On Home Schooling

People did not agree with my comments on home schooling. In this video, I respond with my grounds for objecting to home schooling and describing what an appropriate alternative, community schooling, would look like.


  1. Stephen, the video is down...all I'm hearing is silence. It's not eloquent.

  2. Got it this time...it was more eloquent. I don't know if you were deliberately inflammatory in your 'child abuse' comments in order to spark debate or not; it certainly worked.

    The homeschooling situation varies considerably depending on where you are. In Ontario it is, or was, completely unregulated in any way. In the US, it varies from state to state. One of the systems there, which I think is useful in the 'don't be psychotic' department is that the children and their parents must provide a portfolio of the work the child has completed, and I believe, an interview is conducted as well. I cannot remember if it is every term, semester or every year.

    The other reality is that if the parents are rabid enough in their psychotic beliefs, it is very difficult for the child even if they are in school for great chunks of the day. Damning homeshooling for this is harsh.

    If you are really going to wade into this debate in a serious way, you probably should do a little more research about what is going on in the homeschooling world across Canada and the US.

    There are also communities that have set up homeschools, in that not every parent stays home, some support it financially or in other ways and some parents teach...closer to the community system you discussed, and potentially more equitable for different economic groups.

    oh, and BC has some fascinating homeschooling programs that are really more of a distance learning situation for kids that live in very remote locations within the provice.

    Homeschooling is a slippery term. Glad you posted your video to clarify what you mean.

  3. A spirited, reasoned response. I'll have to stew on it for a while, and maybe watch again before going too deep on a response. If you have your notes in digital form, would you mind posting them here as well? I think it's harder for me to follow and process the sequential nature of video.

    My first impression is that you've still used too narrow a definition in your analysis. There's such a wide spectrum of options and approaches under the perceived banner of homeschooling. And I think many homeschoolers are already doing a version of what you'd call community schooling, with tentative and mixed support of "the system". It's the success of those early hybrid models that will likely usher them in as mainstream options. That seems like a better path than trying to design the entire new system first and then magically flipping the switch on it when it is "ready".

    The homelearners program our school district offers might be closer to your proposed model than the old work-at-home-alone stereotypes. Students get approved curriculum, full-time access to a learning center, one day a week of optional classes or tutoring help with a qualified teacher who also oversees the students' progress in other areas. They organize community visits, field trips, connect families to each other and to community programs and resources, and receive funding and guidance for learning materials.

    I believe kids in the program can also take online courses from the district's virtual school and participate in district-approved extracurricular activities like teams. To qualify for the benefits of the program, families have to prove that they're meeting the provincial learning outcomes for the required courses.

    So that approach is definitiely not unschooling, which I think of as the homelearning families who basically reject any governmental guidance, accountability or interference. We have friends doing both options, and there are benefits to both approaches. Our kids, meanwhile are starting in the regular public school and results have been mixed so far. But that's another story, methinks.

    The equity argument is one I hadn't considered. None of the homeschooling families we know are rich by any definition -- they've made sacrifices to keep a parent at home because they feel it's the best thing for them, sometimes because of a learning disability, or bad social experiences, or a sense of fostering the self-actualization of very smart kids who aren't well served in school. It feels like a duty to them, not a luxury...and I don't blame them. It seems to be less elitism and more pure need.

    Also related to the equity question, it reminds me that I've been wanting to ask you recently about your take on educating gifted kids and gifted programs. I've been following one excellent blog on the topic, and wondered whether you might have been identified as gifted in high school if there had been proper testing and programs in place at the time (just from what you've said over the years about your school experience matching traits associated with giftedness). Anyway, one of the arguments against separate gifted programs (and schools for the gifted) is this issue of equity and charges of elitism. But in sports and music, talented kids have those interests fostered and encouraged in every way. Should the most intelligent kids (maybe 95th percentile) be forced to learn with their same-age peers when their intellectual development is two or three years ahead?

