Awesome Comment Award: Ako on Education

As you know, I sometimes share comments I feel are particularly interesting or insightful. Today I want to share a comment reader ako left on my post yesterday about my academic experience being homeschooled:

One thing that sticks out for me about academics and homeschooling is how much any success is treated as a credit to the whole system, which is not true of public schools.

I had an excellent public school education, which encouraged my creative writing talent, exposed me to a wide variety of foreign language-learning opportunities, inspired a deep love of literature, provided a surprisingly broad knowledge of history and world affairs, and taught me how to learn.   Almost no one looks at my story and goes “That proves public schools are excellent!” and relatively few people will even go with the much more accurate “Okay, some public schools in the US are excellent!”  There’s a tendency to give most of the credit to a combination of my natural intelligence level and my parents (who did provide a lot of support and early teaching, but stopped being primarily responsible for my education when I was four, and couldn’t have taught me as much as the schools did).   Homeschooling gets credit when homeschoolers succeed, but public school students are more often held to have succeeded in spite of the public school system.

I think this is a great point. There has been a lot of discussion on the recent posts I’ve written on homeschooling, and many readers have argued that individual homeschooling failures should not be allowed to reflect badly on homeschooling as a whole while at the same time focusing on those who fail in public schools and using those failures to tar the entire public school system. There seems to me to be a double standard here. As Heatherjanes explained recently on her blog, both homeschooling and public schooling have their successes and their failures. As I see it, it’s wrong to ignore and erase either the failures or the successes of either system.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • The Rodent

    I’ll echo that: I’ve always felt I got an excellent high school education from a cadre of dedicated, free-thinking teachers who handled an amazing breadth of material. The fact that *all* schools are not excellent reflects the major dysfunctions of our society.

  • Noelle

    As one of my math and physics high school teachers liked to say, “the school thinks the cream rises to the top on its own, but I disagree.” He meant, of course, that the bright kids, the cream of the crop if you will, would succeed without any particular effort on the school’s part. This sentiment is wrong. Excellent schools provide excellent education for all students. The smarties need guidance and teaching as well.

    I attended a total of 8 schools by the time I finished 12th grade. I was fortunate enough that the last three offered an excellent education for my 8th-12th grades. I can tell you that upon entering college I had no significant gaps in my education. While it is true that no one person can know everything, never once did I encounter a college course where someone mentioned I was lacking a basic building block that I should’ve picked up in high school. I attribute this to my many wonderful teachers over the years. I was a bright kid, but I could’ve easily gotten lost under the wrong circumstances.

    Because schools can be excellent, they should all be excellent. There’s no excuse for offering anything less.

  • sylvia_rachel

    Very, very true. I have a Facebook friend who homeschools her DS because he had bad experiences in public kindergarten, and I have to bite my tongue a lot when she posts stuff (as she very frequently does) whose basic message is “you may think your kid is learning something in regular school, but you’re wrong, and if you were a *good* parent you would be homeschooling too”. I’m really happy for her and her DS that she is willing and able to homeschool and they are enjoying it, but sorry, the fact that I have neither the time nor the inclination nor the spousal income level to do the same does not mean I’m a crappy parent and my kid is doomed.

    I also got an excellent education in the public school system (in Canada, not the US). I know not everyone does, but that should be a reason to improve the system, not give up on it!!

    • ako

      It really worries me how much argument there is for, on a policy level, basically abandoning the public school system. We should be looking at the public school system and applying what works to other areas, not going “It’s all broken! Let’s take more money out of the school system and put it into programs encouraging people to leave!”

      (On the individual level, it’s more complicated, and some parents may find homeschooling the best option for their families. I think there’s a big difference between “Here is how public school didn’t work for my kid!” and “Here is how public school is awful and damaging to all children!” I also think that, even if one doesn’t have a child in the public school system, it’s in everyone’s interest to encourage better public schools, because most children in the US do attend public school, and the future of our country will be hugely influenced by how effectively our public schools educate people. Homeschooling may work for some families, but it’d be unreasonable and unfair to demand that most families have a parent who is able and willing to stay home and forgo employment, fully up to speed on all of the knowledge of a good K-12 education, including whatever elective subjects would suit the student’s interest and aptitude, and a skilled teacher with an approach to teaching that suits how their children learn.)

