Autoblography Part 40: A Word On Education

By Shamus Posted Friday Nov 4, 2011

Filed under: Personal 637 comments

I began this series in August when I turned 40. A few days later, this blog turned five years old. Now the series ends, on entry 40. As a bonus, this post is the 3,000th post on the site.

I don’t know how to mark this occasion. I looked around Target, but they didn’t have any greeting cards for this sort of thing.

Also, the discussion for this post might get a bit hot. Before anyone gets pissed off I’d just like to remind you to be cool and don’t post mad. Everyone agrees kids should be educated, we just differ on the details.

Looking back on my school career, I see that the vast majority of the hours I spent in school were squandered. Most classes washed over me with no effect. I listened to the lecture, took the test, passed, and then never thought about the material again. For many classes, I have no memory of the lessons and it’s as if I never set foot in the classroom. I still retain some learning in a few subjects, although these were things that captured my interest at the time. I likely could have learned them without attending school, and perhaps bought the lessons with less pain.

The point is, I could have dropped out of school after sixth grade and it would not have impaired my abilities with regards to my career in the slightest. I suspect this is true for a lot of other people as well.

This is not to say that education is bad or that people shouldn’t get a diploma, only that getting a diploma is not for everyone, and that we should not have a narrow view on what education is and how it should work. A large portion of my grandparent’s generation dropped out long before graduation, and those folks did fine. They went on to hold down careers, start businesses, and even invent things without the benefit of a diploma. You might say, “Those were different times, and people didn’t need as much education back then.” Okay then, how do we explain my situation, where I was pretty much on the cutting edge of technology?

A great deal of my story has revolved around public education, and if you’ve read this far then perhaps you’re curious what my thoughts are on the matter. Here it is:

Homeschooling works. People should be allowed to do it.

For some strange reason, this is a controversial opinion. Perhaps even inflammatory. It shouldn’t be. I’m not advocating abolishing public schools, or altering them. In fact, I’m offering to take my own children out of the system and educate them at my own expense, leaving more for everyone else.

Allow me to field a few common objections:

The school isn’t as bad as you make it sound. I went to public school and I got a great education!

In my thirteen years of public education, it did not escape my notice that I was abnormally ill-suited to school. I sat in numerous classrooms where I was surrounded by people who were quite happy to memorize and regurgitate any information presented to them, and do any task to maintain a grade, no matter how mundane, boring, or pointless. I realized that I was afflicted with severe handicaps like:

  1. I won’t work for arbitrary rewards.
  2. I won’t do work that is clearly pointless or counter-productive.
  3. I’m keen on finding ways to accomplish tasks efficiently, without a lot of wasted time and effort.
  4. I am highly motivated and interested in a small number of subjects, and apathetic to other topics.

Of course, these faults are often virtues in the real world, the one we are ostensibly priming children to inhabit during their years of schooling. In school there was no reward for being able to memorize things by hearing instead of needing to take notes. There was no bonus for students who could learn faster, or with less repetition. Everyone moves at the same pace, and everyone is expected to do all the work.

Saying that school works for “most people” sort of misses the point. It’s like a midget or a bodybuilder complaining that they can’t find clothes in their size, and a person of average size replying that they must be bad at shopping because suitable clothes are easy to find.

Some schools are bad. Some kids are ill-suited to schooling. Allowing people to homeschool provides a safety valve for kids in either situation.

But, how can kids learn without doing schoolwork?

Well, how do you learn? If you want to learn something, do you fill out worksheets and administer tests to yourself? Probably not. Adults have this strange idea that children learn best in a rigorously structured environment and that you can’t learn on your own until you’re an adult. The opposite is true. Kids usually have difficulty coping with the rigidity of school, and adults are the ones capable of sitting still and listening to lectures.

Keep in mind that worksheets, quizzes, essays, curriculum, answering questions in class, graded notes, and tests are not learning. Here, let me put that in a paragraph all by itself for emphasis:

Schoolwork is not learning.

Schoolwork is not learning in the same way that sitting around in a restaurant is not eating. Sure, learning takes place at school, but it’s entirely possible that you can accomplish the same thing elsewhere with less time, effort, and expense. Schoolwork is given so that the teacher can measure learning. Some schoolwork is given as part of “classroom management” – the discipline of keeping kids busy so that they don’t misbehave or disrupt one another. You do not need these trappings if you’re simply trying to learn something you already want to know. In that case all you need is access to information. Between public libraries and the internet, most of us have access to all of the information we could ever want.

You make a big deal about bullying, but sometimes adversity builds character!

“Building character”? Are we talking about a generalized ability to endure and accept hardship? If so, then you can use this to excuse any suffering or abuse. Sexually abused? Physically abused? Poor? Disabled? Homeless? Robbed? They all “build character”, but it would be pretty monstrous to use that as a justification for ignoring these problems.

Maybe years of discouragement and injustice will teach a kid to fight back and try to make the world better. Or maybe they will teach a kid that life sucks, there is no justice, and mercy is for fools. It might make them more idealistic and passionate, or it might make them bitter and cynical. It might make them fight harder. It might make the kid give up. It depends on the abuse. It depends on who performs it. It depends on the kid.

Even if we accept this awful notion that we should allow children to run little kingdoms of cruelty, sustained by violence and ruled by the alpha males in order to “build character” among the gentle, what about the bullies themselves? A lot of those kids who bullied me were doing it simply out of peer pressure. At school they rallied around the leader and picked on me to win the approval of the group. Outside of school they ignored me. Two were even nice to me on the odd occasions when I encountered them away from the pack. Even if we entertain the notion that the bullying was of benefit to me, it was poisonous to their hearts.

What about socialization?

Looking back on my school experience, I can’t say there was anything positive or affirming about my “socialization”. Bullying, cliques, rumors, and other petty cruelties were the norm.

This is one issue where I believe homeschooling has an unambiguous advantage. Whatever you may think of it, putting kids into groups of same-age peers does little to teach them how to relate to others in a mature way.

I’ve tutored some homeschooled kids, I’ve met others, and of course my own kids are homeschooled. Without exception, these kids have been far more socially capable than their public-schooled peers. They don’t hold slightly older kids in awe. They don’t scorn and sneer at kids who are slightly younger. They’re less concerned (or even aware of) matters of class and pecking order. When they relate to adults, they don’t suffer from the mumbling, shoulder-shrugging, eye-rolling awkwardness for which teenagers are notorious.

In my experience, homeschooled kids do not suffer from peer pressure to the extent that public school kids do, because they don’t see themselves as part of a herd. This will make them less likely to bully others and less likely to make foolish choices with regards to sex and drugs.

You were an abnormal kid with a bad home life, so it’s not fair to blame the school system for your failures.

It’s true that I didn’t have a “regular” home life. But is growing up under the care of a single mother really some exotic fate? Is being medicated all that rare? (I’d suggest it’s actually a lot more common today than in was in the late 1970’s.) If public schools can’t handle kids from broken homes, or kids with odd behavior, or socially awkward kids, then what should be done with those kids, if not give them over to some other form of education?

Don’t kids need proper schooling to get a well-rounded education?

We’ve all seen those “man on the street” interviews or surveys where we find out that an alarming portion of the population thinks that Abraham Lincoln was the first president of the United States. Or that most people can’t solve for X in 5 = X + 2. How many people wrote a book report at 16 years old and can’t remember anything of substance about the book ten years after graduation?

I think having a “well rounded” education has more to do with the student and less to do with the curriculum. Some people have a love for learning and an interest in many diverse subjects. Some people will only learn as much as they need in order to pass, and forget it as soon as the test is over.

The point is, the traditional school system is obviously failing to “round” people in a lot of cases. Rather than force people to memorize things they won’t remember or care about in two years, it might be better to let them follow their passions.

You’ve been successful in more than one career. You may not have liked it, but school actually worked for you!

I was a smart, highly motivated kid with focused interests. It wasn’t just that school didn’t help me to reach my goals, school was actively in my way. It was an impediment to my education.

Yes, lots of kids learn in school. The question isn’t “Did this kid get a diploma?” If that’s all we care about then we have set the bar of success very low indeed. The questions should be, “Did school help this person to reach their full potential? Could they have learned more on their own? Could they have learned faster using some other system of instruction? Could this all have been done more cheaply? Are all of these costs (time, money, and and sense of individuality) a required cost, or is this simply what we’re used to paying for education?”

What about parents who want to keep their kids home to indoctrinate them with strange beliefs?

Parents are always free to teach their kids whatever they like. So what you’re really asking is, “What if parents don’t send their kids to school to be counter-indoctrinated to MY beliefs?”

If your beliefs are worth anything, then you should be happy to let them compete for mindshare with everyone else’s beliefs by persuading other adults to your way of thinking. If you can’t persuade adults to embrace your way of thinking, then it’s pretty tyrannical to attempt to impose your ideas on their children.

There are crazy people in the world. Some of them will have kids. Public schooling cannot correct this, nor was it designed to do so.

