Tuesday, July 19, 2005

#176 - Your NEA - Working to Spend Your Dollars

As it often happens when we're both at home during the day, Mrs. Woody and I will spend time working on our laptops in the same room. We Woodys are devout homeschoolers, and Mrs. Woody (our Headmistress) subscribes to several homeschool-related groups and lists. Occasionally, Mrs. Woody will read portions of some news article or other that relates to the subject, usually to gauge my reaction. All too often, these articles do nothing more than show their complete ignorance of homeschooling as a lifestyle choice, and make me angry enough to post about it. This one is a real corker.

This is the first solid fisking I've done of an article in any depth for quite some time, so forgive me if my fisking skills appear to be a tad rusty:

By Dave Arnold

There's nothing like having the right person with the right experience, skills and tools to accomplish a specific task. Certain jobs are best left to the pros, such as, formal education.

There are few homeowners who can tackle every aspect of home repair. A few of us might know carpentry, plumbing and, let’s say, cementing. Others may know about electrical work, tiling and roofing. But hardly anyone can do it all.

Same goes for cars. Not many people have the skills and knowledge to perform all repairs on the family car. Even if they do, they probably don’t own the proper tools. Heck, some people have their hands full just knowing how to drive.

So far, so good. No argument so far except for your "best left to the pros" line. But I'll get to that later.
So, why would some parents assume they know enough about every academic subject to home-school their children? You would think that they might leave this -- the shaping of their children’s minds, careers, and futures -- to trained professionals. That is, to those who have worked steadily at their profession for 10, 20, 30 years! Teachers!

Okay, Dave. You lost me.

One of the primary problems with an ad hominem statement like this is that I've met far too many trained professionals who couldn't think their way out of a rat's maze in a laboratory. Some of them leapfrog those of us who can use our heads for practical solutions to real problems, and end up becoming our bosses. This is why we continually lag behind other nations in productivity.

Of course there are circumstances that might make it necessary for parents to teach their children at home. For example, if the child is severely handicapped and cannot be transported safely to a school, or is bedridden with a serious disease, or lives in such a remote area that attending a public school is near impossible.

Nice bit of patronization, that. But let's hearken back to your original argument. If I, an untrained amateur, should not be teaching my healthy children, why should it be okay for me to teach my unhealthy children? Already the argument is losing steam.

However, before we close the books on this non-debate, let's examine motive for a moment:
The number of parents who could easily send their children to public school but opt for home-schooling instead is on the increase.

Ah. Of course. How dense of me, really, to have forgotten that organized "professional" educators are far more worried about our taking children out of their systems, and, hence, the money associated with them. The inference here is that we who choose to homeschool fly in the face of conventional wisdom. We've heard this many, many times before. We are, fortunately, unswayed by such empty rationale.

Yes, we could "easily" send our children to school. But each and every day those children attend those schools would be days of agony for me, wondering whether my child is learning how to have disrespectful attitudes from other children, or whether my child will be preyed upon by a sexual predator that thinks no one will ever find out. So, okay, maybe "easy" isn't the word to use. Maybe insert the words "under extreme duress" instead.

Several organizations have popped up on the Web to serve these wannabe teachers. These organizations are even running ads on prime time television. After viewing one advertisement, I searched a home school Web site [Ed.: http://www.homeschoolcentral.com]. This site contains some statements that REALLY irritate me!

  • "It’s not as difficult as it looks."
The “it” is meant to be “teaching.” Let’s face it, teaching children is difficult even for experienced professionals. Wannabes have no idea.

Difficult and, I daresay, increasingly impossible for many overwhelmed professionals. Get over it.

  • “What about socialization? Forget about it!”
Forget about interacting with others? Are they nuts? Socialization is an important component of getting along in life. You cannot teach it. Children should have the opportunity to interact with others their own age. Without allowing their children to mingle, trade ideas and thoughts with others, these parents are creating social misfits.

If this Web site encouraged home-schooled children to join after-school clubs at the local school, or participate in sports or other community activities, then I might feel different. Maine state laws, for example, require local school districts to allow home-schooled students to participate in their athletic programs. For this Web site to declare, “forget about it,” is bad advice.

When I worked for Wal-Mart more than 20 years ago, Sam Walton once told me: “I can teach Wal-Mart associates how to use a computer, calculator, and how to operate like retailers. But I can’t teach them how to be a teammate when they have never been part of any team.”

And since I revere the name of Sam Walton, I will change my whole educational philosophy to make sure my kids can work at Wal-Mart too, someday. Give me a break. Socialization is so important that I make sure my kids attend Church every week. They go to various activities both at church and such subversive places as the public library. Mrs. Woody takes them to a regularly scheduled homeschool group activity once a week during the school year, with (at least) monthly field trips to museums, theaters, and other locally significant educational opportunities.

And, by the way, the quote, "forget about it" is taken completely out of context. The rest of that paragraph indicates that not only is socialization important, but of equal import is the parents' ability (one would say responsibility) to choose the child's socialization wisely. Quite frankly, the way so many parents are raising their kids today, I really don't want mine socializing with most of them.

  • “Visit our online bookstore.”
Buying a history, science or math book does not mean an adult can automatically instruct others about the book’s content.

Fair enough. No more so than having a credential, I must say. In fact, I've known plenty of teachers who were never worth the price of the fake sheepskin upon which their degree was printed. But, while we're on the subject, what in heaven's name is wrong with an online bookstore? Let's go out on a limb here and say that Mrs. Woody has been a credentialed teacher before. How on earth will she teach if she doesn't buy supporting materials?

Oh. Wait. Mrs. Woody was a credentialed teacher. Sorry! But my argument stands: Whether you consider someone to be "professional" enough to teach is irrelevant. Teachers - public and homeschool teachers alike - need books. Period.
Gullible Parents

Another Web site asks for donations and posts newspaper articles pertaining to problems occurring in public schools.

It’s obvious to me that these organizations are in it for the money. They are involved in the education of children mostly in the hope of profiting at the hands of well-meaning but gullible parents. [Ed.: And the NEA isn't??]

This includes parents who home-school their children for reasons that may be linked to religious convictions. [Ed.: Ooh! Ooh! Pick me! Pick me!] One Web site that I visited stated that the best way to combat our nation’s “ungodly” public schools was to remove students from them and teach them at home or at a Christian school.

I’m certainly not opposed to religious schools, or to anyone standing up for what they believe in. I admire anyone who has the strength to stand up against the majority. But in this case, pulling children out of a school is not the best way to fight the laws that govern our education system. No battle has ever been won by retreating!

Two problems:

1. Please stop making it sound as if taking our children out of public school were some sort of punishment. We do it to protect our children in ways that public schools either can't, or won't.

2. It's not a battle if I refuse to engage the enemy. I pick my battles, and I choose to fight on the home front. Far easier to protect my children from unsavory influences from the sanctity of my home, than to leave "professionals" to do that for me.

In conclusion:
No Training

Don’t most parents have a tough enough job teaching their children social, disciplinary and behavioral skills? [Ed.: Yep. And who ever said it would be easy, I'd like to know?] They would be wise to help their children and themselves by leaving the responsibility of teaching math, science, art, writing, history, geography and other subjects to those who are knowledgeable, trained and motivated to do the best job possible.

So long as we don't think that only credentialed teachers fit this description, then I have no argument.
(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

But neither did they mind publishing this travesty in their official website.

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