Prez Says: School Is for Losers

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The Boston Globe profiles homeschoolers in Massachusetts.

[Via Ender's Review.]

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  1. I support homeschooling as well..I think it’s a great alternative to public and private schools for those who want it. I think my love of reading is what got me through public school alive. All in all it wasn’t a BAD experience..in fact I even enjoyed arguing with my teachers. Although arguing over whether or not the Battle of the Bulge was in WW2 was more annoying than enjoyable (and the line between comedy and tragedy becomes even more blurred..).

  2. Reminds me of a story out of a San Antonio paper. Turns out this student wasn’t going to graduate because he couldn’t pass the standard high school reading exit exam. Therefore he wasn’t going to fulfill his dream of becoming an engineer.

    The “problem” according to the quotes in the story is that he was being forced to take this silly test. The “solution” was to do away with the test so it didn’t keep nice, ambitious kids from graduating. The “partial solution” was to make the test easier, so someone who read at sixth grade level could pass it as opposed to requiring an eighth grade reading ability.

    My solution was to allow anyone to exempt the lad from the test who wanted to, provided they volunteered to be the one that drove over/walked through/climbed up/lived beneath whatever the future engineer built.

  3. This is a great article.

    And I like its emphasis on so-called “unschoolers” and “deschoolers,” and other assorted Quakers in granny glasses. It’s a refreshing departure from the usual homeschooling stereotype, so beloved of NPR liberals, of intolerant fundies incensed over “secular humanism.”

    But isn’t Massachusetts one of the least homeschooling-friendly states, in terms of legal regulation?

  4. jennifer: i know you’re serious and all, but i can’t even begin to believe that people would accept this as a viable alternative to…well…the kid reading on his own. i mean, what the fuck are they in that class for if they can’t read? what the hell are they supposed to do when they graduate and still can’t read?

    imma so glad i don’t hava no kiddies.

  5. must remain anon-

    I look forward to the day when you are tenured and you can speak out against this nonsense without having to be anon. Your story reminds me of when I was a TA a few years ago (I’m still in grad school, not yet a faculty member):

    The class number was Physics 4. I was proctoring the final exam, and one of the problems required that you use a formula learned back in Physics 2 (yes, Physics 2 was a prerequisite for Physics 4, along with Physics 1 and Phyics 3). We allowed everybody to bring one page of notes, because on a well-written exam the notes won’t be all that useful anyway: You either know what you’re doing or you don’t, and at best the notes jog your memory on some detail.

    A student asked me if I’d give him the formula from Physics 2, because he didn’t have it in his notes. I refused. When the professor came to see how the exam was going I whispered to him “Hey, check out this silly question I got!” and then I told him the story. He said “Oh, I don’t want him to fail just because he doesn’t know that.” I was flabbergasted. I told the professor that if the student doesn’t know the formula then he should fail, but I was overruled, and the professor gave out the formula.

    I’m still disgusted by it.

  6. Dhex-
    I can’t believe it, either, and I have seen it. If I were talking to you in person (as opposed to typing, which takes longer) I could tell you all kinds of horror stories.

    On other postings I have griped about “assistive technology” for students. AT used to refer to things that helped kids overcome physical disabilities–hearing aids for the deaf, wheelchairs for the crippled, that sort of thing. I approve of that–Stephen Hawking is proof of the fact that a weak body can nonetheless house a strong mind.

    But somewhere along the way AT started covering INTELLECTUAL weaknesses as well. There’s this one machine out that doesn’t just spell-check your words; it actually suggests which words you should use, and defines them for you as well! After all, just because you can’t spell or define words doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them, right?

    I taught College-prep and Honors English to grades 11 and 12. So you’d think I spent my days discussing some pretty highfalutin’ concepts, right?

    Wrong. I had to spend a whole week teaching the basics of paragraph-writing, because the numerical majority of my class didn’t know how. When I had to teach Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” to 12th-graders I told them it was an allegory of McCarthyism. Then I had to spend two days teaching them who McCarthy was, because they didn’t know. Nor did they know about the Cold War, let alone how it created a climate of fear making McCarthyism possible.

