Maybe homeschoolers have ulterior motives (sometimes)

Scripps News carried an op-ed type of feature from a Texas English professor named John Crisp, that questions whether public education is as bad as some crack it up to be, and whether homeschooling is the noble answer to the over-stated problem that homeschooling is cracked up to be. The entire piece is worth reading, but his closing paragraphs deserve emphasis:

Abandonment rather than improvement of our public schools would be an unfortunate choice. I’m attracted to the ideas of the late Neil Postman, who argues in his book “The End of Education” that to the extent that our nation enjoys a common shared culture, that culture has been developed and is passed on from generation to generation at least partly by means of the shared knowledge and ideas that we acquire during our common experience in the public schools.

In other words, because our public schools are a place where we develop a set of common stories, myths and experiences _ George Washington crossing the Delaware, Betsy Ross sewing the first flag, even the fear of being sent to the principal _ they encourage a sense of a shared heritage that helps pull our country together.

Homeschooling and vouchers for private schools _ places that allow the teaching of the things that Roger Moran believes _ tend to pull us apart. All in all, our public-school system has served us well; it would be better to repair its faults than to abandon it.

13 Responses to Maybe homeschoolers have ulterior motives (sometimes)

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    I haven’t had time to think about a response. Stadium Pal sounds like a great idea — better than Depends, better than a catheter!

    It doesn’t affect me so much — dehydration is my big issue. But no bathroom breaks for hours is standard ops in teaching.


  2. steven says:

    Ed, I hope you realize that I was just kidding around about the Stadium Pal. I wasn’t trying to make fun of you or anything like that.

    But if you have access to that Sports Illustrated article I highly recommend it. It is very funny.


  3. steven says:

    Ed, I was wrong – it was called the Stadium Pal. The Beer Belly is what you put the beer in. The stadium pal is where it came out when your body was all done with it. It was featured in a June 27th article by Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated.


  4. steven says:

    I read an article on the internet by Joshua Benton of the Dallas Morning News dated July 1, 2002 that said Texas was one of only two states in the U.S. that explicitly bans the practice of collective bargaining by teachers. He said that there were six states with no collective bargaining for teachers. I wasn’t able to find out if this is still true.

    If you want to read the entire article (and you are very bad at navigating the internet like me) you can google “Texas teacher unions”, go to the second page and click on “clipfile dot org: Irony Marks Teachers’ Meeting”.

    Ed, I recently read in Sports Illustrated about a backpacking device where you could relieve yourself without going to the restroom. It was called the whizzinator or something like that. But I don’t suppose that it would be very practical in the classroom!


  5. edarrell says:

    Strikes are outlawed, as I understand it. There are few other tools a union has to force a large employer to bargain.

    To be wholly honest, I’m not sure exzctly of the state of the law here in Texas. I believe that public employees have a general prohibition on striking, but there may be other provisions that make it difficult or impossible for teachers to organize. Policemen and firefighters organize and bargain, but can’t strike, legally. There are at least three different, large teachers’ organizations, one affiliated with NEA — but to the best of my knowledge there is no collective bargaining unit for teachers anywhere in the state.

    I find it interesting to compare rules. Most teachers’ schedules would be prohibited to farmworkers in California, for example, because of a lack of scheduled bathroom breaks and a lack of other breaks and facilities. Teaching often is extremely physically demanding, just in stamina. Dehydration is a constant problem, just from delivering lectures and oral instruction. Right now I have more than a four-hour stretch with zero breaks. It seems odd to pack backpacking hydrating devices, but necessary.

    I keep running into Texans who complain of the power of teachers’ unions, in Texas. Most of them don’t believe me when I tell them there are none. I offer to pay them $100 if they can get me the phone number of a teachers’ union headquarters, or better, a teachers’ union shop steward. I’ve never had anyone claim they were due a payout, and no one has ever delivered to me a number. Texas is second in the nation in the number of teachers, behind California. California teachers unions were unable to prevent the long slide in California’s education quality, and the long slide in funding. If teachers’ unions have power, can someone show me just what that power is, and where?


  6. steven says:

    Ed, you say that in Michigan effective union activities are generally prohibited. Could you give some examples of what you would consider to be effective union activities and how they are prohibited in Michigan?


  7. edarrell says:

    About Betsy Ross: Check out E. D. Hirsch’s entry on Betsy Ross in his Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. All kids should possess knowledge of our national mythology. Of course, if one wishes to argue that the First Amendment should be overturned in favor of an amendment to the Constitution saying flags cannot be burned in protest, one may pray for a peasantry unarmed with such information.

    When was the last time you spent any time in serious school reform efforts? I’ve been at it quite a while, in several different ways.

    About unions and socialism: According to NEA, they have 3.2 million members. One might be misled by that figure to think that most teachers are members of unions, but we need to look deeper. There are barely more than 3.2 million teachers in the public schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Texas has about 289,500 teachers, none of whom are members of a collective bargaining unit. Several other states also prohibit or inhibit unionization of teachers. While a Texas teacher may technically be a “member” of the NEA, NEA does not represent the teachers in any way that is recognized under the Fair Labor Standards Act. My experience around the nation is that there are really very few teachers unions as unions. There are professional associations affiliated with unions, but few unions. On what basis would we say that a majority of teachers are union? If we concede California and New York as Union, we’re still way below a third. The concept of a teachers’ union in places like Montana or Wyoming is stretching things a lot.