Okay, if you know so much: What do you think they should change?


Oh, I’m sure there are many, many things that could be done to improve schools, and you can hardly hear yourself think over the roar of people shouting for different (and often mutually exclusive) education reforms. I’m not going to leap into the debate and demand everyone else alter schools to suit my tastes at everyone else’s expense. This is the problem with the educational debate. We’re not allowed to try anything new until we can all agree on it. Our education system is a doctor that insists on leeching and bloodletting patients because these are traditions that have stood the test of time and nobody else can agree on what we should be doing instead. If you want to try something new, you have to lobby the government and enter the highly politicized and emotionally charged arena of education reform.

I remember there was a debate in the 1990’s when Outcome-Based Education was proposed. I followed the discussion, trying to get a sense of what this new thing was and what school would look like. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of what OBE would be. Some said that grades would be replaced with simple pass / fail. Others said that all grades would be abolished in favor or self-esteem building. Or was it an attempt to change the textbooks to be more “liberal”? No, it was about more standardized testing! Mandatory school prayer! Cuts for music and sports programs! Gay activism! Creationism as science! Sex education for kindergartners! Sensitivity training! Free condoms at the nurse’s office!

It didn’t make any sense. Most of the things I was hearing were contradictory. Eventually I realized that none of this had anything to do with “Outcome-Based Education”, whatever it was. Someone had proposed reform, and then a million activists and special interests seized on this moment of brief malleability to try and enact their own pet projects.

I don’t think there is a simple answer that will fix everything. Human beings are all different. We have different interests and skill levels, different approaches to learning, different social needs, respond to different forms of motivation, and develop at different speeds. Sorting kids by age and jamming a broad spectrum of learning into their ears is probably the most obvious, clumsy, and ham-fisted technique for imparting knowledge. It works tolerably enough for a broad selection of the population, but fails people occupying the high and low areas of the performance curve, and people with unusual skill sets.

Babies learn to walk between 9 and 18 months. That’s a really large window. Most learn at about a year, but a few occupy those fringe positions. Imagine if we sent babies to school to teach them to walk. Imagine the hassle of of trying to make kids learn to walk before they were ready, and the hand-wringing over all of the “under-performing” babies. All of that time and effort would be spent to get kids to walk just a couple of months sooner. Just picture how wasteful this would be, since by two years you can’t tell the difference between the early walkers and the late walkers. This is public education.

In the kindergarten portion of my story I talked about how I couldn’t replicate numerals, so I was sent to a special class. In ninth grade, I scored in the top two percent nationally on the portion of the standardized test that asked you to match shapes that had been mirrored or rotated in convoluted ways. Like a late-walking baby, I wasn’t keeping up with the other kids, and no degree of remedial education was going to correct it, because that part of my brain was still developing. Years later that slight lag in development had been erased not through education, but through maturity. I simply developed differently from other students, and that was only a problem because I was in a classroom designed around the idea that all children develop identically.

So my “solution” for education is simple: Be tolerant of others. Let people take chances. Let people homeschool. Let people go to private school. Allow people to enact experimental programs, particularly if they’re voluntary. Don’t reflexively defend the status quo just because it “worked” for you. You don’t know what it was like for the people who struggled, and you don’t know how much better you might have performed in other circumstances. If you’ve got an idea or an agenda, try it out on your own kids instead of foisting it on everyone else. If it works for them, maybe they will lead the change a generation from now.

If you’re hiring people, break out of the mindset of looking at grades and sorting applicants by the stature of the university they attended. Look at people and figure out which ones are smart, motivated, knowledgeable, and personable. That’s what your managers and human resources people are paid to do. If all they do is sort people by grade transcripts, you might as well fire them and give their job to a computer.

Learning is a wonderful thing. It begins long before preschool, and it continues long after your schooling ends. It’s the process of observing the world, comparing new information with what we already understand, and using that data to draw new conclusions. The only important difference between a modern-day pediatrician and a stone-age hunter / gatherer is the learning between their ears. Learning makes us powerful and capable. It guides us and enriches our lives. The process itself can be deeply satisfying, and when applied the gained knowledge can give us a better future. All of this is crucial to our existence as human beings, and all of it has very little to do with sitting at desks and filling out worksheets.

A lot of people thought they were helping me in school, even though their efforts did me harm. Even Mrs. Grossman. Don’t be like them. Don’t assume you know what’s best for everyone. Let people seek out education as it suits them, and judge them by what they do, not by how they were taught.

Thanks for reading,

Shamus Young


From The Archives:

637 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 40: A Word On Education

  1. zob says:

    In my personal limited experience, apart from the ones who actively participated in the bullying, “adversity builds character!” quote always came from the normal people who ignored the act of bullying that happened around them.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I was mercilessly bullied in school. I think I am a better person because of it. Bullying taught me the evils of moving with the crowd, the harm that can result, and made me more independent as a thinker. It gave me invaluable insight into human nature.

      It was miserable, and I had no friends, but I still wouldn’t replace it.

      1. zob says:

        I don’t want to offend you but please reconsider what you are saying. Do you really believe that bullying make you a better person and you couldn’t be that better person without those bullies? That’s sad

        1. DungeonHamster says:

          He brings good out of evil. How is that sad?

          I’m not saying that bullying isn’t a bad thing that should be prevented, but there is no instructor quite like pain. Rather we should be grateful that whatever lessons he got were learned early in life at the relatively low cost of a few years of unhappiness in school as a child.

          1. zob says:

            I think you misunderstood me. What I was saying is a person doesn’t need to be bullied to learn about evils of peer pressure. It’s akin to getting hit by a car to learn about evils of drunk driving.

            I accept all the positive thinking and glass full mentality. But a person should not need to be the victim to learn the hard lessons of life.

            1. DungeonHamster says:

              I don’t disagree with that. I just don’t see that it’s sad to believe that a bit of hardship can be good for you.

              1. Allan says:

                I think the crux of the argument here is that there is a difference between drawing something good out of a bad situation, and saying that a bad situation will necessarily lead to enough good to justify the existence of the situation. The first is laudable, the latter morally and logically shakey at best.

            2. Blanko2 says:

              teaching you how to deal with bullies is about one of the most valuable lessons that schools have. specially cuz a lot of the stuff you learn remains true in the real world later on. i was bullied, i bullied too, it wasnt peer pressure or any of that crap, its just how life is sometimes.
              people can deal with it right then or they cant, but they have to learn how to deal with it eventually.

          2. Loonyyy says:

            Rubbish. When a gang of people beats on you, you don’t learn anything worthwhile. You learn hate and cynicism.
            When you fight back, and are in more trouble because of it, you have only learned that people suck and that systems don’t work.

            I used to be a nice person. I’m not anymore. Bullying just shows you one simple thing: Systems do not work. People are scummy, rude and savage, and when you let a bunch of kids make their own decisions, those are the ones that are made.

            There’s nothing good which can come out of bullying. Pain is an instructor, sure. I learned not to fall of my bicycle, or not to touch flames. But do you know what you learn after being attacked for being passive and non-aggressive: That violence is the answer, and that the only way to control what happens to you is to control the environment through violence. That’s such stupid logic I can’t imagine it. It’s the qualities which should be prized which are present in, and removed from, the victims.

            On your post Shamus, I agree, the concept of homeschooling is one that makes sense. But I think your situation, where your wife is a qualified teacher, is a rarity, and I’d suggest that most people who are to be homeschooled would need to have a similar quality of education available. I’d totally agree that the education system doesn’t work: It sets mandatory arbitrary goals, and sets you up to do pointless work for pointless gain. It’s tailored to an imaginary average, like the “Ideal Store” mentioned in another post. It’s an interesting issue, and I’m not sure how mainstream education could be fixed at this point.

            1. Blanko2 says:

              “used to be a nice person” see, you’re letting the actions of some douchebags completely define who you are, that’s the issue. Also yeah, violence is an answer to literally all problems. That doesn’t mean its the best answer… but it is a valid answer. it solves things. not necessarily well, not necessarily quickly, but its there.

              1. Leonardo Herrera says:

                For a while, bullying taught me how to fight with my fists. I got remarkable apt at it for a kid my size. I was, hm, “active” against bullying, which basically means that I bullied bullies. It got me expelled from more than one school, and I actually lost a year for it.

                Even if that happened long time ago, I think it would have been better if I hadn’t had to get through that.

                1. Blanko2 says:

                  ok? i dont get if you’re agreeing or refuting. sounds like you’re agreeing cuz i did say violence wasnt the best answer

        2. Abnaxis says:

          I’m not offended, but I want to stress that this isn’t a statement I make without serious introspective thought.

          There are qualities about myself that I find admirable. For example, my ability to come to my own conclusion despite my colleagues–colleagues who are older and more experience–disagreeing (not that I don’t listen, I just still contribute). There’s also my ability to persevere when things suck–an ability I really appreciate right now. And the ability to work with people who annoy the ever-loving crap out of me.

