No matter where on the political spectrum you fall, it is fairly well accepted that the public education system leans to the left; some simply accept this, others get angry, and still some enroll their children in private schools or even try their hand at homeschooling. Many of the latter accuse the schools of indoctrinating children into Statism or even Socialism. And while this may have some truth to it, there are some things parents do without recognizing that they are, in fact, indoctrinating their children into socialism right from their own home.
Most everyone has heard the little catch phrase before: “sharing is caring,” and while to some degree, it is, sharing can actually be rather sinister. The problem with sharing, is that it can diminish the importance of private property, individual ownership, and voluntary interactions.
In a classroom, most of the toys used are bought by the school or the teacher, they do not belong to the children and it is up to the administrators to make the rules surrounding how toys are shared. However, in the home, toys are usually purchased by an individual for a specific individual. At my house we have a few of those toys meant for large group play, specifically, a rickety jungle gym with a little climbing wall, a slide and two swings; we also have four children. This creates problems. We often resolve these problems by introducing a new object, or suggesting they take turns, but we do not actually force our children to get off a swing and give it to a sibling. Usually the suggestion to share is enough to persuade our children to behave differently, and if it’s not, we might lean a little harder with shoe-on-the-other-foot examples, but we never force a child off the swing.
We need to teach our children the voluntary actions of charity, not State sanctioned theft.
And then we also have those individual toys: the Batman action figure Grandma sent down, or the iPod Santa left behind. Too often, parents allow a child-owner of a toy to use the object, but when a sibling or friend wants to use it, the child-owner is forced into sharing. If you do not share, there are consequences that may involve time out, or shuttering of the toy, of course this is after the child that made the request to share has been given the object of their desire against the will of the owner. It may not seem like a big deal, after all, I am the parent and children should learn to listen to authority figures, right? But consider the message and the moral you are sharing: “It is okay for an authority figure to force someone to give up their private property to someone else who wants that property.” This is simply unacceptable. There is no need for this framework to ever be established, especially in the mind of a child. On top of this, it not only tells a child it is okay for an authoritarian force more powerful than you to take your property, it also tells a child it is fully acceptable to appeal to authority to use force on others so the appealer’s desires are met. It instills entitlement, which only furthers the acceptance of forced sharing.
Now, I am not suggesting voluntary sharing is a bad thing, or that we should not encourage children to share, but it should be on their terms. There is great importance in teaching children the value of charity, and the benefits of taking care of others when you can, but these are things that cannot be forced, and it must be understood that these things have limits. We need to teach children that being mindful of others has a place, but it is at their choosing. At the same time, we need to teach our children that sometimes, we will never be able to use a friend’s toy, nor may we ever be able to purchase the toy on our own and that is simply the way of life. We need to teach our children the voluntary actions of charity, not State sanctioned theft.
When I was going through school to be a teacher, one of the key phrases that was always bandied about was Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Specifically, the language is used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As you would imagine, a child with a disability is required by law to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment, or in a classroom with their peers without disabilities, this includes giving students interpreters, aids, or other services necessary to achieve this goal. The student will be removed from the classroom of their peers without disabilities when the severity of their disability prevents the goals of IDEA and their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from being achieved. It would seem that most educators agree with this model and state that it prepares students better for adult life and improves their socials skills, it also, more importantly, gives them a better education and presents them with higher expectations. The last two are key.
I am no longer a teacher in the traditional sense, but I do homeschool my children. Right now, we have two that are being homeschooled, but next year we will (most likely) have four, and this provides the ultimate in LREs. My wife and I are able to create IEPs for each one of our children and they are allowed to flourish. The children find topics that are exciting and important to them, and they delve into those topics on their own; my wife and I create little projects that encourage further exploration and real world application.
While I don’t always agree with the world of mainstream education, I do think this idea of LRE is a good one and should be applied generously to everyone, and by everyone, I mean every breathing being on the planet. There are a handful of reasons to employ LRE in education, but the most important are that it allows for a better education and presents students with higher expectations – the one begets the other.
How does a least restrictive environment produce higher expectations? Where do those higher expectations come from? It’s not the teacher, the teacher’s expectations for the student should remain the same regardless of the environment in which they are taught. It’s not the expectations of the other students, in fact, the other students probably have lower expectations for the disabled child. Rather, it is through self-imposed competition with their classmates. No student wants to be seen as the “dumb kid” or the “slow kid” and most students will do their best to keep up and stay within the norm.
When we apply this to the real world, it takes on a bit of the “Keeping up with the Smiths” mentality. Often we tend to live right around our means, sometimes we pull back and live a little more frugally, saving for the future, sometimes we get caught up and spend a little more than we should, but we’re often able to dial it back and get on course. There are certainly outliers – millionaires in wholly pants and stained t-shirts, and five button suit, fedora wearing, chapter 7 filing debtors – but they aren’t the norm. We all strive to fit in with those around us and adhere to the social norms in the public spheres we frequent.