      • sylvia_rachel

        Yeah, that’s what I wanted to say :)

  • Lola

    Adding mine- I had a great education in my public school (which btw, was not the best in the area, it was kind of average). I had amazingly dedicated teachers who were more akin to what you would expect from college professors, holding office hours before and after school, etc. I was able to gear my schedule my last few years to have classes that were relevant to what I wanted to do and the people in my class who couldn’t get that at the school were taking courses at the local university. I’m not saying that there weren’t aspects that were lacking at my school, but, I went into college better prepared than my husband, who attended a very prestigious private school.

  • MrPopularSentiment

    I never used my story to tar all public schools. In fact, I have said repeatedly that public school is awesome for some people (my husband had really positive experiences in public school, for example).

    But when commenters are coming only just short of saying that we need to have a mandatory public school system for all, there needs to be balance. We can’t talk about what’s best for children without acknowledging the very real weaknesses (and strengths) of all the proposed options.

    The fact is that both public schools and homeschools have the potential to leave crippling academic gaps, and to leave children emotionally/socially stunted. It’s about the quality of the experience and the fit to the individual child.

    @Sylvia_rachel – That’s all well and good, but can we really blame parents for not wanting to turn their children into martyrs? I mean, isn’t the whole point of what Libby Anne is talking about to do what’s best for individual kids?

    • luckyducky

      I don’t think that it is just about what is good for the individual kid. We are party to a social contract and participating in public institutions, like public schools, is part of that contract. It is just what your child gets out of school but also what you and your child bring to the school. Low income kids benefit significantly from being in mixed income classrooms because middle income families bring a lot of resources to the school — in the form of physical capital (classrooms are better supplied) and social capital — low income kids get connected to people with resources (a computer at home) and connections (I know someone I could connect you to for an internship). I think that middle income kids benefit to by being exposed to lower SES kids — it could sound like a look at the poor kids kind of thing but I think that it helps develop empathy. How could it not? Public schools help build community — kids have their own space in the community — and that is valuable too.

      I think that is my biggest beef with the homeschool movement. I will grant that there are cases where the needs of the individual cannot be met in a particular public school and that outweighs the demands of the social contract. However, I think many people use the excuse of public schools not being perfect as means to exempt themselves from the social contract instead doing their part to improve public schools.

      • Beth


        I don’t think that it is just about what is good for the individual kid. We are party to a social contract and participating in public institutions, like public schools, is part of that contract.

        Participation in public schools is not part of the social contract in the U.S. There are some good arguments supporting the idea that it ought to be, but there are also good arguments supporting the fact that currently it is not.

        It seems inconsistent to me that you say you value diversity and also advocate that everyone have the common childhood experience of attending public school. Can you explain why you don’t value diversity in educational options?

        I think that is my biggest beef with the homeschool movement. I will grant that there are cases where the needs of the individual cannot be met in a particular public school and that outweighs the demands of the social contract. However, I think many people use the excuse of public schools not being perfect as means to exempt themselves from the social contract instead doing their part to improve public schools.

        Do you feel the same way about people who send their children to private schools? If not, what is the difference between homeschoolers and private schools with respect to people who are exempting themselves from your perception of the social contract.

      • luckyducky

        I am not a big fan of private school though I think it is a little less problematic that homeschool. That is largely because in my area the private schools are not super exclusive, they are largely religious and while expensive, do a lot of scholarships, etc. and work to keep themselves from being super homogeneous. In practice, they aren’t very different from some of the public schools in the more upscale ‘burbs in terms of diversity — racial, SES, religious.

        Ought? Isn’t that what the social contract is, oughts? No one penalized for not fulfilling it beyond being labeled a jerk. I wouldn’t say that participating in public schools is a mandatory, nonnegotiable part of the social contract but if you aren’t going to do it, you have a responsibility to compensate for that. However, what I see is people who withdraw from that particularly public institution don’t tend to engage/contribute elsewhere. And you need to have a good reason.

        Diversity in educational choice… first of all, overrated and I speak from experience. It was an enormous time suck trying to decided not 1xs but now 3xs between different public schools districts and then which school within those school districts, charter schools, and private/parochial schools. I would rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than do it again but even if everything goes well, I will be doing it again in 2 years and again three years after that — and that is just to get us through k-12.

        Second, it is because you are NOT a consumer of education, you are a participant in education and it reduces the educational experience to treat it like you would treat your accountant (I bring you my receipts, pay you, you do my taxes, if I am not happy, I go elsewhere). You contribute in one way or another not only to your own (or your child’s education) but to the whole community of learners’ education by showing up. By not being there, you are depriving the community of resources, hoarding them in a sense. Not only is it not fair, it is not a good or efficient use of resources you need to justify it.

      • Beth

        @luckyducky – Thanks for the response. I don’t agree with your position, but I think I understand it better now.

