The World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling, Part 1

I’ve been reading a book called Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling (Beacon Press, August, 2009) by Robert Kunzman. The book is a look at six Christian families and how they homeschool their children. Not every family fits the stereotype I know I have in my mind. Some are impressive; others leave much to be desired.

A number of the passages in the book make for interesting discussion starters, so I’ll post some of them up over the next few days.

Like this one, featuring a homeschooling mother who doesn’t have a strong grasp of the material herself:

A short while into their bookwork, [daughter] Veronica asks her mom for help in explaining a problem in her math text. At first, [mother] Lydia is stumped as well. “I don’t know what they want because I don’t buy the teacher’s books,” she explains to me. “That’s just an extra twenty-five dollars that I can try to manage without. It’s a first-grade math book — I’m sure I can figure it out.” She scans the instructions again, and they eventually reach the correct answer. “We don’t usually do tests,” Lydia explains to me. “We usually just talk it out and talk it out, because they’ve got to convince me they know it.” (p. 43)

And later with the same family:

I wander into the kitchen, where [daughter] Anna sits at a tiny desk in the corner, working on her grammar workbook. [Mother] Lydia follows me and tells her older daughter that she needs to check what she’s done. “Okay,” Lydia says, reading the directions aloud, “underline the plural possessive noun in each sentence.” She pauses, then repeats the direction to herself, trying to figure out just how much should be underlined. Without the teacher’s edition as a reference, she is left to make her best guess. For these exercises, it probably doesn’t matter much what exactly gets underlined, as long as the correct rules are learned for possessives.

But they run into a problem here as well, when the sample sentences involve words that are automatically plural, such as oxen or children. As far as I can tell, Lydia isn’t familiar with this grammar rule. “Oxens — this is driving me crazy right here,” she admits. “The plural of oxen is oxen — and then yokes. Hmm. The oxens — that’s nuts. Doesn’t make sense to me.”

She looks at the next sentence, where Anna has hedged her bets with two apostrophes: geese’s’. “Which one is right?” her mom asks her.

“I don’t know,” Anna admits.

“Well, you need to know,” Lydia says. “Because maybe if you explain it to me, that will explain my thinking.” She scans farther down the page. “The boys’ hats. Is the hats apostrophied? Is it possessive? Is it many hats or is it somebody’s hats? It says a plural name — a plural noun names more than one person. And so here’s children, okay? Should the childrens’s noises — now that’s lots of noises, but is it the noises are owning something? Because if it’s owning something, then you have to have your apostrophe. Do the noises own something?”

At this point, I’m pretty lost by Lydia’s explanation, and it’s hard to imagine that Anna is tracking it either. They continue working on it for another five minutes, discussing different examples, but I don’t get the sense that either of them reach any sort of clarity before Lydia decides it’s time to move on to the next subject. (p. 52)


  • Ian

    Great, just what the world needs, more dumb people. xians would be funny, if it was not all so sad.

  • Richard

    I think the examples you’ve given are more to do with what a bad idea it is not to buy the teacher’s edition of the book, rather than anything to do with conservatism or Christianity.

    It’s obvious she’s severely damaging her child’s education though.

  • Carlie

    I am all for homeschooling, but I think that the homeschool provider should have to pass a basic competency test for the grade they’re teaching before getting the approval to do it.

  • Matto the Hun

    “underline the plural possessive noun in each sentence.” She pauses, then repeats the direction to herself, trying to figure out just how much should be underlined. Without the teacher’s edition as a reference, she is left to make her best guess.

    plural possesive nouns… really? BLARRRG!
    That’s wicked easy. What is this, an episode of Who’s Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

    Seems like part of this lady’s problem is that she is too cheep or couldn’t afford to spring for the teacher’s edition. If she knew what the answers were she might be able to help her daughter explain out these things.

    This is odd to me. If her kid’s education is so important that she is willing to pull her from public school in favor of home schooling, one would think she would go the extra mile and have the teacher’s edition books. Instead, not having the books makes it look like she’s cutting corners and half assing it. She has created a situation of confusion for herself and her kids.

    In other words… WTF!?

  • http://tuibguy.com Mike Haubrich, FCD

    As Richard says, homeschooling is not axiomatically poor education, whether motivated by a conservative christianity or a desire to avoid negative socialization in the schools. The parents should be able to demonstrate some competency. I know several families in which at least one of the parents is a professional educator, and so it is done well. They do make sure that they have the proper resources, because even a professional needs the teacher’s guide.

  • Sackbut

    Buying the teacher’s edition of the book only provides a guide to the material and correct answers to the problems in the book. It is best if the teacher actually knows the material. Teaching grammar or math by regurgitating material from a textbook without understanding it is not a good idea.

    But think about how this mother’s motivation for homeschooling plays into the situation. Someone who homeschools because he thinks he can do a better job teaching the material I would expect to know at least some of the material well. Someone who homeschools to keep his child out of the evil immoral environment of the local schools has other priorities, and may not know the material well.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com/ Deen

    Sounds like a typical case of penny-wise, pound-foolish.

  • Sesoron

    I work as a writing tutor at my university, and — completely aside from the grammatical competency of the parent and child — I had a student whom I believed to be homeschooled. She was writing a paper with the thesis that homosexuality was wrong, using only the bible as support for that claim. I had the fortunate obligation to inform her that that’s not good enough to convince anybody else, which is the purpose of any position paper. The other evidence I have in support of my claim that she was homeschooled was 1. she was extremely meek and nervous, probably unused to dealing with large populations of different people; and 2. after the tutoring session, I received an angry email from her father. I assembled a calm and rational reply, but to this day (years later) I have yet to receive his response. All of that doesn’t necessarily mean she was homeschooled, but it implies that kind of mindset: conservative beliefs, undeveloped social skills, and the need to report back to parents even while attending college.

  • Carlie

    Even if the homeschool adult is competent in the subject, it’s still a good idea to get the teacher’s guide for whatever book the kids are using. I’ve helped my children out with their homework a lot, and I swear, even on simple addition problems sometimes the layout of the page and directions make it almost impossible to see what the lesson and point (and answers) are supposed to be. Many times I’ve said “I know what the answer is, but I don’t know what they’re asking for here”.

  • Amy G

    With the internet able to provide any information anyone could ever want, there’s really no excuse for not knowing 1st grade material even without the teacher’s edition. Does this family believe that computers are evil?

  • Miko

    Teacher’s editions are much less useful than one would think. If it’s impossible to learn how to do it from the student’s edition, it indicates a severe flaw in the student’s edition, not a need for the teacher’s edition. I’d say the problem here is that the parent is not looking over the material beforehand: her questions should all be resolved before she tries to teach it to someone else.

    I am all for homeschooling, but I think that the homeschool provider should have to pass a basic competency test for the grade they’re teaching before getting the approval to do it.

    Because, in the words of Hillary Clinton, “there’s no such thing as ‘other people’s children.’” The fact that modern liberals think that there’s at least one room in the house that government should stay out of (i.e., the bedroom) makes them far better than conservatives, but not by enough.

    Seeing as homeschooled children do better on average, I suggest we turn it around: a parent wanting to send their children to a public school should first have to fail a basic competency test more severely than that the local public school teachers do.

  • Miko

    With the internet able to provide any information anyone could ever want, there’s really no excuse for not knowing 1st grade material even without the teacher’s edition. Does this family believe that computers are evil?

    Not surprisingly, a family that considers $25 a significant outlay is, in many cases, likewise unable to afford a computer.

  • Shawn

    With the internet able to provide any information anyone could ever want, there’s really no excuse for not knowing 1st grade material even without the teacher’s edition.

    The internet used as a tool to teach grammar? My head is spinning.

    “u got 2 uz ‘ 2 end a posesif ending wif s”

  • frances

    @Shawn – Amy G. suggested the internet, which does consist of more than Twitter!

  • http://jetson.wordpress.com/ Jetson

    Not surprisingly, a family that considers $25 a significant outlay is, in many cases, likewise unable to afford a computer.

    Right. A computer provides way more important entertainment value, so perhaps it is more likely they do own a computer, and the teachers guide falls off of the budget like a lead balloon!

  • Myrealana

    As long as they eventually end up with the right answer, the kids who explore along with their teacher (or mother) to arrive at that answer are more likely to fully understand and remember the lesson than kids who just get the instructions from the teacher.

    I tutor kids from 5th grade through high school in math, and even though that’s my field, sometimes I just don’t know what their book is asking them to do. I truly am as baffled as they are at the beginning of the lesson. On those occasions, I let the student be the teacher. I don’t spend the money for teachers editions either – I’ve got five clients right now from four different schools. I don’t get paid enough to afford teachers editions for every possibility.

    However, if I were homeschooling, I would try to find other parents in the same situation and share the expense with them. You wouldn’t actually need the teachers edition every day for every assignment. It could rotate among a few families and save everyone some money.

