Life Under the Apple Tree

Thinking Out Loud

Thoughts on Education

with 4 comments

“Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property. Let him be taught to love his family, but let him be taught at the same time that he must forsake and even forget them when the welfare of his country requires it.”

~Benjamin Rush, signer of The Declaration of Independence

I’ve been having a conversation about education with a friend on Facebook, and since I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into it, I don’t want to lose what I’ve said, so I’m posting it here. It’s been a long time since I got my thoughts out in this much depth. It started with a poll:

I responded ‘No; that is the parents’ responsibility.’ Then there would be no more “home” learning, just another form of government-controlled learning.

Scott: Interesting that it is phrased as “homeschools” like it is school at home.

Me: That’s what homeschooling is to most people. It’s a poor word that contributes to the belief that the only way to learn is through schooling.

Barbara: I don’t think that regulation is the answer. However, I do think the state has a responsibility to make sure that children are not being neglected – and a child who is denied the opportunity to learn is neglected, IMO.

Yes, teaching the child is the parents’ responsibility – but alas, the world is full of irresponsible parents and what happens to the child if mom or dad decide to hang out and smoke pot all day while the kids watch TV and call that “homeschooling”?

The state has a vested interest in the well-being of children; if those children grow up uneducated and unemployable it will be the state supporting them. I think some form of annual testing or minimum educational standards for the parents are appropriate and not overly “controlling”.

Me: Barbara, leave it to you to be the one to argue with me! 🙂 I usually don’t answer these polls because I prefer to live my beliefs, rather than argue them, but this time I felt strongly enough to respond. I will state my position, but I’m not trying to change anyone else’s mind.

First of all, just about everyone who is now on public assistance went to school. Obviously, it didn’t solve their problems or make them “employable.” It may have even contributed to them. Once someone receives negative labels in school, and this happens from kindergarten, it’s hard to change what becomes a documented record of failure. Teachers and peers will make automatic assumptions about you based upon that record, and you will likely make the same automatic assumptions about yourself that it will be hard to overcome. Many people don’t overcome them until they get out of school, and many never do.

Second, there is no such thing being “denied the opportunity to learn.” Everyone is learning something all the time. It’s human nature, and what we learn cannot be controlled. Yes, there are bad parents out there who pay no attention to their children, but sending all children to school does not guaranty that they will receive the attention they need. There are too many students and too few teachers for that, little or no time spent together one-on-one, and too frequent “changing of the guard.” Teachers and students rarely become more than strangers to each other. It is nearly impossible to become deeply involved in each other’s lives–and therefore affect each other in a positive and lasting way–within such a system.

Barbara: I’m not trying to change your mind either. I’m just saying that not all parents choose unschooling for the considered reasons that you have. Some people are just lazy and irresponsible. I didn’t just pull those pot smoking gamers out of thin air – I knew that family. And their 11 year old daughter did not know how to read. Her mother thought it would all just come to her when the time was right, by osmosis or something. That was two years ago, and as far as I know, nothing has changed in their household.

In Texas, there are no regulations of any kind for homeschooling families. You don’t even need to inform the school district of your choice. So there will never be any consequences for the family who doesn’t bother to teach their child to read – at least no consequences for the parents. I do feel pretty sorry for the kids.

Me: Finally, 100% of us are required to “school” our children supposedly in order to protect the small percentage of children of whose parents are truly neglectful. It’s a very poor protection without a great rate of success. Schooled people “fail” all the time, as the bell curve used to grade them says they must. I’m sure there are people out there who would say they were saved by school, or by their relationship with a teacher, but I’m also sure that most do not even remember the majority of what they “learned” there, and what is not remembered cannot be useful.

What is remembered by me is that I was judged, graded, controlled, and basically locked in brick buildings, and I couldn’t understand what was so bad about children that they had to be treated that way. I even received good grades and I was always told that I was smart. No one should be forced to take tests (nearly every day of their childhood) in order to prove their worth. One’s life is one’s proof.

I’d love to live in Texas. On reading: I’ve known and heard of many 11yo’s who weren’t interested in reading. Most “late” readers pick up quite complicated material when they decide it’s time, and you can’t tell the difference between the 15yo who started reading at 5 and the one who started at 13. There’s no reason that everyone needs to learn everything at the same time, or in the same way. (There are many ways to learn besides reading.) The 11yo you knew may have been neglected. She may have simply had patient parents who were waiting nearby to answer her questions and help her as soon as she expressed interest. Very few people in the world will have a complete disinterest in learning to read–unless they’re made to hate it by negative experiences at home or in school–any more than many people will have a disinterest in learning to talk. Most people want to be able and competent at life.

Barbara: I’m sorry that you hated school so much, Cheryl. Frankly, I have no idea what you are talking about when you speak of being locked in prison and judged and required to prove your worth, because I didn’t experience anything remotely like that when I was in school.

I totally respect your decision to unschool, and I certainly do not have any opposition to homeschooling or unschooling in general. I’m just saying that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the state requiring parents to communicate with the school district once a year or having some sort of minimal education of their own (literacy at least!)

Me: Everyone’s experience is different (I respect that some people enjoy and enjoyed public school), but that is the exact reason why we shouldn’t all be forced to do the same thing, or meet a standardized set of requirements. I actually got a strange sense of enjoyment out of jumping through the hoops to get the good grades, but I think I would have benefited from educational freedom more. Everyone’s experiences, desires, and needs are different, so there is no one thing that can be good, or successfully measured, for everyone.

There are other kinds of literacy, too. Reading is not the only kind. Social literacy, emotional literacy–things that can’t easily be measured. People feel safe when things are measurable, but it often means that some important things in life that can’t be measured get neglected.


Written by cherapple

9 August, 2009 at 8:46 pm

4 Responses

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  1. As a mother of a child that didn't read until 12, I can assure you that reading DOES happen in it's own way and time…like magic. Not in a vacuum, the child in question had plenty of access to books, computers, games etc…

    A confident, happy, non-reading 11 year old is FAR better than a bruised, sad, reading 6 year old. Anyday!


    19 August, 2009 at 4:58 am

  2. Thank you, Ren, for putting it that way. Your comment would be better made on Facebook, however, where more people might see it. 🙂 (This conversation is in my notes.) Will you be at the NEUC this year?


    19 August, 2009 at 11:38 am

  3. Isn't reading like any other language skill? If someone grows up with people who read and read to them, they'll pick it up. It's hard to imagine many cases where kids don't learn to "talk" until they go to school.

    School serves the purpose of indoctrination. A little is probably good, but too much, and it can crush the spirit.


    8 September, 2009 at 5:18 pm

  4. Yes, I've seen many first-hand examples now of children in whom the reading skill grew naturally when they were not in school. My youngest has picked it up as naturally as she learned to walk and talk, and she's a pretty good speller, too. My oldest, on the other hand, spent two years in public school (and two in preschool) and her relationship to reading (and school work) is still negatively colored by the experience of being forced.

    My experience with school is that I was always very compliant and thought it was "normal" to be told what to do all the time, until I got into high school and started to think, "Wait a minute, this doesn't seem right for any decent human being to be locked up and told what to do every day like this. What's so bad about kids that makes adults so afraid?" My daughter rebelled pretty much from the beginning, and I'm very thankful for that because she gave me the guts to homeschool.


    8 September, 2009 at 7:50 pm

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