  4. I replied anonymously about by son and bullying in response to your previous post. I recall three main points from your video (it's much easier replying to text): equity, "don't be psychotic", and the importance of community context.

    First, equity seems to me to be largely a straw man. While I agree that we should not create one system for the rich and one for the poor, home schooling isn't about to replace the public system, even for the well-to-do. I don't see it in the same league as the more prominent inequity of public vs private. Banning home schooling does not significantly improve equity, but it does close off a valuable alternative for the few children who need it and the few parents willing to put in the effort.

    Second, you assume that public school teaches students "don't be psychotic". Do you have any evidence that it is better at this? I suspect it is worse. Public school (especially high school) is an artificial environment cut off from society at large or even from a diversity of ages or occupations. In a sense, it is the "classroom in a garage" you decry. Our schools are organized like factories or warehouses. When they go on strike, the primary concern parents is not education - it is the loss of somewhere to send their kids for a day.

    Formaly, school has a strictly hierarchical social structure; informally it is a microsociety created by kids in a narrow band of age ranges with little reference to social norms or authorities. Peer pressure overwhelms cultural norms. I repeat that school is a site of regular child abuse. Bullying is widespread, and often superficially or hypocritically addressed. When schools fail to address bullying in the interests of children (as opposed to treating it as a communication, image, or control problem), they undermine their integrity of authority and that of society at large. The lesson learned in the jungle is not "don't be psychotic".

    The content of schooling and the mechanisms of assessment similarly often teach hypocrisy, dishonesty, and cynicism. For students, much of what they are forced to learn is irrelevant, but they are threatened with the fear that they will fail at life if they do jump through the hoops. They must choose between rebellion, uncritical obedience, or "going along to get along". Education and self development is an end in itself. But in school, marks, not learning, is what counts: a student is expected to replace his or her system of internal values with the external mechanism of the system. School objectifies learning, draining it of meaning and relevance: it becomes something external to the student. You say children have a right to an education. In practice, it is the school that has the right to the child's education.

    Third and finally, you argue for the importance of community context. I couldn't agree more. This is a wider problem in an atomized society, but it is particularly acute for child-rearing and education. We need to solve this for every kind of schooling. In some ways, public schools may address this better - for example by mixing together a diversity of students. In other ways, as I describe, they are cut off from society at large. Overall, I don't see that public schooling is necessarily superior in this way.

    Obviously, despite my criticisms many students are happy with school, and emerge after 13 (!) years well-adjusted and somewhat educated. The experience of a given child is a combined product of the system, the teachers, and the student him or herself. It works better for some kids than for others. Though by all accounts, the great successes are due to the excellence of individual educators, not of the structural superiority of the institution.

  5. Unfortunately, I think you take a narrow view of homeschooling based on what you think might happen and use that to paint with a rather broad brush as to what homeschooling is about.

    Homeschooling is not an attempt to replicate school in our garage. It isn't isolated to well-off parents. And it isn't a system, nor an attempt to replace the current system.

    I agree that children are not the property of their parents, but nor are they the property of the state. By the nature of their relationship, the parent is infinitely more qualified to make educational decisions on their children's behalf than a legislator or school official.

    Anyway, I'll respond in more depth tonight. Responding to video is a little more difficult.

  6. Wow- WAY too many faulty assumptions, and little or no research to support criticisms of home education.

    Qualifications ensure successful education? Sorry, there is just too much evidence to the contrary. I'd post a link but you need to do your own homework. I have already done mine. ;)

    Motivations and content? Jails and mental institutions are full of psychotic people who are products of an education system staffed with 'professional' educators. So... what does that mean, and should we infer anything from that?

    BTW, psychosis is "a fundamental derangement of the mind (as in schizophrenia) characterized by defective or lost contact with reality especially as evidenced by delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized speech and behavior." You might want to back that train of thought into the station for repairs if you are suggesting that most (or even a significant percentage)of children being taught by a parent could result in such a condition.

