Arrogance of Public School

[see 7/22 & 7/28 update at the bottom!]
Key Words pointed to NEA article written by head custodian of a public school:

Home Schools Run By Well-Meaning Amateurs: Schools With Good Teachers Are Best-Suited to Shape Young Minds By Dave Arnold

Allow me quote and comment on the article:
There's nothing like having the right person with the right experience, skills and tools to accomplish a specific task. Certain jobs are best left to the pros, such as, formal education.
There is no "right" skills for education. Education is all about getting excited about learning and knowing what tools to use to learn: be it seminars or training course or reading books. Sure, basics are needed like reading but with computers and PDAs, writing skills and math and any facts-based subjects are overrated, today.

There are few homeowners who can tackle every aspect of home repair. A few of us might know carpentry, plumbing and, let's say, cementing. Others may know about electrical work, tiling and roofing. But hardly anyone can do it all.
I beg to differ. People can do everything but thanks to laws (and unions), you have to be "in code" to do many "important" work in the house. Why do you think DIY home building and remodeling TV programs are so popular? People want to know and they can get free advice from TV and -- unlike writing essays for boring classes -- with home projects you'll know right away if the lights don't turn on or you didn't sweat the pipes correctly. Nothing like immediate feedback in the physical world. (likewise with computer programming but that's for another blog.)

If people have enough interest in educating children and want to see the "how-to's," I'm sure we'll get tons of TV programs and other materials. There are plenty of books and web pages out there already. Fortunately, I learned to self-teach myself during highschool so I've learned to home educated myself before I've heard of the word "homeschooling."

Same goes for cars. Not many people have the skills and knowledge to perform all repairs on the family car. Even if they do, they probably don't own the proper tools. Heck, some people have their hands full just knowing how to drive.
So what? Tools can be rented, specialized skills can be hired. Even those who "just knowing how to drive," know enough to put in gasoline and are aware of unusual symptoms (noise, shakes, shudders, lamps on the dashboards) and know someone to turn to (local mechanic, dealer, etc.). A car owner does not turn into idiot who moves the steering wheel and press gas petal.

With our children, we do the same thing with their education: We can teach the basic reading and math while we take our children to specialized classes like multi-week botany class or one week study on local watershed or weekly Tae Kwon Do lessons. We don't claim to know everything but we have the flexibility to hire (and fire) the teachers and other specialists to teach skills and knowledge which we lack.

Public schools, on the other hand, have all kinds of problems in and of itself, as I've written about before.

So, why would some parents assume they know enough about every academic subject to home-school their children? You would think that they might leave this -- the shaping of their children's minds, careers, and futures -- to trained professionals. That is, to those who have worked steadily at their profession for 10, 20, 30 years! Teachers!
As I mentioned above, we don't. Besides, all "professionally trained" teachers have to start with 0 (zero) years of experience. Where do they get their experience? With monkeys? No, you get experience by teaching children. So, who has to suffer the learning pains of the new teachers? The first guinea pigs students they teach!

At least with home education, the parents learn to teach AS THE CHILD GROWS UP. Teaching experience is like growing up: you start with baby steps, walk, run, ride bicycle, drive, fly (oops, I'm getting ahead of myself). Parents get to learn how to teach as the child learns (most children do not speak until about 2 years old, so we have at least 2 years of head start!). If they learn faster than we can teach, then we can hire experts or ask friends/relatives whom we can barter skills: I'll watch your younger children while you teach my bright 8 year old.

Certain jobs are best left to the pros. Formal education is one of those jobs.
No one becomes a "pro" overnight. It takes experience. Plus, formal education is great when the students are eager to learn a specific subject at certain level (beginner, advanced, etc.) -- but only for students who can sit still for an hour or so. Unfortunately, not all children are suited for such rigorous studies from 8AM to 3PM, 5 days a week. Boys tend to be active and need to move around. (I am more of intellectual type and prefer to sit down and read but my boys aren't that way: they want action or else will make action (fight) with each other.)

