Home schooling goes mainstream (cover story of Time).
August 21, 2001 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Home schooling goes mainstream (cover story of Time). Although the article is appallingly poorly-written (does Time have editors anymore?), it points to double-digit growth with only a few anecdotal chestnuts about "socialization" to throw against the trend.
posted by MattD (59 comments total)

 
does Time have editors anymore?

Yeah, he's just too busy babbling mediocre nonsense on CNN - Everytime they cut to him for comment it feels like a middle of the night info-mercial.

I love the idea of kids (and adults) educating themselves using the vast resources of information available at home these days. I like the diversity it affords. As long as kids continue to first get the basics they need to develop skills for learning they should be allowed to shoot off on whichever educational tangents they desire. That isn't very practical in a traditional classroom situation. As the line between education and entertainment blurs (like spending time here in MeFi for instance) people in general will have much more of a thirst for knowledge. We think our generations are info-hungry - perhaps the next ones will put us to shame.
posted by Kino at 8:52 AM on August 21, 2001


A real interesting educational philosophy is TCS -- Taking Children Seriously. Founded by Sarah Lawrence, its most distinctive feature is the idea that "it is possible and desirable to bring up children entirely without doing things to them against their will, or making them do things against their will, and that they are entitled to the same rights, respect and control over their lives as adults".

This sounds quite shocking to a lot of people at first, but once you read the theory behind it, it makes a lot of sense. The FAQ is highly recommended.
posted by dagny at 9:13 AM on August 21, 2001


This morning, I just took my oldest son to his public school for the first day of kindergarten. I can't see how any of these home-schooled kids are getting the quality of education that's available in a good school district with an active community of parents.

Home schooling is also being used as an excuse for some parents not to educate their kids at all -- a relative pulled her child out of a terrible high school under the pretense he was being taught at home, but he was almost never schooled until she found a better school to enroll him in.

Also, I don't think socialization is a chestnut at all. If a kid doesn't have a chance to interact with people in the absence of his parents, what's his adulthood going to be like? I'm a pathetically clingy parent (we've used babysitters fewer than 10 times in 5 years), but I can't imagine cloistering my child at home for 13 years and then tossing him out into the world for the first time at age 18. What kind of adulthood are these home-schooled kids being prepared for? Will their parents home-career them too?
posted by rcade at 9:16 AM on August 21, 2001


he was almost never schooled until she found a better school to enroll him in

Remember that "being schooled" does not (necessarily) equal "getting an education". I certainly know that I personally would have been a whole lot smarter if my parents would have let me stay home from school, reading encyclopaedias from cover to cover (like I loved doing), instead of going to school -- learning hardly anything for several years.

If a kid doesn't have a chance to interact with people in the absence of his parents, what's his adulthood going to be like?

Home-schooling doesn't equal "being locked up in the basement". Come on now, folks.
posted by dagny at 9:21 AM on August 21, 2001


Horses for courses. Generally, in the UK, the kids who get taught at home are the ones with professorial, high-expectations parents; they then have all sorts of trouble in later life. I've also a slightly alarming feeling that home-schooling is the enactment of the parents' political ideology upon the child, based on the assumption that All Public Schools Are Evil Liberal Dens of Inquity. (Look, I read freerepublic.com over the hiatus; you have to know your enemies.) Not that there isn't a similar tendency among middle-class lefties to politicise their choice of school, but it does seem to smack of selfishness.


I'm quite intrigued by the premise of Montessori schools, which seems a good balance between the poles of structure and socialisation. Does anyone have experience of them, whether as parents or pupils?
posted by holgate at 9:36 AM on August 21, 2001


Also, I don't think socialization is a chestnut at all. If a kid doesn't have a chance to interact with people in the absence of his parents, what's his adulthood going to be like?

If a kid only interacts with other kids, what's his adulthood going to be like? Do you really want your kids to learn their social skills from other kids their age?

My daughters regularly interact with kids younger and older, as well as with adults. And they do this both in and out of our presence. I have found that the ratio of socially inept to socially "ept" kids is about the same whether they have been schooled at home or in public or private schools. That is, there is a certain percentage of the population who seem to be out of place, and it really has nothing to do with where they have been "socialized."
posted by iblog at 9:50 AM on August 21, 2001


My son was homeschooled thru the sixth grade.
posted by bjgeiger at 9:52 AM on August 21, 2001


I have actually homeschooled for four years, stopping when the oldest was high school age.
That was two years ago. My son has made straight A's since(with the exception of one high B) and has won major awards from JROTC
(his goal is to attend the Air Force Academy). My daughters are also excellent students, and have followed their brother into JROTC.
I am constantly being told by instructors that my children are great role models, etc . Frankly my son would be happy to be homeschooled again but I work now......
Homeschool, like traditional school, is what you make it. For our family, and for that length of time, it was the right thing to do.
Socialization takes place whenever people are around other people. I see no reason why it can only take place in a classroom.
posted by bunnyfire at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2001


Holgate, of course, but consider the rise of home schooling, not the fringe-extremists.

Dagny, Iblog, Bjgeiger, Bunnyfire, Bravo.

In addition i'd like to make a point that 'virtual' social interaction with all demographics is available at home too and in 20 years time who knows how 'real' that will be/feel. It's going to be a different world, with different skills required. It's unfair to subject our kids to an outdated education that only prepares them for the world of their past. Not only does home schooling (when the concept isn't abused) promise infinitely smaller class sizes but also allows for a more meaningful interaction between tutor and student taking into account that students natural range of skills and interests. The parent should monitor and guide the kids studies, of course (otherwise they'd be drifting off into yahoo chat or something) but my overall feelings on this is that which fires an individual kids soul and imagination isn't necessarily what a collective curriculum provides and a childs intellectual growth can often become a victim. As can their social growth when they become bored/disillusioned and drift off down lifes bad alleys. Education is about making them reach their full potential and, in my opinion, traditional classrooms just don't do that.
posted by Kino at 10:07 AM on August 21, 2001


The quality of home schooling is directly proportional to how much energy and balance the parent/teachers bring to it. I've seen both ends of the spectrum in several communities, and it can be heartening or disastrous.

