Chances are good that sometime in the last week you’ve interacted with at least one adult (perhaps more than one) who was educated at home. People in the workplace, teachers and professors, business owners … don’t be surprised to find some of them are products of home education.home-schooling-header-copyWhile schooling within the home and family has been a common practice for centuries, states began adopting compulsory attendance laws about 1852, ceding broader oversight of education to towns and local governments. Though precise figures are hard to nail down, as many as 2.2 million children are currently being taught in the home.

From about the 1970s (give or take), the home school movement has grown. That being the case, the earliest home schoolers are now in their early to mid-40s. Yes, there were home educated students before 1970. In fact, HuffPo provides a 2013 short article and pictorial of eighteen successful people who received their education at home. Long-time observers of home schooling could probably add to that list. Continue reading “Home.Edu”

School Time Blues

News reports the last couple days are buzzing about the American Academy of Pediatrics report advocating later start times for the school day. This idea, they say, would prove advantageous for children, promoting better mental alertness and general health for kids (especially teens). As a professional association of more than 60,000 pediatricians, AAP is advocating that the school-day start about 8:30 a.m. or later, particularly for middle school and high school students.Tired-Girl

AAP’s report has generated plenty of discussion with articles here, here, here, and here … among a host of others. News anchors on radio and television have highlighted the discussion as well. Continue reading “School Time Blues”

Don’t Be Common To The Core

Nearly 57 years ago, our country was surprised by the launch of a rudimentary Soviet satellite, Sputnik. Thus began what was known as the Space Race. At the time, both the US and the Soviets had announced their intentions, but when Sputnik launched first, the event stunned many Americans. The authors of an article in American Educational History Journal (2009) describe it this way:  “Initial reactions to Sputnik unearthed strong feelings of fear, astonishment, and insecurity.” America’s purported technological superiority appeared to be nothing but smoke and mirrors.Fiftieth Anniversary of Sputnik Launch The resulting “crisis” spawned numerous agencies and educational initiatives including the National Defense Education Act signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on September 2, 1958. Remarkably, this act was “an emergency undertaking to be terminated after four years …” (so said Eisenhower). Of course, as another president once reminded us:  “The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.” (Ronald Reagan)

In his statement about this “emergency” act, President Eisenhower also said:  Much remains to be done to bring American education to levels consistent with the needs of our society.” Without meaning to read too much into it, I think his words are telling; they reveal a pervasive misconception that American education should address “the needs of our society” rather than the needs of the individual.

Fast-forward to 2014 and consider the ongoing debate over Common Core. According to the Core Standards website, a timeline relates that this movement is a mere seven years old (2007) and came about through a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in Columbus, OH. Maybe, but I suspect the deeper root of Common Core (and all its half-brother and half-sister education boondoggles) goes back at least as far as the “emergency” act of 1958.

Now don’t get me wrong. In theory, I am an advocate of Dr. E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s concept of Core Knowledge and his best-selling book, Cultural Literacy:  What Every American Needs to Know. I believe, as Hirsch maintains, there are crucial details and shared information about a culture that make us a culture, a cohesive unit instead of a disparate group of individuals simply sharing the same or contiguous spaces. So far, so good.

In practice, however, it seems to me Common Core proudly emphasizes a shift away from the traditional grammar phase of education. If you want to sour a child on learning, offer him or her “complex texts” and “content-rich non-fiction” before the child has reliably acquired the necessary fundamentals of reading and writing and fully engaged (via stories) his or her imagination. (The quotes above are from the CC website.) And if the child is deficient in grammar, how then will he or she succeed in understanding either logic and rhetoric? (Yes, I have great respect for the classical model of education.)

Further, Common Core’s departure from conventional Math principles is well documented online, so I don’t need to critique their approach here … except to say no matter how vociferously some educators bad-mouth rote memorization, a child who hasn’t mastered (via memorization) multiplication tables (backwards and forwards, upside and down) will be immeasurably disadvantaged.Screenshot 2014-05-14 16.16.45

Earlier, I referenced the National Defense Education Act. I think it’s accurate to say I’m a product of that government initiative. When I entered the fifth grade (1959), I was enrolled in a “special” school program that required me to attend classes elsewhere than the neighborhood school my brothers and I had previously attended. (My brothers continued at the neighborhood school.)

Looking back on my time in “special” school (I was there eighteen months before my family moved out of the district), I experienced social stigma as the only one from my family in this pilot program. Was the education enriching? Probably. Would my life outcomes have been any different if I’d continued in my normal school? We’ll never know, but I can’t help feeling a sense that this “emergency” program was a knee-jerk reaction that also involved a large dose of educational experimentation and I was a guinea pig. I’ve come to resent that aspect.

Over the intervening years, I’ve become equally resentful of government oversight and experimentation that continues on the education front. One of the many reasons we removed our children from public education (to home school) in 1986 was due to the local school’s anemic nod at “gifted education” our daughters briefly received. Its implementation was an embarrassing spectacle and even our children recognized it.

negp-report-1994Through the years, the fads of Outcome-Based Education, Mastery Learning, Goals 2000, and similar reforms experiments in education boldly promised to prepare children for the 21st century. These questionable trends were in full flower when our youngest son was entering high school (as I recall). In preparation for enrollment, a counselor sat down with us, laid out a folder with papers I was not permitted to give more than a quick glance, and proceeded to tell us my youngest had been relegated to the Vo-Tech track. We should, it was suggested, simply prepare him accordingly for life in a trade. The words School-To-Work were emblazoned at the top of that folder.

