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December 06, 2004

More on home-schooling

Several weeks ago, I posted a link to an article about radical home-schoolers (click here for that article). I mentioned that I'd had a commentary partially composed, which got blown away when I lost my browser session. This is a reconstruction of that commentary — sorry for the delay!

Home Schooling: Good or Bad for Your Children?

At risk of seeming hypocritical — I didn't home-school my own son — I'd like to wander briefly around the contentious terrain of whether it is a good thing to educate your own children or whether they are better off in the hands of trained professionals.

For some kids, the public school is an ideal environment: it provides structure, discipline, education, and socialization opportunities in the appropriate blend. For many others, the structure is oppressive; the discipline is uneven, unjust, or just plain absent; the education is badly organized, uninformative, or too far above or below that child's level; the "socialization" is a long, drawn-out terrorization by physical intimidation, physical assault, psychological torture, and isolation by both active and passive ostracism. Rather than being a nurturing environment for children to learn and grow, some children find school to be a training ground for bullies and that they have the choice of being victims or becoming accessories to the victimization of others.

I have long wanted to write a book about the best-kept secret of the American school system — that bullying of innocent children is almost 100 percent teacher inspired. It would be an explosive book, and would surely cause a great deal of anger among one of the nastiest, most militant, most vocal lobbying groups in the country — teachers.

Robert J. Ringer

School administrators value conformity and predictability to the natural exuberance and creativity that most children exhibit at the time they start to go to school. The degree to which the child manages to "sit down and shut up" tracks very closely to the reported success within the school system (not, mind you, actual learning or intellectual growth, just the numbers or letters on the "permanent record").

Alternate Tracks Within Public Education

Back in the 1970s, some school boards recognized that one-size-fits-all education didn't work for all students. My sister, for example, attended an alternative high school, which did not require full-time attendance in class and had individual tutoring rather than classes. Although she enjoyed it more than regular school, I'd be hard-pressed to say that it did her much good: she was rebelling against the very notion of authority, not just the need to sit in rows at school.

That being said, many public schools do offer a variety of alternative schools for some of their students, which probably means that there are a proportion of students who stay in school longer and learn more because they are better suited to the alternative school model. A problem is that most of these programs are more expensive than "regular" schools, and are more likely to be reduced or eliminated if they do not have local champions within the board hierarchy.

Charter Schools

A recent trend in public education systems, in both Canada and the United States, has been the creation of schools within the public system that mimic some of the attributes of private academies. Whether as "magnet schools" for arts or science, or as "uniformed" schools who attempt to create the visual conformity of private schools within the public system, they all are attempts to fix perceived problems in public education. It cannot be a welcome idea to those in positions of authority in public schools that there is a large (and growing) number of parents who feel that they must take their children out of the system to ensure that they get the kind of education the parents want them to have.

Further Reading

Michael Knox Baran writes about the latest trend in modern pedagogical theory: Constructivism.

Posted by Nicholas at December 6, 2004 01:50 AM

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