I remember it well. The years have not diminished the memory of the night I decided to homeschool. I was a recently certified teacher with a brand new husband and a teaching job in a suburban elementary school.
That night I finished reading Child Abuse in the Classroom by Phyllis Schlafly. In her book, Ms. Schlafly highlighted the alarming trend of secular ideology and practice—tolerance, relativism, values clarification—being shoved down the throats of unsuspecting school children (without parental knowledge or approval) during the late 70’s and early 80’s. (Bill Muehlenberg of CultureWatch has done an outstanding review of Child Abuse in the Classroom here.) The things I read about the agenda of secular education fueled my growing concerns about a profession that I had worked hard to prepare for. In a moment of clarity, I realized that all I had learned, observed, and experienced during my years of preparation for the teaching profession suddenly seemed to collide with everything I believed to be right and true. Ironically, the revelation did nothing to diminish my desire to teach. Rather, in that moment, I knew that my own children would not spend one moment in a public elementary or secondary school classroom. And they haven’t. At least not as students.
Two years ago, after 13 years of home education and 3 years in university classrooms as an education major, Darcy, my oldest daughter, took her very first step into a public school classroom in the role of student teacher. And not surprisingly, she quickly began to experience the same conflict of ideology that I had experienced almost 25 years before. Like me, the recognition of this conflict resulted in a shift in her thinking, and a reshaping of her goals for her future. In the end Darcy's experience moved her away from a career as a public school teacher and toward a career as a teacher, tutor and advocate for homeschool families.
So what can this homeschool-student-turned-public-school-teacher's experience in the classroom teach us about public education?
- If you are looking for a positive socialization experience for your child, the public school classroom is not the place to find it. Place a polite, obedient child in classroom full of distractable, disobedient, and disrespectful children and watch the socialization process begin to work its magic. In most cases, within a stunningly short period of time, in terms of attitude and behavior, this formerly “good” child will be indistinguishable from his peers.
- In a public school classroom, a significant portion of the day is dedicated to activities that have nothing to do with learning. During a typical seven-hour school day, time spent in classroom management, behavior management, and various other non-academic time-stealers greatly reduce the amount of time available for actual academics.
- Outside of the classroom, a teacher’s time is often taken up with copious amounts of administrative paper-pushing—required duties that greatly reduce the time available for teaching preparation. These duties can leave teachers feeling drained and frustrated…before a single lesson has even been taught!
- The most successful students in public school are actually homeschooled students. HUH? That’s right…parental involvement in the life of a student is the single most important factor in creating success in the classroom. In many cases, the most successful students are being actively taught by a parent or other adult outside of the school classroom. Honest teachers will admit that parental involvement always enhances what is being accomplished in school, and in many cases, compensates for a less-than-optimal school experience (though teachers might not tell you that part.)
- Highly successful students are the exception in public schools. The status quo (or below) is the norm.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that when the skeptics (often public school teachers who can't see the forest for the trees) criticize homeschooling, they often do so by raising arguments that sound a lot like this:
Children belong in government regulated schools where trained professionals are committed to, and equipped to provide for, the success of every child. Parents are not qualified to teach their own children and by choosing to homeschool, they put their children at risk of failing academically.
Increasingly, a cry is being heard calling for government regulation of homeschools. That wouldn’t be quite so ridiculous if public schools were consistently successful at educating the children they are already responsible for. But national statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Education suggest otherwise.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the area of math, national test results (2007) reveal that 62% of 4th grade students are at or below Basic level of achievement. In the area of reading, results reveal that 68% of 4th graders are at or below Basic achievement. In math and reading, 69% and 70% of eighth graders were at or below basic, respectively. And what exactly do those numbers mean? By definition, basic achievement denotes “partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade assessed.” Listen to that again…basic achievement denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficiency at the grade level assessed. That means that approximately 2/3 of all 4th and 8th grade students in U.S. public schools have only partially mastered the fundamental skills necessary for academic proficiency! And this is a national average. The achievement statistics for some states and urban districts are absolutely abysmal! In fact, in my own home state of Illinois, recent test scores suggest that across all grade levels, more than 495,000 publicly-schooled students are falling through the academic cracks. And yet, there are state legislators that feel it necessary to regulate the estimated 50,000 Illinois homeschoolers for fear that some of them might be falling through the cracks.
At the heart of the matter is this: statistics suggest that government-run schools staffed by state-certified teachers are failing to provide the majority of their students with a basic level of proficiency in required knowledge and skills. Successful students are NOT the norm in our nation’s schools. It is absolutely appalling that anyone associated with the state-run education community should dare to suggest that a system that is failing so many children should attempt to provide oversight for anyone. Public schools should attempt to rescue the kids trapped in their own burning buildings before they come looking to extinguish the small fires that might be burning in ours.