience teaching in the public schools outlining what is currently wrong with our public schools and suggesting ways we could make them better.

Exactly how does saying that it is ONE GUY out of the millions of teachers and educators make it not a fringe concept?

I actually have 4 children in public schools. I can tell you that their education is fantastic. How? Simple:

- They have a stay at home mom. (One car, old house, we are poor, but the kids come first.)
- We don't watch TV, play video games, etc. during the school week.
- We read.
- We talk.
- We encourage learning and critical thinking.

The problems outlined in most critiques of public schools are easily remedied by interested, active parents. You want to fix public schools? Fix the parents.

And no, I won't spend 2 days reading that man bullshitting with big words about things that happened 200 years ago in Prussia and how it demonstrates that "they" are corrupting my kids by teaching them math.

Who is this "they" anyway? If you can't answer that question, it is all bullshit. I think anyone who reads this stuff and can't answer the "they" question needs either their meds adjusted or seriously need a course in critical thinking.
posted by urlnotfound at 9:02 AM on April 1, 2005


Bottom line is that we really don't need to discuss this. The state of public education is such that, in another 10 years, I would venture that it will be virtually nonexistent. Rich kids will attend private schools, poor kids will attend for-profit charter type schools, and once those are no longer profitable, they will close and we'll have no infrastructure for the education of anyone other than the rich.

Don't worry about public education, we've long since destroyed it in a variety of ways.
posted by HuronBob at 9:04 AM on April 1, 2005


I notice that Gatto gets many people understandably hot under the collar. I suppose that is as it should be, but I wonder if anybody really takes serious issue with the arguments he makes in "The Six Lesson School Teacher" or "Against School". What I mean is, besides saying, "well if you don't have a better idea you should just keep your mouth shut," or attacking his political agenda (from the left or the right) has anybody refuted his indictment of public schooling? I am refering to both his critique of modern public school practice and the genesis of mandatory public schooling in, as he contends, the desire to control "the masses."
posted by mokujin at 9:08 AM on April 1, 2005



Yes indeed, public schools are a stunningly good idea if maximized productivity is the goal..


No, of course we are all aiming at minimized productivity.

The goal of pubic schools is a well-educated populace regardless of social class. Productivity is one of the many decent side-effects of that. But I don't even know why you would deduce that from what I was saying. I'm saying that home-schooling is only an option in a multiple caretaker family with a decent standard of living. So if you want to ignore the poor and the single parents, than breaking up the public schools is the way to go.

allen is right on when he charts the progress from the turn of the century. If you can show me one happy instance of a government refusing to fund public education, I'd be really suprised. This whole constant meme of 'the government shouldn't be in charge of anything' is just leading us into a new gilded age. Plutocracy may be the America you're dreaming us, but for most of us who succeeded in life despite apparently being crippled by public school, that's a corruption of everything America is supposed to be about.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:09 AM on April 1, 2005


"EB, I'm pretty sure that his point is that children are more valuable than television sets or cars, but maybe that's just me."

My problem isn't with his implicit valuation of children, it's with his implicit assertion that they are property. That's a big red flag there for me right at the beginning of my introduction to this writer.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:15 AM on April 1, 2005


The state of public education is such that, in another 10 years, I would venture that it will be virtually nonexistent.

Sure. The millions of students, millions of teachers, and hundreds of thousands of schools are going to just dissappear in a puff of libertarian smoke.

Get out much?
posted by urlnotfound at 9:28 AM on April 1, 2005


urlnotfound, you make a very interesting point. In effect, if you have the ability to choose home schooling you are still better off using the public schools because you will get the best of both. That sounds good to me.

asnowballschance: You've yet to convince me that sending children to public schools is, in and of itself, a poor parenting decision.

I had no intention of such a thing. My assertion is only that public schools exist because of economics and the structure of our society, not the good of the children...
posted by Chuckles at 9:48 AM on April 1, 2005


I didn't know anyone who could read before they entered school.

I learned how to read before preschool, and i credit that with most of the success i had in public school.

I think the biggest problem with public schooling is the equality. We treat every student as if they have the same abilities. This is what makes public schooling tedious for the above-average student...constantly having to endure repeated lessons for the less able. Faced with nearly constant boredom, some above-average students turn to distracting themselves and others.

I feel that segregating children according to ability would improve public schooling, but the inequality of that position is almost impossible to defend. No parent (or child) wants to be on the lowest rung...