          I like these things about myself. They most certainly come from factors in my youth including both being bullied and factors that don’t involve bullying or even school. But I definitely got practice with them as I struggled to learn how to deal with bullies.

        3. Destrustor says:

          Being bullied is precisely what made me realise ” holy crap, I AM the better person here”. From that point on, it never hurt me anymore.
          I don’t need to hurt people to feel better, I don’t have to be mean or nasty to feel happy, and my miseries can NOT be cured by offloading them on some poor sap who doesn’t want or need them.
          Being bullied helped me build the confidence and maturity I have today. It was tough, worse than hell, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I don’t know how I would’ve learned that lesson otherwise.
          So bullying did help me build character, if only as defense mechanism to prevent being consumed by the dark times in my life.

          1. Loonyyy says:

            When you spend your time alternately wishing that you or someone else was dead, and consider making it so, that’s not character building. The person I was in High School was one weapon away from a tragedy. I think this nonsense stems from crap like “What doesn’t kill me, only makes me stronger.” To continue the analogy, Rubbish. If you lose your arms and legs, you’re not better off, you’re weaker.
            If you lose your faith in humanity, your ability to communicate, and your only will to live is to get even, you haven’t gained anything, apart from a potentially homicidal tendency.

            1. Destrustor says:

              That’s the thing: I didn’t lose faith in humanity as much as I gained faith in myself. Their actions made me see that I was the lucky one whom they actually envied, and I pitied them.
              It never was as clear as this, in the chaos and the sadness of the time, but the day I figured out that they probably had lives worse than mine somehow, was the day I became immune to them.
              From the way you talk you certainly had it way worse than me and I don’t think my experience relates to yours in any way, but ANY act of bullying is terrible to the victim. I don’t wish to imply that the severe cases can have any good outcomes, but the milder (not-physically-endangering-your-life) ones just may bring out the good in you. It’s all in how much you (can muster the courage to ) choose to let it affect you.
              My point was that I don’t know how or when (or IF) I would’ve learned that lesson without bullies.

      2. decius says:

        I was mercilessly bullied both by other students and by faculty. I learned a lot, and I would move hell and earth to make what I learned about other people not true.

        1. Mari says:

          What I learned from being bullied:
          People are rotten
          Adults are stupid
          Nobody cares about me but me
          If you don’t talk for nearly a year your voice will sound really, really weird when you finally say something
          Slash UP the arm, not across
          Five bottles of Tylenol and a couple of dozen bottles of assorted prescription pain killers and sedatives will not kill you but it will make you wish it had
          No matter how much you offer others, they will happily take it all, use you up, and still make your life a living hell afterward without a second thought
          No matter what you do, people will mock you for it
          There are no people on earth quite as awesome as crazy people
          Needles aren’t nearly as scary as they seem. After a couple of weeks of morning blood draws you won’t even wake up when they shove the needle in your arm any more.
          If you build it, they will come (Friday night movie night at the nut hut – Field of Dreams, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, and The Dream Team)
          The best education is when an adult hands you your textbooks and a list of work for the week then wanders out for a smoke break that lasts all morning
          Christmas in the booby hatch is lonely. Try to avoid it.
          Sickle cell anemia might make you weak but you’ve still got enough strength to beat people up and break their belongings
          In certain circles, being poor and of a non-Caucasian race excuses anything you choose to do. Adults will literally turn down another hall to avoid watching you do things that they would otherwise have to intervene in or report to authorities.

          1. Bubble181 says:

            Remarkably similar to some of my own learned lessons. Also a clear reason why “bullying builds character” is absolutely rubbish. It’s the same “logic” used in basic training in some armies and in boot camp and whatever. Breaking someone’s spirit to make them “stronger” doesn’t work. Some will become bullies, some will die inside (or in reality!), some will be strong enough to come through…

            1. Jonn says:

              Regarding boot camp style bullying, that’s a case of them missing the mark. The point is to create an immensely stressful environment, so the trainees learn to cope under stress. If there are bombs going off around you and you panic, it won’t end well; if you can’t handle harsh words, you won’t cope in a battlefield.

              There are plenty who get it wrong, of course. Overdoing it can have horrible effects, absolutely, but going through all that hardship toughens them up for what they face in battle.

              Really not the same thing as bullying in schools.

              1. decius says:

                No, it’s exactly the same thing. The stress of having someone trying to kill you is not the same qualitative kind of stress as that of someone you respect and/or fear trying to make you cry. Boot camp is about the tradition of boot camp, and develops little except the bond of common hardship between graduates.

                1. Bret says:

                  As bad as it may be, it is the same kind of thing.

                  Apparently, I need to check this more, but from what I’ve read recent studies say, basically, our reaction to social threats, like insults, is not only as strong as our reaction to physical threats, it's the same.

                  Dealing with fear and crushing emotional trauma means you can stay calm while you’re being shot, apparently.

                  Dunno if it’s true, but it seems to be a widely accepted theory.

      3. Gary says:

        I was slightly bullied and shied away from deep social interaction as a self protection mechanism, never taking risks and always being afraid. I did not have a date until I was 18. At 30 years old I am still breaking down barriers that I created to SURVIVE school.

        This was a hindrance to me. Not a help.

        1. Mrs. Peel says:

          Same here – I created strong emotional barriers to protect myself from the little ^&%#s in school. I’m still suffering at 28 from what they did. Sure, I grew a tough, thick skin – at the cost of my ability to be sufficiently vulnerable to have a relationship. There’s no way I’m going to let my baby go through that if I can avoid it.

        2. Trix says:

          This is strikingly similar to my experiences in grade school. Although I won’t say I didn’t benefit from the experience, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I still struggle with confrontations and similar.

      4. Zak McKracken says:

        I think this is just choice-supportive bias (I found the term on wikipedia, hope it’s the correct one). Noone likes to think that all those years were lost, so you find what’s good about it (and there’s always something good about anything if you look hard enough), and there you go.

        I was bullied a lot during primary school, it taught me a lot, and it also was crap, and horrible, and while it gave me good resistance to peer pressure, it also reduced my expectations of future classmates so far that I was unable to have proper friends or participate in “society” for about ten years after. It sucked, and noone should ever have to endure such a thing. Ever.

        That said, I also do know people who were whomeschooled and have been removed from the rest of the world for so long they’re unable to find a place in society. They’re pretty much chained to their parent’s wonky religious community because they can’t relate to anything outside of it. Noone should have to endure that, either. Even if they might never know what has been done to them.

    2. Maldeus says:

      I love the sadistic irony of the argument that suffering builds character. If you suffer enough, then you will become more opposed to injustice and cruelty, having experienced it yourself. Thus, if you are advocating that bullying builds character, you clearly have not suffered enough, and someone should remedy this situation.

      1. Cado says:

        Anything can be used as a tool for growth, and with the right perspective every part of life can be seen as beautiful because it’s all part of the tapestry of human experience. On a practical day to day level, though, it doesn’t work out that way. It’s one thing if you’re saying people should be able to say some not so nice things about someone’s work or character-that they should be allowed to be critical-it’s something else entirely if you’re arguing that kids who are essentially criminals should be allowed to get off scott free and bully kids that are smaller than them. Some adversity is more constructive than destructive and vice versa; conflict and competition are good. Being scared to go to school, a place you are legally required to go at least two-thirds of each year, is very, very bad. It’s like being locked in a cage with rabid wolves eight hours every day.

        And bullies, they need help. I’m not for the return of corporal punishment in schools but I would be all for hiring therapists to put on school staffs to counsel them. I wouldn’t want to leave them out to dry-up to a certain point you’re almost entirely the product of your environment and it’s not until you’re entering adolescence that you’re really able to individuate, so if they could get help right around that point (or even drop out of the system-the behavior may be a product of rebelling against a monolith they have no control over) it would give them the best shot of turning into worthwhile adults.

        The fact that some kids are literally scared to go to school is appalling, and that more things aren’t being done about it is even worse. This shouldn’t happen in a place where adults are always present. That is what we’re here for. If we can’t protect them from things that leave lasting physical or psychological scars we’ve failed them. We can’t put foam padding on the world because taking a few lumps now and again is good for you but being bullied to the point you’d commit suicide, as with a couple of recent cases, is not something to shrug off. This is serious. Those kids weren’t weak, they were different, and without anyone to turn to, without any support, it’s nearly impossible for someone to hold up under that kind of pressure.

        1. Chris says:

          Ah. Suicide. The.ultimate selfish act.

          1. Loonyyy says:

            Don’t diss someone simply because they decided to take their own way out. They could have been truly selfish and taken out their emotion on the entire school, a la Columbine or Virginia Tech. The problem is that people are affected by what happens to them. Some are driven to better themselves, some are crushed. Some are repressed, and others explode in vengeance. But none of these outcomes should be likely, and I doubt that many are unproventeable.