At that moment, I realized they intended to “train” my son to be a cog, a functionary whose greatest mental challenge would be deciding which button to push when. Thankfully, we didn’t accept that prognostication and my son went on to graduate high school and complete his bachelor’s degree. I am so glad we had the sense to ignore that counselor!

If we are, as President Eisenhower suggested, educating children for “the needs of our society,” Common Core is probably the way to do it. When it comes to historical facts and appreciation of the arts, why would a drive-through McDonald’s employee need useless information clogging the brain? (Goodbye Bach, Rembrandt, Frank Lloyd Wright.) Stick to the demands of the job, and we’ll all be happy, right?

Or maybe we should ban the utilitarians from dictating learning and education. Maybe we should view our children as more than cogs in an automaton world … recognize they are individuals made in the image of the Creator and as creative beings, they’re entitled to make these education and life choices for themselves, with the guidance of their loving parents.

Letter From A Friend

476px-Rembrandt_Peale_-_George_Washington_(Porthole_type)_-_Google_Art_ProjectHappy Birthday, George Washington! Yes, today is the birthday (in 1732) of our country’s first President.

I think it is a day for honoring the contribution President Washington made at a crucial time in the birth of our nation, but also, to honor his efforts that came earlier, before the possibility of our becoming an independent nation was widely considered.

There are a host of resources available to study and acquaint oneself with this man. There are also plenty of resources that dispense with the usual myths that have persisted about Washington. There’s no point in my retelling those here.

Instead, I thought I’d approach this post from a different angle, interspersing my own observations about his life.

The Mount Vernon website has a webpage entitled Key Facts About George Washington. One of the facts that stood out for me was that Washington never attended college. Beneath the fact, there’s a blurb that says (in part) he was “always sensitive” about his lack of formal education. (When he was eleven years old, George’s father died and funds weren’t available to George for receiving an education in England.)

In other words, Washington’s education developed along an unconventional trajectory. He was partially homeschooled and also received instruction from a local church sexton and eventually for a brief period from a schoolmaster. [Are you involved in home educating your children? If so, be inspired by Washington’s story!]

By the time George was sixteen, his education took another turn. He had already joined a surveying party and within a year was surveying western points of the Virginia colony. His educational experience advanced from book-learning to practical application.george-washington-surveyor 2

Think about that, if you will. A sixteen or seventeen year old wandering the far spaces of the “civilized” world of that time! His mode of transportation may have been an animal (horse?) but it’s just as likely he was often afoot carrying a pack of limited supplies, passing through untamed regions, facing dangers from the elements, wild animals and even the potential hostility from native tribes.

Few parents today would desire such an adventure for their teenage offspring!

And yet I think Washington’s frontier education was in many ways superior to what teenagers receive in the relative ease of today’s stereotypically cushy classroom. (I daresay it was also superior to the formal education he might have received from proper tutors back in England.) Rather than a stultifying classroom, Washington’s school room was the whole world in which he lived!

Certainly, there are plenty of discussions online referencing the leadership qualities of Washington as well as his apparent reticence to seek a lead position, but his concurrent willingness to be recruited and to serve, both admirable traits. Was his reticence really a false humility? I don’t get that sense. I think he was willing to believe there might be another person better equipped and capable than he and that’s why he didn’t immediately foist himself on an assembly.

I think his genuine humility was just as evident in his readiness to hang up the mantle. He wasn’t seeking accolades for himself, but desired to do the best job he could for the nation and its people. In my view, there are too few of his caliber around today! In general, it seems the majority of public people (I refuse to call them “public servants” because they’re mostly serving themselves) seek the accolades and the power and the influence that comes with the position.

I remember learning about George Washington in grade school, junior high and high school. Perhaps the most striking thing I’ve carried with me all my life came from his Farewell Address. I can’t remember when I first heard a recitation of this address, but I recognized Washington’s words demonstrated how unique he was in contrast to the people in government with whom I was familiar.

In his Farewell Address, he warned against polarizing political parties. Anyone familiar with that? He warned against the dangers of government borrowing. Can you say seventeen trillion in debt? He spoke about the importance of religion and morality being a critical foundation for a free people.

Most strikingly for me, Washington urged his country’s future leaders to shun needless or extended foreign entanglements, citing the likelihood that such alliances have the power to draw our nation into wars. Indeed.

I was eight years old when things began to unravel in Vietnam. During my high school years, the Vietnam War was being waged and escalated by President Johnson. Time and time again as the images of that war played out on my family’s television screen, I remember thinking how our leaders were ignoring George Washington’s wise counsel in the Farewell Address!

I am amazed how Washington’s Farewell Address carries a currency today … more than two hundred years from its first reading. Read it now and see if you agree!