Thursday, July 24, 2008

I have a neighbor, (bless her heart), who is concerned that my 7 year old child is not reading at the standard set for children her age in the public school system. It was she who asked me to read the Mem Fox book that I've mentioned in an earlier post.
She would like to tutor my girls.

How do I help someone appreciate the faith I have in letting our children read when they feel motivated to do so? Why must someone tell me when my children need to accomplish a given skill?

Thank goodness for John Taylor Gatto's insight after 30 years in the public school system. Here is his letter to the Wall Street Journal...

I Quit, I Think

In the first year of the last decade of the twentieth century during my thirtieth year as a school teacher in Community School District 3, Manhattan, after teaching in all five secondary schools in the district, crossing swords with one professional administration after another as they strove to rid themselves of me, after having my license suspended twice for insubordination and terminated covertly once while I was on medical leave of absence, after the City University of New York borrowed me for a five-year stint as a lecturer in the Education Department (and the faculty rating handbook published by the Student Council gave me the highest ratings in the department my last three years), after planning and bringing about the most successful permanent school fund-raiser in New York City history, after placing a single eighth-grade class into 30,000 hours of volunteer community service, after organizing and financing a student-run food cooperative, after securing over a thousand apprenticeships, directing the collection of tens of thousands of books for the construction of private student libraries, after producing four talking job dictionaries for the blind, writing two original student musicals, and launching an armada of other initiatives to reintegrate students within a larger human reality, I quit.

I was New York State Teacher of the Year when it happened. An accumulation of disgust and frustration which grew too heavy to be borne finally did me in. To test my resolve I sent a short essay to The Wall Street Journal titled "I Quit, I Think." In it I explained my reasons for deciding to wrap it up, even though I had no savings and not the slightest idea what else I might do in my mid-fifties to pay the rent. In its entirety it read like this:

Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents. The whole blueprint of school procedure is Egyptian, not Greek or Roman. It grows from the theological idea that human value is a scarce thing, represented symbolically by the narrow peak of a pyramid.

That idea passed into American history through the Puritans. It found its "scientific" presentation in the bell curve, along which talent supposedly apportions itself by some Iron Law of Biology. It’s a religious notion, School is its church. I offer rituals to keep heresy at bay. I provide documentation to justify the heavenly pyramid.

Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the laity to the priesthood. School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be "re-formed." It has political allies to guard its marches, that’s why reforms come and go without changing much. Even reformers can’t imagine school much different.

David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I label Rachel "learning disabled" and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won’t outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, "special education" fodder. She’ll be locked in her place forever.

In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.

That’s the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation. There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints. We don’t need state-certified teachers to make education happen—that probably guarantees it won’t.

How much more evidence is necessary? Good schools don’t need more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don’t need a national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it. I can’t teach this way any longer. If you hear of a job where I don’t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know. Come fall I’ll be looking for work.


Mac said...

David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all.

As Gove will tell you from our conversations, and as an eternal homeschooling skeptic and devout academic, I have to question the former teacher's interpretations of his life-experience data. For example, while both children might read at the same level by age 13, how much has the other one learned from reading in the five year head-start? Those immeasurable learning moments from self-exposure to ideas are what I believe are lost by not being able to read before age nine. And those doubts and questions that I would want to see objective research on before I accepted even the notion that not learning to read as soon as possible benefits the child.

Now, please keep in mind that I believe that the majority of your education should come from your family, that school should be an augmentation of the processes of learning, support, and training that you receive at home. I also believe that if the parents are idiots, no amount of schooling will save the children from mediocrity. I do believe that schooling serves a valuable purpose: diversity of ideas, socializing, healthy competition, consensus building, and learning to function outside the home.

I also, despite numerous conversations with Gove and my own investigations and reading, do not understand why homeschoolers will insist on the flaws in schooling but then send their children off to college. I ask these questions, not as attacks on what yall do, but because I still don't understand the reasoning behind some of homeschooling's collective stances, and I want to understand them better.



Hammy said...

Gotta love nosy neighbors! I think that you obviously care deeply for your children and are concerned for their needs and well being. I think the neighbor should weigh your intentions before making a judgement. On the other hand she may think you are so busy teaching the other kids that she was willing to help the other with some extra teaching/tudoring. And from my experience trying to teach my daughter to swim, she responds a lot better to an outside teacher--maybe your neighbor was taking that approach. She also doesn't realize that this is not your first child to show interest in reading later than age 5. But literature is such a huge part of your home, even if it is done at one's own pace.

Mac's response is interesting. I hadn't thought of some of his arguments before, particularly about college. Your kids are obviously very creative and bright. I can see the beneifts of homeschooling in that you can really empahsize your child's interests and strengths and spend a little extra time on their weaknesses. It also scares me to expose them to the cruel world of school. You give your kids other social opportunities with other homeschooling moms.

My point (finally), don't worry about what neighbors say. They don't know all the circumstances/proptings involved in your parenting.

Nickie said...

Hi Mac,
Thank you for your thoughts. I'm glad you have read my blog. Stay tune, I will try to respond sooner then later. This will be a great learning experience for me.

No hurt feelings taken.

Nickie said...

Hi Carrie,
Thank you also for your comments. my neighbor just wants to be helpful, like you said. I talked to her yesterday.
Mac does say some interesting things. I am really going to try and respond. This will be new for me.

Nickie said...

Mac: Finally got around to responding. It was too long to put here. See post on aug 29