Thursday, August 17, 2006

Texas, as many of the readers of this blog know, has no regulations regarding homeschooling: the Leeper litigation, besides forcing school districts to stop having homeschoolers prosecuted for truancy, clarified that home schools are private schools for the purposes of Texas law, and since private schools in Texas are unregulated (and will be forever, or for however long the Southern Baptist Conference is a major political player, which is the same thing), ergo homeschooling is unregulated.

Sure there's the requirement that homeschoolers have a curriculum which includes spelling, good citizenship, and a few non-useless subjects, but importantly, there is no legal mechanism by which the state or the school districts may force families to show their curriculum or demonstrate that they are in fact teaching anything.

The rationales for the complete de facto deregulation of homeschooling include the (reasonable, IMHO) assumption that parents have a much greater stake than state agents, including teachers, in making sure their children receive an adequate education at the least, and therefore are unlikely to direct their education in such a way that their children are not academically prepared for adulthood. While there may be some small number of parents who, for whatever reason, fail their children academically, the percentage is likely to be much smaller than the percentage of children enrolled in public or private schools who are failed academically by school systems. (I'm using the passive construction to limit this to children who might have been expected to succeed academically with a different form of education.)

The academic success of homeschooled kids has (mostly) stilled the old suspicious accusation that many of them are certainly being raised by religious zealots who teach them nothing but the Bible and who will leave them woefully unprepared for work or college at 18. It's true that on Catholic homeschooling forums (I'm not familiar enough with other Christian forums to comment) you'll find remarks like "Remember your goal isn't to make your kids super-book-smart, but to get them into Heaven"--but, un-Catholic anti-intellectuallism aside (can you imagine St. Thomas Aquinas' mom saying that?), it's usually a comment meant to calm down an anxious parent who is concerned precisely about some area of academics. Even the most intensely religious homeschoolers--actually, especially the most intensely religious homeschoolers (the more zealous unschoolers don't tend to be terribly religious)--are very keen on academics.

So what happens when homeschoolers or small private schools (especially when they're the same thing under the law) are found to be living up to the old caricature? A New York Times article (HT to Joanne Jacobs) discusses New York schools where middle-school aged children train to be a hafiz, a person who has memorized the entirety of the Koran and who will be rewarded with certain entrance into Heaven, along with ten other Moslems of his choosing. The children don't understand the words but only memorize the syllables; the education takes two or three years, lasting all day and throughout the entire year; and the children study no other subjects during this time.

Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? Ann Althouse does; and certainly it's contrary to New York law, which requires multiple subjects each year.

But here's some counter-arguments. First, these are middle-school kids. Not very long ago, educationists were very explicit that one of the goals of middle school was to give hormone-riddle children a chance to not do any real academic work for a while. Many parents pull their kids out after fifth grade, homeschool for three years, then re-enroll them in high school, just to keep up their academics. (I've met them.) How much worse could this be? Second, a hafiz is important in Islamic culture, apparently having a special role at Ramadan. However strange it might sound to others, this is a kind of job training. Just because it won't help you get into Harvard doesn't mean it's educationally meaningless for these kids and their families.

Third, it's clear from the NYT account that the families enrolling their children in hafiz schools are just as driven as any other parents, and are unlikely to let even two or three years "out of school" leave their kids behind the curve. I spent half a year out of school, with no make-up work of any kind, and was still bored out of my mind when I went back. I'm pretty sure I could have managed at least a year and a half of middle school and still not have had to lift a finger to "catch up." Finally, until we have some evidence that this is educationally disastrous for the kids, maybe we should wait and see. What will we say if they really do end up as doctors and lawyers?


Blogger Darwin said...

I remember one of my main reactions in parochial school (where I was up to middle school) being "Man, we learn about six things a year. If it weren't for all the people who didn't pay attention the first time, we could be done with school in one month out of the year."

I can imagine that you could take three years off at just about any point and catch up pretty handily with most curriculums (assuming you were relatively bright to begin with) and having that kind of memorization ability sure wouldn't hurt you in the long term anyway.

I don't see any particular value in memorizing the Koran per se, but if these folks want to do it I can't see that they're getting much of a worse education than the average kid study in NY City public schools, and maybe better.

Heck, before people get to bent out of shape about the sixth grader who was still fuzzy on his multiplication tables, they should take a look at what percentage of mainstream NYC 6th graders don't have their multiplication tables nailed down.

11:08 AM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Yes, I recall sixth grade being dull for the same reasons. Then Motorola transferred my mom to Glasgow, and suddenly I was starting in the first form at a British secondary school, where the boys had just gone into long pants, the prefects existed just to terrorize you, and everything was arranged to send the signal that it's time to grow up and start your REAL education. For the first time in my life I had to work my hiney off to get good marks and to get put on the 'O'-grade (and then 'Higher') tracks that led to university (though we we returned to the States before I took my 'O'-grades).

I think in the end I believe parents should be able to make their own decisions about private education for their children, and that private schools and home schooling should be deregulated (except in the obvious ways, like safety regs, for private schools); but public schools should abandon the middle-school model and all the other hideous mistakes resulting from misbegotten educational theories of the last ninety years, and get serious.

The result would be more rigorous high school education universally, which would then reverse the dumbed-down remedial-oriented undergraduate curriculum at most colleges. This state of utopia achieved, madrassahs like the one in this article would go out of business because the kids would be so hopelessly behind after three years off that they could never get into a real high school or university. Much better than the state pretending to be appalled by academic standards that are no worse than its own.

1:13 PM  
Blogger sophia said...

On Sunday, a friend was asking what the laws and regulations were in Texas concerning homeschooling. She was so surprised when I told her that there are none.

A high school student, who goes to a prestigious private high school in town, heard me and adamantly said, "Well, there definitely should be some regulations in place. Not everyone is qualified to teach their kids. That's probably partly why Texas is one of the worst states in regards to academics. They don't monitor education enough." Lots of thoughts flooded my mind, but since she is younger I wanted to be agreeable. I started to jokingly say,"Well, there's always Lousiana.."

"Oh, so we should congratulate ourselves for being higher than Louisiana?" she scoffed.

Looking back, I think I should have engaged her in some of her assumptions.

Every homeschool parent that I know personally is highly concerned about making sure their children are getting the best education possible. I almost always think homeschooling parents worry too much. However, the concern there is good in that it keeps parents driven for the success of their child. Plus, there is always the unspoken pressure of other parents and relatives who are watching to see if homeschooling really works.

I don't think parents whose children go to school feel nearly as much burden as we homeschoolers do about making sure our kids have a well-rounded education. Outside-Schooling parents assume it is happening, but as a former public school teacher and student, I think that lots of times the well-rounded education just isn't happening. Maybe it's because we are in the lowly academic state of Texas,(a little sarcasm)but no, I think it's a natl problem.

2:41 AM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I suppose you could have observed to the girl that her private school is clearly not required to teach tact, reticence, or respect for one's elders; but your response was probably kinder.

5:14 AM  
Blogger sophia said...

LOL! Seriously, I'm not just saying that!

9:03 AM  

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