“Academics isn’t for everyone”

Kay Brooks is championing the idea of doing away with high school for most people, saving it only for “for the very brightest of students.” 

America, the idea that there is stuff, taxpayer funded stuff, in this country that is just “for” the best people is so gross I almost don’t know how to talk about it.  We’re going to look at twelve and thirteen year old kids and decide that educating them is a waste? 

You know, Bridgett’s been chronicling all the ways the economy sucks ass, from the failure of the housing market, to the rising of the cost of consumer goods, to folks getting out of debt by volunteering to go to Iraq.  And yet, because the stock market’s still doing okay, we’re supposed to pretend like everything is fine and that, if individual people are suffering, it’s because they’ve fucked up, not because they’re on the wrong end of a monumental con of the American people in which the rich and powerful try to convince us that, if they’re doing okay, everyone is doing okay.

Let us just state with certainty that, if working class people felt that the economy was doing well, that there were more than enough jobs to go around, the immigration debate would have no traction.  But people do feel that jobs, good jobs they’d be happy to do, are being taken by illegal immigrants.

And now folks who have jobs, folks who have a little security, are advocating adding workers from 12-17 into the job market as well?  What jobs, pray tell, are they going to do?  Are there a shit ton of jobs out there for folks with an eight grade education? 

Forget it.  I think they know there aren’t any jobs out there for these kids.  There’s no training you can give them that employers will take seriously.  (Think about it.  Do you want to hire someone with the reading and math skills of a twelve-year-old?)  This is about keeping poor people in their place, denying us the educations we need to better our lives, in order to keep us stupid, compliant, and disenfranchised.

The public school system, for all its problems, is a powerful tool for equality.

I can only assume that’s why some folks are working so hard to undermine it at every turn.

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160 thoughts on ““Academics isn’t for everyone”

  1. What ever happened to home-schooling as an option? Personally I think government-funded education needs to be shut down completely and replaced with private and and home-schooling. If communities want to open public schools, then they are more then welcome to, but should do so not expecting to be fed from the government teat.

  2. Homeschooling? Who does that? Upper middle class women who can afford to not work. Single Moms or dads don’t have this option. I have no quarrel with those who choose this option, I came close myself when I moved here and discovered that every area school regularly distributes bibles.

    As for private ed, again, if you can afford it, more power. The minute you mention vouchers, you lose all credibility with me. That is simply transferring the “teat” from many mouths to fewer mouths.

  3. I don’t know, Mack. Those Jesus Camp nutjobs were all homeschooled, and they didn’t look rich.

    Personally, I’m against vouchers, because I think that if there has to be a socialized school system, and unfortunately there does, then everyone should have to pay into it. Vouchers allow some people to do the hokey pokey with their money: they put their money in, then they took it right back out.

  4. Homeschooling’s an option — for some people. We’ve done it. We’re also a two-PhD household with one kid; our economic position, our readiness to teach, and the flexibility of our work life is different from that of my cousins, who would like to homeschool but can’t on because a grocery clerk and a guy who installs mufflers and serves in the Guard together make about $35k a year and they have four kids, a lot of bills, and one high school education between them. For them, public schools offer their kids a well-rounded education — which their taxes help to pay for and which they themselves benefited from when they were kids — which they would not get if they were homeschooled. Chances are good that most of the people you depend on for medical services, economic services, physical security, customer service have benefited directly from public schooling for some portion of their education and thus, so do you benefit and so does the rest of the society. That’s why we call knowledge a “public good” and have proceeded on the philosophy that education should be made non-rivalrous and non-exclusive.

    Maybe you are ignorant of the historically close connection between education and citizenship in the US. The Founding Generation considered a “liberal education” (by which they mean learning stuff in a variety of areas of knowledge) foundational to the discerning exercise of one’s right to vote. Lack of educational opportunities were considered a signal impediment not just to personal and national economic welfare, but to civil participation. Literacy was used as a barrier to voting when race no longer sufficed by itself; structuring access to education has been, historically, a way to structure access to political power and restrict it to wealthy (usually white) people (usually men). Access to education and the full exercise of citizenship, therefore, have been conceptualized together as co-functions of a healthy and politically inclusive democratic society since the Republic’s inception. So you might want to think about the political ramifications of what you’re advocating. Unless you already have. That would be what B is suggesting, I guess — that the desire to do away with a broadly educated electorate is at the heart of these sorts of discussions. I can’t get behind that.

  5. Really, I think US education should be mandatory until every citizen has been taught (a) the biology of sex, (b) the history of the United States, NOT excluding 1945-present, and (c) standard writing. My hope is that education on these counts might reduce or eliminate unwanted pregnancy, voting Republican, and inappropriate placement of apostrophes and scare quotes that change the meaning of the texts in which they are used.

    PS, y’all, when I was teaching 9th grade English in New Orleans, my students’ average reading level was 5th grade. 5th! As an average, which meant that a significant number of students were reading at the 3rd grade level or so! That’s not reading well enough to read the local newspaper (which was written at a 9th grade level), let alone national news sources. If we are going to throw waffle an’ spin at our citizens instead of news and politics, we have *got* to teach them how to read and think critically to interpret. That’s like a basic need now, I think.

  6. Bridgett, all good points, but I don’t think they have thought it that far through. It smells of greed to me, that is, a shot at public funds through the guise of providing an education.

    Ex, sure, fair enough. But by and large, most families could not do it on their income, or with the amount of teaching ability they have.

  7. Well, y’all know how fervently I believe in public education. It is good for us as individuals, and it’s good for the country as a community. OTOH, if it weren’t for pesky little economic considerations such as those mentioned by B, I’d have to say that the suggestion Brooks cites (do away with high schools and use the money to fund public education — equally mandatory, I assume — for 20 year olds) has some appeal. There are certain learning abilities (language acquisition, spatially- and numerically-oriented stuff) that peak around age 11 and drop off after that time, though they don’t disappear. And there’s a certain kind of seriousness about study and an understanding of its importance that can begin to appear in the early 20s. Just think if we could let, say, 15-21 year olds off of schooling while they get their hormones settled, too. On second thought, that sounds disastrous. Never mind.

  8. Well, dammit, it’s time that they actually *do* think it through. Isn’t that supposed to be what an intelligent person does BEFORE they write some elitist piece of twaddle about how public education is wasted upon the great unwashed?

    Ex, do you want your colonoscopy administered by one of those Jesus Camp homeschoolers? No, probably not. While their monofocal education may have given them abundant gifts of the Spirit and they have some advantages in learning in subjects that one can master by rote, many of the homeschool applications my college receives show marked deficiencies in areas of preparation critical for post-secondary success — most notably, critical thinking and analytic skills.
    Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of homeschooling and believe it can be a great way to go if the parents are well-prepared to teach, but I also see the poor results from people who have done it badly and are too proud to admit or too stupid to know that they’re shortchanging their children for life.

  9. It’s just very hard for me to believe that dismantling public education is not about making us stupider and more compliant. Frankly, I think that’s why there’s such a push to have creationism taught in school too, some misguided attempt to prove that we love God so much that we’re willing to suffer for it. Because, let me tell you, I don’t think there are a bunch of folks in India and China who have to learn some form of “creationism” in their science classes and those are the folks we have to compete with.

    I’m confused about what they think will be gained by codifying an uneducated underclass. Those folks tend to rise up against the rich and educated and kill them off every couple of generations.

  10. I don’t know, B. I really don’t want to think that, not at all. As you know, i have school age kids, and i am sick that their education is sorely lacking in most areas. Both are gifted readers, and while my daughter has her R.I.S.E. classes, the bulk of her time is spent preparing for these ridiculous tests. To make matters worse, there is zero emphasis on physical education, and they don’t even get recess anymore. Every teacher I know is sick about NCLB, they see it as pure folly. I agree. I thought about sending my kids to private school, but i cannot find one anywhere close that doesn’t emphasize religion in their curriculum, and I don’t want them anywhere near that. It’s a constant concern in my house…

  11. If we do away with public education, more adults will use terms like “stupider”.

    They may or may not, but fewer will be aware that “stupider” is an actual word.

  12. What ever happened to home-schooling as an option?

    As Aunt B says, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.”

    Right. I’m supposed to find my income (for things, like, oh I dunno…electricity, water, food, shelter) where?

    Furthermore, the skills needed to teach a child day in and day out for years on end are not where my talents lie.

    That is why I entrust my child to those who ARE talented in that area.

    They can do it a hell of a lot better than I can, just like I’m sure I can manage a business environment a hell of a lot better than a teacher (probably) could.

  13. I cannot tell you the deliciousness of the irony in Exador’s failed attempt to correct Aunt B. Trying to bring the snark in a thread about how academics aren’t for everyone only to fall flat on your face? Mmmm, tasty.

  14. Save your giggles, vegan. Bootylicious is in some dictionaries too. That don’t make it proper english (much like that sentence)

    I’ll side with Webster’s over dictionary.com.

  15. As a comparative adjective (this is stupider than that), it’s ok — particularly in writing. The confusion springs up because of the customary American construction of “more + adjective” in the case of adjectives having two syllables or more. (That’s why something can be greener or more orange, but is usually not oranger or purpler.) In the case of stupid, the suffix turns a two-syllable word into a three-syllable word that is a little clunky to say, so “more stupid” might be the preferred usage if we were writing copy for a newscast.

    I wouldn’t know any of that if it wasn’t for Mrs. Miller, my eighth grade public school teacher. Party on.

  16. Holy Crap, Bridgett and I agree on something!? Well, kinda, but I’ll take it. Thanks

    Before we start throwing up more dictionaries, let’s scroll up to where I never say the word doesn’t exist. I say it’s not proper english.

  17. When I was a kid in New York State, they had a trade school for High School students. The kids would go to regular (3-R’s) classes in the morning and do the trade school stuff in the afternoon. Now for what it’s worth, I think a kid who isn’t ready or planning to go to college after high school could really benefit from state trade school (if they are good trade schools and up to date, etc). Then again, the times they are a changing, and a lot of the skills learned at a trade school might not be as marketable as they once were.

    What do you all think?

  18. There’s nothing wrong with tech/trade training in high schools. In fact, everyone ought to learn some. But the suggestion Kay Brooks is discussing (well, referring to; there’s little of her in addition to the pull quote) isn’t to have trade high schools for the non-academically-inclined; it’s to do away with public high schools, period. Except for “the very brightest.”

  19. I’m kinda with the Editor.

    –NCLB is utter cack.

    –Not every kid WANTS a college prep course.

    I don’t think we should deny the college prep track to any who want it, but I think we do a disservice to kids who would like and benefit from a more vocational form of study to deny them that on the public dime.

    Like The Editor, we had the Vocational track, and it’s where a lot of young people learned how to be mechanics, beauty operators, landscapers, travel agents, secretaries, etc.

    In fact, the demise of the Vocational track in many public school settings WAS a boondoggle.

    When student loan funding regulations were relaxed in the late 80s (I think it was under Bush I), that meant that vocational schools could get college loan money for 8- and 12- week trade courses.

    I know, because in 1991 I took out a student loan for $2,500 to pay for a 12 week Travel Agent course. They told me they were accredited and that “most colleges” accepted the credits. I didn’t realise that
    a) there are different types of accreditation
    b) other colleges accept it as an elective and it does nothing to help with your major.

    So basically, I made the bad choice to spend the equivalent of a semester’s worth of student aid at a tech school (where I later ended up doing clerical work.)

    All of that to say, that when I was doing clerical work for the school I learned that these tech schools realised that with the change in student loan guidelines they could get more money if they passed themselves off as a college-level deal. So across the country they’ve put pressure on the high-schools to drop Vocational tracks. And it’s worked.

    So now if you want to be a mechanic, beautician, secretary or landscaper you will pay and pay dearly for an education that used to be given to you by the community.

  20. Ya know, one of my grandfathers (the one who went to school past age 10) went to a vocational high school, where he learned to be a tailor. I really have the utmost respect for schools that prepare someone to earn a living. (I mean, I think that my grandfather would have preferred to go to college — he was a great reader with an inquisitive mind his whole life, and the family had a bias towards scholarship going back many generations — but public colleges weren’t an option where he lived and he couldn’t afford private. Anyway, he was proud to have finished high school.) But I always thought that the good vocational programs disappeared even earlier than what you’re talking about, Kat. The vocational training at my high school was a joke, other than the typing and auto repair classes. So I kind of assumed that good tech training in high schools disappeared in the later ’40s once the GI bill meant more people could go to college. You’re telling me that my community was an anomaly, and other places kept up the good work?

  21. Pingback: One Of The Stupider-est Things I’ve Done « Just Another Pretty Farce

  22. You’re telling me that my community was an anomaly, and other places kept up the good work?

    I know that in Indiana in the 70s we had pretty good vocational training available in several disciplines and areas. In my hometown they actually split the day, with the kids who wanted Voc/Tech training bussing to the couple of schools which offered it for half a day. You either did mornings in Voc/Tech or afternoons.

    The consolidated Voc/Tech program meant they could offer a broader range of options and a stronger program. Of course, I lived in a city that was big in manufacturing and so the community had a much more vested interest in training its workforce pool in the skills that would be most directly beneficial to both. So this may be why our Voc/Tech program hung on longer.

  23. I know that in the ’70s, there was a vocational school in the town where I lived–that’s about the time you’re talking of NM and Kat?

