Sunday, July 30, 2006

Leave It To Mamacita To Open A Can Of Worms...

... and for me to happily dig in!

I am referring to her post that mentioned unschooling and unleashed a multitude of responses. (Including, of course, mine.)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I will be the first to admit that I am prejudiced and closed-minded. There is also a certain feature of my mentality that makes me ask questions.

I have been a programmer (more or less) since '89. I am an in-house programmer, which means I support whatever I write. Which in turn means that, if there is a bug in my code, then I will get a call from my users about it, usually in the dead of night. If I install a change at twenty plants and screw it up at one of them, that's only five per cent. It's no big deal - I got ninety-five per cent right, didn't I? It will, however, sound like a very big deal to me when plant number 20 calls me at three-thirty in the morning, wakes up my whole family including the dog, and keeps me up until I fix whatever I had done wrong.

Is there any wonder that, when I look at a system, any system, the first thing I notice are places where it can potentially break?

By the time my children are 18, I expect them to be able to continue their education in whatever subject they happen to be leaning toward, even if I myself know next to nothing about this subject. I'd rather have them continue their education instead of entering the workforce at 18 and getting it over with, because I've seen what happened to careers of my friends who didn't have a college degree, and how difficult it was for them to find a job they enjoyed. By 18, I also expect my children to have certain basic knowledge in a certain number of areas, not necessarily because they will need it for their college or work, but because lack of it will make them come across as ignorant. Sure, they may never need history and geography to earn a living, but wouldn't it be nice to know there are actually other countries in the world besides America? I have seen too many people who seem to lack that knowledge.

How do I get my children there is of course my family's personal choice, as long as in the end I do get them there. Should I enroll them in a public school? Why not. Should I enroll them in a public school where less than 50% of the students pass proficiency tests? Probably not a good idea. For that reason, as soon as LilProgrammer turned five, we packed our bags and moved to a different neighborhood. It costs more, but it pays off.

Likewise, should I educate them at home? I don't see why not. But I also don't see why I shouldn't ask myself the question, Can I do it? And this is where it gets all confusing to me. I am referring to a nice discussion that I and a few other people had in the comments of Mamacita's post.

An anonymous commenter poses a question:

"Or, to cut to the chase, to homeschoolers it seems just as weird to talk about whether parents are *qualified* to help children learn during their school-age years as it might be to talk to non-homeschoolers about whether they are qualified to help their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers learn to walk and talk and eat and use the toilet, etc. Frankly, I'm not sure any intellectual leaps occur that are any greater than those. I mean, wow - TALKING! Now that is SOMEthing. Are your child's parents QUALIFIED to be in charge of this stage of life? Are they really weird wanting to direct the learning of speech personally, rather than turning it over to government certified experts?"

I am confused.

Let me give you an example.

English is my second language. I studied it for nine years in school, starting from 2nd grade (we had grades 1 through 10 in our school when I was growing up.) I had four teachers over the years, three of them very good. All of them had degrees in English AND education, and two of them had lived in England for a year or two as part of their college education. The last teacher that I had taught us English lit as well as the grammar. I remember the time when we studied one of Shakespeare's sonnets in 9th grade. Our teacher showed us two different translations and asked the class to analyze and compare them. She also had us do our own translations, and analyzed those. In short, I got a more than decent English education, and I dare say the results are good.

Now are you telling me that my Mom, who didn't know a word of English until she came to America, and is having major trouble with it now, could have given me an education just as good, on account that she had taught me to walk and talk and use the toilet? Please help me out, I am confused here. I also have trouble understanding why, when we had an AWESOME English teacher available, it was somehow a bad idea for me to take advantage of that. Why cannot I learn from the best?

Back to the bugs, though. Remember what I said earlier about seeing the spots where a system can go haywire? The problem that I see with unschooling is lack of accountability. I know I will burn in homeschool hell for saying that, but allow me to illustrate.

Here's what Mamacita got in the email:

"This next one is for the woman who emailed me and told me that her sons NEVER needed to learn to read or write, and if she wants them to know something, she will just tell them. Literacy was but one of Satan's tools for leading the unwary into the abyss. I think she meant abyss. Phonetically, "abis" sounds the same. Let's give her the benefit of the doubt."

Who's going to stop this woman from never teaching her sons to read and write?


What's going to happen in twenty years?

Their lives will be screwed up beyond all recognition.

What else will happen?

My children and your children will work double shifts so this woman's children can get their welfare checks on time.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that there is a plan B in place over at the schools in case a student is doing terribly badly, and large chunks of what he absolutely needs to know are missing.

With unschooling? I don't know if there's a plan B, or it's just business as usual like nothing happened.

In the comment section of Mamacita's post, Jeanne said:

"As for late readers, pegging that one on unschooling is sort of funny, considering the rate of illiteracy among high school students and our population in general, considering the vast majority of our citizens are products of public schooling rather than homeschooling. I would say if a homeschool student learns to read at 17, he is doing quite a bit better than public school students who do not learn to read EVER. Would I be worried? I'm sure I would. But the truth is, that is so hugely the exception among the hundreds of unschooling families I know that I can't say I'd be any more worried than if it were a student in government schools who can't read at 17.

Students in schools who do not learn to read at 13, 15 or 17 are highly stigmatized and unable to learn other material that is presented by text, which is the vast majority of all material beginning in about 4th grade, but certainly thru middle and high school. Homeschooled students who are late readers continue to learn in other ways and receive support for their "personhood," while still receiving encouragement to learn to read and the information they need as they are ready for it. If I were going to have a late reading child, who perhaps has challenges that make reading difficult, I'd a lot rather have him home with me than in school!"

This is in response to my story of an unschooling Mom whose children could not learn to read, but she smiled and bravely plowed on. Eventually the children learned to read, at 15, 17, and 13, respectively.

Why is it so wild to assume that the problem was with the mom? I tried to teach my children to read, but I couldn't. There, I said it. LilProgrammer learned to read in school, when he was seven. ChinchillaBoy taught himself how to read a few months before he started kindergarten. When I explained it to them, they just didn't get it. I have no problem admitting that maybe there was something wrong with my delivery! Who knows, if I kept trying to teach LilProgrammer to read all by myself, maybe he wouldn't be reading now.

I don't know of any students older than 8 in our school district who are unable to read. Our district is just better than that. They do a great job. They came through for LilProgrammer. Just like they came through for him when he was in sixth grade and his grades suddenly dropped from almost all As to Cs and Ds. There was no stigmatizing involved at any time. They were extremely supportive, helped him bring his grades up, and helped me have him diagnosed with Aspergers. They continue to support him. It takes a lot of work on my part, but I believe we'll get to where we want to get. My point is, whenever my son started having problems academically, the school was all over it. I cannot imagine a high school student not being able to read and the school completely ignoring this fact.

I will repeat the horrible, horrible thing that I said before, I'd like to know if there's a plan in place for unschooled kids to verify if they have the academic basics for their age, or they are falling terribly behind. And, if they indeed are falling terribly behind, I would like to know what measures will be taken. Pardon my curiosity, but this kind of impacts this country's future and my children's future as well.

Do I see bugs in the public school system? You bet your ass I do! I have written about it many times on this blog, please feel free to search. And I will most likely be writing more about it in the future. However, I don't see those bugs as fatal flaws that mean I need to pull my children out of the system immediately. I see them as opportunities for improvement.

Bring it on. I just might submit this to the Carnival, and then the fun in the comments will start. I'm hoping for a few emails, too. Hey, why should Mamacita have all the fun?

The Goldie has spoken at 11:05 AM

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