Friday, August 19, 2005

a cardinal sin

Well, I did it again -- I have committed a cardinal sin in the world of homeschoolers, by failing to show proper solidarity with the party line. (And I bet you thought that happened only when teachers opposed the National Educators Association.)

I broke the first rule last year, when we decided to enroll Evangeline at an area charter school for first grade. I get a little touchy about this because I've encountered not once but several times a pervasive, defensive attitude among homeschoolers. We have to believe that homeschooling is better than school education, that our children are smarter, better adjusted socially, happier and just plain better off. With a few exceptions, there's a lot of resentment toward any insinuation that homeschooling is anything less than the best choice for every parent. Starting out as a homeschooler and then stopping -- that's just unacceptable. (I usually handle such reponses by asking them if they agree that the fundamental tenet of homeschooling is that parents know what is best for their children's education. Once they agree to that, I ask them to explain why they're faulting my decision when I'm the parent in question.)

Well, Thursday afternoon, I broke the second rule. I was at a park get-together with other homeschoolers, and somehow discussion turned toward the regulations in different states. New Jersey is one of the most generous states where homeschoolers are concerned. If I were to educate Evangeline all the way through 12th grade, all I have to do is send a letter to the school district, saying that we intend to educate her at home, and at that point, the burden of proof lies on the district to prove that I'm not educating her rather on me to prove that I am. There are no rules governing training or certification for me to homeschool, no rules stipulating what curricula I must use, and no evaluations of what my children actually do learn. I said that I think New Jersey is probably a little too lax on the rules.

About half the other parents there either took it in stride, or silently agreed with me. Who can tell, when they say nothing? The other half, though, wanted to know what I thought was wrong with the way things are, why I thought it would be good to have any sort of oversight, whose business was it what people teach their kids, and so on.

The thing is, I wasn't even discussing regulation as a means of catching people like the Jacksons, who allegedly abused or neglected foster children in their Collingswood home and used "homeschooling" as a means of avoiding detection at school. I did cite the Jacksons example, because they claimed to be homeschooling their kids and weren't. The alleged abuse is a different story, and the state Division of Youth and Family Services should have caught that abuse when its caseworkers supposedly visited the house. I'd say we have an obligation as a society to look out for the welfare of our children, and that includes making sure they're being educated. "Am I brother's keeper?" (Yes, Cain, you are.)

How you would evaluate, I don't know. I can't think anyone should object to a child mastering concepts faster than they would at school, and as noted, that's one of the biggest points of pride where homeschoolers are concerned -- how advanced our kids are, compared to the public school kids. So maybe there should be some sort of evaluation done -- though of course you run the risk of bias affecting how the evaluation is performed, and there's also the variation among children regarding their progress and development. Evangeline knew how to read before she was 5; other children don't want to learn until they're 6 or 7, which an anti-homeschooling administrator could see as a parent's failure. And of course there are "unschoolers," although I have to admit I'm a little suspicious of a Summerhill approach to education myself.

Part of the reaction -- and I'm speculating wildly here, so this part shouldn't be taken too seriously -- could stem from the individual's reason for homeschooling. Some people have a separatist motivation for homeschooling, a sort of "The district will teach my child horrible values and lead them away from the truth" thinking. Others, and I believe I lie more in this area than in the former, see it simply as a better means of education; i.e., "Public schools are going to fail my kids badly. They'll be better off if I homeschool them."

So I am falling rapidly from grace. The only thing left to do is to join the NEA.

No comments: