Category Archives: In the News

Writer or Naturalist: E. B. White Was Both

I just heard most of this on NPR and can’t wait to seek out the book. It sounds wonderful. It also sounds like the kind of thing that inspires a twinge of writer envy, but that can’t be helped.

The NPR Science Friday segment has E. B. White reading a great passage from the book and wonderful discussion of the intersection of science and imagination.

The author mentioned he had set out to write a book about the natural world and several children’s books—Winnie-the-Pooh, Wind in the Willows—but E. B. White provided more than enough material. I wonder how often the best children’s books have an intimate connection to the natural world; even The Hobbit and A Wrinkle in Time seem to fall in that category. Makes me want to go raid the bookshelves!

p.s. I cannot even write a tiny paraphrase of that lovely line from Charlotte’s Web without tearing up a little.



Filed under In the News, Love this Book

This Week’s Links: Hats, Fonts, Art, and More

A couple of years ago Andrew Castle, a 9yo homeschooler, began a charity raising money for Heifer International by selling handknitted hats. Now he sells both handknitted hats (donations accepted) and baseball caps, and his charity, Hats for Hunger, donates all the proceeds. Each year he’s increased his donation; in 2010 he donated $5000! And that’s not all — Hats for Hunger has also donated hats to homeless shelters, including shelters serving pregnant women and newborns.

Andrew’s goal for this year is a $10,000 donation. Click on his website to find out how to donate a hat, donate money, or buy a very cool hat made by a volunteer knitter. You can also follow Hats for Hunger on Facebook.

Violet is ever more interested in art, which thrills me, because I cannot draw a recognizable stick person. Just in time for it to end, I learned about a series of columns on drawing in the New York Times and thought it was worth adding to the resource list. Line by Line, a 12-column series, is written by James Mc Mullan, an illustrator. It is great reading for someone like me, too, who probably cannot draw because I cannot see the way my daughter and other artist-types do. I don’t care if I ever learn to draw, but I love learning to see (and hear and feel) with greater sensitivity. Keeps me from pulling up roots and moving completely into the studio apartment of my mind.


We have wondered about both girls whether they might have ADHD. Perhaps they do. Hearing from adults whose lives were transformed by ADHD medication makes it impossible for me to consider ADHD as merely a “school environment” problem. But sometimes it is — Peter Gray has solicited and collected a variety of stories of kids labeled ADHD who did not have the same problems when they began to homeschool.

I have always thought Comic Sans a bourgeois, anti-intellectual font, but until now I’d never have confessed it. I’ve always considered that very thought shamefully pretentious, even more so when I found it exposed and mocked online. And on McSweeney’s no less.

I’d like to quote from it, but Comic Sans swears. A lot. But in a good way.

Which reminds me, I spent Christmas with my extended family/dad’s side for the first time in several years. I’m the one standing next to the tall bald guy, in the back.


Look how normal we all turned out!


Filed under Family Fun, In the News, Learning Styles

Why We Homeschool, Revisited

A lot of times when people ask why we homeschool, I just say “Because we enjoy it.” When it was a question about why we pulled our child out of school, the question was harder to answer without a lot of care taken not to offend, but now that answer seems to cover it. It’s not a “schools suck” or a “my kid is too special” kind of thing; just “we like it.” It’s the truth, most days.

Still, sometimes the other reasons come around to beat me over the head.

As the school year ramps up, I’ve heard a lot of talk from parents with gifted kids in public schools. Across the state, a common theme has been that schools—teachers, principals, administrators—are refusing to follow state law in allowing parents to play a role in teaching their kids.

According to Minnesota state law, parents are free to object to a curriculum and substitute one of their own, provided that the family pays for it and does the teaching. The law originated with sex ed, naturally, but was written broadly to allow all kinds of flexibility. Parents of gifted kids have used the law to provide appropriate content for their kids in specific subject areas.

Yet in school after school, parents are being denied that right. Principals are stating flatly, “we don’t do that,” even upon being shown the relevant statute.

The reasoning behind that puzzles me. What does the school gain by refusing?

