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Homeschooling Heads Up

Those interested in the homeschooling movement - and everybody should be interested in the homeschooling movement! - will want to read this interesting post by Alan Jacobs at The American Scene: "Confessions of a Christian Homeschooler".

Jacobs comes across as very reluctant convert, who really wants to remain faithful to the public schools. But a convert he is. Here's a quote:

"Wes is in the ninth grade now and we’re still teaching him at home and working with the co-op. We never imagined that this would happen — we simply knew that he would be in the local public high school this year. But when the time came to make that decision we just couldn’t pull the trigger. He’s in his third year of Latin now — taught by an extremely gifted woman, a superb Latinist with a doctorate in French from Vanderbilt — and the local high school doesn’t offer Latin. Nor do they offer anything resembling the course he’s taking in logic, or one that he’s just picked up: a comparative study of Plato’s Republic and the political philosophy of the American Founders. When we looked at the ninth-grade curriculum at the local high school and compared that with what he’s getting in this makeshift home-made system . . . Well, as I said, we just couldn’t pull the trigger."

I mean, wow. Latin? Logic? Plato's Republic? In the ninth grade? Is this nerd nirvana, or what?

Stuart Buck, in comments, makes some very astute observations, and references another article one ought to read: "Getting students out of the halls and into the classrooms" - an article which perfectly captures my own experience both as a student and as a teacher in the public schools:

"David...leans against my classroom door, his right foot against the doorjamb. ‘'David, in or out?' I again remind him. 'Make a decision.'

"The tardy bell has sounded, and I have asked him twice to take his seat in the English 12 class I try to teach. He doesn’t move. His head turned away from me, he looks into the school hallway as if waiting for — what? — friends? A fight? The 10:15 Metro bus to take him home?

"'David, sit down. Do your warm-up,' I again ask, my voice louder, more insistent. The class quiets down slightly, watching with lukewarm interest, another showdown between David and myself.

"I move toward David, wanting to hurt him for his need for confrontation and attention, wishing in some hidden, unspeakable, unteacher-like part of brain, I had a baseball bat, a pickax or an AK-47.

"I’m telling you this because I think you need to know about David. So much depends on the choice David, and every other American student, will make. In or out? Classroom or hallway?

"A ‘separate tribe,' as author Patricia Hersch describes our youth subculture, rules our schools’ hallways. Hallways are this tribe’s turf, the meeting and greeting ground where young people play out popular fantasies of violence, sexuality, and, especially, consumerism. The hallway rules are easy, the rewards immediate, and the rituals provide culturally approved media roles young people have been fed since birth. In school hallways almost everyone can be ‘'someone,' even, or especially, if that someone is a wannabe thug, pimp, player, roller or top 'dawg.'

"If you were to spend five minutes in my school’s hallways at class change or at the end of day, you would despair for our country’s future. Students screaming obscenities at each other, male students bullying and degrading, in the most graphic and unmistakable ways, female students (and the females usually laughing hysterically at each insult), fights between residents of one neighborhood vs. another, and enough anger to blow up a city block or, for that matter, a city.

"One of my 'better' female students, from Cameroon, Africa, described our hallways as 'opening a sewer, toxic poisons spilling over everyone.' She adds, 'There’s not a day I’m not afraid.'

"Finally, the only thing David can or will bring to our broken world is a defiant attitude of learned helplessness. We’ve taught many (most?) of a generation lessons in consumerism, boredom, violence, apathy, sexuality and fear. But not much else...

"David glances over at me approaching him, puts his baseball cap on backward and walks into the hallway. The entire class laughs and, with some students standing up, applauds."

...And that last is so horribly true. Losers like this are high school heroes. I don't see how anybody can make it through the public schools in America today without sustaining major psychological - or is that spiritual? - damage.

Comments (95)

Gosh, Jacobs's attempts to sound like a reluctant convert are pretty amusing, aren't they? "Maybe he'll be socially limited for life....But he's a well-adjusted guy, which wasn't exactly what he was two years ago." "Maybe we'll do it for another year." (And then what? Pull the trigger?) And God forbid some parent should have a "principled objection to secularists corrupting their kids." Can't have that now, can we? Could we, maybe, have an objection to our kids' being in the open sewer described above? Are we just weird if we talk about sewers, corruption, contamination? Yeah, I guess to Mr. Jacobs, anyone who does that is weird.

Ah, well, I guess some people have to learn the truth slowly. And it's a great thing that his son is learning stuff instead of getting the tar beaten out of him.


"Pull the trigger" is a pretty good metaphor for what you're doing when you send your kids to all too many of our public schools.

It sort of makes me shake my head to see people so diffident. The Jacobses have clearly landed on their feet. People in their psychological situation--previously so committed to public school (God knows why), so worried about their kid taking all his classes from his parents, and so forth--obviously needed a really good co-op. And they've found one. It surprises me to see him sort of wincing away from admitting that he's on to a great thing and should never even consider sending his son back to where he was. Why not just be happy with it, instead of saying "maybe one more year"? And why imply that the "good" homeschooling parents are the ones who have been forced into it after giving a manful try to having their kids go to public school first, rather than doing it from the outset? It's just kind of odd.

I mean, wow. Latin? Logic? Plato's Republic? In the ninth grade? Is this nerd nirvana, or what?

It's not. All good things require hard work. It's a good thing they have a co-op and can afford it.

A public education system should work, however reluctant some are to admit it. Higher education fares no better, so the issue isn't really a matter of public versus private. Besides, leaving a bad thing doesn't guarantee a good thing.

Abolish public education.

"Besides, leaving a bad thing doesn't guarantee a good thing."

Uh, and your point is what, exactly? There are no guarantees in life, but we can all see when a situation is insupportable and can often tell that we can do better elsewhere or in some other way. Does this have to be decided with no evidence? Like, taking your kid out of a school where he's getting beaten up and learning 0 and teaching him instead at home, which you can _think_ about, look into, look at curriculum, and figure out you can do, is some sort of irrational leap of faith?

Y'know, if a guy was getting beaten up at work and decided to quit and look for a better job, most people _wouldn't_ say to him, "Leaving a bad thing doesn't guarantee a good thing." Why are kids expected to put up with the like? It blows my mind to read the quotation Steve gives from that guy's girl student saying, "There isn't a day that I'm not afraid." What sort of person leaves his daughter in a situation like that if he can find _any_ other way? I swear, people in America have brain-freeze on this subject. And the freeze is deeper in Europe.

A wise man once explained that sweeping the house clean is a great invitation for even more devils.

All these Zen-like pronouncements, KW, could be said about anything in life. Why about educating your children more than about anything else? Gee, if you're standing in front of a train bearing down on you, perhaps you shouldn't jump out of the way, because you never know, you _might_ fall into even greater danger. There's a recipe for remaining paralyzed in a horrible situation! So, okay, when it comes to home schooling or anything else, you look before you leap (while we're on proverbs). I happen to think that looking ahead can certainly lead people, as it led the Jacobses, to decide on the basis of overwhelming evidence that teaching their child at home will be an excellent choice and far better than the public-school alternative.

I happen to think so too. Without a doubt, a prudent choice. But not without attendant costs. Homeschooling is excellent, but not entirely efficient: it lacks the advantage of a division of labor. Anyhow, you won't get me to shill for either poor public education or poor private education.

KW, I'm a great believer in capitalism, and I even have a certain amount of impatience with the pre-industrial aesthetic romanticism that laments building anything (be it cars or tables) on an assembly line because it's "soul destroying" in the name of efficiency. So you won't hear me knocking efficiency and the division of labor in the abstract. But I have to say that when it comes to education of children, I'm not nearly as sure of the value of those concepts as when we're talking about manufacturing physical objects.

But I'll grant you this much: If we had local schools in which the neighborhood children were well-taught by well-qualified people, not allowed to harm each other, and not allowed to prevent each other from being educated by disruptive behavior, in which children were not brain-washed in liberal political attitudes, old-fashioned apple-pie American schools (perhaps in a little red schoolhouse), then I can well imagine that "division of labor" would be a more relevant concept and that many an American couple would be happy to turn their children over to the equivalent of Laura Ingalls to teach them five days a week.

