Friday, September 01, 2006


Schools, family and community

Not a very exciting subject line, but I've been invited to continue a discussion begun on another blog, and I'm very pleased to accept.

The gentleman involved will further identify himself as he chooses. I know him as JohnT. We join the tangent from the other thread, right where it begins...

Pressure from charter schools is making the public schools more responsive. However, they still cater to the middle or slower students. A lot of teachers are heroic in their efforts to supplement the better students. Mostly it is up to the parents to educate their children.

I find the comparisons problematic on a number of levels, the primary one being that charter schools are like private schools, and the private-public comparison is worse than apples-oranges: they're not even both fruit.

Charter schools are a response to the pressure placed on public school administrations, so I must take issue with your logic in the first statement. The rest I can cover with one response: unfunded initiatives. I must limit my further remarks to Pennsylvania, since that is the situation with which I am familiar.

Special education in PA has never been funded separately. It was made a mandate from day one, and every school district was required to comply no matter what difficulty they might have in coming up with funding. Personally, the tactic of unfunded mandates is the real reason for all the cutting of all "non-essential" curricula like art, music and academic competitions.

It should be noted that support for gifted students is part of the same mandate. Most people don't realize that (at least in PA) "special ed" includes students at both ends of the spectrum.

Again, I favor smaller schools with more of the emphasis for learning placed on the family.

I have absolutely no argument with this statement. In fact, a bit of disclosure before I go on: my wife has been a public school, special ed teacher here for over 30 years. She's seen a host of things come and go, and the one thing that has never changed is the imposition of arbitrary policies often having little to do with educational quality or integrity, by politicians who don't know the first thing about the profession of teaching. The rare exceptions, the ex-teacher turned politician, are quite thankfully rare, because they are usually taking their personal experience and projecting it on all schools in every set of circumstances.

Anyway, smaller schools and emphasis on family involvement has been the cornerstone of public education for longer than I've been alive. It comes and goes for a variety of reasons, the chief one being large egos with agendas deciding to make problems where there are none, or who think nothing of tying the hands of the people on the front lines trying to implement real solutions to real problems, then blaming them for failing.

I'm eager to see John's response, and I urge anyone reading this to post responses, too.


Thanks for posting this. It is very nice of you. I didn’t want to say a controversial thing over at Rod’s and have a big blow up. What I was going to comment on was your child exploitation statement. First I do want to say that I am very pro-education. Probably a little too pro education for most people’s liking. Education is wealth. Not wealth in the sense of money, but in the sense of self-sufficiency. Knowledge and wisdom are far more valuable than gold. You can never be poor if you are educated in truth.

When you commented on child labor it caused a few thoughts to race through my head. Forcing children into wage slavery is evil. It is beyond wrong. I agree. However, please consider that the state does demand that a five year old begin school. In a very real sense little kids are compelled to go to school. They are put on a treadmill and performance is demanded of them. If they do not meet the expectations, more state intervention will occur like special ed. The point I am making here is kids are pushed along through a system, and it starts around five and finishes around eighteen. I suspect for a lot of children they would rather be doing something else.

I am very pleased with my children’s school, but in a very real way they are tasked by the state with requirements and standards. They are serving society at a young age. But it is never regarded as service. A lot of them will be asked to grow up before they are ready. Some segment of their childhood will be lost because they won’t be allowed to be free to just experience blissful childlike joy. They are put on a schedule that is concomitant with most parents’ work schedules, and hell or high water for a the majority of the year they will dance to that clock. They will be able to be free and blissful for thirty minutes after dinner and before homework.

For the most part I do not disagree with what you said here. I love learning so much. I see God under every rock and behind every bush. For me it is an absolute joy. Teaching my kids is an absolute joy.

There is an attitude that their education is something that they receive. This is one sided. An education is something that they earn through their labor. They spend time away from their parents and siblings to execute on these tasks. It is very late and I apologize if I am not making sense. But I wanted to at least reply to your post. Let me know what you think, or if I am not making sense. I will try to clarify.
"You probably don't want to get me started on this subject."

I don't like the idea of government education in any case, in any country. My reasoning is that, even if it did not start out that way, these schools will end up educating children to be "good citizens" instead of simply good people. It is my opinion that, with good or ill intent, a government will ultimately be unable to resist controlling the information taught to the students in order to mold them into that government's desired form.

In particular, I grow uneasy when I hear school administrations deciding that the parent's right to basically parent his or her child ends at the schoolhouse door.