    • sylvia_rachel

      No one’s kid should be a martyr.

      Like I said, I’m really happy that my friend found a solution that works for her son, who was really unhappy in public school. (I’m in another country on the other side of the continent, so obviously my view of the situation is not complete by any means; my impression based on what she’s told me, though, is that their bad kindergarten experience resulted from a combination of a severely under-resourced school system, a bright kid with some behavioural challenges, a teacher who lacked the time/energy/training/all of the above to deal appropriately with the said kid in addition to all the other challenging kids in her classroom, and a parent whose passionate advocacy for her kid crossed the line from helpful collaboration with the school to open warfare. She’s able to stay home with her kids. What if, like me, she wasn’t?)

      What I’m saying is not that public school is the right solution for every single kid, but that if we as a society invested more in it — more money but also more time, more energy, more attention, more value — if we genuinely cared about educating all kids well and appropriately, if teaching were a valued and highly trained prestige profession — it could be the right solution for a lot more of them.

      And also that sending my kid to public school, where she has her ups and downs but in the end does just fine, doesn’t make me a bad parent.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        There is absolutely nothing you have said that I disagree with. I am fully in favour of better schools – that means more money, and it also means some changes to how we think of schools (less focus on tests, more focus on projects and descriptive feedback, things like that). I also think that kids should be accommodated as much as possible – being able to go to the bathroom when they need to rather than when the hall pass is free, being allowed to just sit quietly in a corner or a little adjoining room the calm down when needed, being allowed to move while doing schoolwork whenever possible, being able to eat/drink when hungry rather than at scheduled snack times, etc.

        And, from what I’ve seen of the Ottawa/Carleton School Board (the one that applies to my area), many of these changes are being made. I have a few friends who teach kindergarten and elementary and they’re all quick to say that there’s still a long ways to go, but they seem generally very impressed with how far the school district has come just in the last few years.

      • luckyducky

        Who said anything about martyrs? I granted the caveat that there are cases where individual needs cannot be met in a particular public school setting — this may be because of a child’s particular health/learning needs, incompetent teaching/administration, or specific familial circumstances.

        However, in my experience in a community with a very contentious, ongoing, multi-layered public school policy battle there is a lot of “my precious snowflake isn’t getting his/her very special needs met” that really means “I and my family are not catered to and this school isn’t doing exactly what we want.”

        Hey, I get it. I thought my daughter’s school was manifestly unhealthy and ended up moving her to another school. I had the option and not everyone has the same option for a number of reasons. But I grew up in a rural school district — one school, no choice — so I recognize that is not everyone’s reality.

        I actually think that the excessive amount of choice was part of the reason why the school environment was unhealthy — it was too damn easy for those of us who know how to and have the time, resources, and energy to devout to navigate the system (read: middle class, white parents with resources) to leave when things weren’t going just right, contributing to a downward spiral. And the less-than-stellar administration was glad to see these “trouble making” parents go (read: parents who questioned them on policy implementation). Even with a more competent administration, having so much choice makes it so schools have to “sell” themselves at the “right place” for your child, which sets up a customer/consumer rather than participant/community member relationship with the school that is detrimental to education — I see the same thing writ large in the college classroom where some students expect you to spoon feed them and to be handed a good grade (their bad grade is always the result of your teaching not because they didn’t study, skipped class, never came to office hours for clarification, failed to turn in complete assignments) because they/their parents are paying for it.

        The other part of this is but public schools in the US get funding from their local government and state government, primarily via property tax which has resulted in some pretty big funding disparity between rich and poor districts. (Many?) states have adopted formulae to compensate for this, evening out per-pupil funding — doesn’t seem like it should be complicated but it is. Anyway, the state funding is usually in part per-pupil and it is based on daily attendance. Schools shut their doors for flu outbreaks not just because they want to limit contagion but because if enough students are absent on any given day, they don’t have enough $ from the state to pay for that day of operation. So, putting butts in the seats so to speak (or round bottom stools for the wriggly ones) is central to schools being better funded. Plus, parents of students are the best advocates there are.

      • Beth

        No, you are NOT a bad parent for not homeschooling. It’s basically a lifestyle choice and not everyone is well suited for that lifestyle.

      • Anat

        MrPopularSentiment, a major reason for the focus on tests comes from the fiscal conservatives who need ‘accountability’ for the money going to public schools. So they demand testing, which takes time and money, and then they make the tests ‘high stakes’ and threaten to deprive the schools of money, so now the schools really have to make sure the students do well on the tests, regardless of whether the material on the curriculum is learned. Oh, and private schools and charter schools don’t have to show success by the same measures so they get to teach, if that’s what they want. It’s not the schools who want to do the testing, it’s those politicians that are opposed to public schools (and public anything).

