Home Schooling Looks Better Every Day

Sometimes I write taglines with the intention of provoking readers a bit, but usually they don’t rise to the bait. Other times, I’m astounded at what does trigger complaints. A good example of the latter is this story from the 15 February 2004 issue:


Police in New York have tied together a string of bank robberies, saying they were all likely committed by the same man. Their evidence? The robber’s demand notes are rife with misspellings. They announce a “robery” or “robrey”, call the cash drawer a “draw”, and caution tellers not to slip a “die pack” in with the money. One teller laughed at the robber’s spelling ability; in that case, he walked out empty-handed. But police caution that the “Spelling Bee Dropout” bandit may not be dumb. “It’s possible that he’s pretty smart,” says Suffolk Police Detective Vincent O’Leary. “I’d have to think he’s attempting to disguise himself.” (New York Newsday) …More likely he’s the typical product of a public education.

Other than one mild thumbs up, the initial mail was quite negative:

  • I think you could have come up with something better than the cheap shot you took at our public school system. –Steve, Ohio
  • I doubt you’ll print this without mocking me, but I think the tagline was a cheap shot, and you could have done better. –Jennifer, California
  • As one of those public school teachers, Randy, please allow me to respond to you with this comment: Plplplplplplplplpl!!! –Nathan, Missouri

Nathan was one of quite a few who were upset that I was “belittling” “teachers,” even though the story said nothing about teachers. But he was the only one to write back when I asked him to point to the exact spot where I did.

He replied: “OK, you didn’t say ‘teachers’. Unfortunately, the usual implication is to make the teachers responsible for everything that goes wrong in the classroom. Students, parents, administrators, legislators, and the voting public seem to always find a way to place full responsibility for every aspect of a child’s education on the classroom teachers while absolving everyone else of any responsibility.”

Yes, that’s true. But who does True pound on again and again and again when reporting on educational stories? Teachers? Nope. Administrators, school boards and politicians? Yep.

So I do find it interesting that so many teachers thought I was talking about them. The bottom line, though, is my comment does reflect public attitude. Teachers (most of them, anyway) are doing more than their part. Public spending on education is probably at an all-time high.

That means teachers are extremely well paid, then, right? Not particularly; not most of them. But how many more layers of “professionals” are there between the pot of cash and the students? And what value do they add?

When I asked that question in the 22 February issue, the readers were happy to respond. See the Comments below.

I wonder how many parents whine and moan about “the system” (or actively work to thwart it), yet never lift a finger to find out what’s really going on in their childrens’ schools. Parents say that their kids are the most important part of their lives, but then do anything but drag themselves to check out the schools that they entrust their children to. And flipping a coin to see whether mom or dad goes to “Parent’s Night” definitely doesn’t count!

When even a member of a local school board (in the Comments) laments that they have no control over what goes on in the schools because “our hands are tied,” well, no wonder the trend toward home schooling is growing and growing and growing.

I know a lot of my readers are teachers, and I’ll bet most of them nodded through most of this page. As for the others, if you think this is a bum rap, fine: educate us on what you’re doing to change things. As you can clearly see, whining “Cheap shot!” isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.

I think all citizens should have access to an excellent education, because all of society benefits from that. And I agree that “throwing money at the problem” isn’t guaranteed to improve anything; indeed, that’s what we have been doing when it comes to education, and the result is clear: education is far worse than it was.

Obviously, then, something is gravely wrong, and money isn’t it. We all want better education, and just about everyone agrees that bank robbers who can’t spell is an indication that a fundamental part of our society — schooling — is broken.

A Teacher Who Cares — But at What Cost? I must say that I found myself agreeing with many of the comments you posted on [this] page. I’ve been teaching 8 years, the last 5 in first grade. As a male first grade teacher, I am a rarity. You did ask teachers to comment on what they are doing to change the system. These are just a few things I do:

  • maintain a class website with hundreds of supplemental activities for the students
  • working 10-11 hours a day at school, then coming home and working for 2-5 hours more
  • spending 2-3 hours per week calling parents, informing them about good and bad behavior and how their child is doing in school
  • having weekly guest speakers come, serving as an extra learning aid and enrichment tool
  • stopping by kids’ houses if needed to help solve an issue or to make sure they get something if needed
  • setting up field trips in the community (in addition to the 2 per year we are allowed) on breaks (we are a year-round school and have 4 3-week breaks per year)
  • offering after school reading tutoring for free at the local library and also on breaks
  • offering occasional tutoring and “learning clubs” during lunch period
  • holding 5-7 parent programs per year
  • being flexible in dealing with parents such as in making alternative times available for parent-teacher conferences
  • trying to serve as a rare male role model in public education, especially in the early grades
  • spending extra hours on breaks working for my students
  • spend, like many teachers, a month’s worth of my salary on classroom aides and things for my kids

Yes, you can probably surmise that a lot of my life is wrapped up in my job. I happen to live in my school boundaries so I deal with the parents in public, go to church with them, etc.

