Modern Education Failed Us

A blog for stories, research, and activism for educational choices. One-size-fits-all mass education is harmful for many children. There are many educational models - homeschooling, secular private schools, one-room schoolhouse, charter schools, virtual schools, specialty schools, religious schools, and many more. All deserve respect and equal protection under the law. The government should not discriminate nor dominate! Centralized monopolistic public education should be a thing of the past.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Fundamental Misconception about Homeschooling?

Last week we took a vacation to visit my family. My sister-in-law is a 4th grade teacher and does not approve of homeschooling, to put it mildly. She begrudgingly acknowledges that we have a "special situation" and that homeschooling has helped Travis tremendously but that is unusual and not something to be encouraged for "the public." Needless to say, we don't discuss the issue much in the interest of family harmony.

While on our vacation we stayed at a hotel. At the swimming pool, we struck up a conversation with another couple. She was a high school teacher from Kansas so the conversation naturally drifted to homeschooling (well, okay, my husband kinda sorta pushed the issue! LOL!) She was very polite and articulate in her discussion (for which I am very greatful) and she was not nearly as militant in her opinions as my sister-in-law tends to be, but she made a comment that made me wonder if the root problem is a misconception of what homeschooling is.

This teacher commented how she has heard of many 'homeschool co-ops' springing up where homeschool kids gather together in one place and a parent or hired teacher holds a class on a particular subject. She said triumphantly "That's school!"

I got to thinking later that I should have recognized the fundamental misconception this statement represents. It seems to me she must think that homeschoolers reject the concept of group schooling entirely. She must still think of homeschoolers as people who reject society at large and wish to isolate themselves and control every waking second of their children's lives. At some root level, she must also feel personally rejected as a member of 'society at large.' It is the curse of the stereotype of homeschoolers as religious control freak whackos. (sigh)

For the record, homeschoolers come in all shapes and sizes. There are some who do reject group schooling of any kind. Many more do not. For many, group schooling has it's place and usefulness within the context of a full and thorough education supervised closely by the parent. It is this close superversion aspect that is fundamental to every form of homeschooling. For some, this takes the form of 100% one-on-one instruction from the parent and only the parent. For some, this takes the form of the parent reviewing the curriculum and hiring somebody else to teach the curriculum the parent chooses. For some, this takes the form of personally supervising their child using state-sponsored curriculum. The bottom line is there is a full breadth of manifestations of this fundamental concept called parental involvement in the education of their children.

This parental involvement is the key - not the supposed rejection of society at large. If a parent closely monitors their teen's free time with requirements to ask permission to go somewhere, to check in at reasonable intervals, to conform to a curfew - is that parent rejecting society or are they being an involved parent? When a parent refuses to buy junk food for their kids, cooks healthy meals and avoids fast food restaurants - are they rejecting society at large or being an involved parent? Why isn't education the same?

By and large, society nods approvingly at the involved parent when it comes to feeding, disciplining, character building, activities, etc., etc. So why is the social pressure against parental involvement in education? Where is this instinctive prejudice against parents coming from? Why do people get so defensive and react like they have been personally attacked by homeschoolers? People really need to examine the roots of their opinions and ask themselves why they think certain things.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Unschooling Article

For These Kids, School is Always Out
Method of home schooling allows children to learn by pursuing their interests rather than set curriculum

By Vincent J. Schodolski, Tribune national correspondent. Tribune staff reporter Mary Ann Fergus in Chicago contributed to this report
Published March 12, 2006

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. -- Riley Brown is 12 years old and lives a life many of his peers might envy, or perhaps find incomprehensible.

On any given day Riley will probably sleep until he is ready to get out of bed and then spend his time doing whatever interests him. Maybe he'll play his guitar, or go to the park to meet with like-minded friends. Or maybe he will boot up his computer and start "playing around" with HTML codes.

His younger brother, Casey, 10, and his sister, Maggie, 5, do more or less the same thing.

And their mother, Deanne, could not be happier.

"I love unschooling," she said. "It has been the best decision I could have made for me and my family."

The Browns are part of an approach to education that is called "unschooling" and allows children to pursue what interests them, rather than trying to make them interested in things that interest others.

The concept holds that learning is best done when a child's interests are engaged, and for a family with the talents and the resources to allow this to happen, great success is possible.

