Updated to add a link about math: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/07/31/why-algebra-is-necessary-rebutting-andrew-hacker/.
A few days ago, I got into an online argument with someone who vociferously opposed homeschooling. Hey, to each his own.
I was homeschooled through the 8th grade, went one year to public school, then part-timed high school, taking only the fun classes at the public school and most of the basics at home. My high school was basically self-directed learning, as I helped my mother plan my classes and curriculum, and I took a couple of college classes via correspondence course. It worked for me, and the college I chose didn't care that my diploma was self-printed; I guess the SAT scores and my essay were good enough for entrance!
People can say what they like about homeschooling; it's certainly not an option or a good idea for most students. I took offense, however, at the blanket generalizations and poor arguments laid out by this teacher, and decided to be a bit of an ass by pointing out the grammatical mistakes in their post. After all, if one is an educator who believes that those educated outside of the professionally-taught environment are significantly disadvantaged, shouldn't things like proper punctuation, spelling, word choice and grammar be markers of whether or not their educational model is working?
Apparently not. And it frightens me. Here are a few snippets of the conversation, just after calling homeschoolers "freaks."
Teacher: "Like I said, weird! Primarily do to the lack of socialization and the inability of parents to distance the parental bond in order to create a productive unbiased learning environment. Consequently , studies have shown that approx %98 of [homeschooled] students are incapable of appropriately interacting in any social context as adults and also have difficulty showing appropriate emotional behavior and boundaries within a working environment."
Me: "I think you meant "due." We also become grammar nazis. Beware!"
Teacher: "Being a kindergarten teacher for 12 yrs. the "do" or "due" or "there, their" grammatical concerns were never as high on the list as other concerns that trained educators worry about when guaranteeing 3,4, and 5 yr olds would continue to thrive in the classroom. But what the hell, gotta stick with what your good at and if it's grammar then more power to ya."
Me: "Ha! We could make t-shirts: Basic literacy. Falling out of fashion with trained educators since the 1990's."
Like I said, I was kind of an ass. (I can't help myself. Sometimes, it's just fun to bait willing victims...it runs in my family.) It went downhill from there, a veritable laundry list of logical fallacies and unsubstantiated "facts."
When confronted with homeschooled students who are doing well, the most common response is "well, you're an exception...maybe they succeeded in spite of you." After all, someone always knows a homeschooler who was socially inept. Someone who was thrown into the regular system and drowned. Someone who was four grades behind schedule. Of course, the record keeping only goes one way. There's always an excuse for the kids who are socially inept within the traditional education model, a reason why we graduate kids who are functionally illiterate, why elementary kids flunk and are passed anyway. It's never the system's fault. No one is giving condescending looks to the hardworking teachers with overflowing classrooms, saying "Well, wow. It's really a fluke that your students didn't grow up to be school shooters or drug dealers, and most of them are actually holding down productive jobs. That's really incredible. After all, 98% of the incarcerated population went to public school."
If we're going to make it a competition, folks, let's make sure we're all playing by the same rules. Because it really isn't fair to compare these models otherwise (and by fair, I mean not fair to the traditional model). If the public or private schools are failing their kids in basic literacy, you're going to look like fools nitpicking on socialization skills. Who cares if our social skills are a tad rusty? If Johnny is the most socially adept person on the planet and yet his reading comprehension is that of a 3rd grader with no critical thinking skills, I guarantee you he's going to be working minimum wage a lot longer than Judy who is slightly awkward but knows how to write an email, follow directions and think for herself.
What concerns me, and why we're considering homeschooling when the day comes, is that this teacher's comments seem to be part of a larger trend in the Western world, one in which educational concerns are secondary to social and behavioral ones. Maybe it's because class sizes are larger, and the school days long, making behavior management critical for sanity. I don't know. But I'm distressed to hear a professional educator say "there are other more important things to deal with in the classroom" than something as basic as grammar. These are the foundations of becoming a lifelong learner. Perhaps that's the natural outcome of a society enthralled by specialization. We need a degree for everything, and independent learners intimidate those who are fulfilled by having a certificate to affirm their mastery of a subject. Knowledge is no longer the free realm of any who choose to study and research.
I can't tell you how many times in the past few years I've heard people ignore correct, wise advice or instruction because the person sharing it wasn't a "professional" in the area. It's a big problem in Brazil. When you go for a tooth cleaning, they want to know your occupation. Your occupation is who you are. Your occupation defines what you can know. That's the attitude floating around at the moment.
Let's say you enjoy learning about the law, and you do some research on what age one is allowed to legally drink in Brazil. You find the relevant information and discover that it is age 18. You'll still be laughed out of the room if you disagree with a lawyer who insists it is age 16. You could bring the text of the law to show people, and they'll still say, "Nope. I know that's what it looks like it says, but Mr. P is a lawyer, so if he says age 18 means 16, I'm going to believe him."
It's amazing people hundreds of years ago managed to master anything, what with the lack of access to higher education and all...
This comes on the heels of a post about Brazilian education by Danielle, another expat blogger, who was frustrated with her English students' inability to reason. It's a great read, all the way through the comments. Someone linked to an amazing essay by Richard Feynman on higher education in Brazil. It was written decades ago, and judging from my post-grad experiences here and general observations, I sadly fear that his assessment of the situation is still accurate today. Worse, I'm pretty sure it's becoming the norm in the US as well.
Read the essay. Please share your thoughts. If I have time and it doesn't depress me, I might write another blog post about it. But I can't promise anything, because after we read it, V and I looked at each other and moaned, because it explained so very much about what frustrates us about Brazil and Brazilian culture...and we felt so old and fuddy-duddy and crotchety. I don't know if I can go back to that place again!