Monday, October 20, 2008

Home Schooling Revisited

(News-Herald, August 2004) I have always had mixed feelings about home schooling. Over the past few years, those feelings have changed. Granted, they’re still mixed. But it’s become easier for me to understand the impulse to keep a child home.

We are living, after all, through a large scale assault on public education. As near as I can tell, No Child Left is intended to gut public schools so that some select folks 1) can get their children away from Those People and 2) can keep their money and avoid having to foot the bill for educating the servants’ children. At best, the government seems intent on creating schools where the point is not to educate, but to prepare students to take tests (the results of these tests will show conclusively how well those students have been taught to take tests).

We’re headed for a two-tier system in this country for both regular schooling and college education—one top-notch system for the rich and privileged, and another sorry beaten-down system for the rest of us. The No Child Left and school voucher folks would just like to get us there as quickly as possible.

Given that situation, I can understand a parent’s desire to get their own child out of the building before it collapses.

At the same time, I have misgivings, because I’m afraid that this sort of bailing accelerates the collapse.

The problem in many cases we’re losing the best students from public school. My objection to that is not based on any selfish desire to have the best kids in my classroom—the loss of the cream dilutes what’s left.

A while back, I watched an outstanding young local musician, and my first thought was, “What a shame he’s home schooled.” Not for him, mind you. His talent was obviously managing to grow well enough.

But as most musicians will tell you, the way you get better is by playing with other musicians. Particularly good ones. So there are dozens of other young musicians who will have a slightly smaller chance to grow because they’ll never have worked with this guy.

And music isn’t the only area that works that way. No matter what subject, classroom teachers will tell you (and the research will back them up) that the top students often drive the other students behind them, just like a runner setting the pace for a race.

So when the fastest runner is home schooled, the rest of the runners end up working to a slower pace, and they don’t do as well as they might have.

This speaks to one of the fault lines in our culture, the problem of balancing individual rights with responsibilities to the group as a whole.

If you have a talent, a skill, a special ability, an extraordinary level of drive, shouldn’t you be free to explore and develop that as best you can, without restrictions, without being held back by or for others? But if you have that kind of gift, don’t you have an obligation to use it for something larger than your own personal benefit? Do you owe it to society to share your talent?

I don’t have an answer for this one. I do know that if gifts aren’t allowed to grow and thrive, they can become twisted or stunted or simply lost. But I also know that all too often people look at a problem, say, “Hey, that’s not MY problem,” and then are later shocked and surprised that the problem was never solved.

This issue is a balance between serving society and being served by it.

Is the only value in a school what the student can get from it, or is it also important to weigh what the student can give?

The two questions are more closely related than they may seem, because the less some students give to the system, the less other students can get from it. If nobody chooses to play on the football team, then that team is not there to foster the gifted potential players that come along.

I don’t want to minimize for a moment the fact that parents have to try to make the best choices that they can for their children. But I think we sometimes fail to acknowledge that when a student is homeschooled, particularly one with a gift for art or music or athletics or writing or math, there is a collateral cost for all the other students.

The response may be, “Tough noogies. I’ve got to watch out for my own kid.” And parents have every right to take that stance. At the same time, when your neighbor’s house burns down, it’s the neighborhood you live in that’s damaged.


condatis said...

For someone who wishes to both personally succeed and contribute to a greater group its not difficult. It doesn't need "answers". Just do it. I send my son to public school. But I don't COUNT on public school to be the end all be all of his education. I think there is a good portion of the population that thinks this way. Its the people who grew up doing really well in school only to realize in adulthood that school didn't really do a lot for them but they could reflect back on what it did do as well as what things outside of an institutional education setting contributed to their success.

In this post you are merely wishing homeschoolers would listen to your point as you try to listen to theirs.

Of course its also on educators and school systems to not so overload our kids with school 'stuff' that they don't have time to develop 'selves' outside of school. (this is where my kindergarten son are struggling now but hey its still early, we'll get it)

And what about the schools where kids take the tests well, the results show it but gee, then those SAME kids go on to be the tops in their graduating class, do well in college, etc.?

Its hard being accountable. Our government is great at throwing systems and programs out there that always need a LOT of tweaking later. But in any industry - if you don't regulate yourselves, measure yourselves, then the government will do it for you.

Shai said...

Homeschooled children are allowed to enroll in music, art, or other programs of interest with their local school district. You post here show you obviously know very little about homeschooling. You also, obviously, have no children of your own seeing that you would be willing to sacrafice your own child's well being just so the others in your neighborhood don't get stuck not being as gifted as your child.
My husband was a school teacher, and after experiencing first hand what the backstage of public schools are really like I would never send my child there. Not only is it improper socialization (when else in your life are you forced to sit in a room all day with 30 people your exact same age?), but it is unnatural to force a child to sit in a classroom for most of the day. It is also unnatural to force a child away from their families for the majority of their childhood. I would never hand my child over to the state to raise. Of course homeschooled children have an advantage. This is because who cares more for their education: complete strangers at the school (do you really know the teachers and adminstrators?) or their family?

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