    I had a student whose term report came word-for-word out of Encarta, but I couldn’t give him a zero; I had to give him a D-minus. You see, if I gave him a zero he would have lost his athletic scholarship to college.

    Again, the problem is that somehow, the majority of parents and administrators have decided that what matters is the diploma, not the knowledge that the diploma is supposed to represent. There’s also the idea that it is cruel to make a kid work for anything. I’ll list one more anecdote before I get back to peddling stuff on eBay:

    The 11th grade curriculum required me to make my students memorize and recite Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop For Death.” (Remember this fact. Memorizing the poem was NOT my idea; it was a curricular requirement.)

    I showed my students how most Dickinson poems, including “Death,” can be sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song. (Try it yourself and see.) Every day for a week we started class with a rousing sing-along, and then the following week had our recitations. One kid did a super-bad job; he could not get past the second line. I gave him an F on the assignment, and his mom complained: I had only made the class sing the poem maybe a dozen times, tops; how can a kid memorize something so quickly?

    The administration sided with the parents.

  7. It’s interesting how teaching techniques evolve over time. When I was a kid, they taught us that Dickinson’s poems could be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

  8. Also, “Amazing Grace”.

  9. Jesse Walker–

    Last time I checked, you could still sing Dickinson to “Yellow Rose.” What you CAN’T do is find a kid familiar with the song.

  10. Speaking as highschool student, I’ve witnessed the faliures of the American public school system first hand. Children with learning disabilities (and those lazy kids with no reason to be at school, wasting our tax dollars) are thrown into classes where answers are given to them, not help or support, but answers. Obviously, the public school system is all about what Jennifer called ‘diploma mills’ rather than about education. Recently, our school confronted the drug issue and began instituting forced-drug testing on students in extra-curricular activities. (I’m sure once our administration realizes a good quarter of our basketball team is getting stoned after school, this policy might coincidently change)

    No wonder so many high schoolers are graduating with a seventh grade education. I’m sure drug-rallies, weapon checks, substance testing and standardized testing are helping immensely on that area.

  11. Thoreau –
    As a physics student I can say that I have seen many situations similar to yours. I always found it odd that professors didnt want to penalize someone for not learning something that is a prerequisite for the course. Maybe the better question would be..how did the student pass Physics 2 without learning something fundamental to the course?

  12. Last time I checked, you could still sing Dickinson to “Yellow Rose.” What you CAN’T do is find a kid familiar with the song.

    In one of my high school English classes, my teacher asked if any of us were familiar with the song. Two of us raised our hands. She then asked me to sing the poem.

    After a line or two, she asked me to stop, on the grounds that the music I was singing was not “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Seems I had learned the song from one of my dad’s bluegrass records, which had taken some liberties with the tempo and melody.

    Of course, virtually all of us had heard the song, even the people who didn’t raise their hands. But we didn’t know the proper title — as far as we were concerned, it was just another one of those college fight songs you hear at halftime.

  13. Jesse Walker–

    Oh. Well, I myself am not familiar with any college fight songs, so I guess it balances out. As a kid overhearing my dad’s televised sports, I thought that the Gary Glitter “Rock and ro-oll” chant was actually saying “Doctor Who-oo,” and marveled that so many sports fans were also into British science fiction.

    You were a brave kid. Even the drama queens in my class were unwilling to sing a solo.

  14. When I raised my hand, I didn’t realize I would be asked to sing.

    The other kids had probably figured out that they would, which might actually be the reason they didn’t raise their hands.

  15. Melissa:

    Any high school student who reads Reason and can craft a well-written, wonderfully sarcastic indictment of public education gives me hope for the future.

  16. With organized education becoming increasingly suspect, why is college tuition continuing to increase at far above the inflation rate? Are colleges on the cusp of the equivalent of the dot.com bust?
    If so, what would be next for higher ed?… Smart folks privately schooling each other?
    Like they do here on Hit and Run?
    Hey, Nick, start charging admission!