But those days are long, long gone, and even many private schools don't fit that idyllic vision. Probably even long ago many little red schoolhouses weren't what they were cracked up to be, varying wildly with the teacher in question. All that being the case, the development of curriculum and parent-run options for homeschooling has burgeoned in the market. And whether it is efficient or not, it's working well even for many parents who are not overwhelmingly specially trained.

By the way, Steve -- great comments from you in the comments thread on Jacobs's post.

Well, St. Paul (no, not Zen) was hardly talking manufacturing when he proposed a division of labor.

It needs to be stressed: homeschooling is inefficient and it's a shame that families are pressed into it. What I recommend, as you already know, is an increase in market schooling as the predominant form. I do not think a society is healthy where homeschooling is the dominant form. In other words, prudence tells me to look ahead to the future of American education. The present trend in homeschooling is not the model for the future. I agree with Scruton and Kimball that homeschooling is an interim measure. The burgeoning part is welcome, but it, too, must be scrutinized for what it is.

I have to wonder, if those of you who knock schools have ever been in to see first hand their local school. I'm very proud to have my children going through our public schools. The ones who home school their kids are pining for something that may have never been.

Yes, Russ, my oldest daughter had speech therapy at the local public school about eleven years ago. That was the elementary school. It wasn't too horrific, but still, I didn't like what I saw. Middle school is notoriously worse. I haven't been there, as in inside (though we fly kites in the field next to it), but I see the police reports, courtesy of the local neighborhood watch. The police are frequently having to be called for crimes against persons and property. To the middle school, this is. The high school is worse still. A good friend sent her son to a different local middle school (they live in a different neighborhood) but switched him to the charter school when he was getting beaten up every day at the ordinary public school.

If you have a great situation, bully for you.

KW, I disagree, and I can't see where you get the "not healthy" part. Inefficiency is unhealthy? And what do you really know (Scruton was incredibly ignorant) about the forms of familial cooperation that home schoolers engage in? (If your "unhealthy" charge is Scruton's ignorant one that home schoolers have no involvement in the "intermediary institutions.") To some extent they are recreating what schools used to offer, only with more of a voluntary aspect. But since when is sheer inefficiency "unhealthy"? Lots of things are done inefficiently--growing flowers in one's garden. That doesn't mean it's an unhealthy society where lots of people do it.

Oh, Russ, and I forgot to mention the arrest of our local middle school principal on charges of sexually abusing a youngster over a period of years. And then there was the time just a few weeks ago when, taking my daily walk past our local middle school as school was letting out, two boys bigger than I am approached me in a threatening manner so that I was forced to turn down a different street and pretend that one of the nearby houses was my own. And the time a boy drove his bike straight at myself and my four-year-old on a similar walk. Now I don't even walk past there when school is letting out. Why would I send my kids to live inside there for forty hours per week? I'd have to be nuts.

Your experience is why I posed my question as I did. I'd be H.S. my kids too, if that were my neighborhood. I'm curious where these horror stories are coming from, big cities probably. I ask because I have a lot of experience with schools in small and medium sized city schools.

Small to medium-sized Midwestern city. Nice neighborhood, too, believe it or not, though sometimes all the nice residents worry about it, as there's a not-nearly-so-nice neighborhood just a mile north. The city has a strongly Dutch Christian Reformed character, phonebook full of Dutch names, and a lot of the parents send their kids to the several large Christian schools in town. Minority group members, of course, are disproportionately represented in the public schools.

I should add that to my mind the variations by district do not have the consequences that are sometimes attributed to them--i.e., that if you can find a "good" public school, all will be well. To the east of our city is a high socio-economic district, country/suburban cum what are called McMansions, with the widespread reputation of having "good" public schools. From that disrict come the following stories, one academic and one atmospheric:

Their elementary school teaches "inventive spelling" in which children are deliberately taught when they are first reading to spell words without vowels or with random vowels, e.g. "bkz" for "because." This, I gather, is one of the latest fads in teaching spelling and teaching reading. Some children manage to learn to read nonetheless, but some, even bright ones, are stymied. A friend of mine borrowed Rudolph Flesch's _Why Johnny Can't Read_ from me and taught her seven-year-old to read herself from the lists in the back, whereupon the girl's teacher expressed complacent approval of "how much Shelby has improved in her reading." I've since mentioned this inventive spelling idea to a recent Elementary Ed graduate from a completely different part of the country. She defended it, thus lending confirmation to my theory that the first move in college Education courses is to put all the students under anesthetic and remove some of their brain cells. It also confirms that this "teach them how not to spell words" thing is all over the place.

Second, same friend with a high school daughter reports that high school daughter returns from school every day--remember, this is in the "good" public school district with all the rich kids--and rushes to the bathroom. Reason: She doesn't want to use the bathroom after school at school because all the girls are in there doing drugs.

Public schools: burn them all down and salt the earth beneath them, leaving nothing but a sad memory. We don't worry about "what will replace them" when we eradicate an epidemic disease, and I don't know why we should worry about that now.

If people think that proposal is too radical, I have a different one: keep the (some) tax supported public schools but make attendance strictly voluntary, and also contingent upon good discipline. Allow only parents of attending students with passing grades to vote for the school board -- nobody else -- and give the school board broad powers to set academic and disciplinary standards. Finally, burn all the statutory and case law on 'separation of church and state' in education.

Homeschooling is time-prohibitive. Are there any alternatives?

The model I have in mind takes after the classes at the YMCA and Kumon centers. All of these are educational stores selling their specialty. Talent centers at some universities (Stanford, Northwestern, Yale) are cashing in. What I like about ballet schools and the YMCA swim program is that they are not tethered to the old elephant.

The key to market schooling is the proper division of labor. Ballet schools don't teach swimming, Kumon doesn't teach biology.

More here.

KW, I consider that home schooling and the laws that support and permit it actually encourage the kind of thing you are talking about. When the parents are given full control over their children's education, they can then look about them and choose from a smorgasbord of sub-contracting options, as it were, for particular skills. The main time-taker there is transportation. When you go to various places for various classes for your kid, time is lost in transit, loading everybody into the car, etc. That, plus a lot of self-confidence in academics, is why I do so much less in the way of contracting-out than many of my home-schooling friends.

The one remaining barrier to the full-fledged use of such options is the requirement in some states that a child who is legally deemed home-schooled must receive a large majority of his teaching in whatever the state considers to be core or required subjects from his own parents or legal guardians. To tell you the truth, I don't know if my own state has such an aspect to its law (though I'm pretty sure it does), because we fulfil the requirement easily and have never had to think about it. But what is gradually happening is that more and more home schooling parents are contracting out to co-ops, homeschool-marketed tutoring centers, or local community colleges for more than half of their children's high school courses, which may be technically illegal. This is because the tutoring centers or co-ops are not schools, do not grant the high school diploma, and aren't subject to whatever regulations surround high school private education. So the child is formally being home schooled but receiving most of his education from people other than his parents. _I_ think this is a great set-up, because the parents have the full right to pick and choose what classes to put him in. The market is in full swing. But to the extent that this is legally iffy, that needs to be corrected to give home schooling parents all options.

We could, of course, at this point get into an argument as to whether the essence of home schooling requires that X percent of the child's teaching come from his parents. But what I won't permit is this: Move 1) _Define_ "home schooling" as a form of education in which the children rarely get together with people outside their home, have few or no friends, and have no opportunities for extracurricular activities like dance or sports. Move 2) Criticize home schooling for not providing children with friends, contacts outside their own families, and extracurricular activities. Move 3) When experienced home schoolers point out the plethora of opportunities for these things now available for home schoolers, point to Move 1 and tell them, "That isn't really home schooling."

While I might be willing to grant that there are some home schoolers who do so much of their children's academics with tutors or co-ops that they might be said to have moved into a purely voluntary quasi-private-school form of education, I'm not prepared to say at what point that line is crossed, and I entirely reject the idea that home schooling parents who do not do _everything_ themselves ought to be defined out of the genre. That would be ridiculous.


