Monday, April 14, 2008

The Homeschooling Public School Teacher

On a recent post, Cipher asked me how I deal with questions of contradiction concerning my being a public school teacher while homeschooling my own children. I knew it would take a post to respond so here goes:

It is because I have intimate ties with the public schools, and know what goes on, that I am fully supportive of my wife home schooling our children.

I know that statement started all the conspiracy theorist home schoolers salivating, so let me elaborate. First let me state that there are no conspiracies. The secular humanists are not meeting every second Thursday to plot the destruction of Christian faith and apple pie American values using the educational system.

No, it is more dull than that. It is apathy, and it comes from all walks of life. It is entitlement, and some of my brothers and sisters in Faith are the worst culprits.

Mostly though, I encourage home schooling for my children because the inmates are running the asylum.

Let me give an example of two former students of mine - we will call them Jimmy and Jerry. Jimmy and Jerry were in my 5th grade class, but they probably functioned at a third grade level. This was not due to lack of ability but to years of neglect. They had no interest in education. Their day spent in my classroom was a constant stream of interruptions and shenanigans to entertain themselves. Jimmy's mom thanked me for being patient with her son, but never offered any real help. Jerry's mom ran block for him. It was the district's fault, the principal's fault, the teacher's fault. It seems for six years straight he had gotten bad teachers.

I spent my day corralling these two, and tried to get some teaching done in the down moments.

One day a miracle happened. One magical day they were both absent! These two were never absent, but I guess the stars were in alignment that day.

Now before I go on I have to state that, like most teachers, I over plan my day. There is nothing worse than dead air, so even my back up plans have back up plans.

Our school day ended at 3:00. Because Jimmy and Jerry were gone, I was done with EVERYTHING at 1:30. I went through all my extras and my backup plans.

It was then that I realized that those two suck up an hour and a half (or more) of instructional time everyday.

Let's take that math out a bit. That means in a 180 day school year, they destroy 271.5 hours of instruction time. Divide that by an average 6 hour school day and you get 45.25 of your 180 days gone. That is 25% of our school year out the window. They caused their class to lose a year of instruction every 4 years!

That was 15 years ago. It is much worse now. Most teachers today would scream with joy if they had only two students whose' day was bent on disruption.

My daughter started first grade in the public schools. My wife volunteered a few times a week in the classroom. She always came home horrified. "Andy, she is a good teacher, but she spends most of her day corralling 7-10 students... and there really is nothing the school can do about it!!"

Yep, welcome to the public schools.

These are the schools we demanded and these are the schools we received. How did it get this way?

See, everyone is for discipline - until their child is in trouble. Everyone wants rigorous educational standards - but no one wants to shoulder the weight that comes with such standards. We want children held accountable - other children that is, not ours.

In addition, the adults of our nation worship entertainment and want what they want when they want it.

Yet we want our children to be studious and disciplined?


To clarify, I never disliked Jimmy and Jerry. They were decent souls, but the truth is my class as a whole suffered for their presence.

There are many classes across America where upwards of half the students fall into the "Jimmy and Jerry" category. Until we deal with this issue, any other changes in the educational system are just furniture arranging on the Titanic.


OneSmallStep said...

If I ever had children, I would seriously consider homeschooling them, for I remember the public school system.

In High School, I deliberatly took as many AP classes as I could. I had five senior year, including Physics and Calc, because I didn't want to be with the regular students. I wanted to be with students who at least cared about excelling. Who cared about learning.

And the problem with disruptive kids, or kids who don't care as much, is that the system seems to be designed to make sure they pass, and so what about the kids who aren't disruptive, and do care?

didymus said...

This gives me a lot more to think about as I watch my daughter grow up. How much do the actions of the school boards effect these issues, or could potentially effect these issues?

Andrew said...

"so what about the kids who aren't disruptive, and do care?"

I can only speak for the elementary level, but in my experience public schools are not designed for those who excel. It is the 20/80 principle in reverse. 20 percent of the kids take up 80 percent of the resources. Unfortunately, you rarely get payback. I watched kids who were terrors in Kindergarten continue their behaviors all the way up the ladder. One boy in particular comes to mind. He caused problems from day 1 in kindergarten. Over the next six years, he and his family sucked up enormous amounts of time and resources in our school. All for naught, they gave us attitude til their parting day.

I am not sure what powers school boards have to make change. I think, so often, they only see test scores and curriculum and really do not have a day to day sense of what is going on in the schools themselves.

cipher said...

The secular humanists are not meeting every second Thursday to plot the destruction of Christian faith and apple pie American values using the educational system.