"Unschooling" is a subset of home schooling, which has seen rapid growth in recent years.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 1.1 million children were being home-schooled in 2003, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That is up from 850,000 in 1999 and represents a 29 percent increase.

Education experts estimate that about 10 percent of the home-schooled population is "unschooled," meaning there may be as many as 110,000 young people being educated in this way.

A significant part of the growth in home schooling has been among Christian conservatives who shunned public and private schools for reasons that included curriculum, school violence and social trends. These parents often seek highly structured curricula suited to their conservative beliefs.

But those who practice unschooling tend to do so because they believe the school system, be it public or private, does not allow children to learn to their full potential.

"I think the one reason that stands out from the rest is that I felt that my kids were losing that incredible spark they had before they entered school," Deanne Brown said. "After being in school for a few years I saw their natural curiosity, imagination and love for learning being crushed by rules and conditioning. Learning became a task."

Some fear standards skipped

Not everyone is convinced that unschooling is a great idea.

"I think the downsides would be related to teachers who don't understand putting parameters around children's decision-making," said Jill Fox, an education professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

"It's one thing to allow children to choose to study Amelia Earhart before studying Harriet Tubman, with the clear understanding that both will be studied thoroughly during the school year. It is another thing to allow children to study Muhammad Ali and completely skip over what the state standards or district curriculum require," Fox said.

"Teachers -- and parents -- have to keep in mind that children's decision-making skills are not yet fully developed. They don't quite understand cause-and-effect and often don't realize the consequences they may face as a result of their decisions."

And unschooling is not for everyone, experts say.

"It is not suited either to all kids or all parents," said Tom Hatch, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College in New York City. "It requires students with considerable curiosity and independence, who come up with and get interested in questions and can sustain some interest in them."

Several hundred families attended a two-day home-schooling conference that began Friday at an Arlington Heights, Ill., hotel. There they chose between sessions such as one that taught the principles of DNA and another called "Shakespeare Without Fear."

Winifred Haun of Oak Park, a mother of three, was among those networking and searching for new ideas at the Home Educators Conference Fund event.

Haun started Northside Unschoolers of Chicago five years ago with 15 families and now organizes events, from support groups to Spanish classes, for 100 families throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

"People are realizing that school doesn't do what it's advertised to do," said Haun, a former teacher in Chicago who said she felt like "an advanced baby-sitter" for kids who did not want to be in class.

Her experiences and further reading led her to unschooling when her oldest, 10-year-old Athena, was not yet school age.

These days, Athena is into drawing tropical birds, practicing ballet and reading Harry Potter books. Her sister Iris, 4, has taken to writing names and words she likes, such as "princess." Selene, 19 months, joins her mother and sisters for Girl Scout meetings, trips to museums and a weekly open gym session with other unschoolers.

Any family activity can turn into an educational experience. Math is incorporated into everyday life, something father Stephen Parke, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab, calls "cookie arithmetic."

The approach is not without its challenges or fears but the couple believe their decision has made their children independent thinkers.

"To me, learning to think is much more important, especially in the modern age," Parke said.

Experts say parents who choose this path for their children usually are well-educated and believe the present primary and secondary educational system is not structured for a world that prizes free thinking, curiosity, imagination and independence.

"I don't think you can apply that to all schools," Hatch said in defense of traditional schools. "It's so hard to predict what opportunities and interests students will have in 20 years, or what the job market will be like in 15 or 20 years."

Most trace the origins of unschooling to an approach devised by educator John Holt in the 1970s. He believed children could be natural learners, instead of requiring formal schooling.

"A core distinction between these two approaches, it would seem, comes down to beliefs about human nature, or at least the nature of the child and their learning," said Robert Kunzman, an assistant professor at Indiana University. "Do they learn best following their own interests, or by being carefully led upon a preordained path?"

Parents involved with unschooling argue that modern resources such as the Internet make exploration easy.

Little evidence of effect

There is little, if any, empirical evidence of how unschooled children fare in later life, but home-schooled children are being accepted by Ivy League and other prestigious universities.

Riley Brown of California is a believer.

"I like being able to have a lot of freedom, which gives me a lot of time to explore my interests," he said. "I also like not having to get up at 6:30 in the morning and being able to stay up late."