    I believe (but I’d have to check with my brothers on this) that they taught mechanics and that type of thing. Maybe there were other classes–I’ll find out.

    I never meant to suggest that I agreed with Kay–it was more of an addendum to the conversation. And I think we’d be much better off giving kids vocational choices rather than hoisting an ill-prepared and untrained bunch of 18-year-olds out into the workforce (or 12 year olds? YIKES!).

  24. I never meant to suggest that I agreed with Kay–it was more of an addendum to the conversation.

    That’s how I took it. I don’t know if anyone agrees with Kay other than perhaps folks who teach at the high-school level and are sick of all the hooligans and ruffians who can’t sit still through their well-prepared lessons.

    My extended family includes a raft of high-school teachers and these farragoes of elitism pop up constantly. I’ve decided that for HS teachers the talk of shipping off all the kids who make their job difficult is the equivalent of office workers complaining about their boss or cops dreaming of retiring to a little town in the Keys.

    FWIW, I think Kay’s husband is some type of HS teacher…

    I know that in the ’70s, there was a vocational school in the town where I lived–that’s about the time you’re talking of NM and Kat?

    Me, yes.

  25. No, I’m talking about the ’60s. My small (40,000 residents) school district was pretty college prep oriented, though. I would imaginie that over 85% of my high school class went to college. And with a student body as small as ours, I guess that other 15% were just out of luck. Until this discussion, I didn’t realize what an oddity that was.

  26. Oh, and I’ve taught those hooligans and ruffians when they’re 18 and older, and there’s a real settling down that starts to take place in the early 20s. You could not pay me enough to teach high school age kids. It’s not that I couldn’t do it or be effective (at least I think I could, since I can teach 18 year olds), but it would wear me out in no time flat. Twice as much energy involved as teaching 20 year olds, I tell you.

    Editor, I did know what you meant. I’m just not through at being horrified at Kay Brooks’s suggestion, is all.

  27. In rural Ohio, where I grew up, there was a county vo-tech and about 30% of our class went to it. They taught everything from welding to auto repair to home construction/carpentry to cosmetology. Some of the skills they were teaching were outmoded even when they were teaching them; there wasn’t a lot of forward-thought in the faculty, it didn’t seem to me. The job outcomes also didn’t seem so certain, either. The girls who took cosmetology didn’t come out with their licensure, so they had to go to cosmo school anyhow, again. Travel agents and secretarial stuff — this didn’t really help to get your foot in the door either, or only (as Kat says) at entry level. My friend who went into auto repair, though…Ms. Goodwrench was hired right out of high school and it took me nearly twenty years before my salary became comparable to hers. She loves her job and she’s a very good mechanic.

    Our perception was that you went to vo-tech if you either weren’t very good at doing homework (different than not smart) or you couldn’t put up with the rule-following and jock-dominated culture of our high school. A lot of my classmates were smart enough, they just sucked at being students in the way that was defined in my high school (sitting down, shutting up, taking notes, spitting it back, knuckling under).

  28. NM, no offense taken.
    I’m horrified as well.

    I guess it all made me think about how it used to be different. That’s why I was wondering if operating Voc/Tech schools would be a viable option given today’s job market. I suppose a lot of what would be taught would be different than 30 years ago. Yes, mechanics and auto repair. Yes, “beauty school” and secretarial. There would be a lot more computer training (in the way of software knowledge). Maybe like Kat, vocational schools would work with the manufacturing in the area–knowing how to maintain and operate machines and robots.

    But how cool to go to trade school to learn to be a tailor!

  29. I think, and I could be totally wrong, that the problem driving this discussion is that we, as a culture, have de-valued trades. Too many trained tradespeople have been replaced by low-paid unskilled (man I hate using that word in this context) workers, doing a disservice both to the tradespeople, the trades themselves, the “unskilled” workers, and society as a whole. I fully support making comprehensive vocational education available, but I fear that such education does not lead to nearly as many meaningful job opportunities as it did fifty years ago.

  30. > I think government-funded education needs to be shut down completely

    Yes, because everywhere that I’ve been in the world, the one constant complaint about Americans is that we’re overeducated. We spend too much time ‘thinking’ and ‘reflecting’ instead of just doing what feels right.

  31. we, as a culture, have de-valued trades

    I think that started happening–as someone else mentioned–with the dawn of the GI bill.

    I know that by the time I was in HS, (1984-1988) it was very clearly communicated that unless you were going for white collar high dollar jobs you weren’t worth jack as a human being.

    Of course there was a lot which played into that message, including the fact that heavy industry wasn’t burgeoning in the States at that time and the only things which seemed like secure jobs were the doctor-lawyer-stockbroker deals.

  32. When I attended Jr. High in the late 60′s, we had a large woodshop. It was required. In high school, there was a much smaller emphasis on thr trades. I am of the opinion that those who show little academic aptitude should be encouraged to learn a trade, and no, it’s not likely they would earn as much as their fathers…but they would earn more than those without a trade. OTOH, I don’t know any electricians, plumbers, or finish carpenters that aren’t making very good money. Mechanics too. Even at a (horror) non-union shop, mechanics earn 12-15 an hour. Thats not good money, but it beats the hell out of retail.

  33. I think that started happening–as someone else mentioned–with the dawn of the GI bill.

    There’s definitely some of that there… but I think a fair deal of it has to do with the economic structure of the country, too, and our (un)changing ideas of just what constitutes a trade. As we started outsourcing and sending our manufacturing jobs overseas, the pool of available decently-paid blue-collar jobs started shrinking and specializing. Trends toward robotics and full mechanization in some areas are also nudging things in that direction. (If they can ever make an industrial strength roomba, how long do you think it will be before janitorial jobs are scarce?)

    Add this to the beginnings of the “kids are dangerous beasts! in gangs!” scares, and you’ve got a twofold problem; high school level vocational programs aren’t as useful as they used to be (so there’s less monetary incentive to keep them around), and there’s a lot of panic about kids using “dangerous” tools (welders, knives, etc.). My High School used to have an auto shop class and a Home Ec class, when my parents went there… but by the time I was there, they’d shut them down because it was too dangerous (oh no! kids might have knives at school! and use them to cook with! … it’s not like it prevented any stabbings; people just brought their own knives from home.). Hell, when I started high school they’d ripped out all the lockers, because that was too dangerous. We might be hiding something in there.

    Coming at it from a slightly different vein, the thrashing we’ve had as the push toward standardized testing increases (how else are we going to get money from a government that doesn’t care about us?), crowding out ‘frivolous’ courses like the arts, higher sciences, physical education, home ec, shop, cosmetology, and so on. If it won’t help you ace your regional funding exams (I’m sure they’ve got a different group name, but the only real purpose they serve is to make sure that the government consents to continue funding your school. There are some standardized tests that do measure learning acquired knowledge, but those definitely are not the ones I’m talking about.), there’s no point in teaching it to you. That has relatively little to do with any national prioritization of academia per se, but rather with our increasing fetishization of (useless) quantitative measures, and our highly puinitive (and stupid) school-funding systems.

    For our part, we’ve had two distinct moves to counter this, which I really like. While I was in High School,* we had the Academies. They worked with the ROP (Regional Occupational Program) and local businesses to help their students get jobs once they finished. Each one had a different focus and different mechanisms, but they all used block scheduling and intensive academics during the day (making their classes harder per-unit-time spent, but also rarer), and then had the students go do ROP classes, including On-the-Job-Training (OJT), so that by their senior years they were spending less than 50% time on campus and more than 50% working.

    We had the Business and Technology Academy (which focused on getting students into business college, and had an academic focus on math/econ type classes. They also worked toward getitng students jobs as interns in various local businesses, and helping them to set up their own small businesses afterward.), the Travel and Tourism Academy (which focused academically on nutrition, language, geography and stuff like that… but spent most of their time taking field trips to hotels and travel agencies, and their OJT focus was on getting jobs as bellhops, waiters, and other stuff like that, with the idea being to eventually own or manage small hotels, restaurants, and other businesses related to travel and tourism), and the Health Academy (geared toward, naturally, biology, health, and life sciences. They had their students interning in local doctors’ offices and hospitals. One of my friends wound up working at my Pediatrician’s office, so I saw her every time I went to the doctor.).

    There were also ROP courses you could take for certain types of credit (I took floristry to get out of PE, and loved it. If it wasn’t one of the most volatile industries (moreso than restaurants even), and not very well paid, I’d consider working in a flower shop for a living. My sister works in one now, after taking the same class.), and which had the same sort of flow (the beginning of the semester was learning how to do whatever you were doing, and the latter part was actually doing it at an actual job, albeit for free.).

    Locally, our Community College has a lot of vocational training. They’re actually split into two campuses; the CC and the CEC (Community Education Center). You can take all manner of vocationally useful classes (welding, typing, etc.; my grandfather teaches childcare and child development classes there, as he was a preschool pincipal for almost a decade, and a high school and elementary school teacher before that.), and enroll in their Cosmetology School (which my grandmother – as Vice-Principal of Education, and as a black woman who likes to keep her hair maintained – is a staunch supporter of), or Nursing School, or … I think they have dentistry and some others.

    This is actually the trend I’ve seen most; having CCs incorporate their Voc/Tech stuff into their normal curriculum as both tracks (Nursing, Cosmetology, etc; if it has an accreditation or a certification at the end, there’s a way to do it as a school), and as a series of electives… which one might just happen to take in the proper order to sit for a test at the end of. A well-administered and funded CC can do this in such a way that the courses will transfer for some colleges, as arts or general electives, satisfying both the push for academia and the desire for practical skill.

    Ahem. Anyway, I was just saying that vocational training hasn’t died out entirely… it’s just taken a different form. And some types (home ec, particularly) are seeing a resurgence (they’re teaching it at the high school I went now, in limited ways)… for a variety of reasons not altogether linked with a desire for an autonomous and educated population.

    * After I graduated, the school became an IB corridor school and dropped these ideas like something gross stuck to their shoes.

  34. I think B that you are reading way too much into Kay Brooks’s original post.

    With respect to the hostility toward vouchers: I can never quite get it. We have, in Metro and across our urban landscape, a sort of educational Apartheid; people of means leave public education. It is not that no market exists – throngs send their kids to non-public schools or move to ring counties – rather it is that many do not have market power because they have no money. What about vouchers for poor people? Why object to that?

    There are many ways to skin a cat. Opening up a market should increase innovation, creativity, and options.

    I would add that Metro schools have introduced the Big Picture School, a great development. The concept originated, I think, in the Northeast.

  35. … That’s why we call knowledge a “public good” and have proceeded on the philosophy that education should be made non-rivalrous and non-exclusive…

    Indeed, but just because knowledge is a public good does not imply that government ought to be the provider.

    Education is not, strictly speaking, a public good. One can be excluded from education and there is rivalry (congestion) in consumption. Our policy in favor of making education available is driven more because of the positivie externalities (spillovers).

  36. There is a philosophy here in this corner of ET I noticed a few years ago which makes a particular claim about public education which, while seemingly well-intentioned has a darker heart, IMO.

    The philosophy is that all education must be geared to two related goals: getting a good job and maintaining a stable economy.

    To that end, armies of mfg. plant managers appear before public clubs, like Rotary, and government gatherings, like County Commission meetings, and complain they cannot staff their operations due to the low reading skills of residents, or due to lack of HS and college grads. This is usually followed by a school board member pitching for greater funding of their systems.

    They do not comment on the idea that locals who do complete college often must leave the area, if not the state, to find a job within their field. And that the average of folks in ET who fail to graduate HS is (on average) about 38%.

    But most disturbing to me is that there is little or no value placed by residents on education in and of itself. It must be a gateway to employment. More than once I have spoken with folks who see no value to being educated and tremendous value on having a job which allows them to buy a high-dollar car or truck.

    It troubles me that the skills of critical thinking and reasoning an education could/should provide are de-valued. As if a person capable of sound reasoning and decision-making is not wanted – someone who is skilled enough to work a computerized program for manufacturing and not ask questions, explore ways to improve efficency or seek non-mfg jobs is preferred.

    In other words, being educated is not as desirable as being employable. And despite all the negatives I see in public education, eliminating it seems disatrous.

  37. But how cool to go to trade school to learn to be a tailor!

    I think, and I could be totally wrong, that the problem driving this discussion is that we, as a culture, have de-valued trades.

    Yes and yes. (Although my grandmother was a professional knitter and seamstress, and AFAIK she got no training except from her mother. And after a while my grandfather decided that tailoring wasn’t for him, and during my mother’s childhood became a salesman, a job he he loved and continued at for the rest of his life.) Sadly, I do think the trend began when college became more available to more people. That’s why I always think that my grandfather would have been very pleased and proud when one of my sisters took her college degree with honors and used it to become a printer.

    I’ve also taught at a CC with a couple of good vocational programs in health care fields. I do think that a CC is more suitable for this particular vocational track than a high school, since it requires some basis in math and science. I know that the students who got an AA in Radiologic Tech were snapped up by the best radiology clinics in the city.

    As for Joe P.’s comment, politicians of a certain stripe have been using ‘pointy-headed intellectuals’ as an enemy for so long that being educated now seems like a bad thing to many voters unless it can explicitly be tied to earning potential.

  38. One factor that I have not seen mentioned is the military. Our military doesn’t take anyone who doesn’t have at least a GED, and those are limited to a certain percentage (the rest are required to have an actual HS diploma*).

