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Homeschooling: Remedy for Lousy Schools?

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Tired, cranky, bored children are causing many people to reconsider traditional schooling.

house with giant books

Homeschool Mom: I recently read a great article on homeschooling. In the article, the author related the story of how she had explored kindergartens in a middle-class area of N.Y. She said she was shocked by the deficiencies in the classrooms -- and she wasn't referring to a lack of school supplies. She was referring to the basic building blocks of a good developmental kindergarten: easels, play kitchens and sandboxes. One kindergarten teacher informed her that "those types of things are for preschool."

Kindergarten now means, "To the salt mines with your 5-year-old!" (Or, rather, to their desks -- with only a pencil and paper.) The quickest way to exhaust, bore and basically suck the joie de vivre from a 5-year-old is to sit them at a desk and drill them, then have them laboriously try to write with their uncoordinated little hands for hours a day. As anyone who has sat through early-education college courses knows, children are best able to accomplish tasks when their brains and emotional maturity are at the right developmental level.

These are just some of the reasons my husband and I decided to take matters into our own hands and teach our children ourselves. But homeschooling is only a tiny part of the answer. Obviously, not everyone can (or even should) homeschool their children. Not everyone can live in a neighborhood with the best school, or afford private school. We shouldn't have to. Public schools should be decent in a country as rich and powerful as America. 

But the No Child Left Behind Act has been a disaster, and instead of making meaningful and dramatic changes in the way we educate our children, the Obama Administration is basically just renaming the Act and making mild changes to it -- but essentially leaving it the same. 

In the Southern Calif. district where my teacher-sister works, she has been told that 100 percent of the children are supposed to be at grade level by 2014. Not only that, but she used to love teaching -- yet after 20 years, she would rather do anything than continue on in the class. All the joy and excitement of teaching has been reduced to standards and outcomes. My sister used to play classical music for her students, teach them about masters of art and have them perform Reader's Theater. Now she just drills them all day.

I think there is a basic misconception that the education of a child should be about loading them with facts and skills, when really, educating a child should teach them how to gather information and communicate and engage with their world. 

My son has recently returned to school. He is most of the way through his first year of high school, and his observations have confirmed everything I believe about education. He says the kids are bored, and disrespectful, and not engaged, and it is annoying for him to witness. His first report card was filled with teachers' comments like, "A joy to teach; respectful and teachable spirit." (This is at a private high school, mind you.) 

We were discussing next year, and how he would have a heavy load with more difficult classes. His response was, "That's okay. I like to learn new things." He is engaged with his world, and he is interested in exploring it still, because he had the chance to learn how to do those things. He is looking forward to college and a time when there is more discussion and writing and less busywork.

The way to overhaul education is to make it more like "The Magic School Bus" and less like "Oliver Twist." Then kids might be interested in more than the latest virtual world. Obviously, having exploration all the time in a class full of thirty kids is not going to be possible, but there are plenty of changes that could be made to get us closer to the ideal. We are never going to be able to compensate in the classroom for poor parenting, but school can be a place where an at-risk student becomes engaged with the world and might find his own way out of his circumstances.

Can the American school system be saved?


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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous March 19, 2010, 8:40 AM

HELL NO!!!!

michelle March 19, 2010, 10:22 AM

A huge part of the problem is that teachers are not qualified enough. It is not considered a prestigious job anymore. The top graduates of top colleges don’t choose teaching (and when they do join Teach For America, they get scared off after a couple of years). Instead we get teachers who are closer to the bottom of their class, and who major in education instead of a real subject, and then can’t be fired. But if we know that teacher quality has a huge impact on future outcomes, we know that homeschooling can’t be any kind of solution. Very few parents are truly qualified for that. We need to improve the public schools. And to do that, we need to actually show we value education rather than just paying lip service. Our society puts up with bad teachers, low standards and expectations (if you look at most state standards for “at grade level,” they are ridiculous), local control (often by people who didn’t go to college), test-focused curriculums, and funding that’s based on property taxes. This proves we don’t *really* care about education. Fix these issues and we can get somewhere.

