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"I have accomplished nothing and I am nothing."
July 5, 2006 7:15 AM   Subscribe

[T]his pattern, grade for the sake of a grade, work for the sake of work, can be found everywhere. Ladies and gentlemen, the spirit of intellectual thought is lost. I speak today not to rant, complain or cause trouble, and certainly not to draw attention to myself. I have accomplished nothing and I am nothing. I know that. Rather, I was moved by the countless hours wasted in those halls. Today, you should focus on your child or loved one. This is meant to be a day of celebration, and if I’ve taken away from that, I’m sorry. But I know how highly this community values learning, and I urge you all to re-evaluate what it means to be educated.
- from a graduation speech by the valedictorian of Mainland Regional High School, Kareem Elnahal, critiquing his school's education process.

The principal's reaction? “My hope was they did not hear or understand what he was saying. ... He was belittling the diplomas of every one of those kids.”.
posted by divabat (156 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
"let's hope they ignored him, otherwise they might be sad"
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 7:17 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


He's right, I get more intellectual stimulation outside of school than I do in it -- where most of my fellow students are more interested in getting a degree and less interested in the process. As far as high school is concerned, the problem I believe lies in the college admission process which seems to demand perfection in everything, to the point where those who game the system are at an advantage over those who challenge themselves. At least that was my experience after taking the hardest, most challenging cources offered and then finding out at graduation there was a whole slew of kids that received all kinds of academic honors by receiving A+ in what amounted to self-proclaimed bullshit classes. I don't even believe there is a solution.
posted by geoff. at 7:25 AM on July 5, 2006


He *is* right. Unschooling is pointed in the right direction, IMHO. Isn't education supposed to be about teaching [students] how to think?
posted by yoga at 7:37 AM on July 5, 2006


Frankly, the fact that principal believes and/or knows there are students who "[did not] understand what he was saying" speaks volumes for the educational system in and of itself.
posted by Hot Like Your 12V Wire at 7:40 AM on July 5, 2006


To my mind, any valedictorian speech that isn't just rah-rah-rah hype or some pseudo-comedic summation of the last five years is a positive thing for everyone. Principal needs a good egging, methinks.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:40 AM on July 5, 2006


More on unschooling here and here. [as an alternative to the many comic sans cheesy unschooling sites out there.]
posted by yoga at 7:42 AM on July 5, 2006


No, no, no. Right message. Wrong time, wrong place. You just piss people off at YOU, and draw attention to yourself. (See... Sacheem Littlefeather speaking for Marlon Brando at the Academy Awards.)
posted by Faze at 7:53 AM on July 5, 2006


Elnahal's speech -- and the unwitting validation of that speech provided by the principal's response -- sum up in large part why my wife and I decided to homeschool our kids.

Thanks for the post, divabat.
posted by Ickster at 7:53 AM on July 5, 2006


What I like about this is that the principal seems to think that the other students didn't understand what they were saying or they would be upset by the guy's message. If they were anything like my graduating class, they were fully aware of the words he said and their meaning.

My school was divided into Regular, Honors and Advanced classes. The Honors kids regularly discussed which classes to take to keep their GPA up without working too hard. I took all of the hardest classes offered and became one of two valedictorians. There is nothing quite like realizing that the great award/honor you have won is perceived as being exactly the same as the one awarded to a person who wasn't as smart as you and didn't work as hard to get it.

I've never let grades matter to me since then, and most of my friends wonder why they ever mattered in the first place. Grades are like monopoly money. They are important in one time and one place and useless everywhere else. The problem is everyone tries to convince you that this isn't the case and a lot of young people get messed up thinking good grades will somehow help you in life. They do to a certain extent, but like the other folks say, there are a lot of other factors that matter a hell of a lot more.
posted by BeReasonable at 7:54 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


@Faze:

When is the right time? When the audience is entirely sympathetic to your argument?

It's not that I can't identify with your sentiment, but I can't really think of a better venue for making this point than at a graduation ceremony, especially in the way he made it. He faulted the education system, not the graduates.
posted by Ickster at 8:00 AM on July 5, 2006


This is what happens when you let the smart kids give the speeches
posted by grobstein at 8:02 AM on July 5, 2006


I like this guy. There is never a "bad time" for the truth.
posted by zerolives at 8:03 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Very eloquently spoken, so it appears that the system isn't entirely broken.
posted by Atreides at 8:04 AM on July 5, 2006


He had me till apologizing and saying 'God help me.' A little abrupt. I wish I could have heard the emphasis he placed when he said it. Still, a worthy speech, especially for a high school.
posted by cavalier at 8:05 AM on July 5, 2006


Err, then I read that he didn't get to give the speech. How much did he manage, I wonder? Google knows nothing.
posted by cavalier at 8:07 AM on July 5, 2006


Pretty much agreeing with everybody before me. I think if most of us are honest with ourselves, we will realize that most of our teachers throughout school were not interested in teaching us to think. A small minority did actually encourage rational thought, but most were only interested in seeing us apply a narrow classroom concept to a narrow classroom problem.

If this thread is perma-derailed into education and the alternatives there-to, allow me to present John Taylor Gatto, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, Knowledge Hound (they have saved at least one school project around here), Etta Kralovec, and Guerilla Learning.
posted by ilsa at 8:07 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


"My hope was they did not hear or understand what he was saying."

Wouldn't that prove Elnahal's point?..
posted by clevershark at 8:09 AM on July 5, 2006


Frankly, the fact that principal believes and/or knows there are students who "[did not] understand what he was saying" speaks volumes for the educational system in and of itself.

Agreed.

I'm in college now, and the stories that I have about public school are matched and bettered by the stories of many of my peers in terms of how bad their education was. I think more people need to bring up subjects like this, talk about them, even if it will be considered and 'inappropriate' time. There is nothing appropriate about the education that a lot of people are getting. But will anything change because of this speech? Sadly, probably not.
posted by nuclear_soup at 8:10 AM on July 5, 2006


Good article. I've long been annoyed about the things this young man expressed more politely and succinctly than I have been able to, as of yet.

I suspect the principal may have even agreed with this speech; it's just kind of like that moment in V for Vendetta where the TV Host Guy does a show parodying Fearless Leader.

Basicly, the guy was airing their dirty secret, in front of the people that had the power to give them (the principal) flack: the parents. If the parents grasped the point of the speech, the principal might be spending the next few weeks fielding worried phone calls, and assuring parents that - yes, things are being done.

And, of course, nothing is being done. Because that's the principal's job - to bounce off complaints and make sure nothing gets done. Even if that isn't the description, or "mission statement," it effectively becomes thus, as any attempt to change thing is just a hassle, and, hey - he's just doing it for the grade (paycheck), not the hassle.
posted by RTQP at 8:12 AM on July 5, 2006


I like this guy. There is never a "bad time" for the truth.

And how often do eighteen year old kids get a public platform to articulate the critique?

If he'd been one of mine, I'd be beaming with pride today.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:14 AM on July 5, 2006


clevershark writes "'My hope was they did not hear or understand what he was saying.'

"Wouldn't that prove Elnahal's point?.."


Shhh or you will make the principal cry ! Everything is A-OK, there is nothing to see, move on.......
posted by elpapacito at 8:17 AM on July 5, 2006


I <3 irony.
posted by clevershark at 8:19 AM on July 5, 2006


My father worked in the U.S. Education Department for 22 years.

At one point he and my mother were driving through an unfamiliar city, and they passed a large building surrounded by a high chain-link fence. "That," he told my mom, "is either a high school or a prison."
posted by futility closet at 8:19 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


When one speaks out about problems they see, it just pisses people off. You will never see a sheep lead the flock, only a person with a staff. Sheep can't think for themselves. They simply follow the sheep in front of them who is following the guy with the candycane shaped stick. And in the best intrest of coorporate america and MTV, Gap, A&F, no one should be different. On Government, no one should question the President. Look, think, believe, and BUY the same as every one else because its what your told to do. Sure the kid is probably a nerd. But the best education likely was from his parents who proabably taught him "to thine ownself be true", fuck the system. To quote Bill Hicks, "You are all fucking sheep, Baaa Baaa".

Kill your TV
posted by cdavidc at 8:32 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


That speech was a billion trillion times better than the ones the valedictorian and student body president gave at my high school. Thanks for the halting read-through of "The Road Not Travelled," Jana. It made all the difference.

God help you, Kareem? No; God help us.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:36 AM on July 5, 2006


Did anybody else catch this:
In my reflection, however, and I have reflected on this a great deal, I found that many of life’s most important questions are ignored here. What is the right way to live? What is the ideal society? What principles should guide my behavior? What is success, what is failure? Is there a creator, and if so, should we look to it for guidance? These are often dismissed as questions of religion, but religion is not something opposed to rationality, it simply seeks to answer such questions through faith. The separation of church and state is, of course, important, but it should never be a reason for intellectual submission or suppression of any kind.
Religion has no place in school. Full stop. Ethics? Philosophy? Bring it on.

I was lucky. I had a number of good teachers who really opened the world to me. But some of his questions are unanswerable - you're not going to find the answers in high school, or college philosophy classes. His later critiques about writing and literature are ones I can more firmly agree with.
posted by canine epigram at 8:43 AM on July 5, 2006


so the principal got up on the stage and interrupted this speech? ... what an idiot ... he should have made it required reading for every freshperson who enters that school, so it could be discussed in class

i was fortunate enough to have a few teachers who actually brought up some of the subject brought up in that speech

my dad was an educator ... he would have loved this speech
posted by pyramid termite at 8:47 AM on July 5, 2006


Canine, he's not asking that the problems be solved in high school, but rather that they at least be discussed. There are plenty of people who didn't go on to higher education, who have no appreciation for anything other than consumer products, and who think "books are for faggots."

Then again there are plenty of people with degrees who are exactly the same.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:49 AM on July 5, 2006


Optimus, it was mostly the last line about separation of church and state that gave me pause.
posted by canine epigram at 8:51 AM on July 5, 2006


People, cdavicd, are not sheep, and if you haven't thought hard enough to tell the difference then maybe you're just repeating a catchy meme you first heard from someone else.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:56 AM on July 5, 2006


Wow. Respect. He had some balls.
posted by ryran at 9:01 AM on July 5, 2006


Are we having this discussion again? The point of public education is not to create thinkers, it's to create consumers and future good employees. Any changes in schools over the last 25 years that ostensibly relate to improving education (think computers in the classroom) are in fact merely a nod to the fact that the U.S. is now a service-based economy, rather than a factory based one. This is also why U.S. science education is the absolute worst in the world - we don't need engineers here. That's what Asia is for. We need salesmen.

And this isn't some conspiracy theory fringe nonsense. Believe me, I was one of the kids who was nearly valedictorian, worked hard to get top grades. The public school system is designed for the masses, or more succinctly put, for the children of the masses, those same masses for whom television and shopping malls are designed for. The children of educated kids go to private schools.

Look at the curriculum of places like St. Albans, and notice how they stress music and art education (that's boys schools, btw) among other things. Also, notice how unstructured the day is compared to public school's wall-to wall classes.

Of course, that's $24,000 a year.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:03 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Canine, he's not asking that the problems be solved in high school, but rather that they at least be discussed. There are plenty of people who didn't go on to higher education, who have no appreciation for anything other than consumer products, and who think "books are for faggots."

Then again there are plenty of people with degrees who are exactly the same.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:49 AM EST on July 5 [+fave] [!]


On this point, there was an interview conducted with some high ranking official in the Bush administration who made the point that democrats wouldn't mind if their kids became playwrights or artists. I voted for Bush, twice, (**ducks**) and that sentence was the beginning of the end for me. That's what got me to revisit everything with a more critical eye. What the hell is wrong with being a playwright?
posted by Pastabagel at 9:06 AM on July 5, 2006


High-school education in the US is and has been completely borked from (probably) time immemorial. The best you can hope for is that your kids have some teachers who really do care, who do push the boundaries, who will challenge your kids to have a critical thought.

Of course, given that most big colleges/universities are nothing but diploma mills anymore, either, it may not matter to anyone but you, but you know, it should matter to you.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:07 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'll shut up after this, but I find it very sad how we all applaud the kid for having the guts to stand up and say these things. We are all so institutionalized that we find it impressive that he spoke his mind eloquently and rationally in a circumstance where the school was powerless to do anything to punish or retaliate against him.

Good for him for doing this, bad for us for not having done it ten years ago so maybe he wouldn't have had to.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:09 AM on July 5, 2006


Nonsense, Wolfdog. People are sheep who do not think for themselves. Bill Hicks said it, so it must be true.

Um.
posted by tannhauser at 9:10 AM on July 5, 2006


I find it very sad how we all applaud the kid for having the guts to stand up and say these things. We are all so institutionalized that we find it impressive that he spoke his mind eloquently and rationally in a circumstance where the school was powerless to do anything to punish or retaliate against him.

He, like most of us, spent twelve years in an environment where you're just supposed to parrot what you're told. It's impressive that any of us are rational, eloquent, or independent. I don't think that I could in good conscience send my children to public school. I guess I better go make a shitload of money.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:22 AM on July 5, 2006


“My hope was they did not hear or understand what he was saying."

Wow. Sums it up nicely, doesn't he.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:23 AM on July 5, 2006


Very eloquently spoken, so it appears that the system isn't entirely broken.

