Saturday, October 03, 2009

Providing balance: America’s homeschoolers

Everyone has a story about the pathetic state of the public schools. But from the government's perspective public schools are anything but failures. Lots of patronage and union jobs assuring a set of reliable serfs who will time after time vote back in the same policy makers; a steady supply of tax-funded income along with built-in excuses for increasing funding ("these kids aren't learning because they don't have the resources," [never, "we failed to teach"]); a new crop of non-critical thinking subjects added to the voting base with each class of "graduates" so-called. With this toxic stew of course nothing meaningful will ever change.

And this rigged system works. Look at who holds power in Congress, in the Executive branch, in the country's large population states. Statists all. Who voted these people in? Well, you know who. The same people who can't make change without computerized registers, who cannot compose proper sentences, who sport body tattoos or piercings in the oddest of places and of the strangest of images, who cry out they're helpless in the face of floods, fires, flus. Want more proof of dumbed-down America? Watch several internet videos of Leno's JayWalking, or just go to the mall.

By and large independent thinkers will never be found in the government's schools. These are after all statist schools; accordingly no one should be surprised when opinion only furthering government policies is taught to the exclusion of all others. Viewpoints espousing that an individual, not some collectivist-minded bureaucracy, might know what's best, are taboo. Yet the individual viewpoint would go a long way in solving many of life's ills. For example, racism would largely be a thing of the past if the statists among us would stop insisting that we all play, whether we want it or not, identity politics which is nothing more than raw collectivist thinking. If we would view each other as individuals and make judgments based, expressed famously by a leader of another era, on the content of character not on the color of skin, then certain societal tensions would be lessened considerably.

But on a micro basis there is something you can do to save your own child. Homeschooling. For the sake of that child.

My son and I home schooled, and as a result he does his own thinking. He does not possess a high school diploma; he didn't have the time, patience or need. His goal was knowledge of those matters which interested him. During the time when his age peers were in high school he was taking no-nonsense courses at Springfield Technical Community College (having outstripped the knowledge reservoir of his home school teacher) or pursuing an interest on his own (in his case, the study of film). In preparing for his transfer to a 4-year college (which he entered as an upperclassman with enough credits for that college's math major) he sat for the GED, the SAT & several SAT II exams, scoring well. From his experience he learned one of life's time-honored lessons: with focus, commitment and a willingness to do hard work, there is reward. But there is no short cut. None. The sooner in life this lesson in maturity is taught to and importantly learned by the child the happier and more rewarding his/her life can be.

Homeschooling has its challenges, some obvious, others less so. But with a dedication to purpose success can be yours. Keep one thing in mind however. No matter how well you may think your child is progressing, until you have independent verification of his/her progress, the child's achievements have little currency in the eyes of the wider world. This may seem unfair but at one time you and your child will come face-to-face with the "bureaucracy" which will demand proof that the child has in fact learned. If you have done your job this will not present any issues. To assure yourself of meeting this end it is suggested that you introduce into your curriculum samples of tests types that independent testing agencies might administer; these are readily available at book retailers. Using SSAT, ACT, SAT I & SAT II, and state proficiency assessment exercises, visual analogy tests, and perhaps some standard IQ batteries benefits the child if made part of your day-to-day teaching as they give the child familiarity with these testing materials. What is more, using a variety of teaching materials is itself helpful. As you will discover different authors approach the same subject somewhat differently, and exposure to different writing styles and approaches should be welcomed.

Here are several of the guiding lights upon which I relied to assure myself that Matthias would be an educated and independent minded person, not one who looks to government to solve problems.

Deferred gratification is perhaps the most important life lesson ever learned by a child. This lesson in maturity is easily imparted in the context of a home school. Understanding future time references and the ability to plan and importantly to see the consequences of chosen paths or decisions are beneficial as this is an essential life problem-solving skill. (Mature adults use it all the time. Why then do governments invariably fail to do so?)

Self-esteem. Telling a child he/she is smart is not the same as his/her having worked at developing a knowledge base, thereby becoming smart and confident through success. And an honest, discerning child knows it. Certainly praise and encouragement should be given when effort is demonstrated and knowledge gained. Expect excellence; children routinely rise to expectations. Deeply discount all politically correct notions. Our goal as parental teachers and supporters is helping children achieve through bona fides instruction and encouragement. In such a petri dish a child's self-esteem develops effortlessly.

Rote memorization is an excellent method of placing factual information into long-term memory such that recall is instantaneous. This method in effect grooves pathways into memory that does not allow for deviation later on when knowing something cold is essential. And to boot it gives the early learner both success and confidence.

Socialization. This criticism of homeschooling is like the Everyone-is-a-Winner-and-Therefore-No-One-Is-Keeping-Score-Any-More foolishness heard on baseball diamonds or soccer fields, just so much hot air. Not only did my son have the opportunities to interact with lots of other children he also met a fair number of adults, including coming with me on occasion to client meetings, where he put into practice the very academic skills he was learning at home.

