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The Homeschool Advantage

The Homeschool Advantage

Because of many of my political positions, not to mention my theological ones, many people suppose that I would think public education was the be-all and end-all of education. And I do believe that making education available to everyone is an essential of civilized society.

The problem is that writing a health care bill titled America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 will not assure that all Americans have affordable health care choices, and creating a “public education” system does not necessarily mean that the public will be educated.

Both fall into the category of difficult goals; the methods used to accomplish those goals deserve to be carefully studied.

Today I found a report of a study on home schooled children on the Christian Post. This study does not appear to be done by a completely independent agency, and even in the course of the short news story, there are potential factors other than homeschooling that might influence the children’s academic performance, such as two parent families and the obvious advantage of parental involvement and so forth.

But my own experience makes me tend to believe the study has some validity. I was homeschooled, and no matter how many times I have compared by experience with public school students I have never discovered a case where someone had a more academically challenging experience in public school.

I have significant problems with much home school curriculum, such as material from ABeka, which uses the King James Version of the Bible to teach children, and a huge amount of material that uncritically teaches varieties of young age creationism. These are serious problems, in my view, but they don’t detract from the fact that home schooled children are learning more.

With so much failure in public schools we need to be taking a radical look at just how much success we are having. We’re not doing that well, and a democracy needs educated citizens. I would be the first to say that home schooling is not a solution to our educational problems, though I believe strongly that parents should be protected in the right to provide home schooling to their children. Home schoolers have a huge advantage in being able to select their students–absolutely!

At the same time, perhaps we need to learn something from this success and apply it. We are not looking for tweaks to a working system. We need revolutionary change in a failing system.

PS: I’m aware that I have vented without suggesting solutions myself. This is a blog, after all, and I get to vent!

Is it a Homeschooling Case?

Is it a Homeschooling Case?

By “it” I refer to the the case of Vanessa Mills v. Thomas Mills in Wake County, North Carolina. Timothy Sandefur has written on this, and we also have a short response from Doug on Stones Cry Out. Under a large number of conditions I might agree with Doug, but on reading this ruling, I think the judge did a pretty good job of balancing things out.

Let me note that I was homeschooled 8 out of 12 years before college, and I currently have a granddaughter who is being homeschooled. I do not in any way regret being homeschooled. In fact, I think I would have been something between bored and horrified to have attended public school. Never having actually attended, I’m not in a good position to be certain. I’m terribly proud of my daughter who is homeschooling my granddaughter, and doing very well. So please don’t think I’m against homeschooling.

But having read the judge’s decision, and his findings of fact, I think this is being read wrong by much of the blogosphere. I will comment only that when such an issue comes up in a divorce case, there is almost always much more involved than meets the eye, and that appears to be true in this case.

I would strongly suggest reading the actual ruling [PDF], and Timothy Sandefur’s comments. I think this has little to do with homeschooling, and much to do with the kind of issues that come up in divorce, especially when one party has very controversial religious beliefs.

I think the judge did well, for example, in #3 on page 8 of the ruling, in ordering that the two parents are not allowed to disparage one another in the presence of the children, and they each can practice their religion as they see fit during their portion of the joint custody time.

There are plenty of unreasonable actions taken against homeschoolers. Outrage should be reserved for those, in my view. This case is about a nasty divorce and competing religious beliefs in it, not about homeschooling.

Moving Bright Kids Forward

Moving Bright Kids Forward

The U. S. News Blog reports that schools in some states, including my home state of Florida, are making it possible for Middle School students to take advanced courses that might normally only be available in High School.

My reaction to this is positive. Anything that improves education is a good thing. As I remember my own education at that age I know I was frequently bored and would have enjoyed some advanced placement. The one objection I would see as reasonable is one of balance. Parents need to make sure their children have a balance of activities and that they are not pursuing such advanced placements when they are really not the best thing for them at that point. But that is a matter for involved parents and observant teachers.

On the other hand, those who object to this type of program have another reason: Minority children might be left behind. Quoting the article: “But some education experts are concerned that this trend in Florida and in other states is leaving minority students behind.” ()

Huh? I really question the “educational” expertise of someone who can make such a claim. This is the type of thinking that will permanently prevent minorities–and majorities–from achievement. These are educators who think that because not everyone goes through the door of opportunity, there must be some discrimination going on. Check out the numbers in the article. Certainly, white students are taking more advantage of these programs, but note also that white students are the minority at some of these schools.

