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A Homeschooling Rant

I sometimes go off. I wrote it in the winter of 2001:

I homeschool.

Well, sort of. I have a pre-schooler and a kindergartener. The kindergartener knows how to read. I wish I could take credit for it as a sign of my educational brilliance, but frankly, I cannot. You see, I got some videotapes on the alphabet, played Boggle Jr. with him a little bit and he started sounding out letters by himself. From there it was a quick step to curling up with Thomas the Tank Engine books. Lately, he's been reading them to his sister.

I had intended to do the flash card thing for math with my son. That fell by the wayside as well. Our next door neighbor has a dog that has lost a leg. One of my husbands, who was concerned about the apparent lack of math drills, decided to use the dog's lack of a full set of legs as a way to play with addition and subtraction. Wouldn't you know it, Baby Thor (my son) and The Bird (my daughter) were able to handle this with ease.

Around the dinner table last night, one of my husbands, my wife and my children were talking about our day as usual. To give some background: The Bird is three and while she can sing the ABC song (usually) she is just starting into the phonetic significance of the letters. She started calling out words and asking Baby Thor what letter each word started with.

These kids don't have the idea that teaching is something that for which you need a degree. All they know is if you know something, you can teach it. They don't have the idea that learning is something formalized. They see all four of their parents reading, studying and learning things all the time. (We own a small tech company. As any tech will tell you, you have to study a lot to keep on top of things).

I wear many hats - one of them being a tutor to a ten year old boy in the fifth grade. He's a bright child and I am inordinately fond of him. However, because of my affection for him, I am also desperately worried about his education.

His parents are great people. They spend a lot of time interacting with the children, are always taking steps to make sure the kids fulfill their potential and are quite involved in what the children are doing in school. Certain recipe for academic success, right?

Unfortunately not.

My student's last report card showed a diminishment in performance. Mrs. Client was concerned, Mr. Client was concerned. Yours Truly was concerned. I asked Mr. and Mrs. Client if I could have contact his teacher so that I could know what was going on and see if I could find out what sort of standards would the child needed to adhere to.

After a bit of difficulty, there we were in the classroom. Mr and Mrs Client, Miss Fifth Grade and I. The first thing out of Miss Fifth Grade's mouth was, "I am surprised that you called for this conference. Master Client is one of my strongest students."

It went downhill from there. Miss Fifth Grade apparently does not know math well enough to teach it. In spite of having been an elementary educator for at least four years, she still has to study a lesson ahead to keep up with what the children are doing in fractions! I know many people with no talent for math do go into elementary education as a way to obtain a college degree and a secure job. While it is certainly okay not to have a talent for math, it is not okay for any college graduate not to have a firm enough grasp on mathematics to be able to teach it at the fifth grade level.

She thinks this history book is too hard. (I've read it. It's not. I don't agree with the political views of the authors, but I have no quarrel with the difficulty level of the material). Her students do not know how to outline at all, neither do they know how to construct a five paragraph essay. I bumped my nose on this when giving my student a little research assignment on the Revolutionary War and why it started.

The public school system for our particular county has an excellent reputation, so I was stunned by this conference, to say the least. As I heard more about what the children did during the day, and stared longer at the badge the teacher wore around her neck (yes, teachers in this school system must wear a picture ID!), I got more and more frightened. No, not for my children. They will not be subjected to teachers of substandard education, even if there is no-one in the house with a college degree.

I am desperately worried for kids like my student. Not everyone can homeschool. I am aware of that. It takes a degree of thinking out of the box that goes counter to our own public school indoctrinations. as well as an enormous committment of time and the money to have someone at home with the kids. Not everyone can afford that. Certainly even fewer people can afford private school.

However, we are into at least the second, if not third, generation of the uneducated teaching the uneducated. Many of us no longer know how to learn, much less are able to teach it to our children.

No one person is going to be able to sweep back the tide here. Throwing more tax money at the problem is not going to work, neither will implementing a rigid set of standardized tests. Virginia has already proven this with the Standards of Learning tests. They are called SOLs in Virginia educator parlance, and I cannot think of a more apt expression to describe them. Teacher must now teach to these SOLs and drill their students to be able to remember the material long enough to pass the test, or they lose their jobs and accreditation. They no longer have the time to teach - only to drill. As anyone who has crammed for an exam will tell you, you really only retain the material long enough to pass the test and not long enough for what you learned to do you any long term good.

My solution is neither quick nor is it easy. Parents, you must start by putting yourself through a rigorous self-education course. Then you must incorporate learning experiences into your children's daily lives. Incorporate learning into the games you play --- not only with your children, but with your children's friends. As children see the daily example of learning being the constant process and proper state of being for a human, we will finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that our children will be able to give our grandchildren an education superior to what anyone in this nation has known for the past one hundred years.

A portrait of the Goddess of Java rendered by the Goddess of Giggle

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