          2. Cado says:

            It’s even worse to call it selfish. “I feel so bad I want to kill myself and now you’re trying to guilt me into staying alive!?” There’s no way you can win. Nobody wants to end their lives prematurely, they do it because they feel trapped and helpless. Not every tragedy can be prevented but we should go to any reasonable length to do so. Putting metal detectors in schools isn’t the answer, putting an emphasis on mental health, hiring staff therapists, and keeping violent kids away from the everyone else is. (It’s part of it at least.)

          3. decius says:

            Penultimate. Right after trolling people with suicidal ideation. With all due respect, you are no longer due any respect. If this were my forum, your IP address and email would be verified and then cross-posted to /b/.

    3. Methermeneus says:

      Dad: A bloody nose builds character!
      Calvin: All by garagder iz leagig oud by doze.

      Everything you need to know about life can be learned from Calvin & Hobbes

  2. AR says:

    The problem with this is that it is still mandatory to PAY for public education. This is a huge chunk of parents’ financial resources that is going to be spent on public school regardless, which means that there are a lot of people who COULD homeschool or use private schools if only they didn’t have to finance this broken, overfunded system.

    1. Wolf says:

      This is a pretty understandable policy though.

      Imagine if this was not mandatory but you got to choose if you want to pay for public school or keep the money and homeschool your kids. I can’t even imagine a level of regulation that would come close to prevent abuse of such a system and thus it would lock kids with very poor or unjust parents out of any kind of education.

      1. AR says:

        Neither of those things are prevented by the existing system. There are plenty of people (for instance, the Amish) against whom we already enforce no standards, and the condition of poor schools tells me that there is hardly a single student that would not be made better off, both today and in their adult life, if the entire institution were inelegantly abolished.

        1. Ouch. Just ouch. You need to look at the way things were before public schools.

          1. AR says:

            Hardly a fair comparison, since the US was much poorer a hundred years ago.

            1. nick says:

              And presumably the US being much poorer a hundred years ago had nothing to do with the fact that basic education was not widely available. (Also, the US was not much poorer. I point you to the Gilded Age.)

          2. Carma says:

            By all means, let’s look at how things were before mandatory attendance laws. Over the past century, with mandatory attendance increasing from none, to elementary grades, to high school, how have literacy rates fared? Check the stats from the military entrance exams: WWI 20-25% illiteracy, WWII 15-20% illiteracy, Korean War 18% illiteracy, Vietnam 17%. It hasn’t changed things for the bottom tier of students.

            How have top tier students fared?
            In 1962, 19099 students scored 700 or above on verbal, 40644 on math.
            In 1983, 9392 students scored 700 or above on verbal, 32469 on math.

            In 1962, 2673 scored 750 or above on verbal, 8628 on math.
            In 1983, 1588 scored 750 or above on verbal, 7002 on math.
            By 1988, only 986 achieved a 750 verbal score.

            So literacy rates have not increased, and scores for top students have decreased. You do the math. Read more:

            1. PSJ says:

              The SATs are many times harder now than they were in 1962. Average IQ levels haven’t risen either because they define 100 as “average” and up the requirements as people were smarter on average. More students today are getting high-level math and science education than ever before.

              1. Blanko2 says:

                just what i was going to point out. seconded.

            2. swenson says:

              Yeah, SAT tests have deliberately been made substantially harder over the years. Same for IQ tests–they have to keep adjusting them to keep 100 as average, and it’s very likely that a person from the early 1900s would do quite poorly on a modern IQ test as opposed to how they’d do on one from their era. (I should point out, though, that this doesn’t mean that people today are smarter than people in the past. It simply means that thinking and the way people view the world evolve.)

              So… those aren’t really good markers. Literacy tests are a slightly better indicator, but I still question that. Military entrance exams are hardly representative of the entire population, after all. For starters, it really only represents men.

        2. Deoxy says:

          I have a amazingly harsh view of the public school system, and even I wouldn’t go THAT far.

          As a society, we all benefit from a high literacy or numeracy rate (or we would, if numeracy were anywhere near as high as literacy). Publicly funding SOME kind of system that is free to use/attend is really the only way that a large chunk of the lower class (and especially poor ESL immigrants) children will become literate in English (our common language in this country).

      2. psivamp says:

        That’d be nice if it could be made to work.

        However, public schools are underfunded as they are even in relatively affluent areas. Public school is funded by property taxes in my state, a portion of this money is then pooled and redistributed around the state. Reasonably affluent and populous areas have more money and generally better schools. The mining towns up north that dried up with the mines have woefully inadequate funding and schooling — even with money being diverted from the other side of the state.

        How do you think any of these schools could operate if you took away a significant portion of their funding (property tax revenue from people with no children, property tax revenue from people with grown children, home-schooled children and private-schooled children)?

        1. SKD says:

          They might actually have to work harder and earn their funds. If people had to personally pay for the education of their children then the majority would take their dollars to the schools which do a better job of educating the children that are taught there.

          Last I checked, we as a nation spend more money per child than any other nation in the world and yet we do not rank in even the top 25 nations for Reading, Scientific and Mathematical Literacy.

          Throwing more money at the problem is not the solution. Shamus addresses the real heart of the problem in this article. Not all children learn in the same way or at the same speeds however we try to shoehorn all of them into the same schedule. When you add on government imposed standards testing it gets even worse as schools begin abandoning actual education in favor of “teaching the test” in order to avoid loss of funding.

          Right now we have a system which relies more on rote memorization than real education. Real education encourages children to want to learn, to actually engage their brains and observe the world around them and wonder “Why?” Rote memorization gives us high school graduates who can’t calculate change on their own and require a cash register to tell them what amount to return.

          If they were doing a decent job then I wouldn’t mind but as it stands right now I can’t see the US Public Education System as anything other than a failure. The first question that should be addressed when it comes to public school funding is how effectively the dollars are being spent right now.

          1. Pickly says:

            The countries that do better on the types of tests you bring up are ones with even more of a focus on centralized standards, government provided education, and such than the U.S. does.

            Not to mention, the areas that do worse are usually the areas that are getting less funding already, despite some unusual districts that people like to bring up, so the argument that cutting money will somehow improve the worse schools is very unlikely to actually work.

            It may be that corruption/patronage and such soaks up money from some districts, which is something I’ve heard about Washington DC, it may be that the schools have to perform more services for people in lower income areas, or it may be outside factors that reduce the ability of those schools to do well. These factors, and possibly others, would require solutions outside of changing school funding, but reducing funding would still be quite harmful.

    2. Shamus says:

      In the US this is a bit of a non-issue, since school is paid for through property taxes and federal monies – it’s not collected specifically from parents. If a couple had no kids, they’d still be taxed, but if they had one kid and pulled the kid out of school, they’d get the taxes back? It would be… strange.

      Anyway, I agree with the notion that we could spend the money FAR more efficiently than the school. (For the cost of just ONE of my kids in public school for a year, we could buy new computers for everyone, weekly outings to museums and the science center, kindles for everyone, and STILL have money left over.) Having said that, I prefer to not make this a fight over money. I’ll be happy if we can just keep enough freedom to school as we please. Lobbying for money would likely be an impossible fight.

      1. AR says:

        Well, my own solution is abolition of the public school system. Probably also impossible, but times do change.

        In any case, the debate is already about money. Specifically, the ever growing demand of public education to receive ever more of it, despite its poor performance with the highest spending per student in the industrial world. School spending, like many forms of government spending, is always more politically feasible to raise than to lower.

        We should perhaps consider it fortunate that education is primarily funded by states rather than at the federal level, because states cannot issue currency and so are more readily subject to financial realities.

        1. Anorak says:

          The whole US school system seems far more politicised than in England. I’m really not sure how it would work over there, but abolishing public schools here?
          (Public schools in the American sense, not the “I’m from Eton” sense)
          Madness, as far as I can see it. Are you talking getting rid of them outright? What about children of poverty? Are you suggesting that smart kids would get scholarships to better schools?

          I was very lucky for school – My primary school had fewer than 60 pupils, ages 4-11. My secondary school had fewer than 600, ages 11-18.
          It meant smaller classrooms, and less emphasis on standardised tests / milestones. The teachers could, on the whole, get on with teaching.

          I met several people at University who went to Private schools, and the practice in some of those places is to actually expel kids who don’t get good grades, so as not to ruin the school record.

          1. AR says:

            What about children of poverty?

            What about children of poverty right now? They are not being served by the system and in many ways are being actively harmed by it. Letting them out of it would be immediately beneficial.

            1. Skyy_High says:

              In what way would children of poverty be benefited by public schools getting shut down? The children of single-parent households, or households where both parents work, are the ones who would not have the option of being homeschooled. Homeschooled by whom? The parents aren’t home during the day, they can’t be; school is, at the very worst, a very effective babysitter for the work hours of the day. (Actually, it’s worth pointing out to Shamus that his mother really didn’t have the option to homeschool him, considering she fit the bill of the single working mother I just described.)