Er, um, that's right; we aren't. (Note to self: Reschedule Thursday meetings!)

Firstly, I'm flattered that you devoted a post to answering my question (and I don't even mind that you "outed" me by linking to my Blogger profile!)

Secondly, I sympathize completely. Public schools were nothing to write home about when I was a boy, and I'm 51 now, and grew up in the Boston area where we had, supposedly, higher standards of education than did other parts of the country.

I think that at least part of the problem is due to cognitive disabilities, ADD, OCD, etc. It seems as though there's been an increase in frequency; it may simply be that we're better at diagnosing such things now, but I don't really believe that's it. As a Liberal, I'm prepared to blame diet and TV, among other factors, and the effects they have upon the development of the brain. (If I were a Conservative, I'd just say that it's because we don't spank as much as we used to, and because we took prayer out of the schools. Kids won't misbehave if they think God's watching!)

I had both ADD and OCD, but I was never a behavior problem; I was just bored and unchallenged 99% of the time. Even then, I knew I belonged in a different environment; my mother wanted to send me to a private school, but my father didn't want to pay for it. Of course, today even that doesn't guarantee a better education. We just don't get really talented people going into it any more. We don't pay them enough, the schools are understaffed and underfunded and I understand the bureaucracy and paperwork are overwhelming. I'm friendly with a woman who is a speech therapist in one of the local public schools, and I can't believe the amount of paperwork she has to go through for each child.

As is the case with everything else, it's a complex and multi-faceted problem, no one really has a handle on it and the corrupt fools in Washington (including our "education President") make a lot of noise and do absolutely nothing about it.

And since I rarely pass up an opportunity to take a swipe at my favorite target, I'll throw this in as well - I think that the Christian Right has gone to great lengths to create an environment of resentment and distrust of anything that smacks of "intellectualism". At the same time, their secular Republican cohorts have whipped us up into a frenzy over terrorism. As a result, education, like a lot of social issues, gets put on the back burner. We don't have the time to talk about education or the money to put into it; the terrorists are at the door! And what difference does it make, anyway? These kids can learn everything they need to know by reading the Bible! Otherwise - well, they won't need to know how to factor polynomials in hell!

I don't see a reason to hope that it will get better. The Europeans are right about us; this really is a nation of imbeciles.

I can understand completely why someone would choose to home school a child. I'm given to understand that for the most part, a home schooled child ends up with a far more comprehensive education than does a kid from a public school, or even a private one, for that matter.

Please - just promise me that you won't send them to Patrick Henry College!

Andrew said...

Can't disagree with you on any of that Cipher. In fact, I will add that my wife and I chose not to join the local Homeschool association as a matter of conscience. It was basically a "conservative Christian" only club who's belief statements, which one had to agree to, were so needlessly and offensively exclusive, that we had no trouble staying out. My wife and I choose to home school for educational reasons. It seems though that many parents home school their children out of fear and therefore, I believe, do damage to the child's education (and humanity).

Below Zero Joe said...

Hey my brother... I just want to leave a few remarks. I crack up every time I hear about the evils of public schools and the brainwashing that goes on there. As a pastor, people feel compelled to tell me just how anti-christian the schools are. We chose to homeschool because we thought it would be best for our children, to provide some stability and to ensure a quality education without the distractions of classroom politics. We didn't do it to insulate them from the evils of secular humanism and the liberal agenda. I should put those things in quotes.
I do have to say though when things do happen in the public school arena, whether on the school board or in the classroom that are blatantly politically driven, I cringe. My mind always goes back to: Is this what school is supposed to be about? So whether it's homeschool, public school, private school or the school of hard knocks, what's the point? Why are you doing it? Just a thought from the chilly north.

Andrew said...

So true Joe. I wish I had a buck for everytime a Christian asked me what I do for a living.

"I teach," I reply.

"Really? At which Christian school?"

"No, I teach at a public school."

Stunned silence.

They are so disappointed when I tell them that there are no conspiracies... I am no fun at all.

I agree that homeschooling is a great option (perhaps the best) if one is doing it for educational purposes.

Anonymous said...

So - just gotta say, I'm a former student of yours and I'm cracking up at this post. I know it's not funny and a very sad commentary, but I can't help but think that one of my siblings was one of your Jimmys or Jerrys over the years (though, my mom was pretty strict with school stuff). I'll apologize now for the torment we put you teachers through back then!

Andrew said...

Heh! I was a Jimmy/Jerry and I gave my teachers a very hard time... particularly in 6th grade. Everytime I get a Jimmy/Jerry, I just smile and think "Karma, baby, Karma!" ;)

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