It’s hard on my liberal, teachers-union-loving self to look at that and not question the assumptions behind the blatant disrespect for parents (not to mention the law). While I have no fear that the government is trying to brainwash my children, I do see a clear assumption on the part of those representatives of the school system that a parent has no right to participate in the formal education of her child – even something as simple as providing a laptop and an alternative math program for 45 minutes a day – except at the discretion of the school.

Were it just one teacher, I’d be ready to accept the “bad apple” excuse. But as parent after parent chimes in with similar stories, it’s hard not to see a pattern. And it’s a pattern that reminds me of the battles I’d rather not fight. Tough as it is to get along with my volatile little snowflakes some days, that’s my job as a parent. I have a lot more invested in weathering those storms than in fighting battles with someone who doesn’t even know me, who sees his school as his own private fiefdom, where state law doesn’t apply.

And that’s just the people who work there. What about other parents?

Many of my friends were saddened by a blog post by a journalist who decided to lash out at parents who think their kids are gifted. The sad part isn’t that a minor blogger doesn’t like the word “gifted.” Rather, what came out of the discussion was how many people had someone in their lives say the same things to them directly, in person, about their own kids or parenting, and how hurtful it could be.

The blogger also reiterated one of the weirdest, but very common, anti-gifted-ed arguments: parents of gifted students seek more challenging classes for their children because they are trying to eliminate life’s challenges for their children. Chew on that logic for a while. Yet it is so common: some parents seem determined to believe that there is something elitist or nefarious about trying to put your child in a setting where she has the opportunity to learn something new. Frankly, I have even less interest in coping with those parents than I do with the school. At least I can cite statues at the school; being an ignorant jerk is still fully legal.

I can’t lie – homeschooling intense children is hard. Being a driven, impatient, introverted person makes homeschooling hard. Is it harder than dealing with that other crap? I’m not sure, and besides, dealing with that other crap isn’t an essential part of my job description as a parent. Dealing with my kids’ ups and downs is, and sending them to school wouldn’t change that. But it might just add a bunch more BS to the pile, and I’m already shoveling as fast as I can.


Filed under Gifted Ed, In the News, Why Homeschool?

Just a Little Data

Yeah, I don’t make my decisions based on random statistics either, but given the recent hubbub over Robin West’s article in Philosophy and Public Policy, I enjoyed reading these.

Easy to say that the study (from August 2009) is biased because it comes from a pro-homeschool source, of course. But here are some fun findings:

The median income for home-educating families ($75,000 to $79,999) was similar to all married-couple families nationwide with one or more related children under age 18 (median income $74,049 in 2006 dollars; or roughly 78,490 in 2008 dollars).

Homeschool parents have more formal education than parents in the general population; 66.3% of the fathers and 62.5% of the mothers had a college degree (i.e., bachelor’s degree) or a higher educational attainment. In 2007, 29.5% of all adult males nationwide ages 25 and over had finished college and 28.0% of females had done so.

So not quite the uneducated, cycle-of-poverty-perpetuating trailer-dwellers of the West article.

And then this (take with a grain of salt of course):

Homeschool student achievement test scores are exceptionally high. The mean scores for every subtest (which are at least the 80th percentile) are well above those of public school students.

There are no statistically significant differences in achievement by whether the student has been home educated all his or her academic life, whether the student is enrolled in a full-service curriculum, whether the parents knew their student’s test scores before participating in the study, and the degree of state regulation of homeschooling (in three different analyses on the subject). [emphasis mine]

There are statistically significant differences in achievement among homeschool students when classified by gender, amount of money spent on education, family income, whether either parent had ever been a certified teacher (i.e., students of non-certified parents did better), number of children living at home, degree of structure in the homeschooling, amount of time student spends in structured learning, and age at which formal instruction of the student began. However, of these variables, only parent education level explained a noticeable or practically significant amount of variance, 2.5%, in student scores; the other variables explained one-half of 1% or less of the variance.