  • BonnieLB

    MrPopularSentiment, I understand where you are coming from. I think it’s very difficult for someone who hasn’t gone through years of chronic bullying to grasp just how hopeless and depressing it is. Showing up at school day after day knowing you’re going to face ridicule for anything you might say, do, wear, etc. The absolute hopelessness of it. I think if I lived in a country where homeschooling was illegal, I would not have had kids. I would not bring kids into this world in a situation where I have absolutely no ability to protect them if they are in a bad situation. It’s easy to say that you can work with the school, teach the child skills, change schools if necessary — but there is a point where if it isn’t working, the child should not continue to suffer while grownups keep fumbling around.

    On the other hand, my kids are in public school (1st grade and K) and I do see the pro-public school side of things. So far we are having a good experience. And I’ve got a couple family members who are very, very pro-homeschooling, so I’ve heard all the anti-public school side and I disagree with quite a bit of it. (And I’m a little defensive about it.) Because the experience depends on the child and the school.

    There has been a ton of improvement in recent years in recognizing and dealing with bullying. Yay! I am very happy with how my kids’ school approaches things. Middle school still fills me with dread, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. However, I am a little cautious about being too complacent with how things are handled. The fact is, grownups are always going to miss some of the undercurrents that go on between kids in a classroom. (I remember after one bleak day at my private Christian grade school, reading a newsletter from the principle to the parents that talked about how happy he was to see the little lambs growing in the love of Christ. Yeah, I had a different opinion of those little lambs.)

    I do disagree with the argument that it’s better to learn to deal with it young. That’s true of a lot of conflict between kids, yes. And there’s a gray area where one kid could think they’re in a conflict, and the other feels bullied. But with flat-out bullying, it is *not* better to learn coping skills young. Because the coping skills you learn are counter-productive. For example, by about 15 I was worn out with trying to find someone to eat with, or with eating alone in the cafeteria. I started skipping lunch and reading in the library. But I was really hungry, so I packed granola bars & such in my purse and would sneak bites when no one was looking. Most of the skills I learned were like that, avoidance. And that has not served me well.

    • MrPopularSentiment

      Thank you BonnieLB – that’s exactly what I’m trying to get across, and you’ve said it much better than I have been.

      I also started hiding in the library when I was around 15-16. It’s actually taken me a long time to learn how to eat around other people again. Even just going to a restaurant with my husband would give me panic attacks. I HAD to have a booth, and I’d have to arrange menus and things on the table to provide a screen because I was so skittish about eating around other people. The cafeteria dynamic is just so conducive to bullying because kids (and their social status) is on display and there’s really no opt-out option, at least until the late teens.

      I’m glad that your kids are thriving – that’s wonderful!

      • BonnieLB

        Yes, I always want to be off to the side or back of a restaurant (or any room), where I can see without being seen. Or clothes – to this day, 40 years old, I find myself in a store with the overwhelming urge to pick the blandest possible clothes that no one would notice. Even getting a compliment on an outfit makes me cringe, because it means that my outfit stood out more than I realized.

        My husband sounds kind of like yours — he never had any social or bullying problems. To this day, if he goes to his hometown he’ll run into several people he’ll reminisce with, not even including his best friends that he makes a point to see. It’s like living with an alien. :/ It’s the reason I’ve mustered enough hope to send the kids to school. (Well, that and finances.)

    • Christine

      I understand your worries about learning avoidance skills instead of good conflict resolution skills, but the problem with homeschooling to avoid bullying is that kids do need some social interaction. If they never talk to another kid their age until they’re 15, they’ll get bullied at 15 instead. If you wait until they’re in university they might not get bullied, but they’re not going to have any positive social interactions.

      • Beth

        Whoa…no one is talking about avoiding all social interaction when homeschooling to avoid bullying. That’s a false dichotomy. And frankly, even if it wasn’t, if eliminating all social interaction was the only other choice, it might still be preferable to the on-going bullying that some people have suffered in school.

      • Christine

        When I hear arguments like “no kid should have to put up with being bullied” it implies to me that children should be removed from situations where they are bullied, if they are put in them in the first place. If you’re not willing to put children in a situation where they get bullied, you can’t let them socialize with their peers. If you’re lucky there might be kids nearby that they happen to get along with one-on-one well enough that there won’t be any harrassment, but relying on that’s rather risky. So while there is on occasion a middle ground, I’m not sure it’s a false dichotomy to recognise that you will likely have to accept one extreme or another.