Wrong, in my opinion. This is the kind of thought and reasoning of a naturally gifted intellectual who was educated through his own curiousity and thirst for digging deeper that what the system drops on his desk. The system hardly contributed to the formation of this speech outside of it being the subject of its harsh criticism.

The system is about turning work in on time and regurgitating answers for tests. It has nothing to do with thinking, reasoning, and retaining education.

A vast quantity of kids today are fucking stupid. A vast quantity of adults, many of whom are parents to fucking stupid children, are complete imbeciles. The principal in this story is one of those complete imbeciles, and the other children he referred to are the fucking stupid kids whose lives he has only served to further derail.
posted by dopamine at 9:32 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


> Isn't education supposed to be about teaching [students] how to think?

Education -- in state-run high schools anyway -- is 80% about daycare and 20% about molding good little worker-bee consumer conformists, or trying to. Anything a given student may pick up beyond that comes from freakish good luck or individual effort, and is absolutely not state-supported or encouraged. "Teaching them to think for themselves," my ass. It doesn't happen and isn't meant to happen.
posted by jfuller at 9:48 AM on July 5, 2006


This is the kind of thought and reasoning of a naturally gifted intellectual who was educated through his own curiousity and thirst for digging deeper that what the system drops on his desk.

*nods*

We had a conversation in a class I took last fall that reminds me of this point. We were discussing an essay that someone wrote, talking about how he needed a new secretary and asked that the secretrial school nearby send him a few candidates for the job. It turned out that most of the candidates couldn't type well, some couldn't even spell secretary. My class discussed wether this was the fault of the school or of the student. Many people ardently argued that it was entirely the school's fault, but I didn't think so. I mean, obviously they weren't doing their job, but neither was the individual. If they aren't being taught something they know they need, why not take the inititave to learn it on their own? Unfortunately, this is the case for a lot of people when it comes to public schools. The only real educaiton they get is the one they give themselves.
posted by nuclear_soup at 9:51 AM on July 5, 2006


Pastabagel - the St. Albans curriculum just makes me sad. What percentage of American children are given the opportunity for this kind of education - 1%? .1%? Less?

High-school education in the US is and has been completely borked from (probably) time immemorial.


Anyone looking for an interesting history of public education in the United States should take a look at John Taylor Gatto's Underground History of American Education. The decision to warp the public schools toward producing good workers and consumers was made at the beginning of the twentieth century:
The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple...we will organize children...and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.
posted by spacewaitress at 9:52 AM on July 5, 2006


As a graduate of a public school system that was consistently given high marks of distinction and countless awards from the state and federal government and was effectively a day-care facility for teenagers, I applaud his speech. I was lucky enough to have maybe two teachers who really encouraged my intellectual pursuits and who I respected immensely, but for the most part when I recall high school all that comes to mind is the hours and hours wasted. In the comment field on my report card one year my history teacher wrote "Reads too much in class." Pretty sad when the valedictorian is pleading "Please teach us something, anything of substance."
posted by inoculatedcities at 9:57 AM on July 5, 2006


Elnahal's arguments are sound, and he did choose an opportune moment to make them, but he made a mistake in phrasing his arguments as complaints about the past. Nothing can be done about the past. His ideas would have been better-received had he phrased the them in terms of what he hopes will change, with specific remarks on what the school should be doing differently. He has good ideas. I hope he brought them to the attention of his teachers prior to the graduation ceremony.

We study what is, never why, never what should be. For that reason, the education we have received here is not only incomplete, it is entirely hollow.

There is something to be said for letting people draw their own conclusions from "what is." Yes, the system needs improvement, but it's too easy to say "my education was crap." That's a cop-out. Many kids would love to have the kind of mandatory education that American kids have by right.

dopamine: A vast quantity of kids today are fucking stupid. A vast quantity of adults, many of whom are parents to fucking stupid children, are complete imbeciles. The principal in this story is one of those complete imbeciles, and the other children he referred to are the fucking stupid kids whose lives he has only served to further derail.

This is not only a modern problem resulting from our education system. It's one of the reasons behind the Electoral College system. And on preview, also what spacewaitress said.
posted by zennie at 10:01 AM on July 5, 2006


Self-destruction. My guess is he was a boy-genius and as he gets older he's no longer the bright star, the special case. Typical pattern. Rather than compete and risk being outdone, he self-destructs, starting with intellectual suicide on stage.
posted by stbalbach at 10:06 AM on July 5, 2006


Homeschooling is not the answer.

Homeschooling is not the answer.

Homeschooling is not the answer.

The value of public school is not learning how to simplify fractions, that can be taught at the dining room table. The value of public school is learning how to function in society. Life outside of mommy and daddy's house is tough sometimes. Unless you are independently wealthy, and can insure your children are independently wealthy as well, then they have to be able to suffer the fools of the public to some degree.

How to work well with others; how to handle a bully; how to have romantic relationships; how to engage in daily interaction and maintain multiple relationships and bonds... THAT is the value of being educated in public school. If you're really afraid your 7 year old is going to be woefully behind because they can't do integrals yet, then teach them that at home.

But pulling children out of school into the protective bubble of parents and home, only to shove them out of the nest at 18 and expect them to survive, much less thrive, is lunacy.

Yes, homeschool kids are very impressive being able to recite Frost when they are 9. However, they are much less impressive at 21 when they have no idea how to ask a girl out on a date. Or at 32 when they are stuck in a dead-end job because they have no idea how to negotiate the political and social structure of an organization.

Private vs public school is a worthwhile discussion, but unfortunately, a discussion open mainly to the wealthy.

Homeschool vs public school is ridiculous. If you absolutely, positively, have to instill extra knowledge in your kids, then do it after school. They get out at 2pm or 3pm, depending where you live and their grade. That leaves plenty of daylight for extracurricular learning.

This is leaving out the entire discussion about how many homeschoolers do it to give their children a predominantly religious education. Most homeschool associations you encounter also have a religious tilt to them.

This is also leaving out the entire discussion about how many parents, unless they have multiple degrees and some experience in education, are intellectually inadequate to educate their children. As I've said on this topic before... are you REALLY qualified to teach your child everything they possibly need to know before graduating? Are you really sure you are smarter on EVERY topic than the ENTIRE faculty of your local high school? How's your German after all these years? A little rusty? Still remember covalent bonds? I'm sure you use trig every day and keep your skills up? How long HAS it been since you read Twain?

And, let's say you are so confident in your all-encompassing knowledge that you believe you do know more than anyone else your child is likely to encounter... what about your neighbor? Are they as well educated and intelligent as you? What about all your neighbors? Could everyone homeschool? Is everyone smart enough to be the ONLY source of education for their child?????

Homeschooling preys upon the pride and overconfidence of parents. It also is incredibly funny and ironic how most parents who feel they have to homeschool their kids and are perfectly qualified to do so, are products of public school themselves.

A vast quantity of kids today are fucking stupid. A vast quantity of adults, many of whom are parents to fucking stupid children, are complete imbeciles.

This is as it has been, and always will be. You suggest these imbeciles try to educate their stupid children themselves? Or would public school be a better alternative to give the child at least a CHANCE, and a pretty damn good one considering, what, 90% of the entire country is publicly schooled? 95%? The vast, vast majority of doctors, lawyers, rocket scientists, judges, professors, engineers, inventors, congressmen, teachers, artists, writers, musicians, CEOs, clergy, and, yes, parents were publicly schooled, at least in the elementary and secondary levels. Private school is a bit more common at the collegiate level, but that's not really what we're addressing.

You should send your kid to the best school you can afford, and everyone can afford public school.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:11 AM on July 5, 2006 [7 favorites]


Rather than compete and risk being outdone, he self-destructs, starting with intellectual suicide on stage.
posted by stbalbach at 10:06 AM PST on July 5


Yeah totally thanks for the compelling argument.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:13 AM on July 5, 2006


As long as our high schools are putting out unskilled, uncritically thinking, amorphous blobs that be easily swayed by military recruitment ads, they are doing their job.
posted by psmealey at 10:14 AM on July 5, 2006


Rather than compete and risk being outdone, he self-destructs, starting with intellectual suicide on stage.

Yeah, I remember my valedictorian speech. It was the beginning of the end of my life, too. Everything went downhill from that moment on.
posted by Mr. Six at 10:22 AM on July 5, 2006


For people reading this thread and interested in learning more about the idea of homeschooling, I'd like to offer a link to NHEN, The National Home Education Network. It's an alternative to HSLDA, which unfortunetly, carries the taint of Patrick Henry College.
posted by jvilter at 10:24 AM on July 5, 2006


I went to a school where the governing council was a ten member group of 3:3:3:1; teachers, parents, students and the principal. Each had one vote.

This is how the students defeated a parental lobby demanding uniforms and a call to ban field trips. It's also how I hired my english and art teacher during the time I served on the council.

The principal in those days wore a button on his lapel that said "Question authority".

That school and three or four others like it were part of the alternative school charter in the Los Angeles Unified School District, created in the 70s by hippies and their kids.

I attended this school in its sunset years, when the majority of the students exploited the system rather than made use of it.

That one year I was in student government and the governing council, student government had to devise a way to add an additional class in the mornings by starting school earlier and cutting nutrition and lunch, and fielded the ire of teachers whose conference period was moved, all to make sure the seniors had enough slots on their schedule to graduate.

I'm tooting my own horn, but it really boiled down to me and several others who did take the school's charter seriously and used it to the best of our abilities.

Sadly, the lack of funding and the lack of drive in the students resulted in very few advanced courses in the math and sciences. We were able to take classes in city college for high school credit to offset this, but again, few took advantage of this to get meet the class requirements of a four year university.

I gave the graduation speech and I tried to impress on the parents that the school was valuable in ways that a regular public school was not. No one really listened. I visited the school five years ago and found it to be just another normal school, its charter forgotten.

All the teachers I knew have gone on to other projects in education. All of them abandoned the standard public school system.

I can look back on my time there and know that I came away with something special and different, but with that happy thought comes the depressing realization that today that something is gone, and the kids attending my high school alma mater have no idea of their school's history, and of the possibilities they might have had if not for the apathy of the parents and the kids before them.
posted by linux at 10:30 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


The kind of education that kid wanted is not the kind of education that is right for most kids. The kind of education that he got was not right for him. The problem isn't that our schools aren't nurturing all students into little intellectuals, it's that our schools try to do everything and as a result, do very little.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:33 AM on July 5, 2006


I'm with Ynoxas here . . . I went to a very small, poor public school, and was just plain fucking lucky that I had *three* teachers that I *remember* and who still remember me. Hell, I talk to my HS drama/English teacher on the phone about once a year. The woman is a gem, a monument to what people should be and should do. I've long believed that all public school teachers should be required to attend what I've mentally dubbed the "Duff/Hofffer/Hussey Teacher Bootcamp." One can dream.

The problem is that those of us who care about this stuff end up either "too busy" to deal with it, or send our kids to private schools, or home school . . . or in my case, just determine that having children is a mounful and pointless undertaking in this ridiculously stupid world I've inherited -- there's a pretty impressive charter school movement around here (a few even tuition-free), and I don't know if that's the answer but part of it is that the adults need to fucking care. We need to not expect our kids to conform -- we need to fight the battle for them. It's a really large battle now, but they're essentially disenfranchised. It's one thing to say they're not learning, it's another to blame them. It's also another to tune out and drop out, and I'm as guilty of that as anyone else.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:36 AM on July 5, 2006


I never learned particle physics in high school. The school system let me down.
posted by JJ86 at 10:40 AM on July 5, 2006


Saying that all public schools suck or churn out idiots is a gross generalization. I went to a public school with 20 different sports, a genetic engineering club, 90% participation in music, theater, and dance....and the list goes on. I also attended a high school with metal detectors, a police substation, and the occasional riot, but you can't stereotype all schools. Where the real estate prices climb and the tax dollars flow, so do the good schools.
posted by mattbucher at 10:45 AM on July 5, 2006


I spent the last year subbing in the Puget Sound area, so I've gotten around. At the risk of sounding like an apologist: the staff meetings are not about turning out good drones for the workforce and military. In a lot of schools, Elnahal would've been allowed his say. From his speech, and the principal's reaction, the principal sounds like a complete douche.

Elnahal's absolutely right, or at least he would be in a lot of schools. I've seen some places where either a large chunk of the teachers, or the administration (or in one case, BOTH) have mostly given up.

In defense of those schools where he'd have been allowed his say, though: I've met a great many teachers who try very, very hard (and succeed) in reaching for that higher intellectual standard.

Conversely, I've had the experience of having kids complain that they don't learn anything. More than once in that moment, the only honest thing I could tell them was along the lines of, "Yes, we did discuss that in class. That was the day I had to kick you out because you threw a tantrum when I told you to put your iPod away." The problem is not always the teachers; sometimes it's just the perceptions of students and parents who hear what they want to hear.

This sounds like one of those schools where teachers spend more time on classroom control issues than on teaching. I've been there, and it sucks to know that some really bright kids suffer for it. They'll probably turn out like Elnahal.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:46 AM on July 5, 2006


cdavidc: To quote Bill Hicks, "You are all fucking sheep, Baaa Baaa".

Kill your TV
Heh... when I first read this (which I mostly agree with), I thought it was posted by davidmsc and couldn't help thinking "Who the hell spiked his coffee this morning?!" :)
posted by hincandenza at 10:48 AM on July 5, 2006


hey... who wahnts to get sahm beeahs and beat down sahm smaht kids?
posted by indiebass at 10:52 AM on July 5, 2006


Ynoxas: The value of public school is not learning how to simplify fractions, that can be taught at the dining room table. The value of public school is learning how to function in society.

