Further Thoughts on Homeschooling, Liberalism, and Special-Needs Kids

I’ve been overwhelmed and gratified by the huge response to my Slate essay on secular, liberal homeschooling—especially Astra Taylor’s deeply thought rebuttal at N+1, which I highly recommend. Taylor maintains that her original piece was not prescriptive: that she does not believe progressive homeschooling is practical or right for all children, simply that considering its benefits—its child-centered ideology and disdain for testing—is a useful thought experiment when contemplating how to improve education broadly. 

To me, the salient question is how we get from point A) a public school system that isn’t doing a good enough job educating many kids, especially the neediest, to point B) a public school system that is more equitable and higher quality. Does the increasing prominence of homeschooling—both in terms of raw numbers of families joining the movement and homeschooling’s growing role in the political debate over education—serve this purpose? I continue to believe it does not, because it is difficult to improve an institution without broad buy-in into it.

Furthermore, I’m concerned that the deep cynicism about public education reflected in Taylor’s original N+1 essay and other statements from progressive homeschoolers and unschoolers–in which schools are compared to prisons and public school educators are depicted as vicious enforcers of class and race hierarchies–only serves to lessen support for this crucial social institution. 

I received dozens of emails since Slate published my piece, most from politically liberal parents eager to share stories of how homeschooling allows their own children to flourish through field trips, hands-on projects, and curricula molded to their quirky interests. Others told me they believe their child’s special physical, emotional, or intellectual needs can not be adequately served by schools; this is a wrenching challenge for millions of families with special-needs children, and one I should have acknowledged in my piece. (Later in this essay, I’ll address special education at greater length.)

But my Slate piece was not about the benefits or drawbacks of homeschooling for particular families or children. Rather, my piece was about the educational needs of society at-large. To clarify my own position, I do not think homeschooling should be illegal, and I acknowledge it may be the best option for a relatively small population of disabled and special-needs kids. My own belief is that when it comes to the typical child, however, homeschooling does not comport with crucial social justice values related to investing in the common good, and so I’d urge parents concerned with social justice—both broadly and in terms of their own children’s development—to think twice about making this choice.

The debate the article sparked, especially on the left, illuminates a deeper divide: What kind of liberalism does one subscribe to—one primarily concerned with the common good, or one primarily concerned with individual rights? Obviously a good society is made up of a careful, Rawlsian balancing of both these interests. But I believe American liberalism weighs private interests and “choice” too heavily, and that our society would be strengthened by more shared institutions and experiences, including in education.

Though just about 2 million children are homeschooled—compared to 55 million children in the public school system—homeschoolers are amazingly well organized, and have successfully lobbied many in the Republican Party to abandon their previous support for education spending and for federal and even state school improvement efforts. As secular progressives join the homeschooling movement in greater numbers, perhaps they will disassociate it somewhat from its outright hostility toward public education and efforts to improve it; one need not participate in a public institution to support it politically.

Yet as the political theorist Corey Robin deftly noted in our Twitter exchange about homeschooling, the social programs with the deepest support in the United States are those, like Medicare and Social Security, into which we all invest. In other Western democracies that have a history of greater public investment in education—and histories of greater respect for schooling and intellectual activity more generally—homeschooling and even private schooling is practically unheard of. Those cultural differences are why, as the New York Times reported last week, affluent, foreign-born parents in New York City enroll their children in public schools at nearly double the rate of native-born Americans in the same income bracket.

To respond directly to Taylor’s critique of my piece, I will admit to a romantic strain of thinking in some of my writing on public education. Looking back on the public schools I’ve chosen to report on over the past few years, from Newark to Queens to Denver, it’s true that I consistently visit excellent ones. In part, this is because I am eager to share best practices in the hope they can be replicated; in part, on an ideological level, I want to push back against “Waiting for Superman”-like thinking, in which charter schools are misrepresented as the only public schools helping low-income children transcend the economic conditions into which they were born. 

That said, I try to stay vigilant about policing Pollyannaish tendencies in my work, knowing I come from a family of public school educators and that I had a generally positive public school experience in a district that was (and remains) in many ways unusual. To this end, my first long-form magazine feature about education entailed revisiting my hometown to confront an issue Taylor brings up in her rebuttal to my piece: the problematic history of de facto tracking by race and class in integrated public schools.