The problem is, the current system of our politics is not in the vein of the Least Restrictive Environment. The State is constantly regulating everything, from how you run your business, to what shoes you have to wear on the job site, these regulations add restrictions. When we add restrictions and regulations, it makes it harder on small businesses and the individual to better their economic station.
Further, when the State hands out monies to businesses in the form of tax-breaks or assitances to the individual, we start to see restrictions being imposed. Those restrictions come in the form of a lack of competition. If I know that I can wait on the State to feed, clothe, medicate, and shelter me, I have no incentive to compete with others for a better way of life. If I know that my business is operating at a loss until the end of the year when I get a big tax-break from the State because I installed some solar panels, or I hired some minority workers, or that my business is just too big for the State to let fail, my incentive to improve starts to diminish. When I join a union, I know that every week, I will be paid a certain amount, I know that my job is fairly secure, and I am aware of the minimum amount of work I must do. I have no incentive to work harder for a raise or to work better to keep my job. I can do just enough to get by and while this may seem ideal, it lowers our expectations of ourself and with it goes some self value.
The Nanny State that is entrenched and upheld by the duopoly, the political system in the United States does not allow for the Least Restrictive Environment. There are tomes of regulations and restrictions on the individual and the business. A truly least restrictive environment in which competition can flourish and the individual can excel exist within the freemarket. If we all had to compete for jobs and paychecks we would get better at discussing contracts with bosses, we would become more efficient workers, we would have higher expectations for ourselves, because they would be attainable. We mandate teachers to teach students in the least restrictive environment so why is it any different for adults? Why do we recognize that students have higher expectations for themselves when restrictions and barriers are removed and they are forced to compete with other students? If you threw all the students into a pot, undoubtedly they would settle out and there would be striations, levels of students, some smarter, some not so smart, some would excel at auto-tech, some would excel at physical education and others at math, and it would be normal. If we threw all adults into a pot, the same striations would occur. Not every individual is cut out to be a CEO, and not every individual is cut out to be an auto-tech or a roofer, but you would have more movement. It would be easier for the roofer to go out and start his own roofing business and become a CEO, it would be easier for the beautician to start her own cosmetology school. Unfortunately, regulations create restrictions and limit this movement – usually due to licensing fees or zoning laws. In a more free world, we would all be living in our own least restrictive environments; if it’s good enough for the children, why not the adults?
Another post from the old blog. Some of the things that made us hesitate when deciding to start homeschooling, though all things that can be overcome.
Earlier, I mentioned that my wife and I had many discussions before deciding to not enroll our son in first grade. In those discussions we came up with a number of reasons that we were unhappy with the public school system. At the same time, there were a handful of things that made us apprehensive about homeschooling. Surely, you may not agree with all of our reasons, or think we missed some key reasons to keep a child in public school, but these are what we deemed to be the most consequential.
As adults, we make decisions for ourselves, as parents we also make decisions for our children. Every time we make a decision we are utilizing a recollection of previous experiences as well as synthesizing new information surrounding present circumstances. A lot of the decision making when it comes to whether or not homeschooling is a good option, can be based on our experience in school both educationally and socially. I was a student that thrived in the elementary school setting (fell apart in middle school and was back to enjoying high school by the end.) I enjoyed the projects, I enjoyed reading and writing reports, I enjoyed gym class every other day, I enjoyed running around like a hooligan on the playground. Believe it or not, some of my teachers taught me to enjoy learning and instilled some important values. In the end I would eventually go on to get my Master’s degree in education. Public school also worked for my wife as she went on to get her Doctor’s in Audiology. So if a generic public school setting worked for us (and countless others) why should it not it work for our son? And further, why would I take those enjoyable experiences away from my son? Unfortunately, when you’re making decisions for a third party, you need to keep their best interests in mind, and sometimes what worked for you may not work for them. My wife and I really tried to remove our personal experiences with school from the decision making process, but it was difficult. Compounding the difficulty was the fact that the public school landscape has changed and not necessarily for the better.