              This is also completely ignoring the fact that not all parents are educated and motivated enough to be able to homeschool their children properly; like Shamus said, the average adult can’t do math beyond basic arithmetic. How are the children of these poor parents ever supposed to have a chance to break out of the status of their birth if they never have access to an education? No public education, no money for private education, no time for homeschooling (and, possibly, no ability). It’s the rare child who has an innate desire to learn so powerful that they would spend their days at home alone bettering themself over, say, watching TV. Do these kids deserve to have the burden of the rest of their lives foisted on their shoulders before they can comprehend what that means?

              Most kids need to be forced into learning that which they don’t want to learn because they don’t know that it will help them later. My fiancee teaches 6th grade math right now in a public school system that tries its damnedest to implement as many non-traditional learning systems as it can to get the most from the students, but when you boil it all down she’s still having trouble teaching the whole class how to properly evaluate expressions using the order of operations. This is not a niche skill, this is something that anyone who ever uses math in any professional capability will need to know, and yet the kids would not be learning it on their own if they were given that choice. Should we just throw our hands in the air? Hell no, because a 6th grader shouldn’t be indirectly making decisions about what he or she is going to do for the rest of their life. They may not end up using math at all (completely ignoring the idea, which I agree with, that learning math improves logical reasoning and cognition), but if they don’t learn it now and they realize when they’re 16 that they really like the idea of being a scientist, they’ll hit a wall when they realize they have a ton of math to catch up on. Some might do what Shamus did, and teach themselves Trig because they need it, but how many would get discouraged and give up? In my experience watching my SO teach, the answer is “most”.

              We teach a broad spectrum of fields to these kids so that by the time they get to a point where they _can_ make those decisions, they’ll have _some_ kind of basis to work from. There are so many kids who don’t even know what they want to do with their lives in college, the notion that we should be expecting them to know what areas of school they should and shouldn’t be taught when they’re in grade school or even high school is absurd. Individualized attention will of course always work out better for the student than broad-spectrum learning, but like I said before, that’s simply not an option for a lot of families.

              Blanket statements like “There is hardly a single student that would not be made better off, both today and in their adult life, if the entire institution were inelegantly abolished,” are not just provably wrong, they’re actively harmful to the debate. They’re needlessly inflammatory, ignorant to the point of willfulness, and woefully egotistical in the sense that you seem to think that such a simple solution would be a universal good.

              In short: get over yourself. Your “simple” idea is a solution to nothing, and would do much more harm than good. If public schools were shut down tomorrow, the only people who would directly benefit would be the kids who already possess a love of learning, or whose parents have the money or time to dedicate to their education. Public schools weren’t necessary in a world where unskilled or semiskilled laborers (like farmers) made up the vast majority of the workforce, but that time has passed. A minimum amount of education is going to be needed for almost any decent job now, and no one has any right to decide a kid’s future when the kid is unable to make that decision for themself.

              Shamus advocated for choice. You’re advocating for the universal abolishment of the system. You couldn’t be further from his point if you tried.

              1. albval says:

                A very good post indeed. Thank you, sir

              2. Dys says:

                Agreed, this is excellent.

              3. Paul Spooner says:

                I must, respectfully, disagree with you on almost all fronts. You see what is, but perhaps not what could be in its absence. Please allow me a (relatively brief) fanciful interlude.

                The poor are those most affected by rent, which is artificially raised by the very taxes which support public education. In the absence of these taxes the poorest of the poor would be able to spend more time with their families. Loving attention from parents (in Shamus’ story as well as others) is the most potent force for self betterment. Much more powerful than state sponsored education. The net result is beneficial.

                Even without abolishing public school, universal attendance laws do more harm than good. There will always be people (even as children) who are unwilling to learn and disinterested in self improvement. These children are currently brought into daily contact with other children, to the effect of further spreading their misery. Any educator can tell you that their most daunting task is to dissuade the disruption of those who are forced to attend school against their will. Without mandatory universal attendance laws, these troublemakers could stay home and watch TV, allowing those who wish to learn to do so. Teachers would be better able to do their jobs, and bullies could easily expelled.

                Of course, as I said, this is a fantasy. For the time being mandatory universal public education is here to stay. I see it as an evil, but we may disagree. I pay my taxes honestly, so (for now at least) you and those who think like you have won.

                1. Lord Nyax says:

                  Really? You’re seriously saying that if we remove public education then the savings the poor make on their taxes will be enough that they don’t have to work a full time job? People still have to eat. Pay the heating bills, etc. The saving would be minimal, and it certianly wouldn’t be enough to make people stop working eight or nine hour days.

                  Also at least in America there are no universal attendance laws. If you don’t want your kids to go to school than you can homeschool. And the troublemakers should just stay home and watch tv? So if you’re not the most focused child then you don’t deserve an education?

                  1. Mari says:

                    Let me respond with a single anecdote: the town in which I live recently passed a daytime curfew. This is a law that requires that persons between the ages of 5 and 18 not be in public (stores, parks, walking down the street, outside in their own front yard) without a parent between the hours of 8 AM and 3:30 PM (school hours). According to the school superintendent who proposed the curfew and the city council members who approved it, this law was passed to discourage students in the local public school from deliberately getting themselves suspended (repeatedly seriously misbehaving with the express intent of being “kicked out of school” for a period of time) so that they could wander around with their friends during the day instead of being in school. According to the educators in our town this is a serious and persistent problem in the local school. I’ve heard from local educators about kids bringing weapons to school and TURNING THEMSELVES IN to get kicked out for a week or two. If these kids are that disinterested in acquiring an education, who are we to force them to sit there with the other kids who want to learn? What good does it serve? We’re still not educating the ones that don’t want to be there and their deliberate misbehavior disrupts the educational process for others.

                    This anecdote raises a lot of questions (especially about the local school district) but I think it amply illustrates the point that if kids want to be at home watching TV, they’ll find a way to do it whether we have compulsory attendance laws or not. In fact, the daytime curfew simply reinforces it.

            2. Strangeite says:

              This is simply not true. The neighborhood school down the street from me is populated primarily with students from impoverished families. 95% of the population are on free or reduced lunch. From my experiences of eating lunch in the cafeteria, around 20% of the students save half of their lunch in order to take it home to younger siblings because they are hungry. 50% of the students take home a backpack provided by the local food bank on Fridays, so that they have something to eat over the weekend.

              How do I know so much about this school? Because my daughter just started Kindergarten. It is tragic how woefully far behind most of the kids are in her class. Seriously, it brought tears to my eyes on parent night, where I was able to compare my daughters work to those of her peers.

              This school is not a model. In fact, it is bad. So bad that the district offered every family the opportunity to pull their kid out and send them to a very successful school. Guess how many student’s (or to be more exact, parents) took advantage of this opportunity out of a population of 639? 3. It was a difficult choice for us, because I hated abandoning the neighborhood school and not doing everything in my power to help make it better, but in the end I had to do what was best for my daughter.

              There is no doubt in my mind that if the public school system didn’t exist, these kids would be FAR worse off. The parents simply would not take the initiative to make sure their kids were educated. Hell, 99.5% of them couldn’t take the trouble of filling out one application to send their child to one of the best schools in the state.

              This is not a good school. It is tragic that the students that are the most in need are provided with the worst school, but the alternative would be a nightmare.

              1. Anorak says:

                Wow, thanks Skyy_High and Strangeite, much better rebuttals than I can put together.

                Strangeite – it’s always sad to hear of schools that are in that much trouble, but I’m glad your daughter got out.

                Skyy_High – on unskilled labour, I’ve often thought that it’d be beneficial to allow some student an out earlier than the age of 16. I know a lot of people who would have been better off with an old fashioned apprenticeship, at the age of 14. By that age, you’ve done the basics and you’re starting to specialise in subjects that interest you.

                Similarly, I knew several people at that age who knew that they were going to work on the family farm, and school was just an annoyance. They were right; for them it was. For the other 99%, they were the annoyance.

                1. DungeonHamster says:

                  I would concur. Abolishing public school would probably be taking it a bit far in this day and age, but I would definitely be in favor of, essentially, encouraging a younger age of maturity. Have mandatory education only go from 1st to 8th or so (ideally also only have public money pay for education up to that point), lower the drinking age to the voting age, make it easier for “children,” those we now call teenagers, to work younger (which would probably require lowering minimum wage, or at least not increasing it for a very long time, lowering the age at which you can get a license, etc., even besides just loosening up on some of the direct restrictions), that kind of thing.

                  This is straying a bit far now, but it would probably also be a good idea to start unromanticizing higher education; if elementary education is overrated, college at least as much so. Not that it isn’t good for some people, but it should not either have to compensate for the failings of modern high schools or be view as a magical gateway to some nebulous “good job.” It’s already getting a little competition from apprenticeship programs and tech schools anyway; no reason an engineer has to be familiar with 15th century French Lit, and no reason for an Art major to have to take Chemistry.

                  Well-rounded’s nice if you can get it, but society has been thriving on increased specialization for centuries. Why fight it?