Regine Verougstraete, who moved to the United States from her native Belgium 11 years ago, elected to unschool her two sons after the older one struggled in regular classes.

"He had lost the pleasure of learning," she said of now-10-year-old Elliott.

Now he and his 7-year-old brother, Teodore, study at home with mom as the mainstay teacher in their home in South Pasadena, Calif.

Some critics of home-schooling say that it denies children interaction with others and thus blunts their social skills.

Not so, say unschooling parents. Deanne Brown points to regular weekly park meeting with other unschoolers and the fact that all three of her children are engaged in team sports.

Rules on unschooling differ among states with some requiring children to take standardized tests to measure progress, others asking only that forms be filed with the state, and some requiring nothing.

The question of measuring progress is a thorny one among parents of unschoolers. Most do not grade their children.

"We do not take tests, use a curriculum, grades or punishment and reward systems," said Deanne Brown. California does not require such measurements for home-schooled students.

"Virginia law requires that home-schoolers provide annual evidence of progress," said Shay Seaborne, who is unschooling her daughters, Caitlin, 15, and Laurel, 12.

"I meet this requirement with results from a standardized test, as that is the least intrusive means for our family," she said.

For many students the first test of their learning in a standardized way comes when they take the SAT, or ACT exams.

Ned Vare and his wife, Luz Shosie, unschooled their son, Cassidy, first in Colorado and later in Connecticut. Cassidy never attended regular schools and when he took the SAT he had a combined verbal and math score of 1390 and went on to get a GED with a nearly perfect score. He is now enrolled at Hunter College in New York.

While unschooled children may have regular social contact with peers who are involved in more traditional schooling, there appears to be a gap of understanding about their differing circumstances.

"My schooled friends' opening question is usually, `What grade are you in?'" said Riley Brown. "I tell them that I would be in the 7th grade, but it really doesn't matter. I don't usually try to explain because they wouldn't get it if I did."


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Saturday, January 28, 2006

No Room at the Schoolhouse

The Kentucky Enquirer carried an article on January 23, 2006 entitled "No Room at the Schoolhouse." It is subtitled "Crowded schools put thousands in portables, but the impact on learning is uncertain." It goes on to give many examples of local schools using portable trailers to serve as classrooms. The overall tone of the article - as implied by the subtitle - is that these portables are negatively impacting learning and that they are, in general, a bad thing. The reasons given are mostly convenience oriented. The children have to go outside to get to the main building to go to the bathroom and less space for supplies and books. They also site a sense of isolation from the rest of the school and lack of "bonding between grade levels."

The article cites "some educators" who call for studies to be done on the educational impact of the use of these portables. Apparently, these people are suspicious.

Personally, I welcome such research. You see, I read this article and thought "What a great solution!" I like the idea of a little distance between the crowd and my child. A little breathing room, so to speak. Ever heard the phrase "There is nothing like being lonely in the middle of a crowd?" This is what happens in mass education. Individuals are lost. You can't see the tree for the forest. Separating a class of 15-20 kids and their teacher and giving them a sense of autonomy during their day can create the kind of bonding and inter-relating that is crucial to learning. The teacher can focus on the child and get to know them better. The children can focus on the teacher and understand the instruction better. The children can focus on each other and build relationships. They can gain mastery of the social skills necessary to function in a larger society without being overwhelmed by that same larger society.

The current mass education system is the social equivalent of "sink or swim." At age 5 (or earlier for the many children in institutional preschool) children are thrown into a crowd without a second thought. Studies have shown that a human being is not physically capable of maintaining real relationships with more than about 40 people. Those were adults. The least we can do is spend some time thinking about how we build community and relationships by dropping kids into the middle of a crowd.

I welcome these studies. I think they will show that these portable classrooms not only increase learning but promote emotional well-being and social adjustment. I think the concept of many self-contained classrooms surrounding a central building has a lot of potential.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Standing in the Schoolhouse Door

The Wall Street Journal has a great article by John Fund today about Milwaukee's successful school choice program. It seems that some politicians are putting the demands of the teacher's union above the parent's demands for a good education for their children. The NEA is setting itself up in opposition to children. How can they possibly justify that? Let them continue on this road so more parents can see just where their true loyalties lie: It is not in the best interest of the children, but in their own back pockets. Dare I say it? For the good of our children, the union must be busted.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bullying in Middle School...