  • Ellen

    I’m a language teacher and have rarely found teacher’s editions to be helpful. What IS helpful on the other hand is a basic grammar book. That is something that I would think most households would (or should) have. You can buy a used copy of Strunk and White (for example) for $1.50 at virtually any used bookstore. It is also, as far as I can conjecture, ideologically neutral, meaning that a conservative Christian family probably will not find it objectionable.

    As a language instructor I often come up against questions that I can’t answer on the spot. It is my job to find the answer in the appropriate reference material, not to know everything off the top of my head. Although I’m kind of shocked she doesn’t know the answers to such easy questions, I’m even more frustrated by her helplessness. It’s not a guessing game and the answers are readily available.

  • darlene

    When I was in school (private, not public) and I asked a question the teacher didn’t know the answer to, she usually either made it up or otherwise pretended that she did know the answer…and I was in BIG trouble if I actually corrected her wrong answer.

    As I homeschool, if I don’t know the answer, I say so, and we go look it up together, thus teaching intellectual honesty and researching skills, plus the bonus of being able to admit when one is wrong or unsure and to ask for help. And my kid is encouraged to question and even prove me wrong! Those critical thinking skills are some of the more important things we can teach our children–something rarely modelled in school.

    As far as costs, when one parent has choosen to not bring in an income in order to teach their children, money usually does play a role. One $25 book may not seem like much, but add up each teacher edition for each subject for each child and it can get crazy expensive.

    Plus, consider how much kids are taught in schools that have no bearing on real life. Science and maths are skimmed over while soft subjects are made boring by watering them down to accomodate the bottom half of the class and by repetition and rote learning.

    I do some advocacy for gifted kids, and what I see is that many parents eventually get frustrated with a public (and often private) school system that is unable to make school challenging or interesting enough to captivate their child, and they end up homeschooling. (Parents of kids with disabilities often end up in the same situation.)

    They often discover that almost 6 years of math can be taught–effectively–in about 18 months. That one can get very involved in science without losing the kids attention, and that–in general–kids are capable of much deeper learning then most schools allow.

    That said, each child is different, and if we work to meet the needs of an individual rather then broad strokes to meet generalized needs of sterotyped kids we’d all be better off.

    But that’s just me.

  • Kelly

    Suddenly this blog makes sense to me: http://www.apostropheabuse.com/

  • Andrew Morgan

    Hemant, could you write a review when you’re done with the book? I’d be very interested to read what you think; the subject looks really interesting.

    As to the topic generally, I’m torn. I think, in the abstract, in a free country like the United States, we should err on the side of letting parents educate their own children how they see fit.

    This obviously comes with its own set of reasonable limitations. All children should receive an adequate education, both because a) children should not be shackled by their parent’s prejudices, beliefs, lack of knowledge, etc, and b) because society benefits when its members are educated.

    Public schools fail at achieving this goal all the time. No doubt parents who homeschool their children sometimes do too. But in both cases, it’s reasonable that we as a society have some interest in making sure that our youngest members have some competency in important subjects, even if the parents find this objectionable.

    It doesn’t seem to me that, merely because some parents choose to homeschool, they are exempt from the expectation that their children not be mentally crippled (Go Go Gadget Straw Man!). I leave it to stronger minds than mine to figure out how we ensure that this doesn’t happen.

    [Now time for a personal anecdote]: I work for a marketing company. One of my coworkers was homeschooled, then went to JMU for business. My guess is her experience models that of the children in the movie Jesus Camp. From the conversations we’ve had, her exposure to science was non-existent; her entire world is the Bible.

    I have no personal right to tell her how to raise her own children (don’t worry, they’re coming). Maybe society doesn’t either. But it makes me sad to imagine her having two or three small children of her own who will forever have large areas of human inquiry closed off to them, or at least made hard to access.

  • J. Allen

    Do children have a right to quality education?

    Is that more important than the parents right to control what their children think?

    Is it abusive to purposefully raise a child with a flawed understanding of the world, and less chance to succeed against his or her peers?

  • Claudia

    I’m all for homeschooling kids if that’s what parents think is best. Parents should have the liberty to choose how their children are educated. However, all children, homeschooled or not, should submit to regular standardized testing that covers not only math and reading/writing, but also history, biology etc. as appropriate for age. Children shown to be sufficiently deficient in the subjects should be taken to school (if homeschooled) and schools failing to teach kids (it’s not only parents who fail, after all) should be sanctioned or helped, depending on what the cause of the failure is.

  • mkb

    To be honest, how often is it relevant in the adult world to know what a plural possessive noun is? To know how to use one correctly in writing is important, but if you spend enough time reading well written materials you’ll probably be able to write competently yourself. Math, however, is a totally different matter.

    I would have nothing against home schooling if we had a way to monitor that the children were not being abused or neglected and were receiving a decent education.

  • Min

    if you spend enough time reading well written materials you’ll probably be able to write competently yourself. Math, however, is a totally different matter.

    Really? Are you sure that if you spend enough time looking at equations, you won’t be able to write them competently yourself?

    Being able to mimic what you’ve seen before has nothing to do with actually understanding the subject. Understanding proper grammar is incredibly important to anybody who interacts professionally via writing. If somebody doesn’t even understand what a plural possessive noun is, it’s unlikely they’re going to know what prepositional phrases or comma splices are, and it will be painfully obvious to anybody to does understand.

  • Woody Tanaka

    “If her kid’s education is so important that she is willing to pull her from public school in favor of home schooling”

    I wouldn’t be sure that her child’s education IS important to her. More likely, what is important to her is keeping her child ignorant of that which might conflict with her nonsensical religious ideas.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    This is an example of the extreme harm that Atheists are doing to society. Because they insist on indoctrinating children with immorality in public schools, parents who want to protect their children are forced to homeschool without the real capability to do so adequately. If this continues, we will be forced to use a system where parents are taxed based on whether they have a child in school or not, so that people that homeschool have the resources to educate their children. This will just continue to degrade the educational system as the funding will be substantially decreased.

    The solution would be for radical atheists like Hemant to stop pushing their immorality on others.

  • Woody Tanaka

    “To be honest, how often is it relevant in the adult world to know what a plural possessive noun is?”

    How often is it relevant in the adult world (for most adults) to know more about math than the ability to use a calculator and perhaps simple addition and subtraction? (N.B., I am taking the devil’s advocate side here. I believe basic competence in both math and English (among other subjects) is very important.)

    “To know how to use one correctly in writing is important, but if you spend enough time reading well written materials you’ll probably be able to write competently yourself.”

    I think mastery of such a basic subject is very important, especially if one has hopes of entering the business or academic worlds and wants to appear as anything but undereducated, stupid, or both. Further, one who cannot master simple plural possessives (or the elementary rules of using the apostrophe) is unlikely to be reading well-written materials.

  • Andrew Morgan

    This is an example of the extreme harm that Atheists are doing to society. Because they insist on indoctrinating children with immorality in public schools, parents who want to protect their children are forced to homeschool without the real capability to do so adequately.

    LOLLERCOASTER!

  • Woody Tanaka

    “This is an example of the extreme harm that Atheists are doing to society….”

    To Poe or not to Poe. That is the question.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    Jon, you wrote:

    “This is an example of the extreme harm that Atheists are doing to society. Because they insist on indoctrinating children with immorality in public schools, parents who want to protect their children are forced to homeschool without the real capability to do so adequately. If this continues, we will be forced to use a system where parents are taxed based on whether they have a child in school or not, so that people that homeschool have the resources to educate their children. This will just continue to degrade the educational system as the funding will be substantially decreased.

    The solution would be for radical atheists like Hemant to stop pushing their immorality on others.”

    And how exactly are atheists indoctrinating children in public schools? This charge is absolute nonsense – it’s a naked assertion. Do you have any evidence?

    And what exactly do you suggest that parents protect their children from? What are you complaining about, specifically, that you believe is immoral?

    And you know what? Hemant is not a “radical atheist”. Hey, have you seen the name of this blog? He’s the Friendly Atheist! He’s one of the most patient atheist voices on the web, and you think he’s a radical? Something is wrong here.

    And why do you think Hemant is pushing his beliefs on children? You have absolutely no evidence for this accusation.

    Hey, remember the Commandments? Whatever happened to thou shalt not bear false witness, huh? You better take that mote out of your own eye first, Jon, before you try to remove the plank from your neighbor’s.

  • http://marag.livejournal.com Mara

    Jon is joking, right? Right?

    Because I learned remarkably little immorality in my public school education and I’m mad. Where was my immorality??? Why did I have dry boring classes talking about Shakespeare and calculus and American history when I could have had, uh, I’m not sure what. But it was probably more fun!

    I’d love to hear some details about immorality other people have encountered in schools. ;)

  • http://learninfreedom.org/ tokenadult

    The mother reported on, coming from her generation, more likely than not was a graduate of high school (is this reported in the book?) and a graduate of a public school. So why isn’t her grasp of elementary subjects as an adult better than what’s reported in the book? Could it be that a lot of Americans complete their public schooling without a firm grasp on what they are supposed to know?