Based on my experiences in the public school system, i will not put my child(ren) through that same hell.
posted by schyler523 at 10:08 AM on April 1, 2005


I think the biggest problem with public schooling is the equality. We treat every student as if they have the same abilities.

Have you ever heard of gifted classes?
posted by bshort at 10:16 AM on April 1, 2005


Thanks for this post. I read Gatto's work while in college in the 90's. At the time, I never imagined I'd be a mama. Today, I homeschool my 2 children, not for religious reasons but rather because we want more than an adequate education for our children. It works for us. However, I do not begrudge folks who send their children to state or private schools. Why should one form of education be right for ALL children?
posted by shimmerglimpse at 10:23 AM on April 1, 2005


"I didn't know anyone who could read before they entered school."

I could. I know lots of people who could. And I started 1st grade at the age of five. I don't think learning to read early is that unusual. I'm not a prodigy or anything.

I got mad at my mom and tried running away from home when I was in first grade. I filled my suitcase and walked down the street. When an older girl stopped me, she was astounded to find that the only things in the suitcase were books and more books. But I couldn't run away from home without my books, could I? Clothes and stuff were not important.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:24 AM on April 1, 2005


Well, I'll stick my neck out and suggest that he has some good points. In addition, I know plenty of teachers who feel like they are hamstrung in doing the right thing by multiple layers of red tape and manditory testing requirements that seriously hinders their ability to deal with individual needs.

I don't think that universal homeschooling is the way to go. When I grew up in the 70s, my mom and dad both worked to maintain an old house, and two cars pushing 150K miles. For my grandparents, "stay at home mom" didn't mean "homeschooling," but "working the family farm." And they were relatively well off, for urban families it meant that the kid came with you to the mill when they were old enough to work. The one-parent income is a historic and economic anomaly of post WWII prosperity, and given current trends, there is no reason to expect it in the near future.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:46 AM on April 1, 2005


I was in "gifted" classes, were you? They don't solve the problem...they alleviate it part-time. The gifted program that i was part of wasn't a seperate school or an accelerated curriculum. We had the same teachers and classes as everyone else. Once a week for half a day, we would meet and do more challenging material. Once a week is not enough for kids like this.

What i was proposing would be to take all the kids labelled "gifted" and create a seperate school (not necessarily a different building.) The "least-gifted" would also have a seperate curriculum, teacher, classroom, etc...

The point i was trying to make, gifted programs aside, was that public schools find the average and force everyone to fit that. Slow kids are pushed too fast, and gifted kids are expected to trudge along. Obviously this is not working.
posted by schyler523 at 10:55 AM on April 1, 2005


Chuckles writes " I had no intention of such a thing. My assertion is only that public schools exist because of economics and the structure of our society, not the good of the children..."

Ah, I misread your arguement, then. My apologies!

I agree that the government has an incentive to make sure that children are educated by the government. Public schooling is a fantastic way to turn out "good citizens" well-indoctrinated in the state's idea of civic duty. Never-the-less, another effect of universal education is that each child has access to the basics of education (reading, writing, and 'rithmatic), as well as the opportunity to learn more.

However, I disagree with your premise that it is "keeping up with the Jonses" that forces middle and upper income children into public schools. Just as not every parent wants to work during their child's formative years, not every parent wants to stay at home and homeschool either. And of course, this doesn't address nontraditional families.
posted by asnowballschance at 11:01 AM on April 1, 2005


I attended both public and private schools. Being a college student, many of the friends I have now went to public school and they tuned out just fine -- after all, they made it to university. Private (boarding) school was an educational choice on my part and looking back, the best decision of my life. But its not for everybody.

Public school (and private) does more than just educate in the purest sense of the word -- it socializes you and exposes you to a diverse number of opinions and viewpoints. From there you can learn to make your own decisions and think for yourself -- isnt this the point of an education? exposure and knowledge?

Public schools have so much to offer. Instead of trying to bring down the system, we should rally behind it. After all, isn't it our responsibility to our kids and future generations as much as it would be if we homeschooled them?
posted by megalie at 11:03 AM on April 1, 2005


Once a week is not enough for kids like this.

I agree. There are many many programs that aren't like that.

I went to a school in Florida that was the full-time gifted school for the entire county for 4th-12th grades.
posted by bshort at 11:08 AM on April 1, 2005


First off, I'd like to remind all of you that you are educated stupid.

Second off, I'm one of the few people here who had four types of schooling in the course of my 12 grades: home schooling; Steiner schooling; traditionally schooling; and "open" schooling. Of those, the "open" schooling program was simply the best, though the traditional program that I went to in high school was also pretty good (I went to both an open and a traditional school in high school, I was dual-enrolled to get all of the classes that I wanted).

