Saturday, September 09, 2006

Home School anyone?....
I just read this on a website I visit often - Hatrack River - the site of one of my favorite Authors, Orson Scott Card. He is a big-time Mormon and too trusting of Republicans in general, but sometimes he sure hits the nail on the head. Like today. I have been thinking a lot about home schooling Jackson and if any of you with babies of a similar age are interested, I say let's start our own co-op home-schooling group and not send our kiddos off to public school. Anybody with me?

Here is Orson's rant:

"Back to school.
Nightmare time.
When I was a kid, I loved school. Because I was good at it, and so were my teachers. We learned stuff. We learned it better than kids do today. And I never had homework.
Well, almost never. But the philosophy was not to pile on homework so that parents will be reassured that school is doing a good job. Except for special projects, homework consisted of work that you did not get done in school. And I usually got it done in school. Voila! I had free time.
You know -- the time in which you get to be a kid.
The time that is being stolen from our children -- especially our smartest kids -- by homework that either forces them to go over and over material they've already mastered, or that plunges them into material that was so badly taught they haven't a clue what the homework is about.
What happened to the old-fashioned idea of doing the teaching in class?
Yeah, I know, the teachers are beleaguered and the last thing they need is another parent carping about stuff. The thing is, kids are doing far more homework at each grade level than I ever did -- and yet they're learning far, far less. Why?
Part of the problem is textbooks. Part of the problem is that teachers are so fenced around by idiocy from the district that they can hardly keep their minds on teaching. Part of the problem is "helicopter parents," who hover until their child screws up, and then come in to attack the teacher -- how can a teacher help a student whose parent invariably screams that their nasty little child can do no wrong?
All kinds of problems. A lot of good teachers simply can't teach as well as they know how. But at least we know that at the district level, we have the best bureaucrats tax money can buy.
One thing there is no shortage of in middle school, at least, is obsessive micromanagement. There is, however, a dearth of competent micromanagement.
Take the lists they mailed to us before the start of school, specifying supplies that our children must have. Leading the list was the Texas Instruments 34II calculator. It had to be that model. Naturally, this datum had not been communicated to the local office-supply stores, so they were out. We have ordered it online.
But the real question is, why that model? Is this the only calculator in the world that has all the functions that the students will be required to use? Why not just tell us what functions the calculator should have, and let us buy what we prefer?
Apparently the school district mentality that all decisions must be made in a central location is now to apply to parents. Central planning worked so well for the Soviet Union all those years. And central planning did a splendid job of making sure those new schools they've been building would be competently engineered. By all means lets extend central planning to what parents are allowed to buy their children for school. Because each home with school-age children is just another unit of the school district, under their complete authority, right?
But that was just the first annoyance on the list. What I loved was the fact that the list we were mailed was far from identical with the lists we were given when we showed up for the open house a couple of days before the start of school.
Suddenly we discovered that the "blue, black, and red ink pens" we had been ordered to buy -- and had bought -- were no longer needed, because now what we needed were those crappy little erasable-ink pens -- you know, the smeary ones that don't really erase completely.
The #2 pencils they asked for in the mailed list -- which we had already bought -- suddenly became mechanical pencils. Why? So that kids wouldn't constantly be getting up to use the pencil sharpener. (Heaven forbid children should actually be permitted to walk about the classroom.)
At the open house we learned about items not on the list, like 3x5 cards and a dictionary-thesaurus. (We ended up getting a separate dictionary and thesaurus -- I hope our child won't be booted out of school for unauthorized purchasing.)
And why is it that we had to buy a separate 1.5-inch binder for every subject? While it's true that our child doesn't have to bring them home -- which is good, since the four of them completely fill her backpack-- she does have to clog up her tiny locker with this stuff. Plus, of course, the two classes that each required her to buy a 3- or 5-subject spiral notebook. Considering that each of those classes was a single subject, why did we have to buy separate multi-subject notebooks?
When I was in school, I was allowed to make my own decisions about how many notebooks I wanted. During my three-ring binder phase, I used subject dividers and carried a single notebook. Later, I used multi-subject spiral notebooks that I chose myself, and organized them as I chose.
I bought my own pens -- the brand I wanted, or my parents could afford -- and when I needed to make corrections, I did the civilized thing and neatly drew a line through words I was deleting. I didn't have to smear things up with erasable ink that makes every paper look ugly, whether you make mistakes or not.
In short, I -- and my parents -- were able to make our own choices, and you know what? I got a superb education, I got along well with my teachers, I never lacked for the supplies I needed, and my parents weren't treated like untrusted employees of the school district.
The crowning blow, however, was the teacher who insisted that his students had to have Pentel click erasers. Why? Because mechanical pencils always run out of eraser before they run out of lead. Isn't that nice of him? We couldn't provide our child with a standard handheld eraser. No, we had to get this brand. He said we could get at Office Depot. He was wrong -- they were out.
So we ordered it online. Thus a $4.49 item cost us $13.31, after tax and the "small order handling fee."
All to do a job that is better done by a small handheld rubber eraser you can buy for less than a buck.
Ironically, this requirement came from the same teacher who, during the open house, did not meet parents inside his room, but instead came out into the hall, thereby creating a huge clot in the traffic flow as parents had to stand around waiting for a chance to find out which inconvenient nonsensical piece of erasing machinery they had to buy to please him.
I'm sure every single one of these contradictory, expensive, and/or flat-out inferior decisions that were made on our behalf were well meant. But this is America, and in America we generally tell people what our purpose is and give them the freedom to decide how to accomplish it. At least now and then.
So are our schools becoming robot factories? Do they really think they have the right to force parents to become robots, too?
I look at my friends who home-school with increasing envy. Their kids learn far more, spending less of their day on schoolwork. And they don't have to go wait in a gym if they get to school early, where they are forced to stand near the edges and not cross the line to get out onto the courts.
I suppose that as the public schools have lost the ability to discipline kids in any meaningful way, they impose discipline in the few areas left to them. Precisely the areas, I might add, that make even hard-working, obedient students feel oppressed.
I know everybody's doing the best they can. I'm not really angry. I'm just frustrated by meaningless, time-wasting, money-wasting regulations -- especially from people who aren't accomplishing their core assignments. I'm also irritated by people who assume authority over adult citizens who are perfectly capable of making our own decisions -- especially when those decisions are nearly irrelevant to the actual teaching of the subject matter.
And just so you know, I wrote this column despite the heartfelt protests of my child. I hereby affirm that none of the opinions expressed here are hers. She absolutely loves all her teachers, agrees with all their recommendations, and approves of all the regulations at her school, so please do not hold her responsible for the wild-eyed, horrible things her father is saying. Except about the homework. "