Now I know all the problems I've listed have had more to do with administration than with the actual teachers! I've encountered good and bad teachers. Actually.. I've usually encountered bad teachers who have given in to the system and good teachers who feel frustrated because they're hamstrung BY the system...
John, Joy, please make yourselves acquainted with each other. I know Joy better than John, but I suspect you have alot in common. :)

Your comments leave no room for disagreement, but I do want to point out some principles here and see if you agree that they motivate you, or if you are coming from another direction.

The principle behind mandatory attendance is simple: early in the legal existence of PE, when the US was much more farming communities than it was urban centers like it is today, the only way to enforce the child labor protection aspect was to make attendance mandatory, and to punish the parents if they refused to let their children attend. This has, of course, changed alot over the succeeding decades, and truancy does point to a major problem in how children (especially older ones) may feel coerced instead of served.

I do wish to point out that the homeschooling movement has provided a balance to the situation. So long as the homeschooling adult demonstrates the fulfillment of academic goals, the coercion element is mitigated or eliminated according to the "style" the adult uses. I've heard of homeschooling (a very rare thing, I hasten to add) that was if anything more coercive and dictatorial than any private or public school I know. The idea, as I think both of you agree, is to nurture and protect, and I must agree that this combination does not hold true in all schools.

Private and charity intervention does happen, but it does not happen timely. Public schools provide special ed services to a large number of children who would not otherwise get it. This is a demonstrable fact. I know public special ed better than most, because my wife has a masters degree in it and has been a SE teacher for over 30 years. The sad truth is that unless you are willing to pay a premium for it, the education community is already "market" driven and spends its money for the middle of the bell curve.

A case in point is in PA, where the special ed mandate (unfunded) is not enforceable in private schools. Catholic parochial school offer no such services (with rare exceptions funded by local money), and in Philadelphia parochial students are bused to public schools for gifted support services. Busing and services are paid for 100% by tax moneys and state subsidies. No parochial parent spends one extra dime for it. (Please understand, I'm not complaining per se, but when local parochial schools lobby for reductions in taxes or for refunds or vouchers because they are "saving us money" in the way they deliver education, I am reminded about the sin of lying.)

Teachers are hamstrung in two ways. Please bear with me.

They are dictated to by untrained, uneducated laymen in legislatures, who believe that passing a law will make something true, and further that money will somehow appear magically to pay for it.

They are forced to deal with parental egos who quite rightly want to protect and nurture their children, but cannot trust even a little bit that teachers have the same attitudes, but also have professional training with which to apply those attitudes. Most parents make the same dictatorial and arbitrary demands that those legislators make, and to the same damaging effect.

Legislators are right in providing general leadership, because they rightly require accountability for the tax moneys they give to school districts. Parents are right in demanding a certain level of care for their children. The problems from both ends create chaos in the middle, and everyone blames the teachers for failing to control the chaos when legislators refuse to give them sufficient money, and parents refuse to instill a respect for authority in their children.

Yes, there are bad teachers. There are very few teachers who start out bad, because most administrators will not hire someone that they can see is bad. No. Bad teachers are made by a system that chews them up and spits them out 35 years later (if they survive that long), bitter over the failures with the children that they come to love just as much as any parent can love. That is the common denominator for the best teachers, their love for the children and how they make that love apparent to the children.
I'm not sure if I'm agreeing or disagreeing. :) I think that there is something wrong with the massive amount of cost for education. I don't think that reducing the money Alone will fix the problem. I think there has to be some sort of fundamental retooling at this point.

Various figures put the cost of educating a child in the public school system for a year at $5-$8K. The yearly cost of homeschooling tends to run about $500.

I was homeschooled some years and spent some years in the public school system. If I were to list you the main, primary difference between the two in one simple sentence, it would be this: "My mother made us finish our schoolbooks by the end of the year." I can tell you for sure that she didn't spend a whole $500 per child per year. We couldn't have afforded it. Yet when I joined a high-quality private highschool for my last year, they weren't sure what to do with me because I'd already surpassed most of the education they had to offer.

Education doesn't have to cost as much as it does. I just don't know the public school system well enough to suggest how to go about it.

I do know, however, that my own son will be homeschooled, while I pinch pennies to pay the taxes necessary to send him to the local public school, which he will not attend. (Mind you, the public school in this area are considered 'excellent' in the nation, but most of the students coming from them still require remedial courses in college.) To my viewpoint, this seems monstrously unfair...
(Disclosure1: We attend a public traditional school. My wife has already filled her mandatory volunteer card two weeks into school. She and I will continue to enthusiastically support this school and their faculty with our time and money, in addition to our extremely very really evilly exceptionally usuristically unethically immorally coercively stupidly high property taxes.)