The Open philosophy is one that's based on small multi-grade classes, emphasis on creativity and critical thinking, and individualized learning. It works wonders.
Most of the problems of traditional schools are simply a function of their size. Of course kids are going to get lost in the cracks when there are 35 in a classroom. Of course there's going to be needless adherence to bureacracy when you've got 2,600 kids in a school built for 2,000 (my traditional high school). Combine that with the fact that a lot of teachers teach because it's a pretty decent gig (lots of time off, nice retirement package if you stick it out) and not because they like kids, and of course there'll be problems.
I'd argue that the size of public school systems in large urban environments is simply unsustainable, like third-world development.
But something that's worth noting is that, say, here in Michigan a comprehensive study was done of the 50 or so charter schools in the state after former Gov. Engler opened the door for them. The kids in those schools did worse on standardized tests, had worse environments, had poorer socialization scores... Basically, ended up worse off than public school kids by every metric. But the schools are cheaper for the state, and are run for-profit by their owners.
posted by klangklangston at 11:32 AM on April 1, 2005


I have never understood why intelligent and well-educated people bemoan the fact that their children aren't being educated to their fullest in primary and secondary school. Sure, I could've learned algebra in 4th or 5th grade, maybe, but why? School is about more than just cramming your brain full of information. Pre-college education, especially, is important not only for learning basic skills but for exposing children to a wide range of subjects including those they are not particularly good at, and learning how to get along with others and survive in an imperfect world where your teacher doesn't always care about you. Does that mean that smart kids will sometimes be bored? Yeah. How is this such a tragedy? Life is frequently boring.
It seems so American and competitive that we can't tolerate the idea of our kids ever wasting their time. Personally, I spent many of my K-12 years sitting bored in class, wasting my time, yet somehow I also learned enough to grow into a successful well-educated adult, as did most of my public school collegues. I think the little lessons about dealing with boring, unproductive situations, illogical authority figures and obnoxious classmates have taken me farther in surviving life than most of the advanced knowledge I obtained and lost.
posted by ch1x0r at 11:33 AM on April 1, 2005


I got mad at my mom and tried running away from home when I was in first grade. I filled my suitcase and walked down the street. When an older girl stopped me, she was astounded to find that the only things in the suitcase were books and more books. But I couldn't run away from home without my books, could I? Clothes and stuff were not important.

I went to a public school. When I ran away from home I packed a delicious peanut butter sandwich. I was a block away from home when I sat on the curb and ate it. It was my first taste of freedom. I've had an unhealthy appetite for peanut butter ever since.



I'm Canadian (things are probably different here since we have less politics and more practicality ) and public schooled all the way. School is more than just book learning. It's also about socialization. The kids in my area who were private schooled were almost uniformly arrogant assholes.

To me it seems that American public schools fail because they are meant to. Much like American health care, the American social safety net and American diplomacy. American public works are like a masculine approach to house cleaning. If you do it poorly, maybe you won't have to do it ever again.

As for homeschooling. Where do these people get the time?
posted by srboisvert at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2005


bshort: I envy you...my school years maybe would have been more enjoyable and/or fulfilling had i gone to that school, and I would probably have a less negative view of public schools.
posted by schyler523 at 11:50 AM on April 1, 2005


I'm skeptical of Gatto's description of the history of public schools in the United States, which he links to imitation of Prussia in the 1840s. Public schooling in the United States goes back much, much earlier--to the founding of the colonies, I believe. For example, Tocqueville, who visited America in the 1830s, says: "In America the power that conducts the administration is far less regular, less enlightened, and less skillful, but a hundredfold greater than in Europe. In no country in the world do the citizens make such exertions for the common weal. I know of no people who have established schools so numerous and efficacious...."

For some alternative ideas on reforming the public schools, see E. D. Hirsch's The Schools We Need (discusses the importance of learning facts, not just skills), and Harold Stevenson's research comparing American and East Asian schools.
posted by russilwvong at 12:15 PM on April 1, 2005


I was read to frequently by my mother, yet I couldn't read till first grade. I didn't know anyone who could read before they entered school.

I could read before I went to school. I was reading Lewis Carroll by kindergarten. I know that because I remember getting furious at the teacher's insistance on using modified "dumbed down" picture books rather than reading the "real" book during storytime. I started bringing my own copy of Alice in Wonderland, and the original Grimm's tales and reading it to other kids...whom, I would like to point out, really seemed to enjoy my versions better.