I hear rumors about how terrible our Middle School is too, and then I go there as a substitute and find it's basically your mostly enduring but drive you nuts adolescents. I'd heard, for example I'd find condoms laying all over the P.E. area and I never did spot one. Kid's like drama, but I'm not saying the girl in you story in the bathroom with druggies isn't every bit possible. I'm not only pleased with academic side of my kid's schooling but of the fact that they will not be thrown by different or unsavory types when forced to make a living real world. Oh, and the school with the police cars out front all the time, if it's like our high school, they have a full time policeman.

I didn't mention police cars out front all the time that I can recall. I mentioned reading police reports and seeing what sorts of crimes the police were being called for at the school. I understand kids can exaggerate. As far as I'm concerned, if there are condoms at all at a middle school (6-8 grade), never mind whether they are lying on the floor in the P.E. area, and if (as is often the case) they are being given out by the school health clinic, that's a problem right there. But we may differ about that.


No , I think we can agree giving out condoms is a bad idea. : )

But since when is sheer inefficiency "unhealthy"?

You sound like Chesterton. :~)

Zen-like, William.

Burn them all down and salt the earth beneath them

Burning and salting may eradicate one disease, but the epidemic really resides in the students, who contracted it from their parents, who contracted it from an anti-Christ culture. Burning is the easy way out, washing our hands of the school system and offering an apology to all those kids who suffered in it: "We're sorry we brought this on you. We've made it right now; you don't have to go to school anymore." If we're going to burn and salt, we have to corral and gas what's left; surround the cities and shoot any that attempt to escape.

Same thing goes for all those students who "volunteer" to not come to school under your proposed new regime. While classrooms would have a 5:1 student to teacher ratio, the streets would have a 10,000:1 wannabe thug to police officer ratio. Those 40 hrs a week serve more to check an unthinkable alternative than educate children whose parents and role models teach them to despise

Caveat: My experience is limited to the inner-city schools of Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA, and the preceding assertions may or may not apply to public school-systems everywhere.

Public "education" in the inner city may be a joke, but it is also a front, where educators everyday combat a culture that has raised kids to hate authority and love themselves. If you're looking for a fight in the "Last Crusade," grab a teaching certificate from the armory and enlist in your local school system. You'll sit on a Council of Days surrounded by an anarchy unadulterated by philosophic discussions, with no Scotland Yard to back you up, and no hope of success. Your fellow educators will probably drink to forget their day as much as you pray for strength to face the next one. Or, you might have the rare experience of meeting someone who’s fighting the same lost cause as you and discover what Chesterton meant when he said that “two is two thousand times one.”

I have to admit I haven't read all the comments but I think you guys need to get over yourselves.

1. Yes reading a study of Plato's Republic and working on learning Latin is great for a 9th grader. Hardly unique, though. I went to college with kis who read Plato in HS. I myself read Joyce in HS which is probably harder than the Republic. Latin is great too but are you telling me you won't find public school kids that have taken several years of a language?

2. Yes yes hallways do make for silly popularity contests. Welcome to human nature. If homeschooling is so great then why should such trivial matters be presented as if they were a modern day concentration camps. Stuff like this makes homeschoolers sound less like great parents and more like overprotective ninnies. I'm saying this not as someone who was 'champ of the hallway' but as someone who spent most of his school years quite near the bottom of the 'hallway contest'. While I agree for many kids it can be harmful, a little pain in that area is a healthy thing. It's a good object lesson to learn first hand how fickle socieity can be, that fashion and popularity is fleeting and even if you obtain it, it only provides a limited amount of pleasure. It's also a good object lesson that life is not fair. The smartest or best do not always rise to the top, one should not assume everything 'works' and therefore the top of any group should not be assumed to be the best or most deserving. The rest of the world and life is not so different from the hallway my friend. I wouldn't ditch Plato Republic but being able to learn to navigate 'the hallway' in many ways will come more in handy thru life than a top to bottom knowledge of the Republic.

I think homeschooling is great for that tiny portion of parents who are capable and willing to put the energy to pull it off. That is not the majority though or even a large minority. Many would quickly be tempted to turn 'homeschooling' into 'TV and internet' schooling as would those who have mental or other problems. I think homeschooling should exist but it should be tought and those who want to do it need to have to fight and jump over some hurdles to demonstrate that they are serious about it.

...yes hallways do make for silly popularity contests.

That's great. Getting the crap beat out of you, bathrooms which can't be used as bathrooms because they are the equivalent of in-service crackhouses, and being taught how healthy a lifestyle of sodomy can be by guest speakers in 'health' class is a "silly popularity contest".

Yeah, get over yourselves everyone.


You are either hypersensitive, given over to sensationalist third party accounts (hallways would have taught you to caste a skeptical eye on rumors and overly dramatic stories) or went to a public school that was quite different than the average US public school. Were you perhaps raised in some type of dysfunctional developing country, if you don't mind my prying into your personal experience?


I can tell from your comments that you're high school experience is limited to one of the following options. Either, a) you grew up in the "Rebel Without A Cause" era, or b) you went to a suburban or rural school where drugs were too distant to be rampant and kids fought only when one insulted the other's mother.

No disrepect for age or background, but the hallways are a little different in today's inner-city schools, and only delinquent parents send their children to them. A little pain is healthy, a little more pain can be even healthier. But constant, real threat?

The social environment of the contemporary educational institution is a hothouse environment, utterly unrelated to the quotidian experiences of ordinary adult life - unless, of course, the omnipresent threat of physical and psychological violence, the intermittent threat of administrative persecution, and the irremediable puerility of cliques are normative in the workaday world. I am what would be categorized in the mindless, important-only-for-subliterates status hierarchy of 'the hallway' as a nerd: athletic ability restricted to the raw skills, if that (I can hit pitches thrown at major-league speeds, but lack the physique to make much of the hand-eye-coordination), I prefer intellectual pursuits and classical music to status competition (and enthusiasm for, or training in, classical music earns one the reputation of being a "fag" in institutions of lower learning, as I learned firsthand, in a real-life preview of Idiocracy), and so forth. My educational experience, until my senior year of high school, and then college, was a litany of horrors, and, much to my satisfaction, had absolutely no relevance whatsoever to any post-secondary experiences; the Lord of the Flies socialization was merely a protracted exercise in gratuitous, sadistic cruelty, void of value or pertinence to anything beyond itself.

Which is an argument for abolishing the conditions of its possibility, root and branch. The notion that children suffer some sort of deprivation by virtue of being isolated from such a fathomless wealth of misery is an inversion of the truth, at best.

...hallways would have taught you to caste a skeptical eye on rumors and overly dramatic stories...

I love it when my presumptively sheltered existence is invoked as an ad hominem. Of course few people other than myself can fully appreciate the humor of it, as something even more funny than ad hominem presumption of hidden motives.

Just for your appreciation, Boon, a little anecdote: during study hall in the tenth grade in a small-town public school in America, some number of years ago, the local drug dealer used to light up his single-hitter pipe in the back of the room, hidden behind a social studies book configured as a Japanese partition screen. The beauty of the single-hitter pipe is that the entire payload can be inhaled at once, and held until absorbed, leaving no residual smoke to waft about the room and capture the unwanted attention of the teacher sitting vigilantly at the desk in the front of the room. It takes some experience to master the technique, but training was available, free of charge, as to how one can smoke dope right under the teacher's nose. Who needs a bathroom?

At least the kids were learning something.

Steve's comments strike a chord with me, though I wonder if what we are doing by making school a mandatory entitlement isn't so much keeping kids off the street as bringing the street to the kids.


I agree with you but seriously, most people in the US go to public schools that are either rural or suburban. Even in cities, most schools cannot be described as the inner-city hells you are talking about. You've seen that 'Stand and Deliver' movie just a few times too many (or maybe that other with Belushi). Go through those communities and you're going to see a lot of dysfunction and very few homeschoolers going over The Republic with their kids.

Nowadays it seems that schools do a lot more about the 'hallway' culture than they did back then. Many schools have 'zero tolerance' policies on fighting and are much less inclined to turn a blind eye towards the lesser fights that 'break up' before the teacher arrives. Bullying too has started to be addressed. I'm not so old as to think my experience was the best way to do things but sometimes I wonder if they might go a bit too far.

