Part of what makes public schools widely supported is that everyone buys into the idea that kids need teachers in order to learn.
Yet, if you look closely at the arguments for teachers it becomes clear that kids do not need teachers trained in curriculum-based education. Kids need teachers who can accommodate self-directed learning. And anyway, a 1:30 ratio is fine for a babysitter, but not a teacher. All of which leads me to make a list of reasons why parents don’t need to be teachers to homeschool.
1. Parents are facilitators, not teachers. And love drives competent parental facilitation.
The Suzuki method for learning music is that the kids learn from the parents. Music is like a language and kids learn language from parents, so kids can learn to play music the same way. This is the theory. In practice, Suzuki kids play music well, but they aren’t that great at reading music. Because that skill has to be taught in a more systematic way.
I have dyscalculia which means that I am pretty much unable to understand how to read music. Yet my older son is excellent at sight reading. This is because I don’t have to be good at something to teach it to him. I just need to give him the tools to learn it.
And this is true of all teaching. Kids learn what they want to learn whether or not you are there to teach it. Ironically, my son would learn to read music the same way he learns to make movies for the Internet. You don’t need a parent who is an expert in order for you to learn the stuff you want to learn.
2. The selection process for teachers is awful, so how could you be worse?
We have no decent system for evaluating teachers and getting rid of bad teachers. Which means we actually have no idea if we even have good or bad teachers. But we do know that in the work world we fire people who do not innovate, and we force retirement for people who are too old, and in the schools we do the oppostie of those things.
I was struck by an article in The Week about a teacher who is 96. She is the oldest working teacher in the country probably. What struck me is that no company would let her take care of their business, so why do we let her take care of our children? Why do we have mandatory retirement for business but not for school? On top of that, she said that “The children are what make me get up in the morning,” which is believable but it makes her teaching about what works for her (which is merely keeping the system going), not about finding what’s right for the kids.
3. Teachers at school can never enable self-directed learning better than parents can at home.
Here’s a post by Diane Ravitch about why teachers are still important. The piece is written in a black hole of education knowledge, as if it is not controversial to have a “standard” curricula. As if for the first 2000 years of civilization there was not formal teaching. Most people who changed the world were educated in a self-directed way at home. Then education became more about babysitting for parents working in factories, and today we have teachers entrenched in the idea that kids need to learn what teachers can teach.
What blows me away about this “teachers are essential” argument is how it completely ignores the discussion of self-directed learning. Because teachers cannot do self-directed learning in a classroom. We can’t afford that in this country. We’d have to have a single teacher for every four students. Which means that teachers can’t facilitate self-directed learning. So where is Ravitch addressing this point? She ignores how education reformers widely agree that self-directed learning is best for kids.
4. A parent’s lack of teaching experience at home is offset by the terrible learning experience at school.
Time magazine recently ran an article about test-taking strategies that help reduce anxiety. A girl is quoted saying that she calms herself down by reminding herself that she goes to The Laurel School, an all-girls school, and girls at all-girl schools test better than girls at co-ed schools. (The boys test scores are a moot point because they don’t score as high as girls.)
Then I realize that if girls do better with just girls then why force the girls to learn with boys? What is the point? There is no evidence that if you go to The Laurel School and then Wellesley you don’t know how to deal with men.
And we know that if you homeschool kids, and let them pick who they hang out with, they generally pick their own gender. So, with this logic, homeschooled girls create stronger learning environments for themselves by intuitively structuring the best of an all-girls school environment around themselves. And homeschooled boys intuitively avoid everything about school that makes them look stupid, like trying to sit still before third grade, and all the other stuff girls excel at doing.
The evidence that our education system favors girls is enormous. It starts from the minute boys enter school, and all evidence points to the fact that boys need a completely different type of school than girls do. And, we know that boys stink at school. Probably because they want to be at recess most of the day, (which studies now show is a reasonable demand). Christina Hoff Sommers argues in the New York Times that we should start finding ways to cater to the needs of boys, because they’re doing so poorly in school. A great idea is to get the boys out of classrooms that cater to the strengths of girls.
The irony of public school is that it puts all the kids together whether it’s good for them or not. Clearly, kids do better divided by gender. This would be a controversial step to take in the public schools, so it will never happen. But kids know instinctively who they’ll thrive next to, and homeschooled kids naturally gravitate toward their gender. So homeschooling confers on kids the benefits of single-sex education without the exorbitant cost of private school.