Both of my sisters were reading by 3 or 4.

My two year old knows his alphabet and is starting to sound out written words. He's also figuring out addition and subtraction. There is no doubt that by kindergarten age, he will be significantly advanced compared to the curriculum .

We live in an OK school district, but about half of my neighbors are teachers in the primary school. They are the main reason that I want to either find an academy or bring myself up to speed on various alternatives to public school. These "teachers" are dumber than dirt. Swear to god, I don't know how they remember to blink and breathe. Somehow, I mistrust their ability to impart the joy of absorbing knowledge that I want imbued into my son's education .

Ynoxas said: "....The allure of homeschooling preys upon the vanity of parents believing they are so much smarter than professional educators. Yes, some parents may be smarter than an individual educator, almost certainly. But it is unlikely they are smarter than the 50 or so educators a child will encounter in their school career."

I admit to that particular vanity. I'm sure there a a number of public school secondary teachers that may be smarter, or better equipped to teach certain subjects than I am/could be, but based on experience, I'm going to have to say that it's certainly unlikely at the primary level. (At least in the rural Texas school district in which we fall.)
posted by dejah420 at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2005


I don't know why teachers should be any smarter than anyone else. I don't know why we think that teaching is so difficult, compared to say, being a philosopher or a scientist. After all, teaching is about guiding people toward philosophers and scientists. So, teaching, if anything, should be simpler than philosophy or science, which it is. The difficult lies in being a professional teacher, because the government and unions and parents make it difficult.

I'm sure that more families could afford to home school their children if they gave up cable, fast food, processed food generally, a second car, vacations, 75% of their shoes, suits, jewelry, etc., but who wants to do this? Who puts education ahead of luxury and entertainment?

There is this mentality that Americans can't "do for themselves". They can't cook for themselves, educate themselves, interpret news for themselves, create art for themselves, etc. This mentality is supported by "professionals" who will do it all for you. Okay. But guess what? Now you're stupid. And you can't do it yourself anymore.

Vanity? I say I'm better informed than the teachers in the public school system. Any time anyone wants to test home schooling parents and create an arbitrary standard, I say good on 'em. It won't be a legal requirement, but it will help us all keep up against the Joneses.
posted by ewkpates at 12:59 PM on April 1, 2005


I guess things vary greatly by region.

The homeschool parents around here are generally not upper-middle class master's level educated intellectuals. They are usually lower-middle class, high school educated fundamentalists.

I still take issue with the assertion that a single parent (or even two) will be able to out-teach an entire school full of professional educators. Unless both parents have multiple degrees in different fields, you're going to be beaten by numbers.

At higher grade levels, homeschooling turns into "read the textbook".

Come on, be honest. Very few parents could adequately describe valence values and bond angles, or the relationship of cosecant to geometric figures, or the wave-and-particle duality of light. Could your parents? Could YOU?

And as people above have pointed out, school (public or private) is about SO much more than just academics. The social aspects are at least as important.
posted by Ynoxas at 3:28 PM on April 1, 2005


ewkpates, you obviously do not have children and have a lot of disrespect towards teachers in general. "Where did the bad teacher touch you?" is the first thing your post makes me want to ask you.

What you are missing on, is that teaching is a skill, much like cooking. Sure most people can slap together tuna helper and make spaghetti, but they can't bake a cake without a mix. Being able cook isn't the same thing as being a chef. Knowing how to add doesn't make you a math teacher either.

Also, most people can't do much themselves. Most can't fix their cars, fix their houses, practice medicine, fly airplanes, be an astronaut, be President, take beautiful photographs, write ad copy, smelt iron, design bridges, lay asphalt, sequence DNA, code Perl, hang wallpaper, weave cloth, be a sailor, run a printing press, cut hair, operate a cash register, bind books, develop new ceramics, draw well, bench press 500 pounds, be an assassin, repair watches, sing, lay bricks, butcher cows, or even put the little thing on the end of the shoelace that keeps it from unraveling.

That doesn't stop these things from happening, you just let "professionals" do them.

"But guess what? Now you're stupid." You mean ignorant. Stupid and ignorant are not synonymous.

"I say I'm better informed than the teachers in the public school system." I really, really, doubt it.
posted by urlnotfound at 3:29 PM on April 1, 2005


"'I say I'm better informed than the teachers in the public school system.' I really, really, doubt it."

Well, I'm pretty sure that I am. But that proves nothing. I have good reasons to believe that I'm better informed than most people. So how is that a criticism of teachers, in particular?