        While I would consider homeschooling for academic reasons, if the provincial curriculum continues to be awful, I would not do so for bullying. I honestly feel I’m a heck of a lot better off having gone to school than I would have been if my mother had kept me home to avoid bullying. I might get my husband to give my daughter a crash course in basic conflict theory, but I believe it’s something that you need to be exposed to at some point, as it’s how societal norms are taught and enforced. I’d be a heck of a lot harder to get along with now if I hadn’t been bullied as a child, and that’s saying a lot.

    • luckyducky

      I am not and I doubt Libby Anne is either arguing that the bullied to learn how to bear bullying better, it is how to better deal with/respond to bullies, interact with peers, and approach adults for help in order to stop bullying and minimize the damage in the mean time. It isn’t “coping” it is productive problem solving — very different.

  • BonnieLB

    Christine: As I said, I send my own kids to public school. And, “It’s easy to say that you can work with the school, teach the child skills, change schools if necessary — but there is a point where if it isn’t working, the child should not continue to suffer while grownups keep fumbling around.” — obviously, I’m not saying that a child should be kept from all social contact, or that there aren’t any solutions besides homeschooling.

    (And again, I’m usually on the other side of this debate — taking heat for *not* homeschooling. But I also think that the pro-public-school side can brush some concerns away too easily, and that’s what I’m addressing.)

    Social norms being enforced through bullying: Yep! They sure are! Unfortunately, a lot of the norms that get enforced are not very good. Like say, rigid policing of gender conformity. And some of the time when a kid runs afoul of those particular norms, the adults in the school are just as scornful as the students, and either actively or passively allow it to happen.

    Norms that I violated? I will own the fact that I was a weird kid and a late bloomer — the 2 combined meant that the middle school years were painful. I was very shy and didn’t know how to overcome it. And my parents were caught between 1. wanting to love and accept me for who I was, and not wanting to try to force me out of my shyness, and 2. also being shy themselves, with limited ability to demonstrate how to overcome it. On top of that, I dressed weird (and had a very, very long learning curve before I learned to blend in), in general had no interest in fashion, hair, makeup, etc. At 13 was still more interested in cartoons, science fiction and drawing, and no interest whatsoever in boy bands. (Bad, violating that social norm there!) I spoke (speak) weirdly with too many big words and awkward phrasing. I was (am) too literal, and struggled to understand a lot of the jokes and general teen culture around me.

    In a perfect world, a fairy godmother would have swooped down and magically taught me how that perfect balance of better social skills while still being myself, I would have learned to be more assertive, and it all would have stopped. It’s not a perfect world, and I failed to learn all that. The social world of middle school is sink or swim, and I sank like a rock. And once you’re at the bottom, you become marked as the butt of every joke, and you can’t get back out. As it was, without that perfect world, I regularly fantasized about suicide by 8th grade.

    Here’s the tricky part: knowing, as a parent, when to encourage your child to stand up to bullies, be yourself, learn conflict resolution, etc., versus when to pull the plug on school *before* things get so bad that your child fantasizes about killing herself and her self-concept is irreparably shot.

    luckyducky: The problem is, there *isn’t* always a solution. The child may try all of the things grownups say to try, and still be unable to stop the bullying. They may try their hardest to use productive problem solving. But that’s assuming that there is a solution, and that the grownups you ask know what it is. There are a lot of adults who, with the best of intentions, teach really bad techniques to kids. Things like assertiveness: tell that bully in a firm voice, “I don’t like it when you say that!” LOL. The bully knows that — that’s why they say it! Or going to the teacher when it gets out of control — sorry, tattling just makes things much, much worse. When a kid reaches the point where he/she realizes that the grownups don’t know how to help, then what?

    In 8th grade, the fun catchphrase in my class was for the kids to tell me “Shut up, you don’t count!” Hard to predict when it would happen, but it was a lot. I tried like crazy to make it stop — I tried ignoring it, confronting it, asking grownups for help, etc. None of that worked. Or there was the lesbian rumor; it took awhile for me to find out about that. It was based on the fact that I was unattractive, not girly, and not dating any boys (as if any of them would have dated me!). Exactly how do you propose a 13-year-old girl stop that? And in the late 80s that was even more poisonous than it is now. My parents could tell me all she wanted that I was beautiful and they loved me, but that means nothing when the kids you spend 8 hours a day with think you’re disgusting.