In the international cruising community (sailboats is what I'm talking here--all you barflies can stand down and go back to what you were doing), there is a vital subcommunity of children, all "home" schooled but a part of larger community and well-socialized, inquiring and sophisticated. I enjoy cruising kids, because they are able to interact with a wide range of ages, nationalities, etc. rather than the narrow peer-group focus of school-based kids (generalization, yes). So they are, by and large, a success. Some of that probably has to do with the self-selecting nature of that community: people who choose that life are well-off, intelligent (usually ex-professionals) and educated themselves, with a high level of committment to their kids.

A notable exception: an adolescent I met cruising with her dad post divorce, accompanied by a bimbo (generalized snobbish insult intended). Dad handed 16-year-old her school year in a box and that was that. Poor awkward child with no kid community, no idea how to be in the adult community (trying to grasp her only available role model, the bimbo), and no education. A year later, the kid was in a private tutoring boarding school ashore, turning her life into resentment.

Now, in a very small rural community ashore, I see homeschooled kids of all stripes. Some are pulled out to save them from shunning, and will do alright so long as they never have to be in society (probably better, though, than the suicide that often is the other outcome available to the shunned). Some are receiving superior educations to what the school offers and are awkward people socially who will probably be absorbed once they leave to go to college. Others may never get over such social disasters as, for example, a totally-flawed sense of personal space (kids flee her, flee her forever, and she doesn't get it) or a need to dominate adult attention by tattling. Others are simply uneducated barbarians in an eternal playgroup. On the other hand, our public school, perilously tiptoeing along the edge of disaster because we are an anomaly in a mostly-urban district, has about 1 adult volunteer for every 2 students. Together, then, the community has taken over the school and works with the staff to make it what they want for their kids. And we have the highest scores in the district on all those standardized measurements, not to mention student retention, lack of serious drug/gangviolence stuff, etc.

In all cases, what you put in is what you get out. We've seen this principle in other applications. In the case of young lives, sometimes there's no going back. That's sad. But weighed against the failures of the school system, public, private or whatever, not really special. And I see no practical, plausible role for society in controlling this.
posted by salt at 10:27 AM on August 21, 2001


This morning, I just took my oldest son to his public school for the first day of kindergarten. I can't see how any of these home-schooled kids are getting the quality of education that's available in a good school district with an active community of parents.

Call in me in three months and tell me if your kindergartener has even been "taught" the entire alphabet (in school) yet. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that the answer will be no, especially if your boy is in a traditional public 1/2 day kindergarten. Go and compare that with the reading comprehension level of most homeschooled 5 and 6 year olds and then we can compare "quality" of education.

I could sit and brag about the astounding progress of myself and my nine homeschooled siblings. (5 w/Ivy League degrees, 2 JD's, 2 MEd's, 1 MD, 4 entrepreneurs, 2 published authors, blah blah blah smartcakes.) I could sit and brag even longer about my own five homeschooled kids -- or about the leaps of education made by my two traditionally schooled (NYC public) young cousins who have been staying and learning with us this summer.

But it's irrelevant. The fact is that when kids are given options that are tailored to fit each child as an individual, the incomparably higher level of one on one attention, the opportunity to learn at their own pace, in their own space and in whatever way feels comfortable, kids will flourish. Even kids whose parents follow "unschooling" methods rather than a planned curriculum can end up being leaps and bounds above their peers because they learn because they want to, which facilitates and promotes a thirst and a quest for knowledge. Given the resources to gather whatever information they may want, kids learn and thrive without all of the boondoggles and pitfalls of mass education.

You "can't see it" because you choose not to. The fact that homeschooled kids on the whole continually out-perform their traditionally schooled peers speaks loudly and authoritatively enough to squelch the debate for those who have chosen to examine the issue on a serious level.
posted by Dreama at 11:01 AM on August 21, 2001


Homeschooling, as with institutionalized schooling, can be an astoundingly beneficial experience, providing a fostering environment for the blossoming of knowledge and the acquisition of wisdom, experience, and - directly or indirectly - friends. Both have an equal capacity to go wrong, however, and in my view, it is home schooling that is the more dangerous prospect (and the benefits do not justify the risk). In my life thus far, I have known (fairly well) five kids/teens who were home-schooled for a minimum of five years. All of these five had either deep social or attitude-related problems. Agreed, such problems might easily arise in a conventional school, but here it was a 100% score, and I attribute it to the homeschool experience. While some parents are able to create a positive environment that does not result in these problems, I'm sure, these children's families could not. One was a bad girl at 14, getting drunk and drugged with her 25-year-old boyfriend every night. Another, when he finally began attending the local arts high-school for classical music composition, was an antisocial hermit, not even making eye contact with the people he had befriended prior to leaving the homeschool environment. The little Montessori girl who I looked after at camp would act out, sit quietly in the corner, abstaining from any activity where she wasn't pampered and spoiled.

All three of the kids in these examples were very, very intelligent. Knowledgeable, creative and articulate. Were they any more so than the intelligent, creative and articulate students who attended public school with me? No. Where the antisocial kids at my high school any worse off than the homeschoolers? No.

But... Would I homeschool my children? Hell, no. Sending your kids to public school does not mean that you need not parent, and I feel most of the benefits of homeschooling can be obtained by simply doing your job as a mum or dad.
posted by Marquis at 11:18 AM on August 21, 2001


Nice anecdotal evidence, Marquis, but sadly, not applicable to vast majority of homeschooled kids. Nor does your conclusion hold water. The educational excellence often attained by homeschooled kids cannot be replicated by traditionally schooled kids with parents who "simply do their jobs as mum or dad." They just cannot. Attentive parents + inferior education /= attentive parents + superior education.
posted by Dreama at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2001


Home-schooling doesn't equal "being locked up in the basement".

It also doesn't equal "interacting with hundreds of kids your own age on a daily basis".

Don't get me wrong, I think homeschooling is a good idea. I have no doubt that I would have gotten a better education if I hadn't had to waste eight hours a day negotiating all the busywork and bullshit of public school.

But for every family of homeschooled geniuses like Dreama's, I wonder how many there are of the sort of homeschooled kids I knew in my hometown: kids kept home by their religious mothers, given the bare basics of functional education, and sent off to Bible college at 18 to become pastors or pastor's wives. They never meet anyone outside the tiny sphere of the church, they never encounter anything that might cause them to question their religion.