    So if we scrap public eduction, then we have to do at least one of:
    - lower the education standards for our military
    - draw recruits from states or communities that decided to locally fund education
    - start drafting kids whose parents shelled-out the bucks for an education

    Option ‘A’ is the only one that would fly with most people who are well-off, and it is not without serious consquences to readiness and effectiveness. Meanwhile, we would be reducing the availability of one of the traditional escape routes that good kids from poor (and statistically, rural) backgrounds use to break multi-generational cycles of poverty.

    Maybe the military would open thousands of HS-level ‘prep schools’ around the country to get these kids ready for enlistment. They can require a 12-year service committment, in exchange for 4 years of ‘education’. We just shift responsibility from the DoHEW to the DoD.

    * When recruitment goals are being met (which usually means that we aren’t feeding kids into a meatgrinder for no reason), the GED waivers go away altogether.

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  40. … if working class people felt that the economy was doing well, that there were more than enough jobs to go around, the immigration debate would have no traction.

    What an excellent point. I haven’t even finished reading the rest of the post but I had to stop and say that. Thanks for that insight.

  41. The public school system, for all its problems, is a powerful tool for equality.

    I can only assume that’s why some folks are working so hard to undermine it at every turn.

    Another good insight.

    Repealing child labor laws will never happen, but it is appalling to think that there are people who aren’t horrified at that thought.

  42. … Repealing child labor laws will never happen, but it is appalling to think that there are people who aren’t horrified at that thought…

    Count me in that group. I don’t think we have enough child labor.

  43. I am really proud of all of you who can read Kay Brooks’s blog post and come back with something reasoned and intelligent against it.

    As for me, I can’t wrap my mind around a HOMESCHOOLING BOARD OF EDUCATION MEMBER, much less one who has the balls to suggest that most kids shouldn’t have access to a high school education.

  44. What about vouchers for poor people? Why object to that?

    Want vouchers for secular private schools? We’ll talk, it’s at least open for discussion. Want to use tax dollars to forward religion? Not without repealing the first amendment. If I indeed have the freedom of religion, the government simply cannot force me to tithe (a form of worship in itself) to a church.

  45. Yep. I’ll let white supremacists come on here and call me a cunt. I’ll let crazy Christians talk about how they can’t wait for the slaughter of the liberals. But that Donna Locke. I can’t abide by her. Not only can’t she comment here, I won’t even let her read it.

    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

    Apparently some folks think I’m smarter than I actually am. I can just imagine what a kick Lynnster would get out of that, considering she knows I couldn’t even figure out how to set this blog up without her help. And now I’m supposed to have evil genius knowledge about how to prevent people from reading it?

    That’s rich.

  46. Wow, some of this was the discussion I was hoping to see at my blog when I created the post.

    For now:

    1. Is it a blogging rule that mentioning a topic equals agreeing with it? I missed that in the Official Blogging Handbook. Perhaps, I have an older edition.

    2. My husband isn’t a teacher.

    3. I NEVER suggested, or even thought, that ‘most kids shouldn’t have access to a high school education.’ as Samantha Y wrote or that it’s just for the ‘best and brightest’ as Aunt B starts all this with. I’m all for them having a high school education–I just don’t think it has to be obtained via the current system.

  47. Kay:

    Most kids’ parents can’t afford private school (though some endanger the family finances to send them anyway) or to stay home with them to teach (and, if they did, many would not be qualified to teach). So how is that education supposed to be obtained?

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  49. “though some endanger the family finances to send them anyway”

    Hey, I resemble that remark. We had always hoped our doing so would be considered a noble thing.

    If anything, it;ll make a great guilt trip when they get to be 30.

  50. A couple of decades ago i worked in vocational education. It was on the cusp of dying, though not for lack of need. There will always be people who don’t need or want to go to college. I have a nephew and a great-nephew in that category. Both are excellent mechanics who take pride in their work. However, at the high school level, many voc ed programs are at the point where they have not adapted to the change in the job market over the last 30 years.

    The federal government tried to change that back in the 80s by restructuring the funding so it supposedly pushed funding into “newer, more job-focused” training. Unfortunately, that didn’t help the rural school systems who still had buckets full of auto body shop and stick welding teachers who weren’t ready to retire and who didn’t have the skills used in modern industry. Nor did they have a source for teachers with those skills.

    So they had to transition into the newer job skills & training. Some school systems are still transitioning 20 years later because they have no local industry except shade tree mechanics and Bubba’s auto body shop. The hard part is that they only have a handful of openings each year but they have eight or ten times as many students in their programs because the system hasn’t taught the kids how to think and they can’t survive college prep classes.

    Education needs complete restructuring based on actual learning rather than testing.

  51. Wow, some of this was the discussion I was hoping to see at my blog when I created the post.

    For now:

    1. Is it a blogging rule that mentioning a topic equals agreeing with it? I missed that in the Official Blogging Handbook. Perhaps, I have an older edition.

    Aunt B has a good many loyal readers. You may just have to participate here, if you do not.

    Also, as to your #1 question, I’d advise you to ask Brittney G, she has a little experience with this.

  52. Samantha Y wrote: “So how is that education supposed to be obtained?”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autodidacticism.

    It’s been done for centuries. Motivated folks taking on the task of educating themselves. Often to a high degree of success because they owned the process and had a specific goal in mind.

    The Internet is full of online learning opportunities–heck MIT has their stuff online now. http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/ They call it OpenCourseWare. We’ve got free libraries with free Internet access. We’ve got adult learning centers and every day colleges are realizing, after years of meaningless diplomas and homeschoolers who’ve performed well without them, that it’s possible to be a great student without that paperwork.

    Of course, if someone has been so throughly trained to be fed like a child every bit of knowledge they’ve managed to retain, it’s gonna be a lot harder.

    If society has focused its efforts on ensuring they have a good basic education (reading being the most foundational) they will be able to learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it.

  53. Education needs complete restructuring based on actual learning rather than testing.

    Education definitely needs to deemphasize testing, especially standardized testing. Of course, when teachers point this out everybody yells that the unions are trying to cover up for laziness or whatever.

    So far as autodidacticism goes, it goes just so far. Yeah, you can learn a lot of facts as an autodidact. Well, some of the things you learn may be facts; there’s a lot of nonsense out there on the internet, and each academic discipline has ways of knowing how to tell the difference, but these have to be learned through interaction not only with information but with the structure and content of a field.

    Then, using open course material is a help, but what about the part of learning that comes from interacting with others, hearing their opinions and responding to them? Autodidacts get no feedback, and the knowledge base of many autodidacts is terribly isolated: they have no intellectual context for what they have learned, but they have no social context for it either (gee, someone else read this book and disagrees with me about what it says, or what it means, or if it should be taken seriously).

    What about the kind of learning that comes from learning from mistakes? That doesn’t come naturally: someone may or may not know that s/he has made a mistake, and even if s/he knows that s/he did, doesn’t know how to correct it.

    The upshot is that while I know some autodidacts who have clearly given themselves a good education, I have encountered just as many who can best be described as conspiracy theorists about the world.

  54. As an aside, homeschooling has been mentioned a few times in the comments in a ‘would you want your brain surgeon to have been homeschooled’ sort of way. Two of my friends from high school home schooled both their daughters. Both parents were profoundly intelligent and did a good job at it, even through their divorce. Their oldest daughter is a physician and I’d trust her in a heartbeat to operate on me. As with the rest of life, your mileage may vary.

    The quality of education you get is not dependent on where you get your education, just on the quality of what you are given and the quality of the effort you put into it. We had better schools by far when I was growing up. We were expected to do our best and my butt hurt for days if I didn’t do my best.

  55. I’m willing to bet she didn’t homeschool her way through college, med school, internship, residency, and specialization, though. I for one wouldn’t quite want to be treated by a physician who had (if there were such a thing).

  56. Who said they were going to be locked in closets without contact, let alone mentoring or apprenticeship, with the outside world and people expert in the field?

    The point being that our idea of sitting in a room with 30 other students being lectured and tested is so 1999. There is a whole wide world of options out there and I am encouraging us to find the educational option that works best for each student.

  57. Samantha Y wrote: “So how is that education supposed to be obtained?”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autodidacticism.

    It’s been done for centuries. Motivated folks taking on the task of educating themselves. Often to a high degree of success because they owned the process and had a specific goal in mind.

    The Internet is full of online learning opportunities–heck MIT has their stuff online now. http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/ They call it OpenCourseWare. We’ve got free libraries with free Internet access. We’ve got adult learning centers and every day colleges are realizing, after years of meaningless diplomas and homeschoolers who’ve performed well without them, that it’s possible to be a great student without that paperwork.

    That is the most patently elitist thing I’ve heard yet in this conversation. As nm pointed out, there are tangible benefits to communal learning that have nothing to do with one’s motivation and willingness to learn. But more than that, not everyone learns the same way. Online courses and books work well for some kinds of learners (my dad, for instance) but are next to useless for others (me; I need someone to argue with before I can really organize the recieved information, even if I can recite it by rote).

    There’s a bloody lot of privilege involved in the assumption that everyone can just up and magically educate themselves. Yes, people have been doing it for centuries, and yes, some people have overcome ridiculous odds to do so. But that’s not everyone. It’s not a feasible or realistic solution for everyone. It’s not even always the best solution for the people who take well to it.

    Not to mention the fact that you’ve just automatically excluded everyone too poor to have a computer, pretty much everyone with learning disabilities, and anyone without the resources or background to pursue the knowledge in a way that’s helpful to them. How are you going to take the MIT online courses if you don’t have a computer? Sure, you might be able to go to the local library… but most of them are set up with half-hour limits and semi-filtered access. And what if your local library is far away and you don’t have a car? What if their hours conflict with your job? What if they don’t have a computer, or it’s down, or there’s a huge line every night? What if you need to print out lessons and you can’t afford it. Even if you get there, even if none of these things are a problem, how are you going to use them if you don’t know they exist?

    Even beyong the things nm pointed out, there’s still the problem of creating a balance in one’s coursework. If you’re trying to learn, say, Literature and Composition by yourself, who do you study? What do you focus on? How do you know who is important to read and who isn’t? How do you weigh the opinions of various experts? How can you tell who is an expert and who is a hack? Where do you find the materials that will help you? A person trying to do it on their own without any context may eventually come out with a relatively complete knowledge of the field… but they’d be reinventing the wheel at every step. Most of the time, they’d miss things, because they’re working on the same general principles that we do when we surf the internet – you find something, you find things that are attached to that something, and you go from there. You might jump from basic literature stuff and lit theory to literary criticism and take a wrong turn around Aunt B’s thesis (postmodernist literary criticism, hypertext theory, etc.) and wind up in my thesis (online game theory, postmodernist identity theory, hypertext-as-thought-marker, etc.). And you still might not know enough about basic composition to put any of this to use. You certainly wouldn’t have any context to know that the stuff I’m talking about is fringe stuff in my field and that Aunt B’s stuff is fringe stuff in hers, and that they’re actually different things.

    And books are expensive. Textbooks and course books are ridiculously expensive, and that’s not just because of campus bookstore markups. Some of the most fundamental books I used in my research were well over $100 apiece, and they weren’t even specialized. They were just the basics. Broad textbooks are the same way. And how the hell are you going to get to any of the specific, specialized stuff if you don’t have the basics?

    (Again, the library can help, but libraries aren’t infalliable. My local library has a lot of gaps, and doesn’t usually carry textbooks because it’s not a research library. And it certainly doesn’t have the money to go run off and buy one for me just because I asked for it. A book swap online might have what I need, but it might not. And so on and so forth.)

    Who is going to tell you where all this stuff is? How to work it? How to structure a lesson? For that matter, given the age range you’re pointing at, who’s going to teach you time management and watch you during the day? If you work (since you seem to be a big fan of child labor), then you’re busy all the bloody day (when, incidentally, most of the resources you’d need are open). If not, your parents have to find something to do with you. And most people’s parents aren’t going to be much help with this. Sure, they might be able to help with one or two subjects, but not everything you need to know. And for most poor people, well, they might not have any more clue about what you need or where to get it than you do. Did you think about any of that?

  58. I’m an autodidact.

    But I’m not in any way thinking that autodidactism is for everyone. Not that I’m better than anyone else–just that my style of learning is well-suited to it.

    The point being that our idea of sitting in a room with 30 other students being lectured and tested is so 1999.

    That works for some people. Not me, though.

    There is a whole wide world of options out there and I am encouraging us to find the educational option that works best for each student.

    I would highly encourage a psychometric evaluation to best determine each student’s style of learning, followed by placement in the best program for him or her.

    There are people (my sister) who thrive in a lecture-based environment. Then there are people like me who say “point me to the nearest library, the nearest specialist in the field, the nearest hands-on training and I’ll combine it into a productive skill-set my way.”

    Then there are other people who learn other ways.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see any way that we can reconcile multiple tutorial programs with our current system of assembly-line instruction.

    Maybe if I actually finished college I’d learn the answer in a lecture-based format. :)

  59. I would highly encourage a psychometric evaluation to best determine each student’s style of learning, followed by placement in the best program for him or her.