                  1. Simulated Knave says:

                    You know what happened when education up to Grade 12 wasn’t mandatory? Parents yanked their kids out of school to work on the farm. Or to get a job. Or to work on the fishing boat. Or to work in the factory. Etc. Etc.

                    There’s also the fact that, y’know. Maybe fourteen year olds aren’t qualified to make decisions about what they should do for the rest of their lives.

                    You’re talking about bringing back child labor, not about improving education.

                    1. DungeonHamster says:

                      Sure, 14 yr old men and women are probably not qualified to decide what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. But is a 15 yr old? 18 yr old? 21? 33? 42? In the first place, they’re only deciding what they will do now, rather than 20 yrs from now. In the second, people every day are required to make decisions for which they may very well not be qualified, although who decides who else is “qualified” is another good question. Also, just because they start working does not necessarily mean they are cut off from friends and family, just that they are more likely to be the one ultimately responsible for the decisions.

                      On another note, consider this: 70 yrs ago, a 16 yr old boy had both his parents die. He had 7 siblings. Nowadays, social services would swoop in and send them all to foster homes which, even if they turned out to be good homes for the children (not a guarantee), would break up the family. Then, he took over the farm and kept the family together, led a fairly successful life, and is now in his 80’s living in a small town in South Dakota. Did it suck that his parents’ died? Yes. Should there be help for him? Of course! I somehow doubt those kids managed it on their own. But should it be required by law that they not be able to at least try and make it on their own? Goodness no!

                      Keep in mind that the very concept of a “teenager” is a very novel concept. I have a difficult time believing that a fad of a mere couple of centuries trumps millennia in which people started working for a living without having gone through at least twelve years of what passes for an education, instead of working for letters on a piece of paper. At the very least, there is not enough weight of evidence to make even reexamining the question worthless.

                      That said, I happen to also think that loosening of some of the so-called child labor laws and reducing the amount of mandatory education would, yes, improve education.

                    2. Simulated Knave says:

                      I have a difficult time believing that a fad of a mere couple of centuries trumps millennia

                      So you’re keen on forced marriages, slavery, and serfdom, too, then? Being new doesn’t make it a bad idea.

                      The simple problem with your idea is that it seems dangerously ignorant of, well, just about everything.

                      For one, how is increasing the size of the unskilled labor force going to be good for working conditions in that labor force?

                      For another, as I’ve said before, the bit in between where they can be taken out of school and the bit where they can leave home seems ripe for exploitation by their parents (and it’s a lot harder to get an education when you’re an adult, for a variety of reasons).

                      For a third, deciding what you do now ends up deciding what you will do in the long term. And younger people are less well equipped to make those decisions. Thus, it makes sense for society to do whatever it can to make sure they are as well-prepared for those decisions as possible before they make them. There are a lot of flaws with modern social services and public school, but going back to the eighteenth century isn’t the solution.

                      And finally: have you read history?

                2. Skyy_High says:

                  I agree that by age 14-16, a teen who knows what they want to do should be able to go to some kind of vocational school / apprenticeship to get a focused education, so that by age 18 they’re able to go directly into the career they want. That’s a good option, and options (particularly for kids who know what they want are great. Broad-spectrum learning is the default for kids who simply don’t know what they want, and shouldn’t be expected to know.

                  It’s also worth pointing out that the area that I live in actually has a lot of farms, and a good fraction (probably around 15%) of the kids my fiancee teach live on farms. These kids may also very well never use the skills they learn in school, but that’s a heck of a decision to give a 10 year old, “Do you ever want to do anything with your life besides work on this farm?”

                  Oh, and God yes does college need to be un-romanticized. The amount of debt that the next generation is piling up to get liberal arts degrees that will never help them get a job is positively staggering. College should be unquestionably for people who need a focused technical education after high school, and for people who want to work in academia; almost everything else can be handled through vocational schools, community colleges, or plain work experience (if employers didn’t require a degree…). The purpose of high school should be to give the kid all the tools they need to decide what they want to do when they graduate, and how they can go about doing that. Obviously, the school system failed Shamus in that regard. That doesn’t mean the system needs to be abolished.

                  I don’t mind electives in college, however. I took quite a few of them as part of my degree program, and while I can’t say they’ll ever be useful to me in a professional sense, they certainly influenced how I think about things. A little broader education is worth the extra year in college, in my opinion.

                  1. Anorak says:

                    Yeah, that’s a good point. Very, very few people actually know what they want to do. The farming thing was actually rarer than I made it sound – everyone else had no clue what they wanted, and so got the broad spectrum approach.

                    “the most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don't”

                    On higher education – a lot of jobs will simply not look at you unless you have a degree, even if it has no bearing on your knowledge or abilities, or even if it is related to the job.

                    There’s a whole bunch of rage sloshing around (like slurry), over University fees in England at the moment – they’ve gone up drastically, in the hope that it will put people off who don’t actually need to go.
                    Hopefully it will start killing off “mickey mouse” degrees, too.

                    1. MalthusX says:

                      There is anger about this in Canada too, though it might not be as obvious as it is in some other places. The economic collapse in 2008 and the drive to earn a university degree has left a generation of young people with university degrees, mounting debt, and no job prospects. They are trapped between aging baby boomers who will no long retire early, as their savings have been wiped out, and the younger students that continue to pour out of university who will be first in line if ever jobs do open up again. And often, the only thing you can do to make yourself stand out from the pack is to continue up the educational ladder, accruing even more debt and hope you earn a degree while it is still worth something.

        2. Nick Bell says:

          “School spending, like many forms of government spending, is always more politically feasible to raise than to lower.”
          Your experience is far different than mine. Not sure where you live, but in here in Michigan, cutting/freezing education budgets is the norm. Raising them is the exception. Our public schools are in a constant fight to keep the teachers and programs they have. Those serviced by education can not (as a general rule) vote. Those who work in the industry can vote individually, but have relatively poor financial resources to lobby with. There is a lot of political force to overcome to use education as a budget saving tool.

          1. Kaeltik says:

            I have lived in four states. NEVER have I heard of school funding being raised outside of local property tax levies, and those few and far between.

        3. Mephane says:

          I think total abolition goes too far because the reason, as far as I see it, why public schools were originally invented was to give every child a chance at gaining knowledge and skills. There were times when many children from poorer families couldn’t read, probably because their parents couldn’t either, and they had no other chance to learn it – public schools gave them that chance. That’s why I think public schools, paid for from taxes, should stay, only that they should not be mandatory to attend.

          1. Nathon says:

            Actually, the public school system in the U.S. was started in order to get children out factories. They were taking jobs from adults.

            1. Mike Gieser says:

              Actually that is incorrect. School was initially designed to create an adult workforce that was content to do monotonous repetitive factory work. Child workers were left feeling high self esteem because they had accomplished something and grew to be adults who couldn’t stand the jobs they had enjoyed as children. The industrial revolution would require millions of drone workers.

      2. Daimbert says:

        There’s one big difference here, though, and you can see it in comparison with home schooling and private schools.

        I, a childless person, pays through my property taxes for schooling. I don’t use that schooling … but then I have no additional obligations either. I just pay my property taxes.

        Couple A decides that they want to send their child to private school. If they do so, they would have to a) pay for the public system, like I do and b) pay for the private school on top of that. They get dinged twice, where I get dinged once.

        Couple B decides that they want to homeschool. If they do so, they have to a) pay for the public system, like I do and b) pay for whatever expenses are incurred from them homeschooling. They get dinged twice, where I get dinged once.

        So it’s not quite a non-issue, since it does indeed limit how many parents can take advantage of that option.

        1. Nathon says:

          But you get dinged once for something you don’t use. That’s the same as getting dinged twice for something you do use.

          1. lazlo says:

            I would have to say that “use” is a bit more complicated here. Does someone with no children “use” the education that the cashier at the grocery store he goes to got? Or if he starts a business, will he use the education of his potential employees?

            Education is highly useful to a whole lot of people, only some of whom are actually being educated. It’s also expensive, and will be paid for if it exists. It’s somewhere between possible and likely that it will be paid for by people who benefit from it, one way or another.

          2. Daimbert says:

            Except that people who send their children to public school get dinged once for what they use. In my case, I write it off as the cost of supporting society. Those who use public school write it off as the cost of supporting their children. Those who don’t end up paying for something they don’t use AND paying for what they DO use. Monetarily, they’re behind me because they pay for what they aren’t using AND paying for what they’re using. That double dip impacts budgets.

            1. Brandon says:

              This is the argument some use when talking about school vouchers. I do not know if homeschooling is included as an option for vouchers under the most common models.

              I am torn on the issue of school vouchers. On the one hand, it does prevent double-dipping. On the other hand, if widespread it can impact the quality of public education by removing critical funds.

              One of the things about public education is that it necessitates buildings and staff and various other resources which vary some per student, but don’t match up exactly. Get enough students and you need a larger building, but you always need some kind of building even if you only have a few students. You need more janitors and maintenance people and counselors and whatnot for a larger school system, but a smaller system still needs access to these folks even if they are small. In this way larger school systems CAN be more cost effective by virtue of being able to make the most of shared resources.

