home education

Homeschooled kids heading towards criminality

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):

Children we abandon at our peril

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. 

How shocking!

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

A Home School Talk Labor Day special

Join me on Labor Day (Monday, September 1) for Home School Talk’s first ever holiday special! (Monday, 1PM CST)  The show is now archived at that link if you want to listen to it! This will be a shortened show, only half an hour, but will feature positive and encouraging stories about homeschooling.  I will also have a very special guest and co-host:  my own nine year old daugter.  She will be discussing the stories with me and talking a bit about her own homeschooled experience.  Which unfortunately hasn’t been entirely positive.  In fact, she doesn’t want to go to public school because she figures it is everything she doesn’t like about homeschool, but longer and without as many breaks.

My poor eldest daughter suffered the most under her drill sergeant mother who tried to make kindergarten and the beginning of first grade look more like boot camp a classroom than a home. I discussed this more during Back to Homeschool Week, but happily I’ve improved.  To her, school still seems to mean “copy work.”  Actually, everything she doesn’t like, she identifies as school.  Everything she does like is just life.  And she seems to be tired of me reminding her that “this is school, too.”  So I can’t win.  We’ll see what she thinks of being on the radio.

Note to iPod users: For some reason my show was moved to the Heading Right channel without my knowledge and that was the feed being used by iPod.  It is now moved back to where it belongs, but it will likely be a couple of days before the feed over at iPod is corrected.

Upcoming guests:

September 8: Ann Zeise of A to Z Home’s Cool

September 15: Kelly Curtis of Pass the Torch and author of Empowering Youth

Show Notes for 8/25/08

Barefooted Children

To begin, I relate a story about my children at a local carnival and an overheard conversation between a younger woman and an older woman about children not wearing shoes.  The younger woman thought they were cute; the older woman didn’t seem to agree.  But there are a multitude of reasons for a bias agains barefooted children.

The school in which I taught, for example, was previously known for being the school for children without shoes.  Possession of shoes was for many a recognizable division between rich and poor. I would guess that those who lived through that stigmatization might be more inclined to be sure that their children had nice shoes regardless of the health benefits known for children running barefoot.

Minority Homeschooling

Related, perhaps, are recent stories about the increase of homeschooling among minorities, particularly among African Americans.  The Houston Chronicle notes the increase, stating that blacks homeschool for many of the same reasons as whites while also having concern for teaching their cultural heritage.  Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute also noted one reason the black community has been reluctant to embrace homeschooling:

Peer pressure also might have kept many blacks away from trying something different, Ray said. In the black community, there’s always been a strong advocacy for public schools. Many blacks see them as a good route to leveling the playing field for everybody, he said.  Chron.com

Two years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a similar story with a little more information.  It includes some insight from Jennifer James who, as the founder of the National African American Homeschooler’s Alliance, likely understands the challenges this group faces a little more personally.

“Some educators and families think that because blacks fought so hard to get equal access, we shouldn’t abandon it.  But times have changed. It was a great step, but we have to think about our kids.” San Francisco Chronicle

I, on the other hand, as a white, middle class American never had to fight for access to public education and often take it for granted and often as not much of a privilege at all.  Walking away from the system was therefore not so difficult.

Connecticut Tax Revolt

An interesting story in the Wall Street Journal takes a look at Connecticut education and the dissatisfaction of tax payers who are paying more than twice as much for their education system while enrollment has only increased ten percent over the last 25 years.

One proposed solution?  Homeschooling.

The calculator [on the website of a local tax payer group] enables the resident of any town to compare the cost of constructing and staffing a new building (or addition) to the cost of simply subsidizing the overflow number of students to attend private, parochial or home schools. Says David Bohn, president of the group: “You could extend the subsidy to children already in such schools and still save hundreds of millions long term.”  WSJ online

And one politician has suggested paying students to not go to school:  $1500 for vocational school, $3000 to homeschool and a $5000 scholarship for private school.  All in the name of saving tax payer dollars.  It makes you wonder about all the programs out there trying to attract homeschooled students back into public schools even on a part-time basis.  Sure, these students bring money to the school, but at what expense?

Encouragement from Germany

Hans-Ulrich Pfaffmann, an education expert from the Social Party of Germany (SPD), which would be the more left-leaning of the major parties in Germany, was recently interviewed by the Bayerischen Rundfunk, a radio station in Bavaria.  He had some interesting comments on homeschooling in Germany (my translation):

I deem prison sentences or fines in this situation as a total overreaction because in reality, homeschooling can be very high quality.  To this extent, it is certainly a topic which one must work on politically.  There can be no black and white here, instead one must be able to discuss the subject without ideological blinders.

There cannot be a single dogmatic stance of the state that the state must educate all children.  I think we must really put the possibility of homeschooling on the discussion list, then I can envision starting a homeschooling pilot project as school replacement.  That cannot be put off until never-never day, but must happen quite quickly to see if it is an option.

If you would like to hear more on homeschooling in Germany from someone homeschooling in Germany, I interviewed Rina in July for the show, A look at homeschooling in Germany.

Those measly homeschoolers

I actually went into this a bit more on my blog this week as I talked about homeschoolers and vaccinations.  I don’t know that I made my point that clearly in the show, but really all I was saying is that you look at these issues a little differently when your child is affected, even as you continue to support the decisions of every parent regarding their choices for their own children.  It becomes more personal and you become more aware of the risks involved.

Guest:  Jube Dankworth

Twenty year homeschool veteran Jube Dankworth joined the program to talk about why she chose to homeschool, how homeschooling as grown over the years and ways to advocate for homeschooling.  She is also the founder of Texas Home Educators and national director of Homeschooling Family to Family, a ministry of Frontline Ministries.

Homeschooling amateurs outdoing professionals

knifeLast week, Thomas Sowell almost wrote quite an interesting column regarding homeschooling over at Townhall.comAlmost.  He starts off going one direction, more the tried and true direction of pointing out the failures of public education by pointing out the success of homeschooling.  (All block quotes come from the article.)

When amateurs outperform professionals, there is something wrong with that profession.

We have gone over what it means to be an amateur before, but to recap briefly, it is a “lover of”–someone who does something for love rather than money.  There are a number of endeavors which may be pursued as successfully by the amateur “lover-of” as well as, if not better than, the professional “paid-to.”  Teaching is one important example.

If ordinary people, with no medical training, could perform surgery in their kitchens with steak knives, and get results that were better than those of surgeons in hospital operating rooms, the whole medical profession would be discredited.

At this point, he has not indicted teachers because of whacky people with no training “operating” on their own children’s minds with pencils found in a drawer and outdoing professional educators in the process.  But he will in the very next paragragh.  The problems teachers face, however, have very little to do with the faulty analogy Sowell sets up.

The success of homeschooling does not indict professional educators because we are comparing apples to oranges.  Even if the system were functioning properly, it is still likely that homeschooled children would be doing comparatively well because the key in the system is not the professional but the people supporting the child, particularly the parents.  Homeschooling by its nature selects for the most involved parents.  The one factor outweighing all others in a child’s academic success is the involvement of parents.  There is no mystery behind the success of homeschooling.  This is where Sowell’s analogy really falls apart.  He writes as if the system should educate a child better than a family, when the family is the most important aspect of a child’s education even when educated within the system.

Sowell probably wouldn’t disagree with any of that, but he doesn’t make his point very clearly.  Where he goes from here is much more interesting and much more relevant, however.  In fact, if he had begun with his discourse on the problems of a planned economy and then related it to education and homeschooling, leaving out the crazy people with the steak knives, I think he would have had quite a compelling essay.  The real problems teachers face, after all, deal more directly with this brief look at the Soviet Union.

One easy to understand reason is that central planners in the days of the Soviet Union had to set over 24 million prices. Nobody is capable of setting and changing 24 million prices in a way that will direct resources and output in an efficient manner.

We have approximately 75 million children in this country.  Central planners, being the US Department of Education, cannot possibly make reasonable decisions for each of those children regardless of how many charts, graphs, test results and degrees they have at their disposal.  What a teacher needs to be successful in the classroom is the freedom to make these decisions for the children in the classroom as well as the support of the children’s families.  In all too many instances, the teacher has neither.

It is hardly fair to compare the results to a homeschooling family which has both.

Hat Tip: The Daily Goose


Take a moment (or more) to peruse the Carnival of Homeschooling, Women’s Independence Day Edition!

And the Brain-Based Carnival of Education!

