Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Good on you, oh my reader!

Your sincere travail will not go unrewarded.

Some recent critical references to “institutional education” on another blog made me realize that I very much cherish my own such education. I learned to form clear letters from dear Mrs. Zelpha Bennett, my nuturing third-grade teacher, learned to cherish ancient learning from Mr. Morris Knudsen, my cosmopolitan high-school Latin teacher, was introduced to “The Great Books” by Mr. Charles Albert King, my visionary high-school history teacher, read Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and novels by Thomas Hardy and others for Miss Lois Thompson, my devoted high-school English teacher, acquired a love mathematics and proofs from Mr. Loren Court, my passionate math instructor, majored in philosophy at Yale University (which Mr. Court recommended I apply to), where I immersed myself in Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and other philosophers, read a smattering of the world's religion texts, and discovered the work of Sigmund Freud, Leon Festinger, and a number of others.

I feel richly blessed by my institutional education and its book learning. A friend shared with me today that he and his wife went through a phase with their homeschooled son in which he would do nothing but read for hours on end. His wife told the local principal, “I don't know what to do. He won't do any of his workbooks. He just reads.” “He reads?” said the principal. “Don't do anything!”

I also feel richly blessed by my intuitive learning, which often “overcomes me” out in the garden—while I'm raking leaves, mowing grass, digging holes to plant, moving rocks to line paths. Life and learning are glorious, and institutional and life learning can come together in a beautiful, mutually supportive mosaic. At least, I feel that my own learning experiences have done so. Perhaps I am unusually blessed, but I can hardly credit that conceit.

Good on you all, to overrunning cup!


  1. A usual drawback of institutional learning is that, in such a setting, that kid would be MADE to do his workbooks. And he would not be allowed to read for hours on end. Of course, he might choose to do so after school hours. But those times compete with friends & sports & maybe work & ipods & so forth. Not to mention that the best part of the day has already been chewed up with workbooks.

    Better if he was allowed to read all day, then leave the workbooks till after school to compete with all those other things.

  2. Good point, of course. The nugatory effects of so many things can hinder learning—and not just the methods of "dumbing down" educational institutions, but even the "benevolent" interventions of well-meaning parents.

  3. Interesting, the 6th grade was the only grade the boy ever attended. He entered mid-year. It seemed to be time to give it a try. Rochester City has an odd system of school assignment. You are usually but not necessarily assigned to your neighborhood school. But since our boy went in mid-year, he had no say whatsoever and was assigned to a gritty school with a cross-city bus ride. Never being in school before, how would he fit in? we wondered. Not being "socialized" and all. Somewhat to our surprise, he had no difficulty whatsoever. However, at the end of the year, he had a choice to continue in school or to homeschool again. He chose to homeschool. "I had no time to read when I was in school," he said.

    Just as I don't proselytize on anything else, as you well know, so I do not on homeschooling, Moristotle. Don't get me wrong. It does not work always. It can produce a somewhat uneven education. But even in such cases, the peaks usually surpass the troughs.

    It worked for our kids. But I would never give it a blanket recommendation. At any rate, it's really none of my business for anyone's kids other than my own.

  4. From my limited experience of observing homeschooling, I'd be more inclined to give it a blanket recommendation than not, and I'm surprised that you would "never" do that. Did you, Tom, interpret my observation about well-intentioned parents as a covert criticism of homeschooling and say what you did in order to avoid an imagined confrontation? (We may not disagree on quite so many things as you indicated elsewhere <smile>.)

    In the summer of 1996 or 1997, I led a series of Toastmasters-style sessions in public speaking and "thinking on your feet" for a dozen or so homeschooled high school-age students. I was bowled over by their intelligence and application, their seriousness, their acuity, their accumulated knowledge. And I have a seventeen-year-old grandnephew whose parents are homeschooling him. He impresses me in the same ways.

    The only reservation I have about my grandnephew and most of the other kids is how thoroughly they seem to have been religiously indoctrinated. Of course, that may not really be a problem (except in my own mind). Or, if it is, they'll probably all subject it to criticism as they leave their homes and "go out in the world."

    I, too, of course, was "religiously indoctrinated," if in a different way—my mother's taking me with her Sunday after Sunday to evangelical church meetings. And I was probably much less "acute" about it (while it was happening) than are these homeschooled children I'm familiar with.

    Anyway, I'm left with a favorable impression of homeschooling...and some uncertainty as to "what it's all about."

    The "outcome" with my own children has long amazed me. Their soundness, their natural conservatism, their creativity, their goodness....I had no program as a parent for producing such children. And yet, here they are.

  5. This time, Moristotle, you hit the nail right on the head. I was indeed trying to avoid controversy with you, who I have regard for, and so I hate to appear always at loggerheads with you.


    Right again, I am more enthused about homeschooling than I let on. Still, I would not give it a blanket endorsement. We lived in an abysmal school district, which last year achieved a 39% graduation rate. It may have been different had we lived in one of the suburban districts. Pittsford, for example, had 98% last year.

