Homeschooling: A deliberately controversial post

We are not against homeschooling.

A lot of people who don’t do it are.  Their arguments include:

Lack of social interaction.  Not being with same-aged peers.  Home schoolers can’t possibly get all the academics they need.  Lack of extra-curriculars.  OMG, what about the sports.

These are pretty well straw arguments.

Our major point is that you should compare homeschooling to the alternative… and well, the alternative often sucks big-time.

Little social interaction beats mandatory interaction with Mean Girls, and if one wants voluntary social interaction there are about a million organized after school activities one can do, even if there isn’t an organized home schooling situation in your area.  And who needs same-aged peers when you’re out-of-synch?

Home schoolers tend to do better on average on the SATs and motivated ones can learn faster with an individualized curriculum when they don’t have to wait for their peers or spend all that time transitioning. All that wasted time being bored stiff counting ceiling tiles and the teacher won’t let you read under your desk.

Extra-curriculars can be paid for, as can sports.  If one cares about sports.  Which one doesn’t necessarily.  But public school often cares about nothing else, that and cheerleading.

(Aside:  We are a little creeped out by people who homeschool because they belong to a religious cult and don’t want to introduce evil influences like Harry Potter, but if they weren’t homeschooling they’d be sending their kids to cult schools.  Our little area of the Bible belt even has part-time schooling options for such folks.  Sure, they cost money, but in theory if the money is going towards the church anyway maybe it can count as part of their tithe.  Or some kind of financial aid thing can be worked out for tithing members.  Such folk are not the only people who homeschool, and we’d be creeped out by them even if they didn’t homeschool.  At least if they’re home schooling they’re not trying to ban books from the school library.)

We sure wish we had been home-schooled.  At least through middle school.  Especially middle school.  But elementary school too with only a few exceptions for stellar teachers (and those exceptions for only one of us).  But we weren’t.  And the therapy still hasn’t fixed all the trauma.

So we’re not homeschooling, and we hope we never have to (both because we work full-time and because one of us doesn’t have kids).  But more power to the folks who do.  Especially in this no-child-left-behind everyone-gets-a-trophy environment.  Especially if your kid is different and different is not what your school system is looking for.  Help your kids learn how to think and not have a sense of entitlement, and we’ll be happier when we get them in our classes.

What do you folks think?  Home schooling yea or nay?  Be respectful!  Your answers will be graded for critical thinking and grammar.  (Kidding!  We won’t grade your answers– we will just provide our usual thought-provoking probing questions to increase rather than cut-off conversation.  But still, be respectful.)

p.s.  This list is interesting.

p.p.s.  Confidential to PZ Meyer.  By not trying to fix your local school system you are also just as bad as those anti-vaxers.  In fact, you’re worse than the home schoolers you decry who pull their kids out of dangerous or failing districts because you should have all that extra time to join the school board etc. because you don’t have any K-12 kids to take care of.  Also, you should be donating money to the district to atone for not having (more) kids, at least the amount that they’re not getting in federal funding.  How dare you be so selfish.  We will be ranting this in full at a later date (title:  Stupid “You should be doing more” arguments from people who aren’t doing anything) .  [Update:  In case it isn’t clear, this confidential is sarcasm– we think property taxes are enough mandatory supporting of public schools for *everybody*, with or without children.  If you want to do more, great, but there’s a reason we have taxes.  Maybe those taxes should be higher or the federal contribution should be higher to poorer districts, but that’s an issue to take up politically, not on the backs of individual children.]

90 Responses to “Homeschooling: A deliberately controversial post”

  1. bardiac Says:

    I think my Mom homeschooling me would have been an utter disaster.

    I also think that most people aren’t really qualified to teach their kids beyond basics. How many parents really understand algebra? a foreign language? chemistry? All of those subjects? (I’d hate to try to teach a kid any of those, but I studied them all in college, well, I took Calculus and statistics, not algebra in college.)

    Finally, I think you may have misread PZ Myers a bit; according to what he’s said on his blog about them, he’s raised several kids and been quite involved in encouraging and supporting their educations. I THINK they’re out of college now, but I could be wrong about that. Like most of us, he has a full time job (at a regional, public university), and I’m guessing it keeps him plenty busy. (At my regional university, there are rules about not running for public office while an employee, but I’m not sure if his university or state have similar rules.) Myers in that article is asserting that he’s not supportive of homeschooling and thus isn’t the right person to ask for help/suggestions in changing a homeschooling specific organizational convention.

    I’m not sure why you’re asserting that someone without kids (such as myself) should donate more to schools to “atone for not having kids.” Perhaps you could explain? Taxpayers without kids pay taxes to support schools. (I would gladly pay more in taxes for better schools, better infrastructure, and so on, but I’m unwilling to pay for more military etc.) So I’m not sure of the logic of asserting that I should make additional donations to “atone” for not adding to the population burden. I have plenty of things I could “atone” for, but having unwanted kids isn’t one of them. (I also have no interest in running for the local school board, even were I legally able to.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Check out his comments where he says homeschoolers are just as bad as anti-vaxxers because they’re hurting the local school systems (never mind the fact that they’re still paying taxes for schools without actually using the system, or that many homeschoolers have special needs and actually cost more than what the federal government would give for them). He has even worse gaps of logic the further down you get in the comments. Did he have kids? I’ll have to fix that. If he’s not still involved in his local schools, the comment still stands.

      We *don’t* think that someone who doesn’t have kids should donate more to schools to atone more for not having kids. You’re making the same argument we are. We think his argument that homeschoolers are destroying their local school systems is a bad one and if he’s not doing all the things he says parents should be doing, he’s even worse than what he says homeschoolers are. Why should having children obligate you more than not having children if you’re not using the resource but still paying property tax? It’s similar to when people who have never adopted tell someone undergoing infertility treatment that they’re being selfish for not adopting. But that’s another rant.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Actual first day of calc 1 in high school: “Class, open up your textbooks. Read the first chapter. Do some problems at the end of the chapter.” And then he left.

  2. becca Says:

    That list is awesome. #16 I particularly liked- it is very well-worded.

    Point of Information- if I am not mistaken, PZ has one daughter who is a working adult (Skatje)

    Tangent- I would argue that cheerleading is a sport, although I will concede that it is not always the athletic aspects that are emphasized in schools.

    Is a homeshooler who attends and is counted in the results for standardized testing with the local school district, and scores average for a homeschooler (e.g. 80% percentile) helping the school, by improving the numbers, or hurting the school, by making them look better than they really are (and preventing them from getting the help they really need)?

    Anyway- to answer your question, nay. Decidedly Nay. I was homeschooled and looked how screwed up I am! Look how incredibly poorly socialized I am! Surely if I had been blessed enough to attend schools, at somewhere along the line a good teacher would have smacked, er, suspended (?) the snark right out of me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s hard to say what the counter-factual would have been– perhaps your personality would have been stronger than any teacher’s. Ours seem to have been… the need for therapy aside.

      It was my impression that homeschoolers do not have to do standardized testing in all states. In the states that they do, do you think that is appropriate? On the one hand, the biggest predictor of standardized test scores is parental SES, on the other hand, there’s some influence of the schools themselves, and a homeschooler is not measuring that.

      • becca Says:

        Precisely. Given my family, I think I am remarkably typically socialized actually.

        I was in one of the easiest states to homeschool in, so testing was not mandatory. But the school was happy to have me come in and take the tests, and I didn’t mind taking them (probably because I always tested well). It gave us a ready answer to any naysayers on the education angle.
        In the states that require testing, it’s actually quite possible they don’t lump a homeschooler’s test results in with the school district like that. It wouldn’t necessarily make any sense to, and if there were enough of them it might skew things. In most school districts I’m aware of, the n of homeschoolers is probably too small to worry about. But it adds another layer of nuance to the “you aren’t helping the schools this way” argument.