    Although outsourcing potty-training is an attractive notion. :p

    Why are parental values suspect, but professional educator's values appear to be above suspicion? And why would credentials magically supply parents with values that they lacked before? Last time I looked, professors with advanced degrees were still humanoid carbon-based life forms.

    One of the things home education opponents seldom consider is the assumption of guilt when you require the gov't to enter the homes of the citizens and dictate their lifestyle and values. If there is evidence of abuse and neglect, there are laws in place to address that. Criminalizing or hamstringing parents who desire to provide their children with a quality, personalized education is a slippery slope that no American should be greasing up with intrusive legislation and policies that have no supportive research.

    Of course children are not property, and I don't know of any homeschooling parent who considers them as such- but they are our primary responsibility, not the state's, not the community's, not the school's.

    As for resources, you didn't look very hard- or don't you have a local library? BTW, have you ever considered how folks received an education in America in, say, the 1700's?

    Home school is not school-at-home. Again- you have done no research done here. As has been said, most home educators are very active in their communities. Many take advantage of the knowledge and talents of folks in their neighborhoods, who own local businesses or offer lessons and workshops in various hobbies and skills. There are quite a few apprenticeship opportunities available in most areas, and if you can't find one, you can make one by talking to local businessmen. That's what we did for our firstborn, who trained and certified in HVAC before he was even 18.

    Quite frankly, it will be the efforts and courageous frontierism of home educators that will bring about your educational paradigm, and not those in the system.

    As for equity, this is yet another faulty assumption, that only wealthy two-parent homes can afford to home educate their children. I have been a home educator for 13+ years, and most of those years we lived below poverty level, but because we are frugal and creative, we live very well in a nice neighborhood. I have never met a homeschooling family in all those years who was 'wealthy', but I have met several single parents and folks who would be considered 'the working poor' who provided a top-notch education for their children.

    In closing, I think both posts are as valid as my opinions on what life on Mars is like. Ain't never been there, and have a vague knowledge of the atmospheric conditions and terrain, but you'd only take me seriously if I worked for NASA, and even better, if I was an astronaut that had actually been there. Well, when you have done some research, talked more with actual non-psychotic home educators, then I and others who are from Planet Homeschool will be more inclined to take your criticisms seriously.

  7. OK, so you say some things about a new system that makes some sense...SOME SENSE. But as a whole, you are off base.

    Especially when you begin to talk about equity. I removed my kids from the public school system because they were in inequitable positions. So are you saying that I need to leave my kids in those unfair positions... so that they CAN be psychotic... until all of society as a whole can come up with a system that allows all kid fair treatment. Life is not fair! I know that... but I am not going to make my kids life more unfair so that all kids can gain fairness together.

  8. I must say that every time I think of the use of the term 'psychotic' in reference to results of a method of education, I have a mental flash of the characters in the movie "The Breakfast Club". ;)

  9. Thank you Stephen- this debate has got me thinking....I suspect that part of the debate centres around the definition of homeschooling- whether it involves one or two parents 'teaching' their children in isolation from the community and other influences and resources, or whether there is more of a community focus with a range of skills and perspectives available. In NZ distance education those who are entitled to free enrolment in state funded distance ed. programmes are not considered home schoolers. The equity of opportunity is a really good point worth considering in the debate.

  10. As others have said, you haven't done any real research to back up your opinions, and it shows.

    I'm just going to address equity and community from my personal experience. While I have met rich homeschoolers, most of the wealthy people I have met use private schools. When we started homeschooling and for several years afterwards, we were eligible for food-stamps. I know a single mother of ten kids (most of the kids are black) who homeschools, and she utilizes the food pantry to get by. We have home-schooled while living in a rented trailer, in a rented two bedroom house, and in a 1200 square foot house with one bathroom (there were nine of us). We are much more financially comfortable now, but my husband does not work in a high-paying job. Homeschooling is not just for the wealthy (and some basic research would have shown you that there are many low income homeschoolers, and many more middle income homeschoolers. One wonders why you didn't check out the actual data?). A library card is an excellent homeschooling resource. We have seven children, and we have homeschooled when in years when our income was below the poverty line for a family that size, and in years where we were comfortably middle class. Our homeschooling was essentially the same no matter what our income (except I was more judicious with resources purchased when we were poorer).