Warning: Homeschooling families must prepare for college

Startling, I know, but Adam Caller, founder of Tutors International, is urging homeschooling parents to plan ahead by calling him.

I’m not for a moment saying that home education is unable to prepare a child for university, or disadvantaging them in any way, far from it. The vast majority of home schooled children that I have met personally have been bright, articulate and knowledgeable, usually with excellent social skills. I would just like to urge home schooling families to plan ahead for the eventuality that their child may want to take exams in preparation for university, sometimes in subjects that the family may not be able teach or explore alone. When the fact that the child may never have been tested formally in their life is added to the mix, the family can suddenly feel out of depth and that’s when they tend to call us.

Bright, articulate, knowledgeable…sure.  But how ever will they be able to express that if they haven’t been advertisementfilling in bubbles for the last twelve years?  I print off old copies of other states’ tests just for the fun of it.  Never thought of that as college prep, but what do I know?

Ok, so it is a press release.  What can I expect?  But it reminds me how much marketers play on our insecurities to try to sell us their products.  Nothing against tutors, or business, or even marketing.

But I still cannot help but wonder how much the very existence of the “homeschool market” has changed homeschooling.

Parents’ constitutional liberty interest in education

According to LifeWay Research, 86% of adults surveyed in April agreed with the statement “Parents have a Constitutional right to homeschool.” While Constitutional rights are obviously not granted by popular opinion, I am happy to see that an ever-increasing number of Americans support the idea of homeschooling, even if many of these same people would limit this constitutional right they say they recognize with additional state regulations.

The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch goes on to write:

It seems the California appeals court now agrees. In a stunning move Aug. 8, the three-judge panel reversed itself, saying the state legislature has implicitly accepted homeschooling as legal. “We … conclude that California statutes permit homeschooling as a species of private school education,” the justices wrote in their unanimous decision released on Friday.  MarketWatch

But to say homeschooling is “legal” is not the same as saying it is Constitutionally protected.  The court’s decision, while significant, is not a complete reversal because it still only recognizes homeschooling within the parameters of the law. It is now clear to all that it is perfectly acceptable under California’s education code to set up a homeschool as a private school by filing the appropriate affidavit, but the way for future infringements has also been cleared.

Along with ruling that CA law does indeed allow for homeschooling, the court also opined that “The state is responsible for educating all California children.” And references another California court case, Butt vs. State of California (1992).

In this case, the dependency court declined to consider whether sending Jonathan and Mary Grace to public or traditional private school was necessary to preserve their safety because it believed that parents possess an absolute constitutional right to home school. This is incorrect; no such absolute right to home school exists. Instead, as we now discuss, parents possess a constitutional liberty interest in directing the education of their children, but the right must yield to state interests in certain circumstances.  Opinion on rehearing (pdf, emphasis mine)

I don’t believe we possess an “absolute right” to anything, if that means that the state cannot intervene when there are clear violations to the health and safety of dependent minors, but thus relegating the direction of a child’s education to a constitutional liberty which must yield to state interests is troubling.

Then, the court brings in judicial scrutiny, suggesting that the combination of a parental liberty interest claim combined with a free exercise claim necessitates the application of “strict scrutiny,” the highest level of judicial scrutiny which puts a heavy burden on the state.

To satisfy the test of strict scrutiny, a state must establish: (1) that the law in question is supported by a compelling governmental interest and; (2) that the law is narrowly tailored to meet that end.

California has specifically argued that “welfare of a child is a compelling state interest that a state has not only a right, but a duty, to protect.” (In re Marilyn H. 1993)  Ibid.

I do not disagree that a family can be forced to place their children in a monitored educational environment if a history of abuse has been proven, however, the argumentation leading up to this point is troubling. A compelling governmental interest is normally reserved for things like threats to national security and protecting the lives of multiple people and in these circumstances, other constitutional constraints may be limited.

In the closing of this section of the opinion, education is raised from a state interest to a compelling state interest.

Given the state’s compelling interest in educating all of its children (Cal. Const.,art. IX, § 1), and the absence of an express statutory and regulatory framework for homeschooling in California, additional clarity in this area of the law would be helpful.  Ibid.

Stopping short of directing the legislature to provide more oversight of homeschools, the groundwork is nonetheless established. If the state has a compelling interest, it generally not only may intervene but must, thus it seems this language may eventually necessitate further restrictions placed on CA homeschoolers.