I am an idealistic teacher and believe that change can come about through people working together with the right attitude. If students, the public, legislators, teachers, etc. all had the right attitude, great change could take place in education without spending hardly anything. Such was the case in my hometown in Washington State in an area that has a large minority population. One neighborhood’s parents got involved in the school built out there which led to the neighborhood being beautified, school achievement, low crime, etc. When society works for positive change, great results happen. Unfortunately our society is demanding, self-absorbing, and blames others for its problems today.

In Utah, we have the highest number of kids per class and the highest student to administrator ratio in the nation. We also spend the next-to- lowest per pupil in the nation (and that amount is going to be even lower next year). I have never had a teacher’s aide and we don’t have the specialists that many states have. Our average city high school has 2300 students. My own elementary school has about 1000 students. If we got down to 700 students, they probably would close the school and move the students to other areas. The secondary schools often have 40 students or more in a class. The pay? Not the worst in the U.S., but I can’t support my wife and me, much less buy a house, on just what I make. And I haven’t gotten a raise in about 4 or 5 years.

Yet, Utah students still score above the norm on standardized tests year after year and the participation rate in public education (about 90%) is among the highest in the nation. Utah students are prepared for college the third best in the nation. Salt Lake City was rated to be the second best environment for education in the U.S. among large cities. The high school dropout rate is among the lowest in the nation and the rate of participation in Advanced Placement and accelerated classes is among the highest, if not the highest, in the nation.

Yet, we still hear complaints here. There will always be those, I’m afraid.

I am doing my best to promote positive change and love my job.
–Laine, Utah

Sounds terrific, and no doubt you’re making a big impact, but I hope you don’t burn yourself out! -rc

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23 Comments on “Home Schooling Looks Better Every Day

  1. A bartender at my local watering hole here in Hoboken, New Jersey, also is a public high school teacher. When I met her I asked what she taught. She said she teaches remedial math. She continued that what that really was is teaching her students to pass the standardized state test. Our further discussion established that she wasn’t actually giving her students the test answers, but that she was training them to merely answer correctly without really learning anything. A few weeks ago she was trying to talk to a busboy who only speaks Spanish. I translated for her. She then told me that she taught Spanish for six years but can’t speak it. Is this her fault or the fault of the administrators who hired her? Hoboken High School is almost the worst in the state. It’s no wonder that there are more private high schools than public ones in this area.

  2. When I was growing up in the South we had a phrase: “A bit dog barks.” That was my first thought when reading about the teachers’ comments in today’s issue. Keep up the good work.

  3. You are absolutely right to point out the failures of public education. My wife and I both have education degrees, and can plainly see the problems. We were forced to home school our children when we were told by a teacher and two administrators, and I quote, “Public education is not for children like [yours].” [He] is smart; he was reading Little House on the Prairie books in kindergarten and Hardy Boys in first grade, but he is not a genius.

    As you say, the biggest problem is with the amount of money and resources that go to administration. But the quality of the teachers is not all that great either, and part of that is the ridiculous power of the NEA [teacher’s union]. My son’s first grade teacher, and last public school teacher for a while, was as incompetent as they come. But she cannot be fired because of tenure. Why should anyone get “tenure” and not be expected to perform at adequate levels?

    My first real scare about public education was while taking education classes at college. These students were going to teach my children? But they were nearly illiterate themselves! Maybe school choice would bring the kind of competition that would raise standards as in other industries.

  4. I happen to be listening to Neal Boortz the other day (as I do every day) and he read a story from lewrockwell.com. Without giving it away, it definitely deals with what your tagline said about education.