(Disclosure2: My Father-in-law and Mother-in-laws were sharecroppers in Europe and after the war they moved here. I know a lot about what life is like on a farm. They are both functionally illiterate in their native language and English. But it didn’t stop them from making an exceptionally good life for their family here in America. Worked hard as hell too. Just like they’ve been doing since they were five.)

Franklin said:
“The principle behind mandatory attendance is simple: early in the legal existence of PE, when the US was much more farming communities than it was urban centers like it is today, the only way to enforce the child labor protection aspect was to make attendance mandatory, and to punish the parents if they refused to let their children attend. This has, of course, changed alot over the succeeding decades, and truancy does point to a major problem in how children (especially older ones) may feel coerced instead of served.”

Please define what you mean by “enforce child labor protection” in an agricultural society. Everyone had to work in the late 19th C, like with everything else these were mostly just and loving people living off the land. There were probably evil people too. So in typical human one-size-fits-all two dimensional thinking the government fixes the problem by taking everyone’s kids away from them for a mandatory eleven years. Is that what you are saying?

The government then puts them in a building paid for by the parents, and now instead of the parents making the kids work ten hours a day, the government makes the kids work ten hours a day. See my point? The kids are still working. But instead of working with their families they are working for the government. Take taxes for example. Old people become miffed because they have no kids but they have to pay high property taxes. Their thinking is that the young parents are benefiting from their tax dollar. Here is a suggestion, old people should pay higher taxes to support the young working families whose kids will some day all too soon be funding their Medicare. (Of course I don’t mean this, but they should think about what they are saying.)

Education is commonly considered an entitlement--period. I see it as an entitlement that we all share in, but children still work very hard to earn that education and they pay for it throughout their life. Children are not just learning, they are working and toiling from the time they are five till the time they are eighteen. Perhaps not in the best circumstances either. Now instead of parent farmers or god forbid corporations putting kids to work, the government puts them to work. I view education as very hard work. Let’s call it what it is.

Home schooling is great. The only way we would home school is for positive progressive reasons. That would be if my kids out paced the other by a large degree in some subject. My son has a passion for building bionicles

This ability is indicative of math skills. If it proves out that he is outpacing the others we will pull him and handle the math part by ourselves. The same will prove true for my daughter. We are not pushing them. They do their own things. Although we are devout Catholics we will not hide from society in our house in a home school to protect our kids from the bad world outside. So I support parents who school for the best possible education.

Where I disagree is going to the public school for advanced classes. The parochial school parents pay taxes too. Cut them lose from there tax burden, and they won’t come to public school for special education. Also most Catholic schools in my experience suck compared to public school. I think parents like the notion of God and behavioral discipline, but don’t want to pay for it. So the teachers make less than the public school teachers. They also don’t have the accountability that public school teachers have. This is my experience only. I am sure, even in my city, that there are better Catholic schools. I just don’t know of them. This is our only disagreement, and very minor at that.

As far as the plight of teachers, I don’t know what to tell you. It is frustrating, we’ve tried to make our kids’ teachers feel special and appreciated. My kids love them. We appreciate their enthusiasm and efforts for very little pay. However, they or the state are not partners in our family. But we will hold up our end of the social contract. Come hell or high water we will deliver two confident productive highly educated members of society in ~11 years. The teachers or the state will have little or nothing to do with it. We view them as wonderful resources that we will use to educate our children. But my wife and I will make it happen for them.

I think I said enough for now. Please thank your wife for me. I do appreciate her efforts. Also, if I don’t talk to you again this weekend, have a wonderful holiday.
Joy, I must be blunt about this: property taxes earmarked for education are not supposed to know who is paying the taxes. Everyone must pay them, whether they have children going to the schools or not, whether they have children or not. I'm sorry, but your sense of unfair is reasonable, but it is not valid according to the original design of the law.

Now, if you were to say that the law sucks, I'd agree with that immediately. But, if childless people don't get to complain about paying property taxes, then I'm afraid you don't get to either. :-|

So in typical human one-size-fits-all two dimensional thinking the government fixes the problem by taking everyone’s kids away from them for a mandatory eleven years. Is that what you are saying?

No, of course I'm not saying that. The school year and school day schedules have been pretty much the same since day one; why else do you think children are able to get home before dark, or have at least two months off during the summer? To compromise with the farm schedule.