    I really, really do think we’ve made a lot of progress culturally. But there is so much progress yet to be made. Like I said, it’s sink or swim, and that means some kids sink. Once bullying sets in, IMO it’s a little too pie-in-the-sky to imagine that if the victim just utilizes the right problem-solving skills, she can stop it. Maybe she can! But maybe not, and then what?

    • Beth

      Thanks for talking about this. I can definitely relate to what your saying, but decades later I still can’t talk about it much. I, too, was a weird kid who dressed funny and didn’t fit in so I was at the bottom of the social strata in school. I, too, fantasized about suicide during Jr. High. and H.S. Then I went to college and everything was suddenly much much better!

      The only coping mechanism I ever got advised to use was to ignore it. Didn’t help. It just inspired my tormentors to escalate until they got a response. I agree that our culture is moving in the right direction, but we’re not yet where I’d like us to be in that regard.

      • BonnieLB

        Beth – I never talk about it IRL either, and very rarely online (and never this much). I guess I’m in the mood for catharsis! And you can’t help but rehash those things in making decisions for your own kids.

        “Ignore it and they’ll get bored” — yep, more bad advice. In a way it’s true some of the time; some people who are just not very sensitive can let things roll off their backs. And they aren’t fun to pick on, so they don’t get it much. So they believe that’s the trick. But it is much harder for a sensitive child to *pretend* to ignore it.

      • M

        I was one of the few people for whom “ignore it” worked, but that’s also because I was totally clueless that people were attempting to bully me until I thought about it later! I say I’m bad at people, which is my way of saying I’m not good at reading emotions or intentions. I’ve gotten a lot better at it, but I was completely unaware of a whole lot of social currents in high school. That meant when a girl slipped condoms in my backpack and then asked about them loudly the next day, I just looked at her funny and said I’d tossed them since I didn’t need them. I really, truly didn’t get what she was trying to do until years later.

    • Christine

      Other things that don’t help (my mom was socially awkward so her advice may have been the problem): pointing out how what they’re saying is about as far from making sense or being internally consistent as is possible.

      I know that it’s not really reasonable to expect bullying to stop using standard conflict resolution techniques. And this is why my trick would be to teach conflict theory to my child. Not that I’m suggesting a hunger strike would solve the problem, but creative problem solving can be very useful, and most kids who are bullying are actually going to be more open to standard problem-solving techniques than adults are. We just need to take bullying seriously, and not give it stupid solutions, like calling everyone into the principal’s office, and victimizing the kid twice.

      I’m sorry for implying that people were arguing that kids should be kept completely isolated. But the idea that putting kids in an environment where they will be bullied is wrong bothers me a lot. There is no way to let your kid develop social skills and not have them get bullied. And learning to ignore the idiots and go read in the library is actually a life skill. (The really valuable one is to unlearn this when it’s appropriate. I’ll get back to you when I figure that one out).

      • BonnieLB

        Christine — I’ll have to look up conflict theory, sounds interesting. Wonder if it would help the kids learn to deal with each other.

        I agree that I wouldn’t want to keep my kids from any situation where bullying could possibly be a problem. It’s just a nail-biter to know when it’s going too far. But one reason I am not homeschooling is because I still struggle with avoidance and shyness so much, that if they were by my side all the time, my kids would learn that fearfulness from me. So far they’ve had good teachers, and I’m glad they have the chance to learn how *other* adults besides me handle life.

        Libby Anne: sorry to hijack a little. I love your blog.

      • Christine

        Don’t quote me on good key terms to use to figure out what the field is. Our university calls the department Peace and Conflict Studies, other names include Peace Studies, Conflict Studies, etc. My husband has taken more of the courses than I have, and learned a fair bit more (I’ve been tempted to go for the conflict resolution training, but the very reasons I need it make me a poor candidate to actually get useful skills out of the courses.) I recall ranting about PACS 201 not actually teaching very much – it stated explicitly a lot of obvious stuff, but I apparently missed stuff, because he says it’s a good course, hence him getting the job of teaching creative problem solving.

      • luckyducky

        My daughter has had some interpersonal conflict that *could* be classified as bullying — this is very episodic and nothing really overt but girls in particular learn how to play by the letter of the law but still sneak the shiv in. I debated letting the teacher know and/or going to the principal but asked a school pysch friend about it and she reminded me that our job as parents is not to protect children from the world but prepare them for it.