But the fact of the matter is, if there’s one reason to feel romantic about American public education, it’s that the public school system is required to educate all children, regardless of disability-status, behavioral problems, or whether or not they have parents actively engaged in their child’s education. Here is Section One of Title XI of the New York State Constitution:

The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.

The history of American public education is a history of efforts to make good on the Common School movement’s promise of universal, quality education. The Education and Secondary Education Act, signed into law by President Johnson in 1965, gave the federal government a new, aggressive role in supplementary funding for the education of disadvantaged children. When Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, it prevented states and districts from excluding special-needs children from public education.

It would be a farce to claim all public schools are doing a good-enough job at serving special-needs kids. But at least within the public system, parents have legal recourse when they believe their children are not being adequately served. In New York City, for example, there’s a fantastic organization called Advocates for Children that provides disabled kids, low-income kids, foster kids, and other disadvantaged populations with attorneys to represent their interests in confrontations with the public schools.

This is in marked contrast to the homeschooling cooperatives and radical “free schools” I discuss in my Slate piece, in which “problem” children may be completely excluded. In the Brooklyn preschool cooperative Sonia Songha joined, “things got ugly” after the teacher suggested one child needed an individual aide, a common service public schools provide to kids on the autism spectrum, for example, or who are hearing-impaired. As parents in the co-op fought over whether to hire and how to fund an aide, two families pulled out.

And while the private Albany Free School Taylor visits in her N+1 essay is a fascinating (though, as Taylor admits, un-scalable) experiment in social-justice oriented education, it is not required to educate all children. Taylor writes:

At the time of my visit the staff had just dismissed a student for the first time in the school’s history. The boy, 10 years old and extremely large for his age, was angry and aggressive, intimidating and hitting his classmates without provocation. His peers knew his home life was tough, but their empathy didn’t deter him from terrorizing them. The whole community—teachers and students—held a meeting and, after discussing the issue at length, voted to have him leave.

Public school teachers and students are not allowed to vote any child out of a school.

Last spring I reported from Providence, Rhode Island and met Betsy Blanchette, a public school psychologist who specializes in working with children on the autism spectrum. Because the state of Rhode Island is required to provide free services to all disabled kids, Blanchette spends her day shuttling between up to six schools, some of them private schools, where she meets with students for counseling and with parents and teachers to design plans to educate special-needs children.

In 2010, Blanchette won an award as educator of the year from the Asperger’s Association of New England. She was nominated by the parents of a high-functioning autistic first-grader whose small private school had become overwhelmed by his needs. Reluctantly, the parents approached the Providence public schools for help; Blanchette was assigned to the case. She began meeting with the boy once a week to work on basic social skills, like how to interpret physical mannerisms or stay calm if a teacher “redirects”—changes directions for an activity mid-stream, a very confusing thing for a child on the autism-spectrum to understand, since they tend to be highly-literal and rules-oriented. Blanchette encouraged the family to enroll their son in public school, and then convinced the district to hire a full-time aide to attend class alongside the boy. Today he is in a fifth-grade inclusion classroom and doing well.

In this case, only the public school system had the expertise, resources, and legal responsibility to serve this particular child. And at the end of the day, that’s why homeschooling is severely limited as an education reform thought-experiment. Because the vast majority of two-income and single-parent families will never be able to homeschool or afford private school, we need to pursue educational equality within the confines of the public school system we have—a system that is constantly struggling, in a legally-accountable way, to balance the needs of individual children with the needs of the community at-large. The more of us engage in this struggle, by enrolling our kids in public schools and supporting public schools politically, the better these institutions will be.

Update: I forgot to mention that a few homeschoolers wrote to me saying they also believe investing in the common good is very important, so despite pulling their kids out of public schools, they have them volunteer, visit cultural institutions, and do other activities related to giving back. This is great, but again, this is the private liberalism of piecemeal philanthropy, not the sort of public liberalism I support, in which we build strong, shared social institutions capable of systemically addressing poverty.

Update 2: Yes, of course the choice of where to live, in terms of moving to a "better" school district, severely impacts educational equality and buy-in to the common good, as well–and is far more common than homeschooling. Click here and here to learn about ways to lessen the negative impact of residential segregation on schooling.

Update 3: A really smart response to the debate, from my friend Sara Mead.