  3. feMOMhist Says:

    i often feel if I were a better mom I’d homeschool fMhson who is SO not cut out for standardized education. Alas I suck. I’ve taught many a homeschooled student in college. Some are awesome and some are freaks.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      With your non-homeschooled students, are some awesome and some freaks?

      You don’t suck! We all do what we can, and we cannot sacrifice the good of the entire family for just one member of the family. We take things one year at a time and deal with the challenges each year presents. This year that means spending a lot of time on the school finance committee trying to keep things afloat. (And we’re not destroying the local public school because they didn’t want to talk to us…we won’t be “destroying” it until next year, when DC is standard school age, and hopefully not repeating kindergarten.)

      • feMOMhist Says:

        yup some of my homsechooled college students are wonderful, think outside the box self motivated students. Others are asocial freaks who cannot participate in group activities or function without one on one attention and don’t understand how to interact with faculty or students, having experienced neither in their relatively short lives.

        and yes I know I can’t sacrifice everything for fMhson but geez when I volunteer in his class and see his “deviation from the norm” or try to explain why a rote “beat the clock” addition exercise *is* important (when he can do multiplication) I just think FAILZ

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Do you have some non-homeschooled college students who are wonderful and some non-homeschooled college students who don’t work well with others?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It’s sad also how you just can’t win. Now you feel guilty for not homeschooling. But many folks would say you should feel guilty if you chose to home school. Once you even think about having children you cannot win. If you’re not feeling guilty, then you should feel guilty about that. (We would argue that if you are feeling guilty, you should stop, but don’t feel guilty if you don’t.)

      • feMOMhist Says:

        mostly I’m pissed. I passed guilty a long time ago (although it comes back sometimes with the sadness that the kid just isn’t digging school) and I’m well on to WTF meet the needs of my kid please. Sometimes I just think fMhson got the wrong mom, but he claims otherwise so I have decided to believe him. I am not temperamentally suited to educate the young. I volunteer for a whole 30 minutes in his class and I can’t wait to get out of there

      • feMOMhist Says:

        ooppsss this got posted in wrong spot

        I’m thinking of one homeschooled student in particular who was beyond any student I’d ever had in misunderstanding how to relate to faculty/students, the awesome homeschooler who was so outside the box was also an outlier obviously. Now whether those “traits” are related to homeschooling, caused those students to be homeschooled etc is probably impossible to parse out. My larger point was that homeschooling in my anecdotal experience has led to one of my best and one of my worst students and thus I’m neither “for” nor “against” it in terms of having to teach college students who were homeschooled, and/or in how those experiences have biased me towards/against in terms of homeschooling fMhson in future.

  4. Anontwo Says:

    Should we have kids some day, we’ll either home school or public school them as is appropriate for the child. We’d probably start them in public school, but if they’re bored senseless, or being excessively bullied, then home schooling it is (or maybe an attempt to move to another school district first). Though I’m still not sure how one does homeschooling with two full-time working parents… I’d have to do some research.

    I was lucky that my schools had a good advanced studies program, and most of the elementary school classes were designed such that there was a minimum amount of work to be completed by everyone, but on a flexible schedule, so faster kids could keep moving.

  5. Foscavista Says:

    I wonder how foreign languages are taught if the homeschooled child wants to learn a language that the homeschooler does not know. Are DVD/computer programs, like Rosetta Stone, used?

    • feMOMhist Says:

      I have a friend who home schools her four children. While she is qualified to teach most subjects including a foreign language, she makes use of all sorts of “enrichment” programs to teach her kids. There are after school programs already for elementary aged children, most of whom have no foreign language instruction, that homeschooled parents use (like chinese school, hebrew school etc)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Most public K-8 also do not offer languages. By the time a kid is in high school, they are able to take classes at a local community college. I do know that here many homeschoolers have small group classes with other homeschoolers and they might hire someone to teach a foreign language to the group if they don’t take advantage of one of the extracurricular programs available for all kids.

  6. First Gen American Says:

    I wouldn’t be good at homeschooling although technically I think I could handle the content fine. It’s the discipline and schedules that I’m bad at.

    I live in a horrible school district and I school choiced my child to a better school within the town I live. But a lot of people do that now and even the better school has almost 50% of it’s students that qualify for free lunch and test scores have come down. I like my kid’s school even though there are poor people there, heck I was poor growing up so who am I to discriminate. BUT it sucks when a kid brings in fleas into the school and infests his whole classroom (happening right now and extremely disruptive and expensive). There are additional challenges to serving low income populations that the teachers have to deal with and it takes away from learning…poor nutrition, family problems, etc. Spending thousands of dollars on flea removal also negatively impacts the school budget as well. I don’t blame parents for not wanting their kids to have to deal with the disruptions if they have the means to do otherwise.

    Despite all the problems and issues, I still support sending my kid to public school and am actively involved in school activities both at my son’s school and regionally because of an education board I sit on. I figure the effort I put in with my volunteer activities gives me more bang for my buck because when I do something that affects the community, I’m helping a gang of families and not just my own child. Not everyone’s parents are willing or able to help. Someone’s got to be there to fill the void. So, on some level I think homeschooling is a very selfish choice but that is a person’s right as well.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Is homeschooling more selfish than just not having kids then?

      • First Gen American Says:

        What’s selfish about not having kids? I personally don’t see childless people as selfish especially since there are billions of people out there and overpopulation is a problem. My mom and uncle thought it was extremely selfish for their parents to have 9 children when they didn’t have the means to clothe and feed them properly. I mean she’s almost 80 and still talks about it.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        But… people without kids also don’t help the school system since they don’t use it (unless that’s their charity of choice).

        Given how overburdened the school systems are… isn’t it enough to pay property taxes and not put additional stresses on the system?

        Why does having a kid make you more responsible for other people’s children than you were before having your own kid? Especially since you have less time to do that caring.

        [To clarify: We do NOT think it is selfish to not have kids. But we also do NOT think it is selfish not to contribute to every good cause that comes your way, and we especially do not think that you have any more of an obligation to help a specific cause just because you have children of your own. If neither #1 nor #2 are putting kids in the local school district, then why should only one of them be told she ought to feel guilty for not doing so?]

  7. First Gen American Says:

    Well, I’m not a good example because I was building schoolyards and volunteering for kid functions before I had children of my own, and I didn’t even know if I’d ever have kids. I think if most people just took care of themselves and their own family instead of looking to others to do so, then the world would be a better place. I hate when people look to what others are not doing vs what they can do themselves. Lead by example, not by fingerpointing man…

  8. rented life Says:

    I’m ok that mom and dad didn’t homeschool me, but I’m not ok that they made teh wrong choice about school districts. Mom later explained their choice and apologized for the shit I went though (a good school was nearby!). But I think if they homeschooled me I would have fought with them even more. For variuos reasons mom hated the school year and things couold have really fallen apart.

    High school was hell, but I don’t regret it–I don’t regret learning that early to be myself, I don’t regret being able to do all the activities that I couldn’t have done otherwise. Homeschool and allowing for social activities at the local school only works if a parent is available to take the kid. Given that situation, no one would have been home to take me, so I’d be stuck.

    My husband wants to homeschool. He’s concerned about the quality of education. I agree with that, but I’m concerned about the lack of other life expereinces that I also think are important. We’re not religious at all, so there’s no built-in support there. My SIL homeschools–they moved a lot, it just made sense–and it works for them, but she is also a stay-at-home mom.

    First Gen–I actually disgree with your statement–I think because people are so concerned with their own families and not people in general is why most people don’t care about fixing public schools. Where I lived last year it was “well I can’t send my kids to a private, why should I care about any other schools? That’s someone else’s kid.”