When I mentioned enforcement, I'm referring to the general condition found in society at the time: children were forced to work, for many hours and little or no pay. This is documented. I'll certainly concede that this was not as bad on the farms as it was in the factories and cities, but you have to understand too that the ethic was changing: every child was entitled to an education, and not every parent was keen on letting the child's labor go. The law did not assume nefarious intent, but it did have to contend with quite alot of nefarious practice.

In school ten hours a day? Excuse me, please? I'm sorry for the sarcasm, but I have no understanding whatsoever for a ten-hour day at farm work being anything like a six-hour school day, with breaks for recess and a meal, with two hours per evening for homework and weekends for projects. And that's the modern model, back then homework was more of the same, rote learning and reading.

Only a child whose never worked on a farm would ever think school was as hard as farm work.

I do see that we are very close to agreeing on most things. I just would like to clarify by reiterating what I wrote to Joy above: taxation is the mechanism by which society pays for things that benefit (or can benefit) everyone. I never respect complaints about property taxation for education that starts with either "I don't have kids" or "My kids don't go to public schools". Tough. Don't like it, attend local government meetings and speak up, find candidates who agree with you and get them elected, and lobby for property tax and education funding reform.
Ten hours a day. Up at 6:30 home at 4:00. 1 hour at home for home work or other education related activities. We count all the hours our kids are away from us. The dressing and feeding are on the state's schedule. That means my kids MUST obey us about eathing and getting dressed becuase we have a fixed deadline. They dance to another's clock and so do we. We sure as heck are not getting ready to go to the park on Monday morning. Please consider that time too, it like soooo much of my other time does not belong to me. An that morning time is not my kids it belongs to the state since the morning effort is in preparation to meet their requirment.

I could not agree more with your last paragraph.

Someday we should talk about corporations.
I definitely understand about the time perspective you have. Perhaps, with my wife a teacher for so long and on the same schedule, we don't have the empathy for it. I see the 10-hour thing now.

As for corporations, perhaps it's your turn to "start something" on your blog. I have alot to say about them, so maybe "don't get me started" would be a good, first thing to say... eh?

Anyway, since we're both on Blogspot, just ping me if you do start one.

Stay dry, I plan to. :-)
While I still think it's unfair to pay for a public education that my kid's not getting, I accept that just because I think it's unfair doesn't mean that it actually is. :) If that makes sense?

My mother took me out of public school because of the way the other students were treating me. The teachers and principal were unable to stop or even lessen this 'peer abuse', which in effect silenced me for almost all of my teenage years as I withdrew from social life and plunged sufficiently deep into a fantasy world always at the edge of my vision to concern my parents. From what I have read since, I might have shown similar symptoms to borderline autism. So my idea of it being unfair I know is directly influenced by the fact that my parents paid for an education that I was not able to have even if I'd wanted it.

To give you an idea on how I felt about this... Suppose the government took a percentage of your money and used it to buy food for you. Now suppose you had to give up this money and buy your own food because whenever you went to get the government-purchased food, a small mob would descend upon you and beat you senseless... and then take your share of the food. Suppose in addition that the government officials were unable to prevent this. How would you feel about the mandatory tax that went towards this food? Would your view on it change just because the government doesn't provide very good quality food in your area anyways?

Mind you, what I'm doing isn't justifying things logically, or even considering things logically. I'm explaining my emotional response in this area. On to 'logic', or at least, non-emotional experience...

I suppose Catholic schools differ from region to region. :) The 'high-quality private school' where I finished my highschool education was a Catholic school. People sent their kids from all over the world due to it's quiet prestige, so I had classmates from Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa. (It was a boarding school, but I was a "day student".) Even the non-college-prep students were able to enter college with no remedial classes. I was able to test out of some entry-level non-remedial classes in college and found the next-level classes none too challenging...

But the core reason why I'm going to homeschool my son to start is that his learning style combined with personality fits him best for an 'easing into' formal learning, with a level of repetition and freedom of action that structured school systems simply do not offer. As time goes on he may be better fit for a different learning environment.

I'm going to end by being controversal, though, and suggest that although a parent's first consideration should be educating the child sufficiently, to end or severely restrict child labor is not a good solution. In fact, I have met many children who may benefit more from an old-fashioned apprenticeship than from a college degree. (I have more thoughts in that area, but I'll stop there for now.)
Joy, I'd never gainsay an emotional reaction, and certainly not one so well-thoughtfully explained as yours.

