Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Parenting, schooling choices, and being good enough

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. 


Anonymous said...

If people would just check the numbers...

I don't know about Israel, but the literacy rate in the US was HIGHER before public schools. Factory schooling has eliminated the individualized education ever child needs to succeed.

And the rate of infectious diseases in the US dropped 50% from 1900 to the introduction of vaccines, so our lower rate of disease can't possibly be due to the vaccines (much more likely due to flush toilets).

This commenter is simply displaying their own brainwashing and ignorance of the facts. This things aren't fashionable just to be fashionable. They are becoming more popular because we now have the information available to search out the truth and don't have to depend on Big Brother's integrity. They are popular views because the are the truth.

Anonymous said...

I know this post was about school but the comments about vaccines made me a little angry. This person doesn't seem to realize that one of the reasons why there are less diseases now is not due to vaccinations but because our hygiene has improved. We also have MUCH better health care.

My children went through whooping cough last year. It was miserable and I would never want them to suffer through it again! BUT...from our research at that time we learned that whooping cough comes in cycles. About every 5 years it "hits". And it doesn't always discriminate between the vaccinated kid or un-vaccinated either!


Susan B said...

Thank you for your thoughtful response to your anonymous commenter. I am a woman with no formal training in the area of education who home schooled both my children from preschool through completion of high school. My son earned a college degree last year and has started his own IT business. My daughter has completed her first year of college. I write these facts so that you may know that I do know about home schooling from LOTS of personal experience!

I believe you are correct in your statement that those who desire to home school usually can. I believe that desire to teach your child at home, whatever your reasons may be, is probably the most important characteristic needed to successfully home school.

As your commenter demonstrates, people often wonder how non-experts can be trusted to educate a child adequately. I do not have to have mastery of every subject or knowledge of classroom teaching techniques or proficiency in the latest teaching methodologies in order to teach my child. I just have to have the will to seek out ways that my child can learn that which I, personally, cannot teach (on-line classes, tutors, home school co-op classes, etc.) and the desire to keep studying my child and finding materials and techniques to use that work well with his/her learning style.

While it is true that there are some (relatively few, I believe) home schooling parents that lack the requisite desire to do a good job educating their children, the same can certainly be said of the public school systems. Not every child who is educated in a public school classroom by the "experts in education" using all the latest methodologies and materials will emerge from that experience with a good, or even adequate, education. Some cannot be said to be even literate after 12 years of public school education.

As you stated, the real issue is not whether or not home education works (Studies show that it does), but whether or not parents should have the choice to home school their children. Until it can be demonstrated that the MAJORITY of children educated by their parents at home fail to achieve even basic levels of literacy and rudimentary knowledge in language, mathematics, history, and science, we must allow parents the option to home educate.

There are many other reasons, besides providing an individualized education in the several subject areas already mentioned that parents may wish to teach their children at home. Those reasons and the other benefits of home education, however, are extensive enough to warrant a separate article or comment!

Mrs. Anna T said...

BettySue, I don't think there was a "before public schools" in modern Israel. Israel only gained its independence in 1948; public schooling was well established by then. Actually here parents have made a positive way to regain their authority: children's houses in kibbutzim were abolished and most admit that they left a scarred generation. There is a homeschooling movement, too. It's tiny but it exists and is recognized by the Ministry of Education.

In the Soviet Union, public schooling became widespread after the revolution in 1917. In that country there's no doubt the levels of literacy were raised dramatically by mandatory school attendance. There is no doubt, however, also that children were indoctrinated in schools in a very specific ideology.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Susan, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I'll also add that older children who have been given tools to *learn on their own* will most likely go on to learn independently with no prompting from their parents, just as I learned Spanish and as people study what interests them and/or is useful to them.

Consider even the usage of the internet: it's relatively complicated when you think of it. Yet it isn't taught in schools (or wasn't in my day). We just picked it up and learned it because it was interesting and useful.

Anonymous said...

Public schools have provided some good benefits, but I think, like anything, education needs some new models. We are trying things in the US that should not be done until they are proven, but we like to throw the baby out with the bathwater here a lot.
Not that you are doing this, but I think too many people like to pit public schoolers against home schoolers and it is time to stop. What works for me or you may not work for someone else and that is fine. NO school will be all things to all people, it is not possible. Can we improve our schools? Sure, but everyone has their own personal agenda, their kids, and that makes it difficult. Until people want to actually work together to improve things we will continue to have shortcomings in all of our public systems.