    • First Gen American Says:

      Rented…Well, I still think those kids who are left in the public schools still have parents or guardians. A higher level of engagement from them would be extremely valuable. Just because some people took the easy way out and threw money at the problem (by sending their kid to private school), doesn’t mean that the parents still sending their kids to public school are exempt from trying to get engaged and drive change. One of the problems I see, which I think is part of your point is that sometimes the people with the most potential and talent to drive change are also the ones who can afford to opt out.

      I personally like that I have options and am not just stuck with 1 choice. If some private organization can figure out a way to provide a quality education and have people to pay for it, then all the power to them. Plus, then the public schools nearby could use them as a benchmark for making improvements within their own system. But again, someone has to actually pony up the time and effort to do these things. Okay, I’ll stop now. There is no easy answer.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        doesn’t mean that the parents still sending their kids to public school are exempt from trying to get engaged and drive change

        Still pushing on this one point… does it also not mean that people without children are exempt from trying to get engaged and drive change in the schools?

        Obviously both as a childless person and a childed person you have been working with your local schools. But some people have other hobbies and charities. Should their chosen charity have to change (or another be added) just because they’ve reproduced or adopted?

      • rented life Says:

        There is no easy answer. In the community I was living in the public school system was awful and those left in it did not have financial means to throw money at the problem. But is also meant their other resources that would allow them to get involved and drive change were limited–time, ability to organize, etc. How can you do that when you’re just trying to work from week to week to feed your family. I’ve known too many people in a position where basic needs–food, shelter and clothing, are preventing them from organizing. I don’t fully know the answer, other than I don’t want to send my future kids of a private school (they’re all religioud in my area), so what other options are there?

  9. Jacq Says:

    I too wish I had been homeschooled – or at least more than I was. In a way, it was done outside of school hours because we were highly reading-enabled at home. But the tendency was there to begin with. I would have been able to easily homeschool my oldest but the youngest would be far more difficult because he learns so differently. I can’t just sit him down with a book and say “read this”, it has to have immediate practical application for him to even want to do it. Getting him to read fiction is like pulling teeth. But he has a lot of drive – especially in sales. ;-)

    My sister homeschooled 3 of her kids – the 2 girls through high school and one boy for a year in junior high. She’s a brilliant polymath and has degrees in both education and biology and a true love for teaching though (the ideal teacher really). Her kids are remarkably mature for their ages (23-29 yo) and “successful” – the 2 oldest didn’t go on to university, they own their own home construction company, the 2 youngest went the more academic route. I think the key to her success has been finding a way of honoring the child’s gifts, even if they aren’t academic. You can do that without homeschooling – but it probably helps.

    A friend of mine homeschools her 6 kids and does a wonderful job. She also has a website for homeschoolers: http://www.motivatedhomeschooler.com/

  10. Liz Says:

    Very interesting posts and comments. I don’t know anyone IRL who has been homeschooled, that I am aware of, so I am learning a lot. I don’t live in the US and it seems that homeschooling may be more common there than in other areas (?)

    I am curious as to whether there is literature on how homeschooled individuals compare to those who attended public school with regards to groupwork, leadership skils, and communication skills in a work environment, and how these skills are learned in a homeschooled setting?

    When I think back to my public school education, some of the most crucial skills that I learned had to do with working cohesively with others, adapting to students and teachers with different learning styles, personalities, and abilities, and learning to excel under these different, non-ideal, and sometimes challenging conditions. These were often challenges that were frustrating while in school, but encountering them and learning to deal with them taught me the transferable skills that were most important to me in my higher education and into my adult life. I certainly understand that socialization skills are also gained through extra-cirriculars and after-school activities but these activities typically have a very different environment with fewer stresses and little formal assessment, etc.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There is such a literature, but we do not know it at all. We do know that many and probably most homeschoolers don’t do it in a bubble; they belong to multi-age homeschooling groups and take advantage of extracurriculars, even if church-based.

      Re: socialization: We learned that other people suck (really we were just out-of-synch with them). I don’t think we got reasonable socialization skills until we were around others with whom we were in synch.

      • Liz Says:

        My point is though that we all have to live and succeed in our adult lives with people we are out of sync with (including those who do indeed suck) and my opinion is that we benefit from experiencing and handling these sorts of social interactions when we are growing up

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Perhaps our point is this. There is nothing about being with one’s same-age peers that leads to superior socialization. Like most out-of-synch kids, we got along well with kids a few years older or who were themselves out-of-synch. Once placed with other out-of-synch kids everyone was able to behave with more maturity because we were not being bullied and we did not bully and any little rough edges could get evened out in a safe and mostly caring environment. What we learned in public school was that people are vicious, sometimes dangerous, and if you don’t want to be a victim you need to hide your intelligence. (Also: gay people are bad, non-Christians are bad, minorities are stupid except Asians, etc. NONE of these stereotypes are actually true, but many a well-socialized middle schooler sure believes them.) That’s not actually a helpful life lesson. The socialization we learned outside of that artificial environment was much more useful for being a functioning adult.

        I think Paul Graham has a great essay on this topic. I should dig it up.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Here’s the Paul Graham essay. It is incredibly powerful.:

        http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html

      • GMP Says:

        What we learned in public school was that people are vicious, sometimes dangerous,

        And how is that not accurate?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It hasn’t been accurate in our experience as adults. Perhaps we live in a bubble now, but grown-up life is NOTHING like middle school. If it is for you, maybe you should find different friends or just move! As adults we get to choose who we associate with.

        Not all adults have that option because of $ concerns, but it is a benefit of being middle class that we didn’t have in middle school.

      • Liz Says:

        I found some people to be unpleasant and mean in middle school and I find some people to be unpleasent and mean in my adult life (these include co-workers, clients, neighbours, etc. who I technically could go to great lengths to dissociate myself from but it would be very disruptive to my life and family). In my case, I’m happy I learned how to deal with these people early in life so that they don’t stress me out now.

        I am fortunate that I haven’t closely interacted with people I would describe as “dangerous” as a child or as an adult, and I certainly agree that in cases of serious bullying, action needs to be taken one way or another. If your child is being bullied in public school and other options are not available than homeschooling might be a great option to explore at that point.

        What I disagree with is the preconceived idea that some people have that if you are a smart child, you are bound to end up bullied and have a terrible time in middle school (thanks for the above link – it was an interesting read). This was not the case in my personal experience and I think it is concerning to apply this too broadly

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We have a post on that topic: https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/can-adults-keep-children-civilized/

        And some of the giftedness research suggests there’s an ideal level of IQ that is correlated with doing very well socially with same-age peers in K-12. #1 and #2 obviously did not fall within that range (although we got along just fine with older children). We’re not sure we agree with that research as we tend not to believe that IQ is static, but we do believe that the correlation is there. We also believe that some people are better at assimilating than others in any age-level situation, and there’s some case studies that have been done on that as well.

  11. bogart Says:

    Hmmm.

    I have not known anyone who was homeschooled who was a reasonable, functional person. We can argue selection bias, but there it is. I may know people who were homeschooled who are reasonable and functional but whom I don’t know were homeschooled.

    I live in an area that both has good public schools (gasp!) and good (though pricey) private options.

    The two parents I know who have opted to homeschool their children (neither lives near me) are not, in my opinion, qualified to do so. One’s son is now a senior in (regular, public) high school (or possibly a dropout at this stage, I’m not sure) and is a complete disaster. The other’s kids are younger, so I don’t know how that’s going (but I am not optimistic; the parent in question is not herself a high-school graduate).

    I can’t say I’m a supporter, though of course my experiences are clearly limited.

    • becca Says:

      I’m curious how you define “reasonable and functional” in this context?