Let me stop you right here. What society? A society populated by public school grads?

Public school is responsible for the prejudices that samrt kids are nerds and kids who are different are a problem and likely are mentally ill.

I notice how you assume that homeschooled kids won't be able to ask a girl out on a date. Most of the guys I knew who were nervous about asking girls on a date developed that anxiety based on experiences in public school or their perceived social status in that school that they carry forward into the rest of their life.

Public school in no way prepares you for real life other than to make you a good little worker bee.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:55 AM on July 5, 2006


Ditto Ynoxas. The schools around here can teach kids to read, write and do math problems just fine. They have more trouble when it comes to hand cutting dovetails, changing the timing belt on a DOHC engine, making perogies or bannock, appreciating free time, having empathy for others and being a good citizen.
posted by Mitheral at 11:10 AM on July 5, 2006


A colleague and I were having a technical conversation on a bus over the holiday weekend. We'd noticed that the passenger in front of us looking put-off, and assumed it was the lack of air conditioning, until she turned to us and said, "I don't understand what you're talking about, and I can't ignore you. Please lower your voice."

I had absolutely no idea what to say.
posted by arialblack at 11:15 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


That's just perfect, arialblack. That should absolutely be a one-panel comic in the New Yorker.
posted by psmealey at 11:24 AM on July 5, 2006


What society? A society populated by public school grads?

In a word, yes. And I'm not talking about just "getting along" I'm talking about being functional. Able to get through your day.

Yes it is great if you're homeschooled and mom can take 6 weeks to teach you how to cultivate blackberries and make your own jams. That's awesome.

But, somewhere along the way the kid needs to know how to balance a checkbook, why taxes are garnished from their wages, and how to have a reasonable conversation with a stranger.

There's nothing preventing you from teaching your child whatever-the-hell skills and knowledge you feel important after school hours or on weekends, or throughout the summers, or ALL OF THE ABOVE. You don't have to pull them out of school to do that.

Except for the people who are brute-forcing little geniuses, making their kids take violin lessons at 2 and intend on their kids graduating college at 16, homeschooling is almost always about insulation and isolation. Don't expose the kid to any people, thoughts, or learning that offends us. Let us have complete dominion over what our child learns and does not learn. Let us protect them from any potential for harm or hurt feelings.

This is not a practical approach to rearing well-adjusted adults of any kind, "worker bees" or not.

Also, the elitism in the thread is offensive. "Worker bees" indeed. There's nothing wrong with being a hard worker or an industrious citizen. We would be lost, LOST, without them. There's no shame in earning an honest day's wage. Someone who did not double major in art history and latin was who built the house you live your life of leisure in. I have it pretty good now in my cushy executive job (where I'm gloriously typing this at my desk while chewing a fancy chicken sandwich from a glamorous drive-thru), but it has not always been that way, and I have at some points of my life had to truly labor for my money. Full-time college and full-time jobs, some not pleasant, make for some interesting 3am study sessions.

Most of the guys I knew who were nervous about asking girls on a date developed that anxiety based on experiences in public school or their perceived social status in that school that they carry forward into the rest of their life.

You misunderstand. I'm talking about kids that do not know what a date is, how you perform one, why you would want to go on one, or who should be involved in the decision to have one. I'm not talking about just being nervous, that is human nature. I'm talking about a fundamental lack of understanding about relationships and the courtship ritual.

It is not funny or cute when a grown man or woman is completely and totally ignorant of romantic relationships and other social constructs and norms. It's sad. And I'm thinking, for most of them, they'd trade a more comfortable daily existence for being able to recite all the state capitals alphabetically when they were 5.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:33 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


inoculatedcities: one year my history teacher wrote "Reads too much in class."

My French teacher threw me out of class for committing that horrific sin! After some time chatting with the principal (who told me she was a moron and asked me to just hang out for a while so she'd think he'd 'disciplined' me), I went back to her class, hating the whole "learning" experience even more.

Pastabagel: Most of the guys I knew who were nervous about asking girls on a date developed that anxiety based on experiences in public school or their perceived social status in that school that they carry forward into the rest of their life.

and

arialblack: "I don't understand what you're talking about, and I can't ignore you. Please lower your voice."

Oh yeah? I've got you both beat. How about being asked, on a first date, by someone who worked for Boston University, to please stop using such big words?

To all the public school defenders -- you know what? It's like defending the Democrats. (And I am one, thanks). Sure, they COULD change. Sure, we'd like to think they will, and that they'll start winning, but in the meantime, I'd rather cover my ass and homeschool if we have kids. That's the rest of my child's LIFE we're talking about...and given some of the chuckleheads I was subjected to in school, even in the gifted/advanced classes, I'm not willing to risk it.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:42 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


arialblack:
"A colleague and I were having a technical conversation"

How technical? (example?). Just curious if this is a weird hear-no-evil response to a conversation you wouldn't expect someone to understand, or whether the person was also leaning on the side of dim.

(And for the record, if you were talking about World of Warcraft, then it's the former, not the later :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:43 AM on July 5, 2006


I agree mostly with the speaker, and I think it's a much bigger problem relating to a material-success-stressed, mimetic civilization, but good luck with that fight ...

However, inequality among public-school students is pretty easy to understand IMO. It's not only the taxes.

It's easier to be brutal to people when you lock them out of sight.

Urban high schools are sometimes 95%+ black or hispanic. Those students are rarely "educated." They are "trained."

There's no shame in earning an honest day's wage.

Unfortunately, there often is.

I'm talking about kids that do not know what a date is, how you perform one, why you would want to go on one, or who should be involved in the decision to have one.

I think you're confusing parenting with schooling.

If those issues aren't addressed by parents when the time is proper, that's bad IMO, but then again, why should we expect strangers for hire to teach critical life lessons to our children?

Social skills can be learned elsewhere. Home-schooled kids should certainly belong to similar-age social groups, which is often difficult because most kids are in school all day. Chicken-egg.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:45 AM on July 5, 2006


Except for the people who are brute-forcing little geniuses, making their kids take violin lessons at 2 and intend on their kids graduating college at 16, homeschooling is almost always about insulation and isolation. Don't expose the kid to any people, thoughts, or learning that offends us. Let us have complete dominion over what our child learns and does not learn. Let us protect them from any potential for harm or hurt feelings.

Ynoxas, I don't know what homeschoolers you're hanging out with. On the contrary -- I know 6 year olds who are homeschooled that can balance a checkbook better than your average high school (or college!) graduate, who love learning, who have intellectual interests separate from their parents...who are less self-conscious than other kids I know in that age group, more comfortable talking to people, adults OR children...

I don't like the "genius-making" people any more than you do, but I think you've got a skewed perspective on homeschooling. It's not just for religious sects and trophy parents anymore.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:47 AM on July 5, 2006


"It's not just for religious sects and trophy parents anymore."

No, but that doesn't make it any less a further dissolution of the American civic social sphere.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:55 AM on July 5, 2006


"never let your schooling get in the way of your education"

For such a smart kid, im a little disapointed he didnt catch the rub sooner. School proves to future employers that you will jump through the hoops they present. I mean, unless you're going to be a scientist laywer doctor etc - most of what you learn will be out of date by the time you hit the job market and you will pick up the majority of your job skills on the job.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 11:56 AM on July 5, 2006


"I think you're confusing parenting with schooling."

Neither parenting nor schooling performs this function, spending most of everyday with a large group of familiar peers does. This chicken-egg social problem you note for homeschoolers is made worse by the majority of homeschooler social opportunities being through other homeschool kids and homeschool organisations, which even in the heart of wealthy suburbia (where the public schools are as good as they get), the homeschool groups seem to be predominantly the kids of eg, religious nuts protecting their kids from science, and worse, rather than the kind of accelerated education being discussed here. :-(

What about Canadian public schools? I don't hear them diss'ed like the US schools. Are they generally better? Maybe that is the magic third option :)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:57 AM on July 5, 2006


There seems to be a recurring theme here of "High school was the worst thing for my education, it was terrible! Inexcusable! I hated it! But I turned out OK and now I'm highly educated actually".

How is this reconciled?
posted by -harlequin- at 12:05 PM on July 5, 2006


That makes me recall the simpson episodes in which Lisa et al wear these gray dull uniforms and then rain turns them into color, overstimulating them much as coloured chalk :)
posted by elpapacito at 12:12 PM on July 5, 2006


Social skills can be learned elsewhere. Home-schooled kids should certainly belong to similar-age social groups, which is often difficult because most kids are in school all day. Chicken-egg.

Ok, not trying to rain on anybody here, but this one is for all the people who are arguing that Homeschoolers lack social skills. Disclaimer, I do not homeschool but I have researched it.

First, almost all of the Homeschoolers I know are involved in a variety of activities which range from church groups, to groups of homeschoolers being tutored in a field mom/dad feels unable to teach, to the same athletic teams/scout troops/ comunity groups/musical ensembles their public schooled peers enjoy after school. Some of them are pretty socially active. None of them are so cloistered as to only interact with family members. Almost all of them are polite and able to carry on a decent conversation. I concede this to be anecdotal. How many hundred homeschooled kids do I need to know before we can call it the voice of experience?

Second, most schools (both private and public) tend to segregate kids not by "similar" age, not even by similar academic level, but in groups where everyone is born within one year. I fail to see how this really prepares kids for interacting with people older and younger than themselves (assume no siblings, as not all kids have them). In the real world, I know of no offices populated exclusively by 32 year olds.
posted by ilsa at 12:14 PM on July 5, 2006


Because those of us who gave a damn made an effort to go outside our high schools for further education, -harlequin-! For example, I started taking college classes in 11th grade. In actual high school classes, I tuned out. Yes, I was physically there, but I wasn't, if you know what I mean.

A lot of people chose to tune out their teachers not because they don't want to learn but because they weren't being taught anything. The final year of required math at my school was "taught" by a teacher who didn't even know how to work the problems himself!

(We caught him when he did a problem that was demonstrated in the back of the book and got the wrong answer. We called him out. He, looking genuinely confused...no Socratic method here...said "that's not the answer? hmmm.")

I learned more from the books I read before, during and after class than I did from any of my teachers, save my German prof, who, in properly Germanic fashion, wasn't screwing around.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:14 PM on July 5, 2006


There seems to be a recurring theme here of "High school was the worst thing for my education, it was terrible! Inexcusable! I hated it! But I turned out OK and now I'm highly educated actually".

How is this reconciled?


I didn't comment earlier, but I will now. My high school -- suburban/rural, lower-middle-class -- sucked. I learned not one thing in English class from the day I entered until the day I left.

People gave copied-from-the-internet book reports on Moby-Dick: "It's a story about this guy, and he wants to catch a big whale." The teacher would be sitting there nodding along, and I'd be the one asking "Do you think there's any symbolism here? A deeper meaning, or is it, you know, an adventure story about a guy who wants to catch a whale?" (The kid giving the book report opted for the latter choice. The teacher kept nodding.)

I am fairly intelligent and educated today not because of my schooling, but despite it (the Mark Twain quote was my senior quote in the yearbook). I had the drive to educate myself outside of class, to pick topics I was interested in and chase down obscure works on those subjects and read every last word of them, because I loved those topics. Out of my class of 125 students (and a graduating class of under 100), there were perhaps three or four people who did the same with their own favorite topics.

I am not saying that every kid should pursue their own wishes during class time, or that teachers can cater to the whims of every student. But some attempt should be made to interest kids, and to give them a good basic overview or solid grounding in the main subject areas. Not everyone can do what I did -- the kid who has to work for 40 hours a week is out of luck when it comes to pleasure reading or study, as is the kid whose parents can't take him to the library.

I am speaking for my 95 classmates who did not pursue their own favorite topics on their own time, because they are not speaking for themselves.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:29 PM on July 5, 2006


Did the final sentence of that abbreviated talk not creep out anyone else?
"Again, my deepest apologies, God help me."
Public flameout, public apology --> dramatic teen aged angst --> ill considered self harm, or attempt?

No? Sorry, then; my deepest apologies...
posted by paulsc at 12:29 PM on July 5, 2006


Second, most schools (both private and public) tend to segregate kids not by "similar" age, not even by similar academic level, but in groups where everyone is born within one year. I fail to see how this really prepares kids for interacting with people older and younger than themselves (assume no siblings, as not all kids have them). In the real world, I know of no offices populated exclusively by 32 year olds.
As someone who was homeschooled for most of high school, that's something that actually made the transition into "the real world" a hell of a lot easier for me. I was used to working with people who were not like me -- in opinions, ages, levels of intelligence, family backgrounds, etc. Maybe I was an exception -- I certainly did know some of the 'stereotypical homeschoolers' that people in this thread talk about. But I had friends who self-destructed in public school, too. And I worked on collaborative projects that involved a lot of people from different religions, so the 'Christian Bubble' didn't apply quite as much.

Just seems like whipping yourself into a froth about homeschooling is just as pointless as blaming public school for the country's problems. There are downsides, and I'd discourage any parent from treating it as The Solution To Education's Ills, but people seem to have a very intense and out of proportion emotional reaction to the very idea of it.
posted by verb at 12:37 PM on July 5, 2006


Did the final sentence of that abbreviated talk not creep out anyone else?