    Beyond that, a social network is important, I would think. We had that. It sounds like your grandchildren have that. If, however, you and your wife were bashful hermits, you might not want to homeschool the kids, for fear they would not be exposed to social settings they need in growing up.

    Though even here, I backtrack. Without scientific data, my seat-of-the-pants impression suggests that such parents often produce the type of child who is bullied, tormented and who, at worst, may react as did the two at Columbine.

    An early homeschool advocate, John Holt, was asked about this: Don't homeschooled children tend to pick up the parents' own prejudices? "They do anyway," was his reply. Better to give one's children the ability to think and analyze. Then, as you suggested, when older they are able to challenge initial assumptions. They won't always do it, of course, but neither will schooled children.

    In the case of my own children, one has followed our path spiritually, and one has not.

    Both, however, are very bright, and I give homeschooling virtually all the credit. My son entered the local community college at age 16. They gave him placement tests as they weren't entirely sure how to regard homeschoolers. Consequently, he was assigned remedial math (remedial from a college point of view. In other words, he was age-appropriate) His reading comprehension, they informed us, was "off the charts" They were slow to believe that he had not already had college courses.

    He left school to pursue some other things. Recently he returned and, as of last update, he is among the top ten or so (not 10%) of his class. Interestingly, HE never regarded himself as abnormally bright. "I had no idea there were so many stupid people," he told us soon after he first entered college.

    Every parent likes to think their kids are naturally bright. I do too. Yet I fear that their brightness may not have been allowed to flourish without homeschooling.

    In 6th grade (the year in which he did go to school) his teacher stated that pi was 3.14. My son, as a result of things we had covered before, knew that 3.14 was a rounded number, and the actual decimal value stretched on forever. He stated such, and the teacher was MAD to be contradicted!

    Public schooling often is simply not a flexible enough model to accomodate inquiring minds. It tends to turn out mediocre minds. Schooling becomes even more rigid as it has to confront today's disciplinary problems.

    Back to socialization. You may know that compulsory schooling is only a century or so old, and was established to acclimate children to the industrial age. That, and there were utopian groups out of Boston who thought separating children from parents while young would facillite freeing those children from the parents' ignorant biases.

    So primarily, it never really was about "education," at least, not the reading, riting, rithmetic kind.

    This is public education I'm speaking of, not college.

    Tell Maliha about this thread, if you like. She has asked about homeschooling before, and in any case, her musings started this whole line of thought.

  6. Tom, thanks so much for sharing at length. I really enjoyed reading your comment, and I appreciate learning this. Your story about "pi" reminds me of my son's experience in the 7th grade. He wrote a paper in which he mentioned James Thurber. His teacher (Mr. Cabral!) asked him, "Who's that?"

    Our son also (possibly for the same teacher) wrote a book report for a non-existent book, but wrote it so convincingly that the teacher never suspected a thing.

    And our daughter, even in elementary teacher, was recruited by one of her teachers to help teach some of the slower children.

    But I think I digress, getting off on showing off my incredible children <smile>!

    Ah, John Holt! It has been years since I've even heart the name, but I remember latching onto his writings years ago. (Maybe I put more thought into what we were doing trying to be parents than I remembered yesterday.)

    Your choice of homeschooling, in part because of the abysmal local graduation rate, reminds me that when we decided to move to North Carolina from San Jose, California in 1983, we researched the schools in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (RDU is the airport, Research Triangle Park the central industrial complex—where IBM and other corporations have facilities), we quickly homed in on Chapel Hill High School, and Chapel Hill as the place to live. We've been here ever since and, of course, I work for the University of North Carolina, whose "corporate" offices are in Chapel Hill. (Our son did only one year in CHHS, however; he would have gone immediately to the North Carolina School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem, if we hadn't applied too late for him to get in that quickly.)

    I'll let Maliha know about this thread.

  7. Peace Tom and Moristotle,
    Thank you for giving me a heads up on this thread. I have been reading up a lot on education and like Tom when I came across "the history of modern education" my decision was made (more or less.)

    Another thing that irritates me is that the Private school curriculum is very different from the public school curriculum (and this is not a matter of cost.) Their goals are different: the former to nurture leaders and thinkers; the latter to produce the worker drones and masses.

    I am really worried about the logistics of homeschooling though and providing my son(s) with the best all around. I am still researching the "implementation" part of it, and since he is still 2 (and can recite his alphabet and count till 10 *cough*...) I think I have a little time yet.

    I thought also of committing only a year at a time nothing more than that. And seeing how each year goes...we'll see.

    Thank you for sharing Tom, your positive experience (among others i have read and seen) are really encouraging to me.

    And Moristotle, I am actually surprised you do look somewhat favorably to home-schoolers. Like Tom I initially thought you'd be against it....how much we assume huh?