And hey, I don't know: maybe that's a perfectly happy life. But it's a pretty limited "education", I have to think.

Anyway, on a totally different note: are homeschooled kids allowed to participate in public school extracurricular activities? Seems like it would be a shame if a homeschooled student couldn't join the basketball team or the choir, if he wanted to.
posted by Zettai at 11:32 AM on August 21, 2001


I don't see "scoring higher on academic tests" as a major benefit of homeschooling. I feel happier children, more creative, more knowledgeable, etc. etc. to be the things to aim for. A good school, a good class, a good teacher - these things can provide all of the above. It's up to the parents to nurture a child's development. I feel that my friends and I are all much better off from having had a positive public education experience than any of the homeschoolers I know.

To adopt the same clinical tone:

Attentive parents + often-inferior education + ""interacting with hundreds of kids your own age on a daily basis" + interacting with dozens of trained teachers on a daily basis > Attentive parents + superior education + social dynamic of semi-isolated parents, children and homeschooling clubs
posted by Marquis at 11:35 AM on August 21, 2001


"not applicable to vast majority of homeschooled kids."
Not where I come from sister.

"All Public Schools Are Evil Liberal Dens of Inquity."
Now we're getting closer to where "the vast majority of home schooled kids" come from down here in the Bible Belt, Jim Crow South.

Dreama, I realize that your geographic location doesn't allow you to fully understand the hatred and ignorance that prevails in the South or you wouldn't make such generalizations. How would like your neighbors to say "I'm not sending my kids to school with those niggers"? Perhaps your excellent home schooled training in logic and legal matters will lead you to the awful truth that still exists in our country today.
posted by nofundy at 11:51 AM on August 21, 2001


>>"Attentive parents + often-inferior education + "interacting with hundreds of kids your own age on a daily basis" + interacting with dozens of trained teachers on a daily basis > Attentive parents + superior education + social dynamic of semi-isolated parents, children and homeschooling clubs"

It definitely deserves repeating - well said Marquis.

Although, personally I would change "often-inferior education" to "occasionally inferior education". Teachers are trained how to teach, parents aren't.
posted by Option1 at 12:00 PM on August 21, 2001


One of the key elements of the debate will be opinions on which one of the following is harder:

A) Learning independently when attending a public school.

B) Becoming socially mature when home-schooled.

I opt for the second being more difficult. Young people are born with a rampant curiosity. Conversely, adolescence often brings self-doubt and fear of the opposite sex, not to mention explorations in sexuality, personality "masks", drugs and alcohol. You're not going to learn to deal with these issues when hanging out with mom and dad all day.
posted by Marquis at 12:07 PM on August 21, 2001


Further to my complaint about the Times (lack of) editors, why is it that this dialogue is so, so much more interesting and full of intelligent, well-articulated, and reasoanbly supported discussion that the article was in the first place?
posted by MattD at 12:16 PM on August 21, 2001


Perhaps because it doesn't consist of a central figure paid to dictate their knowledge and opinions and the agendas of their employers to a bunch of controlled people forced into quiet, passive submission Matt.
posted by Kino at 12:34 PM on August 21, 2001


I feel happier children, more creative, more knowledgeable, etc. etc. to be the things to aim for. A good school, a good class, a good teacher - these things can provide all of the above.

But a bad class, which, unlike the above, EXISTS, can kill a child's creativity (remember, creativity = becoming one of those "unusual" adolescents = you'll be a murder) and certainly make them miserable.

Ideally, public schools are a good idea. A good school with active parents and good teachers would be excellent. But our public schools suck. I'm not just talking inner-city, I'm talking most of them.

I was just talking to a couple who's homeschooling their kids (except the oldest, who's getting a G.E.D. because he missed two weeks of swimming and therefore couldn't graduate...) -- we actually have a large center here for homseschooled families to get together for various activities, for sports, certain lessons, and so on. Homeschooled kids tend to do better academically.

My high school teachers could all have been replaced by any idiot who knows how to operate a VCR. Education careers have a way now of attracting the lowest common denominator, so even if you don't think you're smart enough to teach your kids, you're probably smarter than the teachers at your public school.

And this was supposed to be a "good" school district -- suburban, upper-middle-class, all that...
posted by dagnyscott at 12:41 PM on August 21, 2001


The unspoken belief behind all educators and parents: Children are blunt instruments to be shaped according to the will of their Elders.
posted by aramaic at 12:57 PM on August 21, 2001


aramaic, that's exactly the problem TCS addresses.
posted by dagny at 1:08 PM on August 21, 2001


Teachers are trained how to teach, parents aren't.

That argument falls apart in that the "training" teachers receive has little to do with actual teaching (maybe 10-20% of the classes cover how to teach). The rest is a lot of psychology with a healthy dose of crowd control and other discipline techniques thrown in as well.

Parents can figure out very quickly what will work with their kids. And there are fewer issues of discipline to deal with. It's called real life experience, which most education programs throw into a semester of "student teaching." And then you graduate and get a class (or several if you teach middle/high school) all to yourself.

I know whereof I speak, having a Masters in Education and over 6 years of classroom teaching under my belt...

My high school teachers could all have been replaced by any idiot who knows how to operate a VCR. Education careers have a way now of attracting the lowest common denominator, so even if you don't think you're smart enough to teach your kids, you're probably smarter than the teachers at your public school.

You get what you pay for. I got out because I could do better financially in related fields. I enjoy teaching, but not dealing with the administrivia of the job (grades, administrators, teacher conferences, discipline issues, breaking up knife fights...).

I also hold a deep respect for those who haven't bailed and are giving it their best shot, despite the many obstacles in their way.
posted by iblog at 1:29 PM on August 21, 2001


Call in me in three months and tell me if your kindergartener has even been "taught" the entire alphabet (in school) yet.

I don't have to wait three months. He already knows the alphabet, and the teacher in his full-day kindergarten is reinforcing it by teaching the letters using sign language, an idea she brought from her last school. In the first four hours of school, the alphabet was already the subject of two exercises.