Hygiene did make a HUGE difference, but apparently it caused Polio to increase. http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1527.htm
Ans please, let us not belittle the advancement of vaccines have had. Thank you.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, are you the original commenter?

I'll be the first to admit that schools have come a long way in being more child-friendly (remember Tom Sawyer?).

Gothelittle Rose said...

"Can we improve our schools? Sure, but everyone has their own personal agenda, their kids, and that makes it difficult."

This is at the crux of the reason why, though I understand that homeschooling is not right of everybody, I am wary of the march of the public school system and the efforts to make it seem like The Answer that we Need to fix.

Now Anna T is writing from Israel. From the U.S., I'd like to suggest this: the crux of our problem with the public school system is its aim. Its mission is now providing every child in the country with an *equal* education. This is, frankly, impossible, and even the best effort results only in many of the children receiving a very poor education.

I believe that the aim of the public school system should be its original goal when it was first created; to provide a *good* education to children regardless of income or situation.

To borrow from Pixar's movie Ratatouille: Anyone Can Cook does not mean that any random person can become a cook, but that a cook can come from any circumstance. Likewise, public school should focus less on forcing a government-designed education down every throat, and more on affording opportunity to anybody willing to reach for it.

Anonymous said...

I woke this morning Praying for safety for your family . Could you please let us know from time to time if your family is safe.


Mrs. Anna T said...

Gothelittle Rose, we are having a similar trend in Israel: the "central subject" studies being pushed specifically in religious schools. It's like, if you're government-funded, you must learn about evolution.

Cate said...

I hope you and your family are safe right now.

Mrs. Anna T said...

E and Cate, yes, our family is quite safe at the moment. Many other families in Israel, however, are not. Thank you for thinking about us.

Anonymous said...

Dear God, Betty Sue...no, your literacy levels were NOT higher before public schools (particularly among women--where would you even get such an idea?), and while hygiene definitely played a huge role in controlling infectious diseases, to dismiss the role of vaccines in ensuring the health of American children...well, frankly, that's typical of the current breed of paranoiac person who refuses to vaccinate his or her kids and thinks public schools are evil.

I'm not brainwashed--I'm much worse: I actually have a lot of formal education, as well as experience.

I'm not an American myself, or an Israeli. And posts like these make me rather glad of it.

Anna, I think your response to my comment was very thoughtful. Thanks for it. But I would ask you to mark the attitudes among some of your commenters here--aside from the matter of education, when tuberculosis, polio, and other things whose terror most people here are too young to remember come roaring back and decimate young families, these are the people who will be to blame. That's blunt, but true.

God help us all. I mean that in every way.

Otter Mom said...

You and your family have been in my thoughts all day, I pray that you are all safe and we pray for the protection of Israel.

Anonymous said...

Praying for Israel

Lady Anne said...

Glad to hear you are safe for now. We all pray for peace in the Holy Land. (Odd name, isn't it, for a place with so much turmoil? Sometimes I wish G-d didn't have such a strange sense of humor.)

Be safe, and do keep us posted.


Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, you understand, of course, that I don't necessarily agree with all my commenters all of the time. I do generally, however, approve comments unless they are inflammatory, rude, or contain personal attacks.

Gothelittle Rose said...

"Dear God, Betty Sue...no, your literacy levels were NOT higher before public schools (particularly among women--where would you even get such an idea?)"

Perhaps she got the idea from the statistics that showed a 97-99% literacy rate in areas like New England before public schools. That rate has, since public schools, dropped to 80% in the same region. In other regions, it is getting worse - in parts of Appalachia, parents actually discourage children from learning to read, because they receive a disability payment from the government. Even quite liberal writers and thinkers are admitting that European-style 'soft socialism' is resulting in lower levels of learning.

You don't need a government-educated, government-approved teacher to learn how to read. The Puritans had a very strong tradition of interpreting the Bible on an individual level, and as such, the ability to read was prized above many other activities in which children could engage.