      • bogart Says:

        Well, things that spring to mind as disqualifying those I know who homeschooled from being considered “reasonable and functional” include an apparent inability to complete a (presumably) self-selected educational goal (such as “earn a B.A.”), or to keep a (wanted/needed) job, or to complete agreed-upon tasks (e.g. someone tells me they will bring in my mail and water the plants while I am away, and doesn’t). But, in fairness, it’s a small sample (of people I know), and as I say, selection bias may (should? given the context) be at work.

        I did think about identifying you as an exception, but though I’ve seen your comments here, I don’t feel I really “know” you.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My guess is that, like you suggested earlier, you’ve met many homeschoolers that you have no idea were homeschooled just because they don’t seem any different than other folks. It often just doesn’t come up in conversation and if folks seem normal you don’t really look for it.

      • becca Says:

        Truthfully, I don’t water plants very well, so I am likely not an exception.

      • bogart Says:

        LOL, well, perhaps not, but then again, perhaps you wouldn’t agree to be responsible for doing so? I am not good at, or about, it either, but I can in fact manage to do so as a favor (or job) for a friend for a week or two.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We’ve had some crappy luck with public schooled house-sitters, and Donna Freedman has a hilarious post ranting on one of her recent experiences… I don’t think failing to water plants can be assigned to homeschooling if we’ve had multiple public schooled people we’ve paid good money to forget to feed our cats.

      • becca Says:

        Well, it was entirely my inability to remember my own plants that I had been thinking of. In truth, as an undergrad I had a work-study job watering soybean plants- but it was in a plant pathology lab, and I was also responsible for killing the plants by inoculating them with fusarium. I was very reliable at that job, both watering and killing.
        Frankly I prefer watering, but that is slim comfort to my own neglected greenery. They see me only as “professional plant murderer”.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #1 does not own any indoor plants for precisely this reason. #2 is pretty good with indoor plants. We were both public schooled.

  12. Cloud Says:

    My opinion on this subject is complicated.

    First of all, I don’t have anything against homeschooling. I have one cousin who is homeschooling his kids for religious reasons, and while I think they may have over-hyped the risk of public schools to their kids (who seem terrified of them and the kids who go to them), I think my cousin and his wife are smart people and assume they have a plan to un-terrify their kids at some point. Or the kids will grow up and either stay terrified or get counseling. Or rebel in ways that will be interesting to watch, in a schadenfreude-ish way.

    I completely agree that any fixes to the school system must not be done on the backs of individual kids, as you put it. I haven’t read PZ Myers’ opinion on this, but it sounds like I’d disagree with him. I think that parents with the means and/or time to improve their kids’ education should be free to do so.

    But here is the rub: the problems with the current school system fall on the backs of individual kids. There are surely kids who are suffering in the current system whose parents have neither the time nor the means to improve things.

    And that is tragic, both on an individual level and on a societal level, because a society that wants to be a meritocracy must give all of its children equal chances to excel to the level their individual talents will allow. This is something we clearly do not do right now. Kids whose parents have money will have access to a better quality of education than kids whose parents are struggling, and that undermines any claim we have to be a society without an inborn class system. We are instead a society with a subtle class system that many, many people refuse to recognize.

    So I guess my opinion is this: parents should do whatever they can to improve their child’s education. But when what they need to do involves not using the public schools (or even supplementing what the public schools provide), they should think about what that means for the child just like theirs whose parents can’t do the same. And maybe they should think about how they can try to help fix the problem. Maybe they’ll decide that they don’t want to do anything to fix the problem, and I can accept that. But I think they should SEE the problem.

    I don’t actually think that just choosing public schools is enough, since generally people who can make the choice will only choose the public option if it is a good one. We’re struggling with this now, as we start the process of picking a kindergarten for my oldest child. She is the sort who will do well in a regular classroom, and from my nascent research into the public options in our area, I think we have three good public options to consider- so we won’t be looking at private schools right now. But we do buy Chinese lessons, and will no doubt buy other “extra” instruction. We have the time and means to supplement her education in ways that many parents do not. So I think my husband and I still need to think about this, and make a plan to act accordingly.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      But when what they need to do involves not using the public schools (or even supplementing what the public schools provide), they should think about what that means for the child just like theirs whose parents can’t do the same.

      Why is it only the responsibility of people who have chosen to reproduce or adopt? Why isn’t it the responsibility of ALL Americans? After all, we all live in this country. We all benefit from an educated and intelligent workforce (at the very least, it means more competent service). Of course, we also worry about kids that aren’t getting food in the US… and in other countries. Some of us worry about pets that aren’t spayed and need homes. Why does having a child automatically mean we should put the local schools in the forefront of what we care about when there are so many very good causes?

      Also, how is the fact that my child cannot be serviced in a local classroom harming other kids when I don’t spend the school’s time and psychic energy trying to make them accomodate hir (when they have indicated they do not wish to)? Why wouldn’t it be better to donate money for scholarships at our private school so that other kids in hir situation, but without the resources, can get a good education too? Sometimes “saving” one person does more good than trying and failing to save everybody, especially when the school is not interested in one’s prosthelytizing.

      • Cloud Says:

        I don’t think you are arguing with what I said- or at least not what I meant to say. I didn’t say everyone had a responsibility to try to FIX the problem- just that everyone should SEE the problem and acknowledge that it exists. If you see the problem and decide not to try to help fix it- either because you prioritize other causes or because you just don’t do charity it all- then that is actually fine with me. People should be free to support whatever causes they want to. I just don’t think people should be free to pretend problems don’t exist for some kids in this country whose parents don’t have the resources to get them out of bad schools. It sort of like the old saying- you have a right to your own opinions, but not your own facts. (Of course, in this case, the “facts” are perhaps harder to pin down than we’d like- it is hard to define a failing school, for instance.)

        I actually think we should all see the problem with inequality in our schools, whether we have kids or not. I do think people without kids have a more credible excuse for not seeing it, though, because understanding what is going on in your local schools takes some research, and why would someone without kids take the time to do the research?

        And I very specifically didn’t say that you putting your child in a private school in any way harms the public school. I don’t think it does. Heck, in this budget climate, it might actually help the public schools to have their enrollments drop a bit (except for the fact that their funding is often tied to enrollment). I just think that we should recognize that there may be a child very much like yours who is just as ill-matched for the public school as yours is, but whose parents can’t afford private school- and that child’s opportunities may suffer as a result, which is bad for that kid but also for our society. I actually think donating money to a private school scholarship fund is a fine response to that. It may be better than trying to fix the public schools- I don’t know. I didn’t say what I thought the response should be, because I don’t know. It is a hard problem. I am not sure what the solutions are. The only thing I’m sure of is that if we want to live in a society in which being born into poverty doesn’t mean you will always be poor, we need to acknowledge the problem of inequality in our schooling.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The point I was hoping to make is that when we say things specifically focused on parents having a responsibility… we should think about whether we truly mean parents, or if we really mean all people. Just saying parents should do something or mothers should do something implies that it is only parents or only mothers. Society seems to think that it is ok to judge once reproduction or adoption is involved, it’s ok to make potential mothers, mothers, or parents feel guilty in a way it isn’t ok other people. We can all be better about being more inclusive in our language when we mean to be inclusive.

        That’s why I quoted that specific part of what you said. (Couldn’t address the rest because leechblock was counting down.)

      • Cloud Says:

        Fair enough. I was not clear in my wording. I guess my actual opinion is that everyone has this responsibility, but I can kind of understand how people without kids might not see the problems. I can’t understand how someone can look at the public schools, deem them inadequate for their own children, buy their way out of that problem (which, to be clear, I’m fine with them doing) and then continue to believe that we have truly equal opportunities for all in this country. I cannot follow that logic.