"Again, my deepest apologies, God help me."


Judging from the editorial and the abrupt end, I believe he was removed from the stage by the principal. It was likely a longer speech. I'd be curious to read the whole thing, not that I expect much more.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:39 PM on July 5, 2006


I suspect the "God help me" bit came in as Principal Moron was hustling him off stage.

Nothing to see here. Move along...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:40 PM on July 5, 2006


"How is this reconciled?"

I don't know what you're asking. Does horrid secondary schooling prevent all students from becoming well educated? Of course it doesn't. Some students are autodidacts, some are so talented and determined that pretty much any school isn't going to ruin them, and for all these reasons some students find their way to good or very good higher education in spite of their secondary schooling, as I did. That's not to say that a) my teen years wouldn't have been much better otherwise; or that, b) my path to a good education and growth as an intellectual wouldn't have been much faster and smoother if I had not attended such a shitty school. Secondary public education failed me and in many ways I'm the worse for it. For one thing, I'm still really pissed-off about it 25 years later.

Furthermore, most undergraduate educations in the US aren't any better than these crappy secondary educations. But then we ought to define "good" and "bad" in this context of education. I do think that both the typical secondary and undergraduate educations are more often than not failures by their own terms—they don't manage to achieve what they say they intend to achieve.

But putting that aside, I still find the discussion in this thread, and of that student in the link, to be very narrow-minded and tending to see "what education should be" only in terms of what it should be for the kinds of people participating in this thread. But most people aren't like those of us in this thread. It would have been right for me to read Kant in high school. Does anyone here actually think that this would be true for all 14 year olds?

As I said earlier, the real failure of education in the US is that our notions of egalitarianism coupled with very narrow notions of what it means to be "smart", "competent", and "fulfilled" cause us to insist that, for the most part, one size fits all. And it most emphatically doesn't.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:42 PM on July 5, 2006


There are downsides, and I'd discourage any parent from treating it as The Solution To Education's Ills, but people seem to have a very intense and out of proportion emotional reaction to the very idea of it.

Ha. I'm curious if private schoolers contribute as much to the "dissolution of the American civic social sphere."

If you want to support some "civic social sphere," try something new, cuz public school ain't working. Prohibit TVs in homes with children under the age of 13. Or force them to live in a communes for a year. Neither is any more intrusive nor restrictive than requiring 35 hours/week of schooling for 10-12 years.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:48 PM on July 5, 2006


For all the people who say they learned nothing in high school, that says less about you than the teachers. Given a textbook, it doesn't require a teacher leading you through the material to learn it. If you can't learn about world history or math or english by reading a textbook on your own, then WTF? Did you expect the teacher to wholly spoon feed you the material or there was no hope in learning at all? What was college all about? You have to give a fuck to learn.

Homeschoolers are insulated to much of the diversity of the world and this scares me. ilsa mentions that homeschooled kids still get some social interaction but a homogenous interaction doesn't really help you to deal with the social difficulties of a regular public school. Yes kids get ridiculed, beat up and pranked but I'll be honest with you, that stuff doesn't end when you become an adult so you better learn to deal with it as a child.
posted by JJ86 at 12:48 PM on July 5, 2006


For all the people who say they learned nothing in high school, that says less about you than the teachers. Given a textbook, it doesn't require a teacher leading you through the material to learn it. If you can't learn about world history or math or english by reading a textbook on your own, then WTF?

Since that seems at least partially addressed to me:
(1) I specifically mentioned English. There are no English textbooks that I've seen, just texts -- which, yes, I pursued outside of class on my own.

(2) How do you get your hands on textbooks for classes the school doesn't offer? I like medieval history; there was no history but American history offered at my school. It would be the same deal for a kid who liked organic chem, or advanced physics, or calculus. If the school won't give you textbooks, you can't learn from them -- you have to go find your own books. It's not a case of "Waaah, I don't want to read the big book, make the teacher say it to me."

posted by booksandlibretti at 12:53 PM on July 5, 2006


EB - one size does not fit all, but everyone needs to learn how to think and learn, from the smartest kid there to the kid that will end up asking you if you want fries with that. Our current educational model doesn't really teach anyone how to think -- just how to produce the requested result. Any thinking that happens to occur between assignment and grade is completely incidental. Never mind producing a similar result - we're teaching our kids to memorize and spit back information, that's all. If that's all we need/want, we might as well replace kids with computers and pay teachers to enter search terms into Google all day.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:04 PM on July 5, 2006


booksandlibretti, I find it hard to believe that you could not find the books you needed in the possession of either the school library or from the teachers' private collections. I talked to one of the chem teachers who I didn't have for regular classes and he let me do experiments of my own choosing in the lab after school. He even provided me with other older texts of his to help me with stuff not in my normal texts. Sometimes it helps to talk to your teachers directly instead of assuming they are not willing to help.

My HS was just an average suburban public school in a working class city, not the playground of geniuses. But there were still plenty of teachers that would help you if you requested more instruction after school. I would find it hard to believe there would be any school where all the teachers would be apathetic towards continued learning.

Mind you, I wasn't an overachiever in HS. I spent more than my fair share of time smoking pot out back and graduated in the middle of my class as a regular slacker. But I will take responsibility for my dismal academic successes and not try to pawn it off elsewhere.
posted by JJ86 at 1:20 PM on July 5, 2006


Wow. That kid totally blew the valedictorian speech given at my son's graduation last month out of the water.
The one we got was a complete yellow-ribbon, wave-the-flag-and-support-the-troops, god-bless-our-president bit of boosterism worthy of Fox News or NASCAR.
Complete with mangled sentence structure.
Thankfully, it only lasted 5 minutes or so.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:21 PM on July 5, 2006


If you are smart enough to help yourself learn, then you have no one else to blame when you aren't learning what you want.
posted by ozomatli at 1:33 PM on July 5, 2006


My school was fairly new, and all the teachers had been hired specifically for their dedication to heterogeneous grouping; our town's system was rotten from the top down. And the library contained books necessary for courses, some big reference works, and a ton of Lurlene McDaniel specials. I'm not bitching about that -- we have public libraries for a reason, and God knows I make use of them.

And thanks for the condescension, but I realize that some teachers are nice people, of course. I had good relationships with a number of my teachers. But their hands were tied -- for example, if the administration found out that I, a female, stayed after school alone with a male teacher, the hassle wouldn't be worth whatever help he could give me. And teachers have families of their own, and often have to run extracurricular activities, and have a thousand other demands on their time.

I got by just fine on my own -- I learned a lot in those four years; it's just a shame I had to do it on my own time, while wasting almost 35 hours a week. I have all kinds of statistics -- GPA, SAT, ACT, class rank, whatever -- I can pull out if you like; I'm not trying to pawn off my "dismal academic successes" on anyone else. I am one of the lucky ones who succeeded despite the system. I'm concerned about the students who are not able to, or who do not know they have to, take responsibility for their own education, and about their parents who may not know the state of today's public-school system.
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:33 PM on July 5, 2006


We caught him when he did a problem that was demonstrated in the back of the book and got the wrong answer. We called him out. He, looking genuinely confused...no Socratic method here...said "that's not the answer? hmmm."

have you ever taught a class before?
have you ever made a mistake before?
do you think if you were teaching all day every day for an entire year you might make a mistake or two while teaching?
have you ever felt confused when something doesn't turn out the way you expected?

i don't teach high school; i TA some university courses and it's exhausting. i have an enormous degree of respect for the sheer effort put forth by people who do it all day long.

it really raises my hackles when snotty too-cool-for-school high schoolers think they're smarter than their teachers because said teachers aren't flawless. i don't understand the sense of entitlement that makes people think a teacher is worthy of contempt if they're not one of those inspiring, life-altering teachers.

if you want a good education, it's your responsibility to pursue it. great thinkers didn't get that way because they sat back and waited for brilliance to present itself to them every day in fifth period.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 1:54 PM on July 5, 2006


-harlequin- writes "What about Canadian public schools? I don't hear them diss'ed like the US schools. Are they generally better? Maybe that is the magic third option "

Canadian schools appear to vary less than American schools. Most of the difference seems to be in how modivated the parents are. Both in encouraging their kids and providing fund raising for extras. Some schools are known for some programs (EG: in my home town one school was known for band and another for football) and parents will sometimes move to get their kids into the program they feel is important.

Otherwise the biggest difference in schools is the size, bigger schools tend to have more varied programs and equipment. I went from a tiny elementry school to a massive secondary school and the increase in possibilities was amazing.
posted by Mitheral at 2:09 PM on July 5, 2006


booksandlibretti wrote: (1) I specifically mentioned English. There are no English textbooks that I've seen, just texts -- which, yes, I pursued outside of class on my own.

I make my living writing/editing English (language arts) textbooks. Believe me, they exist and they are lots more than just "texts." Of course there are bad teachers, but a good teacher can illuminate things you would never see on your own. And in college you are likely to learn more from in class disscussions and debates than from reading anything.
posted by mattbucher at 2:10 PM on July 5, 2006


I have seen the future, and I have one thing to say: Go back.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:18 PM on July 5, 2006


The value of public school is learning how to function in society.

Any reasonable assessment of educational methods will find that any method or system has assets and liabilities--so it is with public schooling, or home schooling, or whatever.

But the statement above is just ridiculous--it what way is public school ever like life at all? With the age-segregation, rigidly prescribed schedules, predetermined and directed courses of learning, artificial methods of assessment, etc., etc., I can think of few places less like society than public schools!

(/former public school teacher myself.)
posted by LooseFilter at 2:33 PM on July 5, 2006


First, almost all of the Homeschoolers I know are involved in a variety of activities which range from church groups, to groups of homeschoolers being tutored in a field mom/dad feels unable to teach, to the same athletic teams/scout troops/ community groups/musical ensembles their public schooled peers enjoy after school. Some of them are pretty socially active.

Fixed it to represent the southeast. This is called the "bible belt" for a reason. In fact, in my ENTIRE LIFETIME, I have only met 1 family that homeschooled for reasons that had NOTHING to do with religious indoctrination. I realize where I live, and deal with it as best I can, but understand this is happening in the heartland, and not just in TN. People in the red states do not homeschool because they want to be able to teach their children 3 foreign languages instead of 1. They do it so they can have bible time, and not have little Jimmy skipped over in kickball and told he is not a unique little snowflake.

Also, the (local) homeschool associations I have heard of (from participants and their parents) spend a significant amount of time on things like trying to "legitimize" what they do to their children, how to avoid scrutiny by the state, and how to lobby lawmakers to give tax breaks to people who homeschool, since they do not use up public education resources.

Apparently, some/many homeschooled children do not qualify for a high school diploma? They just "finish" and then need to take a GED. I have no idea how many this applies to, but if it is even "some", it is criminal. And I know three people right off the top of my head this applies to.

Homeschooling seems to be becoming en vogue at an accelerating pace.

None of them are so cloistered as to only interact with family members.

This sentence alone says that you and I are having very different experiences wrt homeschoolers.

There seems to be a recurring theme here of "High school was the worst thing for my education, it was terrible! Inexcusable! I hated it! But I turned out OK and now I'm highly educated actually".

This was my point with the doctors, lawyers, etc. People work themselves into a panic about how public school is destroying a generation, but yet virtually every person advocating homeschool, and SPECIFICALLY, advocating they are intelligent enough and capable enough to educate their children, were publicly schooled themselves.

LooseFilter: rigidly prescribed schedules, predetermined and directed courses of learning, artificial methods of assessment

???

How is real life NOT precisely like what you just said? Everything from work to church to sporting events to community activities to sex contain at least 1 of your stated facets.

I guess what frustrates me is again the elitism... so many families who would much rather their children go to a faith-based private school, but can't afford it, so then the default position becomes homeschooling.

I react violently against it because I have seen first hand the results when patently unqualified parents believe themselves to be educators.

Perhaps homeschool advocates could tell me why parents who want to homeschool should not be licensed by the state the same way public educators are? Surely parents so clever and talented with natural gifts for educating children would have no trouble with the state/national teaching exams.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:48 PM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Also, having suffered through the parade of inadequacy that a history of education class reveals, I'd like to point out: William Torrey Harris, the US Commissioner of Education at the turn of the 20th century (when our modern schooling was being conceived and implemented), wrote in The Philosophy of Education: "Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom."

This is not an accident, he goes on to explain, but the "result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual." Yes, folks, according to one of the architects of public education in the United States, the intention of education is the appropriation of individuality!

Also also, Bertrand Russell saw it clearly half a century ago:
The teacher has thus become, in the vast majority of cases, a civil servant obliged to carry out the behests of men who have not his learning, who have no experience of dealing with the young, and whose only attitude toward education is that of the propagandist.
Which is exactly why I no longer teach public school. Many upthread have mentioned John Taylor Gatto, who has been doing seminal research into the origins of modern schooling. He sums up much of the danger nicely:
The new dumbness is particularly deadly to middle and upper-middle class people, who have already been made shallow by the multiple requirements to conform. Too many people, uneasily convinced that they must know something because of a degree, diploma, or license, remain so convinced until a brutal divorce, alienation from their children, loss of employment, or periodic fits of meaninglessness manage to tip the precarious mental balance of their incomplete humanity.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:49 PM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yes it is great if you're homeschooled and mom can take 6 weeks to teach you how to cultivate blackberries and make your own jams. That's awesome.

Egads. If that's what you would do with the opportunity to home school your kids, then by all means, send them to public.

