Friday, July 13, 2007

Are Homeschoolers Capable of Educating Their Children?

I enjoy reading Dana's posts over at "Principled Discovery" because while I don't always agree with her conclusions, she always makes very thought-provoking arguments. For all that Conservative Protestants get a bum rap in certain circles as being "brainless", many of them like Dana show that their intellect is as strong as their faith in Jesus and the Bible.

Anyways, she wrote an interesting post the other day entitled "Is It Even Possible to Fix Our Educational System?" She makes a lot of good points in this post, but the one that jumped out at me was her discussion of parental abdication of responsibility for their children.
Unfortunately, no matter what we as a society do, it is unlikely that little Johnny will learn to read until his parents value his education highly enough to get involved. But that is a little difficult to mandate. No matter how we look at it, we are stuck with treating symptoms. Parents ceased taking responsibility for the education of their children a long time ago. Instead of educating them, they turned them over to the factory or allowed them to run the streets. Organizations developed for the health and safety of these children, creating the beginnings of free and compulsory education. The responsibility for the children was thus handed over to the local school district.
Not all parents have completely ceded the responsibility of their children to the State, but even those who have retained an interest have by and large bought into the mindset that they are not capable of educating their own children.

The "professionalization" of teaching over the past century or so has led to a belief that only those who hold a state teacher's credential are capable of teaching. Critics of homeschooling will often make fallacious comparisons to other professions, making statements like "Only properly trained and credentialed doctors should do brain surgery and only properly trained and credentialed teachers should teach." This would be a lot more convincing an argument if earning a teaching credential was like earning board certification as a neurosurgeon. I discussed this issue about a month ago. Also, the elite prep schools in this country do not require a teaching credential and generally avoid graduates of schools of education, preferring instead to recruit from those with an actual degree in the subject they will teach from our nation's top universities.

I read an excellent book by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute called Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools — And Why It Isn't So, which had a whole chapter devoted to the topic of teacher credentialing. He discussed the research evidence showing that possessing a teaching credential doesn't result in any significant increase in teaching effectiveness, and neither does possessing a degree in education.

In studies of homeschooled students, there is no significant difference in test scores between students taught by a parent with a teaching credential and those with a bachelor's degree in another subject. If only the former are truly qualified to teach their children, why isn't there a clear advantage in terms of measurable outcomes?

Furthermore, there are so many resources available to homeschooling parents these days to help them teach- online courses, software, DVD's, dual-enrollment at the local community college, co-ops, museum classes, teaching manuals with scripted lessons, full-service independent study programs, and so on. There are numerous books, websites, and email lists dedicated to helping homeschoolers locate the materials they can use to teach a particular topic.

If I am planning a unit on botany, for example, I don't have to rely on some dumbed-down textbook dictated to me by a committee of educrats in Sacramento. Instead, I can get recommendations from my friend in our local homeschooling support group who formerly worked as a botanist and holds a Master's degree in the subject. I can also pick the brain of the horticulture librarian at the local botanical garden, which has over 1,000 children's books (at least their website claims they do, I've never counted but it does seem extensive!) I can throw the question out to the members of the various homeschooling e-lists I'm a part of to get more ideas. In short, I have no problem finding resources that will help me provide an education that is in many ways far superior academically to what they would receive in our local government-run school.

Anyways, it's not as if government schools were doing such a spectacular job that we as a society really need to focus so much energy worrying about the approximately 5% of students who are being homeschooled!


Marye said...

Really thought provoking. I am quoting you on my *other* blog at,

Dana said...

Excellent thoughts and thank you for participating in the discussion! I definitely agree with the difficulty with "credentialization" or "professionalization" of teaching. I don't have a problem with it on the one hand, but it does lead people to think it is the only way to be qualified to teach a child.