Wednesday, September 28, 2011

School Vouchers and Homeschooling

Our local paper has an article in it today about the local school board launching an initiative to find out why students have been either leaving the district or not enrolling at all.  After skimming the article, I scrolled down to the comments section.  You'd think I would have learned by now to quit reading the comments in this paper, since they're populated by trolls, but I let my curiosity get the better of me.

Some of the comments are as follows:

"If you really want the best education you should give vouchers for those that believe another school or homeschool provides a better work environment. Competition is ALWAYS the best for education and business/ thats why walmart rules the world because it has no real competition and its stuff is junk and workers underpaid."

"Ahh, but liberal teachings are so important to the Democrat agenda. What gives parents the right to want their children to learn anything else? Much less, not pay for it (liberal agenda)."

"We choose to homeschool, and I could go on and on about about the reasons: Smaller . . . no negative peer pressure, moral absolutes, less wasted time,. . ."

Personally, I think we have an above-average public school system here.  I have many complaints about my time as a student here, but overall, as a parent I've been happy with the level of education my son is getting.  He had some problems with reading in Kindergarten and 1st grade, and was quickly enrolled into a one-on-one teaching program that brought him up to grade level.  The teachers have been wonderful, and my son loves going to school.

However, year after year our school district asks for more money from the community, and year after year they are denied.  Then we have the nerve to complain about the quality of our schools.

I do not understand how anyone can claim that school vouchers are the answer to our public school problems. In case you're unfamiliar with the concept of school vouchers, here's the gist of it: I think my local public school sucks, so the government should give me tuition money to enroll my kids in a private or religious school.  How does that solve anything?  Our public school system is decaying, so instead of focusing money on them, let's funnel it to private schools?  And I won't even get into the problems with using public money to send kids to religious schools.  I'm sure you can figure out where I stand on that one.

As for home-schooling, I can understand the impulse to want to provide a better education for your children by providing it at home, but I think home-schooling brings it own set of problems. For one thing, most home-schooling these days seems to be going on for religious reasons, which again, I probably don't have to explain my problem with. 

But to me, the biggest issue is the damage that can be done by keeping your children from going through the struggles associated with school.  Learning how to survive and thrive and in the social setting of school is an important part of development.  Kids need to figure out how to navigate the world full of other people who don't necessarily think or act like them.  Kids who are sheltered from that may have problems transitioning into the world of work as an adult.

Anyway, my point is, public schools are important.  They educate the next generation of people who will be taking care of us in our old age.  Even if you don't have a child in school, don't you want the people who will be your future doctors, business owners and insurance salesmen to be properly educated?  Why don't we value our public education system a little more?


  1. Here is a story for you to think about. I am a secular (absolutely non-religious) homeschooler, reluctantly so. I hire in the teachers I want for my own internal "private school" in my home. Why on Earth would I do this and why would I not spend my money on my public school?
    Here is the setting: I live in a very poor rural district that has very little public school money to spend. Even so, this district has spent its precious funds recently on a $20M new "green" school with 5 computers and a Smartboard in EACH classroom. Fantastic!! What an opportunity for these kids!! Right? Armed with this hopeful belief, I attended classes at my children's grade level at this school.
    In the actual classroom, where teachers are constrained to a curriculum that is mostly test-based, the atmosphere is like that of a beautiful prison. These are not the same struggles you and I went through during our public education years ago. Now, children sit in front of computers or worksheets and methodically plod through disjointed, uninteresting material. I could hardly suffer through the classes, only observing for 40 minutes...and I'm not 7 years old! I could not face putting my children through this system, and I doubt that all of my money can change it. I almost cried to think of 500 students, every year, going through this misery.
    So what about a private school, so that my children can get socialization and learn to relate to other people in the world? By the way, most non-homeschoolers are very concerned about these subjects, and if you do some reasearch you will find that homeschoolers relate better to their peers than most non-homeschoolers. I am merely suggesting that you reach out and talk to most of us who are not fundamentalist religious spelling bee freaks :) And do some journal paper research on this type of education, it might surprise you!
    OK, back to private school...the closest private school for me requires a 30 minute drive to and fro, meaning 2 hours out of my day or paying a taxi service (seriously, I am NOT a rock star) to cart my kids back and forth to the schools. Which ends up costing me the same in transport and tuition as hiring my own personal teacher. So...I sigh and I homeschool...but my children are getting exactly the education they need.
    So, I am dutifully paying for public education, plus my own version of homeschooling. I do wish I could recoup some of that personal money. However, I believe very strongly in public education, like you do. But does my money remaining in that system make it better?
    I wonder what you would do in my situation... I plan on continuing homeschooling while trying to change the system through a social movement. What do you think? Thanks for listening!