        So, monitor, talk to her, help her brainstorm solutions*, but give her a chance to navigate her world without help before jumping in to the rescue. She likened it to kids learning to dress themselves — we can do it much faster, better and they may be frustrated and uncomfortable but if you always do it for them, they don’t learn to dress themselves and you’ve set the precedent of rescuing them when they encounter difficulty.

        *I know what works for my daughter is not going to work for the quintessential bully target because my little chameleon is really happy moving from group to group. She is friendly with nearly everyone in her grade, so when she’s on the outs with the Queen Bee, she just goes and plays with the boys. But she talks about being an ally of the quintessential bully target — QB was not being nice to the girl with the grass allergy so I went and played with her — and I think they grade school crowd is being taught bystander intervention and NOT the “No, don’t do that,” but the more subtle and effective forms.

      • Kristen

        I think maybe there’s some differing ideas of bullying going on. What bullying means has really broadened lately. I agree that homeschooling isn’t a good solution when kids are experiencing the normal (or even slightly worse than normal) social machinations of their peers. Maybe a kid is targeted at some points, but then the tables turn and it’s another kid on the receiving end of the meanness. Some kids are popular, some aren’t so popular. That’s not good, but it’s not bullying. I wouldn’t homeschool my kid for that.

        However, there are times (and I’ve seen them) where it goes from normal give and take to a targeted campaign against one kid, who is repeatedly, habitually, excluded, taunted, and humiliated. That’s the kind of thing that can cause long term psychological harm or even suicide. If my child were the target of that kind of abuse and the adults involved were not taking it seriously, I would do whatever necessary to remove him from the situation, including homeschooling as a last resort.

      • luckyducky

        Kristin, you helped me clarify what was bugging me about this exchange. I totally agree with you — we’ve expanded what we deem bullying now and yes, if my child were experiencing the most extreme form of bullying and I didn’t feel like I was or could get it adequately addressed in the school setting, I would consider home schooling (it would likely be temporary but that is another discussion).

        However, because we expanded what we consider bullying and we as a society have generally decided this is a problem we are ready to address, it is very frequently in the news, there are new books, etc. As a result, we now talk about it like every other child is subject to long-term, ongoing extreme bullying. I don’t know the numbers but I am pretty sure I don’t think that is the case. I have seen parents throw in the towel on schools before giving intervention a chance because of unfortunately confluence for a zero-tolerance attitude toward any problem regarding interpersonal violence and expanding what we id as bullying.

        The worst examples are relatively and I would bet increasingly rare though the social media aspect adds a different avenue. Maybe most kids have been picked on/excluded from time to time or even go through a painful but brief period of genuine bullying (I did). Those however, should be/are learning experiences for all that are involved and may have lasting impact but not lasting harm.

      • Christine

        luckyducky makes a good point – severe bullying is something that I would consider homeschooling for. However the standard dread of school, because everyone is going to give you a hard time, and you would like to just be “normal” is something that, I feel works out better in the end.

  • Stephanie

    I agree that there are failures in both systems. As a homeschooler, I’ve heard the opposite and equally biased opinion about homeschooling, though. People point out the one homeschooled kid they met one time who happens to be socially backward and weird. I have to point out that some public school kids are also socially backward and weird. It’s not so much the system, but the people within it, the parents, the public school teachers and budget of the school. I’ve found folks blaming the weaknesses of people on homeschooling, but not doing the same thing with public school. So in my experience, the double-standard goes both ways.

  • http://Love,Joy,Feminism Northstar

    >>many readers have argued that individual homeschooling failures should not be allowed to reflect badly on homeschooling as a whole while at the same time focusing on those who fail in public schools and using those failures to tar the entire public school system. <<

    I do hope that was not seen as my message or take-away point… in my comparisons I sought to show that homeschooling was being held to an unequal standard, and that with two similar children with similar achievements, only the homeschooled one was perceived as being deprived if their achievements were substandard. That puts all homeschoolers in the unwinnable position of having to have all their children being above average — or perhaps face draconian remedies not proposed for an identical child in traditional school. And also to point out that all standards, testing and oversight that a public school provides does not in any way ensure achievement, just as it wouldn't in a homeschool situation.

    In no way did I intend to say that public schools could not produce excellent students or that homeschooling is the best way to having an excellent student. People — and life — has much more variety to it than that!

    Libby Anne, I see why you took a break from the subject. Like you, I found the discussions so disheartening that I had to put "arguing with random strangers on the internet" on hiatus and take a break from your blog, one of my favorites. It was rather like walking in on associates discussing your people in disparaging terms… and even if they hasten to say "Not you! You're fine! It's the rest of them!" one is left with the terrible feeling that you now know this is what they REALLY think.