I've stayed away from this thread because, well, I'm ambivalent and a lot of the arguments involved are really stale for me. For me, anyway, almost all of my education, anywhere except at St. John's College, was horrid and basically worthless. I was an autodidact within the educational system, all the way through university (excepting SJC).

But what are we expecting education of any kind to do? As soon as I get a whiff of utopianism in an education discussion, I begin to take the arguments much less seriously. It's damn easy to say how any real-world education—public, private, home-schooling—mostly fails when it's compared to "the way things ought to be".

There's two main objections I have to Gatto's (and fellow traveler's) arguments (disclaimer: as I surmise them without any rigorous examination). The first is related to my initial objection in this thread: this propietary idea that parents have about their children and their unexamined assumptions that they're qualified to know what's right for their children, and that they have some inalienable right to have nearly absolute control over their children's lives. A child isn't an extension of a parent's identity, their opportunity to reshape the world (or play God). The second are their unexamined assumptions about the very idea of "education" and the values hidden in their particular view.

Americans, I think, obsess about their children's educations because they displace their desires onto their children, and then comfortably imagine that there's a "just right" formula for realizing them. And, mostly, the formula is to be found in their children's schooling. But here's the problem: other than getting sperm and an egg together, we can't "make" people. We don't "build" them to order. Even one at a time, lovingly hand-crafted in the home.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:44 PM on April 1, 2005


For me, anyway, almost all of my education, anywhere except at St. John's College, was horrid and basically worthless.

Gatto is on your side.

...we can't "make" people. We don't "build" them to order

For an interesting viewpoint on that very subject I would highly recommend the book, "Escape From Childhood," by John Holt.
posted by jaronson at 5:33 PM on April 1, 2005


In fact, if any you are truly interested in education, I would recommend reading any of John Holt's books. You might start with "Learning All the Time."

Thanks for posting this anastasiav. I wish I could have joined the discussion earlier.
posted by jaronson at 5:46 PM on April 1, 2005


"I didn't know anyone who could read before they entered school."

I could. I know lots of people who could.

HA! Berek could read before he was conceived!

Um, is it just Berek, or does anyone else think that several of the peoples in this thread are full of bullshit types who need a good hard dope slap?


posted by berek at 5:46 PM on April 1, 2005


It's just berek.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:58 PM on April 1, 2005


Paul Graham's essay on Nerds makes an interesting case for why schools exist in the first place, and their impact on adolescents.

Here's an excerpt

Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens. Wardens' main concern is to keep the prisoners on the premises. They also need to keep them fed, and as far as possible prevent them from killing one another. Beyond that, they want to have as little to do with the prisoners as possible, so they leave them to create whatever social organization they want. From what I've read, the society that the prisoners create is warped, savage, and pervasive, and it is no fun to be at the bottom of it.
posted by infini at 8:19 PM on April 1, 2005


Do you believe that your neighbors, friends, and family members can give their children an education as valid and comprehensive as professional educators?

The allure of homeschooling preys upon the vanity of parents believing they are so much smarter than professional educators.


Well that's a bunch of bullshit.

It shouldn't be hard to understand that one committed parent can provide better instruction to their child (or children) than a "professional educator" will be able to give to a group of thirty kids simultaneously. Schools aren't designed to turn out creative, well-adjusted critically-thinking graduates, they're designed to turn out average graduates with a basic skill set in a cost-effective manner.

Regarding the argument that "average Americans" are too stupid to teach their own kids, you seem to be pointing out that over the last couple generations schools have been turning out idiots. I agree.

However, people aren't inherently stupid and are capable of teaching their kids many of the basics, such as reading, writing and basic mathematics. My kids have picked them up just fine with my wife's guidance, with a 'school time' schedule that is just about nonexistent: when they seem receptive, my wife teaches. When they're not, she doesn't. Pretty simple, and it leaves a lot of time for them to learn other things, at a faster pace (their own pace) than they'd be presented in school.

Naturally, once they pass beyond our skills to teach, they'll go to school of some kind, but for now, what we're doing is much more effective than school ever could be.
posted by Ickster at 8:55 PM on April 1, 2005


So home school your kids, it's legal, what's the problem. More resources for my kid.
posted by Slagman at 9:12 PM on April 1, 2005


re:
it has always seemed odd to me that parents who profess to love their children would rather spend time at work than raising and teaching them.