31 thoughts on “Further Thoughts on Homeschooling, Liberalism, and Special-Needs Kids

  1. timh

    Freedom of choice be damned! You are a repulsive human being, indeed. Similarly, one should insist that a good “progressive” like yourself should live in the ghetto to help uplift those who are less fortunate than yourself. Let us know when you’re moving and get back to us. Put your money where your big mouth is.

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  2. Jennifer Downey

    How about this, Ms. Goldstein? Conceive of the necessary “buy in” of which you speak, to be commitment to the public funding of education, NOT just to the system of brick and mortar schools that currently exists, and the particular tradition that adhere to them.

    My husband and I are huge supporters of the notion of funded public education as a necessary and great civic good. We also homeschool our kids because we at base enjoy the experience, and believe that our kids will enjoy their childhoods more, and learn best how to learn, because of the choice we’ve made. . We live extremely close to the bone, because of our choice.

    Liberal folks who want or need to send their kids to public schools, should be making common cause with liberals who count the value and pleasure of education high enough to be undertaking it ourselves at great financial loss.

    That’s right: Make Common Cause. Mainstream education liberals? Instead of acting like dogs with food-guarding issues when non-mainstream education liberals (aka secular homeschoolsers) ask for some support in the form of tax breaks, so we can do a better job of it, and that ALL those who would want to homeschool, can engage in the practice, if that is their wish.

    In return, we non-mainstream education liberals would do everything in our power to advocate that the overall percentage of our state and national and locall budgets that get devoted to education rise steeply, that the ration of kids to teachers hits a norm of 15 to 1, rather than 30 -1, that the salaries offered to teachers are ones that will attract many to the profession.

    Pointing fingers at people who decide to make no use, or only partial use of public schools, as the reason schools are struggling, is unfair scapegoating, but more importantly, the finger-pointing prevents a powerful coalition from developing. A coalition of liberals who can ALL AGREE that the public funding of education is a great civic good, and that we don’t devote enough resources to education. The finger-pointing also prevents the real culprits in the underfunding of education in this country to continue to evade responsibility .

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  3. LJM

    Dana, you’re an education specialist so maybe you can address a problem I’ve had with the idea that schools are underfunded.

    Why do we pay so much more in per-pupil spending than most other nations (many with as good or better results)? Why do we pay nearly 3 times in inflation adjusted dollars for per-pupil spending than we did 40 years ago? Why, when the enrollment has increased 10% in the last 40 years, has school employment increased 90%?

    All of this increased spending has produced nearly identical academic results as were achieved 40 and 50 years ago.

    link to cato-at-liberty.org

    These facts indicate a system that is mismanaged, not one that is underfunded.

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  4. LJM

    Sorry to ramble, but things just keep popping up.

    First, my last post uses the word, “objectively,” incorrectly. I shouldn’t have included it.

    You wrote, “…it (homeschooling) may be the best option for a relatively small population of disabled and special-needs kids.”

    Here, I will use the word “objectively,” correctly. It is objectively true that homeschooling is the best option for many, many kids who are not disabled or have special needs.

    The only possible way you could come to the above conclusion is to avoid speaking with any of the (tens of? hundreds of?) thousands of happy, thriving homeschooling kids who used to go to public school.

    You wrote: “My own belief is that when it comes to the typical child, however, homeschooling does not comport with crucial social justice values related to investing in the common good…”

    You could easily replace “homeschooling” with “gay parenting” and “social justice” with “moral.” There is as much evidence for either case.

    Opposing homeschooling for social reasons is not one bit different, intellectually, than opposing gay marriage for similar reasons. It’s an inherently conservative philosophy.

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  5. Sarah

    I’m entirely underwhelmed by your epilogue. Our homeschooling is hardly “an education reform thought-experiment.” It is,at this point in my children’s lives, the best way for them to be educated. I’d have loved the schools to work, but they didn’t, neither private nor public.

    I take issue with your comments regarding homeschoolers who work in the world for change, which you denigrate as “the private liberalism of piecemeal philanthropy, not the sort of public liberalism I support, in which we build strong, shared social institutions capable of systemically addressing poverty.” The mere presence of my children in public school will not change the system, and I will not sacrifice my children on the hopes that her thoughts might be true. We live actively in our community in ways that we could not, due to time pressures, were my children in school seven hours a day.