  17. Again, the problem is that somehow, the majority of parents and administrators have decided that what matters is the diploma, not the knowledge that the diploma is supposed to represent.

    It is so much easier that way, handing the responsibility to someone else. I am alternately amused and irritated by the blind trust society puts in credentials. But then we are trained to respect the flag and anyone in a uniform with a badge. Those symbols, too, have displaced the qualities they once represented.

    Jennifer: Perhaps you could sell diplomas on eBay rather than girly stuff?

  18. Mark–

    I probably could, but then there’s the whole risk-of-arrest thing. Besides, I have my standards.

    You know, I got an e-mail from a customer who was ecstatic over some novelty clocks she’d bought from me. I would say that I get an average of one such email for every seven auctions I complete. Now, I know a lot of people who’d say that in going from schoolteacher to cheapstuff merchant I’ve moved from Defender of Knowledge to Free-Market Bottomfeeder, but I actually think what I’m doing now is the more honest of the two professions!

    Which isn’t stopping me from preparing for my nth teaching-job interview later this week. . . .

    Melissa-
    Not all of your teachers support what they’re forced to do to you, even if they can’t admit it. Look in their eyes; you’ll learn to spot the difference.

  19. Jennifer,

    Thanks for the “Fun with Common Meter” game. Can you think of a popular tune in iambic pentameter that Homer can be sung to?

    Some artist or other I once heard on Dr. Demento put the lyrics of the Gilligan theme to the tune of “Stairway to Heaven” (with “and it makes me wonder” thrown in, of course). Someone (perhaps the same artist?) also put the Green Acres lyrics to the tune of “Purple Haze.”

  20. Kevin-
    I can’t think of any iambic pentameter songs at all. Let’s face it, I-P is not exactly a rockin’ beat.

  21. Someone (perhaps the same artist?) also put the Green Acres lyrics to the tune of “Purple Haze.”

    That would be Elvis Hitler’s “Green Haze.” I’m not sure who did the other one, though a garage band in my hometown either covered or presaged it back around 1984 or so.

  22. But if you homeschool you won’t get to learn social skills
    like different from your parents fashion,
    hanging at the malls and car hoods,
    rebellious music and illegal drugs.

    If you homeschool you won’t get to spend your twenties
    getting over your screwed up teens.
    What are kids going to be doing in their twenties?

  23. Attention Kevin! Hosanna! As I was making dinner I suddenly thought of an iambic pentameter song. I don’t remember the title, but it’s the Christmas carol that begins:

    “O come, O come, Emma-ha-han-u-el,
    and ransom captive I- hi-his-ra-el
    and (something something, I don’t remember)
    until the Son of Go-ho-hod appears.
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emma-ha-han-u-el,
    shall come to thee O I-hi-his-ra-el.”

    They had to really torture the syllables to get the I-P groove. I can’t remember the exact letter of my blood type, but I have these quarter-century-old memories of children’s choir.

  24. I support homeschooling. Maybe if enough kids are taken out of the public schools, the school administrators will straighten out their curricula.

    Not to start right off on a tangent, but did anyone read the story of how learning-disabled students are suing Alaska? After all, their lawsuit said, just because they can’t read and write doesn’t mean they should fail the reading and writing tests! The more such asininery becomes the norm, the more kids will be home-schooled.

  25. “Asininery”, Jennifer? And you call yourself an English teacher? Try “asininity”.

  26. “English would be a lot more fun if it were a polysynthetic language. Who knows, maybe linguistic historians a thousand years from know[sic]…”

    Jenny baby, have you studied what the Bard was doiing?

  27. “English would be a lot more fun if it were a polysynthetic language. Who knows, maybe linguistic historians a thousand years from know[sic]…”

    Jenny baby, have you studied what the Bard was doing?

  28. Sorry for the double post. I was merely trying to correct the incorrect “doiing”. My liege King Richard III would have expected no less.