One of the biggest factors for everyone to consider when it comes to deciding whether or not to homeschool – and it’s really too bad – is it’s affordability. There are a couple of upfront costs, but there are also some hidden fees that need to be considered. The most obvious cost is curriculum. Even if you create all the curriculum you will use, you will still be using resources: paper and ink, pencils to write, or even just the electric to keep the lights on when they would otherwise be off. Luckily for us, my mother-in-law is a homeschooler and my mother is an Elementary Special Ed teacher, my brother is a high school tech ed teacher, and my father is an engineer with a huge science brain: we have the educational resources. Over the past couple of years we have bought a few boxed curriculum sets and filled in the rest with miscellaneous worksheets from workbooks given to us. If we decided to buy a boxed curriculum for every subject, the cost would add up quite quickly. And while those costs might add up, the biggest cost associated with homeschooling, is that you are essentially working for free. Say what you will about a homemaker/homeschooler it’s a job. It takes time and effort and most importantly – financially speaking – it reduces household income to one salary. Next year both of our children will be school age and we could be sending them to public school which would free me up to work part time or even full time as a teacher. That would be easily an extra $30k per year. Over time, that second income adds up and homeschooling becomes pretty costly. Over three years, it could easily cost $100,000 to homeschool your children. The last prong of the financial fork in your homeschooling steak is tuition. The moment you buy a piece of property, you start paying property taxes and somewhere wrapped in that massive payment the state/county takes from you are your school taxes and you’ll pay them until you start renting or you curl up under a log and die – long after your child has finished with school. Depending on how big your house is, or how vast your property, your tuition will be different, but the fact remains the same, the state is already forcing you to pay for public school, so you might as well use it. Clearly, public school is not free, but the cost of homeschooling can be much higher.
The last big hang up we had (okay, it was mostly mine) is sports. It is one of those things that will not surface for another handful of years, but all the same, it is something to think about – and something I still think about quite frequently. School districts often offer youth rec-leagues and there’s usually some sort of travel program depending on the sport. Though by seventh grade, the youth programs begin to peter out to be replaced by high school sports and the cost of travel programs begins to increase. At a quick glance it seems that most states allow for homeschool students to participate in school sports (you can find a fairly comprehensible list here), but Georgia (our state) is not on that list and when speaking to other homeschoolers, their students have not been allowed to participate in public school sports. (Though I imagine if the student was an all-star QB the district would quickly change its mind.) To me, this is an issue.
I ran all three seasons of high school sports: cross country, indoor and outdoor track. It was something that I recall quite fondly, and I think instilled a strong work ethic and a sense of routine outside of school. Everyday, when school ended – a place I was compelled to be – I would play some frisbee with my friends for an hour and then at 3:30, practice would begin and I would spend the next hour-and-a-half of my day doing something that I technically did not have to do. Sports kept me occupied when I might have had too much free time, and they also gave me certain standards I had to meet if I wanted to keep participating (grades, behavior, tardiness, etc). It really gave me an incentive to work through high school as opposed to fighting my way through.
If the incentive sports gave to work through school was not enough, there was also the team aspect. There was nothing more important in my education than learning to work with others and the camaraderie that comes when aiming to achieve a universal goal. Understandably, this might not be true for all students, but it heavily impacted my high school education and in turn impacts my decision making when deciding to not enroll our son.
As I look back at the decision making process, I think we had some other minor drawbacks here and there, but these three were the ones that came up repeatedly. Almost every anti-homeschool discussion focused on these topics. In the end they were not enough encouragement for us to keep our son in public school, but they might be for others. And as we move along this homeschool journey, we may find other traits of homeschooling we disagree with. There is nothing in the near future that I can imagine would make us want to send out son back to public school, though as we approach high school, different factors may arise.
Homeschooling, it is not for everyone, and to be honest, it took me a long while to get on board with the concept. After all, I have my Master’s degree in education. Pulling my son out of public school, the place I spent six years of my life training to work in, felt like something of a betrayal. It was an admittance that I saw something wrong with the public school system, that there was something wrong with my life-path-choice. It was an admittance that I was wasteful and wrong, two things I don’t care to be. It took us nearly the whole summer to finally make the decision and we only really pulled the trigger a few weeks before school was slated to start.
When we lived in Vermont, the idea of homeschooling never really crossed our minds. Sure, the schools in Vermont had to live up to the same federal standards as the schools in Georgia, but the mentality was different: the halls were friendlier, the parents welcome, the classes smaller. That isn’t to say the schools in Georgia are bad – my son learned how to read and blazed through math in public kindergarten – but it just was not a good fit for our family. Of course, at the time, I did not know that homeschooling would be the right fit, and even today a year-and-a-half later, there are days I question our choice.
I am not sure how many discussions my wife and I had before finally making the decision to not enroll our son in first grade, but there were many, and it was not always the same points that were contended. Undoubtedly, homeschooling is not for everyone and there will be a litany of different reasons for every family, some will be more real than others, but they all play into the final decision.
One of our main concerns with public school was time: time traveling to school as well as time in school and how it was spent. In our county the students have a seven hour day, even the kindergartners. Yes, I am aware that many schools are moving to a full day kindergarten, but in Vermont this was not the case. (I strongly disagree with full day kindergarten but that is for another post.) It seems to me that graduating from a three-to-four hour pre-school program to a seven hour kindergarten day is a massive jump and one we were not particularly keen on.