    An interesting fable indeed. [Unfortunately, the page later disappeared so I’ve removed the link.] -rc

  5. You were right on target with your tagline. Sadly, I have to agree. I went to public schools in the 1930s and 1940s, and I’m frequently appalled these days by the drastically and tragically lower standards of education today, which my grandchildren are suffering from. And yes, a lot of the blame goes straight to the administrative bureaucracy that enmeshes the many good teachers and, also sadly, shields the far too many bad teachers.

  6. Regarding your tagline, I laughed my butt off, and even agreed with you, and I’m on the school board!

    Public education is a mess and it’s not the teachers’ fault. It’s the fault of administrators, legislators, teachers’ union(s) and parents. How much control does the board of education have over actual education (or school budgets)? Almost none. Nearly everything is mandated by the state or federal government. Our hands are tied.

  7. I support your stories and remarks about public education. Hopefully your readers enjoy the self parodies in the letters written by teachers. As a parent, I try to work for constructive change by being involved in my daughter’s school. Few parents respond to the requests for volunteers but it is a great chance to talk to teachers, discover their attitudes and offer alternative points of few. Alas, many of them are products of the very system that needs improvement. There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. (Oops, the PC police will get me for that! I mean there is too much money spent on management and not enough on teachers.) I am concerned with what I see as a shift in the level to whom they are teaching. It is the “If we can not have excellence then we will have equality” syndrome. There was a time when classes went as fast as the best students could learn. Now these students are bored while the class goes at the pace of the slowest students. At least “no child is left behind.”

  8. You are totally right. Education must be the only industry where, if there’s a problem, the first to be blamed are the employees (not the highly paid executives). We have no authority but somehow we get to take all the blame!

  9. Apologies to the teachers, but I have to agree with you. Back in “the good old days”, a child of 13 was equipped to stop attending school and work as the bookkeeper for a large grocery/dry goods store. (Specifics available). Cowboys, many of whom were mere teenagers, read the classics. People said “like” when they were indicating a preference. And teachers were allowed to teach — not be social caretakers for all the others in society who had abdicated their roles.

    On the other hand, the teachers who taught math had degrees in mathematics, teachers who taught history had their degrees in history — not in education (whatever that is). And I’m really peeved with the inability of a student to discuss a problem with the algebra teacher after school because his main job is coaching athletics.

    The average child of 13 today likely can’t even spell bookkeeper. And, sadly, that’s not meant as a joke. -rc

  10. As a college instructor, I’m beginning to dread having some home-schooled students in the classroom. Now, if their parents home schooled for excellence, it’s great. They will be good writers and readers and open to learning new things. But unfortunately, some parents are home schooling to protect their kids from anything that might challenge their religious beliefs, and not all of these parents are qualified to teach, nor are they willing to learn themselves.

    Recently I’ve been told that I’m going to be “judged” for teaching about the “occult,” because I read excerpts from a classic novel in my class. (From a home-schooled student, of course.) I don’t even believe in the occult. The same student complains that some of the classic short stories are Satanic — stories like “The Lottery,” “Young Goodman Brown” — stories I read in junior high or high school. (I don’t understand why she was home schooled and then sent to a public college, when there are plenty of Bible colleges around where she’d never be exposed to anything she might disagree with.)

    I’ve had friends who home schooled and did it very well, but I don’t need someone young enough to be my daughter telling me I’m going to be “judged”! Obviously she missed the lesson on manners. I taught in a public junior high several years ago. I found out quickly that if a teacher gets crosswise with a student, the parents will always take the student’s side, no matter if he is lying through his teeth. “My child does not lie.” What a joke! Public schools won’t get better until the parents take more responsibility for their children’s behavior.

  11. Whether teachers are specifically singled out as the cause of the problem doesn’t matter so much to me; what bothers me about digs at the education system is that so much criticism of our schools is intended to destroy public education.

    I’m an unabashed liberal. I think public investment in public education (and health care and infrastructure and arts and science and…) is a good thing. I think all our citizens should have access to excellent education (etc.) and that if they do, we are all better off. And I am happy to pay my share of taxes to fund that. I’m aware that “throwing money at the problem” isn’t a guaranteed solution, and I’m well aware that there are lots of problem with our public education systems and institutions. But the thing is, the kind of digs that you can fit into a ten-word humorous tagline tend to be destructive. And I’m sick to death of the destructive approach to public education. There’s a lot of good we can and should be doing; the answer to a broken system isn’t necessarily to destroy it.

