33 thoughts on “Spreadin’ Love 575

  1. Here’s are a couple snippets from a USA Today article from a couple years back:
    “Parents who home-school children increasingly are white, wealthy and well-educated — and their numbers have nearly doubled in a decade, a new federal government report says.”
    “As of spring 2007, an estimated 1.5 million, or 2.9% of all school-age children in the USA, were home-schooled, up from 1.7% in 1999.”
    “Home schooling has grown most sharply for higher-income families. In 1999, 63.6% of home-schooling families earned less than $50,000. Now 60.0% earn more than $50,000.”
    Inflation has done its dirty work, of course, so $50k isn’t what it used to be.
    “• 3.9% of white families home-school, up from 2% in 1999.”
    “• 6.8% of college-educated parents home-school, up from 4.9% in 1999.”
    The current downturn has probably messed with those income numbers quite a bit, but in general, homeschooling is much more upmarket than it used to be.
    The following quote from the dark-side-of-homeschooling article was a bit naive about the public school system, I think:
    “Rather, what disturbed me were the many stories about home-schoolers who were barely literate when they graduated, or whose math and science education had never extended much past middle school.”
    The author seems not to grasp that 1) not all public school children go to nice schools 2) lower-income people with large families are especially likely to be served by not-nice schools and 3) a large number of public school kids drop out (nobody knows how many, but when I was in high school, our district’s graduation rate was only about 2 in 3).
    I’ve come across a couple of different homeschooling problem stories.
    1. There’s a young woman in my hometown who was pulled out of school to pursue a serious athletic career in one of those sports where you might participate in the Olympics at 16. She was washed up at 14, and years later, she’s trying to make up for the math instruction that she never got.
    2. My cousin’s wife was “homeschooling” their large family. Only after she divorced my cousin did the stories start coming out about how she “forgot” to teach a number of the kids to read. (Fortunately, a couple of my relatives were around to notice, provide some emergency reading instruction, and a number of the older kids eventually went on to private school.) She also tended to hand the younger kids over to the older girls to pursue her own very active social life.
    As a rule, I would be concerned about any homeschooling mom that isn’t college-educated or doesn’t have a strong academic orientation. The good news is that there are lots of those, and that’s predominantly what you see on the internet–readers and blue stockings and former teachers and mothers who are really excited about curriculum fairs.
    The other thing to bear in mind is that a lot of people go in and out of homeschooling, according to need. My kids’ school was originally a homeschooling co-op, parents I know at school have homeschooled at some point, in my family parents have pulled children out for a year or two when they seem to be struggling at school, and special needs families often find that school does not meet their needs (see for example Emily Willingham who finally gave up on public school for her autistic oldest son after much cruelty and bullying). School really is hellish for a lot of children.

  2. The momma drama around town the past few weeks is that a local girl who some kids know from after-school activities is returning to Eldest Raggirl’s class after her mother had to take a job out of the house, so could no longer home school her. (Sign of the times. Jury’s still out on good sign or bad sign . . .)
    The dinner conversation is now of the “You’ll never believe what she did today!” variety. Certainly nothing in the “horror story” variety like the article, but a whole lot of what you might expect — she’s good at what her mom taught her, but had sizable gaps in what was missed. And the poor socialization of not being in a classroom setting is playing out in her continually arguing with the teacher over issues that the girl is simply wrong about. Last week she was insisting that she got all of a math test right, and wouldn’t give in when she learned that she had completely ignored all of the exponents in the problems — never having seen an exponent before. (To her credit, she got the questions right if you ignored the exponents.)
    Yesterday, she refused to stop independent reading when it was time for “reading group” — a book club where kids at the same reading level read a chapter of the same book and discuss. “But that’s not what I want to do now. I want to finish reading THIS book!” “But everyone else in the group is ready now . . .” I mostly feel bad for the teacher.

  3. A number of the stories seemed to hail from Vermont. Is this a homeschooling issue, or a lack-of-state-oversight issue? If I wanted to keep a cow or horse on my property, I’d have to fill out forms, and I’d be visited by the Board of Health. I’d hope that someone who proposes to school her children at home would be able to fill out forms, speak with adults, and allow her students to prove their academic progress.
    Each family has its own quirks. I’m not willing to presume that a home-schooled child is likely to be illiterate–but I’m not willing to presume that they’ll be above-average, either.
    It’s also quite possible for a child to attend public school, yet not learn to read. That’s why some special needs IEPs specify adults to read prompts to some test-takers. Waldorf schools also don’t jump into reading instruction. A cousin’s child (decades ago) couldn’t read by the 4th grade. He was dyslexic, and enrolled in a renowned private school. Family legend holds the school hadn’t wanted to worry his parents. His parents found a different school for him.
    When the teacher’s the parent, it’s hard to separate what’s inborn from what’s been taught. If a parent’s not socially adept, her time in public school may have been miserable. Thus, she’s extrapolating her child’s likely experience from her own. If both mother and child find social situations challenging, she could be right…

  4. If I wanted to keep a cow or horse on my property, I’d have to fill out forms, and I’d be visited by the Board of Health.
    Really? That’s very strange unless you live in town or something.