Someone certainly should look into whether there are qualified students who are not pursuing such courses (and the numbers suggest there probably are) and why that should be. They should look into how one would get such students to invest their time and effort in the courses that will prepare them for the future. They should NOT look into ways of holding back the children who are taking advantage of them.

Closing the door will absolutely help nobody. There may be an argument that money is being spent to help the bright kids at the expense of the not-so-bright. Apart from disliking the idea of making that sort of judgment except through actual performance, I think that is a bogus argument.

Many of us don’t seem to realize it, but the world is becoming less and less friendly to those with limited education. We may glorify the people of the soil, construction workers, and manufacturing workers as the sort of salt of the earth. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the educated sometimes to look down at such people as ignorant or stupid. That is not the case. They are rather properly trained and educated for the job they perform. But those jobs are becoming less and less possible without a good education. Simply living in the world is going to require more education as time goes on.

If schools don’t move to provide the opportunity to learn anything for any child who is capable of doing so, then everyone, including those who might be rated as “less bright” is going to pay the cost. I can’t even begin to do the work of someone like Dr. Stephen Hawking, but I am immeasurably enriched by what he has done. I’m certainly not diminished because he demonstrates how much smarter he is than I am.

There’s a nasty tendency today to see education and opportunity as a sort of zero-sum game. If one person has more of it, the next person must necessarily have less. But the fact is that those who have some extra spark increase the opportunities available rather than taking opportunity from others.

I’m an advocate of public education, at least in some form. But I must also advocate private schooling and home schooling. I had some of each. I would not have made it to where I am now without the opportunities provided by teachers who didn’t think that pushing one child ahead was dangerous to other children. I benefited greatly from parents who didn’t say, “We’ll just send him to the nearest school and let him do whatever they think he should.”

Keep the existing doors of opportunity open. Open many more. Holding children back isn’t going to help anyone.

Good Decisions on Education in California

Good Decisions on Education in California

Christianity Today reports on two decisions regarding education in California. In one case, the courts upheld the University of California’s decision to reject certain courses when considering eligibility for admission. In the other, the right of parents without a teaching degree to homeschool.

Some may see these decisions as contradictory, but that would only be true if you look at them as a question of the place of religion in education. Generally religious parents won in one case, though I should emphasize that not all homeschoolers are Christians, while in the other they lost.

I think both are appropriate, and I think one makes the other even more important. I think homeschool parents generally do a good job with educating their children, as results on standardized tests tend to show. Yes, there is less exposure to the broader world, and yes, they often don’t learn everything I think they should learn, but they’re not my children.

I believe evolution should be fully taught in science classes, and until such time as another consensus emerges, something I don’t expect, it should be exclusively taught. But that is for tax supported schools. I believe Christian schools should have the right to set their own curriculum, provided that students can pass the same standardized tests, if any, that are required of public school students.

At the same time, a university, whether public or private, needs to control admissions and should be permitted to expect students to have studied certain things. Admission to a university is not the same thing as getting out of high school with the minimum effort. As I understand it, one way around these requirements is through passing standardized tests. If the students do know this material, then they can demonstrate it and gain admission.

I think individual rights and educational responsibility are well-balanced in these rulings, and I hope they are both upheld on appeal.

Congratulating a Homeschooler on Science and Religion

Congratulating a Homeschooler on Science and Religion

I write here frequently against teaching creationism of any variety in public schools. I do this, amongst other reasons to protect the integrity of science, to preserve the limited space in the science curriculum for actual science, and because I think religion in public schools is dangerous to both church and state. One major question is what religious doctrines would be taught, and who would teach them.

But I also suggest that churches should teach about all of the various views on origins. They can easily emphasize and support their particular view, as is their right (and many would say duty). They are not charged with the integrity of science, and they are the best place to discuss various religious ideas. I think if churches took on the task in a serious way it would be done much better.

Lingalinga blogged today that he is including a variety of materials in his homeschool program. As a homeschooled person, I can testify that one can cover a lot of ground in such a unit. I didn’t get to really learn about evolution in my homeschooling, but my experience isn’t normative. I think this is precisely how a homeschooler should go about it, presumably also including a good deal of the basic science (which I assume will happen) as well as the variety of interpretations.

