I would like to share with you a comment I received on my previous post; I'm sharing it because I believe it raises some important points and deserves to be addressed.
By an anonymous commenter:
"The current mode for being down on formal education, even at the primary level, and attempting to disavow exams, reminds me (sadly) of the current vogue for claiming that vaccines cause autism and similar nonsense: It is most vehemently embraced by people whose own lives are largely devoid of memories of a society without the availability of widespread basic education, or one haunted by fear of such diseases as polio and whooping cough. Those memories fade, and people start to think, "Hey! We don't need to get "experts" to educate our children, and we don't need to set baselines for achievement! And we don't need vaccines--those diseases won't come back!"
While of course it is right and wise to examine, on a regular basis, what it is we want out of education and how we are assessing its progress, I'm cautious about the current vogue for saying that anyone can educate a child in any way he or she likes, and it will be good enough. This is especially concerning among certain groups that actively encourage parents to remove children from formal schools and school them themselves, regardless of the parents' own literacy levels, teaching abilities, or basic intelligence (frankly--it's not like one has to be bright to reproduce). While in many cases this will produce engaged, interested, well-informed children, in just as many cases it may not--and the very idea that all children being homeschooled, with progress assessments left to...well, honestly, I don't even know what, will _not_ result in marked disparities of ability and knowledge among large groups of children who otherwise would at least have been measured by a common baseline (however low) strikes me as naive, at the least.
Again, I'm not saying that there isn't some real thinking to be done on these issues. But I think we should consider very carefully how we demonise things like formal education and/or examinations just because they may cause our children to feel bad sometimes. There's a real danger of throwing out babies with bathwater."
As far as I understand - and do correct me if I'm wrong - widespread public schooling was initially established to ensure a basic level of literacy for all. This was, of course, good for children who would have no other opportunity to learn to read and write, but attendance was not compulsory at first. Many children in well-to-do families continued to be instructed at home - at least until a certain age - by their parents and often with the help of private tutors or governesses, and nobody seemed to think that those children are missing out on something. If the family was respectable and the parents were educated themselves, nobody doubted their ability to teach their children. It was only later that school attendance became mandatory, taking a large bite out of parental authority.
I believe you extrapolate - if we all say no to vaccines, dangerous diseases will come back. If we all say no to schools, levels of literacy will fall again. The first might be debatable; the second I frankly do not believe to be a valid argument at all. You see, it works this way: people learn what they use. People learn what they need. The illiterate world was largely rural, a world comprising a society where you could get by without reading and writing and still become a respected individual. Today's world is full of the written word; it is based on technology. An artisan village carpenter before the Industrial Revolution didn't need to know how to read and write. An artisan carpenter today has a website where his products are promoted, and he gets orders from clients by email. I just don't buy the idea that we might all sink back into illiteracy if schools are abolished.
Not that they are likely to be abolished. Truly, I don't think the school system has anything to fear from the relatively small number of parents who want to educate their children at home. Only a minority of people have the time, energy and desire to teach their children at home, or even to keep them home through preschool. In Israel, you'll be hard-pressed to find 2-year-olds who are still at home.
I've never said homeschooling is for everyone. I'm not even sure it will be the right path for us in the future, because after all each child is an individual and each situation must be assessed and re-assessed individually. But I do believe it should be a real option, a socially acceptable option for families who want/need it. As for who is good enough to teach their own children... my personal opinion is that to have a decent shot with homeschooling, you must:
1) Be literate. That's a really basic requirement almost anyone can comply with. You don't need a teaching degree, a college degree or even a high school diploma. My father-in-law has no higher education, but he is one of the most intelligent people I know, with a vast amount of knowledge on just about anything.
2) Desire to homeschool. This should include the understanding that you will spend much more time with your kids than is considered normal these days. I believe that the desire to teach one's own children usually belongs to people who are passionate about education and think outside the box; thus, the very fact that you want to homeschool, usually means you can.
I repeat: there is no one-size-fits-all mold. There is no right choice for every family or even for every year of every child in the same family. It's important to evaluate burn-out correctly, too. There is a family in our area whose children move in and out of public kindergarten and school, according to their wishes and needs. There is another family who was much more zealous and whose daughter, aged 10, eventually begged to go to school. She was allowed to go and is happy. Her sister, aged 9, is now following in her footsteps. Some families will decide, "no homeschooling this year because we're having a new baby". Some will say, "we're homeschooling our son because he can't function in a school setting without Ritalin, but our daughter is doing fine so she can continue to go to school if she wants to." What matters is educational choices. Choice - real choice, and the right to teach one's own children - for every family.
Edit: In Hebrew, the Ministry of Education uses a word to define itself - "chinuch", which is actually different from "education" the way it is meant in English. It's meant as something more all-encompassing, and I'd say it translates closest to "bringing up". Well, perhaps I'm making much out of nothing, but this "ministry of bringing up" term really bothers me. The modern state of Israel was founded on communist principles. In the kibbutzim - which were the home of Israel's early elite - children were separated from their parents in "children's houses" for most of the day and all night, and some people (incredibly) are still nostalgic about it. But we live differently now. So get this "bringing up" out of your ministry, people. Your job, at most, is to provide education. Bringing up is the family's task.