Home Schooling Is Hip. . .and Selfish

Two recently recommended bloggers with ginormous audiences have written they are going to start home schooling their kids (Penelope Trunk) or wish they had the time to home school their kids (James Altucher).

If public schooling was a stock, everyone would be selling. I get it. Schools adapt to change far too slowly. Most are painfully out of date. Far too often, learning isn’t engaging or relevant enough. But the homeschoolers fail to realize that there has never been a Golden Age of riveting, transformative learning.

T&A (Trunk and Altucher) are the new home schoolers. The traditional home schoolers are religious stalwarts who can’t stomach subjecting their children to multiculturalism, gay rights, evolution, environmental ethics, and the sort.

The new home schoolers believe public schooling will make their largely secular children less curious, less distinctive, less intelligent, less likely to succeed in our 21st Century economy.

The problem though is home schooling is separatism on steriods. A vibrant democracy depends upon children learning to get along with other children different than them.

But who besides Penelope Trunk is more motivated to provide her children an excellent education than Penelope Trunk? I manage my own money because I learned very early on that the guy I paid to do it didn’t care if my assets grew nearly as much as me. No financial planner is as motivated as me. Is there an Adam Smith homeschooling parallel, that if each family pursues it’s best interests, society more generally will benefit in the end?

I suppose, but what percentage of children have a college educated parent or two that have the time and inclination to educate them better than the teachers at their local public school? An infinitesimal one. I want to applaud parents for taking responsibility for educating their own children, but I’m concerned it stems from a deep-seated selfishness. Do the new home schoolers care about other children? About the legions of children who didn’t fare as well as their own in the lottery of life?

There’s zero evidence of social consciousness in T’s and A’s anti-public schooling screeds. They’re not saying we want this society, this economy, and this democracy to thrive. I suspect what they want is for their five or six children to have an upperhand in the inevitable survival of the fittest competition that awaits them.

If people mindlessly congratulate Penelope Trunk and James Altucher for in essence thinking exclusively about their own children’s well-being, and the new home schooling movement grows, the achievement gap will widen, further weakening social relations, our economy, and our democracy.

Recent Readers’ Comments

• Recently, a reader correctly wrote “A concerted effort has been made to paint American public schools with a broad brush as ‘failing’”.

K-12 students are in school approximately 22% of the time they’re awake throughout the year. If we’re unsatisfied with our eighteen year olds’ relative preparedness for life, maybe we should challenge parents and the businesspeople, politicians and journalists who regularly denigrate teachers to take more responsibility for it.

The U.S. economy is always in flux. When unemployment is low and the economy is humming no one credits public school teachers. That understandably breeds cynicism. We have many of the best universities in the world. If public schools are failing, how is that possible? The truth of course is that public schools are not failing, the problem is the uneven mix of strong, mediocre, and weak schools too closely tied to family’s socio-economic status.

Some choice is helpful, but it’s not a panacea for improved schooling. Free-market proposals that hinge in part on school closures are counter-productive. Sad that this needs pointing out—schools are different than fast food restaurants. Historically marginalized students need more resources to help catch up to their wealthier peers.

• In reflecting on my critique of the five-paragraph essay, another reader wrote that teachers will “ . . . teach exactly what students need to pass high stakes. When districts and teachers are judged by the number of student who pass these tests, there’s little they can do except teach to the test.”

That’s conventional wisdom. We repeat it all the time. In fact, a lot of beginning teachers tell themselves, “I’ll get fired, if I don’t teach to the test.” If that’s true, where are all the articles about teachers getting called to task, put on leave, or fired for their students’ disappointing test scores?

No one minds teaching to challenging, relevant, thoughtfully designed tests that require genuine thinking versus rote learning. Those types of tests can even inspire one’s teaching. The problem is the poor quality of most standardized tests.

If teaching is a true profession, when stuck with poorly designed standardized tests, teachers should respectfully but forcefully resist by saying to their principals, “Sorry if this gets you in trouble with your superintendent, but we’re not teaching to this test because students could pass it and still not be prepared for subsequent classes, college, or the workforce. In the interest of our students (and not the superintendent and not local realtors), we’re using the national standards and our professional judgment to teach a more rigorous, relevant, and inspiring curriculum.”