  12. The people who are screaming that teachers can’t teach ought to take a good look at their own homes, and the number of books in them. My own children, who are classified as “learning disabled”, nevertheless are excellent readers and spellers, and the 14-year-old is reading Shakespeare’s plays for pleasure. Why? Could it be because they have always been taught that reading is an enjoyable pastime, not just something you struggle through for school? Or that high-quality books are always available to them? It boggles my mind to see the number of people who never read, but complain that their children aren’t receiving a proper education.

  13. Remember this about public schools … public opinion surveys show that we think every school is bad … except the one my kids go to.

  14. Please let Nathan in Missouri know that the correct spelling of the “raspberry” sound is Plbtbtbtbtbt! As a school teacher, he should know that.

  15. My mother was a first grade teacher. I was a speech pathologist. My son is a history teacher, most of whose classes are for advanced placement. My daughter-in-law is a university professor.

    Having established the background that I know whereof I speak, a great deal of non-learning is lack of really astute teaching. However, when parents don’t teach children the basics of civilization, like self-control, respect for authority, desire to learn, etc., those precious hours for teaching must be spent doing the parents’ job before good subject teaching can occur. My younger daughter, currently working as a teacher’s aide while attending college in Maryland, tells me that they are not even allowed to ask parents to see that their child gets more sleep at night because he keeps falling asleep in class.

    The real problem with our schools is that many, many adults have abdicated their responsibilities at almost every level. Materialistic greed has replaced old-fashioned appreciation of the necessity of and delight in learning. If a teacher is going into the profession for any reason other than love of sharing learning and healthy empathic compassion for the students, he/she needs to rethink the career plans.

    I agree with pretty much everything in here, Sue, except one thing: if the teacher isn’t allowed to give common sense feedback to the parents, that’s not a parental problem, it’s an administrative problem! (Though I do think that the lack of sleep in the first place is a parenting problem!) -rc

  16. Public education is constantly under the public microscope, as it well should. I agree with the premise of your commentary regarding the “Eduspeak” article, however, all too often education “outsiders” pass blame on to the teachers for the often ridiculous policies and procedures of schools. I, as a veteran teacher of 21 years, can assure you that the aforementioned linguistics adjustments are manufactured by administrators, legislators, and educational pundits who have hardly spent any time (if at all) actually teaching real life students for any real length of time. Yet, in order to maintain our employment, these mandates are passed down to us to disseminate to our students. If we stand against the ludicrous we are labeled as trouble makers and marked as self-serving. If we ignore it, it adversely affects our rating. If we go along with it, we are criticized as if we are the ones who created it. Sure, there are problems in public education, but as long as you are pointing the finger of blame, try pointing it in the right direction.

    Joe, remember what you tell your students: finish reading the assignment before writing the essay. -rc

  17. I have greatly enjoyed the recent discussion regarding the state of public education. To our dear teachers, a little Romeo and Juliet: “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.”

    There is culpability elsewhere as well, but there is enough to go around for everyone. In the end, everyone knows the answer to the question isn’t more money. A big problem is: No respect for the values of the parents. Secular humanism rules the schools. I don’t expect the public school to teach Christian doctrine to my children, I do expect them to stay off the subject all together. But they can’t manage it, can they? They won’t tell my kids that evolution is an unproven theory, they will slam their belief in creation. They won’t tell my kids that sex is an activity for adults, they’ll show them how to put on a condom. They will give my 13-year-old daughter birth control pills, and they’ll suspend her from school for having a bottle of ibuprofin in her locker. They feel comfortable telling everyone that it’s bad to smoke, bad to wear fur, bad to drive big cars, and bad to eat meat, but how dare we try to mention that killing unborn babies is probably a bad thing too.

    They spend so much time teaching tolerance, but they don’t tolerate us. They spend so much time teaching their view on social issues, they don’t have enough time to teach kids how to read with comprehension, or make complex math calculations. They spend so much time teaching kids their rights, but never their responsibilities. Not the fault of teachers? Hardly! Stop using the kids as pawns when you go on strike. Stop protecting sub-standard teachers through tenure and union contracts. Stop insisting the answer is higher salaries for teachers. Stop thinking parents are stupid enough to believe the lie. Maybe then we’ll begin to take you seriously again. In the meantime, my three children will see the inside of a public school over my dead body!