    Community: We've moved a lot over the years due to my husband's job. So we've done different things in different places- NOT all these things at once. The kids have volunteered at local nursing homes, vet clinics, animal shelters, petting zoos, the library, helping out a school for the blind, just visiting elderly friends and neighbors, cleaning house for an older lady who needed it, for a young mother who needed it, transcribing Civil War era documents, sop kitchens, packaging care packages for children in third world countries, caring for other people's children, pet-sitting, and more.
    We've been in home-school co-ops where we worked with other homeschoolers to produce a play, offer a dissection course, offer a sewing class, take Spanish together, learn sign language, start a reading club, discuss poetry, art lessons, take more field trips than I can shake a stick at, and more.
    The kids have, at various times, been in 4-H, church clubs, and brownies, and more.
    We know homeschooled groups that host spelling bees, sports clubs, bands, debate clubs, and more (we haven't done these things).
    Currently, we get together with another family to do Shakespeare, art, and other things together. We have interrupted lessons to take advantage of spur of the moment opportunities such as:
    Listening to the piano tuner tell us about his experiences working for the resistance in Holland during WW2, and how and why he immigrated to Canada afterwards.
    Listen to a neighbor tell us about her life growing up on an Indian Reservation.
    Listen to a visiting friend of my mother's recount his experiences growing up in Paris during the German occupation (his parents died in Auschwitz).
    Have a woman who works for an artisan, handcrafted paper shop come and talk to the kids about what she does, and go through a paper craft with them.
    Have a friend bring HIS friend from India over to talk to us about how his life in India is different from here, and what an Indian wedding is like.
    Go out to talk to the local farmer about his work and get a ride on his tractor.
    Run out to the field next door to talk to the local blue-bird man about bluebirds and why he goes around the county putting up bluebird houses.
    Listen to a Mexican-American missionary talk about his community and culture, and how we could reach out to the Mexican immigrant community in our area.
    Listen to a 90 year old woman talk about what the schools were like when she taught in the Chicago area and had almost all Polish speaking students.

    These are just a few, a very few, of the opportunities we've been able to take advantage of because we were home and flexible at the time when the opportunity came up. Other people have different opportunities in their communities Public schools do not have the flexibility that we have- the vast majority of these things are not things the kids in the classroom could have done, just because of logistics.

    Okay, I gotta talk about don't be psychotic:
    I don't allow the government to come in and inspect my home to make sure my meals are healthy and prepared in a clean kitchen. The government has no right to come in and investigate (just in case) every home with an infant to make sure the parents play with them properly, clean them well, and put them to sleep in the proper position. The government does not get to come in and supervise my interactions with my preschool aged children to make sure I play appropriate games, read appropriate books, and teach appropriate things to my small children. The reason for that is that parents and children do belong to each other. You can say that I don't own my children all you want, but don't try to tell my children that. We, as family members, do belong to each other in a unique and special way. I am responsible for them- you don't have responsibility without authority, like it or not.
    And since I was perfectly capable of teaching my children potty training, talking, their colors, shapes, numbers, alphabet, and allt he usual preschool /kindergarten things before they reached school age, I see nothing magical about getting older that suddenly gives the government institutions a right to require me to submit anything to them proving that I am doing well by my children, just because somebody might not be. That's not psychotic.
    We don't give all children antibiotics because some of them might be sick. We don't investigate all homes, and impose a regulatory burden more suited to institutions on parents because some of them might be toxic.
    Besides the fact that this is a preemptive assumption that somebody might be guilty of something bad, so we're going to exercise prior restraint, it's also oddly short sighted, given the number of abused children that go to public school for years and years without anybody ever putting 2 and 2 together and doing something about it- and that's not even addressing the teachers and other adults who take the state's money to care for children and then abuse them.