But I think I'm 100% right in saying 'come on' to the many posers on this list. Here in the real world that most of us actually live in the schools are nothing like the hysterical picture being painted. Maximos, who posted right after you is exhibit A. Zippy exibit B.

I prefer intellectual pursuits and classical music to status competition

Yes, yes you honestly think that cliques are not present in these world? That status competition has been banished from such noble and highly refined people as yourself? One of the things I did find 'in the hallway' was a diversity of things in the world. While I was neither much of a nerd or athelet I did find niches of friends and activities that worked for me (the school paper, debate team, and my offbeat group of lunchroom friends). While 'status competition' may be harmful, it is also very helpful. I'm very happy, for example, that I started out as a horrible debator in my Freshmon year and ended as a pretty good one in my senior year.

Lord of the Flies is a pretty poor example, it indicates you just don't really get it. There was only one hierarchy in Lord of the Flies. It sounds to me like you look at a high school and see the same thing and assume on top are (maybe) cheerleaders and football players and everyone else is miserable....hoping for the moment to unseat the 'king of the hill'. In reality it is an ecosystem of niches. The debate team for me was competition but the athletes were totally irrelevant to my feelings about myself.

But I think I learned enough to recognize that while debate was important to me it wasn't to others. I think (or hope) I was able to see that while I had no interest in athletics for those who did it was hard work and their achievements were real. To be frank, you come off as a pretty arrogant snob with an insufferable elitism about yourself. While you bash the baseball players who mastered a single skill without balancing the needs of the entire game have you ever considered that maybe you also suffer from this 'one hit wonder' affliction? You're perhaps a bit too proud of your "intellectual pursuits" and as a result have ignored on the need to balance that out with some social skills like, say, humility? Perhaps learning not to broadcast to the world "I think I'm better than you and I read your dislike of me as confirmation that I'm even smarter and you're even dumber than I first thought!"

Boon wrote (to Maximos):
You're perhaps a bit too proud of your "intellectual pursuits" and as a result have ignored on the need to balance that out with some social skills like, say, humility?

I'm not sure you learned as much about debate as you seem to think you have, given your reflexive resort to ad hominem.


And yet you managed to survive such horrors and live to tell about them today. Here's a little ancedote for you, On New Years Eve 1999 I attended Billy Joe's concert in Madison Square Garden. I smelled the distinct ordor of pot! In fact, I saw several people in the row in front passing it around! Despite that fact I wouldn't have described the experience as...ohhh...."omnipresent threat of physical and psychological violence, the intermittent threat of administrative persecution, and the irremediable puerility of cliques" or to use your phrase "in-service crackhouses".

Out of curiosity, what became of the 'local drug dealer'. Yes he was able to get away with his little game behind the teacher's back in your ancedote but do tell the whole story. You mean he never got caught? Never got in trouble? He graduated and is the town's respected dentist today?

I'm not going to tell you stuff never goes down. People smoke pot, do drugs, drink, fight, steal, cheat and so on. That is the human condition and the real world. This is (or was) your community Zippy. Would staying home have protected you from that? Perhaps but I'm not sure if it would have protected you for the better. I'm all for putting a lid on those things and nowadays most public schools come down pretty hard on such things....usually having the kid arrested with criminal charges when found with drugs (or even fighting). But honesty demands keeping things in their proper perspective.

Wow, Boonton is not showing up very well here, IMO. I suspect Maximos means exactly what he says and has the evidence to prove it.

I especially appreciate Maximos's allusion to the irrelevance of his experience to "the real world." I mean, people must have a _really_ low opinion of the real world to think that the threat of physical violence is a constant concern in most men's typical jobs. I imagine there are some--inner-city cop, perhaps? One of my small bits of real-world experience was being a secretary at a pallet plant. Now, I was in the dirty office trailer, so it's possible I missed everything, but actually I knew a fair bit of what went on "up at the plant," and while people were plenty mean and nasty and had all sorts of ways of "getting" one another, no one was getting beaten up.

I imagine that to most people the difference between _metaphoric_ long knives and _literal_ long knives is a pretty important difference when it comes to where you have to live most of the week.

By the way, this all reminds me of a particularly inane comment on a home schooling thread a couple of years ago on Right Reason. Somebody (it may have been I, but I can't recall) commented that home schooled teenagers are pleasant for adults to be around and are not reflexively foul-mouthed as are too many of their public school contemporaries. Whereupon an apologist for public schooling tried to insist that learning to go around swearing like a sailor (or worse) is part of "preparation for real life." I ask you guys with jobs in "real life": Is it really considered a job qualification for most of these that one swear frequently? Or is it, perhaps, a drawback?

Cliques are omnipresent in the ordinary world; what is not is the omnipresent threat of violence and psychological degradation imposed by members of one clique upon members of another. This is the reason for the pertinence of the Lord of the Flies metaphor: there is manifestly a status hierarchy in high school, whatever the profusion of social cliques and niche environments, and those who do not reside in the high-status cliques will often become recipients of abuse and opprobrium visited upon them by their "superiors". This does not correspond to anything in normal adult life; in fact, whenever I have encountered similar attitudes in the real world, the understanding of virtually everyone has been that the person exhibiting them is a case of arrested development.

Which gets to the point: the purpose of education is to socialize children for adulthood and maturity, and never to permit the baser instincts of childhood and adolescence to run riot; the socialization of children in latter - which is precisely what the nagative aspects of 'the hallway' is - represents a failure of the purposes of education - thus, a failure of the adults to be the adults, as opposed to functionaries collecting paychecks.

Humility has nothing to do with this question. My humility, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with the non-right of a jock or wealthy scion of a favoured son to torment a person like myself, for being 'weak', 'faggy', or 'nerdy'. People who engage in such forms of abuse need the opposite of the coddling they often receive; namely, they need serious discipline, and sometimes, therapy. Kids like my fifteen-year-old self don't need to cringe before such moral retards, as if this were "humility"; those moral retards need to be educated out of their moral retardation, being taught that such differences are not invidious.

I'm not sure you learned as much about debate as you seem to think you have, given your reflexive resort to ad hominem.

Nice try but you reflexively implied that ad hominem means simply "anyone who calls someone a name is automatically wrong".

Ad hominem is:

"You're a jerk, therefore your argument is wrong".

Ad Hominem is not:

"You act like a jerk, that's not a good thing".

I may be wrong but I feel Maximos's post smacks of someone who is pompus and arrogant. That is a very bad thing to communicate if you're trying to sway someone to your point. Needless to say it is generally a very bad trait anywhere unless your career is something like diva or celebrity "bad boy".

I earned my certitude on these questions through long experience: to the extent that the culture of the hallway is about the sort of things that I endured, then that culture needs to be extirpated, root and branch, because it is an education in sadism and inhumanity, and bears no relation to the real world.


Schools and "anti-Christ Culture." Speaking of my kid's school experience, there's no obstacles stopping them from being good Christians. Yes, their school has a number of parents who feel the same as you and one, a good friend, won't send his kids there. They can pray anytime they want, silently and humbly. The friends they have all go to church. Almost all the teachers are Christians, one, another friend, is Jewish. I will say this, the big thing we are fighting is the kids generally like to party on weekends. This summer my wife and I thought whose kid is this? The sophomore year is notoriously a tough one.

Lydia, Maximos,

It's somewhat perplexing that we keep talking on different wavelengths. I disagree with the assertion that the normal US HS experience is one of constant violence, the threat of violence and psychological torture. Yet this cartoon keeps getting tossed up as if imagining it makes it a fact. And no, an analytical philosopher such as yourself should easily see ancedotal stories of a kid smoking some dope behind the teachers back or a hallway fight do not prove otherwise.

I will concede that the emotional toll of those years is greater than it typically is in adult life. Part of this, though, is due to the unavoidable fact that growing up is difficult. Everything feels new when you're young and everything feels of the utmost importance. As we settle into adulthood we find our own voice so the approval of others becomes less important. That doesn't say the approval of others becomes all that less fickle and transitory. To boil it down, it may not be the 'thorns' in real world society are duller than school....the thorns may be almost as sharp its just that we've become stronger and able to bear them.