The following * (starred) lines are quotes from a home ed web page:
* "It's not as difficult as it looks."
The "it" is meant to be "teaching." Let's face it, teaching children is difficult even for experienced professionals. Wannabes have no idea.
The author clearly has no idea what education is all about. Children do not need spoon feeding of facts nor do they need hand holding to learn every little skills. By having the teacher set examples, they will follow -- if they have an interest (if the teacher is bored, then students will be bored).
* "What about socialization? Forget about it!"
Forget about interacting with others? Are they nuts? Socialization is an important component of getting along in life. You cannot teach it. Children should have the opportunity to interact with others their own age. Without allowing their children to mingle, trade ideas and thoughts with others, these parents are creating social misfits.
I have yet to meet any home educating parent who advocates putting children in isolation chambers and feed them educational stuff. The parent-child interaction alone is a form of socialization. Besides, in the real world, people have to obey those in charge: be it police officer directing traffic, the McDonalds' boss who signs your paycheck or the elderly client you care for once a week! What better place to learn such "socialization" in a safe environment with a loving parent (or two -- not everyone can work at home) and even some siblings around you?

When I worked for Wal-Mart more than 20 years ago, Sam Walton once told me: "I can teach Wal-Mart associates how to use a computer, calculator, and how to operate like retailers. But I can't teach them how to be a teammate when they have never been part of any team."
What better team can there be but the "home" team? Learning to be part of the family team in all aspects of the family life would be invaluable: regular social interaction, pulling through crisis, dealing with finances, resolving conflicts, learning to deal with bad leaders/subordinates. Formal education cannot provide such rich life experiences!
* "Visit our online bookstore."
Buying a history, science or math book does not mean an adult can automatically instruct others about the book's content.
It depends: some are (visual) book learners, others (auditory and kinesthetic learners) require different form of teaching. Only the parents know about each child to tailor their teaching to meet the needs of their learning style.

Gullible Parents
This includes parents who home-school their children for reasons that may be linked to religious convictions. One Web site that I visited stated that the best way to combat our nation's "ungodly" public schools was to remove students from them and teach them at home or at a Christian school.
I'm certainly not opposed to religious schools, or to anyone standing up for what they believe in. I admire anyone who has the strength to stand up against the majority. But in this case, pulling children out of a school is not the best way to fight the laws that govern our education system. No battle has ever been won by retreating!
What rational parent would send children to the battle? Adults should be the ones fighting the laws. Not the children. Why do we deplore child soldiers in 3rd world countries? Because they are vulnerable and do not have the strength and the training of an adult. They need to be sheltered like in a greenhouse. Once they have become strong enough then they can be out in the "wild," battling their own wars. Until then, home is as safe place as any to protect and nurture a child.

To give another example: it is possible to light a match or even start a fire if the wind is blowing? No, you need to shield the flame from the wind before it catches on. Once the foundation of the fire is secure then you can let the wind have more influence. But even then, you want some control in place or else you'll end up with wildfire and chaos.

Don't most parents have a tough enough job teaching their children social, disciplinary and behavioral skills? They would be wise to help their children and themselves by leaving the responsibility of teaching math, science, art, writing, history, geography and other subjects to those who are knowledgeable, trained and motivated to do the best job possible.
Obviously, the author and the publisher (NEA) has a vested interest in promoting the "professionals." But we parents are not the dummies as we are made out to be. Just as we can pick and choose good food or good car, we can pick and choose what's good education for our children.

Let me ask the author: Should we visit the medical "pros" every time we have an unusual symptom like coughing, fever or diarrhea? No, the hospitals would be packed with people with minor sickness. We adults have enough intelligence to diagnose if we have a "bad" symptom or not. We don't need medical degrees to stay home if we have fever. We don't need pharmacists degree either: we can buy over the counter drugs for minor stuff. Nor do we need EMS license to drive our sick child to ER: if the symptom is unusual (like delirious after hitting the head on the tree or a bend to the arm that looks broken) then we can drive our child to the hospital ourselves. If the heart stops or blood doesn't stop bleeding, then we would call the pros. Just not for every little detail!

Likewise with education: we don't need "pros" for teaching the basics. And with the world as the classroom, potential for learning from multiple angles are priceless. For example, what school teaches math in the kitchen while making dinner (adding weights or volume or cooking with double or half serving size)? It's practical, hands on and fun (like snacking on the ingredients) while using real math -- and all of which are impossible to do in a formal learning environment.

Related topic is that formal educational setting is too artificial: many careers are not done in an office sitting: there are jobs which require standing all day, others require being outdoors, and others are combination office and outdoor work. Home education allows variety of educational settings including outdoors.

Besides, if you're going to take the fun out of learning and turn schooling into "work," then the students should at least get paid for their effort, no? And if they don't get paid, what would a student pick, given the following two choices:
  1. Go to work, get paid to be bored.
  2. Go to school, get to pay to be bored.
I would think my boredom would be better spent working and making cash! What do you think?

7/22 Update: lots of others have blogged about it before (am I behind the curve) so I'll just list them: