Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A note to public schools - quit whining!

I just finished reading a fine article on home schooling over at Time.. By in large, it is a fair and thoughtful article that considers many different aspects of the home school phenomenon. However, this quote just sent me over the wall.

"Home schooling is a social threat to public education," says Chris Lubienski, who teaches at Iowa State University's college of education. "It is taking some of the most affluent and articulate parents out of the system. These are the parents who know how to get things done with administrators."

My first gut reaction is a very loud - so what? Chris Lubienski misses the point entirely. The thing that parents care about is not public education as a social construct. They care about their living, breathing kids. And, a lot of them want to keep them that way.

Within the last couple of weeks we had the second most appalling school tragedy in recent years. Another needless school shooting took the life of innocent kids because an insane child snapped. The parents who have a brain in their heads will look at this senseless act and wonder if it can happen at their child's school. And, without too much trouble they arrive at the correct answer which would be yes. Only a profoundly disfunctional idealogue would have trouble understanding the desire to protects one's child. After all the school at Red Lake had metal detectors and a security guard. Neither of those protections did one bit of good. How can someone criticize a parent for not sending their child into what is essentially a war zone. Personally, I am amazed that anyone would go back to a school that had endured such a heartbreaking, profoundly stupid tragedy.

Then there is the general state of instruction in many schools. In many places education has been reduced to the least common denominator of items that may be found on the state test. The system as it stands now simply weeds out the more intelligent administrators because they are likely to question the methods of preparing kids for these high pressure assessments. In many cases the schools are left with people who either cannot think of a reason to question the testing orthodoxy or who do not have the mental horsepower to bring the system into question. Presently, there is a high school somewhere in these United States who daily prowls the hallways with a clipboard. On that clipboard is a form that lists all the possible infractions of dress code that might occur. The reason the form was created was to make it easier for the superintendent to write up kids for violations of the dress code. The checklist makes it so much easier - don't you see? This superintendent has vowed to fight the good fight against untucked shirts, and incorrect pant colors so that - yes, you guessed it - test scores will improve. Of course, all the kids see the stupidity of it. And, they become angry. So, angry that their motivation, morale and respect for the authorities is all but destroyed. Yes, it is actually happening. The story is true. Only the names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent. I cannot criticize the parents of an intelligent child who just throw up their hands at the absurdity of this fruit bat of a superintendent.

In another school somewhere in america a substitute was asked to conduct a class reading of a passage with the students. By the end of the day the sub was nearly ready to pull her hair out because of the kids who could not read written English --- in the eighth grade. In this particular school district the motto is "preparing the future". So little is taught in any school on any particular day that few children can keep from getting so bored they almost can't keep their heads up. And some of the teachers refer to these kids as being from the "shallow end of the gene pool" as they prepare more banal lessons. The really brilliant, idealistic, committed teachers in the building are trying to swim upstream against a current running like a tsunami.

Then there is the kid who I will call William. William can be found in the hallway sitting at a desk much of the time. He sits there because he misbehaves in class. He clowns, he fidgets, he plays, he puts his head down. So, some - mind you, some - of the teachers use the brilliant strategy of putting him in the hallway unsupervised. Some might say that the little wretch deserves it. But the fact is that there are one of two brilliant teachers who can get him to do anything. For those teachers he will actually do work, turn it in, listen, and work in a motivated fashion. Why - because those teachers treat him with the respect he deserves. Yes, they correct him. But, they do is like he is a beloved child. Some the other staff members just can't understand why he will not treat them with the same kind of respect. Oh, I forgot to mention that this kid has the original parents from hell. Both of them drink. Their whole approach to child rearing is to either completely ignore the kid or "beat his butt raw." This child puts the lie to genetic inheritance because he is bright. He also has a good heart. He also doesn't have a chance. But, he is disruptive. He is extremely difficult to handle. And, some other parents child will have to sit by him as he makes faces, crawls under his desk, makes faces at the teachers behind their backs, pulls hair, pushes, calls out and generally single-handedly destroys the learning environment.

Teacher turnover in most schools is unbelievable. There is no way to tell who any child will wind up with in any given year. Most schools just go ballistic if a parent has the audacity to ask if their child can be in the class of the only successful math teacher on the staff. Parents often hear something like no, your child can't be changed out of Mrs. Lizards class because if we changed her out we would have to change everyone out. The logical answer would be - so what? If the person is such a drooling stooge that no child should be in the class, why should any child be in the class. Then there is the teacher of my acquaintance who allowed a child to become ineligible because he had three zeros. The three zeros were for papers that the teacher claimed the child had not turned in. When someone went into the room when the teacher was not there and found the papers in the 4' high (measured) stack of ungraded papers, the principal signed off on the child so he could play his sport.

Why wouldn't a parent want a child to be a part of all this joy. In many places the process of public schooling has become a nightmare. In others it can be pure joy. But, taking all of the problems into account, there is no way on Earth that anyone can criticize any parent for taking their child to be nurtured and educated in their own home. In the face of the failure of public education to educate and protect your own child, social constructs crash and burn.


Blogger COD said...

Wow, that was a critical piece on public schools. Even us homeschoolers don't normally hit them that hard :)

A couple of things you might want to note. The Time article is about 4 years old. Also, recent studies have reported that the primary reason for home education (as reported by parents) is quality of education. Fear of school violence really isn't a major factor for most of us.


9:52 AM  
Blogger Princess_Kate said...

John - I found your blog through Instapundit.

I hate to say it, because you seem passionate and committed, but you may be part of the education problem.

