A Tutorial on the Vocabulary of Institutional Education
A week after the hearing in Springfield to examine the possibility of requiring homeschooling families to register with their local regional school superintendents, there is still much confusion as to what actually happened and what it all means to the average homeschooling family.
I believe that William Reynolds, the truant officer who was called to testify, was God’s gift to the homeschooling community that day; the few minutes he spoke revealed to all of us the true agenda of those supporting mandatory registration. It also gave us insight into how this sort of law would be applied. As we all know, the devil most certainly is in the details.
Over the next few days I am going to look at some of the applications such a law might require and I hope it will prompt some great thinking. As always, I am open to hearing any thoughts you might have.
Today I want to look at how mandatory registration, by necessity, would bring along a mandatory educational philosophy and would require us to use government approved “tools” to implement it.
Long impressed by his incredible rhetorical skills, I once read that Winston Churchill’s speeches were so amazing because he wrote them down and, in a day when radio was the chosen medium, read them word for word to his audience, being certain to use specifically selected words to make his point. It is important for us to be this precise when we talk about education as homeschoolers because words we use may mean something entirely different to those who, as Mr. Reynolds pointed out, want to “help us” educate our children. I believe they would be used to intimidate us and pressure us to become little public schools in our own homes.
On the day of the senate hearing, there were four phrases I heard used repeatedly that gave me pause: curriculum, teacher qualifications, testing, and grade level. Let’s look at institutional education’s meaning of these words and how each could be a problem for homeschooling families. Note that this is just a brief overview and I would like to visit each one again in more detail in the future.
Historically, curriculum was considered to be the course of study that prepared a child to be an autonomous, independently functioning adult in his own right. It incorporated printed material, mentorship, and research personally chosen for individuals but also included life skills and a course of study that we might refer to as apprenticeship. Over time it has come to mean textbooks along with a prescribed list of courses that is the same for all people in a particular school system within each state.
Most school districts have curriculum consultants whose task it is to oversee committees that choose and implement the use of their personal choices. It is never agenda free; there is no such thing as a neutral course of study. A year ago there was some controversy over the curriculum chosen by my local school board when it came to light that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was being portrayed positively in a film they had selected to be shown to high school history classes. As I listened to parents who were up in arms, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had ever stopped to think about the rest of the content their children absorb day after day. Homeschooling families have complete control over this! In my house, for example, we would most definitely study Margaret Sanger but in the process, we would also read about her relationship to Adolph Hiltler, her plan to sterilize poor people, and her promotion of birth control and abortion.*
Curriculum content is also influenced by the educational philosophies of school administrators. As widely acknowledged, curriculum is a playground for social engineering. During the 1980’s a retired couple from Texas who were concerned about what their grandchildren were learning, began the arduous task of evaluating all the history textbooks published by the major curriculum companies. To their horror, they found numerous errors and blatant lies on page after page. While I don’t remember all of their stories, I do recall their surprise that in one book, Marilyn Monroe was given three pages and Martha Washington had not been mentioned a single time! Which of those names do you think is most easily recognizable by homeschooled children?
Curriculum defines teaching methods and doesn’t recognize that not all children learn in the same way. Out of the necessity of teaching 30 or so students in one classroom, (or 60 as is now being proposed in some financially strapped school districts) curriculum has to be presented in ways that target groups rather than individuals. Homeschooling families, on the other hand, educate each single child, which brings me to another word I heard mentioned that day:
Teachers will tell you that a huge part of their time is spent teaching to the test, that is, the standardized tests that are required in their districts. The results of those tests are used to identify good teachers as well as good students. They are also used to determine how monies are distributed within various school districts. Since many homeschoolers are quite proud of their test scores, especially because they typically soar above the averages in public schools, they have offered those scores as proof of the great job we are doing. Senator Maloney is pressing for mandatory registration for homeschooling families and has intimated that he might make mandatory testing a requirement that goes along with registration.
Indeed, several people pointed out that this is required in other states so it should be no big deal. But to families who have children with learning disabilities or those who choose alternative methods of education where textbooks are not the mainstay of what they do, this could become a huge problem. Why should the public school testing standards be the standards for everyone?
We also have to keep in front of us the truth that the standardized test scores DO NOT measure what children know. They measure how one child is doing against what all other children who took that test know. And it always involves the concept of:
When we began teaching our children at home, I had my first experience with the notion of “grade level.” I was handed a scope and sequence chart and told to plan to purchase materials for the corresponding grade and age level of each of my children. What an impossible task! Their reading scores showed them to be several grade levels ahead of what a textbook might call for while some were studying math at the same level as others their age. There were many other things that interested them that they had researched on their own that weren’t covered in any of the material. This is why homeschoolers can often not answer the question “What grade are you in?” because there is seriously no answer.
It is important to remember, too, that curriculum reflects “spiral learning” which is, again, the only way to educate large numbers of people in a single classroom. This is how it works: Do you remember that it seemed like you continued to study the same old stuff year after boring year? That is because you did. A textbook will cover certain material and the teachers are aware that about 70 to 80% of the students in the class will absorb most of it. They also know that another 10% will already know most of that material the first day they walk into class and will be bored to death. The final 10% will not be able to understand or retain much of it even by the end of the year. But they don’t worry about these things because they know that, like an upward spiral, the same material will be presented again the next year with a few more things added or with a more sophisticated approach and, hopefully, they will pick up the stragglers. Homeschoolers tend to follow interesting rabbit trails and study a variety of things, each one building upon the other, filling in the gaps when opportunities present themselves and as time goes on. They also will typically share in the interests of siblings who are studying subjects that interest them, thus learning new and fascinating things from each other.
During the past 10 years or so, I have become increasingly alarmed at the number of homeschooling families who have allowed curriculum companies with their institutional approach to education to shape their views and practices of homeschooling. The loveliness of learning at home has been replaced by the notion that homeschoolers must follow the same path as their public school counterparts. It is my hope that every single homeschooling mom will put down her red pencil for a moment, reevaluate what she is doing, and consider whether or not she has been driven by this system. For more insights into where to even begin to do this, please consider my thoughts on minimalist homeschooling.
I hope this has been helpful. If you want more information on these things along with some other insights into understanding the education “system” and how to survive it as a homeschooler, listen to this series of podcasts.
Next, I will be addressing the concept of “teacher qualifications” and have an amazing testimony to share with you from another homeschooling mom.
*You might want to check out these links for information about the Margaret Sanger school board controversy. It is very insightful!