  • http://learninfreedom.org/ tokenadult

    A good source to look at about what teachers teach in the public schools comes from the American Mathematical Society:

    http://www.ams.org/notices/200502/fea-kenschaft.pdf

    Check that source before leaping to conclusions about what children learn in public school.

    About the inference on where a child was educated based on the child’s conservative point of view, consider the fact that brick-and-mortar classroom schools with that point of view have a much higher total enrollment than the total number of homeschoolers in the United States. And I, an alumnus of public schools only, certainly knew quite a few young people who developed and intensified such points of view through attendance in public school. The way to find out where someone attended school is to ask. The way to develop an inference about the effects of various kinds of schooling is to perform experiments,

    http://norvig.com/experiment-design.html

    and I haven’t seen any reports of rigorous experiments (as contrasted with anecdotes) on this issue.

  • Delphine

    Those kids are going to come out so messed up.

    How the mom graduated from elementary school without knowing what a possessive noun is anyway? I didn’t even start learning English until I was a teenager, and I know what a plural possessive noun is…

    There’s a good reason why some countries outlawed homeschooling. Quality control.

  • Pustulio

    I think there’s a bigger problem than the mother not understanding the material and plowing through it regardless. It’s that she doesn’t even appear to be aware of the fact that she doesn’t understand it. She explicitly says, “I’m sure I can figure it out” despite the fact that that she’s clearly unable or unwilling to do so before giving up.

  • http://3harpiesltd.org/ocb Judith Bandsma

    Jon, I wish there was a way to embed this in my comment:

    http://3harpiesltd.us/images/troll.gif

  • http://redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    When my parents realized they were a little lost, they just used this curriculum that teaches classes through VHS/DVD. So they plugged in the video, and said that was school. Barely supervised, think my siblings paid attention? Nope! Led to much screaming and yelling later that night when dad checked the homework and it was all wrong. It was awful coming home to that when I was in high school. It caused a lot of discord, and nobody was happy. It was about fulfilling some strange ideal and sheltering kids from the big bad outside world more than superior education (though, of course, they told themselves that it was!).

    The really sad thing is that despite all of this, my siblings have done pretty well on the ACT. If they can make the same scores in that environment as I can having only ever been in public/private schools, I’m not really sure what that means. . . Maybe just that having a teaching certificate doesn’t automatically make one a better teacher? I don’t know.

  • http://redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    oh, and PS, both me and my other adult sibling are atheists, so homeschooling doesn’t ensure adherence to religious doctrine any more than public school. I, who went to the “immoral” public school, was much more well behaved during my teenage years than my brother, who was dying to get out of the house and assert his own personality and opinions and did so by rebelling. So nope, it doesn’t ensure well behaved children, either.

    That said, I think parents have the right to homeschool as long as their children are performing up to their grade level on standardized tests, which they are required to take.

  • Shannon

    Intelligent, atheist homeschooler here and some of the comments make my eyes roll so bad I can’t see straight. I’m not defending that mom because I don’t know her at all, but (in answer to some comments) I happen to think that being willing to learn something along with your child is a great thing and not a sign you shouldn’t homeschool. I had plenty of teachers (in public school) who would answer a question with “that’s not what we’re studying right now”. Back then, and still now, I’m pretty sure that was a cover up for them not knowing the answer. When I don’t know the answer I admit it and look it up with my kids. That’s not a failing in my opinion. Instead, I’m modeling life long learning. No one knows *everything* there is to know and pretending you do is just lying.

    I also take HUGE exception to the abuse comments. I doubt the level of abuse among homeschoolers is any different than the population in general. As if no kids in public school are ever abused by their parents (and *no* kids in public school *ever* grow up illiterate, right? School cures all evils?).

    Excuse me. Me and my homeskoold kids’ull go reed some of them buks now. After sience klass wit ar bible.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    And you know what? Hemant is not a “radical atheist”. Hey, have you seen the name of this blog? He’s the Friendly Atheist! He’s one of the most patient atheist voices on the web, and you think he’s a radical? Something is wrong here

    .

    The ‘Friendly Atheist’ is a misnomer. Just because he labels himself as friendly does not mean that he is friendly and not radical. Just look at the situation with the IFI and Laurie Higgins. Hemant was hardly friendly there. Look at his intolerance for others who disagree with him — he’s not friendly, as much as he would like to label himself that way.

  • Andrew Morgan

    Hey Jon, the URL your name links to isn’t working. I want to see what other sorts of crazy stuff you’ve got there. Is there a working link?

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    Laura:

    I think parents have the right to homeschool as long as their children are performing up to their grade level on standardized tests, which they are required to take.

    They shouldn’t be required to take any tests. It’s about liberty. The government has no business telling you what your kids should learn, or requiring your kids to do … well, anything at all.

    Who decides what is “up to a grade level”? Let’s say my kid is way “ahead” at math and reading, but is a bit “behind” on science because we decided it is best to hold off for another year, because the kid is uninterested or somesuch. Whose business is it to tell us that we’re wrong to make that choice? It is OUR CHOICE to make, period.

    I am not against public schooling. I believe we should provide it, as a service of society. It’s one of the very few services I think government should provide. But it should never be required, in any form. Government serves us; we do not serve them or subject ourselves to what they think is best for us. Get this subservient attitude toward government out of your head!

    Such attitudes are especially mind-boggling to me coming from atheists, where there’s such a history of governments forcing religion on people. Why is it OK to force government’s vision of education on the people, but not its vision of religion? The arguments are the same: the people might make the wrong choices, the children might not get the proper upbringing, and so on. We’re doing it for THEIR benefit, after all! Whether it’s forcing certain religion or education, it’s all about not trusting the people to do what is best for themselves.

  • Justin jm

    The ‘Friendly Atheist’ is a misnomer. Just because he labels himself as friendly does not mean that he is friendly and not radical. Just look at the situation with the IFI and Laurie Higgins. Hemant was hardly friendly there. Look at his intolerance for others who disagree with him — he’s not friendly, as much as he would like to label himself that way.

    You do know it was the IFI that went after Mr. Mehta, right? How has he been intolerant? He’s criticized and sometimes mocked people, but intolerance is quite a few steps higher.

    And by the way, Mr. Mehta’s “intolerant” attitude vis a vis the IFI situation is understandable; they took a swipe at his job.

  • JSug

    Jon is joking, right? Right?

    Because I learned remarkably little immorality in my public school education and I’m mad. Where was my immorality??? Why did I have dry boring classes talking about Shakespeare and calculus and American history when I could have had, uh, I’m not sure what. But it was probably more fun!

    Don’t you know that plural possessive nouns are the work of the devil? Don’t even get me started on the idea that pi is a transcendental number.

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Under which rock do you usually reside, Jon? Might I direct you to go back to that rock until you are able to form a cogent, truthful thought?

  • Rich H

    Hmmmm… Does anyone have any questions now about why states require a basic amount of education/training before allowing someone into a classroom to teach?

  • Claudia

    People, please remember that in Jon’s very limited world, challenging religion makes you “radical” by definition, and any school that doesn’t teach his version of Christianity (homosexuality is evil, abstinence only, “teach the controversy” in evolution) is immoral. In the sheltered world they inhabit, challenges to their worldview are so rare that they seem very radical when they are confronted with them. Which is not to say to stop, just to not expect to reason him into understanding.

    As far as homeschooling, I think we’re mixing two issues. One is religious indoctrination and the other is academic achievement. Homeschooling is famous because of religious indoctrination, but there are a lot of parents that do it for other reasons, like children who are brutally bullied or gifted children in ill-adapted systems. The academic aspect is simple: either the child performs adequately in standardized exams or they don’t. If they do, how mommy or daddy chooses to teach the child is frankly no one’s business. If they don’t, school should be compulsory.

  • Richard Wade

    If you don’t give a fly any shit, it will starve to death in a few days.

  • CatBallou

    I agree with Sackbut. (A sentence I certainly never expected to write!)
    The teacher’s edition would provide the answers, but would probably not adequately explain the concepts to the homeschooling parent.
    As for the effect of the books one reads on one’s writing skills, I believe the two are unrelated, and I’ve been an editor for many years. The writers I work with are intelligent and well-read, but they often make basic mistakes.
    In Lydia’s defense, and for everyone out there who struggles with concepts like plural possessive noun or dangling participle, most people* speak quite well and write fairly well without being able to explain the rules.

    *I should qualify this, but how? I think my point is clear.

  • http://thenaturalbuddhist.blogspot.com JohnFrost

    As a survivor of conservative christian homeschooling, I’m very interested to hear the rest of your review, Hemant. I don’t think I’ll be buying the book… I’m not much into horror novels *shudder*

  • Richard Wade

    The important issue here is not so much about the quality of teaching details like good grammatical craftsmanship or good math. That is important stuff, but the much more important issue cannot be as readily seen and will only be apparent later.

    Have the children been taught how to use their minds, not just had their minds filled up with stuff? Accurate stuff or not, will they have only fat minds filled with knowledge, or will they have muscular minds, able to think in many different ways? Will they be able to use deduction, induction, logic, free association, and creative whim? Will they know when they are doing one and not another? Will they know how to think critically? Will they know faulty arguments when they hear them? Will they have problem-solving skills?