I don’t want to emphasize the comparative aspects of the findings. The point isn’t that homeschoolers are so much better than non-homeschoolers. (I don’t see, for example, numbers adjusted for economic/parent education variables when comparing achievement scores.) The point is that we are just fine, thank you.

A few more posts on the West article, if you are keeping up:

A Tings Thinking Corner
La opción de educar en casa
Life Learning, by Wendy Prisnitz

1 Comment

Filed under In the News, Why Homeschool?

The Philosophy and Public Policy of Homeschooling

I’m learning to ignore most of the anti-homeschooling stuff floating around out there on the internet. After all, you can find most any opinion expressed on the internet. (Really, if you can find a group for homeschooled fans of Hanson, what could be missing?)

But SwitchedOn Mom mentioned an article recently published in Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly, an academic journal published at the University of Maryland. It’s not so much the “academic” that gets me het up (though I confess, as a former academic I can’t believe what can get published!) as the “public policy” part. When a law professor in the DC area puts “public policy” and “homeschool” together, I pay a little more attention.

The article is “The Harms of Homeschooling,” by Robin West, who purports to identify specific harms of “unregulated homeschooling” and proposes regulatory solutions. I was angered enough to pound out my objections to her call for more homeschooling oversight earlier today. I also shared my annoyance with my family–Violet laughed aloud, especially when I quoted from the section suggestion that children need a break from “intense” family love in the “safe haven” with a teacher who values the child as a learner and actively curious person. (Still not over it, I see.)

Forgive me, this is long, and parts refer to the original article. I don’t quote because then it would be even longer:

Harm #1 – Potential Concealment of Child Abuse
Given that abused children fly under the radar in schools all the time, I am not sure how adding “regulation” to homeschool would help. The idea that homeschooled children would not be seen by other adults, family, neighbors, church members, etc.—as implied by West’s suggestion that school is “the one forum in which their abuse may be identified”—is nonsensical.

But I will grant that Harm #1 is the most compelling she’s got. It would be more compelling if it seemed at all plausible that government officials would be making visits to private homes for no reason other than the family’s intent to homeschool. Social services can’t handle the caseload they have now, and yet they are going to go check up on homeschoolers? And the average citizen is going to welcome government inspections of his/her home? I consider myself pretty liberal, but that would not be something I would tolerate for a second. (Not to imply that being liberal means you would tolerate government inspection of your home just because you plan to homeschool.)

Harm #2 – Public Health Risk as Children Miss Immunization Requirements
Absurd – any family can opt out of immunizations whether they choose public school or homeschool. Further regulation of homeschool would serve no purpose.

Harm #3 – Parents’ Love, or something
Uh, this one is so bizarre I don’t even know how to address it (see p. 9 of the pdf). I do notice that West herself couldn’t come up with a way to phrase this as a harm. What is it, “being loved too intensely by parents?” Besides, “Harm 3” has nothing to do with regulation of homeschool. Regulation of homeschool wouldn’t address this alleged “harm” at all. Only banning homeschool would do it—odd that West brings it up at all if she is sincere in her claim that she’s only going after “unregulated homeschooling.” Harm #3: completely irrelevant to homeschool regulation.

Harm #4 – Political Indoctrination by Parents
Again, totally unclear what kind of state regulation would prevent parents of either homeschoolers or public/private school children from thoroughly indoctrinating their children in their own political beliefs. I don’t even try to do it, and my kids sound like tiny DailyKos bloggers sometimes. I agree, that is really unfortunate, but in a free society I’m not sure what the alternative is. Harm #4: just like harm #3 – totally irrelevant to homeschool regulation.

Harm #5 – Authoritarian Parenting Stunts Children’s Ethical Development
This is a harm of growing up in an authoritarian household, not of homeschooling. Bad parenting is not, thank goodness, illegal. My homeschooling needs to be monitored because there are authoritarian parents? Regulation would address the problem of authoritarian parents? Authoritarian parenting ought to be monitored through in-home visits by the state? Hmmm, no.