    One might be able to make a case that a majority of teachers are under collective bargaining unit contracts, but I doubt it. Even in places where there may technically be unions, like Michigan, effective union activities are generally prohibited.

    Public schooling is a socialist-trending idea in our democratic republic, perhaps, but far from socialist. There is no national plan — nor any state plan, nor any district plan — to turn out X% factory workers this year, and Y% college students. In fact, our system suffers from a lack of national planning that might be considered socialism. We compete against school systems in the rest of the industrialized world that have national standards and national curricula. Compared to any other industrialized nation, our system is not as socialist. That our governance is specifically fractured to preserve local, democratic control, is another key indicator. School choice? Most parents think their local public schools do okay. If parents wanted to change the system, they have a ballot box with elections every couple of years. Parents have more choice than some let on, and they exercise it by putting their kids in public schools. In many districts, such as most in Texas, parents may choose from several schools in a district. Choice works to improve performance only when there is straight up competition, and straight up competition works only when there is more money available for the winners. We do not have that type of competition between educational entities, nor has such competition ever been shown to work on any large scale in education. Kids are not widgets to be manufactured at lowest cost.

    A democracy needs education to make it work. Private education was not up to the task, and we got the best public school system in the world as a result. Sure, there are problems. But when the Nobels are announced this year, I predict that, as with almost all other years, the U.S. public schools will have the most alumni among the winners. Public schooling gave us the armies to win two world wars, and the work force to drag industrialization into the modern era. Those who claim the public schools are in dire straits need a dose of reality — the schools work very well. It’s difficult to make them work better if we keep starving them of resources, and I am convinced that much of the “school choice” movement is now dedicated to starving public education, for ends that I can only think have not been seriously thought through.


  8. steven says:

    Ed, you said that most teachers in the U.S. do not belong a union. I find this hard to believe. Where is the information to back up this statement? (I’m not saying that you are wrong, I just want to know).

    If public schools are not socialism (and I believe they are), they are certainly not the free market at work. Even local school boards are still public entities. Parents, in most cases, do not have any choice about which school they can send their children to. If parents had this choice, I believe that we would see improvements come quickly from all directions.

    Ed, see the Reason Online (google “Reason Online” and go almost to the bottom) articles dated 4/10/06 called “The Agony of American Education” and “Meet Arlene Ackerman”. They indicate that choice can make a big difference.


  9. Steve Burton says:

    Why? Because, of the available explanations for the sort of portrayal you & Prof. Crisp offer of what’s going on in the public schools today, the most charitable would be simple ignorance.

    “Betsy Ross sewing the first flag” indeed.


  10. Steve Burton says:

    Are you really under the impression that the public schools today are all about “George Washington, Tom Jefferson and Abe Lincoln,” or, as Prof. Crisp puts it, “George Washington crossing the Delaware, Betsy Ross sewing the first flag,” etc.?

    When was the last time you attended and/or taught there?


  11. edarrell says:

    I’m all for good education, and I’m all for improving schools. I think we need to figure out where the problems are, however, in order to seriously address the issues.

    Most schools don’t have the resources to educate kids as they should be — let alone parents. Homeschoolers are just one more bunch of underpaid teachers, at best. At worst, they may be stunting the intellectual growth of their children. I suspect most homeschoolers are sincere, and that they really do a pretty good job. We need to do better than that. In the grand scheme of things, there is plenty of room for homeschooling as an alternative to public and parochial schools. Still, we need to improve education in all of those venues.

    Public schools are essential to democracy, and quite the contrary to being socialism at work, generally public schools function along much more democratic lines. For example, their curricula are determined by locally-elected boards, and the feds must keep hands off. It’s difficult to argue for monolithic socialism when the schools are governed by 15,000 locally-elected boards, if we’re honest.

    Teacher unions are a roadblock to change? Maybe in a few cases — but there are no more rabid fans of educational reform than teachers. The reality is that most teachers in the U.S. do not belong to a union. In the U.S. there are two powerful, competing teachers unions on the national stage, and they often work to cross purposes. Are teacher unions really to blame?

    What do we need to improve schools? We need smaller classrooms, smaller than 18 kids per class, and we need tougher academics. Is there any place in America where a teacher union has opposed either?

    Education in any school should involve parents intensely. The success of the kids is rarely up to the school, though we blame the schools for the failures, which are also generally caused by the parents. If any parent is sitting back and waiting for school reform, their kid is lost already.

    More power to homeschoolers. I hope they do it for better academics, and not for weaker academics as some do (creationism in place of real biology, “Christian nation” history instead of George Washington, Tom Jefferson and Abe Lincoln, etc.). I fear too many don’t.


  12. steven says:

    Even if you agree that abandonment rather than improvement of our public schools would be an unfortunate choice, the choice to homeschool children can make a lot of sense to parents that are not happy with their child’s school. Assuming, of course, that the parents have the resources to homeschool their children. Our public schools are basically socialism at work, and any meaningful change is probably not going to be easy or quick. Teachers unions have been a roadblock to change. Politicians may be reluctant to make changes. Parents don’t want to keep their children in public schools and wait, possibly for years, or maybe forever, for the changes they want to see to benefit their children. Even if these changes do occur it may be too late for their children. So why should they not homeschool their children if they can?


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