Monday, November 27, 2006

#327 - Dr. Phil Chimes In (and Out) (UPDATED)

So the Dr. Phil Franchise jumped into the homeschool debate. I only bring this up because the good doctor unfortunately smacks of "credibility" whenever he tackles a controversial subject. It has little to do with whether his opinions are in any way correct. It has far more to do with Dr. Phil having more of a "National Enquirer" kind of audience.

You know the folks I'm talking about. These are the folks who hear something on one of those CBS sound-bite reports ("homeschooling causes child abuse!") and the next thing you know this obscure prejudice has become firmly engrained in the listener's psyche. No amount of empirical evidence to the contrary will shake them, either. These are the same people responsible for most of the conspiracy theories ("JFK was killed by abused homeschoolers!") in the world today.

You might guess by now that I give little, if any, credence to Dr. Phil's opinions of homeschooling. You would be correct.

But, to be truthful, I really could care less what the overly vaunted Dr. thinks about anything. Hey, his weight loss strategies are not bad, but that doesn't mean that everything that comes out of the man's mouth is something with which I automatically agree. After all, the man is a clinical psychologist, which means he gets paid by the word. The more words he comes up with, the more money he makes. More power to him.

That said, I also understand that there are many in the homeschooling community (see the HSLDA's harrumph here) who have and will take umbrage at Dr. Phil's statements. More particularly, he seems to think that homeschool is fine up to a point, and that point is high school. By high school, he opines, the kids are in more need of association with peers (and peer pressure by extension, I guess) in order to develop properly. Or as properly as any psychologist is capable of understanding.

All this takes me back to why I homeschool.

Primary of which is, I don't homeschool because (or in spite) of Dr. Phil. Really. Nothing that Dr. Phil says has any bearing whatsoever on why, how, or for how long we intend to homeschool our children. Neither should he have any bearing on that process. Dr. Phil, being a psychologist, is a mere resource. Someone to whom one might turn if they were conflicted about something and just didn't seem able to overcome the obstacles. But for a family in our position - one where Mom and Dad are in 100% complete agreement about homeschooling - such a resource is not required.

Nor do I need Dr. Phil to validate our decision. (I could make some sort of statement that I don't need anyone to validate our decision, but that sounds altogether too maudlin, even for me.)

This, then, becomes the single greatest weakness in the homeschool "movement" (for lack of a better adjective). While there are a great many hard-working, dedicated homeschooling families who have produced countless well-adjusted and properly educated kids, there are also those on the fringe who vacillate. These are the families that people like Dr. Phil tend to interview.

That's just good TV, I'm afraid. Dr. Phil would get absolutely nowhere having my family on his show because we're just too darned unremarkable as homeschoolers go. We are not separatist nutcases who homeschool to spite the government; we simply don't trust the government to adequately and safely educate our children. We do not "unschool" our children; neither do we force them to sit bleary-eyed in a classroom trying to keep up with the super-achievers or being dragged down by the underachievers. Homework is a non-issue. Socialization likewise, unless the Mother of All Experts would like to pooh-pooh church and family as primary socialization networks. Our student-to-teacher ratio is 2:1, unless Daddy steps in and helps in which case it's more like 1.5:1. Find that in any public school today.

No, if Dr. Phil showcased my family on his show, we would only be depicted as an exception rather than the rule.

Want the real scoop on homeschoolers? Try talking to some. Don't ask Dr. Phil which ones, though.

UPDATE: Just by way of clarification. I've been surfing around on this issue (LOTS of emotional response to DP's show!) and have found that Dr. Phil came down pretty heavy against "unschooling." Just for the record, Mrs. Woody and I are not unschoolers. We follow more "classical" homeschooling lines. Also, the definition of unschooling has shifted somewhat since I first got involved in the homeschooling environment. Twenty years ago, unschooling literally was the process a family went through upon taking children out of public school in preparation for schooling at home. Sort of a public school detox, if you will. These days the term apparently is used nearly exclusively for those folks who wish to take a completely unstructured approach to their childrens' education. That's just not our style. We have well-established, very firm educational goals for our girls, so the current definition of unschooling truly does not apply here. I choose not to judge unschooling one way or another, but I'm absolutely certain that it wouldn't fit in our family dynamic at all.

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