    • Libby Anne

      Hey Northstar,

      I’m sorry the discussion was so upsetting, I really am. It was not my intent to cause pain. I do want to respond to two points from your comment above, just by way of explanation, not by way of argument. You don’t have to read these explanations if you don’t want to.

      First, I’m not arguing that homeschoolers should be held to a different standard, simply that they should be held to a standard. I believe that children have the right to an education, and that it’s the government’s job to ensure that that right is not being violated, whether that means school reform in public schools or oversight that ensures that parents who homeschool their children are actually taking the time to teach them. If a public school is failing badly and can’t pull its scores up, it first goes into some form of remediation, given time and resources to pull its scores up, and then gets shut down, or put under new administration, if it can’t pull things together. I don’t see why we should treat homeschools differently. Similarly, public school students have to go through testing and evaluation to ensure that they are learning, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t do the same thing for homeschoolers. I don’t see how this constitutes calling for holding homeschoolers to a different standard.

      Next, you mentioned that regulations would end up requiring all homeschool children to be above average. Not so. In Oregon for instance homeschool students are tested by independent testers (the parents choose from a list of tests and list of evaluators) at the end of 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grade. If a student scores below the 15th percentile, they have to be tested again the following year, and if they are still below the 15th percentile a licensed teacher has to help the family over the next year, after which they are tested a third time. If they score under the 15th percentile yet again, a transition into the public schools begins. My point is not to argue with you over whether Oregon’s laws are good or bad, but simply to point out that Oregon has regulations watching for educational neglect that do not require or expect homeschooled students to all be above average.

      So what I said above about homeschools that are failing needing to have remediation or be shut down? I wasn’t talking about cases where homeschool students are simply below average. I was talking about cases where homeschool students are so far, far below average that there is clearly a problem—the parents aren’t actually teaching, or the parents are really bad teachers, or the children have special needs that aren’t being addressed. I hope that helps clarify my position.

      Anyway, again, sorry to cause hurt feelings!


  • http://Love,Joy,Feminism Northstar

    Libby Anne, I appreciate your sentiments and see your points, even if I don’t fully agree with them, seeing things as I do through the lens of my own experience. I see the parents in my (secular) homeschooling group, fiercely protective of their Down’s child, (one of whom pulled her son after they deemed his IQ too low to teach him to read) or their child with mental or emotional disabilities (who homeschool _because_ of those disabilities — the homeschooling does not _cause_ them, as people outside of the family might suspect) — all of whom might fail according to external standards. I see my lovely 14yo, whose favorite, no-miss TV show is Melissa-Harris Perry’s current events roundtable, who can answer a quiz game question about what city Westminister Abby is in with “Italy?” (Facepalm) This, with her sister, two years older with the same education, hot-tracked to be a National Merit Scholar. Or how she can listen to a chapter of her science book, and not know the answers when I ask her the end of chapter questions — but can sit with me and discuss it completely and in depth. On a school test, she’s just get a “D” or and “F’, verification to her that she is “stupid” and move on. She can spell every third word incorrectly, but she’s well into writing her first fantasy novel — and it’s startlingly good — I think in part because she’s unafraid, and because she hasn’t lived with a constant drumbeat of failure. I don’t think I could dodge the consequences to her mental or emotional health if testing was required. (She’s very sensitive and prone to depression, something I’m monitoring carefully. I’m pretty certain that if she saw proof positive of where these tests ranked her, she’d be devastated. )

    So, I guess I see intervention differently. To me, it’s intrusive and heavy-handed, unable to make the fine distinctions that make every family situation unique. I would love it if services could be provided to help me out on a voluntary basis, though — therapy for the dyslexia? I’d love it! But somehow those services seem to dry up for me, the several times I’ve attempted to get them through our intermediate school district. I always seem to be pointed to a $1500 neurological exam before they’ll even begin talking to us — something we can’t afford. Same situation for the speech therapy she desperately needed as an elementary kid. Free for school kids — but funny, we never seemed to fit the criteria when we tried. (Remember, we are push-outs because of the kids’ severe food allergy — homeschooling was not our first choice.) Help with math and science labs? Oh, man, yes! But in MI homeschoolers are forbidden from taking core or core-like (you know, math, science, government, etc.) classes unless they are full time schoolers. Just electives are available (though I only know a couple families who have been successful in swinging -that- option.)

    So, my actual experiences with the school system have left me feeling it is less than benevolent and understanding, and I think I am justifiably suspicious of the potential for its intrusion into our family and parental decisions.