Anonymous Mom March 19, 2010, 10:39 AM

I’m happy that a lot of the school districts in my area that are considered “good” require a masters’ degree or higher of their teachers. My daughter’s kindergarten last year, btw, was not just drilling - there was a lot of play time, plus art, music, physical education, even a class guinea pig like when I was a child! Even now in first grade, the teachers try to keep the kids interested by remembering that they’re still kids. It’s sad, though, that there are such differing standards of teaching - my family’s situation would be impossible for homeschooling, and I’m happy with my daughter’s public school, but I can see how so many parents are turning to it. The alternatives are can be so bleak and ulitimately defeating in their goals.

Meredith March 19, 2010, 1:01 PM

Can it be saved? Not when people like the author of this article advocate fleeing from the system altogher, opting to teach them at home (where the teachers there rarely have received any kind of education themselves on how to educate but just tend to wing it with some online or agenda-driven curriculum). This is just one more extremist opinion from someone who wanted to make it well known on the internet about how her high-achieving son is not part of the problem, and it’s just so sad that he has to be exposed to such undermotivated kids whose parents obviously don’t care about their education as much as she does.

Dennis March 19, 2010, 3:22 PM

Homeschooling is a great solution in many situations. My granddaughter is several years ahead of her peers and far better socialized.

“Education” does not an educator make. I would much rather have an uncertified person teaching my kids who CARES than many of the over-educated fools I’ve seen.

The first fix is to eliminate tenure.

The second is increase accountability. My local school board “controls” a district larger than many towns. You just can’t get responsiveness as a parent when the district is that large.

Charter schools are also a great choice. Many are far superior than public schools. The worst one I’ve seen was no worse than a public school.

Last, parents should be able to take their kids to the school of their choice. In most of Europe, schools compete for the kids so the standards and performance are much higher.

— former substitute teacher

Lisa March 19, 2010, 5:35 PM

The educational system in America is broken beyond repair within my daughter’s lifetime. Our “homeschooling” rarely takes place at home; the whole world is her classroom.

Mimi Rothschild March 21, 2010, 12:54 PM

Yes, homeschooling is a remedy for lousy schools. In fact its one of a very few options for parents who want what is best for their children now, not when their children are not children.

I wholeheartedly agree that making education more like Magic School Bus than Oliver Twist is part of the answer to better education. This is the gyst of why I set out ten years ago to develop a totally multi media rich PreK-12 curriculum based on digital content, websites, games, videos. US education is still doing it the same way we did 200 years ago. Not gonna work.

Mimi Rothschild
co-Founder, www.LearningByGrace.org

sam June 13, 2010, 8:50 PM

That’s a difficult question to answer. I worked at a school for more than three years. I was not a teacher, but I worked alongside teachers and school administrators.

I think schools waste a lot of time on unimportant activities (drill and test) and money ($80k salary administrators to administer the tests and follow inane rules). But yet, first year teachers make very little money (less than $30k in many areas). And experienced teachers are burned out and want to retire now, but can’t because they need health insurance. So they half-teach with work-sheets and other mickey-mouse assignments.

NCLB requires kindergartners to act like first graders. But yet our high school students still can’t read and write at a decent level. I read somewhere that our 4th graders are among the top performers world in math/science. In contrast, by 8th grade math/science scores has fallen near the bottom of the list.

I wish I had easy answers to these problems. It will require more money and time to rebuild our schools. We need to honest about the poor shape they are in. The problem is that anyone who wants to change them generally has an economic and financial motive (private or charter schools).

My plan of attack:

1) Stop playing teachers by seniority and education levels. An MS in Education degree does not make a better teacher. A better teacher spends more time in professional development classes in technology and subject matter.

2) Reduce the pay and degree requirements of administrators. They mostly push paperwork anyway.

3) Also require a few years of teacher mentoring so new teachers can learn from experience teachers and vice versa.

4) Bring back librarians. They don’t shelve books anymore. They should educate students where to find good information, whether online, in books, etc.

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