        I should probably confess my bias- I am a product of public schools that actually did a fairly good job of handling kids who were performing above grade level. I have no idea if I was truly gifted, but I was labeled as such and had some great enrichments provided because of that. I am grateful for that, because there is no way my parents could have sent me to a private school if the public schools had failed me. We were on food stamps at the time.

        I was bored some of the time, but not all of it. I was picked on a bit, but not a lot. I was definitely less prepared for college than my classmates who went to better schools, but I wasn’t hopelessly behind. And on the whole, I am grateful for the education I got. I quite literally am where I am today because my public schools- which were in one of the poorer parts of my home town- weren’t bad and didn’t turn their backs on “gifted” kids with the assumption that those kids could just go to private schools. So I am perhaps more passionate than strictly rational on this topic. I see the opportunity I had being taken away from kids, as we chip away at the funding to our public schools while simultaneously focusing more and more on test scores.

      • Cloud Says:

        Oh, and to be obnoxiously clear… I don’t think this post (or any of your posts on schooling) are guilty of the logical problem I mentioned. But I have witnessed it in action, both online and in real life.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        gah, wordpress ate my comment!

        Basically… we actually do value education quite a lot and give to it even prior to kids. Our district probably doesn’t need much fixing (at the local level anyway… we’re not up to fighting creationists at the state level)– it just is not a good fit for our child because they won’t accommodate hir needs that most kids don’t have. If we were to spend energy fixing a school district it would be the one next to ours (where our private school resides), not ours, since our town is mostly rich professors.

  13. frugalscholar Says:

    i’ve had many homeschooled students in my college classes. They tend to be EXTREMELY diligent.

    As for the argument that parents can’t teach languages: neither can the people teaching the languages in public schools, at least here. And that includes native speakers.. My “gifted” children with their “good grades” had many years of French and could not conjugate a verb. My son learned French in France. My daughter–I hope she makes the same choice. Meanwhile, I can still read and comprehend–and even speak a bit–thanks to the great Regents exams/curriculum in NY. Hopefully, that curriculum is still in place.

  14. GMP Says:

    There are many issues I don’t understand about the pro-homeschooling movement, even though I generally believe there
    are cases when it’s clearly the right option (rural areas, disabled or sick kids, etc).

    For instance, I have a PhD in a technical field and can competently teach math, physics, and perhaps even chemistry, but and I don’t think I am qualified to teach English lit, social sciences, any of the languages I don’t speak, art, music, or even biology. I am sorry, but how do homeschoolers justify it to themselves that they are competent to teach? Picking up workbooks and following a curriculum someone else designed does not a teacher make. Yes, I know, there are bad teachers everywhere, but I bet in public schools overall you will end up with more competent teachers than not.

    I was cared for by maternal grandparents before starting elementary school a year early (precocious and all) in Europe (no kindergraten, elem school starts at 7 years of age, I started a full year early, right after turning 6). I cannot tell how much behind my peers (and it’s not just the one year difference) I was in handling daily kid-kid interactions, standing up for myself, being able to talk back. The kids who went to daycare were much, much better at all this. I was perfectly well behaved and interacted well with adults and did perfectly well academically, as I imagine homeschoolers are. All of my children now go to childcare and will go to public schools so they wouldn’t have the deficiencies I had. Yes there are bad vicious kids and bullies and what not, but they grow up and will populate my kids’ world later if not sooner, so my kids might as well learn how to handle these people.

    The number of people who fancy their kids “gifted” is laughably high (true giftedness is very rare); I have no problem with the truly gifted getting whatever special educational needs met, but being a little above average does not justify forging standard education. I have been a straight A student my entire life and yes I was sometimes bored, but to a typical kid being bored is not as big a deal as it is to a grownup. I always had other stuff to occupy my mind, no I did not crave school-related challenge every waking hour, and I would have hated the thought of being kept at home.

    • becca Says:

      Teaching does not make learning.
      *sigh* This strikes me as an utterly bizarre objection from an academic. As an adult academic, don’t you kind of make a career out of teaching yourself things nobody else can teach you? Do you need a workbook and a curriculum to follow?

      But even if you weren’t an academic, and you really liked structure and help. What if you (as an adult), wanted to learn a foreign language, new computer programs, or underwater basketweaving? Would you have any trouble at all going to google and finding courses or tutors for these subjects that fit your needs (defined by location, schedule, cost, a teacher you ‘click’ with, or whathave you.) in any typical urban/suburban community? So now why on earth do you think you couldn’t have done this at age 10, or your parental unit couldn’t have (or the pre-internet equivalent…particularly with the aid of summer camps, park districts, libraries, and kids-at-college enrichment programs all sending you regular snail mailings of opportunities to provide inspiration)?

      And for what it’s worth, I pretty much never get bored now, as I did when I was a kid. Even if it was easier for you (and that’s not just retrospective memory whitewashing), it’s not that way for everyone.

      • GMP Says:

        I certainly don’t object to extracurricular activities or pursuing one’s passion for whatever subject and going to the internet, library, etc. to learn on one’s own. I just don’t think this is orthogonal to going to a public school.
        (This is not to say I think public schools are perfect; I have all sorts of issues with how some things are taught in public schools but I still don’t plan on pulling my kids out.)
        Plenty of people have kids in schools and then provide extra enrichment at home, tailoring those activities to the kids’ interests and abilities. I think that’s the best of both worlds.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Plenty of people have kids in schools and then provide extra enrichment at home, tailoring those activities to the kids’ interests and abilities.

        Unless you’re the kid staring up at the ceiling counting the dots on ceiling tiles every single day for a year because doing that is more interesting than listening to the lecture, and you’re less likely to get in trouble doing that.

        Extra enrichment at home doesn’t make up for hours of enforced boredom. Trust us.

    • hush Says:

      “The number of people who fancy their kids “gifted” is laughably high (true giftedness is very rare); I have no problem with the truly gifted getting whatever special educational needs met..”

      Amen. We all seem to think our kids are terribly clever, yet few of us actually seek out objective measures of their vaunted “giftedness.” In some U.S. states, one can obtain an IEP for giftedness to compel public schools to provide additional educational services. Of course, there is often money and time and hassle involved. Even so, this option and/or seeking out a private school where available, seem like far simpler solutions to the “too-gifted child” issue than to have to make all of the various lifestyle changes required to homeschool.

      Funny, even though the local people I know who homeschool are all of the “my child is far too gifted for public school” ilk, not a one of them has actually put their child’s giftedness to the test. So perhaps they’ll never really know.

      I put homeschooling in the same general category as having 4 or more kids: it’s great if you can manage it, and neat that someone else does it, but personally and from the outsider’s perspective, I have never actually seen it done fashion that I myself would wish to emulate. I’m sure it is possible, so I try to remain open-minded. Thanks for this discussion.

      • becca Says:

        Two observations:
        1) In some homeschooling circles (certainly the ones I enjoyed) it is seen as gauche at best, and hopelessly naive at worst, to be seen to be putting too much stock in test scores.
        2) some of us who were particularly bored and unhappy in public schools didn’t understand that anyone actually enjoyed school until much later. saying “my kid is far too gifted for public school” might actually sound nicer/less self-absorbed than “you are completely moronic and nuts for thinking school is not a huge waste of time”

        nicoleandmaggie- I’d been meaning to mention something to you. I recently got my kidlet together with an old friend’s kidlet who is just a month older. It was amazingly eye opening, because they were so different. Mine is much more expressive, and… her kid has an off switch. I didn’t know any of them did (most of the kids I see my kid interacting with are at the park or gymnastics, and they are mostly pretty active in those contexts- my kid doesn’t stick out as extreme. I just assumed they all stayed “on” when they went home, like mine did).
        Different kids do have drastically different needs from the get-go, and if grouping some of those together in a ‘syndrome’ of ‘gifted’ helps those needs get met.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Haha. Yes.

