Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Von Spakovsky On Home Schooling

He writes in the National Review, a conservative publication. While home schooling is done by people with all sorts of political opinions or none, a sizable chunk of home-schoolers are religious conservatives.

Von Spakovsky:
Educators and liberals always seem surprised when faced with evidence of the high quality of the education that home-schoolers get, particularly when compared with the politically correct assembly-line instruction that passes for an education in so many public schools these days.
Both my brothers and their wives home-school their children (and my wife is now home-schooling our youngest daughter). All of their children are well-read, disciplined, polite, creative, and full of information that I find lacking in many children their age. One of my 15-year-old nephews was recently assigned to read Lives by Plutarch, about Greece and Rome, and to write a short essay summarizing their society, identifying what they valued most highly and arguing whether or not each was a good and virtuous society. Can anyone imagine a 15-year-old getting a similar assignment in a public school in today’s America?
The whole post makes the mistake of comparing children from Spakovsky's extended family to some imaginary grungy public school outcome in general. If, as is likely, Spakovsky's brothers and sisters-in-law are educated and affluent, the proper comparison is to the children of equally educated and affluent parents who go to a public school.

Likewise, any real comparison would require knowing how many home-schooling parents assign Lives by Plutarch to their children and whether the concept of a "good and virtuous" society is at least challenged in that teaching.

Not that reading Plutarch has any greater value than reading many much more recent books. It just has the sniff of High Educamation to those who envy the nineteenth century British upper class for their governesses and stern fathers with excellent libraries.

As a purely personal aside, Plutarch compares only the lives of famous men, not women, because women did not easily become famous in those days.

As a purely personal second aside, I wonder how many conservative men would be such strong advocates of home schooling if the consensus was that it had to be done by fathers. They might suddenly note that one parent's income has dried out and that one parent's future career prospects have been severely limited. These are the major costs of the home-schooling option, not the acquisition of books and teaching materials and so on.
This post is not intended as an attack against the concept of home-schooling which has both obvious advantages and disadvantages, just as public schooling does. Much depends on the specific circumstances and so on.

What I criticize is von Spakovsky's one-sided treatment of the topic and his implicit assumption (or so it seems to me) that there should be no publicly funded schools or any improvement in those schools because people obviously can just educate their children at home. And that is simply not practical for the vast majority of American families.