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October 26, 2017


Our daughter was taken aback, and we explained that if she became an English teacher, no matter how hard she worked, everyone would say that it's not thru effort that she would be good, it would be because her father was a native speaker of English.

This is going to be a drive-by, because I'm frazzled-ly packing to start driving to Ohio tomorrow.

But there's something I don't get about this: if she wanted to be an English teacher, and she had a good chance of being a good one, why did it matter what factors contributed to her being good? Maybe I'm missing some subtlety or subtext, something cultural perhaps, but it's one thing to say: oh, you only got into Harvard because you were a legacy. But it's another to say: you're a good English teacher, but you get no credit for it and maybe you shouldn't even be one, because English was spoken in your family so that gave you an edge.

So what? For the sake of your students, if you're good at teaching them, what does it matter how you got that way?

I don't mean that's what you said, or meant, but it seems like what you thought other people would say, or mean.

Also -- you just had to put this post up when I was going to be traveling, didn't you. ;-)

On the one hand, I said plenty about homeschooling in that CT thread. On the other, I said very little about something that your post points toward, and that is: what we all think about our homeschooling endeavor now, when the "kids" are 30+ years old.

All I have time for right now is to say: mixed reviews. Lots of "might have should haves shouldn't haves."

I'm curious to know why people opt to home school their kids. I mean, I understand the motives of the people who don't want their children exposed to science for religious reasons. (I think it says something about their opinion of their religion, that they think it too fragile to withstand such exposure. But at least I can follow the train of thought.)

But people without that motivation? Is the public school system so bad? Bad enough that supplements outside school hours are inadequate?

Hopefully folks here will be able to enlighten me.

I know some (completely secular) Jews that took their children out of public school in some state in the US South because the antisemitism (actively fostered by the school authorities) became unbearable*. At first they home-schooled then they moved to Canada (I guess now their kids are in public school again). That was during the presideny of the lesser Bush but I doubt the situation has changed.

*that the parents were active liberals made it worse. The other kids had in essence a licence to beat them up for their parents' views.

Don't worry, feel free to come back to this when you are finished travelling.

Our immediate reaction was 'don't do it'. Not sure what my wife was thinking, but my reaction was
1) English teaching is not a field that is going to be a great place to be 10-20 years from now.
2) We assumed that she wanted to teach in Japan, where the demographics make it an even worse bet.
and the 3rd reason, that people assume you can do it because you are a native speaker, which is the reason we ended up emphasizing.

I looked again at that CT thread and I see that I did comment there, but like most of my comments at CT, they tend to be ignored.

wj, I can't speak to folks in the US, but here in Japan, given the all encompassing nature of the ed system, parents feel like the supplements outside of school do not go anywhere near enough to counterbalance what they are getting in school. In addition to homeschooling, there are international schools. One thing I've noted with many students who go to international schools, their keigo, or honorific language can be weak. This can be very challenging. I assume that this problem will be even more pronounced, though all of the homeschool kids I know tend to go into jobs where the hierarchy is not so pronounced.

anyway, no rush, or another post, Janie. Looking back thru the CT thread, I really admired the way you were able to address the things that made you angry and frustrated in a way that moved the discussion along rather than just entrenching folks in their positions.

Teresa Nicol Kimura

My dad told my sister that she wasn't allowed to do her first-choice subject at university because it "wasn't useful enough". My dad's an electrical and mechanical engineer by training and so was focussed on all 3 kids choosing useful, productive degrees. What did my sister want to do? Sports science? English? History of Art?
No, Chemistry.

Eventually he said that if she got into Oxford or Cambridge, she could do any subject she liked, since an Oxbridge degree would enable a career regardless.

I guess my only point is "people are weird".

My son is @ eight months away from the award of his doctorate in Chemistry at Columbia University, then on to a post-doc, probably, as he wants to do pure research at the university level.

For which he will probably at some point apply for National Science Foundation grants. He applied for one a couple of years ago but was turned away, by his peers, as it should be:


I look forward to a guy who runs a car wash and believes, as an expert in his field, the Earth was created 6000 years ago, and dentists soon thereafter, and who thinks chemistry formulas are silly, having equal purview over my son's research funding with professional elitist chemists.

I'm going to be counseling him to move abroad, even if its to become a rag picker, away from this full of shit republican country.

FWIW, my son wanted gap year between HS and college, the college agreed, and he took one, with completely positive results. He matured a lot during it, which showed when he did go to college. I think the best thing about it (if this can be arranged) is that the person gets their first sustained experience of being in a setting where most people are adults, rather than their own age. Travel (which he did) probably contributes by moving someone out of their local HS social group.

Hartmut, I can see the response to the bullying problem you describe.

I sometimes lose track of just how nasty the general public is in some parts of this country. Here, there would be whole school board meetings devoted to "how do we clamp down on bullying". And maybe even students going into home schooling because they had been expelled from school for bullying. But hey, it's California; a pretty conservative bit of California, but still....

I know some folks who home-school because they are very conservative evangelical Christians. Their kids have what I would describe as a very parochial view of the world, and of life.