Oooo, apprenticeship. Just one of many nasty words that the zero-sum self-esteem parents (which seem to be the vast majority of them) will cover their ears and sing "neener-neener" upon hearing. Not controversial to me at all, and it reminds me of the now nearly defunct "vocational training" segment of public education.

Forex: I know a significant number of auto mechanics, carpenters and plumbers of my generation who went right into journeyman jobs in those fields from high school, and have done very well for themselves without having gone to college first.

The kicker is that people have decided to attach a stigma to certain jobs that their fathers and grandfathers were proud to perform. They also attach sub-normal intelligence to the performance of, enjoyment of and aptitude for such jobs.

If I were to pick one thing wrong with public education, and the list is way too long, I'd pick this parental attitude. Somehow, we lost sight of the child becoming a happy adult doing the things sie is happy doing. We instead have a surplus of doctors, lawyers, accountants and managers who are barely competent, make life miserable for their coworkers and underlings, and (mind's eye speculation here) sit at their desks dreaming of being auto mechanics and carpenters.
I've got one to throw in for fun and input. Quickly, though, because I'm on my way to work. :)

Although many public schools offer special needs services, homeschooling families are advised by their lawyers to pay for private professional service instead.

The reason is because the public schools tend to want the kid so badly that threats and/or reports to Social Services are common if the child has a special need and the parent chooses to homeschool rather than putting the child into the public education special needs program. The family ends up in court.
It posted wrong. The homeschool special needs post is mine. :)
Joy, do you have any sort of citation for a public school district taking parents to court over their failure to use public school services for a special needs child? I must confess to a major incredulity, and I'm thinking that the "consulting" lawyer is really out to make a buck somehow.

The vast majority of the time, it's the other way around: parents suing a public school for failure to deliver services. I know this first hand, my wife sits down with lawyers several times a year; she is the special ed coordinator for a high school.
Livonia Central School District v. D Family
School District requiring IDEA evaluation over parental consent

Filed: October 8, 2004

Nature of Case: Mr. and Mrs. D removed their special needs son from public school and had him privately evaluated at their own expense, choosing to waive any right for a FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) for their son. The school district, however, has insisted that it must evaluate the child, whether Mr. and Mrs. D consent to it or not, and it initiated a due process hearing.
Camdenton R-III School District v. Mr. and Mrs. F
School district tries to force special education evaluation on homeschooled student

Filed: December 10, 2002.

Nature of Case: After years of fruitless attempts to get the school district to assist their special needs son, Mr. and Mrs. F withdrew him to begin homeschooling. The school district, however, initiated a due process hearing under the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) to force them to have him evaluated for special needs by the public school, even though the parents wanted nothing more from the public school.
Department of Education v. Mr. and Mrs. L
Due process hearing called for special education student

Filed: January 13, 2006

Nature of Case: Mr. and Mrs. L have an adopted special-needs son who they decided to homeschool this year, after it became apparent that public school was not meeting his needs. Vermont law requires that parents of special education students submit information about the accommodations they are making to ensure that the students will receive a minimum course of study.

The Department was not satisfied with the description of the accommodations, and it called a due process hearing.
Picked them up just on a quick search. There might be more if I did a more in-depth check. And the recommendation runs as follows:

"After the testing has been completed, a meeting is held in which the test results are revealed to the parent. During this time, the child’s needs are outlined, and the parents usually are strongly encouraged to sign an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for services provided by the public school. It’s tempting for parents to agree, since the services are free. However, they are not free in the fullest extent. The IEP is a government document authorizing the school system to use their means to meet the child’s educational and emotional needs. The government then becomes responsible for the child’s remedial education. The child needs to be registered with the school system as a student in order to receive these services. Many times the parent is strongly advised to enroll their child in school, so that the full education can be provided…not just the special services.

If the parent declines to sign the IEP—rejecting school services—sometimes that is where the process ends. Other times, and more often than we would like, the school district advises the parent that the only way for this child to make the progress that needs to be made is to avail themselves of the school’s services. If this doesn't happen, they insinuate, it could constitute neglect.

This, of course, is a very uncomfortable position for the parents to find themselves in. They never expected to encounter so much interference; they just wanted to find out how to better teach their child at home. It is for this reason that HSLDA strongly recommends that parents secure testing outside of the public school setting in order to pursue the needs of their struggling learner. As we will see later, many times formal testing is not even required to find out where the child’s learning problem is, and how to work with a special needs child."
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