Accuracy is more important than speed. Speed will come quite naturally as the proper methodologies are learned and as understanding deepens. This lesson is especially important in learning mathematics.

Time-Spent Ratio. To me this was one of the most compelling reasons of homeschooling. Your one hour easily equates to 5–6 institutionalized school hours. Depending on the subject, e.g., arithmetic, math, this ratio may even rise to 1:10. Children's time is equally as important as that of adults. Home schoolers do not waste time on needless tasks which abound in the government schools.

Once children have acquired the skill to read thoroughly they're on the road of reading to learn. With a solid reading skill children can then begin teaching themselves all sorts things, provided of course they are properly guided which is your role. Even as early as first, second and third grade levels, children should experience the joy of freedom to study those subjects which interest them, not topics dictated by a top-down hierarchy.


British government allows exemptions from its toddler dictatorship

Two schools have won the right to opt out of the controversial early years “nappy” curriculum after ministers dropped a commitment that no pre-school child would be exempt. After their successful appeals, the two Steiner schools will no longer be required to meet the Government’s targets, including making children aged 3 and 4 write simple sentences using punctuation or start to use phonics.

The two schools, which are the first to be allowed to opt out, argued that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) clashed with the Steiner philosophy, which does not believe that children benefit from the formal teaching of subjects such as English language until they are 7. They also do not introduce “electronic gadgetry” until children reach that age.

When ministers first published the curriculum, which contains 69 different measures for the progress and development of under-5s, they made clear that childminders and all nurseries and schools, state and private, would have to implement it. The assessment criteria includes being able to dress and undress, sounding out letters, children writing their own name, and using some electronic equipment.

Victory for the two schools, the Wynstones School in Gloucestershire and North London Rudolf Steiner School in Haringey, means that the 40 or so other Steiner schools seeking an opt-out are likely to be given the go-ahead. Their success has also stiffened the resolve of the many preparatory schools who oppose the curriculum. John Tranmer, chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said that it would back any of its 600 members who wanted to opt out. “We are keen to support any member in asserting their independence, their right to determine what is best for children in their care. If that involves disapplication from EYFS they will have our backing,” he said.

Critics say such a prescriptive set of measurements is not suitable for young children because they develop at such different rates. Most unpopular is the expectation that children should be able to write a sentence with punctuation by the time they reach 5. Professor Richard House, spokesman for the Open EYE campaign against the curriculum, said that he hoped the victory would open the floodgates for others to opt out. “When schools share the views of these Steiner schools about literacy and numeracy for such young children it will be hard for the Government to treat them differently,” he said. “We hope it will also help form a more general legal challenge against the Government’s decision to set compulsory goals for children below the compulsory age of education.”

He admitted that the Government had made the appeal process so difficult that a school would have to be very determined to see it through. Schools must win the backing of more than half their parents, warn them that funding might be cut and state why they are incapable of meeting each of the targets before they can even get leave to apply.


Head of British private school attacks 'divisive' faith schools

I suspect that this is just a coward's way of criticizing Muslim schools. The Church of England and its schools are almost mindlessly tolerant

The head teacher of one of the country’s leading independent school has criticised the country’s faith schools, arguing that they are divisive and fail to teach respect for other faiths. Martin Stephen, the High Master of St Paul’s, in Barnes, West London, itself a school with a Christian foundation, said that faith schools were too often “founded on fear”.

Dr Stephen was immediately condemned as “dangerous” by the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres. Addressing the Christian Fellowship at News International, the parent company of The Times, in Wapping, East London, Bishop Chartres said: “This is an astonishing statement from the High Master of St Paul’s. They are dangerous remarks for someone to make in his circumstances.”

Bishop Chartres defended the Church of England’s faith schools, saying : “These schools are not confessional ghettos. They serve whole communities.”

Dr Stephen, speaking to The Times at his office in Barnes, said: “I do not oppose faith in schools. I worry deeply about exclusivity.” Dr Stephen, who moved from his former post as High Master of Manchester Grammar in 2004, insisted that he was not opposed to faith itself. He said that the danger of an education segregated along faith lines was that it failed to prepare children for life in a multifaith society. “If a school is to train people for the world they are going to meet, they are going to be walking along Hammersmith Broadway alongside Jew and Christian and Sikh.”

He continued: “It is crucial to learn to carry one’s faith on in an environment where you are surrounded by other people who don’t share it. I would see the faith-school movement as adding to divisiveness in UK society. It cannot breed tolerance, respect and mutual understanding.”

A spokesman for the Church of England said: “Church of England schools have syllabuses that include all the major faiths, so students can engage with faith in all its variety.”


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