...May Lead to Increased Substance Abuse.

Over the past decade, parents, educators and policy makers have become increasingly concerned about verbal and physical harassment in schools and the subsequent effects of peer victimization on teens. A recent study by Julie C. Rusby and colleagues from the Oregon Research Institute, published in the November 2005 issue of the Journal of Early Adolescence by SAGE Publications, found significant associations between peer harassment of students in middle school and a variety of problem behaviors, such as alcohol abuse, once these students reach high school.

Read the whole article at

Friday, December 16, 2005

Federal Literacy Survey

One in 20 U.S. adults lack basic English skills
Federal literacy survey reveals ‘stark snapshot'

(click title above for link to article)

After reading the above article, my friend permitted me to post her response:

Since I've just finished reading the essays of another 2500 college-bound teens, this survey does not surprise me. There are certainly 5% of them that can't fully understand the language of the prompt they are responding to; for example, they will think "practical" means "requiring practice". They say things like, "History is everything that happens, in the past, present or future. So why would you not want history? If history wasn't relevant, nothing would happen." (That was the opening of an essay rated "competent.")

I read essays by college-bound 17-year-olds who believe there are still 10 million slaves in the American south today; who argue that we should not study history because that will make us repeat it; who use two punctuation marks in a page of writing (that one was just short of "competent").

I think you just can't teach kids basic literacy in large groups on a large group schedule. They either learn to read, write and cipher on their own (regardless of the quality of their school), or they are taught in one-on-one or small groups -- like you are doing at home with your family. And when families aren't responsible for teaching their own children, the adults have less reason to progress, too.

Now, many of the 5% at the bottom in that study are recent immigrants, many of whom will develop those skills in time. But the bottom 13% includes a whole lot of people who can't read a prescription bottle or bank deposit slip now and are not making any progress toward it, despite years in American public education. Schools failed them then, they are failing them now, and they are failing their children.

So. If the education system didn't get them when it had a 12-year claim on their time, it's not going to get them now; very few of the nonliterate will become literate with passing years, as the study shows.

--on a rant after reading in a serious essay that A.G. Bell invented the first telephone using two cans and a string

Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman, the Nobel Laureate and most reknowned economist of the 20th century, is also the philosophical Father of the School Choice movement. In 1955 - four decades before most Americans recognized the current crisis in education - Friedman realized that government financing of privately adminstered schools is consistent, equitable, and efficient. Friedman posited this combination would benefit students by making schools more flexible and would also benefit teachers by making teacher salaries responsive to market forces. Friedman was the first to propose the idea that tax dollars should follow the child - vouchers.

The Freidman Foundation's latest report on the status of school choice is at

Milton Freidman wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal recently reflecting on the school choice movement and his role in it. Read it here.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Let a Thousand Choices Bloom

Great article! It is subtitled "Debating the Future of Education Reform"

The money quotes:

Any reform that directly attaches money to the backs of children and allows them to choose any school, without regard to residential restrictions, holds promise. The actual choice mechanism—tax credit, charter school, or voucher—is less important than a child’s having substantial purchasing power and an open system that allows many different types of schools to compete for the child’s funding.

One significant barrier to more school choice is the implicit acceptance of our archaic system of residential school assignment. Changing the cultural and institutional structures that reinforce school assignment is one crucial element for expanding the number of choices available to students and their families. -- Lisa Snell

The greatest barrier to reform is that, when it comes to education, Americans have lost sight of the distinction between means and ends. Our state-run school system is no longer recognized as just one possible tool for pursuing universal education; it has come to be misperceived as an ultimate goal in and of itself. The term “public education” has come to refer to both the institution of public schooling and the ideals that the institution is meant to advance. Many Americans can no longer even imagine a world in which education is delivered other than via a government monopoly. And criticisms of state schooling are often misconstrued or misrepresented as attacks on the idea of universal access to good schools. -- Andrew Coulson

Given the tenacity and power of those who have a powerful stake in the status quo, freedom advocates cannot afford to oppose anything that meaningfully expands parental choice. Tuition and scholarship tax credits entail the least government regulation, but vouchers are more concentrated and can drive systemic public school reform. Let a thousand school choice flowers bloom, and we can see which variety works best.