Harm #6 – Educational Harm
Oh lord, prove it! Oh but wait, you can’t! I know there are great schools and great teachers, but come on. If my homeschooled children are not learning according to some state standards, then the state gets to intervene. But if my children are not learning in school because the state is providing a subpar education, I can only intervene if I do it the way the state—which has already failed us in this hypothetical situation—says so?

I am satisfied with the way we do it in MN. We promise to do yearly testing, we promise to have the results of yearly testing available should the district ask for it, and we promise to take action if testing reveals that the child isn’t meeting certain benchmarks. We don’t promise to send them to school or allow home visits, just to take further action. I don’t have to send in test results, I just have to keep them around. I can do that.

If public schools are doing such a mediocre job of educating poor students now, why is regulation going to help poor “trailer park” residents do any better than their counterparts in school? I know we have statistics to show how well that’s going.

Harm #7 – Perpetuating Economic Disadvantages
This one doesn’t make much sense either. Most homeschoolers have above average incomes, yet the “hardcore” of the movement is considerably poorer than average? How does this make mathematical sense? Unless you define “hardcore” simply as “the people who bug me the most.” Her argument here is not about money, it is about lifestyle. Look, I am not really a fan of many of these extreme religious movements either, but it seems to me that unless they are breaking the law they ought not be subject to state regulation, nor should I be subject to state regulation because they exist. Most of that paragraph seems to be about weird cultural stereotypes, not the cycle of poverty. And by all means, if you come across a family living on a tarp in a field, Fundamentalist or not, press them with all the state intervention you can.

Frankly, as much as it frightens me that some children are growing up on a steady diet of Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, it scares me much more to think that government intervention is being proposed as a solution to that problem. Good lord – what happens when the pendulum swings and being an Olbermann/Michael Moore fan makes you suspect in the eyes of the state?

It’s not that I don’t care about those kids (at home or in public school) who are abused or illiterate – or forced to become Republican — I just fail to see how “regulation” will achieve the stated aims. This is just another badly informed anti-homeschool rant masquerading as a serious public policy proposal.

And what does the author mean regulation, anyway?

Curricular review? My state has chosen the worst-reviewed math curriculum out there. How are they supposed to help me? And if the state-approved curriculum is so great, why isn’t it working better for public school students?

Periodic visits? In what fairy tale land is my beleaguered school district going to send me someone to help with college and career counseling? I couldn’t get them to help me get school right when we were actually enrolled. And when the government starts inspecting families with no probable cause, you will hear me out on the streets protesting with a bullhorn. Luckily, I can’t see where the state would get the money, personnel, or time to do such a thing.

Periodic testing? I can be OK with that, at least as my state has it set up. It is minimally invasive. And what’s going to happen if the state doesn’t like my results? Oh right . . .

Forced enrollment for those who fail to comply: So, if I don’t use state-approved curriculum or focus on state-specified content, I have to send my child back to school, even if by other measures they are thriving at home. If my child does not learn at the standard pace, I have to send them back to school, where not learning at a standard pace will be an even larger problem. If they don’t catch up, do they get to come back home? Doesn’t make sense. If my child had a learning problem, why should I be forced to send her to an institution that has already proven that it is not meeting minimal educational goals for fully half of its students?

For other responses, see Tammy Takashi at Just Enough and Nothing More, Crunchy Mama at The Diosa Dotada Endeavor, Razzed, and Milton Gaither at Homeschooling Research Notes.

I know, it seems pointless to get all riled up about yet another homeschooling opponent. But the yawning gap between the seriousness of the publication outlet and the super-badness of the argument–not to mention that whole “public policy” angle–really set me off!


Filed under In the News, Socialization, Why Homeschool?

College Match Matters

I know it is unfashionable–perhaps heretical–for homeschoolers to care about where or if their kids go to college.

It’s always been my opinion, however, that college match matters. I found college and grad school to be great opportunities for meeting really really really smart people — other students, professors, TAs, etc. There’s a critical mass of ambitious, intellectual people, which is often a missing ingredient in the lives of asynchronous gifted kids, who get serious about intellectual pursuits well before many of their age peers.