I'm talking about a fundamental lack of understanding about relationships and the courtship ritual.

Let's start with your fundamental lack of understanding regarding the potential benefits and actual pitfalls of homeschooling, rather than more prejudiced mythologizing.
posted by dreamsign at 2:54 PM on July 5, 2006


Ynoxas, I think you have valid criticisms that point out the dangers of homeschooling--but, as you admit, your experience of it is skewed. I grew up in the deep south (or should I say, the Deep South), and know what you're seeing.

But I now live in California, where I encounter lots of different home school models. Personally, I don't think homeschooling is the answer; that does not, however, change my sincere conviction that the institutions of public schooling need to be radically reconsidered, because they are broken, and do need fixing.

Aside from that (and this is sort of a derail, please pardon if irrelevant), but you wrote:

Perhaps homeschool advocates could tell me why parents who want to homeschool should not be licensed by the state the same way public educators are? Surely parents so clever and talented with natural gifts for educating children would have no trouble with the state/national teaching exams.

I'm not convinced that any of the state licensing/credentialing programs with which I have experience provide any amount of preparation for teaching itself (they provide a lot of preparation for dealing with systems and institutions of education). So, I'd say that many smart parents would, in fact, have little difficulty with the very low denominator that in most places passes for state/national teaching exams. YMMV.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:56 PM on July 5, 2006


(Also, parents shouldn't have to be licensed to teach their kids--full time or part time. To even consider that they should speaks volumes to the degree of dependence upon mechanisms of the state that institutions such as public schools condition into us.)
posted by LooseFilter at 3:02 PM on July 5, 2006


This sentence alone says that you and I are having very different experiences wrt homeschoolers.
I'd just say that your experience is a lot narrower than some of the other posters. The homeschooling experience is about as varied as it gets, and it seems obvious that you're talking about the particular slice you've witnessed directly. Of the crowd that I hung out with in high school, one shipped off to study math and crypto. A few are successful software developers. Another works in construction, and does studio recording work in his spare time. Another became a midwife, and skydives. Another went to Russia for a bunch of relief work. Some went on to college -- some had trouble transitioning, others didn't. Some of them have done crazy and impressive things, others haven't, others are still trying to figure out where they're going.

None were the sheltered bible quotin' fundie-hicks that you seem to envision. I have met people like that, mind you. And at least in the circle of homeschooled kids I knew, those folks were the oddballs.
Perhaps homeschool advocates could tell me why parents who want to homeschool should not be licensed by the state the same way public educators are? Surely parents so clever and talented with natural gifts for educating children would have no trouble with the state/national teaching exams.
Different philosophy. The idea advanced by most homeschoolers is that the teacher should be a guide and resource person -- someone who shapes and directs the curriculum rather than drilling a bunch of data into the kid's head. In some cases, that meant working with local school districts so that kids could take classes at public schools in subjects where parents didn't have the necessary experience. In others, it meant taking courses at the local community college. In others, it meant finding a local parent who was an expert in their field to teach a semi-regular class.

In my experience, it works really well when the kids are either intelligent self-starters desperate to learn, or kids with learning disabilities or other problems that require a lot of personal hand-holding, special attention, and care that would otherwise be difficult to get.

I agree that tax vouchers and credits for home schooling are a bad idea; the money we pay in taxes isn't a fee paid for a service rendered, but an individual share of the money needed to maintainf a vital public resource.
posted by verb at 3:05 PM on July 5, 2006


"(Also, parents shouldn't have to be licensed to teach their kids--full time or part time. To even consider that they should speaks volumes to the degree of dependence upon mechanisms of the state that institutions such as public schools condition into us.)"

I don't agree. We live in an imperfect world, and saying "parents shouldn't have to be licensed to teach" without offering an alternative seems equivalent to also saying "a parent has the right to deny their child a basic education".
Realistically, that kind of extreme case doesn't happen often, but I think a child has a right to a basic education, and that right overrules the rights of the parents when the parents abuse it. A license is intended to be a guarantee that minimum community standards are met. It may be a crappy and ineffective means to that end, but it doesn't necessarily smack of merely being brainwashed into dependance on the state)

Same deal in medicine. When parents want to deny their kid treatment for a soon-to-be-terminal illness because some quack has convinced them that putting $30,000 into his pocket will do the same thing naturally without side effects, then I am accepting and even supporting of doctors getting a court order to temporarily ensure the child gets treatment.

You don't need good judgement to become a parent. Children are not the property of their parents to do with as the parents see fit.

yeah yeah, "who determines what constitutes a basic education", very thorny practical problem, but not one that poses a challenge to the underlying principle - that the child has rights that parents cannot be allowed to trample.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:04 PM on July 5, 2006


sergeant sandwich:

have you ever taught a class before?
Yes, college-level history, as well as some other more specialized subjects.

do you think if you were teaching all day every day for an entire year you might make a mistake or two while teaching?

The point there was that this simple algebraic equation was written out in full at the back of the book and he STILL couldn't get it right. How are you supposed to teach something you don't understand yourself? This wasn't a one-off, he did this kind of stuff all the time.

(In his defense, a year after I graduated, the math textbooks our district used were thrown out entirely -- to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars' worth of books -- because it was such a dismal failure, teaching method-wise. Saxon math = the suck).

it really raises my hackles when snotty too-cool-for-school high schoolers think they're smarter than their teachers because said teachers aren't flawless.

I was correcting my teachers' spelling when I was 8. Sorry, but if you've made it through college and an 8-year-old is still correcting your spelling, chances are you're a bit of a dim bulb. Are these really the people we want teaching our kids? If that makes me an elitist, if that makes me "too cool for school," then guilty as charged. I don't care. I've spent far, far too much of my life dumbing myself down to get along.

After the spelling incident, my parents had to sit down and tell me why it was not nice to correct teachers even if they were factually wrong. As an 8-year-old girl, let me tell you, that stuff screws with your head even if it's done with the best intentions. How many women got told off similarly? How many stopped caring about their education right then and there? Fortunately, I didn't. But I sure as hell didn't care about school from that point forward. I read through the entire library instead.

if you want a good education, it's your responsibility to pursue it. great thinkers didn't get that way because they sat back and waited for brilliance to present itself to them every day in fifth period.

I did. And, from the looks of it, so did several others in this thread. But again, how many people who may have gone on to bigger and better things got turned off of learning by this rote, mechanized, teaching to the test, state-knows-best crap?

FYI, -harlequin-, your views are roughly the German position -- they've gone after homeschooling parents there for "denying" their children a basic education.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:17 PM on July 5, 2006


"FYI, -harlequin-, your views are roughly the German position -- they've gone after homeschooling parents there for "denying" their children a basic education."

I wonder if a factor in this would be if German public schools acheive a higher bar than US public schools? Or it might be completely irrelevant. Just thinking that if kids in the US leave highschool barely able to read, then anyone claiming that a parent is costing a kid their education is going to have to work mighty harder to make that case. Unless abuse in involved, I can't see US parents being overruled by anyone :)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:39 PM on July 5, 2006


speaking of education, I should-proof read after I edit stuff, before I post it. Er, sorry. I certainly can't blame teachers for that - they told me in no uncertain terms to proof-read! :)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:44 PM on July 5, 2006


Or (I am smiling in my delightfully snarky way as I type this), if they leave college barely able to spell...

German public schools, by the way, are pretty damned rigorous and I'd send my (pretend, hypothetical) kids to one in a heartbeat. When I lived in Central Europe, all the schools were pretty kickass, actually. In Germany, if you decided to opt for the more technical/vocational school instead of university-bound coursework, you still got a more solid basic education than most US schools provide.

(However, if you go to hotel school in Austria, at least from having lived in their dorms, you do end up liking ABBA a lot. There are always trade-offs...)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:51 PM on July 5, 2006


FYI, -harlequin-, your views are roughly the German position -- they've gone after homeschooling parents there for "denying" their children a basic education.

Oddly enough, in other countries than the US, there can be different laws, and homeschooling can be either illegal or (at least on paper) strictly regulated, ie. you're required to stick to the same basic standards and curricula as public school education (just like private schools!).

Besides, this is also related to the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child, amongs others (see here).

And here is where we enter the usual anti-anything-UN/international typical of the right-wing nutcase territory, double plus if overlapping with religious nutcase territory. See this story as the perfect example.

Notice the title 'prosecuted for political dissent'? Then patiently scan through all the loaded hysterical language and get to the point where it reveals the one relevant nugget of FACT: the parents refused to sign a legally required declaration, and what did this declaration demand of them? That 'they agree to school their children by "respecting the fundamental human rights and the cultural values of the child itself and of others."'. Oooh! Surely that's the totally irrational requirement of a totalitarian government infringing on personal liberty, and god forbid any laws put the rights of children to a fair education above unrestrained parental power. It's not like those children are expected to become law-abiding citizens of that country one day. They don't even need to understand what 'international law' means, really - just tell them that any laws mommy and daddy don't like are all a fabrication of 'activist judges', they don't apply anyway because they're 'international', and leave it at that. That's going to make such responsible citizens out of them.

That case may be an extreme example, but if that's the mentality being defended here, well, I don't see how refusing flat out any common standard of education, as well as the notion that children do have rights of their own, is a good defense of homeschooling, or a good example to set for children in the first place.
posted by funambulist at 5:08 PM on July 5, 2006


(from funambulist's second link) "in other words, children have a legal right to object to all religious training."

Hey, I'm all for that! In fact, I'm pretty much steeling myself for the day I manage to produce a Republican born-again from my heathen loins...

I think, though, the Belgian couple mentioned in the article probably have a fairly decent basis of reasoning for their complaint. They've sent 4 out of 5 homeschooled kids off to university, it's not like they're spending 6 weeks at a time learning how to make jam or whatever the example was above! I'm all about the hands-off, libertarianish approach. As long as the kids are doing well academically, why should you have to sign some namby-pamby "I promise to raise a good citizen" declaration? (Which is what this sounds like, rather than an academic standards pledge).

I started refusing to say the (US) Pledge of Allegiance when I was 10 because I thought the "one nation under God" stuff was bogus -- got in trouble for it, too. What if Congress decided to mandate proper-Pledge saying for everyone, every day. (After they get these stupid flag-burning amendments pushed through, who knows what crazy ideas they'll get next?)

I wouldn't go along with it then, I wouldn't go along with it now. This Brussels/UN story sounds like something similarly faux-patriotic to me...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:21 PM on July 5, 2006


> The value of public school is learning how to function in society.

Functioning in society has value? Since when?
posted by jfuller at 5:28 PM on July 5, 2006


Literary technique, what should be the focus of the class, is never discussed.

*Which* should be the focus of the class, son, *which*. Now hold out your hand! Ten lashes!
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:38 PM on July 5, 2006


This guy never learned to function in society, and wow! look at him now!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:51 PM on July 5, 2006


bitter-girl: well, we only have their selective quotes, if you check the NZ link about all those dastardly international conventions on education rights, it's not really that "children have a legal right to object to all religious training" and parents have no right to teach any beliefs at all.

See from the Declaration on Human Rights:

"Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children".

"Respect for the right of parents/legal guardians to choose for their children schools other than those established and funded by the State, and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children conforms with their own convictions."

I'd say that's pretty clear, no?

So, the Belgian couple is bullshitting about there. They're not being told they cannot teach their beliefs, religious and political, to their kids - that's the way they want it to sound, to make it a case of oppressed religious minority. They're just being told they cannot demand to keep their kids totally isolated in those beliefs.

why should you have to sign some namby-pamby "I promise to raise a good citizen" declaration?

Hm, because it's the law and every other homeschooling family has complied? Why are they so special?

(Which is what this sounds like, rather than an academic standards pledge).

No, there are also requirements about the curricula, just like for private schools.

They're using their kids to make a political point by objecting to a perfectly reasonable legitimate requirements to conform - scary word! - to very basic common standards of education that apply to home schooling just as to any other schooling, private or public.

Libertarian should be about protecting freedoms, right? So, where is the freedom of the children protected here? Sounds to me more like a case of parents wanting to control their kids beyond the normal scope of parental control. But, that's my opinion. Laws are based on principles and it doesn't get any more basic than the principle of equal access to education.
posted by funambulist at 5:53 PM on July 5, 2006


Thanks LooseFilter and verb, I think you guys are right, I am seeing one particular "flavor" of homeschooling... but dammit I hate that flavor with a passion.

It just seems like that's the only flavor I've ever encountered, and the homeschooled people I have met in person as adults, so far at least, have completely railed against the concept and outright refuse to even consider it for their own children. All the people clamoring to homeschool their own children are products of public school. It seems whichever they had, they want the other for their child. Grass is always greener I suppose.

Of course, maybe I know people who were homeschooled and love it and it just never came up? But casual conversation with people you know over a few years generally will reference their school at some point.

verb: did you have to get a GED? Or were you granted a diploma of some sort by the state? Did you have to take standardized exams?

Of course a parent shouldn't have to have any sort of license to teach their children. However, once you state that you are refusing the mandatory (in most states) educational requirements for your child, at that point, yes, I think you should be licensed, and progress recorded.

At any rate, I want to back off the vitriol as of course there are good homeschool programs as displayed above. But, I remain HIGHLY suspicious of the concept as a whole.
posted by Ynoxas at 5:57 PM on July 5, 2006



Perhaps homeschool advocates could tell me why parents who want to homeschool should not be licensed by the state the same way public educators are? Surely parents so clever and talented with natural gifts for educating children would have no trouble with the state/national teaching exams.