Tim said...

I personally feel that school is much more important for the social interaction than the actual learning. Smart kids will learn in any situation. Unfortunately, smart kids are often slow in developing social skills and I've found that this can be exacerbated by home schooling. Most home schooled kids I've met are either profoundly immature or are little adults. In either case they generally cannot communicate with children their own age. So for me public schools are much more social learning than scholarly learning.

Full disclosure: I was home schooled for two years (8th and 9th grade), and did not find it a pleasant experience, but I'd already formed my biases against home schooling by that point.

jooley_ann said...

Very interesting read. I don't know what city/state Card lives in, but it sounds like a *very* oppressive environment. This kind of thing would make me nuts, too. Completely and totally outrageous and unacceptable IMO, and I'd want to bounce my kids out of an environment like this, too.

But to put it in a more local perspective, my stepkids can buy whatever pens, pencils, erasers, and binders they want. If they were told otherwise, the school would have hell to pay from me. There is no way I'd let the school dictate that level of control over my purchases.

Example: first few weeks of high school, the PTSA had a book sale & the attendant hype got Ellen all worried that she needed THE EXACT editions that the PTSA was selling. The PTSA's flier (sent home to parents) said as much, too. But, of course, it did NOT name WHICH editions were "required." Just said, essentially, "We have 'em. You better buy 'em from us or you'll be sorry."

Now, these were books like Bradbury's _Dandelion Wine_, Orwell's _Animal House_, and (heh!) Card's _Ender's Game_. In other words, books that have MULTIPLE editions, some of which can be had at Half Price for a buck or two. PTSA was charging $8/book -- with a claim that "these are competitive prices that you'll pay anywhere for these books!"

I emailed Ellen's English teacher with a polite "What gives?" She said, "Any edition is fine, except for _Great Expectations_ b/c I like to use the study notes in the Penguin edition." Very straightforward. Nice, helpful teacher.

The whole thing did really irritate me, but I was pleased that Ellen's teacher was completely reasonable.

Other things I noticed in Card's rant.... At least his kids get to have lockers. Mine do too (in RRISD), but many of the AISD schools no longer have lockers. You heard me. No lockers. In middle school. Maybe in high school -- but I don't know. Nuts, right?

Also, Card's kid is in Middle School. And well, yeah, the homework does take a jump in middle school. But that's when the kids really must start learning unsupervised study practices. You need to be able to turn your middle schooler loose in her room with an assignment and assume she'll come out some period of time later with it completed (giving her permission, of course, to ask for help). If not, how the hell is she going to survive in college, where 75% or more of the work takes place outside the classroom? Wait 'til high school to start teaching this kind of discipline and trust me, it is Too Late.

Lastly, Tim has a great point. The really smart kids *are* so often the ones who have a harder time with social skills. Middle school is bootcamp for social skills, to be sure. It can be a hard time -- a difficult age -- but some really cool things can happen, too, when you pile all those wacky, angsty pre-teens together and let them figure things out. :)

Don't get me wrong. I think there are major benefits to home schooling. But I also think public schools *can* do a good job. Maybe we've just been lucky, but so far things have gone quite well for us!

Julie said...

I think the solution to improving public schools is not to take our kids out of them, but to be involved parents and be aware of what our children are doing in school. While this rigid supply list thing is ridiculous, it certainly doesn't seem to merit teaching your child at home. Just my $.02.

Marsha said...

I have definitely met some home-schooled kids that are stilted socially. Mostly it seems that those kids are home-schooled due to extreme religious beliefs or hermit parents or something.

I also know a 16-year-old home-schooled graduate that performs at the Palace often and is building his own film company and working on his electrician aprenticeship.

I just can't believe it isn't possible to keep your kid out of the public school system and still have an educated, socialized, happy person at the end.

I have been looking into Montessori options too, and I would love to do that if we can afford to. I am mostly interested in alternatives to public elementary education to begin with. By middle or high school the kids would probably be bored to tears to be home-schooled which is probably why they tend to graduate early. Socializing them into a high school setting is probably pretty important, though I sure wish I could afford private school so I could pick and choose the setting.

Would be nice to win the lottery...