Advocates of home-schooling act as if parents who send their children to school are completely removing themselves from any duty to educate their children. That doesn't happen if the parents are good, regardless of whether they home-school or not.

You "can't see it" because you choose not to. The fact that homeschooled kids on the whole continually out-perform their traditionally schooled peers speaks loudly and authoritatively enough to squelch the debate for those who have chosen to examine the issue on a serious level.

Your condescension doesn't say much for your socialization skills, Dreama. It's extremely rude for you to presume that I don't know anything about this topic because I put my kid in public school this morning.

I've learned a lot about home schooling over the past five years because of relatives who considered it.

I spent time with parents and home-schooled kids at a social gathering in Colorado, where I learned that most of the crowd was right-wing, Bible-thumping John Birch types who believe every single negative stereotype they've ever been told about public education, never really considered public or private schools as an option, and think that kids are forced to recite Heather Has Two Mommies every morning instead of the Pledge of Allegiance.

I also learned that home-schooled kids, when let off the leash for a couple of hours to be with other children, go absolutely apeshit.

I've also heard all kinds of wild generalities about how home-schooled Einsteins outperform the subliterate amoral cretins who attend school, but like you, the other advocates I've encountered could not offer any specifics to back this up -- my public school, incompetent and multicultural and crowded and bureaucratic as it was, taught me how to cite a source. Apparently your mommy didn't.
posted by rcade at 2:12 PM on August 21, 2001


Nofundy: How would like your neighbors to say "I'm not sending my kids to school with those niggers"? Perhaps your excellent home schooled training in logic and legal matters will lead you to the awful truth that still exists in our country today.

Yep, and if my neighbours said that, they'd probably be looking at me and my kids while they did, especially since we're the only ones who could be so-called in our neighbourhood. I'm aware that such a mindset exists, though unlike many I do not find racists under every bush and down every backroad in the north or south.

However, I'm not sure how its germane to the discussion about homeschooling overall. There are people who homeschool (and parochial school of various religions) because they don't want their kids in "dens of iniquity" and those who homeschool (and parochial school/private school, etc.) because they don't want their kids mingling with "those __ (insert slur of choice here)" and those who homeschool (or parochial school/private school) because they don't want their kids picked on because they are the ones who would targetted as those (insert slur of choice here). There are just as many who homeschool (parochial school/private school) because they want something better for their children than what the public schools have to offer.

However, it is useful for certain factions to try to lump those of us seeking excellence and more than status quo for our kids with the Bible-thumping "public education is full of godless heathens" types who closet their kids in basements studying more Malachi and Ephesians than Math and English, the hippy-dippy uber-attachment parenting types who say "Little Rainbow Moonchild and Woodnymph Unity will learn from living as they enjoy their macrobiotic diets and clothing made only of homespun natural fibers." and the neo-Nazi and underground militia nuts who are teaching their kids how to strip an M-16 along with E=MC2 in a bunker in Idaho.

Consequently, homeschoolers are generally painted as being on the fringe, as having some weirdo motivation, thus untrustworthy and unquestionably harming their kids in one way or another. Adding that to the insinuation -- despite having only anecdotal evidence as a means of "proof" -- that homeschooling stunts our kids' social growth and prevents them from interacting "normally" with their "peers" we can be further marginalised and put in a position of having to defend ourselves and our parenting choices even when our kids can run rings around their so-called "peers" in every quantifiable way.

Why? The article itself says it: "Home schooling is a social threat to public education," As more professional, well-educated, urban parents choose to opt out of the education system, the more money the schools lose. They lose per-pupil funding, they lose battles for hikes in property taxes, they lose the confidence of the community. We disrupt the order of things "as they have always been" and the more we shake up the picture, the more the irrelevant "but what ifs. . . " get thrown into the mix. What's the point?

If there were some objection with any kind of foundation beyond "All of the homeschooled kids I know. . . " or "I don't see how. . . " or "But those parents are only doing it because. . . " then there may be something to debate. I'll continue to wait for that.

rcade: I've learned a lot about home schooling over the past five years because of relatives who considered it.

Let me condescend a little more then -- when you have considered it and studied it, and not made decisions second hand through what you've heard from "relatives" or seen at a time-limited "social gatherings" of what may have been 0.000000000001% of homeschoolers in the nation, you'll be a voice worth listening to on the topic. Until then, you're another mewling voice with more anecdotal claptrap that boils down to nothing.

Oh, and something my mommy did teach me - not to spout my mouth off on topics that I don't legitimately know jack about.
posted by Dreama at 2:25 PM on August 21, 2001


If your mommy taught you that Dreama, why are you continuing to do so?
posted by Option1 at 2:33 PM on August 21, 2001


... our kids can run rings around their so-called "peers" in every quantifiable way.

None of which you have quantified yet, despite numerous opportunities.

One of the public schools here probably has the Turabian guide on how to do research and cite what you've found. Want me to check out a copy for you?
posted by rcade at 2:34 PM on August 21, 2001


rcade -- did you even read the Time article in the link? In that poorly presented bit of fluff alone it is pointed out that homeschoolers outperform public schoolers on acheivement testing and the SATs. I have done the research, five of my subjects are sitting adjacent to me at the moment. I'm not interested in convincing you, just pointing out that you've come to conclusions without any legitimate evidence.
posted by Dreama at 2:41 PM on August 21, 2001


Why? The article itself says it: "Home schooling is a social threat to public education," As more professional, well-educated, urban parents choose to opt out of the education system, the more money the schools lose. They lose per-pupil funding, they lose battles for hikes in property taxes, they lose the confidence of the community. We disrupt the order of things "as they have always been" and the more we shake up the picture, the more the irrelevant "but what ifs. . . " get thrown into the mix. What's the point?

One point is that if homeschooling does end up disrupting the educational system--and I'm not saying it will or won't--then the consequences of that will be felt by our whole society. If you don't like public schooling, fine: take your kid either to private schools or home as you please. But not all families have the resources (financial, educational, or time) to do so.