    Will they know that knowledge comes from looking at the world rather than parroting what they have been told?

    Granted, public education in general does a poor job of teaching those things too, but the motive for keeping the kids out of public schools may be to “protect” them from those ways of thinking. All of this will most likely become apparent after it’s too late to make any changes.

    Eduphiles will think that all the above skills are good things and it will be too late to help the kids acquire them.

    Eduphobes will think that all the above skills are bad things, and it will be too late to help the kids get rid of them.

  • textjunkie

    If there were ever a venue that cried out for the use of standardized annual testing, it’s home-schooling.

    Though the home-schoolers that I knew of actually had year-end celebrations and mini-science fairs and stuff, for all the families in the area that were home-schooling using the same curriculum. They had a community and could interact with each other for support. The year my brother was home-schooled we used some international curriculum with tests that had to be sent somewhere to be graded regularly and such things, so that he got credit for the 7th grade and could go into the 8th grade the next year. The idea of home-schooling completely on your own, with no external references or standards, is mind-boggling.

  • Tony

    To be honest, how often is it relevant in the adult world to know what a plural possessive noun is?

    It depends on your line of work. If you are an English teacher or a language expert or a writer in a line of textbooks or maybe a journalist or author then they could be of vital importance.

    Not everybody has the aptitude to do everything but is it fair to close those avenues before they have even been open to exploration?

  • ChameleonDave

    To be honest, how often is it relevant in the adult world to know what a plural possessive noun is?

    A plural possessive noun is a form such as “men’s”, “boys’”, “girls’”. They are part of everyday language. If you can’t identify them in your head, then you can’t write English. Identifying them by means of this terminology is a way of checking the pupil’s understanding of the issue.

  • Shannon

    “Have the children been taught how to use their minds, not just had their minds filled up with stuff? Accurate stuff or not, will they have only fat minds filled with knowledge, or will they have muscular minds, able to think in many different ways? Will they be able to use deduction, induction, logic, free association, and creative whim? Will they know when they are doing one and not another? Will they know how to think critically? Will they know faulty arguments when they hear them? Will they have problem-solving skills?”

    This line of thought is one of the reasons I chose to homeschool. I think showing kids how to learn and teaching them that learning is fun, important and a lifelong endeavor, is all far more important than simply filling their heads with facts to regurgitate for a test. As I see it, school is more often about filling buckets. Homeschooling gives you the freedom to light the fire instead.

    Speaking from the inside, I think homeschooling is far more complicated than is thought by the general public. It’s hard to discuss it intelligently when so many think that the only people crazy enough to homeschool are fundamental Christians who do it to shelter their children from the world.

    “The idea of home-schooling completely on your own, with no external references or standards, is mind-boggling.”

    Only if you really think you need those external standards. In my way of thinking, it’s freeing. But if someone does want them, they are there.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    @Claudia

    challenging religion makes you “radical” by definition, and any school that doesn’t teach his version of Christianity (homosexuality is evil, abstinence only, “teach the controversy” in evolution) is immoral.

    Your getting warmer with the above statement.

    In the sheltered world they inhabit, challenges to their worldview are so rare that they seem very radical when they are confronted with them. Which is not to say to stop, just to not expect to reason him into understanding.

    Actually, I’m not at all sheltered. Most of the atheists on this blog live far more sheltered lives than I do, and I would be willing to wager that I understand far more about atheism than you do about Christianity.

    @RichardWade

    If you don’t give a fly any shit, it will starve to death in a few days.

    I wouldn’t worry. Hemant gives us a fresh load of BS multiple times a day usually, so I think we will all have plenty to eat.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    @Jon
    I understand far more about atheism than you do about Christianity

    You are atheistic towards all the polytheistic gods you don’t believe in (as well as the theistic details of the non-Christian monotheistic religions). We just take it one monotheistic God (and one religion) further. So I agree that you understand atheism as applied towards all those other religions. You just can’t apply the same thinking towards Christianity. It is someplace that your mind simply won’t or can’t go.

  • ckitching

    Miko says: Seeing as homeschooled children do better on average, I suggest we turn it around: a parent wanting to send their children to a public school should first have to fail a basic competency test more severely than that the local public school teachers do.

    I think you may be confusing cause and effect here. To put it another way, those who tend to score the worst on standardized testing are those who live in poverty. Homeschooling is expensive, so those who do it are almost never poor (they may not be rich, but they are almost always at least middle class).

    pudge Says: They shouldn’t be required to take any tests. It’s about liberty. The government has no business telling you what your kids should learn, or requiring your kids to do … well, anything at all.

    Perhaps… But where do the parents’ rights end and the child’s rights begin? What rights does the child have anyway? Is there a right to an education at all? If you answer no to this last question, what right do the rest of us have to expect that contracts and laws be honoured if basic education is not a right?

    Second, if there are no standards for what constitutes a high school education, what would a “high school diploma” mean? Even working for McDonald’s, you need to know how to read, write, and do simple math. It’s almost impossible to function in modern society without these skills, and these days you can add skills like typing since computers have become ubiquitous.

    Then there are the indirect benefits to standardized testing. It can show when the parents are completely neglecting their children, and haven’t taught them anything. Poor results on one test doesn’t mean neglect, but poor results on all of them often does.

  • Hughes

    They should skip to first year economics: the gains from specialization. (or should that be “gain’s from specialization”?)

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    I’ll put up a review when I’m done with the book… I’m about halfway through and certain passages really got to the heart of the various stories, which is what I’m putting up on the site.

  • zoo

    Sesoron:

    The other evidence I have in support of my claim that she was homeschooled was 1. she was extremely meek and nervous, probably unused to dealing with large populations of different people;

    For what it’s worth, I’m like this now, have been for nearly two decades (was recently diagnosed with social anxiety disorder), and I spent most of my education physically present (as opposed to socially and emotionally present) in public schools. A couple of years out of that setting actually helped me for a little while. Given what she was writing her paper on, she probably had it drilled into her head that she’s worthless on her own, which is damaging enough by itself, let alone adding it to something like this (one of the problems being that being judged by someone else [as minor and helpful as it is in the setting of a writing lab] makes you fearful).

    The zoo I work for offers homeschool programs, and of course there are children with behavior problems, emotional problems, can’t read at all, etc. Can’t really conclude anything based on that alone. . . that could be why they’re being homeschooled; what’s telling is how the parents react to what is reported back to them. One of the program instructors was barred from teaching any more (fortunately she has plenty of other duties she’d rather be doing anyhow) when one of the children threw something at her, and she confiscated it until the end of the session (less than an hour left). And of course from the beginning of this story you can tell how the parent reacted. . . she was livid. . . with the instructor. So obviously unless something changes drastically, this child is going to fill the stereotype. Even then the father getting back to you like that could mean a few things, like he doesn’t believe in listening to “man” (thought that does make one wonder why his kid’s in college. . .) or he’s a so-called “helicopter parent”.

    And of course you could be perfectly correct :P, there are just so many other things it could be that I and others have experienced (and I don’t know your background, perhaps you have too).

  • Justin jm

    and I would be willing to wager that I understand far more about atheism than you do about Christianity.

    I’d wager that most of what you “know” about atheism is tired stereotypes about us pushed by evangelists.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    It’s the blind leading the blind, and just more proof they care more about controlling the children than they do ensuring they get what’s best for them. Better they grow up imbeciles than (gasp) be exposed to different opinions and actual facts that might make them question the dogma they’ve had force-fed to them since birth. Children who can think for themselves are terrible things indeed.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    @Jeff

    We just take it one monotheistic God (and one religion) further

    I’ve never heard that one before – totally changes my whole perspective.

    @Justinjm

    I’d wager that most of what you “know” about atheism is tired stereotypes about us pushed by evangelists.

    Just like everything you know is tired stereotypes pushed by atheists?

  • ChameleonDave

    I’ve never heard that one before – totally changes my whole perspective.

    Hallelujah!

    Just like everything you know is tired stereotypes pushed by atheists?

    No.

  • Andrew Morgan

    Why is anyone bothering to waste time and space talking to Jon? He’s not actually making arguments, just talking. Ignore him.

    My suspicion of homeschooling comes from my belief that society has a duty to protect children from those that would do them harm, even if this harm takes the form of brainwashing. This is for two reasons: one, society benefits when its members are educated. Two, and far more importantly, children are not in a position to defend themselves. Society should provide education regardless of whether or not it is a right.

    In fact, I am not of the opinion that education is a human right — such a right would confer on individuals a claim to other people’s knowledge, time, resources, etc. Nobody has a rights claim to education because nobody ought to be required to teach another against their will.

    People do have the right, however, to not have their paths to education unduly burdened by other individuals. This includes, most importantly, children, and as I said, children are least able to exercise these rights. Children do have liberty rights against their parents that society should defend.

