Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Homeschooling perks, and the Obama speech

One of the many perks I gets from homeschooling is that my children didn't have to listen to the President's speech today. Now, I read the text, and aside from being proved right re: the many, many times the word "I" was used, there wasn't much to object to given that his audience was comprised of public school children, who are used to people telling them that being raised by single moms doesn't absolve them from a responsibility to put their educations to the service of the whole community one of these days.

Of course, I did wonder how the late Lolo Soetoro would have felt about the speech, given that Obama seemed to be highlighting the portion of his childhood when Mr. Soetoro was not his stepfather with all that "single mom" talk. And when the president mentioned something about feeling lonely and not fitting in, I had to wonder if he was talking about his years in the Indonesian Catholic school, or if he was referring to the privileged crowd at Punahou School.

In fact, this bit of the speech is a little odd:
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
Obama spent only one year in the Indonesian public school before going to the Catholic school. So which school was he attending when his mom had to get him up at 4:30 a.m. for "extra lessons," I wonder? And how credible is his advice to kids that whatever their home situation is they are still the ones responsible for making sure they get an excellent education? The president put it this way:
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Paul E. Peterson puts this in perspective:

Yesterday President Barack Obama delivered a pep talk to America's schoolchildren. The president owes a separate speech to America's parents. They deserve some straight talk on the state of our public schools.

According to the just released Education Next poll put out by the Hoover Institution, public assessment of schools has fallen to the lowest level recorded since Americans were first asked to grade schools in 1981. Just 18% of those surveyed gave schools a grade of an A or a B, down from 30% reported by a Gallup poll as recently as 2005.

No less than 25% of those polled by Education Next gave the schools either an F or a D. (In 2005, only 20% gave schools such low marks.)

Beginning in 2002, the grades awarded to schools by the public spurted upward from the doldrums into which they had fallen during the 1990s. Apparently the enactment of No Child Left Behind gave people a sense that schools were improving. But those days are gone. That federal law has lost its luster and nothing else has taken its place.

It's little wonder the public is becoming uneasy. High-school graduation rates are lower today than they were in 1970. The math and reading scores of 17-year-olds have been stagnant for four decades.

We're spending more money on education than people think, too; here's Peterson again:

But when it comes to actual dollars spent per pupil, Americans get the numbers wrong. Those polled by Education Next estimated that schools in their own districts spend a little more than $4,000 per pupil, on average. In fact, schools in those districts spend an average of $10,000.

One can understand the public's confusion on the dollar and cents question. Schools' money pots are filled with revenue from property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, gambling revenues, and dozens of other sources. It's not easy to add up all the numbers, and no one does it for the voter except the federal government, which manages to get the information out two years late. When those surveyed are told how much is actually being spent in their own school district, only 38% say they support higher spending.

The public also dramatically underestimates the amount teachers in their state are being paid. The average guess in 2007 was around $33,000—well below actual average salary of $47,000 across all states. When told the truth about teacher salaries, support for the idea that they should get a salary increase plummeted by 14 percentage points.

I don't pretend to have the answers to the question of improving public education. I do know that we keep trying the same things and acting surprised when they don't work. For all the money and federal mandates and special programs and extra layers of bureaucracy dreamed up by the educrats, we still have stagnant reading and math scores and an increasing sense that our kids need to go to college to learn what our grandparents learned in high school.

And if a few speeches or pep talks to students could improve things, we'd have seen improvement long before today's speech. We keep trying to impose a one-size-fits-all education policy on a widely diverse nation; we keep trying to pretend that a child's social situation or home life doesn't matter to his education, as the president indicated today; we keep trying to pretend that our schools can serve as fallout shelters for the sexual and cultural revolution with no resulting impact on the quality and nature of the education being offered; we keep trying to pretend that one of the chief roles of a secular school in a secular nation is to tear down and undermine all the religious underpinnings of Western Civilization without there being, in any way, any consequences to the minds and experiences of the children deprived of any religious context for what they learn and study.

One of the many perks I get from homeschooling is that I don't have to pretend any such things in my home and with my children. Call it reason # Several Billion and Counting to homeschool.


Todd said...

It was a good talk and well-rendered. We in the Iowa public schools are three weeks ahead of you homeschoolers. Though I confess the mid-August start is a switch from my own childhood I'm still getting used to.

Red Cardigan said...

I usually start early to mid August too, Todd. But our out-of-town trip to celebrate with my sister as she made her final profession at the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word caused me to rearrange our usual schedule, as it was just too hectic to start school while planning a trip away. As always, I'm glad for the flexibility homeschooling offers, even if we will be making up for our late start with a shorter break at Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

But I know some year-round homeschoolers and LOTS here in Texas who started back in early August--there's not much to do here when it gets too hot for the kids to enjoy the outdoors!

Lindsay said...

Isn't that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over expecting the result to be different?

I think that it is especially hard to convince the public about the severity of the problems of our compulsory school system because to face that problem head on can seem paralyzing to those who don't consider homeschooling an option. It is much easier to stick your fingers in your ears and shout, "LA LA LA, at least my child gets to go to the prom!"

I don't think that homeschooling should be the only alternative, but in the short term when other options are lacking and your child needs an education NOW, I think it is hard for people to admit that our current system just. doesn't. work. It becomes personal because then they have to admit to choosing to send their child to a failing institution.

Anonymous said...

My kids attended the best public school system in the USA and it continues to remain one of the best systems in the US because
1.) local government (us taxpayers) continue to invest a substantial amount of our tax base in education (not buildings, but teachers and resources), 2.) our involved parents are some of the best motivated educators around (educational levels as well as desire to climb from poverty to where there is a chance to make a mark in the world and succeed) so we continually educate ourselves as well as provide guidance and ample opportunities for the elasticies of young mind to 'grow' and learn, 3.) plus, it doesn't hurt that we have some of the best and brightest kids (as does EVERYWHERE else) who choose to take every opportunity whether at home or at school to challenge themselves to learn what they can. Notice, I did not say the #1 reason is because of the availability of a Catholic education.

Our Catholic schools are only one option in many of our diverse culture base; Japanese Saturday school, Muslim day school, Montessori system, those homeschoolers that access the public libraries and city parks and rec. programs, Lutheran day school, programs for kids to study for bar and bat mitzvahs, etc.

The focus in our school system is on getting the job done (to provide plenty of quality-type athletic, aesthetic, active and reflective learning experienceand quantity) healthful and educational experiences despite lack of natural learning environments like those kids that live near the beauty and outdoors of the Green Mountains, and the kids on the Eastern Seaboard of Maine coast and Carolinas, and those kids with wealthy parents and advantages and privileges.

President Obama's speech gives an edge to those intelligent kids that might think he was speaking to them directly, not necessarily the cynics that have to question motives of a national leader in promoting each one to do their personal best, if for no other reason than a chance in self-improvement.

It'll be interesting 20 yrs down the road, to look back on this time in our country's history.