  5. Different rules? In Massachusetts, our town extends to the borders of the next towns. There is no unincorporated land. (If I have the term right.)
    The board of health has certain duties set by the state, and other powers are granted by town meeting. It’s not nearly as difficult to deal with as the conservation commission. It’s easier to keep a cow than to chop down a tree too close to the wetlands.
    If you live in the Historic District, you’re subject to the Historic Commission. In some towns, they’re notorious for determining what colors you may paint your house. A wise buyer is very careful to weigh the advantages of a house in the historic district (charming, piece of history, walk to many attractions) against the disadvantages (seeking official permission to make any alterations in your property.)

  6. “Thus, she’s extrapolating her child’s likely experience from her own. If both mother and child find social situations challenging, she could be right…”
    Right.
    I had a very dorky high school lab partner who had been homeschooled for a long stretch before high school. At the time, I put his quirks down to the homeschooling. Now that I’ve seen a little bit more of the world (and specifically the autism spectrum portion of it), I think I’d give nature a lot more credit for his peculiarities.
    We know a family of current homeschoolers rather well. It’s a very athletic, outdoorsy academic family, and the big girls are always reading their Kindles. They are continually catching critters (like a tarantula they found on the front porch) and collecting things like snake skins. Now, I do have some concerns that the big girls are over-worked at home and suffering from big sister burnout from all the little brother wrangling they do, but on the other hand, way too many kids today grow up completely useless at home. The oldest sister is very sweet and a bit naive (noticeably more so than her street-wise younger sister) and her eye contact is kind of autistic. I think the naive older sister would suffer a lot in a typical school setting, and she would be abused and taken advantage of all day long. Now some people would say that that’s preparation for life, but really, honestly, how much does K-12 resemble your social and professional life today?

  7. My early elementary career in public school was both academically uninspiring and an almost total social wasteland, and was occasionally in real physical peril. Kindergarten was rather nice, but for 1-4 grade, I paid as little attention as physically possible and might as well not have been there at all. My husband emigrated to Canada at about 9 or 10 and had to change schools very frequently. However, he actually liked that, because that way he got to leave the old bullies behind. (At one of those schools, he was widely known as “the Polish sausage.”)
    Under the circumstances, I look at “rah-rah school!” with a jaundiced eye.

  8. really, honestly, how much does K-12 resemble your social and professional life today?
    I used to sit in the back and either read books quietly or make smart-ass comments. It’s not a whole lot different.

  9. There really wasn’t much of that in my school. Even the kid that everybody said (correctly) was gay didn’t get picked on much.

  10. I’m personally an exception to the mothers of autistic kids make less, but that’s because my husband’s gone the part-time/under-employed route in order to ensure that Autistic Youngest is well-supported. We’re definitely well under the income of many peers who have two full-time incomes in the family and we worry more about setting enough aside to support Youngest into her own adulthood and old age.

  11. When people believe that homeschooled kids are weird, they forget to consider that maybe the causation runs the other way: perhaps the parents saw that keeping them out of “normal” schools was a good fit for an atypical child.

  12. I have a friend with a special needs preschooler who is seriously considering homeschooling. When the little boy went to preschool, he spent the entire class curled up on his teacher’s lap and didn’t want to interact with his classmates.
    Now, ideally my friend would be able to get her son into a fantastic public school with lots of classroom support, but if that doesn’t happen, it would be very unwise to just toss him in to a classroom and hope for the best.

  13. Tasha, you nailed it. I’ve met an awful lot of homeschoolers with special needs kids. In many cases, they’ve pulled their kids out of school because it wasn’t working for the kids. In some cases, they realized they could support their kids’ needs better at home and never put them in school. (I’m in the former group, BTW.)
    The Salon article makes me sad. I’m sure it’s true, and that kids do sometimes slip through the cracks, either among the religious conservative group or in the radical unschooler set. I rather like the way NY handles it, actually. Kids have to take a standardized test every other year through middle school and then every year in high school. So there’s evidence that they’re learning something. And for kids who can’t make grade level, the state allows them to show adequate year over year progress.