    Just being in a public school does not mean a child will thrive. Many homeschooling parents came home because their child was not thriving. Even worse, some were failing miserably. When my seven year old is wanting to die rather than stay in school and wondering if he’s dumb because the work he receives in his gifted program isn’t challenging enough, I’m all about the preservation of my child. With tailored instruction, the chance to move at his own pace and to have his needs met, he’s far more likely to benefit society on the back end of his education than had he become more and more discouraged in school.

    While the accommodation for the child with autism is a positive intervention, it’s not one available to every child with special needs. Your comments about one child in one school year hardly bring comfort or hope to those of us who brought our children home BECAUSE public and private school were not working for our kids. Proper accommodations, especially for gifted children (got two, profoundly so) with learning disabilities (and lightning hits twice). Please stop using a single case to prove your point.

    Your articles have had one benefit: I’ve given a good amount of thought to my own liberal homeschooling. Here’s the link: link to wp.me.

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  6. Mike

    This argument is very similar to Andrew Szasz’s book Shopping Our Way to Safety. He claims that individual consumer solutions to ecological problems like pollution & toxins — buying bottled water instead of municipal water sources, or eating organic food instead of standard USDA-approved food — reduces the possibilities for collective action to address these problems at a society-wide level. Or at least, these solutions are appealing because we’ve lost confidence in the idea that collective action can solve our problems.

    At the same time, it seems quite difficult to ask parents to put their kids into public schools that they don’t trust because it might advance a political agenda, even one they agree with. What if you believed that EPA had become corrupted by industry lobbyists and wasn’t doing enough to protect the public from asbestos? Should you follow the government guidelines anyway, and expose yourself (and your children) to asbestos on the grounds that the government *should* be acting in the public interest? In the absence of collective action, buying asbestos-free products is a reflection of upper-middle class privilege. Does opting out of the EPA’s lax guidelines mean you are undermining the concept of a social institution dedicated to the common good of public health?

    This is an important consideration for non-parents who want to tell parents the best ways of educating their children. The problem with Corey Robin’s social security analogy is that there is really no downside to contributing to social security – you pay in, you get your money, one way or another, unless the Republicans get their way.

    This is not the case with education – I can’t simply enroll my daughter into first grade and expect a high-quality education as if I was living in Finland. Realistically, I have to find out what neighborhoods the good schools are in and buy a house there. Is this public education? Only if you think that public health means the EPA informs home buyers where the pollution is so we can decide how much we can afford to spend on avoiding it.

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  7. robert

    I am a teacher. The system refuses to respond. Pick your failing model to compare schools to: auto industry, music industry , publishing. And, it’s not just the schools. Students in this system refuse to buy in as they are very limited in seeing how a personal passion becomes a possible career. Each article you write should begin, “WHILE I AM NOT ENGAGED DAILY IN THE STRUGGLE TO EDUCATE TODAY’S CHILDREN IN A SOCIETY THAT COULD CARE LESS…

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  8. Lisa

    ‎”..however, homeschooling does not comport with crucial social justice values related to investing in the common good, and so I’d urge parents concerned with social justice—both broadly and in terms of their own children’s development—to think twice about making this choice.”

    A) You assuming that as homeschoolers we *don’t* care about the common good? and

    B) While I *do* care about the common good of our society, my kids are my *first* priority and I’m not throwing them to any wolves just for the common good of anything or anyone. As Sarah stated above, “The mere presence of my children in public school will not change the system, and I will not sacrifice my children on the hopes that her thoughts might be true.”

    If I’m reading this article correctly you are saying that, for the sake of society, we should all public school.

    No thanks.

    “As secular progressives join the homeschooling movement in greater numbers, perhaps they will disassociate it somewhat from its outright hostility toward public education and efforts to improve it; one need not participate in a public institution to support it politically.”

    How? By throwing *more* money at it–their typical response? Yes, that’s worked so well.

    “In this case [which involved a young boy with autism], only the public school system had the expertise, resources, and legal responsibility to serve this particular child.”

    Or maybe that’s just what they wanted the parents to believe, that only the Almighty Public School could save the day.

    “And at the end of the day, that’s why homeschooling is severely limited as an education reform thought-experiment.”

    Homeschooling is *still* being thought of as only being done by “those quirky, religious hippies”, an experiment? Wow—I didn’t think people still believed that old lie.

    “Because the vast majority of two-income and single-parent families will never be able to homeschool or afford private school, we need to pursue educational equality within the confines of the public school system we have—a system that is constantly struggling, in a legally-accountable way, to balance the needs of individual children with the needs of the community at-large.”