While I may not think it ever appropriate for a five or six year old to be in an institutional setting for seven hours a day – or really at all – inevitably as a student progresses through their educational career, it will become necessary. What I fear (and saw first hand) is how seat time is actually utilized. As a soccer coach, I learned that no player should ever be standing still: lines are bad. If you must use a line for a drill, try to get players to do basic exercises with the ball while standing in line. The same idea can, and should, be applied to school, but it is not, in fact, many times, it can’t be accomplished due to classroom makeup. Classrooms are filled with brilliant students who buzz through worksheets in no time as well as students who ought to have an aide, but do not. Yes, it is a teachers job to handle this gamut of students, but it is not always possible with burgeoning classroom sizes and ever increasing government proffered “standards” that focus on the lowest common denominator. So what happens? I guess it depends on the teacher, but it usually ends up being downtime in which a student is wasting time, and at the end of the day if you add up all that wasted time, how much do you have and what else could have been accomplished?
Another issue I take, is that in a seven hour school day, kindergartners went outside once for twenty minutes: twenty minutes. They went to gym twice a week for 40 minutes and lunch was 20 minutes. There was no down time from learning. Kindergarten – in my mind – ought to be about playing, learning how to play and how to interact in a manner that is appropriate for children. Instead they are stuck trying to keep up with standards some bureaucrat on the take from the Education Lobby has put in place. (Think about how much money is poured into the education industry with the advent of testing?)
In his year of kindergarten, my son never took the bus. This was not for fear of being bullied or any other emotional fear surrounding the bus, but rather it was the duration of the bus ride. Because of where we lived, my son would have been the first on and the last off the bus which does not mean much in itself; however, when you learn that the bus went by our house at 6:35 am and again at 4:35 pm it gets a whole lot more intimidating. From beginning to end, that is essentially a ten hour day – for a five year old. There are adults that do not (and could not) do that. In the end, it was me that was driving him back and forth to school everyday, yes it was our choice to do so, but it was a decision that had a pretty bleak alternative.
On top of the long day, the school system in our county is quite large; it is the third largest county in Georgia and it is broken into three school districts. Coming from Vermont where each grade had two – maybe three classrooms of 15-25 students in each, a grade with eight classrooms of 22-25 kids was a bit of a shock. It essentially meant that from year to year, our son would most likely not be with any of his friends from the prior year: each year would almost be like starting over. In our minds that meant two things, firstly, if home schooling didn’t work for first grade, we could stick him back in for second grade, and in terms of social networks, he would not be that far behind. Second, it meant that each new year would almost be like starting in a new school rather than a return to familiar situations. This was troublesome for us. (Imagine how much attention can be put on learning when you don’t have to constantly worry about navigating new social situations.)
Despite all the differences we face based on regional characteristics, there is at least one common trait through schools across the country: teachers. Some teachers are phenomenal and you wish your student could have them every year, some teachers are rubbish and you wish your child did not have to spend a day with them. Unfortunately, this is a crap shoot in public school. There is no telling who your teacher will be from year to year. There is no telling their political biases (though one can imagine what you might get from unionized workers). At least with home schooling I know who the teacher is and where the weaknesses lie.
For all the talk about how unhealthy our kids are, and how much we need to make them go exercise and eat their grains it was amazing how unhealthy the school food was. Due to the average income level of the student body as a whole, the school received funding for free breakfast for all the students, and while one might think that a tax-payer funded program would provide good wholesome food – much like every other government program, it did not. Each morning as every child entered the school doors, a lunch worker was standing there handing out bagged breakfasts to those that wanted one. (We never let our son take them, but he would inevitably get them in the classroom.) What was in these wholesome bags of goodness? Sometimes a fruit – orange, banana, apple, – or a cheese stick, but more often than not, it was a six pack of mini-donuts, or a box of sour-raisins, a Pop-Tart or a juice box: grains and fruits loaded down with sugars and additives. Exactly what students need to sit through a long day of school, but hey, it was tax-payer funded.
Another big concern of ours was communication. When a teacher – an integral part to education – has 25+ students, seemingly endless evaluations to write, new standards to learn, lesson plans to write and constantly submit for evaluation, there is little time left to communicate with families – the other integral part to education. Just like everything else, education has gone the way of regulations. There is a constant growth of paperwork and guidelines for teachers to follow, and that takes away from what education really is: a relationship between a teacher and a student (and family when appropriate) that encourages a child to grow their brain and discover the world.
This is not to say that homeschooling is the answer to all of these issues, but for now, it seems like it is the best answer to many of these concerns. And of course, homeschooling has some drawbacks that give me pause whenever I think about them, but I think the pros outweigh them. No doubt, this list is not comprehensive, and there are many other pros to homeschooling that were either of little concern to us, or things that I just overlooked. Something that we have started to consider lately, is the matter that the federal government is slowly grasping power over the school systems, but this is worthy of its very own post.