  2. It sounds to me like I might consider doing what you're doing, but not actually being in your situation, I can't say for sure since I haven't done the research. As a mom though, you’re doing what you need to do, and I find no fault with that at all. I'm lucky enough to live in a rural district that has fantastic schools, and I couldn't be happier with my son's elementary school and all of his teachers. My main beef with the vouchers is obviously the religious thing, and I in no way want to give public money to religious schools.
    As far as secular homeschooling goes, I'm okay with people doing it, as long as it meets the same standards as regular public schools. It sounds like your district is just really bad at spending money, and perhaps the way to go would be to get involved with the school board or in local politics to try to change this, but I don't know what the political climate is like in your area.
    With the socializing thing, obviously it varies from child to child, but it's just not a topic I'm interested enough in to do journal research. I was just going by the anecdotal evidence of the people I know who were homeschooled. They seem to have a harder time adjusting to the "real world."
    In the end though, I think yours is probably a very unique situation, and even if it isn't, I just don't think the answer is to totally give up on the public school system in favor of private schools or homeschooling. That's the gist of what I was saying. It's seems like more and more people are just throwing their hands up and saying "Well, our public schools suck, so let's send everyone to private schools." I just think we as a society need to do more to stand up for our public schools and try to make them better, rather than just giving up on them altogether. I know there are going to be unique situations everywhere with everything, but the broader answer is to fix to the system we’ve got.

  3. I don't think "Anonymous" is really so unique. I live in an urban area and I homeschool my kids. I am not religious and I have to be diligent in choosing curriculum and choosing social outlets to avoid the rabid fundamentalists who homeschool around me. They are there and they are organized. It turns out that there are lots of secular homeschoolers as well. I just had to find them.

    In the early years, I taught my kids using workbooks and online tools. As they mature, they have become very independent and need me less and less. Now, they do classes online with outside teachers for some subjects and work through textbooks, workbooks, etc. on their own for other subjects. I watch my 9th and 10th grader approach school like a college student because I raised them this way. They are both boys. They started with severe challenges. They test above age and grade on the SAT. They are articulate. Adults comment about their exceptional social skills. I think this is BECAUSE they learned their social skills from adults, not in spite of it.

    It has never made sense to me to confine a kid to his same-age peers for most of his waking hours. When my children have conflict, I see it, and I am able to teach them problem-solving skills on the spot. I can see the opportunities my kids have to learn that I didn't have and public school kids today don't have.

    To be honest, when we spend time with public school kids (and we do through our boy scout troop), they seem stunted. They can't carry on conversations, they are apathetic, they are starving for stimulation, and they constantly seek peer approval. I would hate to have a kid like this.

    I have heard this argument about "adjusting to the real world" and I would say that there is nothing "real world" about public school. My kids live in the real world while school kids live in the most unnatural institution possible. Once kids graduate, they will never again face similar circumstances, unless they find themselves in prison.

    Having said that, successful public schools are critical to ensuring we live in a world with a strong middle class. Underfunding schools, demanding that schools meet performance standards without social support, putting unreasonable demands on teachers, and then pointing to teachers and blaming them for failing is criminal. Schools are in trouble, but I think that was the plan all along. It has been an effective strategy: strip funding, complain loudly how poorly it works, then replace it with a privately owned corporation. Brilliant! Someone gets to make a lot of money and America becomes a little bit more like India.

    I feel sad for kids who are in public schools right now. Homeschooling has been the perfect choice for our family. I wouldn't have it any other way.

  4. Well, you definitely don't need to feel sorry for my kids. My 8-year-old couldn't be happier in his school. He's very social by nature, and would be bored to tears staying home with me all day. He also has fantastic teachers and a school that provides a lot of opportunities for him.

    But I think the biggest issue here is this; homeschooling is simply not a realistic alternative for everybody in America. My husband and I both work, as do a high percentage of parents in America, so who is going to stay home and teach them?

    I'm not saying that no one should homeschool or that it's not a valid option for many families, but I am saying that I worry about the quality of education the kids are getting in those situations. As long as there are some standards in place, I guess I don't care, and again, my main beef is with the religious homeschoolers who are teaching their kids incorrect science and history. Homeschooling because you have the option of doing so and because you feel it's better for your kids is fine, but most parents don't have that option, which is why we need a strong public school system.

    Plus, I really don't think that school is an "unnatural" situation. I go to work every day during set hours with a group of my peers. I have a dictated lunch time and am told what to do all day. I have minor and major conflicts and I figure out how to solve them. That's pretty normal for most people's working situations.

    And I don't necessarily think that the government in general has a plan for public schools to fail so that we can privatize them all, although I do think Republicans have that exact plan, which is one of the many reasons they scare the shit out of me. The whole point of getting voucher systems in place is to say to America “Hey, look at how crappy our public schools are! Wouldn’t you rather have us pay to send you to a nice private school?” My argument is, can’t we use that money to fix the public schools instead of subsidizing the private schools?

  5. I think a key point here is that you said both you and your children went to an above average public school system. I did as well. Since being married and having two children I have moved to another city and the schools here are terrible. I wouldn't dream of sending my kids there. I am not going to wait around for the government to change how they're managing these school systems. My kids will be grown by the time any real change happens. We can't pack up and move to a place with better schools and private schools are too expensive. I don't think I should get a voucher but I should get a tax credit. Why should I be taxed to pay for a bad public school system. I am capable of giving my children a better education as these schools don't even meet their own standards. Schools don't get this way overnight and I'm not letting my kids suffer in the years it will take to improve this system. Good for you and your above average schools.

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Let's keep it civil people.