Large movements of affluent, educated students away from the public schools *will* have detrimental effects on the remaining students and those effects *will* then be felt by everybody else. It's too soon to tell whether the nouveau home-schooling movement will ever be large enough to matter, but don't blame people for worrying about what happens if it becomes so.
posted by feckless at 2:41 PM on August 21, 2001


Simple solution: let people homeschool all they want. Offer them no financial incentive to do so; their school-supporting taxes remain exactly the same as they were before. Any additional fees that might otherwise be applied (eg: equipment fees) will simply not be assessed.

Homeschool folks have a merry time with their kids, and those unable to homeschool still have public schools to fall back on.
posted by aramaic at 2:45 PM on August 21, 2001


The only problem with that scenario, aramaic, is that public schools receive funding based on their enrollment. Since there are certain fixed expenses involved in having a school at all, cutting the total amount of funding has the effect of reducing per-pupil funding; even if the nominal per-pupil funding remains the same, the portion needed for overhead expenses increases, and thus the effective per-pupil funding decreases. Something's got to give, so you'll end up with larger classes, lower-quality teachers, or poor equipment. Not right away, but eventually.

This is a real problem and it's not easily soluble. You could have a sliding funding scale that gives smaller schools more per head, but setting that scale would become highly politicized. That said, if I ever manage to reproduce, I'll not be sending my children to public school.
posted by kindall at 3:08 PM on August 21, 2001


did you even read the Time article in the link? In that poorly presented bit of fluff alone it is pointed out that homeschoolers outperform public schoolers on acheivement testing and the SATs.

I read the article looking for facts to back up the claim that home schoolers do better than their peers.

What I found: Maybe the two factoids you liked amid the fluff qualify as proof to you -- somehow, you find relevance in the number of home schoolers I met at an event, which was actually 200 (around 0.05 percent of all home-schoolers at the time, five billion more than your estimate!).

However, I think I'll hold off just yet on yanking my son out of school so he can major in accompany-me-on-errandology.
posted by rcade at 3:23 PM on August 21, 2001


Kindall: Hrm, I forgot about that cursed per-head funding thing. Well, I guess I'll just fall back on my old standby -- nip the buds, shoot the kids.
posted by aramaic at 3:39 PM on August 21, 2001


I have a question: What if the home schooling is supplied or augmented by someone other than the parent? If a parent hires a private instructor to teach the child, does that help with the socialization issue a little? Or what if some homeschoolers, say a group of ten, got together with this instructor? Would that be better? or would there still be problems since the group is "homogenous" rather than diverse? (I am assuming that parents opting to be in the group would share ideas about what is important)

One of things I wanted to mention is that Dreama pointed out that children have been removed to avoid stigma. I am disabled, and was obviously so as a child. (It is not noticeable now) I was kept in public school until high school. It was not a great experience, but I would have been unhappy being homeschooled. I made the schools I went to better because they had to change and learn how to deal with disabled students.(I come from a small rural town.) By removing yourself you prevent yourself from educating those around you. You make it easier for them to reject you and others like you. Also, I was rejected from two colleges because of my physical disability. (They told me to my face during the interview process) I was prepared and able to deal with it because I was aware this went on. I had been dealing with it since school began. I would have been totally unprepared for that re-action if I had been home schooled.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:49 PM on August 21, 2001 [1 favorite]


"The great melting-pot of America, the place we are all made Americans of, is the public school, where men of every race and every origin, and of every station of life send their children, or ought to send their children, and where, being mixed together, they are all infused with the American spirit and developed into the American man and the American woman."
- Woodrow Wilson, 1913

To me, the real issue of home-schooling isn't whether children will be more or less 'socialized' with their peers, or even higher or lower academic achievement, but that the rise of this home-schooling movement undermines one of the only remaining egalitarian mechanisms that ties together a community... and by extension, the country, in these modern times of social fission - the local public school system.

The affluent sending their progeny to elite private academies and religious sending their kids to parochial schools has been damaging enough to American society, but home-schooling threatens to fragment and narrow the education of children at another order of magnitude - and the further it progresses, the more that America loses something special that ties us together as a nation.

The varied reasons portrayed for the decision to home-school are recognizable enough - whether the religious fundamentalists preaching with a bible in one hand and a textbook in the other, the hippies encouraging lessons learned from Mother Nature, or the paranoid parents indoctrinating in a bunker classroom - the problem is, it's inherently divisive to allow children to be taught in such a limiting intellectual manner! Instead of being educated in a fair and equal environment consisting of rich and poor alike with varied ethnicities and racial backgrounds and a multitude of beliefs - an environment where children will actually be exposed to an interplay of ideas and truly learn from diversity... it seems that home-schooling champions only learning the ideas and concepts acceptable to 'others like us' and belittles or neglects equally valid viewpoints of others. While this may be acceptable to narrow-minded parental units, it's a prescription for further atomization and balkanization in America and should not be encouraged.

As for deciding to home-school because of the perceived lack of quality of public schools, well... to be blunt, it's easier for some people to run away from the problems associated with public schools instead of working to better the educational system that our future depends on.
posted by SenshiNeko at 3:59 PM on August 21, 2001


rcade: In 1991, Dr. J. Gary Knowles, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Michigan, conducted a survey that found that:

Of adults who were home educated, none were unemployed and none were on welfare, 94% said home education prepared them to be independent persons, 79% said it helped them interact with individuals from different levels of society, and the vast majority said they strongly supported the home education method

In 1998, Dr. Lawrence Rudner of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation (who's children are NOT homeschooled, by the way) conducted the largest study of homeschooling to date. Published in the peer-reviewed Education Policy Analysis Archives, the data was compiled from the achievement test scores of 20,760 students in 11,930 families, along with background questionnaires submitted by the families.

Major findings include: the achievement test scores of this group of home school students are exceptionally high--the median scores were typically in the 70th to 80th percentile; 25% of home school students are enrolled one or more grades above their age-level public and private school peers... and almost all home school students are in married couple families.

Note, however, that this was not a controlled experiment but rather a sampling. Note further that the study, though conducted independently and without any apparent bias, was commissioned by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

The State of Tennessee (1988) reported that the home educated in that state averaged about the 83rd percentile in reading and about the 77th percentile in math on standardized achievement tests.

The State of Oregon (also in 1988) found that 73% of the home school students who were tested scored above average.