    This, I would love. Well-funded and well-implemented, of course. Let the autodidacts do do what they need (with advisors on-hand… I’d imagine one advisor for every 100 or so students, and they check in once every week or two, to ask any questions they need (say “where is the nearest expert on _____?” or “is this guy a hack? I’ve never seen him quoted by anyone, but he wrote a lot of books all the same.”) and make sure that they are learning, and not just goofing off. Not tests, but talk.), and give them a big, real test or series of tests at the end to determine what they learned and what degree/certificate they should have afterward. (Say you autodidacted into plumbing – I’d sure like to have something that said you actually knew how to do that, just like with most other technicians. I’m not saying anything different from what’s in the field normally, but I am saying that it should happen.) Have the rest of everyone sorted into tracks based on what they are good at and what they want to do, then let them do what they need. Make sure that everyone is well-supported at all times, and that they have options to change their minds if they find out that what they’re doing isn’t right for them. I could support that.

  60. *grins* We did, Kat. I’m just more grouchy about it, I think. This is a huge pet peeve of mine.

    And hey, colleges aren’t all lecture-based! Mine was mostly Socratic, and there was lots of hands-on work and independent study. I think you’d’ve done well there, aside from the, er, institutional culture. I’m not sure you’d’ve liked our campus identity much.

  61. I’m not sure you’d’ve liked our campus identity much.

    You make it sound like you went to Satan’s Communist Pajama Party University.

    There ARE days when I wonder how different my life would have been had I actually taken Bryn Mawr up on their offer.

    This is a huge pet peeve of mine.

    It’s kind of mine, too, in a different way. I’m endlessly frustrated that there’s little mainstream acknowledgement of the value of autodidactism.

    For crying out loud, it’s how Abe Lincoln learned the law.

  62. Who said they were going to be locked in closets without contact, let alone mentoring or apprenticeship, with the outside world and people expert in the field?

    The point being that our idea of sitting in a room with 30 other students being lectured and tested is so 1999. There is a whole wide world of options out there and I am encouraging us to find the educational option that works best for each student.

    Kay, I don’t want to misrepresent your argument. I certainly didn’t do so deliberately. But I don’t know how else to interpet the way you start by encouraging discussion about doing away with high schools and follow up by suggesting that schools need be responsible only for “foundational” stuff like reading while claiming several times that schools only operate by forcing rote information onto students, except to infer that you think that schools in whatever form have nothing to offer the expectant pupil and that learning has to take place in isolation. If this indeed isn’t what you meant, maybe you could explain more clearly what you do mean?

    Further, I think that if you’re under the impression that schools only throughly train … [someone] to be fed like a child every bit of knowledge they’ve managed to retain or that the school day is simply sitting in a room with 30 other students being lectured and tested then you have had some unfortunate experiences with schools, and aren’t all that much aware about how the majority of them work. Or how they worked before NCLB, at any rate; I know that has changed a lot of the classroom experience for the worse, and has cut out many non-classroom expereinces altogether.

  63. For crying out loud, it’s how Abe Lincoln learned the law.

    Now, see, I’d hire someone like that any time to write a contract for me. There’s a body of work to be mastered in whatever way, and there’s an accrediting organization to test that it’s been mastered. I might want to let the guy [or gal, but we're speaking of Lincoln here] take someone else’s case to trial first, so I could be sure he’d mastered the ins and outs of court procedure, but otherwise, sure. One can teach oneself law. I still wouldn’t want to be attended by a physician who hadn’t been through a proper training program.

  64. You make it sound like you went to Satan’s Communist Pajama Party University.

    Umm. More or less. Don’t you remember that time I talked about what our school ‘unofficial’ motto was?

    I mean, one of the things I remember from the student handbook from my year was that we had a rugby (or was it ultimate frisbee?) game sometime in the not-so-distant past, against Eugene Bible College, and some people had staged a mock crucifixtion at halftime.

    We had drunken midnight revelry in our chapel on Fridays (or was it Saturdays?) and “40s Night” on the front lawn on Wednesdays (the drinks, not the decade)… not to mention random “naked passion dances” (also on the front lawn, in full view of everyone; I remember walking past one behind a professor and his adult friend, where the conversation went something like “Why do you let them do that?” “Do you think we could stop them?” “Hunh.”), and our only ‘real’ school dances were Harvest Ball (Halloween Costume ball put on by the school itself), Winter Formal (known as a “meat market,” and which usually involved a lot of people having drunken sex in and around the dance itself), Fetish Ball (my favorite), and Drag Ball (both of which are exactly as they sound).

    So… ‘Satan’s Communist Pajama Party University’ sounds about right. Only fewer pajamas were usually involved.

  65. Lincoln was not an autodidact in law. He “read” law — meaning that he took instruction in a law office (not at a law school), attended court sessions, and participated in formal and informal discussions about case law and constitutional development with county, state, and federal jurists. His mentor/sponsor chose the books that Lincoln read (he just didn’t pick up a couple of books and he was good to go) and he was expected to talk about what he was reading fairly regularly with other legal students and the senior lawyer guiding Lincoln’s studies. He also attended legal lectures when they were available to him. He paid for that instruction by clerking (copying by hand all the writs, deeds, wills, and assorted filings, in triplicate), filing, and doing legal research (what we’d call serving as a paralegal). This was considered part of his practical education, so he received nothing beyond room and board for his services — so think of this as an extended internship. Finally, Lincoln had to be licensed to practice, prior to which he had to be examined by a couple of members of the current legal profession who would vouch for his fitness to serve as a member of the Illinois Bar.

    I know that we all like to think about Lincoln scratchin’ his figgers with a charred stick on the coal shovel, but he was actually as formally educated in law as most US lawyers were prior to 1850. (There were fewer than ten law schools in the country when Lincoln was pursuing his education.)

  66. One can teach oneself law. I still wouldn’t want to be attended by a physician who hadn’t been through a proper training program.

    That’s a good point, nm. Just as different students learn differently, different fields require different types of training. If something requires tools, specialized interactions (say, ‘how to behave in court,’ or ‘how to stand for hours in front of the Queen’s palace without moving a muscle’), those things are much harder to learn on one’s own, particularly if one has financial trouble. But in general, there are things you need to learn from teachers (martial arts spring to mind, as does higher chemistry), and there are things where you can more or less get what you need on your own. It’s not as simple as saying “everyone should stay in the model we have now” or “everyone should go learn things on their own.”

  67. One can teach oneself law. I still wouldn’t want to be attended by a physician who hadn’t been through a proper training program.

    That’s a good point, nm. Just as different students learn differently, different fields require different types of training. If something requires tools, specialized interactions (say, ‘how to behave in court,’ or ‘how to stand for hours in front of the Queen’s palace without moving a muscle’), those things are much harder to learn on one’s own, particularly if one has financial trouble. But in general, there are things you need to learn from teachers (martial arts spring to mind, as does higher chemistry), and there are things where you can more or less get what you need on your own. It’s not as simple as saying “everyone should stay in the model we have now” or “everyone should go learn things on their own.”

  68. I know that we all like to think about Lincoln scratchin’ his figgers with a charred stick on the coal shovel, but he was actually as formally educated in law as most US lawyers were prior to 1850. (

    I guess I should have been more clear.

    I consider Lincoln’s way of learning law (ie. “reading” law with other lawyers, etc.) to be similar to what I consider to be functional autodidactism.

    I’m not a real believer in the fact that any person can just open a law book and know the law or open any assembled body of knowledge–say an engineering textbook–and just “know” the thing.

    But I do believe that it is possible to be learned without what would be considered strict institutional supervision.

    In fact, I think some professions *such as law* would function better if they retained that style of learning.

    I suppose I should quit referring to it as autodidactism and start calling it something like “apprenticed self-study” or somesuch.

  69. I suppose I should quit referring to it as autodidactism and start calling it something like “apprenticed self-study” or somesuch.

    I’d love to see that as an option for pretty much every field where it was possible. I don’t think it’s as feasible for high-school level basics (learning algebra that way, for instance, would likely be pretty difficult for most people, and you’d lose a lot of the helpful things one gets out of a classroom, not to mention economies of scale), but I do think that for everything where there’s a ‘thing to do’ (experiments, arguing cases, running studies, etc.) at the end of it, this should be an option. Provided, of course, there’s a strong and consistent regulatory body overseeing the quality of learning before anything too serious is undertaken.

  70. Great discussion. Y’all help me here. I often try to describe my ideal method of learning, and I’m usually unsuccessful. I wouldn’t exactly call it autodidactism. I don’t really care to read broadly on a given subject. I guess you could call me a “Google learner”.

    I do best by giving myself a project in the field I want to learn (usually a big one), breaking that down into the smallest possible task units, and learning the mechanics of doing each of those tasks. The broader ideas, the way all of the individual parts fit together, which methods are good, and which are junk I learn by trial and error.

    I learned programming this way, and I learned what I know of music theory this way. I learned to cook this way.

    If I wanted to learn woodworking, I’d get a big pile of wood, research what tools I need, and use these methods over and over again till I built a bookcase of which I could be proud. I might go through 20 or 30 piece of crap bookcases, but each time, I’d learn.

    There are definite downsides to this method of learning. I have holes, HUGE holes in my base of knowledge. For instance, most people are amazed that I cannot sight read music; they assume that my playing skills HAD to come from a comprehensive music education. It’s always embarassing to admit I am illiterate musically.

    Yet, this form of learning has served me well, especially in my given trade.

    So, y’all tell me. What do you call this “learning by doing (and Googling)” form of learning?

  71. Kat, what were the units into which you divided the learning to have sex part? And Slarti, Pete Seeger (yes, really) has a book called (IIRC) Hen Scratches and Fly Specks that is about teaching oneself to sightread music.

    More seriously, Slarti, how would you react if some experienced woodworker came by after your first couple of attempts and showed you how to fix some of your bookcase mistakes? Would that help you or frustrate you? Because I think learning by doing is great, but I also appreciate getting some expert advice on how to do things right, and I think that learning to accept help so that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel (or the bookcase) all the time was one of the best lessons I learned in grad school.

  72. nm, great question. In the web development world this sort of thing happens all the time. I don’t mind correction; but that fits my personality. But most of the time, I’ll post a question in a programming newsgoup, and all these brilliant minds converge to answer, and usually they end up getting in arguments about the best way to solve the problem, and I’ll actually learn a lot from the argument itself (till it gets personal).

    I’ve made it a philosophy of the team I lead to keep the mindset, “Somebody had this problem before you did, go find where they asked the question and got an answer”. There is actually a skill in knowing exactly how to phase a web query to get exactly what you want.

    But, I digress. I should have said in the beginning that my “Google” queries are actually newsgroup queries, and I prefer to get advice from those who have gone before. In my world, we generally do that over the internet, being antisocial nerds and all. :)

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  74. OMG, that was so long ago. It was an accident, I think. I did a search on Lycos (remember that?), for a particular problem I had, and one of the results was a newsgroup entry. As I recall, I stumbled into the middle of a flame war, and stuck around for entertainment value.

    After that died down, it wasn’t too hard to go “up” the index of this newsgroup archiving site (the one that later became Google Groups) and find the vb and Sql Server newsgroups.

    Since then, Microsoft (I work exclusively with MS products) has systemetised it. They have their own newsgroups, and they pay people to hang around the others and give “official” answers. Since then, I’ve been to a few conferences, met these experts personally, and now I actually have names to look for.

    But my programs from 5 years ago were not very good. It’s a good thing my employer had no technique requirements.

  75. Life. ;-p

    Seriously…it’s how I taught myself to knit, to have sex and to master Excel.

    Hah. I’ll second that.

    Still and all, each one of those things gets a lot easier when you’ve got some experience around to help you. Learning to knit from watching poorly rendered videos and looking at obscure diagrams was needlessly complicated. If anyone had been around that I could’ve learned from, I wouldn’t’ve had to spend those hours learning to do something basic (casting on, knit and purl stitches), and I could’ve spent that time learning how to do more complicated things like patterns and whatnot.

    Same with sex… two virgins learning to do well with each other has its sweetness, I suppose… but it mostly hurt and we weren’t sure if we were doing it right for a long time. And even when we settled in, experimentation was, well… since neither of us watched porn or anything like that, it was a lot of trial and error and error and, um.. more error, mostly. Being with a more experienced partner now is useful, because, ah… well, it’s one of those things where having someone who knows where things go is really helpful.

    And so on and so forth.

  76. “Seriously…it’s how I taught myself to knit, to have sex and to master Excel.” – Clearly, I am a learning-by-doing kind of person.

  77. “I would highly encourage a psychometric evaluation to best determine each student’s style of learning, followed by placement in the best program for him or her.”

    This, I would love. Well-funded and well-implemented, of course.

    ************

    And that, I believe, having known Kay online for a while now, is closer to where she was headed with all this.

    If all of our funding, or damned near all of it, and all of our energy, or damned near all of it, is committed to perpetuating the same system we have now, with random spasms like the NCLB crap, all we will get is more of the same.

    Some schools parents are happy with, many that leave parents and students wanting better, all dependent on zip codes.

    And not much wiggle room. We are left to haggle over scraps — vouchers or not, redrawing school zones, etc. Any really sweeping idea — whether this particular one is good or not — like the learning styles evaluations for everyone! — can’t be implemented. A lot of discussion but no real change.

    Refusing to consider drastic changes to the existing system because we don’t have “the” perfect answer for everyone just pushes the problem down the road. “The problem” is that all the things that posters here seem to want — literacy, critical thinking, good citizenship — fail to be achieved by a significant portion of our country.

    Witness the last two Presidential elections. :)

    Of course, we could also consider the inadequacy of the Democrats some of us voted for in 2006. . . sigh. . .

