Two recent pieces, one in Salon and one over at Double X, won’t do much to change how we generally look at American K-12 schools. Neither has anything nice to say about traditional education in the U.S. But we are treated to certain details, from which we induce the following: homeschooled kids learn great things, public school kids learn to be nice.
Let’s start with Salon’s film critic Andrew O’Hehir does. O’Hehir has 5-year-old twins, whose mother will homeschool them starting this year. O’Hehir and his wife get lots of questions about their decision to homeschool, which he answers in his piece, “Confessions of a Homeschooler.”
There are the usual digs at traditional schools, listed on Jezebel in a piece called “Why are Homeschoolers so Annoying?” O’Hehir links to his wife’s blog, where she writes about her days homeschooling, which (warning!) will make you feel pretty bland/negligent if you’re not much on itineraries and frequently let your museum memberships lapse having barely, BARELY, paid for themselves. If you don’t homeschool and have even just a few insecurities about your parenting, you’ll spend a few minutes rocking yourself in the corner wondering how you could send your firstborn into a coliseum of bullies where, while sitting perfectly still for eight hours, The Man will systematically drain every ounce of creativity, enthusiasm and self-thought from her understimulated brain.
At Double X, we get a review of Charles Murray’s Real Education. His main point, writer and educator Diana Senechal explains, is that all kids shouldn’t be encouraged to go to college (could be a fair point, but Murray is also The Bell Curve guy, so it’s hard not to attribute more than to his arguments). Where Senechal focuses in her review, however, is Murray’s observation that schools are too focused on teaching kids to be nice — instituting all kinds of trademarked programs and even incorporating niceness into their schools’ missions. What they’re not teaching the kids to be, he argues, is good. How could they if they’re sanitizing literature so as not to offend anyone and taking with it demonstrations of inner struggles, conflict and change.
Murray says schools are sacrificing opportunities for children to really learn something when kids are forced to work on cooperation through group activities. Senechal illustrates the folly in group learning, which has gotten out of control.
That meant abandoning whole-class instruction and focusing on group activities. Teachers were supposed to limit their lessons to 10-15 minutes and leave the rest for group work. Instead of discussing loyalty and jealousy in Hamlet, students might work in groups making predictions about the leveled text assigned to them. It was unlikely that any of the small groups would read Hamlet, as such a work requires more extensive instruction than the workshop format allowed. As a result, children would enter high school without knowing what it means to spend time on a work of literature as a class, with a knowledgeable teacher. They would not know that there were levels of understanding beyond their own.
And then she gets to the heart of the matter, I think, in why I wish families like O’Hehir’s wouldn’t homeschool AND why public schools need help.
Granted, Murray contradicts himself. He affirms that all children can benefit from a rich curriculum, yet he attributes all poor performance to low ability, not vapid instructional programs.
Public schools need O’Hehir’s kids. They need a critical mass of parents who would agree to enroll their kids in the crappy neighborhood school and then refuse to do things like sign reading logs and Kindergarten worksheets and, instead, agree to scheduling time to go into the school and read or play math games.
I wish smart and motivated and available parents like O’Hehir and his wife who are tempted to homeschool would stay in their mind-numbingly boring, creativity draining local schools, meet with the other families, and then invite other kids to go to museums with them. Science fair? Don’t just take over your own kid’s project, take over other kids’ projects too!
It might seem like you’re sacrificing your kids’ future, but come on. Did you learn to read? Your kids will too. Did you learn math up through Calculus? Your kids will too. Did you go to college. Your kids will too! But someone else’s kids could benefit from yours — at school.
And really, it’s not like you can only learn in a homeschool or a school-school. There are, what, 187 school days in the year? Send the kids down the block, undermine the standards-based curriculum (if you think it’s undermining education) by not enforcing useless homework and then do all the homeschool-y stuff after school or those other 178 days (give or take, of course).
I just feel like homeschooling is another way for us to not have to figure out this school thing. It’s a safe way to turn our backs on schools since homeschoolers possibly wouldn’t have a horse in that race.
What do you think about homeschooling? Do you do it? Could you do it? Do you think it will ever influence education policy in the U.S.?