What will become of us as a society when we forsake our children? Tens of thousands of children who have been forgotten and abandoned by the system? Or, as the heading of the article warns (unless otherwise noted, all blockquotes come from this article):
As the new school year begins, there are totally unwatched kids heading towards criminality
First, a little drama to hook you into the story:
Across Britain, children are half-gleeful and half-groaning as they finally head back to school. But amidst the bustle of the school-run, there are tens of thousands of forgotten children who aren’t going anywhere.
They are being denied an education – and set up to fail for life.
Ok, you probably know where this is going. But I have to break up the suspense somehow. Sometimes it is a little easier to see through the emotion to the reasoning (or lack thereof) when you look at sentences in isolation. Note that the author hasn’t really said anything yet that serves any purpose other than building up suspense as he works toward uncovering the shock of who these tens of thousands of forgotten children are.
The children left outside the school gates fall into four quite different groups – and each one is a scandal.
A scandal, I tell you! And scandalous group number one would be those unregulated homeschoolers. Sorry, the Untaught Ones. Because if no one is looking over your shoulder, who knows what you are teaching. This seems to be a running theme in homeschool criticism. Little is said about anything anyone actually knows to be happening in homeschools. It is enough that someone, somewhere might take it into their heads to say they are homeschooling and then go off for a Mimosa or two with their friends while their children languish in ignorance.
The Untaught One: the “home schooled.” Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to send your kids to school in Britain. If you decide to keep you child indoors and uneducated, you don’t have to inform the local authority – and nobody will come looking. As a result, we have no idea how many children are kept at home. Nobody is counting. But the current estimate is 50,000.
But author Johann Hari goes a step beyond the accusations most critics come up with. He leaves behind the “while most homeschool families are conscientious” introduction and reveals the seedy truth behind the Untaught Ones who have been forgotten by the system, denied an education and left to a destiny of criminality. I can picture the roaming gangs of homeschooled thugs now.
Of course, some of these kids are well-taught – but there is disturbing evidence they are a minority.
And I absolutely love his evidence. Breathtakingly scientific.
When the investigative journalist Rob Blackhurst journeyed into the world of British home-schooling, he discovered 12-year-old children who had not been taught to read.
How many? Two? Three? A thousand? And what was the sample size? And what group was being surveyed? (Ah…Hari seems to lack some basic research skills…but more on that at the end.)
This is Britain. And perhaps their stats are a little better than ours, although people there seemed to be concerned as well. But not all of these Americans were homeschooled:
According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 42 million adult Americans can’t read; 50 million can recognize so few printed words they are limited to a 4th or 5th grade reading level; one out of every four teenagers drops out of high school, and of those who graduate, one out of every four has the equivalent or less of an eighth grade education. National Right to Read Foundation
But back to the article. And our first compelling statistic.
The most detailed survey of British parents teaching their kids at home found that 50 per cent don’t believe in teaching literacy to eight-year-olds.
There you have it. It doesn’t matter if they all (except maybe the parents of those 12 year olds mentioned a moment ago) start a rigorous literacy program at nine. It doesn’t matter that literacy actually seems to be declining among school children in Britain. If your homeschooler isn’t subjected to a battery of tests starting in the early grades, they are doomed to failure. And don’t forget that life of crime hanging over us from the subheading.
This leaves Britain with a weirdly divided school system. The majority of kids are constantly cooking on the SAT-grill, endlessly tested and Ofsted-ed – while this minority are totally unwatched.
Weird, indeed. Interesting to me is the fact that these ostentatious homeschool parents go beyond not bothering to teach their children to read by age eight, but they actually don’t believe in teaching literacy to an eight year old. Meaning they have some philosophy behind what they are doing. And this raises more questions for me. Like, where would I fit into this statistic if the same question were asked of me? I believe in beginning formal reading instruction when the child is ready, and not before. For most children, that is between the ages of four and eight, but it is highly variable. And that isn’t even coming from John Holt or Dorothy and Raymond Moore. It is coming from my early literacy training for my education degree from KU, the university which developed one of the most highly ranked approaches to teaching reading in the nation.
Our schools are full of developmentally inappropriate practices which do not follow what you learn while earning your degree. Rigorous testing beginning in the early grades being one of them. A heavy focus on reading starting in kindergarten and now even in pre-kindergarten being another.
More compelling to me would be to follow these same children for the next eight to ten years and find out how they are doing upon graduation and as they enter college or the workforce. And while I’m certain there will still be some who can’t read, I’d be curious how that measures up against national averages.
This means children can even disappear. Seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, who was found starved to death in her home in Birmingham earlier this year, had been withdrawn from the school system to be “home-schooled”.
Eight weeks after being withdrawn. And apparently social workers came to the home, no one was home and that was the last time they tried to make contact. I’m not sure that I believe that every time a family pulls a child from school it should trigger an investigation (although it should certainly raise flags if there were already problems noted), but if the family was bent on starving their children to death, they can “disappear” over summer break, too. Child abuse is horrific. And I do believe that as a society, we need to have some measures in place to protect children as best we can. But children die of abuse in foster care, too, where they are surrounded by specialists (teachers, caseworkers, psychologists) who are trained to spot abuse and report it. No amount of oversight will prevent all cases, and too much disrupts families unnecessarily. We cannot suddenly throw out all reason, all liberty, all respect for our Constitution out of fear of what might happen if a child isn’t in constant contact with a mandatory reporter.
For precisely this reason, home-schooling is illegal in Germany.
No, actually, it isn’t the reason. And what is with the sudden fixation on Germany? That is two in a row now that I have read which try to use Germany’s laws to rationalize stricter monitoring of homeschooling. But Germany is primarily concerned with the development of parallel societies as they have stated repeatedly. All the way up to the European Court of Human Rights. It isn’t about abuse.
The law here needs to be altered so local authorities regularly interview home-schooled kids. If they aren’t being properly taught, they should be required to enter the normal school system immediately.
And properly taught, I take it, means subjected to a battery of tests starting sometime before they turn eight? I’ll pass.
And what is of that life of crime we were promised? Oh yes, we have to go down a little further. That section isn’t actually about homeschoolers, however. It is about the Untaught groups two, three and four…the push outs, and the imprisoned and the immigrants wasting away in holding facilities. Primarily about those causing enough problems in school to get expelled, linger about on the streets, get into trouble and end up in youth detention facilities.
They are the ones headed for the life of crime.
Mr. Hari, when you start interviewing a significant number of homeschooled youth from the other side of the plexiglass wall at the youth detention facility, then we’ll talk. Until then, the homeschooled youth, as prominent as they are in your article, do not fit under the subheading “…totally unwatched kids heading towards criminality.” You have to look to the kids who have failed in the system to find them.
Update: Thanks to Greg Smith’s comment, I went off looking for more information about this Rob Blackhurst mentioned in the article. Via Bishop Hill, A Class Apart. That kid he found…that one kid he found…he was ten and now has an MA in creative writing.
According to a survey of 297 home-schooling families by Mike Fortune-Wood, 62 per cent never use a timetable, the same percentage never consult the national curriculum, and 50 per cent disagree with the statement that a child should be able to read by the age of eight. Fortune-Wood, who home-educated four children, says: “I know of children who’ve started to pick up books at nine or 10, and there are no indications that they do any worse than others. One of our children didn’t read until he was nine or 10 – and he’s just completed an MA in creative writing.” FT Weekend Magazine
Something fishy about Hari’s research.
Hat Tip: Goldston Academy for the Insane