Dr. Howard Richman and his colleagues have found that the home educated in Pennsylvania score, on average, at the 86th percentile in reading and the 73rd percentile in math. (Howard B. Richman, William Girten, & Jay Snyder, 1992).

Canada's largest study of its kind revealed similar findings on the academic success of the home educated. In 1996, Dr. Brian Ray found the students scoring, on average, at the 80th percentile in reading, the 76th in language, and the 79th in math. Students whose parents were certified teachers did no better than the other students.

The home educated have significantly higher positive self-concepts. (Dr. Shyers, University of Florida, unpublished doctoral dissertation, 1992; Dr. John Wesley Taylor, Self-Concept in Home Schooling Children, Andrews University, 1988)

Interestingly, though I've lost the cite, I'm certain that I read in one of those reports that homeschoolers outperformed public schoolers regardless of the income level of their parents. In short, while lower-income public school tend to do poorer than their high-income counterparts, there was virtually no difference between high income (> $100,000 a year) and low income (< $15,000 a year) homeschool students.

What it comes down to, in my view, is this: in virtually all studies, the one factor that seems to correlate with academic success every time is parental involvement. Those students (such as rural students) with strong parental involvement succeed, regardless of how much (or how little) money is thrown at their public schools. Make of this what you will.

For my part, I was not homeschooled nor raised in a pro-homeschool home, but I did become significantly involved with the homeschool community in Missouri through an ex-girlfriend. Objectively, I can tell you that they are generally different than us in their socialization... but I'm not sure it's a bad different. They're less shallow, more intellectual, and generally more open and honest. Though there are the strong introverts among them, they generally are much more mature and responsible than your average public school student.

Like I said, make of this what you will.
posted by gd779 at 4:16 PM on August 21, 2001


whether the religious fundamentalists preaching with a bible in one hand and a textbook in the other, the hippies encouraging lessons learned from Mother Nature, or the paranoid parents indoctrinating in a bunker classroom

*sigh*. Debate through stereotyping, fear, misrepresentation, and ignorance. What a surprise.

I suppose that there will always be those who oppose home schooling because it undermines their holy grail (the public school system.) This is the same public school system, by the way, which has poor urban Kansas City blacks clamoring for vouchers so that they can escape; and the same public school system that is failing us in every way imaginable. (Incidentally, I went to public schools and got a pretty decent education, so they're not all bad.)

And then there will be others who oppose home schooling because they feel alienated by the religious right, thus dedicating themselves to opposing anything that the "bible-thumpers" are supporting, regardless of whether it's related to religion or not. (Hint: home schooling lets parents control their children's upbringing, making religious beliefs a private matter.) These people don't seem to want to set aside their feelings and examine the evidence objectively.

There are, of course, some very reasonable people opposed to home schooling. Homeschool is not a panacea, and so there are also some very legitimate reasons to decide against home schooling yourself. But fear and ignorance are not among those reasons.
posted by gd779 at 4:29 PM on August 21, 2001


Forgot: the interesting thing about the Rudner study in particular was that he compared scores from state-mandated tests only. In other words, every homeschooler (and public schooler) was required to take these tests. Homeschoolers outperformed public schoolers by a significant margin.
posted by gd779 at 4:38 PM on August 21, 2001


I can't believe how controversial homeschooling is. It's hilarious that people avoid public school because of the assumption that All Public Schools Are Evil Liberal Dens of Inquity... My wife and I would never send our children to public school for the exact opposite reason. 13 years of institutionalized racism is not what we want for our son.
posted by sudama at 5:13 PM on August 21, 2001


Do ANY of you writing negatively about homeschooling remember the hell that was Junior High?

My main motivation was to prevent my children from going through what I did back then....since they returned to school when they were more emotionally grounded and secure, they were able to handle any negativity their peer group felt like handing out.

Oh by the way, I do not thump my Bible.......
posted by bunnyfire at 7:02 PM on August 21, 2001


Sudama: 13 years of institutionalized racism is not what we want for our son.

I hear ya, Sudama. I say 7 years, tops. Actually, I didn't find any racism in my 6 years of schooling in Minnesota public schools, except from students. School in (northern) Florida was a different story.

Dreama: homeschoolers outperform public schoolers on acheivement testing and the SATs.

Dogs can jump through hoops, too.
posted by gleemax at 7:05 PM on August 21, 2001


Um, I don't think some of you understand. While my years in jr high were not the hell you describe, it is those very moments - the sniping by peers, the pressure, the failures and the crushes and the break-ups - that, alongside the 'good' stuff, makes public school so valuable. Life is more about cruel people making fun of you than it is Heroditus and Venn diagrams. I value the hard days I got through in public school. It's taught me why I should care about others; why it's so lovely to be generous; why my friends are so great. It's convinced me to ensure that my children will (to a certain extent) be immersed in a similar environment, so that they too will learn the value of kindness, humility and diversity. Home-schooling kids due to a couple rotten years at Filmore Junior High seems to me like chopping off their legs cause you once fell down the stairs.
posted by Marquis at 7:52 PM on August 21, 2001


Here here marquis!
posted by miss-lapin at 9:28 PM on August 21, 2001


Life is more about cruel people making fun of you than it is Heroditus and Venn diagrams.

Actually, grown-ups tend to value you more for what you can do. Not one of my adult acquaintances and co-workers has ever, for example, drawn a pornographic cartoon of me masturbating and passed it around to our mutual acquaintances. Something equally embarrassing generally happened to me approximately 180 days per year (in other words, every day I was in school) for twelve. Fucking. Years.

The main thing that interaction with my classmates instilled in me is an inclination to assume people are stupid and cruel until proven otherwise. I realize it sounds as though I'm contradicting myself here, but there's really no contradiction. Knowing on an intellectual level that most adults are not cruel and stupid does not overcome the defense mechanisms I built up during my twelve years of hell. I struggle constantly to overcome my own barriers to interaction with others, and I will probably be fighting them until the day I die.

If I can help my hypothetical child develop a more healthy attitude toward his fellow man by sparing him juvenile torments, then I will do so.

It's taught me why I should care about others; why it's so lovely to be generous; why my friends are so great.