  29. Good point, Pedant, although it was a deliberate mistake. Check my other postings: I will often add suffixes like “-esque,” “–ery,” or whatever to words, in an attempt to make new ones.

    English would be a lot more fun if it were a polysynthetic language. Who knows, maybe linguistic historians a thousand years from know will dig out these old postings and hail me as the spear-carrier for the Polysynthetic Revolution! Like the English Great Vowel Shift of six centuries ago, only cooler.

    (See? I can be pedantic, too!)

  30. Jennifer’s tangent relates directly to something I’m dealing with:

    I teach part-time at a small private college. Students who can get a doctor to say that they have ADD get extra time and special allowances on tests.

    Here’s what steams me about it: I have ADHD. It’s affected me throughout my life, here and there. It’s a problem that I deal with, sometimes with medical help. But here’s the thing: I am the one who deals with it. Not my employers. Not my teachers, back when I was in school. Me. (And my family to an extent.) If you need a note demanding special privileges, then clearly you aren’t dealing with your problem.

    Besides, if these kids are disabled then so am I, and I am not definitely NOT disabled.

    I know that libertarian circles attract a certain number of people who don’t believe in diagnoses of mental or psychological illness. Well, I can assure you (not that you’ll believe me) that the problem is real. But just because it’s real doesn’t mean that the rest of the world should bend over backwards. It also doesn’t help that this problem is often misdiagnosed, sometimes even intentially misdiagnosed for people seeking an easy excuse.

    There’s very little I can do about this right now. The school is paranoid of lawsuits and bad PR. Someday, however, I will be a tenured professor with job security and money in the bank (it will be a while, since part-time faculty generally aren’t on a tenure track). When I am, then I’ll be far less accomodating to anybody who claims that he needs special accomodations for ADHD.

  31. Anonymous-
    The main problem here is that public schools have lost their way. They are no longer places to get EDUCATIONS; they are diploma mills. Getting the piece of paper is what matters, not getting the knowledge. Even if you can’t read, can’t write, can’t spell, can’t count higher than the number of fingers you have, you still MUST be allowed to graduate. So. . .give the kids calculators rather than teach them how to add. Hire readers rather than teach them to read. And then, make your eyes wide with innocence and SWEAR you have no idea why American high-school graduates know less than a middle-schooler from Cyprus.

    If a student WANTS to learn, he or she can still get an education at most schools. Problem is, we no longer FORCE kids to learn; instead, we’re too busy running drug-sniffing dogs through their lockers, or worrying about their nose rings.

  32. mra,
    One of my friends in college was dyslexic and didn’t discover it until she got to college. It turned out to be one of those “Oh, no wonder all that school stuff was tougher than I thought it should be.” She started getting extra time for tests, even though, by her own admission, she didn’t need it. Eventually she turned down the extra time. She figured if she could get into MIT without extra test taking time, she could get through it the same way. Especially since the real world doesn’t give a rat’s ass what disability you have, they expect you to get the job done (for the time being at least).

  33. True story: when I had to take an education class my second year of teaching (utterly, utterly asinine waste of time) the professor actually said that time and intelligence have no relation to each other. In other words, if most people can solve math problem X in three minutes but you need a whole month, this does NOT make you less intelligent.

    This professor also said, “When it comes to achievement, ability doesn’t matter; effort does.”

  34. jen: hiring “readers?” do you mean hiring people to read for students?

    spooky.

  35. Dhex-
    Yes, that is exactly what I mean. Say the test requires you to read my posting and answer questions about it; you can’t read, so someone will read it for you. In a few cases, the readers will even use Socratic questioning to help you figure things out: “Do you think Jennifer meant for you to admire the educational system in Cyprus, or not? What context clues indicate Jennifer’s feelings about Cyprus? When Dhex said “spooky,” what was he/she referring to?”