    There isn’t, unfortunately, an easy bright line to be drawn, but parents do not, in my mind, have an unmitigated right to teach their children anything they want to (or a right to fail to provide education at all). Channeling Dawkins, the crucial question for me is: what would the children want if they were in possession of all the facts and had the capability to asses these facts?

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    ckitching:

    where do the parents’ rights end and the child’s rights begin?

    Again: I am the parent, that’s my decision.

    What rights does the child have anyway?

    Apart from the rights all humans have, their rights are whatever I say they are.

    Is there a right to an education at all?

    Yes. And I get to decide what education that is.

    if there are no standards for what constitutes a high school education, what would a “high school diploma” mean?

    What does it mean now? To me it means absoultely nothing. I knew as much in junior high as most high school graduates know today.

    Even working for McDonald’s, you need to know how to read, write, and do simple math. It’s almost impossible to function in modern society without these skills, and these days you can add skills like typing since computers have become ubiquitous.

    In your opinion. In my opinion, too. But maybe not in some other parents’ opinions, and who are you to take away THEIR rights? Would you also allow religion to be forced on families for their own good? This is the exact same logic used to force certain religion on populations.

    Then there are the indirect benefits to standardized testing. It can show when the parents are completely neglecting their children, and haven’t taught them anything.

    Pardon me, but you’re basically saying we should have testing of children to get around the Fourth and Fifth Amendment. Since you can’t actually get a warrant to see if someone is neglecting their kids, you’ll force the kids to be tested to skirt those little requirements.

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    Andrew Morgan:

    My suspicion of homeschooling comes from my belief that society has a duty to protect children from those that would do them harm, even if this harm takes the form of brainwashing.

    OK. So — Devil’s Advocate here, obviously — what are we going to do about all those parents brainwashing their kids into believing there is no God?

    Can you see the problem here? What is brainwashing to me can be normal to you, or vice versa. And government must recognize and respect our pluralism and not force us into homogeneity.

    Of course, there’s some things that almost everyone would agree is actual abuse, but we must, in a free society, give a very broad latitude to parents to make their own decisions for their children.

    society benefits when its members are educated

    Your desire for society to so benefit creates no obligation on me and my family. Sorry.

    children are not in a position to defend themselves

    Why do you think the government is better suited to defending my children than I am?

    Society should provide education regardless of whether or not it is a right.

    That is not the issue. I am a very conservative/libertarian Republican, and yet I am strongly in favor of society providing public education to the children. That doesn’t mean it — or its standards — should be mandatory.

    In fact, I am not of the opinion that education is a human right — such a right would confer on individuals a claim to other people’s knowledge, time, resources, etc. Nobody has a rights claim to education because nobody ought to be required to teach another against their will.

    I agree that it is not a right to get education from “society.” I do, however, believe it is a right children can demand from their parents or legal guardians. Yes, it means claiming their time; that is what raising children is all about! But while children can claim a right to receive an education, they are, as you note, incapable of deciding what that education should be. The parents therefore get to do this.

    People do have the right, however, to not have their paths to education unduly burdened by other individuals.

    And I consider such government educational mandates to be undue burdens on me and my children. I am not the one burdening my children: government is.

    There isn’t, unfortunately, an easy bright line to be drawn, but parents do not, in my mind, have an unmitigated right to teach their children anything they want to

    Yes, in fact, they do have that right, with very few exceptions, such as criminal activities that are far too distasteful to mention or even think about. Short of such things, yes, parents can teach their kids anything they wish to. How else would you interpret the First Amendment right to free speech?

    (or a right to fail to provide education at all).

    No, but they have the right to decide what that education should be.

    Channeling Dawkins, the crucial question for me is: what would the children want if they were in possession of all the facts and had the capability to asses these facts?

    I don’t see how that question is even remotely interesting, let alone crucial. They aren’t so capable, and therefore their parents make the decisions on their behalf.

  • James

    So, poorly educated people should not be educators. What has this got to do, though, with Christiantiy or atheism?

    As far as I can see, this post is simply another nod to the facile proposition that Christians are stupid. That is no more helpful than the proposition that atheists are untrustworthy. I haven’t read the book, but you say yourself that you’re quoting selectively.

    You have a right to comment on home schooling, like everybody. Since you’re a teacher yourself, your point of view should be considered carefully. I’m just not convinced that this relates to the debate about atheism and faith, or if it does, that it does so in a helpful way.

  • Dogbert

    I am all for home schooling. Now that all of the illegal aliens are leaving the country, who is going to mow my lawn or pick my veggies?

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    Dogbert, you shouldn’t be so negative toward public schools. Granted, homeschooled kids excel far more than public schooled kids, but that’s no reason to say kids who go to public schools will be relgated to picking vegetables.

  • Shannon

    Funny, I was nodding along to Pudge’s post and here I am, very much a left wing liberal to his conservative Republican ;-)

    Especially liked this part –

    “OK. So — Devil’s Advocate here, obviously — what are we going to do about all those parents brainwashing their kids into believing there is no God?

    Can you see the problem here? What is brainwashing to me can be normal to you, or vice versa. And government must recognize and respect our pluralism and not force us into homogeneity.

    Of course, there’s some things that almost everyone would agree is actual abuse, but we must, in a free society, give a very broad latitude to parents to make their own decisions for their children.”

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    Hallelujah!

    A religious comment from ChameleonDave. One down, a lot more misinformed atheists to go.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    Channeling Dawkins, the crucial question for me is: what would the children want if they were in possession of all the facts and had the capability to asses these facts?

    They would want atheists like Hemant to leave them alone.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    As far as I can see, this post is simply another nod to the facile proposition that Christians are stupid.

    While Atheists are not stupid, they often have extroadinarily weak reasoning skills, and argue their point simply because they do not like the idea of God, they don’t like something that some “Christian” did to them at some point in their lives. They must act as though Christians are stupid in an attempt to be seen as smart, where in reality, there is no sillier position than the position of an Atheist.

  • DSimon

    It is child abuse to fail to give your child the basic skills and knowledge they need to function in society. It is therefore government’s job, as the enforcer of law against child abuse, to make certain that children receive a quality education, whether that be by running public schools or by evaluating homeschooling on a case-by-case basis.

    The tricky part is defining what a “quality education” is. I’m sympathetic to pudge’s concern that government shouldn’t have the authority to define this for other people, because such an authority sets a bad precedent for government behavior.

    However, I have some experiences with other countries where education is more “optional”. The end result is not good: homeschooling is very rare, and truancy rates at public schools are high. Many children fall far enough behind in their first few years that it is not feasible for them to ever catch up. At that point, they are essentially doomed forever to poverty.

    I’m forced to conclude that requiring that children receive an education is an appropriate use of government power. Doing so may be violating the parents’ rights to determine how their children are raised, but that has less priority than the right of the child to have the tools they need to pursue their own happiness.

    The way to do it is to establish educational guidelines in a representative and objective way, with protections against tyranny of the majority, the same way we establish laws. Yes, this doesn’t perfectly prevent bad laws or bad educational guidelines from going on the books, but it works pretty well, and it’s better than having no laws or no guidelines at all.

    Perfect educational freedom is a bad idea for the same reason perfect freedom from the law is a bad idea: People get hurt.

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    DSimon:

    It is child abuse to fail to give your child the basic skills and knowledge they need to function in society.

    Perhaps, but the parents get to decide what those skills and knowledge are.

    It is therefore government’s job

    No … that’s like saying that because it’s government’s job to enforce against child abuse, that all punishments against children may be overseen by the government. As I said above: we have Fourth and Fifth Amendments in this country. You have to actually have probable cause to suspect abuse in order to step in and see what a parent is doing.

    The tricky part is defining what a “quality education” is.

    It’s not tricky at all: the parents get to decide. Problem solved. :-)

    However, I have some experiences with other countries where education is more “optional”.

    None of which have any bearing on my rights as a parent (and being that those countries you speak of have very different cultures than ours, also are no reflection on our country).

    Doing so may be violating the parents’ rights to determine how their children are raised, but that has less priority than the right of the child to have the tools they need to pursue their own happiness.

    Except that the parents get to decide what tools constitute fulfillment of those rights.

    The way to do it is to establish educational guidelines in a representative and objective way … Yes, this doesn’t perfectly prevent bad laws or bad educational guidelines from going on the books, but it works pretty well, and it’s better than having no laws or no guidelines at all.

    See, when it comes to my kids, “works pretty well” isn’t good enough. And since I see absolutely no downside to having no guidelines at all, I can’t see how this is better than no guideliness at all.

    The only “downside” to having no guidelines is that some kids won’t get educated, which is no worse off than what we’ve got now. I have no significant reason to believe the numbers of uneducated kids will significantly increase (and I have some reason to suspect they might decrease, as a lack of top-down guidelines would make parents and local school districts more involved in actually educating our kids, which isn’t happening much these days).

    Perfect educational freedom is a bad idea for the same reason perfect freedom from the law is a bad idea: People get hurt.

    Perfect educational freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment, not to mention the unalienable rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is not in any way similar to being “free from the law.”