I will also concede that kids are cruel. But victimization here is often a two way street. While I was by no means a bully (either psychological or physical) I was also no saint. In fact, in retrospect I can see I often behaved quite callously and often was blind to that fault because I could cling to the blanket of "I'm a victim of others".

Which leaves me with a third observation, successful people even then got that. I remember there were people that were nice back then. By nice I don't mean perfect but were able to refrain from taking every cheap shot and did not rely on putting others down to be on top. These people often were respected and accumulated leadership because of their virtue. Yes there were bullies on the football team but the leaders were more often not bullies than were.

I apologize if Maximos's experience was exceptionally tramatic but I get the feeling here that I'm just watching an adult version of what you guys are supposedly complaining about. You've all 'ganged up' on an imaginary idea of public schools and seem to be arguing with the stupidest cliches imaginable. Don't pat yourself on the backs too much, at least the bully is picking on someone who could punch him back someday!

There is a difference between seeking, during that exceptionally awkward phase of life, the approval of a peer group, and the threat of bullying and suchlike from those one isn't even choosing as immediate peers. The adults, I say once more, should be inculcating habits of charity and yes, a certain type of tolerance, instead of permitting the cruelty to flourish, then justifying it - as I have often heard - as just a part of life. Moreover, as you allude in your comment, such cruelties often serve as 'occasions of sin', pushing many victims into analogous forms of cruelty as a preemptive or compensatory measure against the primary cruelty. There is no excuse for such circumstances, and ubiquity does not justify.

Even in cities, most schools cannot be described as the inner-city hells you are talking about. You've seen that 'Stand and Deliver' movie just a few times too many (or maybe that other with Belushi).

Alright, I confess to having seen "Stand and Deliver" (only once) but as compelling as Andy Garcia's performance is, I try my darndest to separate the reality of inner-city schools from the silver-screen. I'm not talking about "Freedom Writers," I promise failure and despair to any teacher trying to approach an inner-city situation. Anyone that says differently is a fool.

I also noted that my experience was limited. Even in the Philadelphia school district, I only know one school, and that even one of the better. However, your comment that "most schools cannot be the hells" to which I'm referring is a little silly and unfounded in your experience. Unfortunately, I'm a little more familiar with the Harrisburg district and can tell you that of 17 schools, not one of them is as "heavenly" as you assure us.

Again, my experience is limited, but when you see 2nd graders throwing fists with the teacher standing over them, pulling them apart, your worldview changes.

I can accept that the 'test' of the hallway is no guarantee of success. Some people embrace the approval of a peer group "at any cost necessary" and continue on with it through adulthood. Likewise most are tempted to put others down. As I tried to point out with you, this is not unique to 'jocks'. Intellectual groups can be just as cliquish and just as cruel as any other group. In fact, sometimes they can be even worse than a group whose differences are resolved with a shoving match that rarely extends beyond 30-seconds.

On the other hand, passing the 'test' can be a powerful positive giving a person many lessons that will serve them well thru life and will never be learned in a book.

I agree that bullying should be stopped and charity & tolerance encouraged. There are few public schools today that do not try to do this. More often than not, they are likely to err too far on the opposite side trying to stamp out everything in the name of misguided 'zero tolerance' policies. These days I think you'd be hard pressed to find a public school whose perspective on violence is "let kids be kids".


The "anti-Christ" culture probably sounded a bit too broad. More specifically, I was blowing the old "rap-culture" horn. But the more rural schools suffer from an anti-Christian liberalism which is forced on them by legislature.

I won't deny there's anything more than just a hostile atmosphere to Christianity in the public school system -- and everyone knows Christianity thrives under persecution. There's nothing stopping kids from being good Christians (as far as I know); nothing more than the usual temptations of the age.

I'm really glad to hear so many Christians are on your kid's school staff. That must be an amazing relief to you as a parent. I know I'd feel uncomfortable sending my kid to a peaceful school where they were taught that neither homosexuality nor Mohammedanism were sins against God, but were, rather, alternative lifestyles.


However, your comment that "most schools cannot be the hells" to which I'm referring is a little silly and unfounded in your experience. Unfortunately, I'm a little more familiar with the Harrisburg district and can tell you that of 17 schools, not one of them is as "heavenly" as you assure us.

I haven't said any are heavenly. In fact I've tried to be as honest as I can in my memories in admitting that they quite often were not pleasent. But "getting along with others" is a skill and schools are often an excellent place to learn it. Unfortunately it is a skill many of us take for granted once we have mastered it and we arrogantly assume we knew it all along and are hence shocked to see kids today acting like mini-barbarians.

Perhaps its me but there's something of that old 'noble savage' fallacy in what some are saying here. This assumption that kids are little angels who are corrupted by 'the school' into being popularity hungry little bullies. Sorry, what you're really seeing is the slow process of civilizing little savages.

Another interesting memory of mine, take it for what you will. I remember fights and physical violence in grade school and middle school, not high school. A fight in high school, while much more serious (you are dealing with near adults after all near their physical prime), were relatively rare. Also rare was the intense mockery of others and cruel put downs. In other words, while there was plenty of immaturity to go around high school was more mature than childish. The cruelity being described was more likely to be done by Freshmen or Sophmores than seniors. And why not? Who better than seniors to have learned just how empty being 'king of the hallway' really is?

I'm saying that much of the gripping here is either hypersensitive or greatly distorted from reality. Reading this list you would think that 'Stand and Deliver' type schools were the norm when the fact is they are anything but.

Even in the 'Stand and Deliver' schools, though, I would point out the problem almost always extends through the entire community. Many of those communities have so many problems that the school, bad as it is, is a refuge.

I'm sorry, I think we're missing each other here and it's probably my fault.

The schools with which I'm dealing are inadequate because of the students. Students who have no respect for themselves, each other, or authority. When students so frequently curse out their teachers that it becomes an everyday offense punishable by a shout from that teacher, no school has a chance at educating them. Culture teaches them this behavior. The students corrupt the schools, they make the hallways dangerous by bringing the streets in with them, not the other way round from what I've seen.

All kids are barbarians in the process of civilization. But there's a distinct difference in the barbarian that crayons your wall and the barbarian that has to be pulled off his bruised and bleeding classmate. These are different fights than the playground shoving matches we're familiar with, and they unfortunately don't stop by high school.

The problem is communal, which is why I said "corral and gas what's left." But seeing as that's not an option that morality leaves open to us, I advocate, how does it go?, "[going] gaily in the dark"?

It's my fault, I shouldn't have entered a discussion on public school in general when all I know is inner-city.

I think that Boonton is exactly wrong when he writes: "being able to learn to navigate 'the hallway' in many ways will come...in handy thru life," and that Maximos is exactly right when he replies: "The social environment of the contemporary educational institution is a hothouse environment, utterly unrelated to the quotidian experiences of ordinary adult life" etc.

The high school social hierarchy is, quite simply, childish. It constantly exalts people who neither have nor ought to have any serious future in the adult world, and degrades people who do and should. Why anyone would think that experiencing this might come in "handy thru life" is simply beyond me.

FWIW, my opinion is based on quite a bit of experience. My father, my mother, and my step-mother all taught for many, many years in the public schools. I attended public schools K-12+. I taught in the public schools quite recently.

You want anecdotes? I've got anecdotes.

There's one thing that I think Boonton is right about: Many schools have, indeed, adopted a 'zero tolerance' policy on overt violence. Of course, that means that those who fight back against bullies get treated just the same as if they were bullies themselves. But credit where credit is due.

On the other hand, it's just crazy for Boonton to wonder whether Zippy's conception of public education is based on experience in some "dysfunctional developing country." As if there were any "dysfunctional developing country" on the map that would tolerate the kind of disorder that is now routine in *both* the classroom *and* the hallway here in the U.S.

The problem is communal.

The problem is . . . American. If the problem is human, I'd raise hackles at the suggestion of abolition.