I am going to guess that is because those tests are in place to prove that the educators are worthy of teaching the child in place of the parent. It is (historically) a given that the parent has the right to teach their child.

My daughter has just turned 2, and we have been involved with 2 local unschooling groups for a little under a year now. We have been exploring the idea for at least the last 5 years. Homeschooling has received the more pointed criticism here, but my experience has been that my explanations of what we are doing meet with similar arguments, so I will respond.

Your opinion does not really matter. I could appeal to your fears, and assure you that I don't believe in any supernatural god , but I don't have to. I could explain that your arguments about socialization are old news, regional, loudly debunked, and a concern shared by everyone I have met or heard about with even a hint of interest in this form of education.

I read this whole thread, and did not read a single new complaint that I have not encountered years ago. The concerns where legitimate are easily addressed. The chicken little bits are easily ignored. I support public education willingly and via my taxes, but I know what is available where I live, and I want better. If my child wants to attend a public school in a few years, we are willing to go that route, but we are currently convinced that a better education, and a better life are possible via this method. We are sacrificing to do this, and certainly care more about our child's future than you do.
posted by thirteen at 6:05 PM on July 5, 2006


SO was schooled Montessori / private schmancy all-boy's Jesuit h.s. / public university -- me, I was public school all the way through. We still more or less agree that homeschooling's the way to go, so you might have a point with the grass is greener thing, Ynoxas.

funambulist -- point taken, but when it comes to that Belgian couple, it sounds an awful lot like they're being punished for refusing to comply with something they don't believe in... something that isn't even substantive. It's like No Child Left Behind. They tell you "we're gonna test the hell out of all these kids and gosh darn it, test scores will improve and if not, they can transfer." But they don't back it up with money, staff, etc. It's useless, an unfunded mandate.

How can the Belgian authorities prove that they're not sufficiently inculcating their children with the wonderful, UN-friendly themes they list there? (Mind you, I'm not anti-UN or anything, but it's the basis of what they're arguing). And really, why should they care? Can the kids hold their own academically or what? I posit that if 4 of the 5 have already made it into university, the parents must've done SOMETHING right.

They're just being told they cannot demand to keep their kids totally isolated in those beliefs.

How do we know that the kids are isolated in a belief system of any kind? What we do know is that the parents don't want to sign something that appears to have not had a measurable impact on their childrens' academic successes until now, and well... why should they have to? We don't make certain religious sects in the US vaccinate their kids even though most would agree it's a good and reasonable thing.

If you want to go whole hog and require parents to pass certain exams, etc to homeschool, do it, but don't force them to sign away their rights pre-emptively, as the Belgian document seems to do. One local school official gets a bug up his or her ass, decides to report your faulty schooling methods 2x, and pow! you're forced to send your kids to public school whether you like it or not, because you've essentially waived your rights by signing that document.

Personally, I hope it forces a court case that will clarify matters on all sides.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:18 PM on July 5, 2006


How do you feel about loyalty oaths, funambulist?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:18 PM on July 5, 2006


I react violently against it because I have seen first hand the results when patently unqualified parents believe themselves to be educators.
As do I, but for different reasons. I was home schooled. After being taught how to read, the education my parents saw fit to give consisted of reading the bible for six hours a day. The other home schooled families we were friends with did the same thing. Other books were by and large forbidden, or at least generally ignored. I gave myself a decent vocabulary by reading Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language cover-to-cover. As a teen, I frequently snuck off on my bicycle to the city library to read for as many hours as I could sneak in a day, despite the threat of being "corrected with the rod" if I was caught (viz., beaten with a length of wood until my god-fearing father's arm tired.) I didn't know what dating was, since I was to be married to the daughter of another home school family once we were both old enough, and no doubt given an abbreviated sex education moments before walking down the aisle. I fled at eighteen, and thanks only to a willingness to spend every waking moment learning and educating myself (and good timing with the dot-com boom) I survived the early years of being on my own. My siblings, three of whom are adults, still live at home with mommy and daddy, have never worked a day in their life, and are slated to marry other godly christians. How they will go on living is quite beyond me, what with them possessing no skills or knowledge beyond those that the Council of Nicea decided to keep.

This all happened in Southern California.
posted by nlindstrom at 6:29 PM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I've read the speech a couple times and gone through the comments here as well, and I came away with a different take on all this.

This is less about the status of public education (which I agree needs help) than a really inspiring example of a young man bravely standing tall and declaring "I am no longer a child".

Look, we all know the system is broken - we've lived through it. We also know that a solution is neither simple or universal. Education, especially for our children, is not about teaching them what to learn or what to think. It is about teaching them HOW to learn and HOW to think.

I find it ironic that by his very speech, he in fact contradicts his premise. We'll forgive for that. He is, after all, a young man just beginning his path. Someone sure as hell helped him expand his mind along the way, whether it was his parents or a series of fine teachers or a combination of both. I'll take his word that he actually read the philosophers he mentioned in his speech. I sure wouldn't have read those in high school without some serious prodding. For that matter, I didnt know how to read them until after college.

I have known folks who have never stepped foot in a school, never mind a university, who were among the wisest people I've ever met. And I've known those with advanced degrees who shelved those diplomas the moment they graduated and never again expressed an original thought or expanded their minds beyond the limited confines of their profession.

You don't need God's help, young man. You keep that kind of dedication up, and you'll be just fine.
posted by elendil71 at 7:52 PM on July 5, 2006


[b] No one can "teach" [/b] --- 'teaching' can only evoke, inspire, seduce, guide, support ... anything else should more aptly be called training .

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"The answer is never the answer. What's really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you'll always be seeking. I've never seen anybody really find the answer -- they think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer." ~ Ken Kesey
posted by Surfurrus at 8:14 PM on July 5, 2006


nlindstrom, what your parents did [are doing] is clearly abusive, and, I would expect, an extreme example. In central California (which is nearly all 'red' counties), I've had contact with several (10-12 or so) families who home school "for religious reasons". Their kids are bright, curious, and quite aware of the world. They generally read lots of books other than the Bible, and talk about some very challenging issues very directly--which definitely does not occur in most public high schools. I've also seen the constricting and limiting aspects that such an approach instills, too--some of these parents, while liberating their children's intellects in many ways, are simultaneously shackling them with a very thorough dogma.

To me, the heart of the matter, as pointed out above, is that schools are doing a terrible, terrible job of teaching students that they are responsible for their own learning. A great teacher can guide and inspire, but until an individual stokes his or her own curiosity, learning will be minimal.

Mr. Elnahal, in his speech, is clearly aware of this, and is criticizing his school for not doing more to engender those kinds of experiences. I found his criticisms valid.

(On preview, ditto Surfurrus.)
posted by LooseFilter at 8:29 PM on July 5, 2006


I think we are placing a premium on brains here: charisma, drive, determination, toughness, charm, ambition, good-looks, good communication skills and coming from a moneyed powerful family often trump brains. Most transactions in the world are unlike math tests and spelling bees.

I am also inclined to believe that the the system should be played to its maximum amount - for grades, career choices etc. Brainy guys need money. Art collections, good books, theatre tickets, single malt scotch, are all expensive. I really hate to see brainy guys out of school fired because they would not play the corporate game. Playing politics is a survival skill and part of brains.

I didn't really have much success until I compromised on some of my ideals. I run into all kinds of people who will try to explain to me how their six week certification is equivalent to my four year degree. I smile and shrug, I am taking the long view.
posted by Deep Dish at 8:42 PM on July 5, 2006


Ynoxas...
did you have to get a GED? Or were you granted a diploma of some sort by the state? Did you have to take standardized exams?
It's been a while (over a decade now, yikes) but I do remember state tests as well as some other standardized stuff through a place in Washington that we obtained some of our curriculum from. Then SATs as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to major in, etc.

The comment you made about potentially meeting homeschoolers without realizing it is probably accurate; I know I worked with a guy for a year or so before mentioning, in passing, that I was homeschooled over drinks. He laughed and noted that he had been for about three or four years.

nlindstrom... wow. I'm sorry. That's all I can even think to say, really. I'd agree with you and other posters that it can only really be called abuse.

I guess that goes to show that my experience was probably just as limited as some others.

I don't have any recollection of reading Scripture as curriculum. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Poe, African folk tales, Julius Caesar... and definitely conservative views of politics. But then, one of the active leaders of the local home schooling support group was a family of flaming, rabidly liberal activists. Bush Sr., that is. I remember their daughter explaining to me, very passionately, that the United States' arms build-up had forced the Soviet Union to build a massive army to defend itself.
posted by verb at 8:49 PM on July 5, 2006


This whole argument of "if you're smart enough to want it, you're responsible for getting it yourself (if necessary)" is a huge load of crap. I'm not willing to concede that this is necessarily true in the case of adults—but I'm damn sure it's not true in the case of children.

What an absurd simplification of the notion of "smart"! Does the person with a sufficient talent for carpentry to desire the profession of carpenter necessarily possess the talent for teaching herself to be a carpenter? Or astrophysics and an astrophysicist? It seems to me that it's quite likely that being autodidactical itself is both a talent and a skill and there's very little reason to assume that it is always present and in equal amounts to other talents and skills.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:07 PM on July 5, 2006


I would just like to say that I can make excellent tomato and mango jam despite not being home-schooled. I learnt it during summer break at my grandparents' place.
posted by the cydonian at 9:21 PM on July 5, 2006


For the record, rules on homeschooling vary from state to state. Washington, for instance, requires parents to have a certain minimum educational level, requires instruction in 11 specific subject areas, and that kids be tested each year. Just because homeschoolers might be a bunch of religious nuts near you doesn't mean they are near me.
posted by ilsa at 10:26 PM on July 5, 2006


Nobody likes to hear the truth.
posted by nightchrome at 10:56 PM on July 5, 2006


Optimus Chyme: uhm, nothing, since we don't have 'loyalty oaths' outside the US?

I have no direct experience of any part of the school system in the States, so I have nothing to contribute to the debate on how much public schools there suck or not.

It's the idea of homeschooling as a fundamental 'right of parents' I'm commenting about.

bitter-girl: when it comes to that Belgian couple, it sounds an awful lot like they're being punished for refusing to comply with something they don't believe in

Heh, yes, that's exactly what it is. The question is how do you weigh that "what parents believe in" against the "what education their children need" part? More generally, at what point "something one doesn't believe in" comes before basic compliance with laws? Are laws themselves tyrannical just because they require compliance? Even if they've been approved in a representative parliament rather than passed by a dictator?

Homeschooling is legal in Belgium, faith schools are legal (and get state funding too, as in much of Europe - so much for evil socialist secularists oppressing religion, eh?), but no, these two want more, they want zero regulations, otherwise they're oppressed. It's the same tiresome routine as with creationism in the US.

Besides, one of the reasons that oppressed-by-commie-tyrants Belgian couple doesn't want to send their kids to public schools in Europe is the presence of Muslims (they say it on their blog - read on and get the full picture...), which is so funny, because among Muslims you notoriously also have have some very strictly religious people who would put "what parents believe in" above any concern for their kids, any time they got the chance to do so.

What happens when you demand sex segregation and refuse to comply with letting your daughters be in a classroom with males in school, or participating in any activity you deem inappropriate for your religion, even if it's just a swim? (That was the debate in France a couple of years ago, and of course you had the same cries of oppression).

What beliefs of which religion/worldview should be given precedence over common educational principles, all of them? Only the ones the Belgian couple and others like-minded subscribe to? Should a government endorse this sort of selective hypocrisy?

And at what point does it stop being all about "what the parents believe in", anyway? It's not them getting the education.
posted by funambulist at 4:24 AM on July 6, 2006


I think Ynoxas' comments in this thread are spot on, there's this idea behind it all of children as property rather than individuals in their own right with their own future ahead of them. The idea of educating them according to your own values - which is normal and obvious - is turned to extremes.

So even sending your kids to school with kids of other people who may have their own different values becomes a threat to your world view. The kids will have to grow up in that society anyway, full of different people with all kinds of different ideas, no matter what you think of it. How are you preparing for their future, if you want to shield them off from anything else that is not full endorsement of your own particular religious beliefs?

*That* idea is what I have a problem with, it's at the heart of many debates also in Europe and elsewhere in the world - not on homeschooling which is not an issue as it's practically inexistent here and not desired either, but on religion in schools, in society.(I'm not talking about the 'homeschooling as alternative to crap schools' position, which again I cannot really comment on, though, from what I gather, most homeschooling parents in the US do indeed have a religious motivation, so that seems to be rather central anyway.)

If the question is only the "rights of parents" then it's clear everything in the wide range of possible whims and wishes of parents should be allowed, even preventing your kids from getting any formally recognised education at all. But education is not all about the rights of parents... It's actually quite stunning to hear people put it in those terms so transparently.

How can the Belgian authorities prove that they're not sufficiently inculcating their children with the wonderful, UN-friendly themes they list there?

No, it's not "UN friendly themes", it's laws of that specific country, and application of principles in UN conventions that country signed. Go figure.

What is there to object to the idea of fundamental human rights even for children? Does it take so little to be a raging Maoist? Where is the bloody threat? How is it tyrannical to require that if you want to teach your kids yourself, you should at least adhere to the common approved standards both for teaching content and method? Funny how this get turned from guaranteeing basic rights for children into some spiteful revenge against parents and their freedom. If two parents don't accept the very principle of common standards in education, then maybe they shouldn't live in an organised society where education is regulated by the government in the first place.