  14. On the Gawker gossip…I happened to watch the first 20 minutes of the HBO special on the Douglas clan a couple of nights ago. In it Kirk Douglas tells an anecdote that is telling and sad although he meant it to be humourous. His sister also found it funny.
    Apparently their father was a nasty alcoholic. Kirk had 6 sisters and recalled sitting at the supper table one night when he was a boy. While his dad dozed at the table Kirk took a spoon and used it to throw some food in his dad’s face. His dad woke up, picked up Kirk and threw him across the room.
    Keep in mind that this was pitched as a funny anecdote with both Kirk and his sister laughing.
    Of course one can never extrapolate from what appears to have been a rough childhood but if that was a sample of the “better” stories to be told, it sounds like it was brutal.
    He also mentioned that although they were starving and his dad struggled to make ends meet, if there was any food in the fridge or the cupboard, his dad got it first.
    So my back of the cigarette pack analysis is that I wouldn’t be surprised if Kirk himself grew up to be a nasty piece of work…

  15. We have a neighbor who barely graduated from high school who homeschools her kids and they don’t appear to know any math.
    OTOH, we also know a family in our town where the kids take music classes at Julliard and tend to place in national events like Math Olympiads.
    What’s interesting is that both families will tell you that it’s their Christian duty to homeschool and that their reasons for doing so are largely political. But one family clearly does it much better than the other.

  16. “OTOH, we also know a family in our town where the kids take music classes at Julliard and tend to place in national events like Math Olympiads.”
    One of my young relatives was taken out of school for a year or two because she was a serious young musician, and there just weren’t enough hours in the day for her to go to school, do homework, practice three hours a day, and otherwise have a normal life. (She was doing some sort of official Canadian government home learning program.)

  17. official Canadian government home learning program
    That sounds like the consolation prize on a really crappy game show.

  18. I know another an academic family that took their kids out of parochial school to homeschool. They liked the school, but the homework load was so fiendish that it didn’t combine well with the kids’ serious sports schedule. (This is a family with a serious streak of ADHD, and the kids really do need a lot of physical activity–I mentally refer to them as “the border collie family”.)

  19. “But one family clearly does it much better than the other.”
    Well, I can’t justify barely knowing any math. But, though not Christian, and certainly not a Christian home schooler, I’m sympathetic to the idea that instilling responsibility/morality is more important than winning math oympiads. I was pretty horrified by the article in the NY Times yesterday on how to detect cheating in high level chess tournaments.
    My main worry about home schooling is that when it isolates a child from the world. In the most egregious cases, that can be a template for straight out abuse. Next, I worry about children’s access to a world (and morality) outside their own parents world (i.e. parents can tell their kids that homosexuality is a sin, but I’d like a child to have access to the idea that there are many people out in the rest of the world who disagree). My last concern is whether they learn the subjects we are supposed to teach in school (and, with the understanding that we don’t always teach it and that not every child is ready to learn it in the environment offered at school).

  20. Well, I can’t justify barely knowing any math.
    Algebra was invented by Muslims, but calculus by Christians. It’s O.K.

  21. AmyP – LOVE the border collie family nomiker…And you don’t know how close you are to describing Canadian games shows in the 70’s – Definition anyone?
    On the homeschooling – I just assumed that the “agreement” was that you could homeschool BUT your children would have to meet state/provincial standards for their grade.
    I could see homeschooling but my daughter is such and extrovert that she thrives on the interaction at school. That being said, I do know that the successful homeschoolers have great networks of others and their kids aren’t isolated.

  22. “AmyP – LOVE the border collie family nomiker”
    Thanks! They’re very nice, very energetic and very smart–hence the resemblance.

  23. Sandra, it varies wildly by state. In NJ, for instance, you don’t have to show the state ANYTHING. Just tell them you’re homeschooling once and you’re home free. My homeschooler friends there love the freedom, of course, but the potential for abuse is breathtaking.
    Re. socialization: the problem is finding time to be home! Especially this time of year. My kid is with bunches of other homeschoolers most days of the week: in classes, on field trips, or playing in the park together in weekly organized gatherings.
    That said, kids certainly do go back to school so they can be more immersed in the social scene. And not everyone lives in a big city; many kids have trouble finding the richness we have here in NYC. Penelope Trunk talks about driving to Madison to give her kids homeschool social time.

  24. “According to Renaissance Learning’s
    2012 report on the books read by almost 400,000 students in grades 9–12 in
    2010–2011, the average reading level of the top 40 books is a little
    above fifth grade (5.3 to be exact).”
    “According to the Top 25 Librarians’ Picks by Interest Level, drawn from a list of 800 titles, librarians are recommending UG books at fourth- to fifth-grade reading levels for high school students.”
    http://collegepuzzle.stanford.edu/?p=2250

  25. I take that back. I read the Joanne Jacobs thread on this, and the grade level assignments for particular books are apparently weird.

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