    Good grief,woman! You even admits that public schools are horrid and struggling to meet the needs of individual children! Why, why, why would I then put my kids in a public school? They are *CHILDREN*, not reformers who I will send out on a daily basis, to a flailing school system and expect them to be the cogs in a wheel, to their detriment, to fix *your* schools.

    “The more of us engage in this struggle, by enrolling our kids in public schools and supporting public schools politically, the better these institutions will be.”

    So, what you’re saying is that, for the sake of all kids, I should enroll my own kids in a public school that is sinking, burning to the ground? I should enroll my kids in a building that’s teeming with drugs, peer pressure, selfishness, “it’s-all-about-me”ism, bullying, etc? Yeah, I don’t think so. No thanks to that, too.

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  9. Hans

    I hope to help society, not with a marginal classroom benefit my children might offer, but with a much greater one! Value to society will become evident as these children become strong, intelligent and compassionate adults.

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  10. EB

    Dana, I do not fault you for offering your opinion before you’ve had to face the choice of how to handle your child’s education. The point you make is a generic one, not a specific one. But I will offer my family’s experience. We did commit to finding a school that served low-income children of all races, and we didn’t have such a hard time finding them since we were pretty strapped outselves and that’s where we could afford to live. We took the extra step of moving to a district that was not monolithic (i.e. 4,000 kids instead of 200,000) and where we knew there were lots of involved parents ranging from solidly upper middle class down to quite poor. But there were some real challenges ranging from our kids’ classmates behavior (including violence) to lack of challenge in the curriculum to teachers whose main goals were more like social work than academics. So although I think we would do this again (the only other alternative would have been a more economically homogeneous (i.e. working class) suburb way too far away from where we really need to be). Did the presence of my kids help the poor kids? Probaably, at some level or another. But I now wish I had home-schooled my oldest.

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  11. Anonymous HS Dad

    Not buying it Dana.

    As John Adams once said “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

    Homeschooling is simply the best thing for the child academically and socially (see supporting links below).

    The BEST education: “The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests. (The public school average is the 50th percentile; scores range from 1 to 99.)”
    link to nheri.org

    “The most comprehensive study shows a 20 – 30 percentile point gap in favor of homeschoolers. For example if the public school average is the 50th percentile a homeschooler will on average be in the 70th or 80th percentile.”-National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
    link to hslda.org

    Dr. Rudner conducted a study that included 20,760 students in 11,930 familes. He found that in every subject and at every grade level (K-12), “homeschool students scored significantly higher than their public and private school counterparts.” Some 25 percent of all homeschool students at that time were enrolled at a grade level or more beyond that dictated by their age. According to the study, the average eighth-grade homeschooler was performing four grade levels above the national average. (Published in the Journal Educational Policy Analysis Archives)
    http://ezinearticles.com/?Homeschool-Statistics&id=5861816

    The BEST social environment: “The home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development. Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem. ”
    link to nheri.org

    Some fine socialization taking place in public schools nowadays:

    “Report mandated by Congress estimated that as many as 4.5 million students, out of roughly 50 million in American schools, (approx 10%) are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade. That figure includes verbal harassment that’s sexual in nature…Most of the abuse NEVER gets reported…and many abusers have several victims. (2007)
    link to msnbc.msn.com

    “Thirty-one percent of high school students — more than 4 million — see drug dealing, illegal drug use or students high or drunk at least once a week on their school grounds.” (2007)
    link to uk.reuters.com

    SO how are homeschoolers doing in comparison?

    “In July 2000, the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think-tank, published an extensive report on homeschooling written by Senior Fellow Dr. Patricia Lines. She describes several controlled studies comparing the social skills of homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers. The homeschoolers scored as “well adjusted.” In one study, trained counselors viewed videotapes of mixed groups of homeschooled and schooled children at play. The counselors didn’t know the school status of each child. The results? The homeschooled kids demonstrated fewer behavioral problems. Dr. Lines’ conclusion? “There is no basis to question the social development of homeschooled children.”
    link to discovery.org

    “Dr. Thomas Smedley believes that homeschoolers have superior socialization skills, and his research supports this claim. He conducted a study in which he administered the Vineyard Adaptive Behavior Scales test to identify mature and well-adapted behaviors in children. Home learners ranked in the 84th percentile, compared to publicly schooled students, who were drastically lower in the 23rd.”
    link to cbn.com

    Oh and public-school supporters what is your return for over a half-trillion of your TAX dollars A YEAR: “The scores from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment showed that U.S. 15-year-olds trailed their peers from many industrialized countries. The average science score of U.S. students lagged behind those in 16 of 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group that represents the world’s richest countries. The U.S. students were further behind in math, trailing counterparts in 23 countries.”

    link to washingtonpost.com

    Oh and 1 in 5 of all graduating public high school students are functionally illiterate to boot.