And really, why should they care? Can the kids hold their own academically or what? I posit that if 4 of the 5 have already made it into university, the parents must've done SOMETHING right.

That's a fallacious argument. There's children of drug addicts or abusive parents that made it to university just fine. It's not just a matter of individual performance and all the different single cases there, children are not just a 'product' of their upbringing, so I'm sure there's a lot of fabulous fantastic success stories there. It's the principle of what school education is about. And like Ynoxas said, it's also about giving kids the tools to integrate in that given society, at a social level too, not just in terms of academic performance and producing little geniuses. I can't see anything healthy about keeping your kids at home all day with only a few outings among carefully selected people that share your exact same worldview.
posted by funambulist at 4:26 AM on July 6, 2006


The kid is obviously a deep thinker and has a bright future ahead of him. The speech could have been improved of course, the message more cleverly tailored, but he is only 18. I think he did a good thing, overall.
posted by empath at 5:47 AM on July 6, 2006


That's a fallacious argument. There's children of drug addicts or abusive parents that made it to university just fine.
So... because drug addicts and child abusers can have smart kids, we shouldn't consider academic performance a good metric for measuring academic performance? That's... unique. Abusive parents are obviously not protected by some impenetrable right to parent however they see fit. Neither are home schoolers free to abuse their children. What's unsettling is that you seem to see the act of educating one's children in a different setting -- regardless of the outcome -- as inherently abusive.

As shocking as it may sound, many human beings managed to relate to each other socially before the advent of public schooling. The purpose of a public school system is to ensure that everyone in the country, regardless of their family's income, has an opportunity to get a high-quality education. That's it. Public school is not some magical maker of well-adjusted adults.
I can't see anything healthy about keeping your kids at home all day with only a few outings among carefully selected people that share your exact same worldview.
Yeah, totally. And public school is a parade of students having sex in the halls and shooting up between classes. As I said earlier in the thread, I think there are healthy and positive ways to homeschool, as well as unhealthy and destructive ways.
So even sending your kids to school with kids of other people who may have their own different values becomes a threat to your world view.
Some people really, really wig out at the concept of home schooling, and it's essentially impossible to have a reasonable conversation with them about the subject. If that's the only motivation you can imagine for home schooling, all you've established is that you should not home school anyone, under any circumstances.
posted by verb at 6:30 AM on July 6, 2006


How is it tyrannical to require that if you want to teach your kids yourself, you should at least adhere to the common approved standards both for teaching content and method? Funny how this get turned from guaranteeing basic rights for children into some spiteful revenge against parents and their freedom. If two parents don't accept the very principle of common standards in education, then maybe they shouldn't live in an organised society where education is regulated by the government in the first place.

Some us - even secular progressives - don't trust the government to set "common standards." I trust in and go by scientific consensus, but educating according to the mandates of government fiat is ridiculous.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:39 AM on July 6, 2006


My passions run high on this issue for two reasons.

First, I have a child nearing 3 years old, and because we live in a rural setting some of the schools are not as strong as I would prefer. So education of my child is currently on the forefront of my consciousness. I am paid a very good wage, but the only local private school, which is rather prestigious and attracts international boarding students, is still out of reach. But, I am obviously very suspicious and probably overly critical of homeschooling.

The second is because one of my dearest friends in the world was quite nearly debilitated by homeschooling, as was his siblings. It mirrored nlindstrom's experience almost exactly. So much it is eerie. And I have said the same thing... it was not homeschooling, it was child abuse.

But even for the homeschoolers I know that were not to this extreme, they all seem to be anchored/centered around religious indoctrination. I've just got to get it out of my head that people homeschool for only that reason.

I can't see anything healthy about keeping your kids at home all day with only a few outings among carefully selected people that share your exact same worldview.

I honestly thought this was one of the main attractions/features of homeschooling. If you're going to get into non-school sports, clubs, bands, cheering, etc... then... well... why not just go to school???

(As far as my own child, the plan currently is to do public school along with after school plans at somewhere like Sylvan or similar. I have a good friend who has had simply amazing results with Sylvan.) At least we have a few years to prepare.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:29 AM on July 6, 2006


I have a lot of admiration for this young man. God help US.
posted by toastchee at 8:38 AM on July 6, 2006


why not just go to school???

!!!

So your actions are not mandated by the state for 8 hours a day. And don't counter with the "real world", working a job is better than that.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2006


I honestly thought this was one of the main attractions/features of homeschooling. If you're going to get into non-school sports, clubs, bands, cheering, etc... then... well... why not just go to school???
It depends on the family, really. Some wanted to keep their child insulated from the 'indoctrination' of the Liberal Teachers Unions. Others saw the local public school as a partner/resource, and attended classes part-time. That's part of the difficulty: there are as quite a few schools of thought and approaches to teaching. Some are 'tiny little schools' complete with blackboard lessons and assignments. Others mirror montessori style approaches. Some are all about 'unschooling,' an approach that lets kids follow their interests with the parent as a facilitator/resource gatherer. I have a lot of concerns about the latter, but I know a number of people who've had great experiences with it and turned out pretty well.

I think it's a common misperception that 'isolating' kids is a goal, though. The home schooling parents I knew saw isolation as a potential problem to be solved rather than a desirable outcome. Obviously other peoples' experiences can differ (your friend is a case in point), and I don't want to defend abusive situations at all.
(As far as my own child, the plan currently is to do public school along with after school plans at somewhere like Sylvan or similar. I have a good friend who has had simply amazing results with Sylvan.) At least we have a few years to prepare.
I've generally seen that a kid with an active, engaged parent who cares about them and invests in them and is involved in their schooling is going to have a pretty equal chance whether they're home schooled or go to public school. It sounds like thought you're already giving it will put your kid in a good position.
posted by verb at 8:46 AM on July 6, 2006


So... because drug addicts and child abusers can have smart kids, we shouldn't consider academic performance a good metric for measuring academic performance?

Thank you for the spectacular misreading, verb.

Here's another try.

Bitter-girl was asking, why should the Belgian government care, after all the kids of this couple did well and got as far as university.

Point is, whether these particular individual kids did well is not good enough a reason to justify the Belgian government giving up any regulations on homeschooling, since, like most governments do, it regulates education at all other levels, public and private.

The blogging couple there are demanding an individual special exemption to having any supervision whatsoever about what they teach to children.

Seeing what ilsa posted about laws in one US state, that's more than is allowed even in the US, which apparently is less strict on this matter anyway.

Additional point is, like Ynoxas said up above, academic results are not the only thing schools are for, social interaction is also a part of it. Now, I am not saying all cases of homeschooling anywhere in the world must be inherently abusive or about religious nutcases keeping their children segregated from any healthy social contact. Nevermind the Belgian couple, it could be another couple with no such strict conservative religious and political motivations, or it could be a bunch of anarchist hippies in a commune, but if they still demand zero regulation, zero standards or supervision of homeschooling, and the government concedes and abolishes those laws, then it concedes also for all other cases, including the more extreme ones of religious nutcases and parents who want to segregate their children.

Is that clearer now?

That is the concept I have a problem with, not so much all homeschooling per se (and again, as you'll have noticed, it is legal in the country that couple lives) but the requirement to do without regulation and common principles about education altogether. It opens the door to a lot of problems, especially in terms of religious sects.

Optimus Chyme: again, I can't speak about the US situation, but speaking of UK and Europe, the 'mandates of government' are (usually) standards developed through consensus with the input of teachers and people actually working in education, they're not (usually) some diktat from above by people without a clue.

For all the imperfections of any such system, as a principle it is much preferable to the one where anyone can set up their own totally unregulated Koranic/Scientologist/hippie commune system of schooling just because they put strict exclusionary adherence to their beliefs above the interests of their children.
posted by funambulist at 9:00 AM on July 6, 2006


But even for the homeschoolers I know that were not to this extreme, they all seem to be anchored/centered around religious indoctrination. I've just got to get it out of my head that people homeschool for only that reason.

According to a 1999 survey, in the US the religious motivation counts for 38% of parents who choose homeschooling, and the top reason is "can give child better education at home", which is vague enough to include anything.
posted by funambulist at 9:09 AM on July 6, 2006


As shocking as it may sound, many human beings managed to relate to each other socially before the advent of public schooling. The purpose of a public school system is to ensure that everyone in the country, regardless of their family's income, has an opportunity to get a high-quality education. That's it. Public school is not some magical maker of well-adjusted adults.

I just wanted to emphasize this point that verb made--public institutions like schooling have brought a lot of good to the societies in which they exist, but they also limit our conceptions of how things can be. These institutions condition the ways in which we see the ourselves and the world, in helpful and harmful ways. That's exactly the point the student was making with his speech: in his view, his school was missing some very important aspects to the educational development of young people.

Homeschooling in the US is a response to many things, and it is often a response to the above. Whether or not homeschooling for religious indoctrination is or is not a good idea, and why, is a straw man in this conversation.

The fact of the matter is that there are many ways to teach, to learn, to grow into a happy, healthy, educated adult person; schools offer one way, but it is clear that on many fronts they are not offering the best way, and for many parents (and kids!) that's just not good enough. (Though I teach college, I work with high school students fairly regularly, and you would not believe the open cynicism about schooling that is common among them--and I'm talking about a fairly large sample size, I work with kids throughout northern and central California.)

The conceit in many comments here is that the government knows how to educate a child better than parents could. (Or that the government knows anything at all about education. I've been to and worked in public education institutions my whole life, in three different regions of the US, and rarely see evidence of that.) It's not an unreasonable choice to distrust the government when it comes to education--in fact, there is abundant evidence to support that as the only rational opinion, whether you send your kids to public school or not.

I don't trust the government to save me in a crisis, keep the national economy solvent, keep my food & medicine safe, or any of the other basic functions it's supposed to be performing. Why should I surrender my child to their system of education, which would occupy half of their waking hours for much of each year from ages 5-18, without at least thinking about it?

The kid's speech is right on the money: public schools are not teaching what they should be; or, perhaps, they're just teaching too much that they shouldn't. Parents choosing alternative (or supplemental) methods of education are mostly just aware of that, and doing something about it. Religious nuts are nuts, don't throw strawmen around anymore.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:09 AM on July 6, 2006


Ok, leaving aside the religious homeschoolers, can I ask why it is implied as a given that "public schools in the US are crap" (assuming that's true of most schools, again I can't argue there) equals "public schools as such are crap"?

I don't know of a single country that doesn't have some form of government regulation on education, because education is universally deemed a public interest matter, yet there are differences from country to country, and some do fare ok in the public school deparment and are rated as having a good quality educational system. Why is that? Could it be - shockingly enough - that it has less to do with the concept of public schools themselves, and more with how they're managed? Or even with a lot of other cultural factors affecting how schools are run and also how parents and children approach education and so on.

I'm just saying, I do realise this is about US schools specifically, but precisely because of that, maybe a little less solipsism and a little more interest in how it can work elsewhere could be more useful than deciding the problem is with the principle itself. That sounds awfully defeatist to me.
posted by funambulist at 11:25 AM on July 6, 2006


As to the assertion that homeschooled kids must be socially maladjusted, you could look it up, or you could ask your gut.

I looked it up.

Ynoxas, what's the evidence of your assertions? Or did you just ask your gut?
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:41 AM on July 6, 2006


My gut has been socially maladjusted all morning. Excuse me!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:49 AM on July 6, 2006


Thank you for the link funambulist. Good info. I had (obviously) suspected the religious angle to be much higher.

On preview: Zed, I used the evidence of those I know personally who were homeschooled, and the relay of their experiences with other homeschoolers, as I mentioned above. Also, there are at least a couple of concurring voices in this same thread.

That would be called "anecdotal evidence" for those playing along at home. But, it certainly was not just contrived as you are accusing.

Also, your source could not possibly be any less objective, so let's not pin all our hopes and dreams of our children upon the Home School Legal Defense Association of Canada.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:56 AM on July 6, 2006


My state has almost no regulations regarding homeschooling. I have not memorized them, but it was not much more than letting the district know the child exists.

I have not meet many religious homeschoolers, but I know they are out there. Perhaps you want their kids in school, and their parents focused on bringing Intelligent Design to your child's classroom instead. I don't want anything to do with these people, and their existence should not cast a shadow over me.

I am sure my local schools could be repaired, or brought up to a standard I would accept, but I am no longer sure what the benefit would be for my daughter. At this point I feel like public schools are the safety net for people who cannot, or do not want to educate their own children (or provide the opportunity for the child to educate herself). Like I said before, I don't want a child to grow up without having at least that available, but I cannot imagine a way in which it is superior to what we are doing.

In every other arena something made or done at home is considered superior in general. A home cooked meal, or a hand tailored item. We are talking about a bespoke childhood here. Our arguments are going to keep going past each other because we believe in different things.
posted by thirteen at 12:03 PM on July 6, 2006


Why is that? Could it be - shockingly enough - that it has less to do with the concept of public schools themselves, and more with how they're managed?

