Mac, Thanks for posting your comments, Gove and I have had the opportunity to talk about your points. We both feel that we have been edified by talking through these issues. Here are my responses to your main points.
(Mac) 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
Does the child who desires to learn to read at five (and does so) have avenues for learning open to her that are not available to the child who does not gain a desire to read until age nine? Yes, without question, the younger child has a few years reading that the other does not have, a few years that might be filled with reading that is of interest to a child ages five to nine. Does this translate into a life-long advantage? For us, the answer to this question is unknown, although it seems clear that Gatto would argue that the four-year jump-start does not lead to a long term advantage. However, this is not the right comparison. The right comparison is between the child who is forced to learn to read at age five or six (who is not developmentally ready to learn that skill) and either of the other children who learned to read when they wanted to, and were ready to. For the child who was forced, he or she may develop a life-long aversion to reading, never reading for pleasure. For this individual, the greatest avenue to self-directed learning may remain ever closed.
(Mac) 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.
When one asks for objective research to consider an alternative method, why is it only the alternative that must be supported by objective research? Presumably, those who accept well-conducted, objective research as valid evidence (among whom we count ourselves), would want such evidence to support the the norm as well as the alternative. Such a one should also ask, "where is the objective research that says that learning to read early is good for the development of the child?" In searching for that research, be sure to consider the relationship between the funding source and the researcher.
We agree that the education of the child during the early years is extremely important, but we do not agree that self-directed reading is critical during this time. We believe that what children learn during these early years will form the scaffolding upon which all future knowledge will rest. For us,the most important development at this time is moral development. Children must learn to discern the difference between truth and error, right and wrong, being lead by Christ or being deceived by the adversary. This is fundamental for preparation to make the covenants of baptism. We want our children's foundation for all learning to be one of trusting in the living god. It is not that we feel that children should not learn to read before age nine, rather that early reading is not critical to developing a life-long education.
Somehow when Gove learned to read, he learned in such a way that led him to dislike reading. The result is that he did not engage in any reading that was not required by school until age 12. From age 12 until after he completed his PhD, he estimates that the number of books (small or large) that he read outside of required reading to be around 10. Why did Gove learn to hate reading (the use of the verb "to hate" is not overly strong)? We are not entirely sure; however, we are sure that being compelled to learn to read before he had an interest was not helpful.
What is the difference between teaching a student who wants (or even yearns) to learn a particular subject and teaching one who does not want to learn it? The difference is night and day. Rather than deciding what academic content our children should learn and then making them learn it with or without their cooperation, we see our responsibility as helping to inspire them to desire that learning and guiding them as they seek to master that content themselves.
(Mac) 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'm a bit confused by the meaning of this point. If one believes that most of a child's education should come from the home, but sends that child to modern communal schools (either public or private) for 6 hours a day (requiring perhaps an hour or two of daily homework), does this mean that the family would provide seven to eight hours of instruction after school? There's simply not enough hours in a day, assuming a priory to ensure that the child gets the sleep that growing bodies need.
To us,the most important question is, "what is being taught at school?" And we do not limit that question to official curricula. What is learned on the playground? What is learned between classes? Gove and I both learned about sex at school. Gove learned on the second grade playground, I learned in the sixth-grade classroom. What is the right age to learn about sex? What is the right age to learn about illegal drug use? What is the right age to learn what it is like to be bullied? Certainly, there is no age that is universally the right answer. It must at least be determined by individual development, spiritual, moral, academic, and social. For these, age might be used as a surrogate, but it is clearly a poor one. For us, the time that our children should learn these lessons is an individual matter. But in no case do we feel that our children should learn these lessons until they have received the gift of the Holy Ghost and have begun to learn to rely on his guidance.
(Mac) I do believe that schooling serves a valuable purpose: diversity of ideas, socializing, healthy competition, consensus building, and learning to function outside the home.
We also agree that school can serve to teach these lessons. But for us, there are two important question that must also be asked about these lessons as taught in communal school. When is the right time to learn them? What else is learned as these lessons are taught? John Taylor Gatto speaks directly to this point in the prologue to his “The Underground History of American Schooling.” in a section titled “Bianca, you animal, shut up!” The text can be found at http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/prologue.htm It's worth a few minutes to read.
(Mac) Why will homeschoolers insist on the flaws in schooling but then send their children off to college?
First, we should be clear that not all homeshooled kids attend college. We will be pleased if our children choose to attend college, but it is more important to us that they seek their lives' missions and actively work to attain the education needed to fulfill those missions. If this involves a collegiate education, then we will welcome their attendance at a college or university. If that mission requires an apprenticeship, we will welcome that as well. Consider the life of Johann Strauss II and Johann Strauss I (known as the father of the waltz). The father, who had struggled in life as a composer and musician was determined that his son would not suffer the life of a musician, choosing for him a career of a banker. However, Johann II secretly pursued his musical education—music was his calling. Johann the first fought actively to prevent his son's music career, but Johann the second persevered eventually eclipsing his father's fame. See the full story at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Strauss_II.
A life's mission is an individual thing. Communal schooling cannot hope to prepare individuals for their missions. The communal system simply cannot work with that level of individualism.
For us, the problems with modern communal schooling center largely around how such schooling affects the developing child, this is the reason that collegiate education is not a concern for us. Whether this reasoning holds for other's who choose to educate their young children outside of the communal system can only be a matter of speculation. In fact, this summer, we allowed our two oldest children to attend a college class and they plan to attend another this fall. How could this possibly be acceptable to us? Isn't it a communal education setting? Yes it is, but in their attendance, they are not subject to the influence of their peer group. At ages 9 and 11, they are substantially younger than their classmates. They attend that single class and do not interact with their fellow students outside of class. Most importantly, the subject matter is of their choosing. They asked for permission to attend this class. It is subject matter that they have intrinsic motivation to learn. As such, we are confident that such classroom time will not be wasted.
Simply put, collegiate education is adult education, not childhood education.
Mac, I'm glad you asked these questions as it has given me and Gove a chance to discuss why we feel strongly about the educational choices we have made for our family. While we have no question that homeschooling is the right choice for our family, we know that it is not for everyone. We believe that there are many who send their children to communal schools only because they have never actively considered any alternative; some do not even know that any alternative exists. It is our hope that all parents will take seriously the educations of their children and seek out the methods that are best for their individual circumstances as they discharge their God-given responsibility to educate their children.