    Hello, we are dumber than most of the rest of the industrialized world…that bodes really well for your “common good” theory.

    You don’t believe the over half-trillion dollar A YEAR number…read it and weep: link to awesome.good.is

    In reality it is the parents who send their kids to public schools today that should be very concerned about their child’s education. One former teacher would agree:

    “It’s absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety; indeed it cuts you off from your own past and future, sealing you in a continuous present much the same way television does.”– John Taylor Gatto (1992 NY Teacher of the year)

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  12. LJM

    That’s a fantastic response, Stuart. My favorite quote:

    “Judging what schools produce “better grownups” is thorny. Doing so by citing three diversity metrics in a vacuum is absurd.”

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  13. Stewart

    The author is making a class-based argument here — that those with socioeconomic privilege can choose to opt out, and leave those without said privilege worse off for it.

    But socioeconomics is not the only way our students are grouped into classes. When you are a student in school, the class grouping that really matters is popularity, and judging by the author’s profile pic and the fact that she is now a writer for Slate, I would wager that she is unaware what it can be like to go to public school when you are in one of the lower classes as far as popularity.

    Today it’s called “an epidemic of bullying” but even that strong language understates the destructive nature of our public schools to children who look, think, and act different than the norm. The author can fantasize that it is possible to have a public school system where children who are different don’t suffer, but it is so far removed from the current reality that it isn’t worth discussing.

    Public schools punish kids who are different, and they do so in horrendous, dehumanizing ways. Homeschooling does just the opposite. It celebrates the individual. It lets the student discover who she truly is and thrive in that knowledge.

    Our social challenge today is not to strengthen the public schools, but rather to strengthen our homeschools, and to find ways to extend the great social good that homeschooling is. It is good that intellectuals like Ms. Goldstein bemoan the fact that homeschooling is only available to wealthier families. We need to make it available to everyone.

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  14. Dave D.

    I am a social conservative, and I agree with you, Dana. I don’t like homeschooling for many of the reasons you have listed in both pieces. I don’t think being a conservative means being libertarian and atomizing society into smaller and smaller subcultures. Public schooling is something that unites us as a culture, and while progressives may at times try to abuse it to push correct thinking, it’s still a great good that should be conserved for exactly the reasons you state.

    Being conservative should be about conserving and protecting the things in the past and present that are good, and public schooling is good. It’s not just a progressive issue.

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  15. Suzanne

    My children’s public school experience was abyssmal. My older daughter who is extremely gifted was used as “teacher’s aide” and spent most of her day teaching other students to read, tie their shoes, how to mutiply. When she wasn’t doing that she was reading books from home in the corner.
    My son is twice gifted meaning, educationally gifted with special needs. I was literally spending 14 hours a week trying to ensure that the school system held up to their end of his IEP contract. They weren’t. I had two options sue the ditrict or pull him out. How does suing the district unite the community?
    Pulling my children out of public school was not a social experiment for me, but a last resort. I think you need to realize that these families you are talking about, a large majority of them would be putting their children in private school if only we could afford it.
    My children are finally getting school work at their level. My daughter is 2 years ahead of her peers. The local HIgh School has agreed to teach her in three subjects, and her teachers there love her, “she is a joy to teach” but she has outclassed her peers in most other subjects and either educates herself, or is taking college classes. My son, is 1 year ahead of his peers, and is finally getting all the special services he needs (out of our pocket, and at no cost to the school district). His providers are the same every week, and they show up for all their appointments. His services don;t end when the school year does.
    Both my children are very active within their community through scouts and between the two of them last year volunteered over 200 hours of their time to local organizations.
    They both test in the 99% percentile on the Stanford Achievement test.
    So I would venture to argue that perhaps the social experiment that was failing my children IS the public school system.