    And to put it another way: someone else getting poorly educated is not justification for taking away my rights, anymore than someone else abusing speech is grounds for removing your right to free speech.

  • DSimon

    Perfect educational freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment…

    I disagree. You certainly have a protected right to teach your children anything you want to teach them. However, your right to this kind of free speech doesn’t give you a right to shelter them from hearing what they need to hear in order to pursue their own happiness. Basically, yeah, tell your kids whatever you want to in addition to their basic educational requirements.

    I’d argue that this even includes the right to teach them that what they learn in school is bullshit. They don’t have to agree with generally accepted science or history to be effective at pursuing happiness in our society, I’d say, but they do at least have to understand it.

    No … that’s like saying that because it’s government’s job to enforce against child abuse, that all punishments against children may be overseen by the government. As I said above: we have Fourth and Fifth Amendments in this country. You have to actually have probable cause to suspect abuse in order to step in and see what a parent is doing.

    Government should not personally oversee all punishments against children, but they certainly should regulate punishments, and to establish some kinds of punishments as unlawful. We agree on this, right?

    I agree that we have good reason for having constitutional measures against unwarranted search. Are you arguing that mandatory standardized testing for students is such an unwarranted search? If so, do you then argue that major mis-education of children is or should be illegal, but that the government can only act against it given probable cause? I’m not sure what I’d say about this argument; I’d need some time to think about it.

    Or, are you arguing that mis-education of children should not be illegal on the grounds that it is not the government’s job to define what is education or mis-education? If this is your argument, then my response is: well, don’t you think that giving a child a crappy education is child abuse? If so, should we not at least have some enforcement against it, given that it be correctly limited by due process? If not, why isn’t preventing your child from being able to pursue happiness in society child abuse?

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    However, your right to this kind of free speech doesn’t give you a right to shelter them from hearing what they need to hear in order to pursue their own happiness.

    But as the parent, I get to decide what they need! Not you, and certainly not government.

    Basically, yeah, tell your kids whatever you want to in addition to their basic educational requirements.

    Educational requirements that I get to define.

    They don’t have to agree with generally accepted science or history to be effective at pursuing happiness in our society, I’d say, but they do at least have to understand it.

    If I wish them to understand it, yes. Government hasn’t the slightest right to force that on us, any more than they have the right to force religion on us.

    Government should not personally oversee all punishments against children, but they certainly should regulate punishments, and to establish some kinds of punishments as unlawful. We agree on this, right?

    No. Government can regulate effects, but should not regulate the actions. And that is generally what the law does. It does not prevent me from spanking my child, but punishes me if I (God forbid … am I allowed to say that here? ;-) break my child’s bones in doing so.

    I agree that we have good reason for having constitutional measures against unwarranted search. Are you arguing that mandatory standardized testing for students is such an unwarranted search?

    If it is for the purpose of making sure I am upholding my parental duties, then yes, of course it is.

    If so, do you then argue that major mis-education of children is or should be illegal, but that the government can only act against it given probable cause?

    The latter, certainly. The former, no. However, the “mis-education” must be very “major.” For the sake of argument, if you don’t even allow your child to learn how to speak, that would be abuse, in my book. But not allowing them to learn about photosynthesis or algebra? While I think that’s terrible parenting, I do not think that should be punishable by government.

    don’t you think that giving a child a crappy education is child abuse?

    Again: many of my fellow Christians think that not teaching children about God is abuse. And many atheists (such as Dawkins) think teaching children about hell is abuse. Perhaps one or the other or both are right. It doesn’t mean we should allow the government to step in, in either case. Nor should the government step in, except in extreme cases, for “mis-education.”

    Government has no right to define what is and is not proper education for anyone, unless, of course, they are (voluntarily) members of the public school system. There are gross exceptions, where everyone would agree that abuse is taking place, but beyond that, it’s up to the parents. We should never allow government to force thoughts and ideas on us, or especially our children, even if that thought is as seemingly innocuous as the Pythagorean theorem.

  • Fledchen

    The website “An Old-Fashioned Education” deals with using public domain materials as part of a conservative Christian home school curriculum. There are parts of it that make me want to scream, and parts that are actually well-argued philosophies of pedagogy.

    http://oldfashionededucation.com/

    I attended an American public school, K-12, from 1986-2000, and I’m sorry to say that most of my understanding of English grammar and punctuation happened on my own time, using outside materials. It wasn’t a priority–they just kept teaching the same barebones basics every year without expanding or explaining more complex ideas. I learned more about English grammar in GERMAN class than in any English class.

  • Aj

    Parents don’t own children, they are guardians. The state should enforce a minimum of education. If children are sheltered from reading, maths, and the scientific method they’re disconnected from a vast amount of knowledge. That can be just as bad as breaking bones. Keeping children ignorant for the sake of forcing crazy ideas on them is child abuse.

  • Rachel

    Some backgound: I was homeschooled for 5 years in middle school. Neither of my parents have degrees and we were very conservatively Christian. I recently graduated magna cum laude from university and am a proud atheist.

    Home schooling tends to suffer from a number of problems, mostly poor science instruction and a smaller social sphere (although in my small town our homeschool association had about 50 students).

    However, I think that in my experience these are acceptable trade offs for the skills that I learned. When I home schooled I very rarely stayed inside all day and looked at books. Instead I was learning how electricity works from my electrician father or learning about geometry by building birdhouses.

    When I returned to public high school I was bored out of my mind, even though I took all accelerated courses. Learning had been hands-on and active before, in public school it was passive and rote.

    Was I indoctrinated religiously? Yes, but I would have been if I had been in public school. It was from my parents teaching me how to ask questions and learn from everyday situations that I developed the skills to eventually reject that indoctrination. I tell my parents that they contributed to my atheism, but they don’t like that too much.

    What I’m saying is, don’t judge home schooling by the crazies out there. Most of the home schoolers I know have had similar experiences as I did and they are all very intelligent, well-read, confident people who are very successful. Most of them are still Christians, but I don’t think that home schooling is a huge factor in that.

    All-in-all, my experiences with home schooling are far more positive than negative.

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    Aj:

    Parents don’t own children, they are guardians.

    Neither does the state own children.

    The state should enforce a minimum of education.

    No, it shouldn’t. It has no right to do so.

    If children are sheltered from reading, maths, and the scientific method they’re disconnected from a vast amount of knowledge.

    And obviously you think this is important. And so do I. But why should we force OUR values on other people’s children? How can you justify this, and then say that the state can’t force other values … like religion?

    That can be just as bad as breaking bones.

    And to many people, teaching children that God doesn’t exist is MUCH WORSE than breaking bones. Similarly, it was Dawkins who said that teaching a child about hell could be worse than sexually molesting that child. I think that’s obviously stupid, but it shows how different people have different views of abuse, and you are going down a very dangerous path when you let the state force its values on parents.

    Keeping children ignorant for the sake of forcing crazy ideas on them is child abuse.

    Except that the parents — not you, and not the state — get to decide what “ignorant” and “crazy” mean. Your path leads to tyranny.

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    Rachel: poor science instruction isn’t the problem per se, though it is a common symptom; the real problem is just that people tend not to be able to teach well if they themselves don’t at least appreciate a subject. As another poster said, you don’t have to understand it, you just have to be engaged and involved, and if you don’t really care for a subject, you won’t be.

    As to socialization, personally, I prefer a much smaller social sphere to the Lord of the Flies, celebrity-worshipping, atmosphere of the public school system.

    And you’re absolutely right, organized schooling is BORING. It wastes thousands of hours of a child’s time over his lifetime. My classes through most of Junior High and High School consisted of me reading ahead and doing that night’s homework in class while I watched the clock tick down. I had an A- average in high school while doing very little work. Meanwhile, my wife was sortof the opposite: she was also bored in school, because she doesn’t learn well in that environment, so she had to do all of her work on her own after class, spending hours in the basement trying to learn what a teacher should have taught her. (It was this drive and determination that got her degrees in pyschology and sociology in just four years.)

    We both separately, and through different paths, concluded that organized schooling was a giant waste of time.

    That is the biggest reason for me to homeschool. The second is control over the curriculum, not in regards to religion specifically (although that’s a part of it), but making sure they really understand history, and grammar, and science … not just a cursory overview they’ll forget over Christmas break.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Essentially it seems that homeschooling can be good or bad. With dedicated, welle ducated parents willing to put in th time and effort, i’ll bet that homeschooling is better than school.

    With ignorant, biased or lazy parents it will leave a child severely disadvantaged.

    An issue not covered by the educational side though is social behaviour. At school you mix with all kinds of kids, good, bad, ugly. Black, white, fat, thin, friendly, antisocial, cheeky, inspiring, rude, crude. Mixing with all different kinds of kids is good preperation for dealing with people in the big wide world. Hiding kids away from the world can only leave them unprepared.

  • Aj

    pudge,

    Neither does the state own children.

    There’s a difference between giving tools like language and math, and indoctrinating whole sets of dogma.