In homeschool you know who is going to do the teaching of religious ideas, you have much more freedom to move between topics and to look at things in an interdisciplinary way. This is where and how it can happen for the non-public school student.

Mixed Emotions about Sweden

Mixed Emotions about Sweden

I read this news article from Sweden with mixed emotions (HT: Panda’s Thumb).

My first reaction is negative. Since these schools are faith based, it seems appropriate to me that they teach from the perspective of the faith involved in sponsoring the school. I relate this to my own experience being home schooled and being taught creationism. At the end of High School, my grades and test scores were substantially above average, and I know many home schooled or Christian schooled kids who have a similar experience.

Personally I would prefer to have gotten down to learning what evolution actually was earlier. It would have saved me some time exploring this on my own, but in general, I would prefer to leave such choices to parents, as long as the children in question are able to pass the appropriate tests. I prefer directing education through the requirements for standardized testing or for admission to the next level, rather than prescribing a curriculum in faith-related schools.

But there is actually the real question. Sweden’s schools are not organized like American schools apparently. The schools in question are funded by the state even though they are faith based. This triggers the other side of my mixed emotions. If the taxpayers need to pay for it, then the state should control the content. All church related schools, as well as my home schooling, were entirely funded by my parents, the same parents who chose to teach me creationism. They chose it; they paid for it.

I also should emphasize that I believe the correct choice in using public money to fund education at the elementary or high school level is to use that money to teach consensus science, and that means evolutionary theory, and no brand of [tag]creationism[/tag], including ID.

I’m not certain if there are non-state funded schools in Sweden that would not be subject to this mandate or if all schools are state funded in one way or another. That’s an interesting question for further research.

Americans should be careful in reading this story and blog reactions to it, because it does not reflect our situation in terms of either funding or the general structure of our educational system.

Homeschool Textbooks and University Admission

Homeschool Textbooks and University Admission

It’s been a few days since this was front and center, triggered by the presentation of an expert report by Dr. Michael Behe, but I wanted to write a few notes about the issue of admissions at UC and homeschooling. There’s an article ACSI v. Stearns, aka Wendell Bird vs. UC on Panda’s Thumb article here. I agree with the criticism of the textbook content. In addition, here’s an older article that contains a good summary:
Culture war pits UC vs. Christian way of teaching : Religious schools challenge admission standards in court

My issue is not with the assessment of these textbooks, but rather with priorities and appropriate diversity in education. I was homeschooled eight out of 12 years through high school, and the four years in formal schooling were spent in a very conservative Christian school. I knew nothing about evolution except that it happened and it took a long time. My textbooks on science were deficient in all the areas noted. On the other hand, I took a GED and went on to college and graduate school. I had no difficulty with science or math courses (as in getting As with no exceptional amount of study), and when I began to study the appropriate material, I had no difficulty coming to understand evolution, at least sufficiently for my needs as a non-scientist.

My question on this issue is this: Can this possibly be the most pressing issue in admissions at UC or any university? Is there some ongoing problem with home schooled students failing out of introductory biology? I’m not saying that any university shouldn’t have standards, but I am wondering if this is more about academic culture than about standards. I’m not certain from reading what I see, but while I often deplore what certain home school parents do (lax discipline and schedules, very narrow curricular material), there are also many, many parents who home school quite effectively, and whose children are well above standards.

I was never in a situation of playing catch-up in any of my classes from the moment I entered college. I moved to upper division courses in my second semester (with some annoyance to the academic affairs committee). Any deficiencies in my curriculum were easily overcome by the fact that I knew how to study, how to sort out information, and was ready to pick up new material in a hurry.

I’m not sure of the legal aspects of this case, but to me it seems appropriate to keep the diverse options open. I oppose teaching creationism and intelligent design in high school classrooms, because I think in the limited time we should teach consensus science and do it as well as possible. Evolutionary theory is the overwhelming consensus. But in addition, I believe it’s important that people who disagree with me have options, if they’re willing to put in the time and money. Private schooling and home schooling are two of those options. They have to pay for it. They have to live with it.

If there is some evidence of home schooled children struggling with their college courses because of deficient curricula, then there’s a point here. Otherwise, I’d let the results speak for themselves.