Monday, July 03, 2006

The hidden benefits of a private education

Even an obviously left-leaning writer can see it

When you enter a private school, both you and your parents are required to sign paperwork indicating that you have read the college or university handbook, understand it, and will abide by it. These documents are contracts; they are the rules that govern your relationships and rights at your private institution. The law of contracts forms the oldest branch of the law relating to transactions. In one form or another, it has existed from the beginning of organized and primitive societies. Just as the safety of persons and/or property depends upon the rule of criminal law, the security and stability of the business world is dependent upon the law of contracts. The law of contracts is one of the main structural supports with the right to acquire and dispose of property. A contract in the modern sense has been defined as “an agreement containing a promise enforceable in law.”

One important distinction between a private institution and a public institution is that there is much more room for change at a private institution. Let’s face the facts: It’s easier to change the policies at a private university than to change the policies of the federal government. For example, private schools have more leeway to set their own rules on free expression than public schools do because private schools are covered by something called contract law. Contract law is said to be a part of “private law” because it does not involve or bind the state or persons that are not parties to the contract.

Private schools, partly due to their expense, handle education under unique circumstances. Privately schooled pre-adults feel pressure to perform, in part because of high tuition; there is a lot of money riding on these students. Whether paid by loans, parents or scholarships, the tuition provider acts as an overseeing force, continually checking on progress. These private schools sometimes integrate religion, have low student/teacher ratios and at times practice extreme educational standards that cannot be duplicated in the public sector.

Those who can afford the specialized services offered by private schools should be entitled to them. Paying roughly $11,000 each year more than public four-year universities may provide benefits such as solitude due to location, extreme rigor, and the stigma of having attended a private institution. The only money that private institutions gain from the government is minor grants and financial aid.

In a Supreme Court case called Tinker v. Des Moines, Justice Abe Fortas ruled that, “In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution.” In spite of the Supreme Court’s ringing endorsement of students’ rights in the landmark Tinker decision, constitutional violations are far too common in public schools across the country.

Articles about controversial subjects written for student newspapers are censored. Lockers and backpacks are searched without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Minority students are disproportionately shunted in lower track programs. Majoritarian religious practices are officially sanctioned by teachers and school administrators. Female students are excluded from certain extracurricular activities; gay students are intimidated into silence.

Both private and public institutions are far from being educational panaceas. From grade inflation to policy enforcement, both private and public schools have their work cut out for them in the future.

According to National Center for Education Statistics, during the 1993-94 school year, private schools in the United States accounted for 24.4 percent of the total number of schools in the United States. These schools enrolled 10.7 percent of the students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12. The same report reveals that nearly one-third of private schools required some kind of community service before graduation, as compared with only three percent of government schools that have a like requirement.

Clearly, there exists an additional objective of private school leaders more than of government school leaders to focus on issues that go beyond academic achievement (and) which serve to strengthen the community and uphold society’s moral values. The government schools continue to consider such goals inappropriate, but the private schools can deal effectively with the students’ academic and moral development.

The biggest and best benefit of a private school is simply that it is not a public school. Students are often shut down by the system that is supposed to be helping them succeed as individuals. Government-run education doesn’t work because it stifles creativity and individual initiative in a multitude of areas. The hidden benefits of a private education are many: more creativity, less propaganda, more learning, less obedience, more responsibility. Hopefully Americans will come to a similar conclusion; then and only then can the complete separation of school and state be brought to a reality.



A loophole ("or otherwise") deliberately built into the law to protect the privately-tutored children of the gentry has now become widely used

A quietly spoken grandmother in her mid-sixties, Iris Harrison lives with her husband, Geoff, in the isolated Worcestershire farmhouse where she brought up her four children. A handmade trunk full of legal papers and a constantly ringing phone provide the clues to her more radical past.

Three of the Harrisons' children had such profound dyslexia, they were told they would never learn to read or write. In 1970, when their eldest daughter, Wanda, then five, began to hide rather than go to school, Iris decided to keep her at home. To escape the authorities, the family fled to a remote Scottish island, to a hut with no running water. The nearest shop was a boat ride away. Iris recalls Wanda learning to read from old copies of Exchange & Mart. "In the end we decided we couldn't keep running. We came back, hoping we'd be forgotten."