    I believe Kay’s ideas are more along the lines of “imagine what we could all do with all of these resources if individuals had the freedom to make changes as needed and try new things” and not “keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant.”

    Nance

  78. I believe Kay’s ideas are more along the lines of “imagine what we could all do with all of these resources if individuals had the freedom to make changes as needed and try new things” and not “keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant.”

    At the risk of sounding unecessarily waspish, she should have said that then.

    Talking about traditional education as “spoon feeding,” agitating for “more child labor” and suggesting that autodidactism is the obvious answer (“It’s been done for centuries.” “If society has focused its efforts on ensuring they have a good basic education (reading being the most foundational) they will be able to learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it.”) bears little resemblence to your version.

  79. Refusing to consider drastic changes to the existing system because we don’t have “the” perfect answer for everyone just pushes the problem down the road. “The problem” is that all the things that posters here seem to want — literacy, critical thinking, good citizenship — fail to be achieved by a significant portion of our country.

    And this, to me, seems to be misrepresenting a lot of what was said in this thread. No one was saying that we can’t do anything because we don’t have the perfect answer. Hell, no one was even arguing that the current system is really good. What was argued was that throwing it all out the window is no more of a solution than letting things continue just as they are. What I specifically argued was that the argument for autodidactism, as constructed, was incredibly privileged and shortsighted, and would neither work for most people nor produce any significant gains of the sort you mention here.

    Where do you see any of us “pushing the problem down the road?”

  80. Holy shit, JJ, is that a preemptive strike to undo the damage from your racist claim that white people are smarter than everyone else or what? Whitest and brightest.

    Wow.

    I’m sorry I haven’t had time to fully participate in this conversation, but let me start by saying that, with Kay, all I have to go on is what she said. It’s very nice of folks to read generously into that, but to act as if we’re all obliged to formulate complex meanings and arguments behind what Kay said and ascribe them to her, is a little ludicrous.

    Kay, as far as I know, there’s no blog rule book, but if your intentions are misunderstood, unfortunately (as I learn repeatedly, apparently), that’s hardly the fault of the reader.

    But I certainly didn’t mean to hit you in the pocket. Sorry about that.

  81. What was argued was that throwing it all out the window is no more of a solution than letting things continue just as they are.
    ************
    And now that we are all on the same page and can agree that change is needed, how about a real conversation about learning in this country instead of the piffle that usually results when the subject comes up.

    Baby awake. . . more later, I hope.

    Nance

  82. Here’s a pedagogy basic that applies to blogging. To provoke reaction, use closed statements that lead to critique. To stimulate conversation, favor open-ended statements that lead to discussion. “What is and is not working with American education? What do you think needs to be changed and why, so that we’re delivering the best possible education to students in our country?” is an open-ended invitation to a substantive conversation about assessing the American education system, measuring its effectiveness, and discussing potential strategies for improvement. You’re going to elicit both opinions and evidence for those opinions. Then the class (or blog commenters) can weigh a variety of opinions and models.

    That’s markedly different from “let’s restrict high school to the best and the brightest,” which is a bomb-lob of a proposed solution. What you’re going to get with closed statements is polarization — people who will shout “damn skippy” because they like your solution and people who will shout back that you’re being a simple-minded elitist. If you begin at the end, don’t be surprised if people don’t converse at your site or if the interchanges about your posts devolve into flame wars.

  83. And, frankly, I feel like people have been offering solutions. Is there a person in this thread that thinks NCLB is a good idea? No.

    Do people seem to be in agreement that more individualized attention to kids is important? Yes.

    But I’m sorry, we can argue all year and I won’t entertain the idea that doing away with public schools or kicking most kids out of them and into some work program is anything but elitist crap designed to keep poor people poor.

    Even vocational training, if done how it was done back in the day, recognizes that kids need to be in school for some period of time.

    And not because public school is the greatest thing since sliced cheese, but because public school is a microcosm for how life works from here on out.

    Your brilliant, gifted kids are going to work for morons who don’t understand how to utilize their talent. If they strike out as entrepreneurs, they’re going to discover that their brilliant idea for car that run on grass and emit only water is stifled by hypocrites who have stock in oil companies.

    As a parent, it’s your job to make sure that your kids get the best education they can with the resources you have (if that means annoying the shit out of the school every day to do it or if it means pulling them out of school and homeschooling them, whatever), but, at some point, it’s your kids’ responsibility to learn that the bullshit they face at school is similar to the bullshit they’ll face as adults.

    Wanting the right to insist that your kid either be removed from the common rabble or have the common rabble removed from your kid just strikes me as hilarious. What kind of life are you shaping for your child with that strategy?

  84. It would be a very odd life. And a very odd strategy. Most of us who homeschool, fortunately, do not sequester our children away from the real world. Indeed, some of us think they get a better dose of the real world out here in it.

    But I urge readers here to think beyond whether or not they like NCLB, whether or not children do better with more attention, whether or not forced child labor is a good thing.

    I urge all of us to imagine what we could do differently. School is what it is because we allow it to be so.

    School schedules, for instance, dictate so much of our life and community. And are closely tied to work schedules, of course. Could things be other than the way they are? What would be better?

    For instance, the library is a public good, funded by public dollars. And we are at ours all the time. But we are not forced to be there and we go on our own schedule.

    OTOH, we are not rich. Or as rich as we might be if I worked. Although, given the meager salary I earned, I don’t think we’d be rich either way. And even if we were, I value the way we learn more than the new car, or whatever.

    These are personal values, of courses. Are they the same as your values? Do you want that newer car and bigger house and paid vacation and see the public school system as a convenient babysitting service? Or do you need to pay the rent? Reality for a lot of people.

    But it gets circular. If more learning opportunities were available on a non-compulsory basis, would we begin to restructure how we work?

    Etc.

    There are a lot of ideas to consider. . .

    Nance

  85. Oh, and while we’re considering and as you sit there writing about the reasons the current system has to remain in place — nope, we aren’t the first people to have this discussion :) — you might consider the ideas of Marion Brady. He writes about teaching thinking skills and updating our ideas about curriculum — all in the traditional school building but with a different focus. http://home.cfl.rr.com/marion/mbrady.html

    There are a lot of smart people who have put a lot of thought into the issues of public school and how it should be changed. Maybe you have your own favorite?

    Nance

  86. Did you not read any of the suggestions on this thread? I’m having a very hard time crediting you with any honesty (or reading comprehension) in this conversation, and I don’t say that lightly.

  87. But I urge readers here to think beyond whether or not they like NCLB, whether or not children do better with more attention, whether or not forced child labor is a good thing.

    I’m sorry. I truly am. I don’t mean to appear adversarial when I’m just strung out from a lack of sleep.

    But how can you come into a thread nearly 70 comments in, where we’ve discussed alternative pedagogy up and down the line, inside and out, for the lion’s share of a week–college professors, autodidacts, publishers, marketers, women business owners, computer programmers–and then just make the conclusion that we’ve just decided NCLB=Wrongbad with nothing beyond it?

  88. B, I think wrong-colored piping [PDF] is what is wrong with educational system today. How are kids supposed to learn if there are more than a couple of colors around them?

    I’m kidding. But you had to know that. I can’t believe Metro is really insisting that “olive drab” is some kind of inappropriate pants color that will doom education. Grrr.

  89. I’d go back just a bit before Marion Brady or the unschoolers or any of the last thirty years of thinking about education as a reflection of the kind of civil society we want. If I wanted to come at the discussion of the utility/necessity/design/philosophy/theory of public schools in the United States, I think I’d probably start with Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures, Jefferson’s ideas about the place of education in the life of the citizenry (as he defined that citizenry), Mercy Otis Warren and Benjamin Rush’s writings on the education of women, policy-makers who saw cultural re-education as fundamental to the “civilizing mission” of American Indian policy, a look at the structured access to education as a tool of racial control in places (North and South) with slavery, the Pestalozzians who set up innovative schools in Owen’s experimental colony at New Harmony, the manual labor college movement in the Early American Republic, Horace Mann, and so forth. If you think about the constant agitations for educational reform in its broadest historical terms — sort of as a metacommentary on one’s dissatisfactions with society and one’s own place within it — we might consider this very conversation as a) a regular feature of public life that is designed to be self-perpetuating (230 or so years and we’re still not happy with the education system!) b) a valuable part of our civil discourse and national imagination, and c) reflective of the enduring success of our educational systems in creating thoughtful, committed, concerned, and articulate critical thinkers.

  90. I read things like this:

    I’d love to see that as an option for pretty much every field where it was possible. . . . Provided, of course, there’s a strong and consistent regulatory body overseeing the quality of learning before anything too serious is undertaken.

    And this:

    Hell, no one was even arguing that the current system is really good. What was argued was that throwing it all out the window is no more of a solution than letting things continue just as they are. What I specifically argued was that the argument for autodidactism, as constructed, was incredibly privileged and shortsighted, and would neither work for most people nor produce any significant gains of the sort you mention here.

    And even this:

    But in general, there are things you need to learn from teachers (martial arts spring to mind, as does higher chemistry), and there are things where you can more or less get what you need on your own. It’s not as simple as saying “everyone should stay in the model we have now” or “everyone should go learn things on their own.”

    And I had not realized you thought this was progress.

    To me, these are fearful approaches to big ideas.

    Big ideas like doing away with school-think like “everyone should.” Everyone doesn’t really need to know everything or a specific set of things and can’t.

    And big ideas like letting people learn in their own ways, really, not the way we talk about it now. Not “sure, let him get ahead in math, we’ll catch him up later in literature.” That’s what we do now. Assuming we know best and what we know is that everyone should know a particular set of stuff. Math and literature. When what we might say is “how can we assist this child in learning all the math there is? Let the next guy who loves literature spend his time on that.”

    And big ideas like funding and resources for the people you are apparently most concerned about with your talk of elitism and privilege. And time to take advantage of those resources.

    Big ideas like learning not ending when high school or college ends. About changing how we value learning in this country.

    Etc.

    The idea of educational resources being available to everyone is a grand idea. The way that idea is mangled today is a shame.

    And it’s not just a matter of toughening kids up or helping them to learn the world is full of idiots and not particularly fair. It’s not just a matter of tweaking the existing system or fighting with the local school — here’s news from the front lines today: http://blogs.trb.com/features/family/parenting/blog/2007/09/fcat_does_no
    t_equal_education.html — as it is in many schools.

    I read this part of the article:

    “You know what? I don’t care what my kid gets on that test. I’d prefer
    that she enjoy expressing herself writing. I’d like for her to be
    challenged to think creatively. I wish her teachers might at least try
    not to suck the last bit of pleasure she takes in learning right out of
    her.

    “But I sit glumly . . . ”

    And I shook my head at how sad it is that this mother feels she has no choice but to watch her daughter’s love of writing and learning being crushed. Maybe, in reality, she has no choice. But couldn’t we do better than that? Shouldn’t we?

    You may not like me and how I am late to this discussion and think you have it all sorted out and I should just shut up. But, if you are at all interested, reading through these dozens of comments did not leave me feeling like anyone had a good handle on things. The comments so far have been unproductive, imo. Maybe that is the nature of blogs. Maybe we got off on the wrong foot here. I think we can do better.

    Nance

  91. If you think about the constant agitations for educational reform in its broadest historical terms — sort of as a metacommentary on one’s dissatisfactions with society and one’s own place within it — we might consider this very conversation as a) a regular feature of public life that is designed to be self-perpetuating (230 or so years and we’re still not happy with the education system!) b) a valuable part of our civil discourse and national imagination, and c) reflective of the enduring success of our educational systems in creating thoughtful, committed, concerned, and articulate critical thinkers.
    ***********
    You had me up until the letter c). :)

    I would say much of what passes for “articulate critical thinking” is learned in spite of institutional schooling.

    But not to quibble. . .

    Does this mean you think things will just slowly work themselves out? On most days, I do, too.

    For instance, I think this latest round of testing madness will be gone soon.

    To be replaced by something better, I hope.

    Nance

  92. Ms. Confer,
    I’m curious about your background.

    Because there are things that we do know about the way brains develop in human beings, the rate with which they develop and the type of processes crucial to full development of the brain.

    You say:
    Assuming we know best and what we know is that everyone should know a particular set of stuff. Math and literature.

    And I would agree that once a brain reaches college level, it has also aged to the place where focus on that the specialisation of that brain is a good idea.

    But as long as brains are a certain age we teach them both numerical and verbal language, because those are both skills which grow and enhance different sections of the brain.

    That’s one reason why we keep kids in school during their teen years–when they are the most impossible creatures on earth to master.

    That’s when we can shape the physically-growing brain.

    Now, what educational theorists are discussing is the fact that the intake for the information which grows the brain and strenghthens the neural pathways can be modified. Some learn best by lecture, some by guess-and-test, etc.

    This is my main issue with the Homeschool movement, I’ll be honest. I fear that many parents look at their children’s strengths and weaknesses and then find it easier to teach to the strengths while tabling the weaknesses. Ironically, because of genetics, that’s probably because the child has inherited the parents’ strong suits. So the verbal family is happy sitting around learning to diagram sentences and talk about Mark Twain, while the Math family emphasises Geometry.

    When I hear people–especially Homeschool advocates–talk about “throwing out the old ways” I bristle. Because I hear people saying “don’t make my kid do language stuff–he’s not good at it.”