There is not, for example, a critical mass of preteens who want to talk linguistics and comparative grammar in our lives right now. But someday . . .

So I want my kids to find the college that is right for them. An article in the NYT today describes the broader consequences of poor college match:

The first problem that Mr. Bowen, Mr. McPherson and the book’s third author, Matthew Chingos, a doctoral candidate, diagnose is something they call under-matching. It refers to students who choose not to attend the best college they can get into. They instead go to a less selective one, perhaps one that’s closer to home or, given the torturous financial aid process, less expensive.

About half of low-income students with a high school grade-point average of at least 3.5 and an SAT score of at least 1,200 do not attend the best college they could have. Many don’t even apply. Some apply but don’t enroll. “I was really astonished by the degree to which presumptively well-qualified students from poor families under-matched,” Mr. Bowen told me.

They could have been admitted to Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus (graduation rate: 88 percent, according to College Results Online) or Michigan State (74 percent), but they went, say, to Eastern Michigan (39 percent) or Western Michigan (54 percent). If they graduate, it would be hard to get upset about their choice. But large numbers do not. You can see that in the chart with this column.

In effect, well-off students — many of whom will graduate no matter where they go — attend the colleges that do the best job of producing graduates. These are the places where many students live on campus (which raises graduation rates) and graduation is the norm. Meanwhile, lower-income students — even when they are better qualified — often go to colleges that excel in producing dropouts.

Granted, so far my kids are not the low-income students the study was tracking. They are statistically more likely, based on their parents’ education alone, to be in the group that graduates no matter where they go.

But the point stands — shooting low is a bad way to get a good college experience. So I’ll continue to keep college acceptance up in the list of homeschooling goals.

I learned of this article from a friend who maintains the Learn in Freedom website, which has a lot of information about homeschool-to-college.


Filed under Gifted Ed, In the News, Why Homeschool?

Why Just Summer?

Have you seen this story in the NYT yet? Here’s a slice:

In 7 weeks he’ll go back to school, to a 5th grade class we can only hope will be more suited to his nature than the previous grade. His new teacher is supposed to be strong in math and science, to which he’s looking forward. I’ve promised him no after-school test prep this year, no tutor. It’s the 4th grade tests that matter for middle school, and he soldiered on for several endless months of prep last year: from the writing tutor to the school’s after-school test prep program to classroom test preparation that consumed all other subject matter. Last year’s teacher assigned hours of mindless homework. At some point, she decided our son was bright (her term) and thus eligible for enrichment — but she was in no way capable of providing it, in a class of 29 children with extremely mixed abilities. Our son isn’t the only child in the class who survived 4th grade with a perfect report card and his self-concept deeply shaken.

The thrust of the piece is that children need summer as a time to recover and just hang out. In other words, children need time to just be. So true.

It was hard not to read it as an endorsement of homeschooling: school has “hours of mindless homework,” kids trying to stay in top schools are on a “treadmill of achievement,” summer is a respite from the “endless, numbing school year.” We aren’t living that life, and I am so glad.

But it was hard not to read the piece as a lament for gifted children: her son was told to stop reading the Iliad and start reading Deltora Quest, he does most of his real learning at home. The author is pushing her son to get into the good NYC schools, but as far as I can tell it’s not because she is competitive and achievement-obsessed. It’s because she hopes that if he gets in, he’ll get something better and the treadmill feeling will go away, and she fears for him if it doesn’t.

I think in the comments someone points out something parents of HG-EG-PG kids– and creative kids — know well: the tests don’t go high enough to distinguish exceptionally smart kids, and they may penalize the creative or sophisticated thinking of kids who are several years beyond grade level. Who could blame a mother for being afraid?

I just felt moved by the kid’s story — a kid the same age as mine, a kid who could excel at all things school and still be miserable there in every way. I know this mother is doing just what we are doing — taking a hard path, making sacrifices to try to offer her son something better. Maybe homeschooling really isn’t for her, for reasons known only to herself. But shouldn’t she, and he, have some other option?


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, In the News, Learning Styles, Why Homeschool?