For this year’s Reader Request Week, I’m going to try to do something a little different. Over the last five years I answered one (or occasionally two) of the questions a day, and then posted a follow-up entry with shorter answers to left-over questions. This year, I think I’ll try answering more questions, but writing shorter individual posts (mostly; there may be a couple I just blather on about). It’s a crazy idea, but it just might work!
So let’s get to the first question, from Shiloh, about homeschooling:
A California appellate court has just ruled that homeschooling parents must have teaching credentials in order to homeschool their children, which is somewhat controversial; there are a lot of homeschooling parents in California, and many don’t have the necessary certification. I’m curious what you think, and if you have any opinions on homeschool in general, as an alternative form of education.
I don’t have any animus against homeschooling as a concept, although I probably wouldn’t do it myself, for several reasons, most notably that I don’t have the time (I have to work during the day) and I’m pretty sure I don’t have the patience. Also, you know. I pay taxes for my local public school — some of the highest in the state, in fact. I’m going to get my money’s worth out of that local school of mine. But if parents choose to teach their kids at home and can back up that choice by giving their kids a good, balanced education, more power to them.
As a practical matter I tend to be suspicious of the motivations of people who homeschool. While there are a number of parents who simply and strongly believe they can give their kids a better education and more attention than they can get in their local schools, I don’t think it’s any secret that a significant chunk of homeschooling parents do so because of religious convictions, i.e., they don’t want their spawn learning anything that contradicts the Bible, etc. This is easy to make fun of, but it does mean that some unsmall portion of homeschooled children are being kept actively ignorant (or alternately are coached to go through the motions of knowing science while having the idea reinforced in their heads that it’s just a pack of evil secular lies), and that’s just no good. Nor is it just an idle concern, since the homeschooling statutes here in Ohio, on the topics of subjects required, read:
5) Assurance that home education will include the following, except that home education shall not be required to include any concept, topic, or practice that is in conflict with the sincerely held religious beliefs of the parent: (a) Language, reading, spelling, and writing: (b) Geography, history of the United States and Ohio; and national, state, and local government; (c) Mathematics; (d) Science; (e) Health; (f) Physical education; (g) Fine arts, including music; and (h) First aid, safety, and fire prevention. (emphasis mine)
Which is just a nice legal way of saying parents can toss out evolution (or anything else) if they can make a case that it makes the Baby Jesus cry for their kids to learn it. Now, I recognize it’s unfair to lump all homeschoolers in with religious folks who are allergic to science; nevertheless it’s my default assumption unless noted otherwise.
Anecdotally, I have one other concern about homeschooling, which is I do wonder about the socialization of homeschooled kids — i.e., if they’re spending enough time with peers learning how to be, you know, regular humans. Part of this concern comes from watching those homeschooled spelling bee champions quiver and twitch and generally act like poorly socialized howler monkeys while they try to spell “chthonic” or whatever. Again, this is unfair (spelling bees are manifestly not the domain of the brilliantly socialized), but this is where one sees public displays of the homeschooled, and it’s something I worry about. I’d hate for these kids to go off to college and fall apart in the first semester because there’s never been a time where they haven’t spent most of their day with mom and/or dad.
As for the ruling in California, I’m of a split mind about it. I don’t think a teaching certification means that one is a competent teacher; I’ve suffered through enough piss-poor accredited teachers to know that’s the case. On the other hand, here in Ohio, all you need to homeschool your kid is a GED, and that seems a little shaky to me. And per my concern about parents homeschooling to make sure their kids don’t learn something, I think it’s in the interest of the state to be able to set some standards that every homeschooling parent must hit before they teach their own kids, which to my mind should include at least some training. As much training as California wants to require? I don’t think so. But more than a GED would be nice. Pedagogy is more than just plopping your kids down in front of a bunch of workbooks and hoping it works out for the best.
Now, left begging in all this is the question of whether education in a school setting is really a substantially better way for a kid to learn than at home, with the help of an engaged and motivated parent. But it’s another post, I suppose.
(there’s still time to ask questions for Reader Request Week 2008: Post your question here.)