    And obviously you think this is important. And so do I. But why should we force OUR values on other people’s children? How can you justify this, and then say that the state can’t force other values … like religion?

    Because parents don’t own children, they’re guardians. The state enforces our values onto other children when it comes to sex and violence. I think access to knowledge and freethinking is pretty important, nearly as much as keeping children safe from harm. You would also force your values on children, you just have different values.

    And to many people, teaching children that God doesn’t exist is MUCH WORSE than breaking bones.

    Many atheists don’t argue teaching God doesn’t exist. Also, arguments based on what an imaginary friend wants or will do should rightly be ignored by governments that operate on reason and evidence.

    Similarly, it was Dawkins who said that teaching a child about hell could be worse than sexually molesting that child. I think that’s obviously stupid…

    You think that is stupid? Dawkins and a woman who wrote a letter to him through experience thought that the type of molesting they experience was not as bad as thinking your Jewish friends were going to suffer eternal torment. Dawkins makes it clear he’s not talking about sexual assault.

    Except that the parents — not you, and not the state — get to decide what “ignorant” and “crazy” mean. Your path leads to tyranny.

    Your path leads to tyranny, on a smaller scale multiplied, by every parent who willfully keeps their child ignorant of reality. If you think requiring children to be educated to read, do math, and use the scientific method to obtain reliable knowledge is tyranny then you don’t know a lot of tyranny.

  • DSimon

    Pudge, I’d just like to say that it’s been a pleasure arguing with you. Sometimes on the Internet it’s easy to forget that it’s possible for a debate to be polite and in good faith. :-)

    Anyways, in response to this:

    [...]if you don’t even allow your child to learn how to speak, that would be abuse, in my book. But not allowing them to learn about photosynthesis or algebra? While I think that’s terrible parenting, I do not think that should be punishable by government.

    It appears that we’re following the same basic principle: How children are raised should generally be up to the desires of their parents, but there are certain minimum things that parents must do in order to be considered capable of being responsible for their child. If they do not meet these minimum requirements, then they are in violation of just law. If that violation is duly discovered, the government can then (depending on the situation) take some responsibility for helping to raise the child.

    Our disagreement then is about where that line should go, right? We’d both agree that failing to teach your children how to speak is gross abuse which the government should (given good cause to suspect it) step in on. However, teaching your children your family’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof) is well within the rights of parents, and only a tyrannical government would enforce a particular religion (or lack thereof) on children.

    What standard do we use to define which decisions about parenting should be enforced by law and which should be left up to individual parents? By what principle do you arrive at the conclusion that failing to teach a child to speak is abuse, but failing to teach them math is not? Where should the line go?

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    There’s a difference between giving tools like language and math, and indoctrinating whole sets of dogma.

    No, there actually is no difference in the important detail that in both cases, someone has certain values they want to force on the children. The question is only who has the right to push those values, and the answer is, simply and obviously, the parents.

    Because parents don’t own children

    And neither does the state. So you can’t get anywhere with that argument. The state has no rights here.

    The state enforces our values onto other children when it comes to sex and violence.

    And you can’t take the gross exceptions where we all agree the state should step in, and turn it into a slippery slope whereby the government has total authority. You have to justify each level of intrusion by the state on its own merits.

    I think access to knowledge and freethinking is pretty important

    Good for you. But you’ve not justified pushing your values onto parents who disagree.

    You would also force your values on children, you just have different values.

    With the exception of punishing children from committing crimes against others, no, I absolutely would not. I would, rather, leave that to the parents.

    You think that is stupid?

    Yes. Absolutely stupid. Astronomically stupid.

    Dawkins makes it clear he’s not talking about sexual assault.

    I think redefining sexual molestation as not-sexual-assault is entirely awful. All sexual molestation is sexual assault, by definition. Sexual molestation is, in fact, one category of sexual assault.

    Your path leads to tyranny, on a smaller scale multiplied, by every parent who willfully keeps their child ignorant of reality.

    Only if you illogically beg the question. My claim of tyranny is simply based on the objective fact of government forcing things on parents. Yours is based on the subjective opinion that your values are superior to theirs.

    While I share your values of the importance of freethinking and reading and math and science and so on, I reject the notion that I have the right to force those values on anyone else, except for — of course — my own children. I don’t own them, but I have the right to teach them as I choose to.

    Have you never read 1984? Fahrenheit 451? If you give the state the power to control what values are forced on children, then that can swing AGAINST your values too. The way to protect against this is for the state to not have that power in the first place.

    If you think requiring children to be educated to read, do math, and use the scientific method to obtain reliable knowledge is tyranny

    Please don’t so blatantly misrepresent what I said. I never even came close to implying that. I never said those things are tyranny, I said FORCING them on people is tyranny, just as forcing almost ANYTHING on people is tyranny.

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    DSimon: a pleasure to discuss with you, as well. And you’re right: the question is where that line is, but I think that line is well-identified and objective, not arbitrary and subjective.

    By what principle do you arrive at the conclusion that failing to teach a child to speak is abuse, but failing to teach them math is not? Where should the line go?

    Excellent question, and thank you for asking it, to help me frame my answer.

    It’s just like in all other aspects of society: government can tell me not to rape and murder people, and it can tell me not to do terrible things of a similar sort to my children. It’s those essential liberties from direct harm we all have, that our common law and common values all dictate government should protect. Beyond that, it’s none of the government’s business.

    Preventing a child from learning speech is, in my view, quite similar to sexual and physical abuse, both in methods used and in resulting harm done. But not teaching them about science? I don’t see a serious parallel. As objectionable as it is to both of us, it is merely a difference of values. And you need a damned good reason to justify pushing your values on someone else. The direct harm caused by sexual and physical abuse is a good reason. “I think all people should know basic biology” isn’t.

  • Aj

    pudge,

    The question is only who has the right to push those values, and the answer is, simply and obviously, the parents.

    Obviously, no. And it’s not so much about pushing values as keeping people slaves in ignorance.

    And you can’t take the gross exceptions where we all agree the state should step in, and turn it into a slippery slope whereby the government has total authority. You have to justify each level of intrusion by the state on its own merits.

    A minimum standard of education is justified. I don’t see that as “total authority”, that’s paranoia as many slippery slope arguments are.

    I think redefining sexual molestation as not-sexual-assault is entirely awful.

    He can “redefine” whatever the hell he likes. If anyone is doing the redefining it’s you. Assault refers to violence, not all molestation is violence.

    Only if you illogically beg the question. My claim of tyranny is simply based on the objective fact of government forcing things on parents. Yours is based on the subjective opinion that your values are superior to theirs.

    Bullshit. My claim of tyranny is simply based on the objective fact of parents forcing things on children. Yours is based on the subjective opinion that parents values are superior to anyone else’s.

    Have you never read 1984? Fahrenheit 451? If you give the state the power to control what values are forced on children, then that can swing AGAINST your values too. The way to protect against this is for the state to not have that power in the first place.

    Paranoid. Equating fictional authoritarian regimes with a minimum standard of education requirements, or national curriculum. There’s a big difference between tools that allow us to gain knowledge about reality and others ideas and indoctrination.

    I said FORCING them on people is tyranny, just as forcing almost ANYTHING on people is tyranny.

    Like parents forcing Christian beliefs on children? I rest my case. Also, I don’t see how it’s productive to argue against belief in rights that aren’t mutually held. I just don’t think parents have the right to own their children.

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    Obviously, no.

    Shrug. You have utterly failed to describe what gives you to have government, on your behalf, force your values on anyone else.

    And it’s not so much about pushing values as keeping people slaves in ignorance.

    Except that “slaves” is your subjective word, and a poor one. And “ignorance” is relative to your own personal values.

    A minimum standard of education is justified.

    Utter nonsense. This means the government has the right to define what that standard is, which means the government has the right to force us to swallow whatever they want us to

    I don’t see that as “total authority”

    The power to force us to be taught according to whatever they decide is damned close to total authority.

    He can “redefine” whatever the hell he likes.

    And I can point out the fact that it’s utterly moronic for him to do so.

    Assault refers to violence, not all molestation is violence.

    In fact, yes, all molestation is violence.

    My claim of tyranny is simply based on the objective fact of parents forcing things on children.

    So according to you, all parenting is tyranny. That’s … not sane.

    Yours is based on the subjective opinion that parents values are superior to anyone else’s.

    I never said they were better. I said the parents have the right. And the government obviously doesn’t.

    Paranoid.

    Only in the same way our Founding Fathers were paranoid in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I am simply recognizing what government can do, and what government has done, and protecting against that by limiting the power (and scope of that power) of the government, through securing the rights of the people.

    That is, if you think I am being paranoid, than so is everyone who thinks we need a First Amendment.

    Despite your claim, I did not imply that forced standards are akin to totalitarianism. I stated the fact that — as we saw through the 20th century — they can be used to that effect, and it is prudent to reject granting that authority in the first place.

    Like parents forcing Christian beliefs on children?

    No. Like GOVERNMENT forcing religious beliefs on a population. Parents get to force things on children: that is what parenting IS. That is not what government is. On the contrary, the very reason government exists is to secure our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That necessarily implies the right to educate our children as we see fit.