If your hard times taught you these things, you did not have any hard times. Sorry, but it's the truth.
posted by kindall at 9:57 PM on August 21, 2001


Kindall, just because you rationalize your bitterness doesn't make it any more than just bitterness. it's still something you should strive to grow out of, and something that you don't want to pass on to your hypothetical child if you can help it- homeschooling them because you're upset about your own school age experiences won't help them and may even stunt them into having, as you put it, their "own barriers to interaction with others".

I mean, don't get me wrong, I know exactly where you're coming from. I still hate that parents and teachers to this day continue to use the "kids will be kids" line to justify ignoring cruelty and torment we'd never in a million years tolerate as adults. I'm pretty damn bitter myself- I'm even more bitter than Bitter Jack McBitter, winner of last year's Bitterest Bitterman competition! Intellectually, I agree with Marquis, but emotionally and on a gut level I know where you're coming from. That's what makes "enlightenment", or whatever word you wanna use to label it, so difficult. Dealing with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune was never supposed to be easy, which is why overcoming them to attain a spiritual and emotional peace with yourself and your fellow human beings is such a triumph.
posted by hincandenza at 2:58 AM on August 22, 2001



Hey, my kids ARE in public school now, remember?
But I refused to risk having my children emotionally destroyed like I was. It has taken years to get over it.
posted by bunnyfire at 4:18 AM on August 22, 2001


Though I remain skeptical, I can believe that the average home-schooler would score better on SATs and other tests than her peers, for this reason: A neglectful parent is much more likely to send the tykes to school than keep them at home. Combine this with a lot of bad school districts because of inequitable financing, and you get some poor-performing students. The conditions in some of the schools here in North Florida is nothing short of tragic.

However, when I was a kid my parents chose a place to live based on the quality of the school district and were active at the school. Great public schools are available to many of the parents who are keeping their kids at home, but yet all you hear from them are the worst-case scenarios of the poorest schools.

I'm impressed with the number of people here who liked their home-schooling, but I can't help but think it cheats kids out of a richer, more comprehensive education. The anecdotes in the Time story about the 15-year-old girl who has never learned to read and write, because her parents let her choose what to learn and she chose dance, is a travesty. That kid's going to sink like a stone in college.
posted by rcade at 4:55 AM on August 22, 2001


Brrrr. I was taught at home from kindergarten through high school, and the more I hear about what "regular school" was like, the more glad I become that I never had to experience it.

Modern public schools frighten me. I'm not looking forward to sharing society with the crop of passive, cautious conformists they seem designed to produce.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:31 AM on August 22, 2001


Kindall, just because you rationalize your bitterness doesn't make it any more than just bitterness.

Of course it's "just" bitterness, in the same way that a broken leg is "just" a broken leg. Yes, you can get over it. I don't necessarily want to submit my child to Lord of the Flies just so he'll have something to get over on the way to enlightenment. He or she will have enough challenges without that.

I don't know that homeschooling my kids would necessarily help them, but it certainly couldn't hurt them any worse than public school would hurt them. (And yes, I went to one of the best public school systems in the state.) Teaching is not exactly brain surgery, and while it's difficult to keep 20-30 kids under control, it's surely much easier to deal with one or two, especially when you're their parent.
posted by kindall at 7:42 AM on August 22, 2001


By removing yourself you prevent yourself from educating those around you. You make it easier for them to reject you and others like you.

That's true, but I don't know that it is necessary for my child at age seven or ten or thirteen have to educate anybody about anything in that manner. Children who are different than the mainstream should not have to act as the examples and the instructors to everyone else merely because they are there.

Further, I question how much "education" can happen about those differences anyway. Are kids more likely to absorb and respect the basis of differences, or to reject the different or use their differences against them?

Is the kid in the cafeteria who eats differently going to get nods and "Oh, I get it" when he explains (i.e. "We're ethical vegans." "My family is macrobiotic." or "We're Jewish and we keep kosher.") or just taunts "He's got that goopy rice stuff again." "She eats seaweed!" "You can't have pepperoni pizza? Man, sucks to be you!" whenever someone feels the need to snark?

Are image and conformity-driven junior high girls going to accept the one whose religion dictates modesty, skirts and longer sleeves at all times, even once she explains it? Might they consider her to be as cool and interesting because of her personality, despite the visual differences? Doubtful.

What's more isolating -- being with people who are like you and are in step with your life? Is it better to try to be educated in an environment where you have to explain your differences all the time in hopes of eventually opening a path of acceptance while simultaneously being kept out of things because they don't fit with your ethical, moral, religious or physical limitations, or to be able to learn in comfort and in surroundings where you can just be yourself and not have to deal with concerns about not fitting in because you're _____ (insert whatever here)?

Being a kid and getting a good education in school is hard enough -- I say better to do it in an environment which doesn't continually cast a light on you for no reason other than your existence. Kids deserve happy comraderie, not endless days of sticking out like a sore thumb and bearing the burden of enlightening people because of it.
posted by Dreama at 9:25 AM on August 22, 2001


I realize this is a couple of days old now, but damn it I've been wanting to post on some of these threads for a while now but have had to wait until I could register, soooo..

We're a homeschooling family. I don't particularly like the term "homeschool", because it gives an impression of exclusivity, of keeping our son away from those other kids. It's not at all like that. I prefer the term "alternative schooling", but it sounds a bit pretentious.

I'm trying hard not to make generalizations, but it often seems that in discussions like this we hear from people without school-aged children who simply do not understand the issues at stake here. I've heard a lot of "public school isn't that bad!", but the fact is I usually hear this from people who haven't had anything to do with the public school system for years. While there are always exceptions, when we looked at public schools in our area (and we have been in several areas throughout the US in the past few years) we invariably saw low-paid teachers with large classrooms that had to spend their time corralling kids instead of teaching them. We saw the happy goofball kids forced to change their behavior after a week or so and become introverted or shy, and in our own son's case (at a public pre-K class), we saw him shouted at and forbidden from being included in a class activity all afternoon because he went for another cupcake. Whenever we're told that home schooled kids don't get enough socialization, we think of how that image of our son being forced to sit alone at the table while the rest of the kids were playing together contrasts with the group activities planned by the local homeschool community.

