No More Teachers' Dirty Looks

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The New York Times ran a generally sympathetic article about homeschooling yesterday. Among other things, the piece points out that the latest wave of school-free families "resist easy classification as part of the religious right or freewheeling left, who dominated the movement for decades." It also notes that the factors fueling the recent homeschooling explosion include the new, politically generated national education standards:

They come to home schooling fed up with the shortcomings of public education and the cost of private schools. Add to that the new nationwide standards—uniform curriculum and more testing—which some educators say penalize children with special needs, whether they are gifted, learning disabled or merely eccentric.

"It's a profound irony that the standards movement wound up alienating more parents and fueling the growth of home schooling," said Mitchell L. Stevens, an educational psychologist at New York University and author of "Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement" (Princeton University Press, 2001).

"The presumption of home schooling is that children's distinctive needs come before the managerial needs of the schools," he said. "And, it's easier to do than it was 10 years ago, because the ideologues were so successful in making it legal and creating curriculum tools and organizational support."

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  1. Robert,

    In a previous job I saw this too. The people who end up teaching our kids a often the ones least suited to it. Good teachers who are passionate and motivated gradually get beaten down by the “education machine” and eventually become discouraged. This is often as bad in private schools as it is in the government system. Their pay rates are crap too 🙁 It strikes me as counter productive, given the enormous influence that a teacher has on the future of a child.

  2. Robert – my wife is an elementary school teacher. In cocktail party conversations, when the topic of work comes up, we often hear things like, “I can’t believe you chose to be a teacher! I mean, you’re so bright…”

    Your post reminded me of that.

  3. A couple of thoughts on this:

    It seems to me that homeschooling and the standards movement are essentially reactions to the same thing, the perceived inadequacy of public school education. The standards movement seeks to fix the schools, while homeschoolers want to quit the schools. That’s not to say homeschoolers are wrong, only that it appears Mitchell Stevens is seeing people fleeing a fire and blaming the fire brigade.

    Also, there are good reasons many of the brightest people choose not to be teachers, chief among them being that they can make a lot more money doing something else and that teaching requires continual exposure to children. A lot of the great teachers those of us above a certain age remember were women or recent immigrants barred in their time from pursuing other outlets for their talents — and encouraged as well by the prestige the profession of education had in certain parts of the American community. In both respects things are different now.

  4. Adam,

    Not to start the whole “teachers are underpaid/overpaid” debate again, but the monetary rewards for being a parent, given the enormous influence that parents can have on the future of a child, are pretty slim.

    Maybe parents need to be told on the way out of the delivery room, “He is now your sole responsibility for the next 18 years, and that includes feeding, clothing, housing, washing AND educating him.” Public schooling (and even private schooling) provides parents with an excuse to basically get their kid to a well-trained animal level before turning them over to someone else to mold.

    Homeschooling parents realize that the education of their children is too important to be left in the hands of the school system. If our kids learned anything in five years of public schooling, it was:

    Martin Luther King Jr. was the most important man in the history of the United States, if not the world;

    The noblest job to have, right after doing volunteer work for no pay, is to work for the government and help people;

    The nicest thing you can do is to share what you have with everybody else in the classroom, even if they have done nothing to deserve it. “Deserve” is a word like “merit” and smacks too much of judgementalism;

    The world and all the cute fuzzy animals are going to die if we don’t start recycling paper right away and stop driving our cars;

    People get rich by doing bad things (see point about sharing above);

    People who smoke, drink and/or use drugs are sick people who need our help (see point about government jobs above).

  5. Well. being as product of the parochial school system in NYC I have to say i hope they don’t fix the schools. In my city job all the bosses went to privte, parochial, and yeshivas for their education, the workers all went to public school.

    If the schools are fixed my phoney-baloney job is in danger!

  6. RE: homeschooling…is there any other industry where citizens are forced via their tax dollars to pay for the government product and yet they still opt for their own homemade product? That in and of itself should tell you something about the state of public education.

  7. is there any other industry where citizens are forced via their tax dollars to pay for the government product and yet they still opt for their own homemade product?

    Yes. Self-defense and protection against crime.

  8. And in the government schools, most “reforms” involve further strengthening the “professional” culture and the power of the education department bureaucracies and the teachers’ colleges–the “usual suspects” responsible for things being so shitty in the first place. Not to mention channelling even more resources into the schools that are doing the worst job with what they have.

    The incentives for “public” education are as perverse as those for military contractors: run up costs, do a bad job, and cry for more money and less accountability.

    Nothing makes for success like the ability of dissatisfied customers to take their business elsewhere.

  9. “Nothing makes for success like the ability of dissatisfied customers to take their business elsewhere.”

    Unfortunately, Kevin, that only works dependably when the money goes with the business. If they’re still getting your money, I’m sure they don’t really give a damn about the business.

  10. I work in the math department at a small liberal arts college, where most of our majors are math education majors. I have recently had two of our best math ed majors change to majoring in Mathematics instead. The reason? They wanted to be math teachers because they loved math and wanted other kids to love it too — and the longer they stayed in the education program, the more they saw that this was going to be a mere fraction of their jobs, dwarfed by the time and energy spent on living up to ever-changing standards, pressure to teach to standardized tests, having to teach skills and behaviors properly left up to parents and churches who have abdicated their roles, and so on. All these students want to do, is do something they enjoy. And to do that, they are choosing to leave behind the idea of teaching.

    What a disturbing trend… I hope somebody in the education bureaucracy wakes up and notices sometime soon.

  11. I think the quality of your school is grossly overrated. Smart kids do well in public schools, go on to great universities, and end up in good jobs. Dumb kids don’t. Education might nudge you a bit, but the great majority depends on your gifts. Check out the twin studies cited in the _The Blank Slate_.

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