    Mo-
    If more people were like your friend I’d be far less pessimistic about this country’s future. Personally, I wish the feds would force themselves to follow the same rules they make the schools obey. You say we can’t require student X to turn in term papers by a specific date? Fine, then let Taxpayer X file his tax forms whenever the hell he feels like it, and you can’t penalize him for it.

    You say that student Y can’t be expected to show up for class on time, because he has “time management” issues? Fine, then when Driver Y gets a traffic ticket, don’t expect him to show up in court on the appointed date, and don’t penalize him for failure to appear.

  36. Jesse beat me to the punch on Elvis Hitler, but I can help out with Stairway to Gilligan’s Island: Roger and The Goosebumps. Scary that I don’t even need to google this stuff.

  37. And CharlesWT has just linked to my favorite album of the last few years. Lotta good musical taste on display here…

  38. Isaac Bartram-
    No, I hadn’t heard of it but it doesn’t surprise me. It’s just as I said before: the diploma, not the knowledge. Maybe the powers-that-be were influenced by the scene in the Wizard of Ox where Wizard tells the Scarecrow, “You don’t need a brain; you need a piece of paper!”

    Not to brag about my own fabulousness here, but *I* knew Oz wasn’t meant to be taken seriously when I was as young as five. Sigh. If the administrators only had a brain.

  39. Uh, that’s “Oz,” not “Ox.” But you knew that already.

  40. so how come no one sues them for churning out nitwits with worthless papers?

    bah, i’m sure it’s happened already.

    i was lucky enough to have a really good AP english teacher in 10th and 12th grades. (11th grade was marred by the catcher in the rye and other “classics” foisted upon the unsuspecting and helpless). public school did ok by me for what it’s worth (HS is a waste of time, universally, i think), though those four years could have been better spent with less algebra and more practical skills.

    aw fuck. now i’m thinking about how much i hate salinger again…

  41. I have ADD also.

    For me, testing has never been the problem. I’m usually the first or second person done, if I know my stuff. I suppose it’s the increased pressure and few distractions of a classroom test environment.

    Where I historically crapped out are the longer tasks like studying, homework, and projects, where the work tends to be done in less controlled environments, with less pressure. Math homework was always bad, because it’s just a seemingly endless stream of almost identical problems.

    But that’s just me.

  42. Jennifer

    Under the “Most ridiculous lawsuit” can you top this?

    In the early 1980’s (under Gov. Bob Graham and a Demo Legislature, so it’s not part of “the Vast Right Wing Conpiracy”) the State of Florida introduced a requirement that all High School students must pass a Literacy test (I think it was called the FCAT or the Florida Comprehensive (something) Test) before they could graduate. Anyway it was a requirement that one could read at an 8th grade level (My kids both passed it in the 8th grade and said they would have had no problem in the 5th) (BTW, my kids are not all that sharp).

    Anyhow, the failure of several students came to the attention of a lawyer who thought he could make something of this.

    Apparently at least one of the “victims” in this case was an African-American who had started his education in a segregated school (FLA schools were not “integrated” until 1971, so this young fellow had spent the First Grade in a segregated school).

    Now you might ask: What remedy was sought for this injustice? Remedial education and monetary support until the plaintiff could achieve the requisite standards: a reasonable request when the State has promised him/her an education.

    Well, no, the remedy is, Give them their High School diplomas.

  43. Dhex-
    In all seriousness, I think a lawsuit is what it’s going to take. Actually, people could sue the schools for false advertising. At my old school, if you read the actual mission statements and the actual curricula you’d think, “Wow. This is a school with damn-fine high standards!”

    With the wisdom of hindsight I realize the reason I lost my first teaching job after 3 years was because I took the school seriously when they said their goals including “fostering a sense of responsibility” and “developing high academic standards.” What I should have done, and what I’ll do if I get a school again this September, is provide a quality education to those kids who want one, and give low-passing grades to the rest.

    And invest my money overseas. I CANNOT over-stress the importance of investing your money in a country with a great future, not a great past.

    I feel so bad for the Melissas in the schools; maybe thier disgust will drive them to overt rebellion, like what happened in the Sixties.

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