I know some folks who home-schooled one of their sons because he is pretty much an ADHA poster child and trying, and failing, to sit still in a class room all day long made him and his teachers and his fellow students nuts. He got through the standard high school curriculum via tutors and a small-group arrangement with some other home-schooling families, in about 15 hours a week. With the rest of his time he worked for a local mechanic and learned his way around automobiles pretty thoroughly. He's floundering a bit now, but is generally a pretty competent adult.

I know some folks who home-school because the school district where they live is not the best. They also do the thing where they combine resources with a couple of other home-school families and hire tutors to do small-class (5 or 5 kids) tutorials in subjects they don't know enough about to teach. In these specific cases, the moms are at home, and they and the kids supplement class time with fun educational adventures at the aquarium, museums, and other similar stuff.

I know one couple who home-school for reasons they never really discussed. Not religion, not quality of school district, I think they just wanted to do it. Their kids have started a mail order business, appeared in NYC in small theater (they live in NH), are competitive ice hockey players (both are girls), and in general look like they will be kicking ass, taking names, and taking over the world before they're 25. I don't know if that's due to home-schooling specifically.

Home school kids I know generally demonstrate greater initiative and self-confidence than average. They demonstrate greater poise and comfort with people of other ages. Overall, my take is that it can be a good thing.

Most of the folks I know who home school are themselves accomplished people and bring pretty solid resources of various kinds to the table. I'm sure that's part of the equation.

That's pretty much everything I know about it.

lj, my mother wouldn't countenance my taking a gap year for the same reason (they were not common then either), and I dropped out after 3 months. Perhaps I wouldn't have if I had had a gap year - I had been at boarding school for seven years, and felt pretty institutionalised. I don't know if she ever put the two things together, we had a pretty bad relationship at that point so didn't discuss it in quite those terms.

sanbikinoraion, what happened? Did she go to Oxford or Cambridge, and what happened next? Narrative-addicted voices want to know....

"When the modern homeschooling movement started to emerge in the 1970s, many jurisdictions considered it a crime to teach your children at home. Today homeschooling is lawful in every state, albeit with different degrees of restrictions. That's one of the great victories for educational choice, and its impact is only increasing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of homeschooled children has grown from 850,000 in 1999, when the center started to count them, to 1,770,000 in 2011, the last year for which it has done a tally."
Homeschooling Then and Now: When homeschooling was a novelty

Over here in Germany (where it is not legal), it's nearly 100% a thing of out of the mainstream religious guys and a small number of 'alternative' weirdos. The German public school system is struggling in parts but that is not due to (right-wing) ideological know-nothings running the show, i.e. the ideology that causes the trouble is not about the content but about the methods of teaching.

Most of the folks I know who home school are themselves accomplished people and bring pretty solid resources of various kinds to the table...

Which, I suspect, is of rather more importance than the decision to home school or not.
Solid parental resources (along with time and commitment) will likely overcome any vagaries of education.
The extreme flipside of this is kids with attachment disorder, where even the best resourced and most committed educationalists struggle to make a difference.

We homeschooled in the US for a number of reasons:

* We had both been mostly unhappy and underserved in school (top 1% academically).
* 3 of our parents were career public school teachers and told us that things were getting worse, that they wouldn't do it again, and that they supported us homeschooling.
* My spouse had spent some time teaching at a charter school and had a bad experience.
* My spouse had a MEd (aimed at science museums, not classrooms).
* My spouse wanted to do it, and we could afford me being the sole breadwinner.
* Reading authors like Alfie Kohn and John Holt.
* Two children were late readers and would not have been well-served by public schools' insistence on early reading.
* One child was highly gifted and would not have been well-served by public schools' insistence on mainstreaming.

We'd been very happy with it overall, although one reason we moved across the state 10 years ago was to get to a community with a wider variety of secular homeschoolers.

Now we're in the UK for the second time and all the children are in state schools, although one will probably go to private school for A-levels. Our impressions are very mixed, but after months of fighting we think they're all in good situations.

Reasons for not homeschooling in the UK:
Much less acceptance here, and much less support.
My spouse is considering pursuing a career.

Way back when, I ran across this guy in the pages of the late great Whole Earth Quarterly.

He's a former schoolteacher, NYC teacher of the year on a couple of occasions, and he's down on public schools.

On this topic I find myself in the odd position of being 100% supportive of the idea and institution of universal public education, yet nodding my head in agreement with a lot of what Gatto says.

IMO a lot of the reason that people homeschool is because they don't think the school system serves their kids all that well.

Why is that? Can we fix it?

Austin Cooper Meyer

@russell -- Gatto was one of those people who I wished didn't supported my cause. I am on the road and don't have for deep digging (incl. in my attic) but he was a mad self-promoter and IIRC quite an awful person in some ways. Reminds me of a saying, "An idea is not responsible for the people who espouse it."

Some of Tom H.'s summary would echo mine. A lot of what I might say today I said in the CT thread lj linked.