              If a school system runs optimally at a set size, reducing the student population and funding by a critical amount can suddenly push it into territory where finances cannot match the costs of maintaining the facilities needed for busier operation. Then again, there are many other reasons this particular problem could occur that are far more likely than the loss due to vouchers.

              Vouchers also tend to favor those with greater financial resources. Folks with stable finances are more likely to be able to homeschool through being able to afford having someone home teaching the kids or to be able to afford private schooling. This could lead to students with more stable home lives (and thus better grades, on average) fleeing the public schools, leaving the public schools a dumping ground of sorts for poor or disadvantaged students (already the case in some communities, even without vouchers).

              Can you see why I’m conflicted on vouchers?

              1. Shamus says:

                On the voucher thing:

                I totally understand the thinking behind them, and I’m as eager as anyone to see people try as many different styles of education as they can, but vouchers are more about economics than education. To wit:

                Let’s say we give everybody $5k vouchers for private schooling. Private schools can then raise their tuition by $5k and make a lot more money while having exactly the same enrollment as before. In fact, they would be idiots not to.

                I think this is a big reason college is so expensive.

                * Government allows all students to borrow $5k in gov’t backed loans for school.
                * Tuition goes up by $5k over the next few years.
                * Government allows all students to borrow $5k more.
                * Tuition goes up by $5k.
                * OH MY GOSH! College is SO EXPENSIVE! The poor can’t get in! We need to help these kids!
                * Government allows all students to borrow $10k more.
                * Tuition goes up by $10k.

                50 years later, college now costs as much as a house and nobody can find a job that can keep up with their debt.

                Same thing would happen with private schooling.

                1. Volatar says:

                  This is exactly why I believe that the government should not give student loans out.

                  1. Chris says:

                    The UK system has a different problem caused by solving this one.

                    In the UKEngland (Scotland has a different system), the amount a University (= US college. UK colleges are something different entirely) can charge in tuition is capped.

                    You can then take out a loan from the government. Because this is a loan from the state, it doesn’t have some of the problems endemic to a private student loan. The way I pay it back is essentially by means of an extra tax once I earn more than a certain amount. If I leave University and fail to get a job, then I do not have bailiffs coming around to repossess my things: I just don’t pay it back.

                    In this system, the government is making an investment in me (in the hope that I get a better job and hence pay more taxes) in the same way that I am (in the hope that I get a better job and can afford a swimming pool of money).

                    The problem is that our last government tried to get everyone through higher education. This resulted in “degree inflation”, in which a degree isn’t worth quite as much in the job market because everyone and their cat has one.

                    And because it’s an easy debt to live with (if I can’t pay I don’t), it’s really easy for lots of people to take up the offer. I couldn’t have afforded to go to University otherwise. This probably makes me part of the problem :D

                    tldr; higher education is a bit of a calculated gamble. You put your chips in and hope that the odds turn out in your favour. The people running the game are trying to minimise the chips, maximise the players and maximise the odds, and there’s no real right way to do it.

                    This extends all the way back down the tree to the original point about basic education: you’re trying to minmax a whole bunch of variables, and it becomes really hard to think about “individuals” at that level. Also, like Shamus says, you’re minmaxing people. You can’t just guess and hope it turns out ok, because then you risk screwing the people you’re trying to help (or rather, screwing them over more :D).

                    1. Mephane says:

                      My impression had always been that, in a completely tax-paid education system, those who come out of the system with a high degree and manage to get a well-paid job, will automatically pay higher taxes who won’t, and thus refinance the system anyway. So I am not so convinced that vouchers, student loans etc. are really necessary at all, if schools and universities would just get sufficient funding.

                      It’s the same with street tolls – don’t people already pay for the streets by paying taxes (and car owners here have to pay additional car-taxes just for owning one)? Why should they pay an additional fee for using what they have effectively already paid for?

                      I think the underlying issue is lack of solidarity. I hear a lot of talk about how people don’t want to pay for something they don’t deem themselves like to ever use; in the most extreme case, some people want most of all taxes be abolished and replace with usage-fees. The idea of paying your share of something “for the greater good of society”, as in schools, roads, hospitals, police etc. seems to have come under bad reputation lately. When I look at the the tax I pay, I know that they are spent on building roads, maintaining hospitals, having a fire station in the city etc. Yet some other people seem on the brink of regarding even that as “socialism”… facepalm

                  2. pneuma08 says:

                    I would condition that with a, “to everybody”. Loans and other such things can be worthwhile for individuals, it is the widespread nature that causes problems for the system as a whole.

                    The REAL problem was there were some statistics a while back that said that people who get degrees earn more on average, so that kind of drove the equilibrium thinking upwards, without regard to how the system can change as a result of this – with the result being the return expected from giving out a loan was inflated, causing an oversupply of loans. This is further complicated by the fact that there is now backlash to cut back, which is hurting us even more in the short run.

                    Long story short: we’ve been way too liberal with the lending, and it’s hurting us quite a bit now.

                2. Brandon says:

                  You know, I hadn’t thought of it from that angle. On the other hand, the private school I attended in TN has had tuition go up at a rate that rather closely matches those of colleges and universities, and all their financial aid and loans are private.

                  I suppose there’s the possibility that they are just following a trend, but as someone who has worked in and around academia for many years, colleges and universities don’t have a good handle on their expenses. They are mostly not for profit institutions, so they don’t just raise tuition because they can. If they raise tuition that money has to go somewhere. Now, it may be that having greater loan money available enables them to offer new things, and as one school offers new things all the other schools have to start offering them, too. I would not be surprised if that was involved. But even with loan money allocations increasing schools like Harvard have decided to no longer be need-blind, meaning they leave themselves leeway to pick people based on their means to pay, suggesting that even with increasing loan availability, the very top schools are seeing a lack of available loan funds. My alma mater charges a hefty sum for tuition and room and board. There’s no way loans would cover all of it. But they are very generous with scholarship money, despite the fact that they are a highly regarded institution. If they let you in, they are willing to try to help you out.

                  So now I’ve veered WAY off topic… Yes, Shamus, I hadn’t considered your point, and now it’s in my brain and is something I will not be able to gloss over from here onward. It is a good point and I agree that what you suggest is a potential risk. I’m conflicted on vouchers, but not so conflicted I think they are a good idea just yet.

                3. Leonardo Herrera says:

                  Vouchers only work if you eliminate the public education system completely, and the voucher is as good as printed money when cashed out by an educational corporation. And then you have free market at work.

                  (For homeschooling, you can create “homeschooling schools”: you hand them your voucher, they give you back materials and perform exams.)

                  Of course, poorer families can even cash out some of their assigned money for something else they value more than their kids education. For rich people the scenario don’t vary much either way.

        2. delve says:

          I send my children to private school, at great expense to my family’s budget. We can’t afford even so much as a pizza without a dreadful reading of the budgetary tea leaves, because my children’s not-top-of-the-line private school costs so bloody much. I consider myself ~lucky~ to live in an area where I have more than one choice of private school, because some kids are fully SOL even if their parents had the money to spare.

          That said, if I could withdraw the educational portion of the taxes I pay and put them in the private school I would do so without a second thought.

          1. Blanko2 says:

            which is why you can’t, of course. it’s a public school because its for the public, even if you don’t use it you gotta pay. I don’t use public parks, why should i pay for them? i could drive everywhere and not use sidewalks, does that mean i dont have to pay for the maintanence? do i not have to pay for the police because i never got robbed?

      3. susie day says:

        In Colorado, they started an online charter school. The children were technically homeschooled, but the state sent the allotted money for the year to the charter school, who turned around and used it to buy computers and books for the kids. Each student used their curriculum, but could go as fast or as slow as they needed to for each subject, as long as they could pass the state tests (which are ridiculously easy). I felt that this was a great middle ground for parents who didn’t have the time to take a more active role and actually homeschool, but also didn’t think their children should be in the public school system for whatever reason.

        I was homeschooled from the end of 6th grade through high school. There are things that I missed out on that I wished I had been able to experience, and my parents basically let me learn on my own .. which means I stopped studying math by the time I got half way through my pre-algebra textbook … instead, I spent my time writing and painting in photoshop. When I was done with school, I went on to design websites, using … writing and photoshop design skills.

        I was put into homeschool because of bullying .. I was too quiet and shy and girls can be jerks. The teachers didn’t do anything to stop the physical abuse that I tolerated every day even though they stood and watched (I remember being repeatedly stabbed with a sharpened pencil until my arm bled .. when I asked to be moved to a different seat, and showed her my arm, I was told to tough it out. Sure, I should have fought back, but I had been taught to never fight, always be passive, etc. in church as well as at home by my mother).

      4. Kevin says:

        I agree about not making it a money issue. My kids aren’t school age yet, but they will be going to a small private school. I’m willing to take the financial hit to keep the government from telling them how to run the school. The more support from government (by lower taxes, or funds for the school), the more government will require you to do things a certain way.

