Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The 'Eduhadeen'

We have a daughter who last year turned five. That meant that this year she would start kindergarten. What that meant was that we had a very difficult decision to make. Would one of us stay home and school her ourselves, sacrificing half our income, or would we send her to a public school and supplement her education at home?

We agonized over this choice. Her best friend would be in her class. There would be many children for her to play with. But, she would be exposed to the political and social opinions of her teacher and the rest of the 'Eduhadeen'. It came right down to the wire and three days before school started we finally filed homeschool papers with the State of Vermont.

It's been just a month now and we are very happy with our choice. I am the stay-at-home-educator. My approach is my own and I'm not using pre-packaged course material. I've arranged a series of units. September was the Ice Age. October will be 'Myth and Mysticism' focusing on Greek Mythology and the superstitions of the world culminating with Halloween. In November we'll learn about explorers and early colonization finishing at Jamestown and Plymouth just in time for Thanksgiving. The following months we will explore music while learning about orchestras, instruments, and different musical styles like jazz, classical, pop, and folk. Ultimately, we'll wrap up with 1776 and the American Revolution for the 4th of July.

I have worked in the school system for many years in various supportive roles. I took education courses in college. I've been a teacher's aide, a student's aide, a substitute, a special ed assistant, a tutor, and I worked several summers with an Upward Bound program. I draw upon that experience when I consider the issues involving education in this country today. I am of the opinion that the education system needs to be completely rebuilt from the ground up - scrap everything we currently have and start over, or more accurately, return to what we had before the 'Eduhadeen' hijacked the system to engage in social programming.

They teach social studies instead of history - is it any wonder a recent high school graduate explained to me that the Nazis ended the Holocaust? California is trying to pass a resolution to expand lunch into an accredited class! Teachers have explained that obesity in children is related to the hours they spend sitting doing homework so we should give less homework. Children can't read or write, but, we are told, grammar and spelling aren't really critical because computerized spell-checkers will do it for us (and, some teachers complain, grammar is boring).

In the Bronx, New York at Public School 186X four students, three 10 yr olds and one 11 yr old, "were forced to endure a humiliating strip search" by an aide. In April the kids were pulled from a gym class, stripped to their skivvies, frisked, then made to jump up and down. All because a teacher's ring went missing. The aide was reassigned to administrative duties, but fear not - he's being "closely supervised" and an "investigation will determine whether disciplinary action is necessary." Uhm... folks, you missed the boat.

In Houston, Texas, a first grade teacher sent a child home with a note. The six year old boy had, what my daughter euphemistically calls, a poop accident. Apparently, some got on the floor. The teacher, in an effort to "make the parents aware", packaged the poop and sent it, with the letter, home in the child's backpack. This teacher is on paid administrative leave. Hmm... seems the boat never got here.

In Monmouth, New Jersey, a grade school teacher had a poster pinned to the wall. The poster listed the photos and names of several Presidents of the United States. At an open house, 3 parents approached the teacher and told her that she should remove the poster or add John Kerry's photo. The teacher unsuccessfully tried to explain to them that Kerry was not a President and George W. Bush was. The parents didn't get it. Her principal didn't get it either and forced her to leave school premises when she refused to take the poster down. Err... boat? What boat?

In Rutland, Vermont a school principal had a front-page story in the local paper last weekend explaining how important the race for Governor is in this state. The state and the country, he explains, faces grave issues in regards to education. His job, he tells us, is very difficult and made more so with "school funding tied to property taxes, No Child Left Behind, and School Choice". The fact that the public school system has utterly failed and that your parents got a better education than you did, their parents better than they - Abraham Lincoln went to a one-room school house and George Washington was almost self-taught.

The problem is not funding. Every year, schools ask for more money and more often than not they get it. Congress takes more of our tax money and allots ever-increasing portions of it to education initiatives. Teachers are paid a full year's salary and teach for less than half a year, not including 'in-service days'. How long does the 'Eduhadeen' expect us to pay for services not rendered? Where exactly did John Walker learn that the Taliban was better than America?

The problem is not No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The federal initiative is optional. States are not required to participate in the program. NCLB simply requires schools to perform better, for teachers to be qualified, and for them to actually teach. Teachers use the infamous 'in-service day' to 'stay current with teaching trends and skills'. Where did 'in-service days' come from, anyway? There were not as many when I went to school. Now parents are expected to take days off from work to be home with their children while teachers hone their skills with these 'in-service days'. I wonder why teachers don't use the summer months for 'in-service days'?

The problem is not School Choice, but the lack of it. In Chicago, Illinois 1/3 of all public school teachers send their children to private schools! My understanding is that this percentage is the norm across the country. When teachers unions blather on about the crumbling education infrastructure and whine that choice and home school are distractions from the issue, what they really mean is that we should give them more money, hold them less accountable, and let them, the professionals, do their job.

In Muskegon, Michigan, a recent emergency readiness exercise tested the local school's preparedness. Hundreds of people and several organizations were involved in the event. "The exercise [would] simulate an attack by a fictitious radical group called Wackos Against Schools and Education who believe everyone should be homeschooled. Under the scenario, a bomb is placed on [a] bus and is detonated..."

Where does the panic come from? The "Eduhadeen" would like you to believe that children who homeschool are socially stunted. "What about socialization", homeschooling parents are invariably asked. It's a canard, a red herring. In public school, children get no true socialization; they are trained to march between classes, eat in regimented order, and even playing on the playground is an exercise in social programming. Recent studies have proven that not only are homeschooled children better educated, with a firmer grasp on information, they are better socialized, being more comfortable within broader social groups.

Time Magazine recently asked "Homeschooling may turn out better students, but does it create better citizens?" The answer is illustrative. 35% of Americans believe that politics and government are difficult to understand - while registering people to vote this summer I ran into many who said so - but, of homeschooled adults, only 4% feel that way. In the last five years, of Americans aged 18 - 24, 29% voted - for homeschoolers it is 76%. 71% of homeschoolers perform community service while only 37% of public school graduates. Gee.... nice boat.

The "Eduhadeen", by which I mean most teachers and all of the NEA, don't want School Choice to become the law of the land. Would you want oversight and accountability if you didn't have to have it? I'm not saying everyone should homeschool, certainly not. Some families simply can not afford the cost, given their lifestyle and debtload. Some people are just not comfortable with teaching. However, everyone should have the control over their childrens' educational environment to ensure that they have a 'good' enough education to succeed and that they have the best education their money can buy.

Why should the 'Eduhadeen' send their children to schools that the rest of us can't?

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