They weren't. They were threatened with legal action and told that the children, including six-month-old Newall, would be taken into care. "The children were so afraid, I barely left them," Iris recalls. "The LEA [local education authority] were like the Gestapo. I remember once having to go out to get petrol and telling my eldest son, Grant, that if the authorities arrived, he should load his air rifle and aim at their feet." The Harrisons instructed a lawyer and bought a flock of geese to keep the LEA inspectors away, while they and a handful of supporters fought their way through the courts for the right to educate their children autonomously at home.

Autonomous learning is child- rather than teacher-led. Parents become facilitators, providing resources and assistance, allowing children to follow their own interests. "We played games, we researched every question they asked," says Iris. "We didn't have a TV. It was a talking, living education." Iris's diary around this time reads: "AJ's violin lesson went on all day today. Newall worked on his model farm, working out the grazing required per animal. He then calculated the cereal crop requirement, hay for fodder and allowed an amount for sale. He and Grant have been researching ancient weapons using the World of Knowledge. They made a replica of a Roman weapon and set up a battle in miniature."

Iris felt "the deepest certainty" that they were doing the right thing. Her husband had spent his school days truanting in museums, remembering everything he saw. "I trained purely to take exams and immediately forgot everything," says Iris. "It was obvious that he was the one who was truly educated."

Today their children, now in their thirties, still love learning, and continue to study - though not, says Iris, to take exams. AJ trained in alternative medicine, Wanda has worked teaching new skills to young people, and Grant runs a workshop making ironwork with Newall, who also renovates classic cars.

The 1944 Education Act states that the parent of every school-age child should ensure he receives full-time education suitable to his age and ability, "either by regular attendance at school or otherwise". It is the word "otherwise" that provided the Harrisons' legal loophole and opened up home education as an option for all.

In 1977, so few families were educating their children at home that nobody bothered to count them. By 1978, Education Otherwise (EO), the support group Iris Harrison co-founded, had 400 member families. The figure is now 4,183, and EO's helpline receives 700 calls a month.

The Department for Education and Skills estimates that up to 150,000 children in Britain may be home-educated. The exact figure is impossible to calculate since, if their children have never been registered at a school, parents have no legal duty to inform the authorities. But we do know that profile of the modern home educator has changed. Many parents who opted out of mainstream education in the 1970s were exploring an alternative lifestyle. Nowadays, large class sizes, bullying, failing to get a child into a school of their choice and the relentless pressure of exams have led many parents who wouldn't consider themselves remotely radical to remove their children from the system.

When Rowan Hillier, 13, didn't get into her first or second choice of secondary school near Tunbridge Wells, her parents ignored the third, "the kind of school where the kids beat the teachers up". Rowan has been learning at home for nearly two years. "I was certain I could do better," says her mother, Jane Brenan. One hour's tutoring a week in maths, science and French has kept Rowan on top of the national curriculum.

"At first I found being together all day oppressive," says Jane. But Rowan quickly saw the advantages: "Once I'd done my work, I could play my guitar all afternoon."

She kept in touch with her old schoolfriends and fell in with a local group of "home eds". Her only problem was distinguishing their tribe. "In school you go, `Okay: pikey, goth, chav and emo.' With home eds you can't tell."

A place has become available at a local school for September and Rowan has decided to take it. "The past two years have been a good experience," says Jane. "I'm all for structured learning, but my experience with my eldest daughter, now 21, made me realise that children have very little choice over how and what they learn. Holly did very well, but she worked out that by the time she'd finished her A-levels, she'd taken 160 exams."

An apparent prickliness among home educators makes collecting information difficult. When Mike Fortune-Wood of the Centre for Personalised Education Trust began researching home-based education in 2002, only 263 families replied to a widely distributed questionnaire.

While home educators meet socially and to share skills, more formal networks seem to be hampered by differences between home educators themselves. A minority use national-curriculum textbooks and invent their own timetables; others are free to choose what and when to learn. This may involve long hours watching MTV as if in a coma. In HE parlance, this is called detoxifying from school.