It's no problem Steve, it seems a lot of people here are taking the worse of the inner-city schools and extrapolating them to all public schools (perhaps even private ones) in the interests of hyping homeschooling.

What you're talking about is not an issue in almost every public school I have any knowledge of. A student cursing at his teacher would quickly end up in the principal's office almost certainly with some type of suspension and parental conference and even psychological evaluations. 'Zero tolerance' for bullying measures have even turned many of those "playground shoving matches" into somewhat overblown incidents that likewise gets all types of attention nowadays that was ignored in the past.

I think we agree that schools both civilize kids but are also a reflection of their communities. For the most part the US is a very non-violent place. If you don't believe that consider at one time in our history lynch mobs were considered quite normal and many people hated the idea of trying to legally stop them. We still have isolated communities where violence is more the norm than the exception and that has to be addressed. And I have no easy answers for that other than to keep trying as best we can and try our best to save as many as possible. But again this has nothing to do with homeschooling and it would be a dangerous fantasy to pretend that if we tried to sell homeschooling as the solution to those communities the result would be kids quietly staying at home writing essays about Plato's Republic.

The problem is somewhat uniquely American, at least as we understand it. Upon relating my educational experiences to my wife, raised as she was in the Soviet Union, she expressed astonishment, as the grotesqueries so prevalent in American education are relatively rare in Russia. Cheating, or the other hand...

It is, by the way, a pleasure to find an issue where I can agree whole-heartedly not only with Lydia (with whom I ALWAYS agree!) but also with Zippy & Maximos. Zippy offers what may be the best short prescription for saving the public schools that I've ever seen:

"...make attendance strictly voluntary, and also contingent upon good discipline. Allow only parents of attending students with passing grades to vote for the school board -- nobody else -- and give the school board broad powers to set academic and disciplinary standards. Finally, burn all the statutory and case law on 'separation of church and state' in education."


The problem is communal.

"Community specific" sound better? It is the result of communities steeped in rap/drug/violence culture which finds fallow ground in American individualism, humanism, and consumerism. It is a community problem because a community could solve it, given the will. The problem is human because any religion (e.g. secular humanism) that tells a man he is the measure of all things is instinctively accepted by his sin-nature.

Don't accuse us Americans of having a monopoly on this just because we do it bigger and better.

Finally, burn all the statutory and case law on 'separation of church and state' in education.

While I like the idea, my concern is when the kids start praying 5 times daily.

Steve - in response to your post at 1:59:

If the teacher was "pulling them apart," he was doing it at the risk of his job.

You can never, ever, touch a student, in any way, no matter what he's doing to you or to others.

That's the current state of play.

Steve Burton
The high school social hierarchy is, quite simply, childish. It constantly exalts people who neither have nor ought to have any serious future in the adult world, and degrades people who do and should. Why anyone would think that experiencing this might come in "handy thru life" is simply beyond me.

What's curioius about this is that this is NOT what I've seen happen. Many people who I know who have "serious presents" were often somewhat successful in HS. As I said, quite often many in the top of the hierarchy were often more nice and mature than childish bullies. Yea there was a bully or two on the football team but the quarterback was not and he was looked at as more of a leader than the bully members were.

And often the people at the bottom tend to track there beyond HS. This often seems to happen when people internalize a victim status without learning to objectively look at themselves. We also sadly know this loner type that despises everyone else, refuses to be responsible for their own failures and imagine themselves to be infallible but persecuted by everyone else. Needless to say most people tend to be average and there are the dramatic surprise stories (the loner who runs the billion dollar company today, the student body president who ends up a homeless drug addict).

I also disagree with your "ought". Everyone should have a "serious future in the adult world". To do this everyone will have to outgrow being a child. There seems to be a lot of huffing and puffing around here over the seemingly obvious fact that children are...well childish. And for the most part we all were like this to one degree or another. There are very few of us who were not cruel in our own way when we were young. Another part of growing up is to learn to get away from the limitless ego that insists "I" am the most important thing in the world, "my" hurt feelings matter more than anyone elses, and so on.

There's one thing that I think Boonton is right about: Many schools have, indeed, adopted a 'zero tolerance' policy on overt violence. Of course, that means that those who fight back against bullies get treated just the same as if they were bullies themselves. But credit where credit is due.

Indeed but then we have to all learn how to 'fight back' in ways that are socially acceptable. The most difficult lesson that I remember having to learn was not so much about physically defending myself but emotionally getting over the idea that everyone else's judgement was perfect and mine was horrible. That is the illusion that I think causes people the most pain as they enter into young adulthood. In many ways I think the competition can be a healthy way to learn that. To accel at something like sports or debate or music you need to perform for yourself and not simply win approval from a peer group.

Does that vary by state? Because that's not how you're trained in PA. Certain touching in certain circumstances is acceptable. Heck, some of these schools even send their teachers for training to learn acceptable restraining holds for use when kids need put down.

use when kids need put down.

Whoops. That'll tell you where I'm from. While that type of grammar is acceptable in south central PA, I recognize that I have sinned terribly against you all and beg your forgiveness.

"when kids need TO BE put down."

"Give the school board broad powers to set academic and disciplinary standards." I thought this part was especially useful in Zippy's recommendations, esp. when it comes to suspensions. I've realized that kids suing schools for suspending them, especially if such suspensions have statistically "disparate impact" on minority students, is one of the craziest ways in which public schools have been killed. If you cannot remove kids who are a major problem, then they can insure that nobody learns. Now, would such a localizing move result in kids getting suspended for crazy reasons in leftie-dominated communities? You betcha. But overall, it would have beneficial effects, I believe, and would also allow publically funded schools more closely to mimic the situations of private schools, with local, parental control and common sense at least being _possible_ to apply to bad students without fear of suit.

Boonton writes: "This assumption that kids are little angels who are corrupted by 'the school' into being popularity hungry little bullies. Sorry, what you're really seeing is the slow process of civilizing little savages."

No. It is precisely because most kids are, essentially, limbs of the devil, that they should not be herded together during the most impressionable years of their lives.

They should - indeed, can only - grow up in the company of adults.


I'd be very interested in what you all think about Sol Stern's latest article at City Journal entitled: School Choice Isn't Enough.

Small Guy

Boonton at 2:54 p.m.:

"A student cursing at his teacher would quickly end up in the principal's office almost certainly with some type of suspension and parental conference and even psychological evaluations."


Sorry, guy, but you obviously haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about.

I never bothered turning in most of the kids who treated me like dirt, 'cause I learned from experience that it would cause way more trouble for me than for them.

Suspension? Parental conference? Psychological evaluations?

What a laugh.


I've realized that kids suing schools for suspending them, especially if such suspensions have statistically "disparate impact" on minority students, is one of the craziest ways in which public schools have been killed.

Please provide us with an example case. I've rarely seen lawsuits over school suspensions and have never seen one where the suspension was clear cut and sensible. More often than not they seem to revolve around novel questions such as free speech off school property and whatnot.

But overall, it would have beneficial effects, I believe, and would also allow publically funded schools more closely to mimic the situations of private schools, with local, parental control and common sense at least being ...

Yawn, the only problem here is that school boards and principals already do have "broad powers to set academic and disciplinary standards". I seriously wonder if you guys have any idea what you're talking about. Are you aware, for example, that there are 50 different states and each one has its own types of education policies? That US public schools are mostly run from the bottom up...at the local level rather than from the top down as in many other developed countries?

Thanks for the link, Small Guy. I'm all for parental reform.

Steve Burton
I never bothered turning in most of the kids who treated me like dirt, 'cause I learned from experience that it would cause way more trouble for me than for them.

Hmmm, I'm noticing some bait and switch here. Are you talking about kids who 'treat you like dirt' or are you talking about "students so frequently curse out their teachers that it becomes an everyday offense punishable by a shout from that teacher" which is what we were talking about.

Sorry I've seen it myself with my nephew-in-law who seems to have a chronic inability to get things right. Cursing at a teacher is a one-way ticket to the suspension, parental conference department.

You can now retreat to the argument that you were talking about the "Stand and Deliever" school you taught at where you engaged in gun battles every day or perhaps Zippy's "Sodomy High". Or perhaps someone here remembers a kid who swore at a teacher and the teacher simply yelled at him.