    Since there are so many more children in the public schools in desperate need of help and intervention, it's much more effective to work on improving the situation there.

  11. Alright, I've taken the time to provide a rather more detailed look at your video and my thoughts and would appreciate your feedback, should you have the time. : )

  12. So you are assuming

    * homeschooling parents have no credentials or equivalent education
    * students have a right to a state education
    * no resources exist to support homeschooling curriculum
    * homeschooled students have no support outside their homes
    * homeschooling is only for the wealthy

    Have you been to a third world country recently? None of your assumptions hold water outside of North American/European/First World educational systems.
    Use of emotion-laden language is uncalled for in any academic discussion and discredits you immediately.
    (And we all feel that way about Microsoft)

  13. We started homeschooling when we officially poor. The first homeschooler I met locally was a single mom going through a divorce. One of my best friends is a single mom homeschooling her son. Both had little money. Both make it work and work well.

    The truth is that homeschooling provides an option for those of us who would otherwise be forced to send our children to school becaus we can't afford tutors or private school.

    Further response on my blog.

  14. Based on his last comment in the previous post on homeschooling, he is also assuming:

    That actual data and research of his position is completely unnecessary. And he'd have to make that assumption, since all the data out there directly contradicts his presuppositions.

    Worse, he assumes that there really isn't much chance of a healthy, loving parent/child relationship.

    The parents are really selfish creatures who aren't truly concerned about what is best for the child, but disguise their innate self-centeredness as concern for the child.

    That, and I quote,
    " the parental factor... requires the child to succeed in order for the parent to garner the indirect success element, invariably at the child's expense."

    Note the word *invariably.* What appalling nonsense.

    He assumes it is impossible for a child establish 'some level of sociological self-establishment and independence of entity' within the home- this can only happen in the age segregated, peer dependent, mind numbing, personality stifling world of the public schools, it seems. And yes, I understand that Steven wants to see reform in those schools, but the point is, they are NOT reformed, yet he is still insisting that the institutional setting of public schools NOW, flawed as they are,
    is preferable to the home- every home, because self-establishment and self entity (I love educationese) are impossible within the home. Which would explain why my three adult children, homeschooled all, are pursuing radically different goals in life, none of which are what I thought they would be doing, and that would explain why they registered to vote in a different political party from my own. That would also be why the four minors still under my tutelage
    are all individuals with their own unique personalities, likes, dislikes, and bents, yet not one of them as ever said, "But everybody else is...." nor do they say, "But the kids will make fun of me..."

    He assumes that homeschooling is all about children "driven by the fear generated by a parents very selfish, personal requirement."

    He assumes that the parental relationship in the first place is primarily the result of "a very significant number of young people" who have failed at everything else ignorantly and selfishly deciding that they might as well be parents, since, after all, they have the biological equipment. Does that sound like anybody here? Does that sound like MOST of the parents you actually know? He calls that 'the principle of selfish achievement in action.' I call that the principle of projection- or maybe making things up.

    In Steven's world it is the parents who disguise their selfish aims as 'concern' when they give up a second income and make many other sacrifices in order to educate their children OUTSIDE of mind-numbing, personality stifling, institutional settings.

    In the real world, most parents love their children more than anybody else can or will, and most parents unselfishly want their children to have what they need to be happy, healthy people.

    Steven falsely presupposes a whole lot of ugliness involved in the parent-child relationship, which makes me wonder why he should be permitted to set policies that affect an entire class of people he seems to know very little about. And while he is presupposing, without evidence, that parents only homeschool out of vested self-interest rather than love for their children, he has some much more provable self-interests at stake here.

