Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling is Up

It's here.

I haven't been blogging much about the Carnival of Homeschooling lately. That is, in part, because I haven't been blogging about much of anything lately. But it's also because I haven't had too many submissions of my own, so I haven't been participating as much as I'd like.

Well, this week I submitted my post on Southerners and Phonics. That was fun. I think I got a rise out of my Georgia-based doppelganger on that one, as I knew I would. :-) Lo and behold, this week's host decided to accept it.

There was another post that caught my eye: Barbara Frank posted an entry entitled Homeschooling on the Decline? noting that, for the first time since the founding of the modern homeschooling movement, the number of officially registered homeschoolers in the state of Wisconsin has declined from the previous year.

She notes a couple of reasons why. First, Wisconsin has instituted a "Virtual Academy" program, which allows public school students to learn at home. That is, the school system provides the curriculum and the monitoring (testing and grading, etc...), but the actual instruction is provided at home. This is not technically considered homeschooling by many in the movement, since the parents and students are accountable to the state school system, but this option is attractive to many of the same people who would otherwise be homeschooling. The popularity of this option may well be making a dent in the homeschooling population. I would, of course, be interested to see statistics on the trend of all students being taught at home, whether through pure homeschooling or through the Virtual Academy, to see if this aggregated number is still on the rise....

Second, the economy has taken a hit, and this has put pressure on a lot of stay-at-home-mothers to return to the workforce. It's a big enough job for my own wife to homeschool our oldest, without any outside employment; it would be much tougher if she had to hold down a part-time job, and it would be next to impossible if she had to hold down a full-time job (although some mothers do actually make it work!). If this theory is true, we could see a dip in the growth rate (or even total headcount) of the homeschooling movement during economic down-times.

But she also muses on the idea of whether homeschooling is starting to approach its natural limit in the general population. After all, it takes a special kind of family to homeschool--one where (usually) the mother has enough time, energy, confidence, support, and talent to put into what is a huge commitment. Families where both parents work, and families with single parents, tend not to go the homeschooling route for obvious reasons (although there are a few stalwart souls out there who can make it work. My hat is off to them). By the time you factor them out, and then figure that a big chunk of the remaining families would be against homeschooling for one personal reason or another, it may be that only a few percent of all families are both willing and able to take on the homeschooling lifestyle. Perhaps Wisconsin is nearing this limit?

Anyway, it's food for thought. I think that the homeschooling movement does have a natural upper limit, and there may be a few places in the country where we could be reaching this saturation point. It may be that Wisconsin is one of them. And the fortunes of the homeschooling movement are also inversely tied to the quality of the public schools, as commenter Crimson Wife points out:
There’s also been some improvement in the quality of government-run schools at least in certain places. Families who never even would’ve considered enrolling their children in a government-run school 5 or 10 years ago are now willing to give it a try. Granted most of those families would’ve gone the private school route, but some of them might’ve ended up homeschooling.
As I said, food for thought. I suspect that, nationwide, the movement still has some way to go before it hits its upper limit. For one thing, for better or worse, the movement is driven at least in part by suspicion of the public schools. This is especially--though not exclusively--true on the cultural right in this country. There is a suspicion, right or wrong, that the schools have a social agenda they are trying to push, which involves investing values in the children that the parents themselves disagree with. The more that people--the cultural right especially--distrust the government, the more they are likely to pull their kids out of public school and teach them at home. (And incidentally, the news that speeches by Obama are already starting to show up in textbooks in various public schools isn't going to help the cultural right's distrust of the schools one bit.)

Anyway, it's an interesting post. Take a look.


Crimson Wife said...

I should've made clear that I was talking about academic quality improving in certain government-run schools.

You're absolutely right about the whole issue of the types of values being promoted. I've become much more aware of that since we started homeschooling but that wasn't our family's original concern with the neighborhood school. It was the fact that it was academically mediocre that was the primary impetus for us seeking out alternatives.

Arby said...

The cultural right distrusts the when a San Fancisco kindergarten teacher takes her class to her same-sex wedding ceremony at city hall because it is a "teachable moment" and does it without sending home permission slips first? That kind of social agenda? That wouldn't happen, would it? Nah! The cultural right has nothing to fear from government schools. Nothing to fear at all.

Timothy Power said...

CW: actually, I did assume that you were referring to academic quality. Maybe I didn't make my comment about your comment clear? :-)

Anyway, as to both your comments. I truly believe, based on the fact that I know several current and former public school teachers (and I have several in my own family!), that the vast majority of teachers are good eggs. I personally am hesitant to make sweeping statements like, "The schools are trying to turn our kids into leftist, hedonistic robots." So while I can write, quite accurately, that the cultural right believes that "the schools have a social agenda they are trying to push, which involves investing values in the children that the parents themselves disagree with,", I'm leery about signing on to this viewpoint myself.

However, I do think there are plenty of people--activists, politicians, theorists--who see the schools as the linchpin in their plans to create Heaven on Earth, for whom the social goals of the schools outweigh the academic goals. This was definitely true of such educational reformers as John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson (who stated that the role of the schools is to make children as unlike their parents as possible). Pretty much every reformer with a Utopian streak sets his or her sights on the schools, since that appears the quickest and easiest way to reach a captive audience with supposedly malleable minds and values.

And every once in a while, anecdotes do come up suggesting that at least some of this Utopian thinking is making it into the classroom. The story Arby linked to is one example; the textbook story I linked to is another; then there was that story from Seattle last year about how the teachers banned the use of Legos in the classroom until they had reeducated the children regarding the evils of competition and individuality, and the virtue of collectivism. And it wouldn't be too hard to continue this list; just hang out at the Carnivals long enough, and you'll have a pile of similar anecdotes in no time.

Of course, I also believe the old cliche: the plural of "anecdote" is not "data".

Think of it like this: suppose you have a town of 10,000, that experiences two murders in a year. The local paper will report 2 murders. Now suppose a nearby city has a population of 1,000,000, and it experiences 200 murders in the same period. The local paper will report 200 murders.

If you just read the newspapers, you'll read about a murder in the small-town paper every six months, and think that murders are relatively uncommon. But if you read the city's paper, you'll be reading about murders every couple of days, and (Poisson distribution here) there are a few days each month where you'll read about several.

The casual reader might assume that the big city is much more dangerous than the small town, based on how many murders he reads about in the paper. In the big city, murders are frequent; in the town, they're not. And yet, the per-capita murder rate of the two towns is exactly the same.

In a country the size of ours, there are enough bad teachers out there--and enough Utopians on the school boards--that you could easily fill a regular newspaper with stories of educational abuse for political or ideological ends. These things do happen. But that doesn't mean it's going to happen in your school or school district right now. It might, and for some of my readers, maybe it already has; but it's possible to take fear of this sort of thing too far in the direction of paranoia.

My wife and I decided to homeschool when we realized that our firstborn--like her parents--would have totally been a fish out of water in a traditional classroom. It wasn't in reaction to anything our school system has done. In fact, we understand our local district is a very good one, and were we to decide to mainstream our kids (and no, we don't see this happening), this would be a good district to do it in.

I think the proper attitude is one of vigilance--not paranoia, but vigilance. If our kids were in school, and we wound up with some evangelizing socialists a la the Seattle Lego Fascists, we would confront the administration and/or start hunting around for alternatives. But in most schools and most districts, I genuinely believe that the teachers and administrators are on the up-and-up.

I do think we, as a freedom-loving society, do need to work harder at maintaining a Wall of Separation between Education and Politics, though....