I don't think that anyone has explicitly criticized public schooling as an abstract concept or ideal--my criticism, certainly, has been directed at the particular manifestation of schooling in the United States. Schools in other countries do better because they're different kinds of schools. Were I made the Czar of Education in the US, I wouldn't abolish public schooling at all--that would be really stupid--but I would put people's heads together and reconsider everything about it from the ground up. (Should we age-segregate? Should there be community- and participation-based curricula? What fundamental skills are we trying to develop over a dozen years, both cognitive and practical? What settings and time structures might be more conducive to developing those? Etc. etc.) Education reform in the US always seems to be, in essence, more of the same kinds of things that are creating the problems in the first place--it happens all the time with big institutions, they develop their own inertia and most of the people in them have a vested interest in perpetuating the status quo. Of course, the real, most basic problems with US public schools, in a nutshell, is not that they are broken; it's that they work entirely too well. They're doing what they are designed to do--it's just that many of us don't like what they do....but that's a whole other conversation.

That doesn't mean schooling is bad. It just means that the US version of it, as is increasingly evident (and has been for 40 or 50 years), is mostly bad. The government has been startlingly resistent to alternative ideas and methods, so people are increasingly going outside of the system.

(Further, education as a profession holds little professional esteem in our money and consumption addled culture, and many smart, capable people are often steered toward a more "distinguished" or lucrative or whatever career choice as young adults, or self-select away from the profession because of a desire (and ability) to earn much more. Etc. So if our best minds mostly aren't even on the problem, it's not going to get solved anytime soon. Really, bypassing the system is not a radical choice if one examines the current reality of American schools honestly, and acknowledges the dim prospects for any kind of meaningful change in the near future.)
posted by LooseFilter at 12:27 PM on July 6, 2006


(And I truly don't mean to sound defeatist, but I can only be honest--the public dialogue about problems in education in the United States is woefully dishonest and incomplete. How can we solve problems we refuse to admit exist? Kareem Elnahal was respectfully being honest in his speech, and his principal hustled him offstage to shut him up--we won't even let kids tell the truth!)
posted by LooseFilter at 12:42 PM on July 6, 2006


Also, Ynoxas, as you consider these issues for your own--my distrust of public schooling should by no means be construed as distrust of teachers. There are still many bright, talented, dedicated teachers in our schools. My caveat is always, if you send your child to public school, be aware of the bad things* they teach and counteract them at home. And don't place too much importance in the authority of the institution, as the asshole principal in this case conveniently affirms.

In fact, I'd recommend reading a little bit more Gatto as an entry into this subject. I don't agree with all of his ideas--some I actively disagree with--but he really opens the subject up for the reader.

(*linkage for convenience only--no opinion on source site.)
posted by LooseFilter at 12:59 PM on July 6, 2006


LooseFilter, I get what you're saying there, but the general argument against government 'interference', against the concept of standards and requirements and so on, seems to me an argument against the very idea of public education, rather than a specific US manifestation of it.

Schools in other countries are not that different in terms of the basics. There's always national boards, approved curriculum, age grouping, testing. It's the specifics that change. It's funny that I posted that link about the Belgian couple, because the education system is Belgium is considered rather good. See this previous MeFi thread.

I know the issue of valuing the job of teachers is a very sore one, but I think it's more than a question of income, although obviously that does play a part. I may be wrong, but seems to me it can become a loop - the more people distrust public education as such, the more they turn to private schools if they can afford it, the more teachers are driven away from public schools, in turn creating more and more disinterest and detachment from the system... Isn't this basically a self-fulfilling prophecy? Of course it's only normal people with the means to do so can prefer private schools, but that's an individual choice, not a substitute for political change. You don't get that change unless enough people care about it instead of giving up.
posted by funambulist at 1:15 PM on July 6, 2006


I think a lot of people are getting this wrong. Obviously, everyone's MMV, but it seems that people are paradoxically depending too much on their school experience for their education. Or else, maybe two-income parents are not holding up their end of the bargain, and shifting too much of that responsibility on the schools.

School for me was memorizing somewhat useless facts and dates in history class, learning how to properly deconstruct and analyze the great works of fiction, learning and applying the scientific method to understand scientific problems and learning and applying logical techniques in the study of mathematics.

This was all important stuff, and some of it was fun, but as has been pointed out above, it was training, not education.

My education consisted of long conversations and spirited debates at the dinner table with my parents and/or out with friends, challenging myself physically and emotionally in orginized sport and other outdoor activities and learning and learning civic responsibility by getting involved in community service activites and local government.

As much as I would have loved to get the sort of invidiualized education I dreamt that kids at Andover, Groton, Exeter got, that wasn't available to me. High school was mostly a bunch of crap to help you learn the discipline of properly prioritizing work, as well as to help prep for the SATs and the AP exams. Education... well, in the public school framework, that's to be found elsewhere.



education.
posted by psmealey at 1:17 PM on July 6, 2006


funambulist, I see where you're coming from, but I think you may be projecting some:

the general argument against government 'interference', against the concept of standards and requirements and so on[...]

I've never said that government doing things is bad--in fact, I expect government to do a lot. My point is that they're not doing this thing very well, and should be. Until then, people choosing other avenues to educate their children is understandable and reasonable. (Except, as noted earlier, for crazy and/or abusive people. But that's a somewhat different and definitely more multi-faceted social issue.)

Schools in other countries are not that different in terms of the basics.

That is not correct. They may appear the same cosmetically (buildings with classrooms and books and teachers and schedules), but the world's most successful school systems are in fact very dissimilar from our own. Many of them operate on very different fundamental philosophical assumptions about children and the learning process and the ends of education; those philosophical differences have tremendous practical effects.

the more people distrust public education as such, the more they turn to private schools if they can afford it, the more teachers are driven away from public schools, in turn creating more and more disinterest and detachment from the system... Isn't this basically a self-fulfilling prophecy? [...] You don't get that change unless enough people care about it instead of giving up.

I agree with you wholeheartedly! I'm a teacher--I teach education majors (music), and it's very important to me to help train outstanding teachers. But people who do care about these things come up against an extraordinarily recalcitrant dogma--one that is in many significant ways hidden--as well as institutional inertia of a staggering scale. People grow tired of waiting for change, or have tried to change the system from within with limited results, etc. When you have kids, you don't have the luxury of time when deciding what to do--most parents want any educational decisions to be the most efficacious for their child, not everyone's. Also, attitudes or dialogue or rhetoric about public schools don't drive teachers away--real frustrations about the reality of the actual problems in public schools drive teachers away, as well as--in my experience--more general frustration toward the apathy with which many of those problems are received. (Oh, the stories I could tell about unbelievable situations that really gifted teachers have been forced into--you would be amazed.)

Articulating real problems with American public schools honestly and allowing room for alternative ways of educating our young are not calls to destroy schooling or anti-government paranoia. In my view, being honest about what's broken is a means to the end of improving the very system of which I am so critical.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:27 PM on July 6, 2006


Just wanted to say thanks to everyone in this thread, on both sides of the issue. Lots of very good information and things to consider from both POV I think.

Seldom is one's mind changed on significant issues, and rarer still via an online discussion.

But, I am willing to say that I have changed my default position from "homeschooling is bad" to "bad homeschooling is bad". And I'm willing to adjust my meter to "neutral" on "good homeschooling" and go from there.

As I said, I still worry tremendously about the social interaction in all the mundane ways... walking to and from the lunchroom, recess, detention (what?)... a lot of social skills are honed not on field trips or planned outings, but just the day-to-day of being in a large building full of other children.
posted by Ynoxas at 5:19 PM on July 6, 2006


Good luck, Ynoxas! FWIW, my sister struggled with the decision of schooling with her first child. She's a former first grade teacher herself (stay at home mom currently), and she did a lot of reading and thinking, and talking with me and others in making the decision for her oldest. She ultimately decided that the schools in her district still have much to offer, and my niece is in school and loving it. However, my sister and brother-in-law are very engaged in their children's learning, and don't leave anything entirely to the school. As mentioned upthread, the fact that you're thinking about this, and clearly are continuing to inform yourself, means that whatever decisions you make will likely be great.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:34 PM on July 6, 2006


Metafilter: Seldom is one's mind changed on significant issues, and rarer still via an online discussion.
posted by the cydonian at 1:24 AM on July 7, 2006


LooseFilter, sorry I wasn't really too clear, didn't mean to project the "government regulated education = BAD! private initiative = GOOD!" argument on you specifically, but it's been thrown around and it's very clear in the case of that Belgian couple and all like-minded folks in the more extreme camp of homeschooling supporters.

What I meant by 'schools in other countries are not that different *in terms of the basics*' was related to that - the basics is that government has a (heavier or lighter) hand in regulating education everywhere. For instance, that previous MeFi thread on different performance between US and Belgian students - that article from Reason took that survey to reach a completely contradictory conclusion that government involvement is bad for education, ignoring that government regulation in Belgium is much stronger, and those better performance results are from students in Belgian public schools.

Of course there are big differences in how public schools work and how they fare in terms of quality in different nations - but given the basic premise that they're all in the hands of government institutions, not private ones. It's not a universally valid assumption that private schools offer higher quality education.

Besides, I think psmealey (and others who made similar observations) makes a good point, schools are not supposed to do *all* the work of educating people in a fully rounded way, a lot of it is up to parents, society, enviromnent, and the kids themselves. Not every kid has wonderful caring parents that motivate them, or the same chances in life, or the same intelligence and talents and prospects and ambitions in life.

It's obvious public schools have to cater for everybody but I happen to think that's a good thing. Especially with a system like the Belgian one (just as example, again and because it's been mentioned already) with specialised choices between high schools for those who want to continue in higher education and vocational training schools that teach specific job skills directly. Jobs that happen to pay a lot more and be a lot more secure than the ones (not) available in a saturated market for people with non-specialised degrees. It's all very well to value education per se, but in the end that's a factor that needs to be considered too - the actual practical prospects it will give you in life. But that's a whole other sore point.
posted by funambulist at 3:09 AM on July 7, 2006


Articulating real problems with American public schools honestly and allowing room for alternative ways of educating our young are not calls to destroy schooling or anti-government paranoia.

But it does become entirely defeatist the only alternatives given are individual-level solutions: send your kids to private schools if you can afford it, 'unschool', or homeschool them. That's all I am hearing in this thread, not any suggestions for or references to proposals for reforms and changes within the existing public system.

Not saying that's easy, but the only way to fix something is care about it and understand its value for all of society, not just for oneself. There's something vaguely similar to the issue of going to vote or not because all politicians are crooks anyway so why bother.

And I know, it's obvious that parents choosing a school care about their kids only, but in the larger picture, those kids will have to live in the same society with everyone else, so at some point, you have to care about the overall system too. Even if you can afford the priciest private schools, you can't afford that kind of social apathy.
posted by funambulist at 3:24 AM on July 7, 2006




But it does become entirely defeatist the only alternatives given are individual-level solutions: send your kids to private schools if you can afford it, 'unschool', or homeschool them. That's all I am hearing in this thread, not any suggestions for or references to proposals for reforms and changes within the existing public system.


What you are not getting, is that most of the people who choose the alternate routes feel these are superior. There is nothing defeatist about it. This is what we want to do. No school is ever going to be good enough.

I have an interest in improving schools, and I vote to fund them, but I am incredibly happy to have found a way to not have a personal need for them.

Lastly, what is wrong with an individual level solution? And why do you assume that is how things are worked out? Unschooling is almost always in tandem with a cooperative.
posted by thirteen at 9:32 AM on July 7, 2006


thirteen, of course there is nothing wrong with an individual level solution (I think this is the third time I have to say that!), it's just an individual choice, and if the debate is about a public education system as a whole, then that's a political issue, so individual choices to go outside that system aren't a political solution as such. Isn't that obvious?

Not saying people can't do both, but *all* I'm hearing here is about those individual choices...
posted by funambulist at 10:33 AM on July 7, 2006


funambulist, I think you and I agree more than we'd thought. You said, That's all I am hearing in this thread, not any suggestions for or references to proposals for reforms and changes within the existing public system.

Well, I didn't go there because it would have been too far off-topic (we were talking about what's broke, darn it!), but I (and most every teacher I know) have lots of ideas about ways to improve public schools. Plenty of great ideas are suggested at all levels all the time, actually--the biggest problem is, as I mentioned before, institutional inertia.

If you change what goes on in public schools, the cascade effect is indeed staggering: all licensing/credential programs have to be revamped, education curricula in universities reconsidered, each school site's schedule/fundamental way of operating has to be rebuilt, etc. etc. It's huge. So why not explore alternatives locally? Because government control strangles any local innovation--in the interest of providing the same experience for every kid everywhere (a noble, though unrealistic, goal), local schools and districts really have their hands tied regarding what sorts of reform they can pursue. Even moreso now that federal funding is tied to standardized test scores! It's pretty hard to explore new ways of teaching and learning when your students have to hit certain numbers every year to guarantee your funding.

So, local change is systemically discouraged, and change from above is apparently too massive to consider. So we keep spinning our wheels, decade after decade, as the American model of schooling becomes less and less relevant and applicable to the world we live in. It can be very frustrating.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:37 AM on July 7, 2006


I get what you are saying, but I did not notice anyone (for various reasons) looking for a political solution, so it should come as no surprise that people that they are not trying to engineer one.

The people who are interested in that sort of thing exist. It is not at all uncommon for some districts to have extremely high property taxes with the intention of funneling a lot of money into the local schools. The amount spent per student is luxurious, and they they have the best of everything. Not a universal solution, but it does match the parent/government method you are advocating.
posted by thirteen at 11:38 AM on July 7, 2006


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