  93. Yes and no. I think that it’s important to continue pressing for the kinds of reforms we seek, to insist upon the connections among education, citizenship, and the social worlds we inhabit. Pedagogy, delivery method, location, funding, etc — these all matter and changes will have consequences beyond the classroom, something that ed theorists and policy-makers who concentrate on what happens between 8:25 and 3 pm in a brick building on Pleasant Street have been reluctant to address. I don’t have much faith that everything is going to get better, freer, fairer, cheaper, and more equally distributed if we all think happy thoughts and chill out. This is going to require work, but it’s good work to do and it’s work that we will probably always have with us. What I’m suggesting is that this is an enduring conversation in American public life and there will be something else down the line. It’s up to us to figure out what that something else is going to look like — and that we can have this self-perpetuating conversation for the entire life of the nation to me is a reassuring sign that maybe we’re neither as in crisis as we think nor are we as unresourceful as we fear.

  94. Pingback: Me, On Homeschooling « Just Another Pretty Farce

  95. Nance suggests: what we might say is “how can we assist this child in learning all the math there is? Let the next guy who loves literature spend his time on that.”

    And I dunno … when I was 15 or 16 I argued for this passionately and would have agreed with you 100%. But I have ended up being truly grateful that the school system insisted on trying to turn me into a well-rounded human being, with a dash of this and a smidgen of that. I don’t mean this in the sense of “oh, wasn’t I dumb and juvenile then and don’t I know better now and thus isn’t Nance dumb” but in the sense of “boy, do I know where Nance is coming from on this question.”

    But ultimately, I can’t agree to let one kid do all the science and the other do all the lit. Partly because the learning I have ended up caring about passionately turned out to be grounded in the very things I was trying so hard at the time to avoid, and I think it is a mistake to close kids, even the most dedicated, off to other options too young. And mostly because, at least for me, the different topics enrich each other so well. The statistics I studied when I was all about the math have deepened my understanding of demography now that I’m all about the history. The science I didn’t want to have to study? Essential for an understanding of the spread of disease, and for getting the technology available to the people I have studied, as well as for an appreciation of the scientific knowledge of earlier days. The literature the math kid doesn’t want to read will some day, even if he keeps on making math central to his learning his whole life, let him know what math is for.

    Now, is the ideal of the completely-well-rounded individual unattainable? Yes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s something we shouldn’t, in general, strive for. I don’t think it’s fearful of me to insist that I think it’s a good. But while I’m trying to come up with ideas about schools that make learning a joy, there is in the back of my mind the thought that, well, everyone is going to have to do/study some things they don’t enjoy all that much sometime.

  96. I still can’t figure out why Akismet ate that other comment.

    I’ll be less long-winded. (Maybe.)

    Brains of teenagers are still growing. Different types of skills give brains different types of exercise, to make sure they fully grow and grow well.

    That’s part of why education professionals continue to push the idea of a well-rounded curriculum.

  97. Yes. Like doctors push a well-rounded diet and daily exercise on us.
    But one hopes in America at least, it will remain professional wisdom — research, counsel, persuasion, guidance, public “education” even — rather than crossing that line as school has done, into compulsion, inspection, enforcement, and political control of private family decisions from reproduction right through career choice, including what clothes, food, words and attitudes are permissable while that life is being lived.

  98. JJ, I haven’t seen any research that suggests that a well-rounded education is anything other than good for people. Do you disagree?

  99. nm,

    You hit the nail on the head.

    I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at age 12. For that matter I didn’t even known what I wanted to do with my life until I already had one of my degrees in hand! Had I not had exposure to various topics (whether I liked them or not), I would almost certainly not be in the field i am in now (which I love dearly) and even if I had managed to find my way here, it wouldn’t be experienced with the richness that I experience with it now. All fields of learning are in someway interconnected, and each enriches the other.

  100. nm is dead on.

    I remember well being 16 and wishing I could ONLY take English, History, Literature and Latin. I hate, hate, HATED math in all its forms.

    They made me take at least one year of Algebra. I paid enough attention to pass and avoid my father’s wrath. But I hated it. I just wanted to write and participate in forensics.

    Fast forward 25 years. Life takes mysterious twists and turns. I stepped back one day recently and discovered that the one thing I learned in high school that is more important to my life and current career than anything else is: algebra. I use it EVERY day. I want to time travel and smack that young, writing history buff in the back of the head. And I thank God the state of Tennessee required at least one year of algebra, whether I liked it or not.

    Amazingly, over time, I learned to love algebra and geometry. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had at work was last year, when a coworker and I poured over how to code the calculations for determining the distance between two lattitude/longitude pairs, accounting for the curvature of the earth.

    I think there are basics that every child should learn, just to be able to properly function in our world – regardless of his preferences.

  101. Well, look, I want to make it clear that I don’t think that all kids who are passionate about one thing at age 10, 12, 15, or whatever will inevitably end up being passionate about something else. The little girl across the street from me when I was a kid didn’t want to do anything but dance, and a professional ballet dancer is what she became. My husband, a journalist, was making little newspapers when he was 8. Of course he took some wierd detours out of journalism and back.

    But I know that my husband’s detours have made him better at the work he came back to. And he’s a living example of how the different things one learns enrich each other.

    The thing is: we’re all talking here about learning as something that can be embraced passionately. And I think that as long as a person has that, s/he will be okay. The question ought to be, how do we (1) get schools to foster that passion and to take it seriously even if it’s directed at becoming a tailor (for instance) and (2) show kids that the passion for learning one thing is transferrable? As Henry Tilney says in Northanger Abbey, “‘The mere habit of learning to love is the thing.’”

  102. As Henry Tilney says in Northanger Abbey, “‘The mere habit of learning to love is the thing.’”

    And for a moment I actually thought, in my sleep-deprived author’s mind,

    “Henry Tinley? I thought Austen wrote that book.”

  103. Any discussion about schools and school change has to encompass a number of issues – not because there’s anything intrinsic about that particular set of issues with regard to learning and schools, but because they’re what our current system covers now, and there will be a vacuum created if things are changed.

    Content: Which subjects get taught? How much depth do they go into?
    Assessment: How do we know students are learning? What types of things do we test for (recieved knowledge vs. critical thinking, etc.)? What kind of structure do we have in place to make sure this assessment is fair and actually gets at what we want students to know when they’re done? What weight do these eventual assessments have? (A GED is supposed to be equivalent to a High School diploma, but it certainly doesn’t signal the same thing to a potential employer. Same with home-schooled degrees, no matter what the quality of the eventual candidate. How do we deal with this?)
    Physical constraints: Where do the students physically exist in this system? How do we deal with students from different backgrounds? (Homeschool might be viable for kids in some environments, but disastrous in others because of gangs, environmental hazards, overcrowding, or other factors unrelated to the student’s aptitude or the school system’s preparedness) How do students, particularly poor students, get to and from the place where learning happens? If we put students to work, what accomodations do we make for the time learning needs to happen? (If they work half the day, how do they get to and from their jobs? 12 year olds can’t drive, no matter how rich they are. If they work full days, when do they learn? How do they get the exercise their growing bodies need? What kind of jobs are they qualified for? Most of our low-skill jobs are also quite dangerous, and tend to require physical strength that kids just don’t have.)
    Access: Where are materials located? How do we ensure that students have access to the material, information, and guidance they need? How do underprivileged students gain access to things? What do we do for students with disabilities? How do we make sure everyone who needs things under the system can get to them and use them? How do we deal with language needs? What opportunities are there for remediation? How do we make sure that people know what resources are available? Who teaches people how to use resources if they don’t already know how?
    Supervision: Who is responsible for student safety? If they’re not in school, who is watching them? How much guidance are students entitled to under this system? What is the role of adults? Who is the go-to person for legal concerns, content questions, material access, and other issues? What are parents’ responsibilities?
    Socialization: When do students get to interact with each other? How much supervision is provided for those interactions? If there are fights, what responsibility do adults have? What kinds of activities are group activities, and which ones are solitary? How does a system accomodate students who learn better in groups than alone? If there are no schools, how does one ensure that students with limited resources have equal opportunities for socialization in safe environments?
    Student needs: Right now, poor students can get free lunch at public schools, students with certain physical and mental health needs can have them met at schools, and individualized education plans can be made for students with disabilities. Teachers and other school administrators are as a matter of course mandated reporters. How are proposed changes going to affect these issues? If schools don’t do it (or don’t exist), where are these resources going to come from? If those resources aren’t provided, how does the system adapt to the attrition caused by these issues?
    Certification and quality control: How are teachers (if any) certified? How are materials checked for quality? Who monitors the content of online material? How are adults in the system screened? If students are the main directors of their educational courses, how does one assure that they get the best information for their chosen field of study?
    Choice and freedom: How much choice do students have over what they learn? How much freedom do they have to manage their own time? What subjects must be learned to graduate, and which ones are optional? Adolescents and teenagers, heck even adults, are not always the best at time management, or at knowing what they need to accomplish a given thing. How much freedom is overwhelming, and how much is affirming?
    Rules and enforcement: If there are rules, what structures do we have in place to enforce them? If learning is decentralized (say, in homes), in what way do we deal with monitoring and infractions? If there are no rules, how do we ensure that people have the best chance at accomplishing what they need to accomplish in the way that is best for them?
    Personalization: How do we make sure everyone gets what is best for their education? How does the system take into account different learning styles? How does the system deal with differences in interest? What measures are in place to make sure that people are accurately measured in a way that is compatible with their learning style and needs?

    And those are just a few off the top of my head. Abolishing the system we have now leaves huge gaps that need to be addressed. Continuing with the system we have now leaves different gaps to be addressed. But we have to take these things into account. What do we do with poor people? People with learning disabilities? People with physical disabilities? People who learn best in groups? People who learn best alone? Where do we put people during the day?

  104. Who’s “we” kemosabe?
    Where do “we” put people?
    Kids are not ours to put anywhere, poor or disabled or even academically passionate kids on a government reservation, unless of course they actually are OURS (I have two, Nance has two, Kay has a few. Anybody else in this conversation have any actual kids whose education you’re directly responsible for, or its it other people’s kids you’re planning where to put all day?)

    I think the elephant in education’s living room remains compulsion, Public control of private lives isn’t what’s good for poor people or any form of freedom a democratic republic should defend as progress or equality, and it surely isn’t liberal or education.

    Take state compulsion with criminal penalties away from state-funded schooling and the conversation magically becomes much less fraught and much more educational. Until then it is about political power to control the population. No matter what you call it or how good you think it would be for someone else’s kids.

    FWIW Kay’s central idea about reforming dysfunctional public schooling has always been to abolish compulsion for everyone — not to abolish opportunities for anyone.

  105. *takes a deep breath*

    The system does not, in fact, have to have compulsion. You’ll note that a lot of the questions were formulated to include the possibility of not having rules, not having a centralized space, etc. “We” is society. We don’t necessarily have to have a Commons (I believe we do in order to have a fully functional society, but I recognize that’s not intrinsic to this either), but we do need to have some sort of system in place, even if it’s a formalized version of everyone on their own. The questions need to be answered, even if the answer is ‘no.’

    “Where do we put people?” could have been better phrased for your purposes as “where do people go?” The issue remains the same – there needs to be a place where learning happens, whether that place is “wherever you wind up” or “in a school” or “at work” or whatever.

    And please, don’t call me kemosabe. I have a screenname. Use it, or address questions generally.

  106. Btw Madeleine L”Engle just passed away. I heard a replay interview with her on NPR in tribute coming home this afternoon, highlighting that she would’ve agreed with dophin, at least about this:
    Almost all of L’Engle’s books stress the interconnectedness of all things.

    Pavavotti and L’Engle, damn, a dark week.

  107. JJ, with all respect, can I ask whether you and B, or you and someone else involved in this discussion, have some old nasty history? I’m not trying to be nosy or stir things up but I have to say that I’ve never heard of you before and yet here you come in with guns blazing (to continue your Lone Ranger riff), casting aspersions at everyone but Bridgett, ignoring questions and comments except to go off on tangents about how we aren’t addressing coercion, and generally acting like you have a right to be mad at all of us without even having met us. And I’d like to know why, since most of us are trying to have a discussion and the hostility is kind of interfering.

    Anyway, I’m out of here to go to a ball game.

  108. That was a widely known idiom, not ignorance of your screen name. You’ve never heard it or you just like to complain?

    A) It was before my time.
    B) The term has unfortunate racial overtones, particularly because although innocuous as originally rendered it is generally a term directed at PoC, rather than one used by them. Including this particular case.
    C) It’s still not my name, and in the context given, quite rude. It serves the same verbal purpose as a pat on the head at best, and a dismissal at worst.

  109. You know, the more I think about it, the more this reminds me of FEMA. FEMA, for instance, used to work. Maybe not perfectly all the time, but when FEMA showed up, stuff got done. Then a bunch of folks who fundamentally believe federal programs are nothing but corrupt boondoggles that don’t work were elected into office and, lo and behold, FEMA became an ineffectual, corrupt boondoggle that is more hinderence than help.

    This seems to be something similar, where you have some folks who believe that giving kids a uniform set of skills, while allowing for them to explore their passions, and teaching them to read, write, and think critically about the things that confront them is a fundamental good. We might not think that our schools are doing as good a job at that as they might, but we believe the idea of public schools to be a good one, not just for the kids, but for all of society.

    And then there are folks who believe that, at heart, the whole idea of public schools is a bad one, that individuals should be in charge of their own education and the education of their children and that pretty much anything that requires the cooperation of the whole community is communism and best to be fled from.