        If you’d like to get a head start on how to cope, might I suggest our “gifted” tag from the tag cloud.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      A main theme in those 80 zillion books on giftedness I read is that parents who say their kids are gifted are right. They are borne out by test scores once the kid is tested. A small percent of kids is gifted by definition, if you’re defining gifted as well above average IQ test scores, but a small percent of kids is still a large number of kids. There may be some folks in NYC or LA or some small AP (attachment parenting) utopia in the midwest where people with average kids brag that their children are gifted, but if you don’t know their kids’ test scores you do not truly know that they’re fooling themselves.

      We fully believe that our many readers who say they have gifted children, do, in fact, have gifted children. We also believe that giftedness is under-diagnosed rather than over, especially with kids from low SES backgrounds or whose parents are not aware of what to look for.

      And no, that’s not us being defensive. #1 and #2 are certified bonafide gifted, as are their partners. The offspring referred to in this blog has not had IQ tests, but did qualify for third grade math and reading when ze was doing the tests at age 3 to be allowed to get into the private school kindergarten. We figure that’s testing enough for now.

      When people make comments about mothers not really having gifted kids, it is hurtful. Having kids who are gifted *is* challenging. Gifted kids ARE special needs. Gifted kids *are* at greater risk of dropping out of school than other kids. Not being able to talk about your kid like all the other mothers do is isolating. Comments about hot-housing are nasty. On top of all those problems the last thing we need is to have it insinuated that we’re just making up our situation.

      We want this blog to be a safe place for people who have gifted kids or who think they may have gifted kids to talk. So we are going to respectfully request that you stop suggesting that there is a large group of mothers who think their children are special snowflakes etc. etc. etc. We hear that enough already.

      There are a LOT of good reasons not to test a child’s IQ, the smallest being expense. But who wants to feel like they are a predetermined number? With all the arguments about how terrible the label, “gifted” is, isn’t being boiled down to a number worse? Just because someone hasn’t shown you their kid’s scores, doesn’t mean they’re lying or deluded.

      • hush Says:

        I hear you, and FWIW, I’ve been reading you long enough to believe your DC is truly “gifted.” However, I feel the spirit of your comment (which I read as “It is offensive for anyone to question any mother’s assertion that her child is gifted”) is oddly silencing.

        I didn’t realize the idea that “true giftedness is rare” could be perceived as threatening.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        “The number of people who fancy their kids “gifted” is laughably high”

        is the offensive and, technically, untrue part

        And yes, we are choosing to silence in order to maintain a respectful environment for others so that they don’t feel silenced about their needs. As we said, such comments are common when you have a gifted kid and are hurtful.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The other one notes:

        It’s our blog and we’ll silence whom we want, when and where and how we want, for whatever damn capricious reason we want. This is not a classroom, we have no responsibility to educate.

        We get to decide what goes on the blog. Remember that whole we-choose-who-to-hang-out-with-because-we’re-adults thing?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        This one: Hahahaha

        But yes, to put it more bluntly. We’d rather silence people who say things off the list of, “Things not to say in the hearing of parents with gifted kids” than have the parents of gifted kids silenced on our blog by such comments.

      • Rumpus Says:

        Given that the population of the world is about 7 billion, there are 70 million people that are in the top 1% of any measure, such as IQ. New York City has a population of 8 million people.
        So there are almost 9 New York City’s worth of top 1% people out there.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        1% isn’t even the definition of gifted, depending on who you’re talking to.

  15. Spanish Prof Says:

    Is there a right answer? Since I don’t have kids, a random thought: my problem with some secular home-schoolers is some weird theory of education that some seem to adopt: “if we send a kid to a (perfectly decent) public school, we are crushing his/her creativity”, “Making them do drill arithmetic exercises is bad and they can learn math at their own pace and figure it out from every day practical activities”, “Every kid is special so why should they learn with a standarized curriculum”, etc… Again, this is not all secular homeschoolers, but if you read certain blogs, this kind of ideas come up very often. Basically, the idea that you have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to education.

    Also, this is just one example I’ve encountered, but high test scores does not equal better. I had a freshman student once that had been homeschooled, she did great in every exam but for the life of her she couldn’t speak Spanish nor participate in group activities. Now, you do not need to speak Spanish or be a team worker to be successful in life, that’s for sure. But she was so awkward that any sort of human interaction seem like torture for her. When I asked her once, as a conversation topic to practice oral skills, what she did during the weekends, her answer was: “I go back home and play with my bunnies”. Literally. For some reason, Alfred Hitchcock came to mind. She did more than fine her first year (I took a look at her transcript), but she ended up dropping out of college because she couldn’t manage the “human” aspect of it. This is an extreme example, and I am sure there was an undiagnosed disability there, But I’ve always wondered what would have been the best thing as far as schooling goes her parents could have taken.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sadly, public schools are often no better with special needs kids. Homeschooling is sometimes seen as the “least worst choice” for kids with learning disabilities or who are on the spectrum. At least they’re less likely to get beat up by other kids at home.

      And we get scary kids who did make it through public K-12 too. *shudder*

  16. Public School PhD Says:

    I know a family of truly gifted boys who were homeschooled. They’re just getting to be old enough to go out on their own, so I don’t know how they’ll be as adults. But I can say that as adolescents, they’re pretty clueless that the world around them is full of people who don’t have their intelligence and accomplishments, and they’re showing signs that they’re not going to be very tolerant of that. Academically, homeschool was great for them. Spending the first eighteen years of their lives in a world where everything was specially tailored to them and their particular interests at any given time, though, I can’t say that was such a good idea.

    The parents live in a suburb where the public schools are great and are pretty much the only reason to live in that particular town. They complain constantly about how high the taxes are. If you were homeschooling your brilliant children, you’d think someone in the family would figure out that it might be a good idea to move to a lower-tax area with terrible schools. I was a gifted kid too, went to those good public schools and continued in public schools throughout (including a state-supported undergrad and a flagship state U for my PhD, and now am even doing my postdoc at a public U). The main difference is that while I haven’t won any math contests lately, I can have a conversation with a non-gifted person- of which the world contains many- without insulting them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I dunno, we were pretty intolerant of people who were visibly demonstrating they were stupid. Especially since most of them were mean too. It took not being harassed to become more socially ept. I’m not really sure what constitutes having a conversation that insults a non-gifted person if you think that everybody has your same intelligence etc. It’s a little more obvious if you’re being a jerk because you deliberately want to make someone feel stupid. We were always getting in trouble for either using big words that other folks didn’t understand (and seriously, people, you can LEARN words you don’t know no matter your intelligence) or talking down to people. That’s one reason we got along better with older kids– less need to assimilate, so less awkwardness trying to hit just the right note.

      Most teenagers, and even some 20 somethings are pretty awkward. We see this with our Freshmen every fall, no matter what kind of schooling they went to. I’m sure a few years at MIT or Caltech will sort these boys out just fine, assuming they’re not on the spectrum or something similar. Being around kids just as smart as you are smooths out awkward edges too.

      Because of Tiebout sorting, good schools are often correlated with other benefits. They may prefer living in an area with other benefits.

  17. Donna Freedman Says:

    I have nothing to add except to note the existence of a book called “Homeschooling for Dummies.”
    Discuss.

  18. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Thank you everyone for participating in this deliberately controversial post.

  19. Dr. O Says:

    I have family members who are home schooled, and it is an overwhelming failure, due to the fact that their parents are ill-equipped for parenting, much less teaching. I can guarantee these specific children will never meet the state standards, graduate high school, go to college, or even get their GED. Much worse, they really need the stable environment of a public school (the ones they would have attended are plenty decent) to provide some sort of balance to their home life. Instead, their parents made the decision to maintain control over their children’s lives by keeping them away from “those crazy people in those horrible schools”, when the “horrible schools” they would have attended are actually quite decent. So these kids are not only uneducated, but also socially distressed individuals who will spend the rest of their dysfunctional lives trying to climb out of the hole that unsupervised home schooling (and parenting) dug for them.