    Unlike Steven, my homeschooling isn't part of a syndicated effort to get anybody to give me money. I will not make any money if people accept and implement my ideas about learning, living, and the education of children. Why is he so resistant to actually doing the research, getting out and meeting real parents who provide for education at home, reading a few books (Holt, Gatto, Moore, Rupp)?

  15. Interesting! I could see your point in many things up until your point that children are not the property of the parents. Although I agree with this, I also disagree with this.

    Being legally responsible and accountable for my children's actions, well being and my treatment of them... I do feel that they are mine, in a possessive way. Many may not like that statement, but I would be hard pressed to find anyone here who doesn't see their children as their own.

    I also find fault with the ideas that homeschooling is a replication of classroom schooling. It may be so for many homeschoolers in the beginning as they feel their way around the idea of education their children. It is after all, what most of know from our own schooling. But it rarely stays that way for long.

    And the idea that homeschooling is for the financially privileged goes against almost all of my personal experience. Most homeschoolers I know are of the middle class and upon taking on homeschooling often slip down in socioeconomic rank. Most financially advantaged people I know don't want to be bothered. But that is my personal experience and by no means a statement about the entire notion of homeschooling.

    I do like your idea of community schooling to some degree. It reminds me of what education used to be before we became obsessed with credentials and authority and regulation. We had public education AND a community education for many individuals of years past (not to mention support and guidance from churches if the family was so inclined.) Public education today takes up so much time and energy from the individual/student that getting out into the community is exhausting. And honestly, the community is in such a rush and produce mentality that often they feel bothered by the idea of mentoring or apprenticing someone.

    Maybe we need to look at society as a whole and what our culture and values truly are before pinpointing one group.

  16. Apologies- and much embarrassment. I misread comments by one 'Weaver' in the previous thread as Steven's.

  17. I'm also here in NB and I moved last year from Miramichi, just north of you, over to near Woodstock. I have to ask - have you even met any of the homeschoolers in the province?

    I am - or have been - very active within the homeschooling community here. Are there people who shelter their kids? Sure there are. Doesn't mean they're up to no good. And don't go by official numbers. there's many here in the province who just don't care what the Dept of Ed thinks any more. There are hundreds of us.

    Seriously, there are parents HERE in NB who are educating their children in a manner than even you may see as fit.

    I don't mean to sound all testy, but I hear the same opinions time and time again - not usually after people have actually met my children and talked to them. Gee, they seem completely normal and.. SMART. You probably know how low the literacy rate is here in our province. Why should I entrust that most basic skill to an insitution that hasn't been able to get it right? All of my children can read and read well. The schools here are doing very well what they are supposed to: train the worker bees for the next influx of call centers.

    Did you read the February 2008 issue of Reader's Digest? Yes, that was me and my family in there.

    As for the notion that homeschooling familes are wealthy - that's laughable. In a province where two parents usually have to work just to even get by, I am really shaking my head. So are most of the other homeschoolers in the province. You know one parent stays HOME right? That leaves one income. And here in NB the "average" income is $60,000 a year. I can tell you there's many years when we lived on far, far less than that.

    I would be happy to further expand on the whole movement here in NB as it seems you have some misconceptions. Feel free to throughly read my blog archives at http://atypicalife.net/blog/

    Also jeremy - your definition of unschooling is incorrect. unschooling is child-directed learning, although many unschooling families are quite nonm-supportive of the government as well. ;)

  18. Ditto on the income situation Andrea. I was checking figures today and realized we'd been officially poor for quite a bit longer than I realized. And homeschooling all the while. One thing we haven't mentioned though is that there are famlies with TWO parents working who manage to homeschool. They often manage shifts and/or get the help of relatives but they do make it work. I imagine homeschooling might offer those families the benefit of not having to structure two or more jobs and family around school. Taking school and it's schedule and financial demands (it's most definitely not free) out of the picture can and has been a saving grace for some of us who were hanging on by the skin of our teeth.

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