    It’s very hard for me to take seriously the suggestions of the “public schools suck and should be done away with” crowd because I have no way of knowing if you are making suggestions in order to make public schools better or in order to further your argument that they should be done away with.

    JJ, please be respectful of the other commenters here. I don’t for a second believe you don’t understand why a white person calling a black person “kemosabe” is fucking mean.

    You can’t have it both ways. You can’t put forth pissed-off, witty comments that indicate you’re brilliant and also pretend like you’re too stupid to understand why that kemosabe comment is bullshit. Because folks will see right through that.

  110. Also, I resent the implication that Mag and I (among others) have no right to talk about education. Just because we’re not parading B’neloquence out at every turn and holding her up like some fetish to ward off homeschoolers doesn’t mean we don’t care about the education of our lovely daughter.

  111. Now you assume I know know the color of the person I was disagreeing with about compulsory attendance, and you’re calling me fucking mean? That’s assuming a lot more than Kay’s motives for caring about education, which is where I came in. Thanks for the invite nm, but it obviously was as misplaced as Aunt B’s original slam of Kay . . y’all just get thew world like you want it and I’m sure people will submit to your plan because you say so. Also outta here.

  112. Does anyone else find it a wee bit odd that the person who is against societal compulsion (other than me, of course) is the one trying to compel a direction of conversation?

    Now you assume I know know the color of the person I was disagreeing with about compulsory attendance, and you’re calling me fucking mean?

    Why would you use that phrase with anyone, regardless of his or her colour? It’s glibness doesn’t match the tenor (Ha! Pavarotti!) of the conversation.

    And yes, I know the origin of the phrase.

  113. JJ, with all respect, can I ask whether you and B, or you and someone else involved in this discussion, have some old nasty history?

    I think that may just be JJ’s way. I dipped over to his or her place where he/she accused Aunt B. of thinking “everybody BUT the whitest, brightest kids need and deserve public schooling[.]” I challenged him/her on the accuracy of the statement, and his/her response was to call me names and ask if I was old enough to use the internet by myself. I tried again noting that I wasn’t interested in exchanging insults, and the only response was some lamentation of “the state of young liberal blogging.” Come to think of it someone who says “Now you assume I know know the color of the person I was disagreeing with” was mighty quick to assume that I was in middle school.

    When someone throws around insults twice without offering any response to the substance being discussed, I lose interest. But all of that is to say that I don’t really think he or she has a bad history with anybody here, I just think he/she’s a run of the mill blog-troll.

  114. Ms. Coble:

    Ms. Confer,
    I’m curious about your background.
    ********
    My background: Um. . . diverse. . . typical. . . what do want to know? Currently, 50-year-old Mom to two happily unschooling children and Aunt to one visiting 1-year-old nephew. He doesn’t read or compute, yet. :) But the other two do. One more so than the other. And the other, leans the other way.

    And, you are right, I have seen no reason to insist that they do identical things. They are each developing in their own way.

    And if the rain holds off, we’re going to the beach.

    If there’s anything else you’d like to know, feel free to ask. And feel free to call me Nance. :)

    Nance

  115. Ms. Coble:

    Ms. Confer,
    I’m curious about your background.
    ********
    My background: Um. . . diverse. . . typical. . . what do want to know? Currently, 50-year-old Mom to two happily unschooling children and Aunt to one visiting 1-year-old nephew. He doesn’t read or compute, yet. :) But the other two do. One more so than the other. And the other, leans the other way.

    And, you are right, I have seen no reason to insist that they do identical things. They are each developing in their own way.

    And if the rain holds off, we’re going to the beach.

    If there’s anything else you’d like to know, feel free to ask. And feel free to call me Nance. :)

    Nance

  116. And I thank God the state of Tennessee required at least one year of algebra, whether I liked it or not.

    Amazingly, over time, I learned to love algebra and geometry. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had at work was last year, when a coworker and I poured over how to code the calculations for determining the distance between two lattitude/longitude pairs, accounting for the curvature of the earth.
    **********

    I find it difficult to believe that a few nights with a basic algebra text couldn’t have gotten you up to speed and made that year in TN a bit more enjoyable.

    But if that is what you want to inpose on your children, so be it. Force and compulsion — one way to go. Life is hard, everyone suffers, do it or else — one approach.

    Ours is a different path. Not filled with compulsion. But with goals that sometimes require us to spend time doing something we might not love to achieve that goal.

    That may look like the same thing from the outside but, I promise you, it feels completely different. And the larger lesson is that goals can be achieved, do take work, but do not have to be done on someone else’s timetable or with a huge waste of time.

    It may be a matter of worldview more than any of the particulars.

    Nance

  117. Well Nance,

    I think you’ve reminded me how much I need to go and call my parents and THANK THEM for forcing/compelling me to do things I might otherwise not have done, but that were very good for me indeed.

    I have another name for it: parenting.

  118. there will be a vacuum created if things are changed.

    ********

    And nature abhors a vacuum? Or maybe not.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_thermodynamics#Contributions_from_antiquity

    Do not fear the vacuum. You can live your life without the structure that school provides. Really. More and more people do it all the time.

    OTOH, at least this post addresses the really important feature of public school for many families — “Where do we put people during the day?” — babysitting.

    Or is it about learning:

    “The issue remains the same – there needs to be a place where learning happens, whether that place is “wherever you wind up” or “in a school” or “at work” or whatever.”

    Or is it about tracking:

    “. . . but we do need to have some sort of system in place, even if it’s a formalized version of everyone on their own.”

    For those of us comfortable with the notion that the last two things — learning and tracking — are not everyone else’s business, we are left with babysitting. And I, for one, have absolutely no problem with providing fabulous babysitting services for all.

    Nance

  119. This seems to be something similar, where you have some folks who believe that giving kids a uniform set of skills, while allowing for them to explore their passions, and teaching them to read, write, and think critically about the things that confront them is a fundamental good. We might not think that our schools are doing as good a job at that as they might, but we believe the idea of public schools to be a good one, not just for the kids, but for all of society.

    ***********

    It’s the “We might not think that our schools are doing as good a job at that as they might,” part of this where it all falls apart.

    If the idea is not being achieved, and tinkering has not worked, what is the point in keeping the same old same old? Why not radically rethink what “public schools” could be?

    Which, I think, is where Kay started. :)

    Nance

  120. But all of that is to say that I don’t really think he or she has a bad history with anybody here, I just think he/she’s a run of the mill blog-troll.
    *****
    Ha!

    First, JJ is a she. She is often mistaken for a man on line because she writes so forcefully. But no need to continue with the he/she business. She’s definitely a she. :)

    More importantly, she is hardly “run of the mill” anything.

    She is a brilliant writer who spends much of her time learning with her two wonderful children and some of her time commenting on all things related to education and learning.

    It has been my pleasure to know JJ for years now and to collaborate on several projects.

    We do not always agree on every jot and tittle (and that is one of the things that I have enjoyed in discussing things with JJ — when we do disagree, I find she really listens and is capable of changing her mind or taking the time to talk with me as I come around to her point of view or, most amazingly, respecting my different opinion as neither one of us changes our thinking — as I don’t think we are likely to do when I write to her about a post she made about respecting religion more than I have a tendency to do. . . hmm. . . that should be interesting. . . ) but I almost always find JJ’s writing to be worth reading.

    She is not everyone’s cup of tea, of course. But she is certainly not “run of the mill”!!

    Nance

  121. But with goals that sometimes require us to spend time doing something we might not love to achieve that goal.

    That’s quite brilliant. And I would like to see teachers (or unteachers) all sufficiently prepared to get the kids in their care to trust them this much. If we were able to perceive the less enjoyable things we have to learn in this way, we’d all be happier.

    But I think that your dismissal of one of Magni’s concerns: “Where do we put people during the day?” — babysitting. misses precisely this point. Most parents must work. They don’t have the luxury of staying home and being full-time supervisors of or participants in (depending on point of view) their childrens’ education. Do you condemn those kids to babysitters? Or do you want them learning? If it’s the latter, then some sort of community/communal institution is going to be necessary. Schools, unschooling, whatever: the resources have to be available.

  122. And nature abhors a vacuum? Or maybe not.

    This has nothing to do with aphorisms and everything to do with the world we’ve got. The current school system addresses, however imperfectly, those questions. If something different takes the place of that system, those questions have to be answered anew.

    If you’re relying on schools to feed your children, and then suddenly there are no schools any more, then how are you going to feed them? If schools are the only safe and accessible place for your kids to be during the day, what are you going to do then? Systemic change needs to take into consideration the needs of the people in the system. Even if, at the end of the day, it turns out that the systemic answer is that there is no system and everyone has to fend for themselves. I don’t want to live in such a world, and I try to make my proposals cover as many of the bases as possible. If you want to live in a world where people without resources are condemned to be uneducated and exploited, fine… but be aware that your programs are going to have that effect.

  123. I don’t often take this route, because it’s not my style. I mean, after all, I’m the libertarian.

    And it kind of actually pains me to say this….

    But it seems like whenever this debate about lower educational structuring comes up, there are always people who are big proponents of things like Unschool / Homeschool / Otherschool.

    And it seems–my perception only–that many of these people, while advocating their particular lower educational format do not take into account the needs of people with different lifestyles.

    I don’t begrudge anyone who has the ability, either through wealth or personal sacrifice, to school their children non-traditionally.

    Heck, I’m a libertarian. I’d love for everyone to be able to school his or her child in the way they see fit. That’s my worldview.

    BUT there seems to be this lack of acknowledgement of the fact that some people DO count on the school system to feed and look after their children while they work.

    The unfortunate thing about modern compulsory lower education is that this has the effect of turning some schools into childveal pens. We all know that. We all know that to be a problem.

    We also know that’s why there is this great exodus from compulsory lower education into alternative formats. Again, I don’t mind. But all this talk about abolishing compulsory lower education doesn’t solve the problem of how we make sure these other members of our society are given some chance at having more than a subsistence life.

    I’ll be honest. My favourite solution is a system of privately run schools, both parochial and nonparochial, with the alternatives of homeschool / unschool /etc. available to those parents who wish to directly supervise their children’s learning process.

    Schools would receive population- and time- based grants from the current educational funding system to underwrite their processes.

    Each hour of a child’s educational time is equal to X dollars in funding.

    If a nonparochial school teaches a child for 7 hours a day from non-parochial subjects based on a choice of state-approved curriculae , they receive $7x for that child per day.

    If a parochial school teaches a child for 7 hours a day, 5 of which are non-parochial subjects based on a choice of state-approved curriculae, 2 are Bible/Koran/Holy Book based instruction, they receive $5x for that child per day.

    If a parochial school chooses to teach from non-state approved curriculae (like the A Beka book program) they would be ineligible for state funding.

    That way the state is still sponsoring children’s education without funding religious education. That keeps them from buying a say-so in religion–which is fantastic by me.

    This will allow kids who need a school environment to have one. It will allow all parents to select the best available school environment for their children.

    It won’t make the public schools happy, necessarily, but it isn’t as though they’re all doing a bang up job right now anyway.

    All this fuss over SSA here in nashville isn’t convincing me that they care all that much about “education” anyway.

  124. Eh, Kat, while we’re getting idealistic, let’s jettison the “current educational funding system” as well. Because it is one of the forces keeping the have-nots in the subsistence life. Our current educational funding system guarantees that those with the least resources get the least help, because it ties resources to property values in a given school district. I’d really like to see education and property values completely separated, but if we can’t do that, then let’s at least make school funding based on equal payouts from a state-wide revenue pool.

  125. Our current educational funding system guarantees that those with the least resources get the least help, because it ties resources to property values in a given school district.

    I guess I’m seeing my proposal as doing away with “districting” altogether.

    If you can choose to send your kid anywhere, and the payments are based on the number of recepients instead of the wealth of the surrounding homes, then you’d effectively experience the same thing.

    at least make school funding based on equal payouts from a state-wide revenue pool.

    Equal payouts seem to me like they actually would perpetuate the same type of system.

    Say you’ve got one of those McMansion families where the people are statistically having something like .83 kids per household now.

    Then you’ve got a lower-income family where they’ve got a large number of kids.

    In a choice-driven world, people tend to make the choices similar to those around them. So the McMansion families go to one school, the other families go to another.

    If both schools receive the same amount of money, then you’ve got fewer kids to burn through the McMansion School money, so those kids get more out of school.

  126. That’s an interesting idea, Kat. My only issue with it would be geographic limitations. The market would work out okay, but kids who live near their preferred schools and/or who have transportaiton to them would still have a leg up. Rich kids would still get to go wherever they pleased, and poor kids would still have a more limited range of schools based on who’s near them.

    In areas with plentiful schools, this is easily enough solved by busing (real busing, not the painful half-privatized mess we have here, where public schools hand out bus tokens to certain kids to get them to and from schools. The eligibility requirements are frightful, and it does nothing to help the fact that some kids still have to get on the bus three hours before school starts to get there even when it’s a 30 minute direct drive.)… but in areas where there is little school choice, you’d still wind up with some uncomfortable artifacts (although the money would help to dictate infrastructure changes, it would be really hard for a two-school area to cope with the fact that everyone wanted to go to one school over the other; they’d have to build new buildings, change things around, and in the meantime…. what? Not that this is all that different from now, but there’d still need to be some limits beyond ‘what the market will bear,’ just given the time necessary for the market to adapt.)