Leslie Safran-Barson runs the Otherwise Club in London, a community centre for home educators. She recalls her son Louis, who this year gained a first in philosophy from King's College, London, lying on the floor staring at the ceiling for hours, and spending whole days superglued to his PlayStation. Clearly, home educators need to have nerves of steel. Safran-Barson, who rejected school for imposing "too much structure, too soon" believes that laziness is a reaction to not being listened to, and that eventually even the most disaffected child will get off the sofa and discover a passion for something, because children are hard-wired to learn.

When Louis declared an interest in science, she found a medical student who spent a few hours a week talking human biology. History was studied by getting a group of local children together and researching different periods, finishing with a play they wrote and performed themselves.

Christopher Ford's mother, Helen, admits to panicking when he could barely write at 11: "He went to school for one term, hated the narrowness, left and we didn't look back." Chris took his first GCSE when he was 13, started a biology degree at Sheffield University at 17 and took his finals this year. He is predicted to get a 2:1 or a first and is applying to do a PhD at Edinburgh.

Ruth Charles, 21, is taking a degree in community and youth work at Durham University. She and her sister Ann, 19, have never been to school. "My parents just didn't think any of the schools locally were good enough," says Ruth. "Mum thought, `I've already taught them to walk and talk. Why can't I teach them the rest?'"

In the Forest Row area of East Sussex, 30 families have opted out of formal education. Every Monday, parents and children get together to socialise. The noise is appalling. Girls charge in and out, someone is playing an electric guitar and two boys thwack billiard balls round a table. The girls swiftly dispense with the old chestnut that home-educated children have no friends. Isabella, 12, tells me she hated school. "I never felt clever enough. It made me feel small and undermined. Here we're all good at something."

Anna Durdant-Hollamby, 16, and her sister, Sophie, 13, have been learning at home for seven years. "All my friends who have been taking GCSEs at school have been ill and stressed," says Anna. "They're smoking, they're drinking, one has glandular fever. There's academic pressure, there's peer pressure. They're a complete mess." Last year, Anna gained a B for her GCSE in English. But it's not an experience she wants to repeat, she says, because the course was so narrow. She is now studying journalism online. "So many people take exams out of fear, because they feel their life will be a failure if they don't take them," she says.

Nothing would induce Anna back to school, but Sophie gets "bored and self-critical" and asks: "Is my life rubbish?" "Potentially we could be making a ghastly mistake," admits her mother, Winnie. "But we're trying to teach them responsibility for their own happiness."

Joanne McNaughton home-educates her five children as well as running a smallholding in Crowborough, East Sussex; she describes her family as "the nearest thing to the Waltons". She admits it's tough, both emotionally and financially, but has no regrets: "Whether you're living in a council flat or on a 200-acre farm of organic wheat, you can make it work for your children and yourself and that's the power of it. I'm pro-choice. One system doesn't fit all." Her eldest, Barnes, 12, started at the local village school at five. "The teaching was fragmented into 15-minute or half-hour slots for reading, writing and number work, and I couldn't see how children could learn like that.

A child doesn't want to learn about numbers because it's 2pm on Thursday, when he might still be thinking about an earthworm he saw at lunchtime. The curriculum doesn't allow time for his interests to be explored. Dedicated teachers' jobs have been made impossible."

Haig McNaughton, 7, is fascinated by Egyptology; his brother, Forbes, 9, by poultry. Barnes is doing a project on Admiral Nelson; Hamilton, 11, on the trees in Ashdown Forest. They don't have a computer but they go to the library and source information there. All the Forest Row parents are passionate about the importance of family life. "Education isn't just about absorbing facts," says Joanne. "My children are learning to be happy people. Nothing gets to crisis point now, because we've all got time to talk and to express our feelings."

Paula Rothermel, who lectures at Durham University's School of Education, spent five years studying 419 home-educated families and found that they significantly outperformed their school-going peers throughout primary school, both in terms of academic potential and social skills. She found 64% of home-educated five-year-olds scored over 75% on their Pips (performance indicators in primary schools) baseline assessments, as opposed to 5.1% of primary-school children nationally.

Surprisingly, Rothermel found that few parents were home-educating in order to hothouse their children towards glittering GCSE results. Only 14% of families followed the national curriculum; 58% didn't use it at all. Older children tended to bypass GCSEs, moving straight on to A-levels at 16.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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