Ultimately, we need to redefine “public education,” focusing less on where education takes place and more on whether it takes place. A child learning at home in front of a computer or in a religious school is advancing the true goals of public education; a child trapped in a crime-infested public school with little prospect of learning is not.

If we were starting today a system of public education from scratch, with all of the technological innovations at our disposal, would it look anything like the ossified, hidebound, bricks-and-mortar, command-and-control, homo-genous, bureaucratic, bloated, inefficient, special-interest-dominated monopoly that represents the biggest socialist system west of China and south of the U.S. Postal System? Of course not. We would create a system that is tailored to the individual needs of every child.

Government should be a funder rather than a monopoly provider of education; local school boards should be providers of educational services, not ideological politburos; and public school principals, teachers, and parents should all have greater autonomy.

The greatest institutional obstacles to systemic education reform are teachers unions, school boards and administrators, and schools of education. Good teachers have nothing to fear from competition—indeed, they obtain more power over their classrooms and sometimes even higher pay. -- Clint Bolick

The people who support the status quo are much more politically powerful at this point than people who are supporting reforms such as parental choice. It’s the teachers unions, of course, but also the administrator organizations, school board associations, and in many instances schools of education. That’s not to say no one in these sectors wants children to succeed; the vast majority probably do. The question is whether they’re willing to have structures, processes, and power arrangements that will allow that to happen. -- Howard Fuller

Anything that brings more choice to parents, especially poor parents, is likely to create a constituency for choice. Once you’ve got a constituency, you’ve got more political power and more ability to resist any kind of step backward.

Political power is the obstacle. There are reformers who are concerned about what’s best for kids, but the vested interests that arise are more concerned with protecting the status quo; that’s their livelihood. The unions in particular are extremely powerful and want to prevent any kind of threatening changes. And I don’t know that there’s an answer to that other than to amass power on the choice side. -- Terry M. Moe

Ultimately, the case against public schooling is a moral one. Under what moral authority does the state take control over the educational decisions of the family? Under what moral authority does the state take one person’s money in order to fund the educational expenses of other people’s children, either to attend public school or, with a government welfare voucher, to attend a private school?

The biggest hurdle we face in achieving full educational choice is a lack of confidence in the free market when it comes to education. -- Jacob G. Hornberger

Getting the government out of schooling may be optimal, but there is little chance of implementing that without a long intermediate stage where the government stops providing school through government-owned facilities staffed by government employees, but still subsidizes K–12 schooling through vouchers or tax credits. That subsidy-only stage—ending the present discrimination against private school users—is absolutely necessary to fully harness market forces, and it’s the most promising politically.

The largest obstacle is inertia reinforced by economic illiteracy. The differences between political and market accountability are poorly understood, and the present system’s failure to teach basic economic principles helps it survive withering criticism. -- John Merrifield

There are two major barriers. One is the swarm of adult vested interests that benefit from the current arrangements and feel threatened by any serious change. They all have lobbyists; kids and parents don’t. The other, alas, is the vast population of complacent Americans, especially middle-class suburbanites, who have already exercised school choice of one sort or another and who now believe that their own kids’ schools are doing well enough. Usually they aren’t. -- Chester E. Finn, Jr.

When it comes to education most people somehow believe that the rules should be different. We shouldn’t allow choice, they argue, because people might make bad choices. Schools don’t need competition to perform better, they argue, they just need better resources. And assessing performance to compensate educators is fraught with error, they fear. Besides, teachers don’t do it for the money; they do it because they love children.

These arguments for education being exceptional do not stand up to scrutiny. The government does not assign people to doctors, even though it is possible that people may choose poorly—and health care is an area where the cost of failure can be catastrophic. And while we understand that almost everyone who works with kids, from doctors to babysitters, loves children, we also recognize that financial rewards for excellent performance inspire better service. -- Jay P. Greene

Compulsory attendance laws absolutely have to be changed. It’s so difficult to actually educate oneself under these prison regulations. We had a time without compulsory attendance in American history, and we did quite well with a variety of schoolings. Then waves of immigration caused a revulsion effect among nativist Americans, and the idea of locking up the children of immigrants away from their parents and traditions and cultures seemed very appealing and “Americanizing.” (Of course, that’s a meaningless term. Given the meaning of this country, that would be un-Americanizing them.) -- John Taylor Gatto

Read it all at