    I certainly don’t think all people who choose to home school their kids are like this; this is an extreme case. At the same time, I don’t think it’s all that uncommon. Some states/districts provide good oversight for home schooling, some don’t. But to say that a parent has the *right* to do something like this to their child is just plain wrong. Public schools, even ones that aren’t all that good, can provide an escape for these kids, give them some kind of balance to an awful home life. I’m all for protecting the right of parents to be in charge of their child’s education, especially with the state of some public schools out there. But we need to ensure the *right* to educate our own children isn’t abused.

    Education is gold, I’d argue just as important as good medical care, and there should be a pretty freakin’ high standard for anyone responsible for educating children. Some parents out there can and do step up to the plate. Others just can’t, and these parents are often way too out of it to know that they shouldn’t be teaching their own children. Their children suffer an immeasurable injustice, and we all pay the price. That’s my beef with home schooling.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I agree with Dr. O. I was not acquainted with many home-schooled people, because I went to public schools (so I didn’t meet them) and then to college (where the ones I anecdotally knew of did not go). The kids anecdotally identified to me as home-schooled were uniformly the offspring of people whose devotion to one or another religion took precedence over everything else, and certainly over delivering a quality education.

      I think anyone proposing to homeschool their kids should be required to produce their own educational records, and that there should be a baseline of parental education below which parents will not be granted the “right” to homeschool. That baseline, in my world, would be pretty damned high. I also think anyone proposing to homeschool their kids should first have to spend a year in service at their local public school. Hey, if they have time to homeschool, they have time to volunteer to “improving” EVERYONE’s education.

      How’s THAT for controversial?!

      Full disclosure: I don’t have any kids. My contributions to public education, since leaving it, have been confined to materials donations while my sister was a teacher. I don’t own a home so I don’t directly pay property taxes, and I think the California method of keeping property tax revenues in-district instead of pooling them for equitable per-student distribution is a disgrace.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sadly pooling at the state level doesn’t help anything. What happens is property values fall, so revenues fall, then local school district start collecting fees and rich districts are able to collect bigger fees (ex. Santa Monica asks all families to “donate” $500, low SES districts in East LA cannot do this). At the federal level where money going to schools comes from income instead of property tax is a better solution for school equalization. Keeping it financed from property taxes means that equalizing at the state level just results in less money for schools overall and even worse inequality.

        (Carolyn Hoxby has a paper on when TX tried to do this.)

      • Cloud Says:

        I totally agree that fixing the inequality is harder than just pooling the money across the state. Even now, there are schools in my city (San Diego) with teachers whose entire salaries are paid for by donations from the parent organization. These schools have kept art and music programs while the rest of the district has been forced to cut them due to budget cuts.

        Needless to say, these are not the schools in the poorer parts of town. So even within one school district, there are big differences.

        I’ve noticed a similar thing about libraries. The La Jolla (rich part of town) library is huge, beautiful, and has new books and long hours. The library in my (middle class) part of town is small, run down, has mostly old books and shorter hours. The difference is completely down to donations from the Friends of the Library group. And also one really large donation from some very rich people. I don’t know what the solution is, but that last bit puzzles me- if you have a boatload of money and want to donate it to a library in order to “do good”, wouldn’t you pick an underserved part of town, not the suburb with multi-million dollar houses?

        On Dr. O’s original point- I think she makes a good point. We’ve been talking about the impact of homeschooling on OTHER kids. But what about the kids who are homeschooled incompetently? That is as much of a tragedy as the kids who are going to sort of crappy schools because their parents lack the time or resources to get them into a better situation. How much of a right do parents have to screw up their kids?

    • becca Says:

      To understand why some states have such lax requirements, it helps to know that many of them define homeschools as private schools.

      I generally support efforts to increase standards for both types of schools, but targeting homeschoolers while not touching private schools strikes me as both unjust and rather silly (private schools educate many more students).

      I also want people to be aware that the education I received is quite likely the type they are trying to make illegal (my Dad, who was the one home with me, did not graduate college, we did not spend any appreciable time in formal study- it was pretty pure unschooling, except that I was the weird kind of kid who liked texts and annual standardized testing- they weren’t required). I think sensibly written laws might help allow people like us to do what we did while avoiding some big problems, but most people asking for more regulation/oversight haven’t thought very much about how to do that*. And one big trouble is, most people really think formal pedagogy is necessary to learning, despite common sense and all evidence to the contrary (GMP I’m looking at you).

      *e.g. Make the curricula that the public schools use available, but not necessarily required. I like the idea that as long as the student is scoring 80% or higher on a national normed standardized test, no specific rules are enforced about curriculum or hours spent. I’m also not opposed to requiring a few periodic visits to a social worker**. These things would be particularly practical if the state will provide the funding for it out of the allowance the school district would have gotten for educating the kid.

      **this would help with some of the allegations of abuse, which worry me much more than simple allegations of poor education quality. On a humorous note- I was bullied and very troubled in school. The school stopped providing counseling for me at some point, I think due to lack of budget for it (I wasn’t the most ‘at risk’). When I started homeschooling, they rushed to supply it, even though I no longer needed it because I wasn’t dealing with the bullying any more.

  20. GMP Says:

    Regarding giftedness: I taught physics for a few years in a special high school in my home country in Europe.
    It’s a high school specialized for kids who are talented in math, physics, comp sci (talented defined as having the equivalent of a 4.0 GPA in prior education and passing a specialized, very difficult entrance exam). Every single one of the kids in this school is of above average intelligence (120-160ish IQ range and above) and most of them are driven, excel in their coursework, and go on to have high college GPAs, PhD from prestigious universities, and well-paid careers in science and engineering.

    But then there were a few among these kids who were abso-****ing-lutely amazing. Until you meet some of these kids, you have no idea what true giftedness really is. My point is that such kids are extremely rare and orders of magnitude better in the field in which they are talented than the other very smart kids. The type of stuff they can do will blow your mind.

    I know many very smart people (most academics fall under this category) and very few truly gifted ones, who have the ability to move mountains in their chosen field.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The standard definition of giftedness is 2.5% of the population (though this varies). Both #1 and #2 know people who are smarter than they are, but they are indeed gifted. If you want to go into “levels of giftedness” we are probably between highly gifted and profoundly gifted (personally I don’t like those arbitrary levels because I do believe in nurture and luck– who knows how amazing we would have been if we hadn’t wasted all that time counting dots on ceiling tiles and were instead allowed to work independently, if we hadn’t had negative stereotypes because of our gender, if we’d lived in more urban areas etc. etc. etc.). There’s a difference between us and “profoundly gifted” folks, but we still have had many many of the problems associated with giftedness and being around peers with whom we are out of synch.

      We are fairly sure we know what true giftedness really is. We won’t give our anecdotal credentials as that provides too much personal information about us, but suffice to say they match or exceed experience with one gifted high school in Europe. You can still be out-of-synch with your peers and bored out of your skull as a kid without winning a Fields medal as an adult. The fact that some kids are in the top .001% and some are in the top 2.5% is irrelevant if the 2.5%ers benefit from the same things that the .001% people do and are hurt by the things that help the middle 50%.

      Not to mention that some of the superstars we knew as teens kind of burned out and some folks we had no idea that they would go on to become actual household names for their accomplishments. Yes, you have heard of some of the gifted kids we knew as teens, but we just thought they were average gifted like us at the time. And you know what? We kind of think they still are. Intelligence is only one potential component of success. And, as research bears out, many kinds of regular public schooling environments can cause that giftedness to cause a gifted kid to be at greater risk of dropping out than a child of normal intelligence. We were saved (after some time)…. how many aren’t because they’re not identified?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We totes should have moved to the bay area instead of getting PhDs. What were we thinking? Apparently Matilda aside, being gifted and under-challenged does not provide one with psychic abilities.