We have also experienced the joys of profiling - after a boring hour of tests and simple activities, our son wanted to play with some building blocks instead of matching them. This is apparently some great sin for a 4-year-old, and led to a preliminary diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. I have no doubt in my mind that if he were in the public school system, he would have been prescribed medication by now, because that's the easiest way for the large institutions to handle the bouncy kids.

So a reminder for those people who are talking about these issues who haven't been to public school for 5 or 10 years - things are different now. Maybe they'll change for the better again sometime soon, but for now we're all happy in our decision to pursue alternative education.

I really didn't want to turn this into a "public schools are bad" post. I don't think all of them are - though I do think a good one is hard to find. I think a lot of private schools have the same problems, they just cost you more. To me, it just comes down to no matter how smart, warm, or loving a teacher is, they do not care as much about my child as I do, and when they have a class of several children, the needs of the many will usually outweigh the needs of the few.

Finally, it's important to note that we are continually evaluating the state of more traditional education methods, because what is right for us all now might not be right for us in 5 years.
posted by SiW at 9:48 AM on August 22, 2001


You sound like a good parent, SiW. My respect to you.

You say that people who have been completely separated from the school system should take care before passing judgment. I agree. People should also not base the choices they make for their children on bitter memories of taunting while growing up. If your ego is too big that you can't accept that someone else can enjoy something you didn't, or that your kids might rise above whatever you went through, well, you got a problem.

I finished high school within the past five years. I didn't enjoy large chunks of it, but this had more to do with jerks than with the school system. If you homeschool in order to prevent your kids from encountering jerks, well, you're dreaming. Your kids may simply be lambs for the slaughter when they finally meet the real world. Don't be surprised when your little girl (an expert on Macedonia at age 8) is dating Vinny the dope-pusher.

Again, the same thing can happen to a publicly schooled kid. But what I see here are people blaming the public school system for assholes, and for not having parents who were observant/caring/conscientious enough to respond to abusive situations.

Er, I'm ranting, but...

Parents should have every right to send their kid to school, or to teach them at home. So long as they're ensuring that the educational experience is a positive one, it's all good. That said, parents should take special care that their homeschooled son will be able to integrate with society (and that his social growth is not stunted by his lack of membership in the academic microsociety). Similarly, parents should take special care that their public-schooled daughter is not being taught by a dimwit while living a Hell at recess.

But this seems like common sense to me.

(Oh, and most of the criticism I see here for public school appears to arise in equal measure at university. I'm curious if the people on that side of the fence anti-college?)
posted by Marquis at 12:16 PM on August 22, 2001


marquis: kids at college tend to be rather closer to being adults than kids in high school. It's not the same thing.

For the record, I did fine in college. A little naive, maybe, but I got along with everyone, made friends, got top grades whenever I was interested enough to pursue them.

But what I see here are people blaming the public school system for assholes,

Well, yes, in the same way that I would blame the desert for not having much water. Pack hundreds (or in some cases thousands) of kids together with no adults other than some distant authority figures, and what do you THINK is going to happen? The kids are going to make up their own society according to their abilities. A society dominated by children is always going to be cruel, vindictive, petty, and selfish, because - without adult moderating influences - that's how kids act. Add to this the fact that the adults present are under pressure - to keep order, to impart information, to make a living - and what little adult interaction the kids do experience is not going to be quite what you'd hope for.

Surrounding kids with virtually nothing but other kids and expecting them to act like anything BUT assholes is about as reasonable as dumping an infant on the moon and expecting it to speak English when you come back for it ten years later.

This is another argument for smaller classes: interactions with adults are more balanced with the interactions with kids.

As far as I can tell, the primary academic virtue in home schooling is the reduction of class size to one or two, or maybe three (or, at maximum, a family like the one I came from, where there were six students at once for a few years). The benefits of personalized attention are well known, and reducing class size is such a common solution to school problems that it's become something of a mantra among politicans at election time.

The increased flexibility and ability to devise new educational approaches are also nice, of course...

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:00 PM on August 22, 2001


I agree, the reduction of class sizes is super (although I feel that trained teachers can do great work with a class as big as say, 8). Optimum scenario? Free, non-discriminating education in the form of a school whoses classes are never bigger than 10 students.
posted by Marquis at 1:15 PM on August 22, 2001


Marquis, your line

But this seems like common sense to me.

just about sums up many of our modern societal problems - nobody has any common sense anymore *grin*.

But yes, it's exactly right. It's all about doing the right thing for your children in your particular situation. I do have to disagree somewhat with the (quite common) argument about "there's assholes in the world, your kid needs to find out about them". My opinion is that he (for example) doesn't have to be bullied to find out about bullies.

It's interesting that whenever I'm told that he has to learn to deal with unpleasant people, the person telling me unfailingly has a quite bitter outlook on life. If this is an example of the end-product of the traditional schooling system, well, it makes me think I'm making the right decision *grin*

One thing I'd like to point out though - I'm not looking back at my school life and thinking "that sucked, I want my son to have better". On the contrary, I had a pretty good school life. The difference is that I'm English, and I went through the English school system. One of the things done right was in my middle school years, we were split into groups based on ability, and I don't think it's coincidence that I look back on those years as the times when I didn't feel held back by the rest of the class.

I should stop posting on this now, I should be working..
posted by SiW at 2:35 PM on August 22, 2001


"Home schooling is a social threat to public education," says Chris Lubienski, who teaches at Iowa State University's college of education. "It is taking some of the most affluent and articulate parents out of the system. These are the parents who know how to get things done with administrators."

Anyone else got a giggle out of this?
posted by dagny at 4:32 AM on August 24, 2001


Well, what do you expect, dagny? He's from Iowa, which is a whole 'nother planet. Maybe in Iowa, affluent people don't have to sell off all their time to get that way in the first place, like they do in the real world...

-Mars (getting in obligatory digs at the midwest)
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:31 AM on August 24, 2001


One of the things done right was in my middle school years, we were split into groups based on ability, and I don't think it's coincidence that I look back on those years as the times when I didn't feel held back by the rest of the class.

I've read of studies which suggest that the rest of the class would have benefited from your presence.
posted by sudama at 11:36 PM on August 24, 2001


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