  127. I think you guys are actually saying sort-of the same thing, with regard to funding. I think nm was proposing doing away with the stupid feedbacky system we have right now, which penalizes poor schools and gives more money to rich ones. Direct funding for what gets taught, with the feedback coming from the people actually in the system (on the basis of school enrollment and choice and all that) would be better, but the money would need to be unhitched from the structures that hold it up right now.

    Here, for instance, we (used to) pay for our schools based on property taxes. Eventually we stopped, because the rich people sent their kids to private school and didn’t want to pay for public schooling … and the system sort of imploded. Doubly imploded, as it was the whole ‘white flight’ deal. I think having the funding attached to predictable sources that aren’t based on things like that would be better.

  128. I may get kicked off this comment thread for saying this.

    But here’s the thing.

    I don’t necessarily mind “rich kids” (or whom I believe should more accurately be called “the children of rich parents”) having a leg up.*

    I know that’s all very unpopulist of me, but whatever. If some people work hard and make sacrifices and become affluent, I think it’s fine for them to buy advantages for their kids. I mean, it sucks for everyone else, sure.

    And yes, part of me envied the kids who didn’t have to take out student loans, who got to drive nice cars to school, and wear nice clothes and weren’t the children of “staff”. But I figure I got trade offs–like maybe my parents were around more or taught me to value more things in life than money or whatever.

    But this whole “we can’t let anyone have something that someone else doesn’t have” mentality does NOT fly with me. I mean, I think we should do all we can within the educational system to provide sound basic opportunities across the board.

    That doesn’t mean we have to have goal-stifling socialistic penalties for those who are fortunate enough to have wealth.

    *(Despite what some folks think, I am not a child of rich parents. I am a child of solidly middle class parents who made a lot of sacrifices to get their 4 kids a decent education.)

  129. Equal payouts seem to me like they actually would perpetuate the same type of system.

    My lack of clarity. I meant “equal payments per student/hour.” Which I think is the same thing that you mean.

    And a partial solution to the problem Magni raises (which is, to my eyes as well, a real problem and not just a “deal with it” kind of thing) is to have the central payment-making, accrediting body help situate new, innovative programs in the poorer and/or less-easily-accessible neighborhoods. Then the kids from richer families can get driven there, and the poorer kids, being closer, can walk or be reasonably served by existing public transportation.

  130. BUT there seems to be this lack of acknowledgement of the fact that some people DO count on the school system to feed and look after their children while they work.
    ***
    It may seem that way but many of us who can homeschool do realize and acknowledge that it is not a practical option the way things are set up now.

    And I think you have made a fine start with your suggestions and the others that follow of talking about a radical change in the set up.

    Have to run. Will check back later.

    Nance

  131. Coble, I don’t mind rich kids having more than poor kids. I mind public schools providing more for rich kids than they do for poor kids. Everyone in public school should be getting the same opportunities as everyone else. If that means we start broadening the pool of money we pull from to fund education, so be it.

    I also want to reiterate that we’ve known for a long time what could improve education–capping class sizes at 15 and paying teachers competitive wages–and we don’t do it.

    Why?

    I suspect because we still undervalue women’s work and teaching is considered primarily women’s work.

    How do we rearrange spending priorities?

  132. But this whole “we can’t let anyone have something that someone else doesn’t have” mentality does NOT fly with me. I mean, I think we should do all we can within the educational system to provide sound basic opportunities across the board

    Oh, that wasn’t what I meant. Or, that is, I meant it a little, but not to the extent it’s displayed here. My main point was that school choice isn’t just about how good a school is, or how well it fits your child, or anything else like that; it also has a lot to do with the geographical layout of an area. I think if a system wants to promote true school choice, there needs to be sufficient transportation infrastructure to make it possible. Otherwise you get compromising artifacts in the system.

  133. I suspect because we still undervalue women’s work and teaching is considered primarily women’s work.

    I’d broaden this to include the concept of care work as a luxury, and the old non-profit ethos. There’s this idea that if you work in teaching, nursing, social justice, or other care work, you’re doing what you love (which is a luxury, naturally) and thus shouldn’t ask for money for it. Also, if you were paid competitively, that would make whatever you were doing cynical – you’d be doing it for the money and not because you love it, so you wouldn’t really be caring. (Which feeds back into the undervaluing women’s work, only via the cult of true womanhood angle.)

    And, of course, there’s also the weird idea that reducing class size (or funding teaching supplies, or hiring more teachers, or anything else that might make things easier) is coddling teachers and thus inefficient. This tends to spring from the concept of teaching as classroom management – set them down with an algebra textbook and they’ll learn; your job as a teacher is to make sure all the butts are in the seats and the heads are in the books.

    ..which is an entirely backwards understanding of teaching, but an unfortunately common one, especially when compounded with the ideas of kids (particularly teenagers) as ineducable brutes full of hormones (and you know those poor kids – all illiterate gangbangers). Because if you think that kids can’t really be educated at that age anyway, why on earth would you try to teach them? You’re just warehousing them until they’re old enough to either start learning again or not be your problem anymore.

    So I think it’s a combination of undervaluing women’s work (or care work in general, no matter who’s doing it, because people are mostly individuals and should be able to take care of themselves, and the work is at best a luxury, at worst a superficial diversion from the ‘real problems’), and a persistent underestimation of kids – particularly poor brown kids.

    Our constant exposure to Stand and Deliver type narratives (“virtuous miracle worker makes otherwise useless kids perform”; usually but not always “virtuous white miracle worker makes otherwise useless brown kids perform”), while some of my favorite genre movies, don’t really help. There’s this idea that somehow the problems are intrinsic (“most of those kids will never get anywhere”), but the solutions are individual (“but a talented person can get them to Really Care! Until the person inevitably quits teaching and gets a real job, at which point the kids are screwed.”).

  134. While I realize this discussion is primarily about public school reform, I’d like to correct an assumption that seems to get repeated often – that homeschooling is only for the privileged. The following data is from the National Center for Education Statistics, from their 2003 National Household Survey (the most recent available):

    “Both homeschooled students and public schooled students were less likely than private schooled students to be part of households with annual incomes above $75,000 and more likely to be part of households with annual incomes of $25,000 or less. Twenty-two percent of homeschooled students and 25 percent of public schooled students lived in households with annual incomes above $75,000, compared with 50 percent of private schooled students. Twenty-six percent of both homeschooled and public schooled students lived in households with annual incomes of $25,000 or less, compared with 9 percent of private schooled students.”

    Contrary to the notion that all homeschooling families have a mom or dad that doesn’t have to go to work, the NCES found that 41% of homeschooled students did not have the luxury of a non-working parent. (25% of homeschoolers lived in two-parent families where both parents worked full-time outside the home. 16% of homeschoolers lived in single-parent families where the single parent worked full-time outside the home.) 5% of homeschoolers had unemployed parents (no parent in the family had work).

    The NCES only looked at unemployment and full-time employment outside the home. Many, if not most, homeschooling parents that don’t work full-time earn some income working part-time, either in home businesses, or outside the home. Some actually work full-time in home businesses, but were not included as working parents because they did not work outside the home.

    Moreover, homeschooling families, on average, have more mouths to feed. 62% of homeschoolers had families with three or more children, compared with only 44% of children in public school. Just 10% of homeschoolers were only children, compared with 16% of children in public school.

    The bottom line is that homeschoolers’ families are less well off, on average, than the average public school student’s family. Working, single parents are well-represented in the homeschooling population, as are families in poverty, and two-working-parent families.

  135. Perhaps this conversation was coming to its natural end already when I came along, but I wanted to apologize if my previous comment somehow stifled the flow. That wasn’t my intention.

  136. JJP, no need to apologize at all. I do think the conversation was just winding down naturally (though I could be wrong. I certainly didn’t think it would go on this long). Plus, one thing I’ve noticed about blogging (aside from “if you pass it along without comment, people will assume you approve of it”) is that, if you give people information that is widely different than what they expect–for instance that there are a lot of poor people who home school–but that they assume is the truth, they often won’t say anything in response right away.

    It’s like everyone needs a while to figure out how to fit that into their understanding of the situation.

    I know that was my response. Hmm, I said to myself, I wonder what that means and what I might take from it.

    I don’t have a good answer yet, but I’m mulling it over.

  137. I think things were just wrapping up, jpp.

    You do make some good points with your stats though. Not all of us who are hsing are rich. Or white. Or married.

    More and more so, imo, as more parents become disgusted with the effects of NCLB. I think a lot of parents, like me, start off with the ps system as the natural course of things and then discover what ps is really like, become disappointed and start to look for alternatives.

    Nance

  138. JJP, you chimed in at more or less what has typically been the normal end-point (in terms of numbers of comments) for long threads over here.

    I’m really interested in some of your numbers, though. This in particular:

    41% of homeschooled students did not have the luxury of a non-working parent. (25% of homeschoolers lived in two-parent families where both parents worked full-time outside the home. 16% of homeschoolers lived in single-parent families where the single parent worked full-time outside the home.)

    This suggests to me that even more academics (who have the flexible schedules, the ability to bring kids to work, and, in theory at least, the teaching ability) than I had thought are homeschooling. I kind of think this is a shame, since the cumulative presence of those families in the public school system could make a huge difference towards making things better. But it’s certainly understandable. I can’t tell you the number of academics I have met who just don’t find regular schools good enough at instilling a love of learning. My own impression from my own upbringing is that parents who love learning teach it to their kids by example, and having all those books around lets the kids get going whenever they want to. But I don’t find the numbers as startling as B seems to.

  139. I don’t know. On the one hand, it’s an interesting observation (Is this where you got that?) and interesting data. Certainly, we’ve been downplaying the existence of lower income families in the set. On the other hand, I don’t find it all that surprising either.

    I… yeah. Part of me wants to point out that it’s still a really complicated picture, and that the information given doesn’t actually dispell much of what I was saying. The fact that homeschoolers generally have more kids than non-homeschoolers can indicate a lot of things, but the thing it most indicates to me is economics of scale and differences in daily patterning. It’s more efficient to educate groups of kids than it is to educate kids singly. If you’re going to take off work (or make whatever arrangements you need), then, well, it makes more sense for three kids than one.

    And the data breaks down in interesting ways around race:

    In 2003, as in 1999, the homeschooling rate for White students (2.7 percent) was higher than for Black students (1.3 percent) or Hispanic students (0.7 percent). [table]

    … but mostly, I just don’t feel like arguing any more. It doesn’t seem to accomplish much except making me want to throw things, and I’m tired.

  140. Well, I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t surprised.

    I know about 17 sets of homeschooled families. In only ONE instance is the family what I would consider to be upper middle class.

    In every other instance they are not at all wealthy. Hence one of my main concerns about Homeschooling parents emphasising their strengths and tabling their weaknesses.

    (This is all a very ncie way for me to try to say “I know a lot of families who are training their daughters for housewifery without giving any CHANCE at anything better.)

  141. Aunt B., thanks. I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t blustered in and messed up a good conversation for you.

    Nance, I think you’re right about the reason for a lot of the growth in homeschooling. I have met many, many parents who turned to homeschooling only after putting great effort into trying to make their schools better, but came to realize that they couldn’t effect change nearly fast enough to make a difference for their own child. Ultimately, those parents weren’t willing to sacrifice their child’s education and/or well-being, when they knew there was another viable alternative.

    nm, it’s hard to know how many academics there are homeschooling. I don’t know of any statistics specifically on that, but the NCES numbers say that 2.5 percent of children of parents with advanced degrees/certificates beyond a bachelor’s (which would include those with teaching certificates) are homeschooled, compared with 2.2 percent of the general population. That category also includes all the various other advanced degee types, like doctors, lawyers, etc., so it would seem that if academics are overrepresented, it couldn’t be by much. I agree with you that parents’ love of learning does tend to rub off on their children.

    magniloquence, yes that is the NCES report. Some of what I have quoted comes from the various tables in the full report, but I think it’s all there online. I noted the family size because I was making a point about families’ economic situation. Low income and poverty thresholds generally consider both family income and family size, because even though there is some economy of scale, there is still greater expense for basic needs associated with having more people in a household. I agree with you that there is likely to be some economy of scale in terms of homeschooling though.

    With regard to race/ethnicity, yes white students are overrepresented in comparison with black and hispanic students. Take a look at that table though, and you will see something else interesting. Students in the “other” race/ethnicity category are homeschooled at a rate of 3%. That’s higher than the rate of homeschooling among white students (2.7%). My own anecdotal experience bears this out, in homeschooling seeing support groups all over the place with many multi-racial families. In fact, when my children were younger, they couldn’t describe the majority of their homeschooled friends as white or black or hispanic, because it was often nearly impossible to sort that out unless they told you. Instead, they used phrases like, “Kyra is the girl with darkish orangey brown hair who’s a little lighter than Tony but darker than Shakti.” (Kyra’s mom was from India, and her dad had one white parent and one black parent.)

    Katherine, that’s pretty close to the kind of economic ratios I’ve seen in the inclusive (not religiously based) groups as well. Among families that teach their daughters that their calling is to be a good wife and mother, my experience is that they are at least as strict with their daughters’ academics as they are with their sons’. They want them to be able to homeschool their children, after all. By all indicators we have (test scores and that sort of thing), the girls are doing as well academically as the boys. That’s not to say that there aren’t families that do neglect the girls’ educations, just that in my experience it isn’t common, and it isn’t reflected in the research in terms of outcomes.

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