      • becca Says:

        What kinds of things actually hurt the middle 50%?
        This is one of the minor things that has been bugging me. What harm does it do to have a false-positive in gifting identification? Is self-directed learning so dangerous that if we give it to the 97.5% the world will end? (ok, our oppressive kyriarchical culture built on hirearchy, authority and oppression might end, but the world as a a whole?)
        /ridiculous unschooling pollyannaish thinking

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        There’s some evidence that Saxon math, for example, which focuses on repetition over the course of the semester, benefits average and below average students more than Chicago math (or rather, 1990s style Chicago math– I understand the current emphasis on writing with Everyday Math has detractors now and recent studies seem to be negative) which is better for Gifted students. Of course, Singapore math, taught by a teacher who understands it, is probably better for both!

        But you’re definitely right, many things that are good for gifted kids are good for *all* kids (Incorporating gifted kids in the regular classroom has some great info on that subject). But some things are worse for gifted kids than for average kids etc., especially things like repetition.

        You’re also right about mis-identification— There’s long-standing research that shows that when teachers are randomly told that some kids are gifted regardless of their actual intelligence, those kids do better on standardized tests at the end of the year than do controls. *Everybody* (or almost everybody– there’s probably some kids with excellent teachers that are being pushed to their limits) can do more and be pushed harder in today’s system.

      • Cloud Says:

        @becca- I think that there are probably some kids- actually, a lot of kids, who wouldn’t learn very much with a self-directed approach. Or, more accurately, they might not learn the basic skills I think society needs its members to have. Are you OK with someone being illiterate just because it never occurred to him to learn to read? That’s probably a bit extreme. But how about someone not being able to do the math needed to comparison shop, or double a recipe? Personally, I want a system that tries to teach everyone to think critically, whether they find that interesting or not, because I think our democracy suffers otherwise. I am not trying to be snarky here- but I do want to point out that kids who are NOT in that top percentile might have very different motivations and behaviors than what seems obvious to someone who IS in that top percentile. That’s sort of the problem, isn’t it? For the majority of kids, standard schooling works fine. It works well, even- as long as their schools have the resources they need.

        I’m not sure, but from your comments it seems that you started in a regular school and were pulled out an essentially unschooled at some point. That strikes me as different from the situation where a child is homeschooled (or unschooled) for the entire course of his or her education. You had a foundation that you built on as you directed your own studies. What if you didn’t?

        You also had an adult who was capable of facilitating your self-education, right? Someone to drive you to museums or help you find the books, maybe to give you some pointers about the order in which to learn things, in case you got interested in physics but not in calculus (for example)? What happens to the kids whose parents both need to work in order to put food on the table? Or the kids whose parents are not capable (for whatever reason) of providing this sort of facilitation?

        I really don’t mean to be snarky to you, but I had to say these things, because from your comments, it seems that you’re missing something kind of important. You are focused on making things better for the top X%, because you were in that group, and had a rough time, and you empathize with the kids stuck there now. This is fine- good, even- but not if the solution for that top X% makes things worse for the rest of the kids. And not if the solution only makes things better for the top X% if they happen to be born into a family with the resources to homeschool.

        Obviously, I don’t know the details of your situation and your comments are only a small window on the full set of your beliefs, so perhaps I am way off base in what I wrote above.

        I’ve got nothing against homeschooling, or unschooling, for that matter, when it is done well. But this point matters enough to me that I’m taking my lunch hour to write this: there is no one approach that will work for every kid. Any system that tries to maximize benefit for the largest number of kids possible will have to be flexible, and allow different approaches for different kids. This is sort of what we have now- but we have a fatal flaw, I think, in that exercising this flexibility requires resources that not all families have. In my opinion, we have to acknowledge that. And in my perfect world, we’d all try to fix that- and if we don’t, we should stop fooling ourselves into thinking that “anyone can succeed if they just work hard enough” in our society, because we’ve slapped a giant handicap on a large group of kids.

      • becca Says:

        nicoleandmaggie- the Saxon thing is amusing to me. I remember very much wanting Saxon math but my dad would never get it for me. Maybe he knew me better than I did? Or maybe it was just too expensive!

        cloud- yes, many of your points are good ones to think about, although many are based on very different assumptions than I make.

        To clarify- I went to standard public schools from kindergarten till halfway through fifth grade. My Dad (for reasons I won’t go into here) was home after I was in second grade, he didn’t stay at home in order to homeschool.

        Having him there to facilitate made a huge difference, to say otherwise would be both wrong and ungrateful. That said, the facilitation I do for my son (he’s 2) also makes a huge difference with him. To my mind, it’s just sad and wrong that not everyone has that kind of help from their parents- and no schooling system would change that. The differences in SES are seen in kids entering the system at age 3- “what about the kids that don’t have that?” is a Big Important Question, but not one specific to homeschooling. There are a lot of Good Things society could do to make this better, but high quality early childhood ed is only part of the answer. Part of it has to be better support for parents.

        That said, in unschooling, a lot of the facilitation comes down to encouragement and getting out of the way- it can be very joyous (although not undemanding). At least that’s what it’s like with my kid.

        I also don’t know what it would have been like if I didn’t have a foundation of knowledge- but then, I don’t know what school would have been like if I hadn’t entered already knowing how to read. Sadly, my parents did not have the foresight to obtain a control-clone becca for me. Oh well, at least I’m not the control-clone who had to go to school *shudder*

        I am not very worried about people not attaining skills to do things that they themselves see the need for- things like comparison shopping and doubling recipes are really pretty easy to pick up. And even if not, would someone’s life necessarily be poorer for not having those abilities? Is shopping at a local bookstore with higher prices than amazon (although a nice ambiance) or “having” to make two loaves of pumpkin bread really so appalling we should never allow anyone to choose to live that way?
        Unschooling requires what for most people seems to be an amazing leap of faith- the faith that people can learn, that they are innately interested in learning, and that (barring obstacles) they will learn. And that holds across intelligence levels- although a lot of “intelligence levels” probably comes down to “is this person interested in learning traditional academic subjects in a recognizable fashion?”
        Everything I’ve seen about the world supports these assumptions, except school. Where learning is viewed (implicitly at least) as something that must be forced, or at least coerced. Something that occurs in a specific place, during specific times (that the bell will inform you of).

        Here’s what I said (at 10 years old) after my first homeschooling conference “the smart kids seem smarter and all the kids seem happier”. For the majority of children, if we judge based on *happiness*, I do not believe standard schooling works well. It certainly did not seem that way to me at the time- that is, not just me, but the other kids I knew did not enjoy school. That said, I could very well be wrong- I don’t know of any scholarly data on this one way or the other.

  21. gerty-z Says:

    wow. this is a really interesting thread. I was not homeschooled myself. And, like Dr. O, I have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing some homeschooling that is a trainwreck (and the victims are the children, who would be much better off in a public school). That being said, I also have friends now that are home schooling their children and doing a wonderful job. The kids are fantastic and really intelligent, and doing much better than if they were in public school. I was in a gifted program as a kid, which certainly made school more interesting. But really, most of school was pretty damn boring. Lucky for me, most of my teachers didn’t mind that I spend most of the day reading under my desk. Mini-G has some of the same problems “sitting still” that I did when I was her age…and she also loves the books like I did. We are planning on sending her to public school, but I will make sure to advocate for her to keep an extra book around. Otherwise she will just get into trouble, I suspect. Again, just like me.

  22. What makes a blog post popular? Drama or the hope of redneck jokes? | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

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