I realize that blogging lends itself to "steam of consciousness" writing, but as a teacher, you should hold yourself to a higher standard. There are numerous spelling and grammatical errors in your post, and you jump to a lot of conclusions without backing yourself up very well.

Just so you know.

10:07 AM  
Blogger SeniorGato said...

Yeah, the schools are messed up... From what I can tell, it's the people who home school thier kids that are the problem. Those parents gave up on society, not just the schools. I've met many home schooled kids. I havn't met a socially normal home schooled kid yet.
Teachers have gotten responsibilities they never would have dreamed of when they got into the profession. Ultimately, schools have become a prison. My little sister would be sent home if she does not wear her ID badge at all times. It sickens me.
I was in high school when the first school shootings showed up and let me tell you what I observed.
Freshman year, there were fights two to three times a week.
Sophmore years there were NO fights.
Junior year, lots of people started shooting.
Of course, this could just be some sort of fallacy, but it does raise a question.
We've all seen it... The kid who gets picked on. Nobody does anything about it, and even if the bully is caught, he's back out the next day. However, when the picked on kid fights back, it's always suspension or juvie. When you observe this every day, I can imagine what the picked on kid is thinking...

Oh, and your spelling is fine, it's a freaking BLOG. Gah, I hate whiners. Don't correct it, It shows your a real person, not a bot :P

10:43 AM  
Blogger bob said...

As an educator in a private school that has a dress code, I think you might be interested in one rationale for a superintendent applying very strict rules of dress.

In our school, an infraction such as having a shirt untucked immediately means demerits for that student. If demerits add up, stricter punishment follows such as detention.

The reason for this is not to be anal retentive but something much more subtle. A fair number of teenagers need to rebel and break rules to declare their independence. What we have provided is an outlet for them to flaunt their anger and outrage by having their shirt untucked and we, of course, pretend to be upset by this behavior while we write out their demerits. We also have rules concerning hair grooming and such where students can rail against the powers that be by not shaving or combing their hair.
Believe it or not, this is very effective in curbing worse problems, especially if the teachers do their part and act upset about the infraction.

The idea is not to be anal retentive, but to give the kids a harmless outlet to rebel without having to vandalize or engage in more problematic behavior. My personal opinion is that it works, especially with the borderline cases.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Bec Thomas said...

As a Home-ed advocate I get lots of calls from parent wanting to start home-educating. The majority of the calls I get the parent want to home-educate because of the bullying, clique syndrome and stress the children experience at public school. I've been really surprised by how many kids actually have become physically ill by the stress they are under in school. Many are also concerned about the quality of education, but here in Washington State I'm running into more of the bullying, stress reasons.

Bec Thomas

4:56 PM  
Blogger Dieter said...

As a former high school math and science teacher, it truly breaks my heart to read about the hellish abuse inflicted on public school kids--and teachers, too!

One result is that I left teaching for industry, where my salary went way up and my stress level went way down.

Another result was that my wife and I home schooled our five children. Two are graduating from college this year (both are on the Dean's list, one is an NCAA All-American), a third is finishing his freshman year in college, also on the Dean's list. And two are still in our home school program. (Yes, I know I started the sentence with a conjunction--take a pill).

Home schooling really works!

I believe that the public school system is anachronistically stuck with the industrial revolution concept of mass production and has been mated with the all the flexibility and creativity of government bureaucracy to become a national tragedy.

I don't blame the students, the teachers, or [gulp] even the administrators. It's the system that's broken and desperately needs a complete overhaul.

Surely with American ingenuity and can-do spirit, we can come up with some successful alternatives!

5:38 PM  
Blogger COD said...


If you happen to see this...I'd be interested in hearing a little more about your NCAA All American. One of the ongoing debates in the Home Ed community is whether or nor home education works against kids that have athletic aspirations. My opinion is no, because the vast majority of those kids aren't scholarship material anyway, and the few that are will find other outlets, or at worst walk onto a team as a freshmen. For anything other than the big sports like football and baseball, Home Ed is probably an advantage.

You can find me at

7:29 PM  
Blogger Babs said...

Hi John, I found you through Interested Participant's posting on the Carnival of Education.
Your post has excellent content and great insight into the daily life of public schools. I applaud your dedication as a teacher through the midst of all that suffering.

I home school my two boys in Oklahoma. For every home schooler you talk to, you will find a different reason for home schooling. I would like to touch on a few points made in the comments.

Two things that need to be remembered about home schooling; one, it is the more traditional form of education. It was around long before public schools. Two, home schooling is an alternative to the social institution that is clearly breaking down. The institution is not falling apart because people took their smart kids out, they took their smart kids out because the system was failing.

As far as socialization is concerned most home schooled kids prove to be more adjusted that public schooled kids, when interacting with adults. Those who appear to have less social skills probably have special needs. Now, take an extremely bright child - way too advanced for the school system to properly nurture and couple that with special needs issues. This describes a very high percentage of reasons why people home school. What would the school system do if we unleased all these kids into the system?

Home schooling is not perfect; but, it is a better alternative for me and my family as things stand today.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Leonard Payne said...

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7:22 PM  
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12:07 AM  
Blogger Erik Mann said...

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5:15 PM  
Blogger LTH said...

i guess sometimes the truth hurts. i'm a public high school teacher. only been here for a year. i love it. it makes my day to see these faces light up with ideas.

but, at the same time, i agree with you. i love it, but everything has problems, you know?

for example...home schooling has a tendancy (atleast where i come from) to produce socially inept young adults. there have been few (if any) home schooled children (remember, i said around my hometown) that participate activily within the community.

like i said. everything has problems.

10:40 AM  

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