  18. Kerrie from Washington doesn’t know Shakespeare (the quotation she mangled is from Hamlet), doesn’t know the meaning of words (there is a great difference between the word “theory” and the word “hypothesis”), and doesn’t know science (few things in science are ever “proven,” per se, but there is so much evidence supporting the Theory of Evolution that, like the Theory of Relativity, it is considered scientific fact). I am so thrilled to learn that she is home-schooling her children.

    Yeah, but think of the kids: they don’t know the difference between the real world and religious teachings, and it will be a brutal wake-up call when they go forth to multiply. -rc

  19. Sadly, I agree with the tagline. Today at my local public community college, I had an instructor say that “ect” was an “abbreviation” of “excetea”.

    Something else I’ve also wondered: why is he given the label “instructor”? That word sounds like he’s spoonfeeding us static propaganda and rigid rules and requirements, rather than providing the “education” to creatively solve problems or “teaching” us open-ended ideas of how the world functions.

  20. As a retired teacher, I agree with your initial take. That being that the overpaid administrators, uninvolved parents, and school board members need be brought to task for many of the problems. Not to say teachers don’t sometimes share blame for the abysmal state of education, but just to speak to one part of this, I often ask local people why they’re running for school board and their answer almost always falls into one of two categories: They want to lower taxes (often large farmers with no post high-school education) or they want to get a teacher or a coach fired. Coaches with losing seasons have inspired more school board elections than almost any other reason.

    I hope that’s not true — but fear it is. -rc

  21. My mom was an English teacher, and I retired from teaching American History, so I can sympathize with teachers who are told what/how/when, etc. to teach, generally by folks who have never been inside a classroom.

    What you have in the end is a really classic case of the blind leading the blind. I stopped at office of a local school to pick up some paperwork (not germane to the story) and asked if I could speak to Mrs. Smith. The secretary (who was close to my age) turned to a sweet young thing and asked if she would mind telling Mrs. Smith she was needed in the office. “Well, I don’t know where she’s AT, but I’ll look in the lounge.”

    After I got my chin off the floor, I asked the secretary if that was one of the aides. She made a face. “No. She’s one of the teachers.” Reading my expression, she nodded. “Sad, isn’t it?”

  22. I don’t recall this story from 10 years ago, probably because it didn’t resonate with me then. But now I’m a parent, and the state of public education concerns me. I want to be part of the solution in my kids’ schools.

    I want to channel my energy constructively, but I’m unsure exactly how. As a parent, I fear being more hindrance than help to the teachers. I fear drawing attention away from where it should be (teaching). I would love suggestions from teachers, administrators, etc.

    My oldest is almost 3 and will start preschool soon. We’re still choosing, but the front runner preschool reflects this. The school requires heavy parental involvement. Parents must put in 10-15 hours per month per family. About 2/3 of that time is in the classroom, assisting the teachers, and the last third is on weekends, attending “parent education” classes in child development, education, and similar topics. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this were standard for all schools, K-12? And (equally important) if employers accepted this as standard and made it easy for parents to schedule in-school time?

  23. It is ironic that you and many readers complain about the state of education in our culture. Just what did you expect? This is the same culture that punishes intelligence with economic disincentives. We self-select for “coolness” and “physical agility”, not for “intelligence” and “education”. As an example, professional sports players tend to make 10-50 times as much as highly trained and intelligent engineers do. Some will argue that this time that they make such money is limited. I will counter with the fact that the amount paid is so much, it can be invested properly for decent financial independence for the rest of one’s life. How many of these sports players can read or write? Shall we talk about Hollywood starlets or rock stars who only know three chords? A few of these are worth millions.

    On the flip side, our current engineering shortage is an illusion. There is a glut of engineers in this country, but most of their jobs are farmed out to countries where $5/hr is a lavish salary (China, Russia, India, etc.). Many bright geeks are out of work and remain so because managers are too stupid to evaluate the capability of their current engineers vis the salary paid. If you don’t support the most common (and most illiterate, dangerous, and ill-conceived) operating system on the planet, like most smart people don’t, you will have trouble finding a job. This has led to the inescapable (but predicted) conclusion that investing in school does not guarantee one employment and success for the rest of their life. Thus, schooling and education rank very low as priorities on a cultural level. It’s clear (to me, anyway) that our culture has lost its sanity. Anyone expecting it to provide our kids with an education or to produce educated kids as the norm (by any means) is quite illogical.


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