Well, I need to make money to clothe and shelter the kid, not to mention put the kid through college. Plus I'm math-impaired and would rather not pass that on.
posted by Slagman at 9:21 PM on April 1, 2005


First, let's all practice saying the following together: "And yet we are a great nation." Now, no matter the dire warnings on whatever topic, we can just step back, take a deep breath, and repeat our mantra.

Second, providing evidence about the quality of schools is like providing evidence from the Bible: you can find anything to support your side. I am a public educator working in a school in a relatively prosperous small town. Is my school going to be better than a similarly sized school in NYC? You bet.

Third, defining what I or you mean by "better" is a hopeless task. And the provisions of No Child Left Behind do not resolve that issue.

In fact, fourthly, there is no better way to define schools as failures than by using nitpicking, standardized data taken from tests given on one day out of 180. And trying to succeed at those tests will not produce successful learners.

Fifthly, you got dumb teachers at your schools? Gosh, you need to get to work and convince some smart people to start teaching there. How are you going to do that? Go ahead, you know you're smart enough to figure that one out.

Sixthly, all of Gatto's quotes and examples in his first chapter [the only one I had time to read], and indeed most of this discussion, is self-selecting, i.e., not representative of the population of the whole, then or now. I mean, Lincoln was a fucking genius; how well did that system work for those other backwoods boys?

Seventhly, and yes this is getting too long, those backwoods boys simply went to work on a farm. How's that working out for inner city kids today?

Finally, most teachers I know drive as close to the "delight-driven" line as they can, but because of the requirements laid down by politicians, they cannot fully implement it. You want better schools? Keep the lawmakers out of them.
posted by ancientgower at 5:21 AM on April 2, 2005


Sorry, one more thing: I do not "process children for a living." I seriously work with young minds to enable them to learn how to learn, and so does everyone I work with. In fact, the wingnuts would be very disgruntled at how little I prepare the children to swallow the corporopolitical lies they're swimming in.
posted by ancientgower at 5:24 AM on April 2, 2005


Back to the issue of reading by kindergarten:

Who cares when a kid learns to read? Why is it so desirable to be reading by 5? If my daughter is not reading independently by age 5, I presume she'll learn by 5 and a half, or 6, or 7 . . . what's the difference? I think the key is having an appreciation for stories -- whether they're read aloud or independently -- at an early age, and to foster an enjoyment of sitting quietly and calmly, engrossed by something, for at least a half hour or so a day.
posted by margarita at 7:59 AM on April 2, 2005


"I presume she'll learn by 5 and a half, or 6, or 7..."

Yes, she will. Although I defended the claim that some children read early, I don't believe that reading early is an advantage (excepting possibly for children who, as children and adults, spend much of their lives reading). I believe linguistic studies show that children who learn written language early are not at any advantage. I could be wrong. But written language is artificial, it's not easy to learn.

Note also that some Asian languages are so difficult to learn in their (formal) written forms that people well into their teens and early adulthood are still learning them. I believe this literacy is certainly not rarified, adults are expected to attain it and it is assumed for (some) everyday adult use. Yet teens and young adults are still struggling with it. But I have zero expertise in this area and am only going on things I've read and vaguely recall. I'm sure someone who knows much more will weigh in and correct me, if necessary.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:10 AM on April 2, 2005


Many children can learn to read by age 6, which is why it's the piece we screw onto the product as we process it in the part of the conveyor belt we call 1st grade. However, not all do, and as Ethereal Bligh says, who cares? I have personally witnessed children who struggled and struggled all the way through second grade, and then one day in third grade, their brains were finally mature enough, and poof! they could read. One of these kids is now in the gifted program.

You read when you entered kindergarten? So did I. Bully for both of us. See my remarks above about this discussion being "self-selected."
posted by ancientgower at 4:14 PM on April 3, 2005


The more support children get the more they develop.

A parent that works hard to educate a child will always beat out a system of state employees with a ratio that exceeds 20:1.

Anything a child can be expected to learn through high school a parent should be able to teach... no one looses points for referring to books, although textbooks SHOULD BE BANNED.
posted by ewkpates at 8:20 AM on April 4, 2005


Some parents need to work full time jobs during the day, or work 2 jobs just to make ends meet. These very same people probably did not go to college and are ill equipped to teach their kids basic science / math / history. What makes you so sure that overworked parents are better at teaching their children specialized subjects than people who recieved masters degrees and teach for a living would be?

If you want to, and are equipped to, homeschool your kids then great. Some people do not share that luxury.
posted by sophist at 8:36 AM on April 4, 2005


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