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  16. Suzanne

    Dana,
    I forgot to point out that my twice gifted son, like the boy you mention in the story, also has Aspergers. Which by the way, garnered my a son a whopping half hour of social skills instruction per week and a half of psychology services a week.
    He had no aide, and the school dropped his OT as soon as he could write his name.
    His services dropped completely during school vacations and he was left with no help at all. I am pleased that the family in the story was able to get the school system to help their son (seemingly without litigation) but has it occurred to you that the reason Blanchette won an award for her actions in this situation is because she went so far above and beyond what is typical of teacher involevement. If they weren’t, would she have been honored?

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  17. lori

    My family’s homeschooling is not a political act. If you want to know why, you can read here.

    “My own belief is that when it comes to the typical child, however, homeschooling does not comport with crucial social justice values related to investing in the common good….”

    Irrelevant. First, there is no such thing as a “typical” child, especially once the child enters school and has to adapt to that environment. Second, it is up to parents to decide what is best for their children; if they want to put social justice values ahead of their children’s needs, they can. I choose not to do that.

    “…homeschooling is severely limited as an education reform thought-experiment….”

    To individual families, it is not an educational reform thought-experiment. It is real life, with real people and real consequences.

    “But at least within the public system, parents have legal recourse when they believe their children are not being adequately served. In New York City, for example, there’s a fantastic organization called Advocates for Children that provides disabled kids, low-income kids, foster kids, and other disadvantaged populations with attorneys to represent their interests in confrontations with the public schools.”

    Do you not see the irony in this paragraph? You spend a lot of time insisting that public schools are wonderful and then contradict yourself by admitting that parents often need to enlist attorneys to get the schools to do what is legally (and ethically) required of them. Why are lawyers and advocates even necessary? Because schools do not want to provide all services that children need. Schools fight squeaky-wheel parents who advocate for their children. I can’t count the number of parents I know whose whose relationship with the school is adversarial. Why is that? If everything were so hunky-dory, and schools were really living their supposed values of social justice, then we wouldn’t hear stories from legions of parents who have spent *years* and a lot of money fighting their local school system for the services their children are entitled to by law. That’s social justice? Give me a break.

    “Public school teachers and students are not allowed to vote any child out of a school.”

    You’re being disingenuous. While it’s true that public school teachers and students can’t vote violent students out, *school administrators* can. They can and do remove violent children from mainstream classrooms and send them to “alternative” schools for troubled children. They can call the police and have a child arrested for assault. They can expel a student who is repeatedly violent and disruptive. All of these happen daily in public schools across the country. Should private schools not have a mechanism for removing violent children from their schools, too?

    I do understand the value of public schooling. But I also see the value in other choices. Diversity is a good thing, is it not?

    Reply
  18. Rebecca

    “Public school teachers and students are not allowed to vote any child out of a school.”

    This is a lie. Children are expelled from public school all the time.

    Reply
  19. Lynda

    After your last article, one would think you would have done a better job of doing your homework. Public schools aren’t allowed to “vote someone off the island”? Ah, the reality is they can, they do and have done so for decades. You have heard the word “expelled”? Let me add a new phrase to your vocabulary, “push outs.” That phrase would be compliments of NCLB. Scores aren’t up to par? Tell the family they should try homeschooling. Bye, see ya.

    As to Special Ed. Seriously? You really don’t have a clue. IF you are serious about what is happening in Special Ed, please let me know. I’ll provide you with the names of families in all 50 states who have been abused by the public school system over Special Ed.

    Another little note about your homework and the lack of due diligence, very few states require an education. They require attendance. Attendance and education are not synonyms!

    Reply
  20. Jennifer

    Formerly I was a public school teacher, working with elementary-aged children of recent immigrants from Mexico, primarily, living in a lower income area of Houston. Presently I homeschool my own children, and have since they became school age.

    I had great compassion for the parents and students in the public school where I taught. The parents were always working to make ends meet. They needed the schools to teach their children English and everything else, to babysit their children while they worked, to protect them from the rough area where they lived (One of my students’ father was murdered, and had done nothing wrong). I often wished I could help them more.

    But I also saw the bad side of public schooling. While most of the teachers at my school truly cared, there was a “political” atmosphere that pervaded decision-making. Administrative considerations and “making the school look good” trumped meeting the needs of the students. Teachers did not have freedom to express their own creativity and gifting, but rather had to conform to curriculum geared to testing (and this has only gotten worse). The pressure on schools because of testing, at least in Texas, is tremendous. As a teacher, I could not see how I could really make a difference, or how the public school system could reform, without some serious earth-shaking changes. I came head-to-head with some poor decision making in regard to my own situation, and was told basically that conforming was the standard, not the students’ needs.