What I'd really like to address is the ways (which came up over and over in that CT thread) in which an idea like homeschooling, which offends so many people's ideas of the natural order of things, fosters certain kinds of thought processes and discourse.

Maybe, as lj said, in a post some other time.

I only know two home school situations. Both involve neurotic parents who are determined to pass their weirdness on to their kids. IN one case the kids do almost nothing in the way of school work and are mostly learning two things: their mom does not have to be obeyed and they do not have to learn how to function in the world outside of home,

In the other case the son does a great deal of school work, although mostly in the unthinking concrete type (lots of grammar, for example). The biggest lesson he is learning is to veiw all of life outside his mother's personality disorder as suspect.

I am not generalizing. I am just pointing out that we have stake in having kids interact outside the home during the formative years and pubic school is the primary means for that to happen.

Totally agree with Janie about Gatto. He's a darling of the Atlantic and Harpers, 'award winning teacher who rejects the system'. I recall a roundtable he participated in, published in Harper's, where people were discussing the curriculum and his contribution was something along the lines of conducting a guerilla campaign against the curriculum. The fact is that he only exists in opposition to education and he only gets his juice by fighting the powers that be. It's a powerful motivation, but if that's all you have, you spend you entire life being reactive.


By fudging attendance records and encouraging students to exit quickly and quietly, Gatto also allowed his kids to venture outside of school, where many were involved in community service. Others polled New Yorkers on various subjects, interned with everyone from dressmakers to newspaper editors, and visited museums. One girl slipped past a security guard at the New Yorker magazine in an attempt to query William Shawn, the legendary and reclusive editor. She got the interview.
During his final years of teaching, Gatto stepped outside of tradition altogether. Jamaal Wilson, one of his students in 1991, wrote an article that year for Children's Express Quarterly. Reprinted in A Different Kind of Teacher, it recounts a typical week for a Gatto class: one day each for independent study and apprenticeships; another day for community service, which had each student "helping others, not being a parasite," Wilson writes; and the remaining two days for class, during which students "practiced dialectics, which is thinking where you automatically assume that anything an authority tells you is dead wrong."
There's no question that Gatto bent, and sometimes broke, the rules—a subject he refuses to discuss in detail. But in his writings, he refers to himself as a saboteur, a role he believes a teacher must play to be effective in public schools.

When the student Gatto lets slip out gets hit by a car, or ends up in some situation where the parents ask 'where were you'? I wonder what his answer would be. And I wonder how much trust there would be on the part of his colleagues who have been told that they are just lackeys supporting a system to rob children of their independence. For a saboteur to exist, there has to be something to sabotage.

School is actually quite a hard sell.
As consitituted now, it amounts to a deprivation of liberty for the majority of daytime hours for well over a decade of children's lives, obliging them to study a curriculum often mandated centrally by government according to the political whims of the day, and in significant respects inflexible and out of date.

Of course, there are also a few arguments in favour of it...

Nigel, traditionally it does not deprive the kids of their liberty (they have none) but their parents of their kids' ability to work. Opposition to mandatory schooling came from the same sources that opposed child labour laws (and at least in the US it still does).

Of course, there are also a few arguments in favour of it...

Yeah, who would want to miss out on all of this:



After 4 Oxford Blues (2 in basketball, 1 each in rowing and football) and a PhD she worked for a prominent car manufacturer for a decade and is now a senior programme manager at a major bank.

So, no career in chemistry - but as my dad predicted, an Oxford degree was good enough to get her in to a well-paying career.

We'll call it a score-draw.

Nigel, traditionally it does not deprive the kids of their liberty (they have none) but their parents of their kids' ability to work...

Traditionally that might well be true - but my kids would have been singularly unimpressed by that argument...

sanbikinaraion: how very satisfying. 4 Blues! She must be quite an athlete. Thank you for tying up the story.

Why bother with education when there will be no careers or jobs for human beings to do?

Robots won't teach humans; they'll just build smarter robots to make themselves obsolete.


One does wonder if male humans will try to rape robots and otherwise dominate them.

It bears thinking about and drinking over.

One does wonder if male humans will try to rape robots and otherwise dominate them.

Or the other way around

My sister has won her category in two national championships in cycling since then.

The first one, she turned up to a "mountain bike orienteering" event because it sounded fun and came with a free T-shirt. She didn't realize it, but it turned out to be the nat champs. She won the ladies' vets event.

The second one was somewhat less impressive but she got a call from the organizers of the national mountain biking championships a week before the event, asking if she wanted to pay £30 to register in the ladies' vets category (she'd signed up under the ladies general category). She demurred, but the organizer told her that there were no other entrants, so all she had to do was finish the course to walk away with a gold medal! She came fifth in the general categorization, and of course, took her gold. There's a photo out there of her standing on the top of a 2-1-3 podium on her own, but she was sufficiently embarrassed that she hasn't shared it with the family.

So yeah, she's the athlete in the family!

Did I tell you about my other sister, who cures cancer for a living...? I'm definitely the black sheep.

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