    I rest my case.

    You, apparently an atheist, immediately after comparing forcing education to forcing religion, come down on the side of force. You just rested MY case.

    Also, I don’t see how it’s productive to argue against belief in rights that isn’t mutually held. I just don’t think parents have the right to own their children.

    You keep saying that, but the argument — in order to make any sense and be relevant — requires you to claim that governments own children. I never stated or implied parents own their children. I stated they have a right to teach their children as they see fit. That doesn’t imply ownership, any moreso than your claim that government can enforce standards implies ownership.

    It all comes down to what I said up front: you are willing to force your values on everyone else. And that’s something people should be paranoid about.

  • Aj

    pudge,

    Shrug. You have utterly failed to describe what gives you to have government, on your behalf, force your values on anyone else.

    You have utterly failed to describe what gives you to have parents, force their values on their children.

    And “ignorance” is relative to your own personal values.

    Reality isn’t relative, science works.

    Utter nonsense. This means the government has the right to define what that standard is, which means the government has the right to force us to swallow whatever they want us to

    Better let parents force children to swallow whatever they want them to.

    The power to force us to be taught according to whatever they decide is damned close to total authority.

    Like when parents do it?

    And I can point out the fact that it’s utterly moronic for him to do so.

    In fact, yes, all molestation is violence.

    If you want to redefine the words to mean that’s fine. But don’t expect other people to use your strange conventions. Dawkins wasn’t specifically communicating to you, it’s moronic to expect him to use your dictionary instead of a common one to English speakers. If you want to find common meanings for molestation look it the fuck up.

    So according to you, all parenting is tyranny. That’s … not sane.

    Your definition of of tyranny is people forcing things on other people. I wouldn’t use that word, I don’t think your paranoia towards government is sane.

    I never said they were better. I said the parents have the right. And the government obviously doesn’t.

    Obviously, no. Fine, government obviously has the right to require a minimum standard of education.

    Only in the same way our Founding Fathers were paranoid in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I am simply recognizing what government can do, and what government has done, and protecting against that by limiting the power (and scope of that power) of the government, through securing the rights of the people.

    Children and Africans didn’t seem to have rights.

    No. Like GOVERNMENT forcing religious beliefs on a population. Parents get to force things on children: that is what parenting IS. That is not what government is. On the contrary, the very reason government exists is to secure our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That necessarily implies the right to educate our children as we see fit.

    Ownership of children. Children don’t get the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness I guess. You have a funny view of what parenting is, 1984 is not a manual.

    You, apparently an atheist, immediately after comparing forcing education to forcing religion, come down on the side of force. You just rested MY case.

    I’m pretty sure I have written multiple times that a minimum standard of education including reading, maths, and the scientific method is clearly not like religion.

    You keep saying that, but the argument — in order to make any sense and be relevant — requires you to claim that governments own children. I never stated or implied parents own their children. I stated they have a right to teach their children as they see fit. That doesn’t imply ownership, any moreso than your claim that government can enforce standards implies ownership.

    There’s a difference between equipping children with the tools of knowledge and deliberately keeping them away from those tools and teaching them nonsense. You seem perfectly fine with parents forcing their children to believe crazy things and to be ignorant of reality. What’s worse is you take a relative stance of reality but still backhandedly imply you support the government forcing “values” on people in “extreme” (weasel word) cases.

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    Aj: you are a pointless person. You keep saying the same dumb things over again. You don’t even recognize that parents have any rights to raise their kids.

    You don’t even understand the difference between science, and the subjective VALUE you place on understanding science. You don’t understand that while science and religion are not the same, that the methods used to force science can also be (and have been!) used to force religion, and that it’s the methods themselves which are the primary object of objection: the use of force, which our system of government, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, is designed to protect us from.

    I am not going to further waste my time with you.

  • Aj

    pudge,

    If that “right” includes infringing the right for children to have a minimal education then I don’t recognize it.

    Science has objective value when in a world that can be predicted by past events. Is understanding of science subjective in the court of law? I think not.

    You’re against force from a representative democracy to parent but clearly for it from a parent to child. Force is the primary object of objection? No.

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    Aj:

    If that “right” includes infringing the right for children

    Please understand the fact that you are committing the logical fallacy of begging the question. Your entire argument rests on the notion that the children have some sort of right here to an education that YOU or GOVERNMENT defines, and you’ve done nothing to demonstrate that such a right exists.

    I won’t bother responding to the rest of what you wrote. You keep running in logical circles, refusing to actually back up your primary assertion.

  • Aj

    pudge,

    You’re confusing is and ought. Where do you think the right for parents to indoctrinate and make ignorant their children?

  • http://pudge.net/ pudge

    Aj:

    You’re confusing is and ought.

    Incorrect.

  • DSimon

    Warning: very long comment ahead. Brace for impact!

    It’s just like in all other aspects of society: government can tell me not to rape and murder people, and it can tell me not to do terrible things of a similar sort to my children. It’s those essential liberties from direct harm we all have, that our common law and common values all dictate government should protect.

    I’m very skeptical here of your use of the phrase “common values” as describing a self-apparent position. Certainly, nearly all Americans share as a value the idea that rape is morally wrong. But, not all Americans do. More practically, many Americans also differ on the definition of rape. For example, some people believe that it is not possible to rape a prostitute once their services have been paid for. Others believe that it is not possible for a husband to rape his wife. Should such actions be excluded from rape law because they’re not a part of everyone’s common values?

    I’m not trying to drift off topic here; the point is that since we can’t even define a pretty obvious law like “rape is illegal” without lots of complications, we run into even more problems when defining more slippery concepts like “the degree of irresponsible parenting that can be considered child abuse”. Laws must be defined by compromise, and I’d say there’s no such thing as a law that does not contradict the values of at least one citizen governed by those laws.

    Okay, now having said that, and assuming you agree (which you probably don’t :-) ), I now need to show why I believe that requiring education standards at the cost of some parental freedom is a reasonable compromise for maximum harm reduction.

    Preventing a child from learning speech is, in my view, quite similar to sexual and physical abuse, both in methods used and in resulting harm done. But not teaching them about science? I don’t see a serious parallel.

    Failing to teach speech and failing to teach basic educational concepts seem similar to me, differing in degree but not in the nature of their effect on the child’s life.

    Let’s consider a pathological case of parents who deliberately teach their child only a language of their own invention; they’re perfectly capable of raising the child with their own values and communicating with them, but the child will be unable to interact with society. It’s very difficult to learn a new language once past childhood, especially without an existing one to compare to. We both would agree that this is child abuse.

    Do you see how this is similar to failing to give a child at least a minimum education? Without the ability to, say, do simple arithmetic problems, or read classifieds in a newspaper, a child would be inescapably locked into poverty and ignorance. They would be able to interact with society at a minimal level (just as the child described above could communicate minimally with points and gestures), but would be unable to really participate in it, or to pursue their own happiness. I see this result (and others which are similar but slightly lesser in degree) as child abuse.

    I think you mischaracterize my position when you say that I might make it illegal to fail to teach children biology. I’m not saying every child needs to know geology or genetics, but they should at least know what they are, to be able to learn about those things later on if they choose to. They also definitely need to know the common basics shared by effectively all knowledge in modern society; simple math, what science is with some examples, some history, how to work simple electronic devices, and literacy.

    If parents fail to make sure their children learn these things, they will very likely never have a real opportunity to learn them. Basic foundations need to be learned at childhood to be particularly effective, as adult basic-ed programs are (though very noble) not AIUI very successful.

    That outlines the (pretty obvious, but worth emphasizing) positive effects of requiring basic education, but what about the potential negative effects? Your primary concern seems to be that of creating a situation where government can tyrannically impose political ideas on children. There are two things which act against this:

    1. Educational standards need to be defined by a legitimate political process. Though our political process creates some potential for government to be tyrannical in defining educational standards, that’s not an argument against having educational standards, any more than the possibility of tyrannical laws (which is very real indeed, as demonstrated by our history!) is an argument against law. Baby vs bath water and all that.

    2. Educational standards are just, as I said in an earlier comment, ideas that need to be understood to allow interaction with society at large. One doesn’t have to believe them, and if a parent wants to raise their child to think that the Earth is really flat or whatever, I’d tentatively say that’s okay, provided the child understands what the opposing viewpoint is. Swearing allegiance to an idea is an avenue for tyranny, but I don’t think having to write a paragraph about where the idea came from is.

    *Phew*. Alright, I’m interested in reading whatever you might reply with, but I don’t think I have the time to continue responding at anything like this length. It’ll just be short little responses from here on out, if anything at all.

  • k-man

    To the poster who argues that “the state does not own our children”: Selective Service might disagree with you. Many religious conservatives in the past had no problem with the draft when the US was combatting those godless Commies during the Cold War.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Swearing allegiance to an idea is an avenue for tyranny, but I don’t think having to write a paragraph about where the idea came from is.

    I agree. This is called basic education.

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