Sorry, Boonton, I'm going on memories of news stories about parents of black high school students, in at least one case sports stars for the school, suing over suspensions (claiming "racism" because so many more black students were suspended than white) and having them revoked. I'm not going to spend the afternoon finding the article(s) again.

Do you perhaps think that maybe these stories were more the exception than the rule? And are we talking about inner-city schools here or public schools in general?

Replying to Boonton at 3:15:

when and where did you go to high school?

You really must understand: there has been a huge, and ever accelerating, transformation in the last 10-20-30-40 years.

I come from a family of public school-teachers. And I spent a lot of time talking to some of the more experienced teachers at the high school in the Virginia piedmont where I recently taught. And they all agree: it's worse, now. Much, much worse.

Why do you suppose that is?

Do you think they're all crazy?

Replying to Boonton at 3:48:

So I guess it OK if students treat their teachers like dirt, so long as they don't actually use any of The Forbidden Words.

Well. That's certainly what they seemed to believe.

Actually, I've begun to feel as though I've awakened in a parallel universe, one in which the appropriate response to - say - a youngster who is bullied and stigmatized as effeminate for playing classical music is to tell him to "Get over it, because your feelings are not the most important things in the universe."

Of course they aren't, and most children begin to pick up on this by the time they begin those music lessons.

In the real universe, it is simply wrong for children to inflict such indignities upon their fellows, wrong for adults to indulge them in it (thereby inculcating the destructive lesson that the instinctive reactions of uncultivated and ignorant people are among the more important features of the universe, worthy of every approbation), and reflective of the irredeemable narcissism of the victimizers, who cannot abide anything which exists outside the compass of their titanic egos and claustrophobic conformities. It is the prideful who exhibit such narrowness, and not the humble. Quite to the contrary of all those assuring us that such idiocies are 'just a part of life' and even beneficial for the building of character, it is the bullies, tormentors, ne'er-do-wells, and disruptive inmates-in-training who need to master the lesson that their petty likes and dislikes, tastes, preferences, and primitive mores are not the center of the universe.


I was very impressed with your reply to my post.

.. Heck, some of these schools even send their teachers for training to learn acceptable restraining holds for use when kids need put down.

Teachers don't get paid enough!

Steve Burton

So I guess it OK if students treat their teachers like dirt, so long as they don't actually use any of The Forbidden Words.

Yea Steve, that's exactly what I said. You got it.

It is precisely because most kids are, essentially, limbs of the devil...

God, I love that line.

I went to your average small-town high school in the 80's. It had some drugs on the fringe, a bit of drinking, and of course the cliques, but nothing epidemic or newsworthy. I have 3 kids now and I would not even subject them to that experience, let alone what has happened to schools since then.

My public school experience was in the highly-touted public schools of Arlington, Virginia, the high schools of which are routinely found in those preposterous "the nation's top high schools" lists. Because I went to the county's "alternative" public high school, I escaped the constant violence to which I had been subject in the 6th through 8th grades in North Arlington's Jamestown and Williamsburg schools, but to say that it was an environment supportive either of learning or the development of virtuous young men and women would be quite a stretch.

My friends and acquaintances who went to Yorktown H.S. (where I would have gone otherwise) and Washington and Lee H.S. reported something much closer to the dystopia of menace and groping depicted by some of the other posters in this thread. As for Wakefield H.S., Arlington's shame, the less said the better. At all of the schools, binge drinking and drug use were rampant. My youngest sister, a junior in high school, this time in McLean, another tony northern Virginia locale with "very good schools" reports that things haven't changed for the better.

Now, of course, inner city schools are far worse. Another of my younger sisters, a committed liberal do-gooder, took a job for a year teaching at an inner-city elementary school in Washington DC. It was an eye-opening experience. She did have a couple of students who were interested in school, but most were not, and lacked any respect for her as an authority figure, especially a white authority figure. Nor, of course, could she expect any assistance from the administration or the (usually) absent or incapacitated parents.

I'm with Zippy. Public schools need the Henry VIII treatment. The industrialization of education is simply a failure.

Scott W. makes a point that I want to second. There are probably intractable disagreements between the pro- and the not-so-pro- homeschooling bunch on this thread as to what we should subject our children to and when we, as parents, are right to have a "zero tolerance policy" of our own. The whole idea that having your kids in a school with peers who regularly use drugs (for example) is a _good_ thing, because it "teaches them about life," smacks strongly of special pleading. What ought to be evidence that an environment is inappropriate is taken as evidence that it's just what kids ought to be steeped in on a daily basis. Just how far people are willing to take this varies. Some will take it very far indeed.


The smart parents will have to make the call, to be sure. One, if they do send their kid to public/private schools, would do well to keep an eagle eye on them, and to stand up against any peer pressure the kids will encounter. My wife and I have been very un popular at times having put the kibbutz on group plans. Letting them have My Space is just asking for trouble. There will be more risks I'm sure but the opportunities for experiences and social interaction also are very important. And, the risks I'm talking abut don't mean drug addiction.

Boonton - you're quite right. My last reply to you was unfair and unresponsive, and I apologize for it.

Since most home-schooling parents received their education (or non-education in some cases) through the public schools, it would be impossible to not consider the state of public schooling as part of the equation in the decision to teach at home. However, many of the home-schooling families I am acquainted with do so not as a response to their particular local public schools or even to the state of inner city public schools but because they consider the whole structure and philosophy of education in state schooling to be flawed and harmful to children. If as a parent your philosophy of education is in fundamental disagreement with the philosophy of education in any school that school becomes a non-option, no matter how "good" it is. Home-schooling is done in these families for positive reasons; the careful nurturing of thought, imagination, emotional wholeness, the strengthening of moral character through gradual exposure to harmful influences, open discussion of controversial subjects, etc. For this particular subgroup of home-schoolers, the shortcomings of the local school isn't even on our radar, except as it relates to the damage we observe in our children's friends from their exposure to it.

I agree with you Erin, and I wouldn't want to be deceptive about this. That's why I said that about "intractable disagreements" above. I've emphasized this point myself on other threads. But the nature of the thread has focused on the mess in public schools given that this was why the guy mentioned in the main post (Jacobs) went to home schooling.

Oh dear, I suspect I've participated in a thread jacking (I'm fairly ignorant about commenting on blogs.) The comments that seemed to be asserting that home schoolers were inflating the problems in public school in order to make their decisions valid kind of got to me. I certainly don't disagree that the public schools are astonishing failures at education, and I'm always surprised when somebody feels like they have to explain why and apologize for leaving them, as Mr. Jacobs seemed to be doing. As I mentioned in my first post, my children's friends (most of whom have wonderful, involved parents) who are in the public schools evidence damage enough from the experience to keep us away from them, and we live in a rural area with "good" schools.

Not in the slightest. Please don't think that for a moment (that you were "thread-jacking.") I was merely explaining why I didn't say more along the lines that you are emphasizing myself.

You'll see my comment above at the outset about Jacobs. It's amazing how apologetic he seems, even to the point of apparently considering sending his son back into that situation. It's just astonishing.

The thing is, there are so many reasons to home school. If someone doesn't share the "worldview" reasons, the love of the whole different life and better interaction with one's children, then *at least* such a person should be able to see plenty of what I might call "ordinary guy" reasons in the total collapse of the public schools. Really, it's an over-determined decision.

Although I hope that nobody excuses themselves, on account of "intractable disagreements" from reading the important insights I've shared here. ; )


I certainly don't disagree that the public schools are astonishing failures at education, and I'm always surprised when somebody feels like they have to explain why and apologize for leaving them, as Mr. Jacobs seemed to be doing.

Instead of a rambling charge, It would be helpful if your side provided statistics or (unbiased) reports on schools to prove your point. It's my assertion that parents have failed the schools not the other way around. Give me the worst school in the US and I'd say any dedicated student with helpful parents can, and does, successfully go on to higher education. Actually, its a miracle schools do as well as they do. Most families are broken and many are dysfunctional.