    I still care about public school children, even though I am not personally involved in the public schools since I homeschool (of course, we do pay our property taxes for others’ schooling, but that is my only current contribution). It is still a question to me how to improve the public schools. I just have not been able to answer that question and have not seen that having my children there and me volunteering there would be any more effective than I felt I was a public school teacher. Would I move to the neighborhood where I taught, put my kids in school there, and deal with the threat of drugs, gangs, etc (two of my former students ended up in jail in their teens, one for homicide), in order to hope to bring about change in the schools and a better life for those kids? It seems to me that the whole public education behemoth needs reform (trimming down), just like our octopus-like federal government. The average person is losing his voice within the system and so is stepping out.

    Reply
  21. RS

    Dana,

    After reading your article it clearly shows that you’re either ignorant or you’re trying to draw attention to yourself and stir up controversy by writing this article. I believe it’s both.

    Reply
  22. Eraketic

    Social Justice is not learned in schools. I removed my children from Public Schools when my Daughter was in first grade, and my Son was in second grade. From a social perspective the only thing they had learned was that you made friends based on the brand of clothes you were wearing and what you ate for lunch. Public schools provide no Common Sense Values of right and wrong and usually rely on a Zero Tolerance policy that always equals Zero Intelligence.

    Social Justice values investing in the common good comes from teaching your children right from wrong, about doing onto others as you would have done onto you. From helping others and not judging them.

    Where exactly do those lessons come from in Public School? From the teachers who have too many kids in their class and just enough time to explain the Science/English/Math/History lesson of the day? No.

    Social Justice in a public school classroom comes down to the pecking order of the students not based on common sense values but based on popularity. With this in mind, I will ask the question..How does public school help social justice?

    According to NASW “National Association of Social Workers” the definition of Social Justice is “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.”

    This doesn’t happen in a popularity contest where you are judged by your peers based on materialistic and petty observations of other children.

    While the notion Dana proposes is noble, it is a fantasy. Children with parents or guardians that offer genuine guidance on matters of Social Justice is how you have adults with beliefs in Social Justice. That’s the only way it happens.

    Reply
  23. Heather

    Children are NOT PROPERTY OF THE STATE and are not here to further either your or a State political agenda.

    If 55 million children and their 110 million parents plus their 220 million grandparents (total of 385 million citizens) don’t constitute enough of societal “buy-in” to solve the problems in our schools, then then how will an additional 14 million citizens (homeschool kids, parents, grandparents) change that?

    How about politicians be required to send their children to public schools? You want to talk about a buy-in? Let’s talk about that.

    Dana, I invite you to come down to Alabama and Mississippi and spend as much time in these schools as you have in yours and these other excellent school districts you mention. Spend time understanding the residual segregation and deep poverty in these states.

    Broaden your perspective.

    Enroll your child in a less than excellent public school. How about one down in Alabama? Mississippi? Would you?

    Spend a school year following a child who is repeatedly bullied, taunted, teased, and excluded by these so-called “typical” children you believe should be in public schools.

    Be closely involved with a family who is having to fight the system (in a less than excellent school, mind you) because their special need child’s IEP has been violated and they’re forced to take this legal recourse you view as the solution of all solutions to the BS special needs children and their families go through.

    Have you child tell you a teacher asked him if he was retarded because he didn’t complete a worksheet quickly enough.

    Do that and more to broaden your perspective of education and then maybe, just maybe, your opinion will deserve deeper consideration.

    Reply
  24. Jennifer

    The problem with this argument is that we are talking about our children. We love them more than life itself, and we are not willing to sacrifice them for the common good.

    I am heartbroken over all the children in the world who are hungry. But I will not send all our grocery money to charity and let my own child starve.

    I went to public school. I was a public high school teacher. My husband is a university professor. We know how schools work, and we know that we can do better for our daughter. We love her too much to do anything less than our best for her.

    We still support public schools in every way possible, and we wish that every child had the advantages we give our daughter. But to pretend that some children do not have advantages others lack is naive, and will never be corrected unless you are willing to completely redistribute the wealth in our country so that everyone has the same income. Is that what you are recommending?

    Reply

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