Well, I suppose my "side" could start to present statistics when yours does. There is a mountain of unbiased statistical information easily accessible to anybody who can use Google to support the claim that public schools fail at education (try typing in educational performance in industrialized nations for a start), but since I don't consider the main measure of educational success to be going on to higher education I doubt you and I would interpret the data in any similar way. I do think the fact that we've had "educational reform" on the table almost from the start of public schools says something important. You don't reform success.

I absolutely agree with you that dedicated parents are the biggest factor in educational success. However, as I stated in my previous post (warning: purely anecdotal evidence ahead), many of the children I am exposed to who have grown up in public schools are damaged, and they have loving, dedicated, married parents. These are kids who grew up with mine, so I know them. I had loving, dedicated, married parents and I suffered damage from the schools that I'm still trying to recover from. Some kids make it through the system relatively unmarked; others spend their lives trying to overcome the social fear the experience instilled in them. It really does amaze me that anybody who finds the state of public education appalling is expected to defend their position but those who find it lovely and appealing don't feel compelled to.

If you're truly interested in an alternative viewpoint on public schooling by somebody with believable credentials (unlike me - I'm basically just a mom trying to do what I believe is best for my kids), you might want to take a look at materials and essays by John Taylor Gatto, a former New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year. He is not anti-public education, merely anti-public schooling.


"...the worst school in the US..."

You mean like the one described in the main post, where there's not a day that goes by that the girl does not feel afraid? Where the hallways are full of boys sexually harassing the girls? Where the students are constantly physically afraid? But Russ, I thought your claim was the more modest one that "how bad it is" varies tremendously and that most public schools aren't that bad. You said before that if you were facing a really bad public school you would consider home schooling yourself.

Are you now claiming that the school described there _isn't_ failing the parents and that any dedicated child in such a school with helpful parents can go on to higher education? And if such a child did so, how much academic education would he be getting _from_ his parents at home in the afternoons and evenings--in essence, home schooling to make up for what he wasn't getting at school? And is your point that somehow the school can't be blamed for "failing the parents" (and the kids) if a student goes with daily loathing to that "worst school in the U.S." and makes it to college by his own and his parents' valiant efforts? To that, I would say, nonsense. No kid should have to put up with that sort of atmosphere, and if it isn't controlled and stopped, then the child who isn't part of the problem and just wants to learn is being wronged both by being put into the situation and by the fact that the adults in charge of the school situation can't make it better for him. If that means throwing out the kids who make the hallways places of fear, so be it. If the school administrators aren't allowed to do that because of some crazy laws or fear of lawsuits, then it is the legal system that has tied their hands, but _certainly_ not that child's parents, that has failed the child and his parents.

There are plenty of good parents who aren't failing their kids who are at their wits' end with public schools. If you are going to blame the problem on the parents of the _other_ kids, you can do that, but I'm going to blame the problem at least as much on a set-up that holds the school and the good kids hostage to the bad kids.

In any event, and as for academic issues, there are all of those "basic knowledge" tests given to college students and the abysmal results on them. Those are statistics. Do you honestly assert that most public school students reach college able to write well? I have oodles of anecdotal evidence to the contrary and would be willing to lay a small bet that statistical evidence exists as well. If you're going to say that somehow those widespread academic failures the fault of the parents, not the educators, what's your argument for that? I thought the whole point of schooling was that parents needed to let experts give them all this help with the academics. To say that a depressing number of American publically schooled kids aren't doing so well in the academic department, aren't graduating from high school very well educated, is pretty much (to quote good old Zippy) like saying water is wet. Yet the educators aren't required to take any responsibility for that? Sounds like "public school works to teach academics" is an unfalsifiable thesis.

Well, you two gave me a earful, and deserved too. I would still H.S. my kid who was emotionally or physically in any danger. Public school isn't for everybody, and I'm very sorry to hear your personal bad experiences. Schools may be the canary in the mine. The day they actually are put to rest won't be of their own doing and will close a chapter in the great American democratic experiment. The evidence about school failures academically isn't a good as one would be led to believe by the MSM and privatized corporate establishment. The last study I looked at showed kids are doing better than they were 30 years ago. The reason college has all these kids who can't write is because they have low standards and want the money. Also, the new craze in academia is Globalization and privatization. Writing? that's for the birds, mentality. The American standardize test companies are capitalist first and last, they want money and that means selling more tests. Privatization of schools offers great possibility in the minds of Black Water type barons of greed. One last thought. The local school here in my small town, pop. 7000, has a girl who moved here from Michigan with her mom. The dad is long gone. Her mom this summer was sent to jail and the girl, 17 or 18 ( I can't remember) took charge of her 12 year old sister and has not only kept up her grades but keeps her sister doing well. She lives, for now in a small apartment, on her own. I can't tell you all that local school has done for her. She cried on Christmas when one teacher told her of yet another gift of money and food rounded up by staff and classified employees. "Why, she asked are people doing this?" Do you know what was on the top of her Christmas list? Silverware!

Just to clarify, that wasn't my personal bad experience I was referring to but the example given in the main post.

I don't see how college's low standards can be blamed for poor writing when it sounds to me like even the good students are poor writers when they show up. Those are the students they'd get if they had higher standards.

I doubt capitalism has much to do with this. To the contrary, in fact. On basics, curriculum sold to private Christian schools (I buy it for English language arts, writing, and math) is very traditional and good, academically.


I taught kindergarten two years at this school in town with the highest unemployment and largest new increase in immigrants. The school was classified as in danger 5 years ago and has to improve their test scores. Those kindergartners are worked. They have daily homework! The scores improved a few years ago, but the test companies raised the bar so, no dice, school still not achieving standard levels. They do this every year, raising the bar and the kids get better every year. Now, the school knocks off coloring and cutting skills and recess for the older kids in the afternoon has been cancelled. That's all our fat kids need, right, less play time.

I use the Iowa Test of Basic skills for my children in 3th through 5th grades. I don't have to do this but do it for my own information. I don't know if that's what you have in mind as an example of a standardized test. My older two children are quite an age spread apart, so I've gotten to see how the test has changed. My perception is that the basic areas--like reading comprehension and math--have remained virtually identical over a period of six years. I don't even always agree with the priorities there (the emphasis on estimation, for example) but there has been no real change. But they added an extremely stupid fad section this past year called something like "listening skills." I have my own ideas about the purpose of it, but suffice it to say that I would neither call it "raising the bar" (though it confuses scores by having some questions that would be too hard even for many adults) nor would I attribute it to capitalism. I would attribute it, rather, to a certain PC agenda of randomizing scores to eliminate group differences and also to the fact that too many children cannot actually read well at that age (this was for 3rd grade) and that they are trying to make a section "for them" by having them answer questions on readings they hear but are not allowed to look at. Many of the questions were not even as minimally well-motivated as having kids show comprehension and memory of stories they heard, either. They were just...bizarre. (But I'm not allowed to go into detail in virtue of a tester promise I had to sign to be allowed to administer the test.) If that section remains on the test this year, I will either switch to a different standardized test or drop the standardized testing altogether.


To be clear, they raised the bar by just making what was acceptable a year before, on the same test, as not acceptable anymore. Now, from what I'm led to believe by high school teachers is that the test makers are making the tests incredible hard. Iowa, btw, has some of the best test scores in the nation, and if I could, I'd love to have raised my family in Pella.

My Chicago private school when I was a child used the ITBS. I don't know how all that works in public schools, but I gather any school across the nation can use it, as far as the test makers are concerned.

I have to make an edit here, 3 months after the original post. I commented originally that I knew teachers that had been trained to take kids down -- proper restraining holds and all that. While that is still true, I didn't recognize at the time that this was only true for "ES" teachers. ES, for those of you who aren't familiar with education acronyms, means "emotional support," which effectively translates to the laity as "psychotic" or "sociopathic." The kids who can't be in normal classrooms and who need to be taken down because the alternative can be scary. This, of course, is an exaggeration as to their mental status, but it's not far from true. Your average PA teachers do not receive this training because your average PA teachers touch students, as Steve Burton commented, at the risk of their jobs.
I apologize for that inaccuracy. Any others in my posts have yet gone unnoticed.

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