      5. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Speaking as one of those single guys who is helping pay for your kid’s education* if you’re going to be the one educating your kid or you’re going to put your kid in a private school, I would greatly prefer you have the money that would be going towards your kid’s public school education especially since they wronged me almost as badly as they wronged you (I think I was lucky enough to have a few more teachers who cared and knew how to ignite my passion for learning but it was clearly their doing and not a consistent feature of the institution.)

        *Ok, I’m not literally directly paying for it. I mean, we don’t live in the same state or county and I rent but surely a portion of my rent is helping the landlord pay property taxes which go to schools for children who are not my own. You know what I mean. -Dennis Moorism

  3. Lalaland says:

    Wow this is a late night post for you Shamus given that it’s 0940 or so UTC!. I find home schooling disturbing not because I believe parent’s are poor educators or that home schooling turns out socially maladjusted people but rather because in the US in particular there are no national standards.

    I’m not trying to claim that everyone needs to know this, that or the other but does the child not have a right to a certain minimum level of understanding of the sciences, history, art, maths and languages? As you say attending a school is no guarantee of that but at least the testing system forces some rigour on their efforts. I’d be interested in whether you feel standardised testing has any place in home schooling or should parents be free to decided on their own what their children should learn?

    1. Cado says:

      The issue with testing is that it only proves how good someone is at tests, and highschoolers who can barely read prove that it’s a poor barometer of someone’s actual knowledge.

      Given how curious children naturally are, you’d practically have to try to prevent them from learning certain key things-at least enough for them to get by-and that would probably be part of a pattern of abuse and not due to poor curriculum or a lack of resources.

      I don’t have the links right at hand but look up unschooling sometime. Seeing how the people who promote that methodology think and work shows just how questionable the agreed upon standards really are.

    2. Shamus says:

      If you tried to enforce standards, it would destroy the entire point of homeschooling. If you want standards, then someone has to decide what those standards will be, and we’ll have the entire OBE debate again, only on a more comprehensive scale. EVERYONE will want their ideas to be mandated.

      Also, it will require you to prove that your kids are meeting the standards, which means tests, worksheets, etc.

      Worse, what happens if a kid isn’t keeping up? I would have failed at standardized testing in Kindergarten, because I was “dyslexic”. Someone would see my low scores, conclude my mom was a bad teacher, and forcibly put me in the madhouse.

      It would negate the benefit of allowing kids to follow their passions. “Yeah, I know you love math and computers Shamus, but you need to fill out this quota of history, science, phys-ed, civics, art, music, reading, penmanship. Also, you need to follow this proscribed path for math or you’ll fail the tests. No skipping ahead or learning things in a different order.”

      Might as well not bother. Might as well just make them all go to school.

      1. Lalaland says:

        I started to compose an argument around only testing fundamentals before realising that there is no such thing and everyone differs on what constitutes a fundamental component of education. For every person who could agree that algebra is a core element of mathematics there will be those who argue that trigonometry is just as vital or matrix transformations. History as a subject is a minefield of competing narratives and perspectives that is probably best approached as an adult in all but the most superficial sense (given the tendency for children to impose goody/baddy narratives).

        I would hope that the consequences of a child failing standardised testing would not be labelling but an offer of assistance or teaching materials to the parents so they can help their child recover. Sometimes standardised testing can uncover genuine issues that a parent may be faulting themselves for or could benefit from alternate learning methods. There’s no doubting that labelling in formal education can be used as an excuse to ship the child off to ‘special’ classes that serve as an educational gulag but would that happen with home schooling?

        Perhaps my perspective is too naive in hoping that standardised testing could be made to assist parents home schooling rather than becoming a trap to drag their kids back into the formal system. Are there any peer-review style schemes where home school parents can get an outside perspective on their child’s progress?

        1. Squash says:

          This is why they try to jam more and more into the curriculum every year–every one in educational academia has their pet project or subject or topic that is “essential” in their mind. All it does is guarantee that there is more and more that is NOT learned.

          1. Sumanai says:

            And is in fact learned worse with every passing addition.

          2. pneuma08 says:

            Even worse, after we drill in the idea that “the tests are important” to get the kids to take the tests, they stop seeing a point in going to/participating in school after the tests are taken (which is necessary to get a response back in time).

            I feel this type of thing is emblematic of the critical juncture the country is facing at the moment, where everyone feels the need for change but no one can agree on how to change.

        2. Timelady says:

          When I was being homeschooled, my mother had to submit a curriculum plan to the SAU (School Administrative Unit) at the beginning of the (academic) year and send in some sort of review at the end of each year, whether it was an interview with a certified teacher or the results of an accepted test. I believe that if I had failed any of these things, we would have either been forced to send me back to school or used the school’s lesson plan (which we tried the first year I was homeschooled. It was absolute rubbish).

          So in New Hampshire, at least, there’s a little bit of what I believe you’re looking for. I can’t speak for anywhere else, though.

        3. susie day says:

          imo, the fundamentals are reading, writing (not penmanship, but being able to put what you think down into words on a page, or at least spoken aloud in eloquence), and logic … and using an internet search engine ;-)

          Words are the basis of being human, and so it is essential that we teach children how to interface with our culture … with other humans.

      2. psivamp says:

        There is such a standard that has to be met for private schools to be accredited and to get state money. I can’t remember which side of the line we were on at the private school I went to high school at, but I don’t think the requirement to teach state history really helped anyone.

      3. Bill says:

        “…and forcibly put me in the madhouse.”

        Possibly in our day (I’m 45) as back then dyslexia was just starting to be generally recognised but were it today and over here you would receive a “Statement of Special Educational Need” the school would be required to set up an action plan to assist you and would have had a period of one-to-one support from a “Learning Support Assistant”.

        As regards curriculum, for us subjects are assessed separately and whilst we have do a national curriculum it has flexibility built in.

        1. Sumanai says:

          Sounds ghastly. Maybe it works in practice, but doesn’t sound like it would.

          1. Bill says:

            Ghastly? Really?

            Stripped of the titles it boils down to – a child is identified as having a special need and gets someone paid to give them one to one help in the classroom.

            1. decius says:

              Good theory, which has failed in practice. I was in a herd of students who all had identical “individual education plans”. The paperwork became an obstacle instead of a tool, and I went far beyond the courses in math and science while barely passing the class titled “English”. I still don’t know what that class was intended to teach, but I think I already knew it.

              1. Bill says:

                er…I think we’re talking at slightly cross purposes. I’m talking about helping primary school children (so age 5-11) with disabilities in main stream mixed ability classes by giving them one to one support.

                1. decius says:

                  I’m discussing the results of implementing a paper policy that intends to do that. I agree with the intended result, I just don’t think that requiring that result will result in it.

                  1. Bill says:

                    It isn’t perfect but it does help.

                    That said I could be biased – my eldest is an LSA. He originally worked with a lad with cerebral palsy & selective mutism now he works with a lad with behavioural problems.

            2. Sumanai says:

              Basically it is: 1. child gets singled out; 2. the school gets assigned paperwork; 3. the school has to pay someone to teach one person at a time.

              It sounds like it’s made to encourage a school to hide anyone needing the help and to try and solve it on their own. Which they most likely can’t do and only end up burying the problem. Or they don’t hide it and find an easier way of handling individual events (a standard “action plan” that is used more or less the same for everyone and, like in decius’ case, putting them all in front of the same teacher).

              The reason I called it ghastly however is not that it doesn’t sound nice in theory, it’s that the titles give the whole process an aura of failure. I mean “action plan”? “Statement of Special Educational Need”? “Learning Support Assistant”? I mean, seriously? It sounds like something that was designed by someone who works more with bureaucracy than other people.

              1. Bill says:

                Almost. Step 3 is actually –

                …school gets extra central government funding to employ someone to teach one child at a time.

                To give you an idea of the money involved in 2009-2010 they spent £5.2 billion ($8.33B at today’s rates)* of which “£2.1 billion was delegated to mainstream schools; £1.6 billion was delegated to maintained special schools; and £612 million was spent on placing children with SEN statements at independent and non-maintained special schools.” Yes, they spent several hundred million sending disabled kids to private schools.

                I’d agree with you about the job titles mind.


                1. Sumanai says:

                  “…school gets extra central government funding to employ someone to teach one child at a time. ”

                  Oh. Well, that’s good.

      4. lazlo says:

        There is an elegant solution to both this problem and the money issue mentioned above. Permit homeschooling broadly, and refund some portion of the tax money that would have been spent on public schooling of children to the parents of homeschooled children who can pass standardized tests with comparable grades to publicly schooled children taking the same tests.

        This provides funding for educational expenses related to homeschooling and a small compensation for the loss of income from the homeschooling parent for those parents who simply feel they can do at least as good a job teaching their children as the public school system.

        It doesn’t prevent parents from homeschooling if their child, like you, has something akin to dyslexia that prevents them from doing well on standardized testing. At worst, it defunds them to the point that, well, to the point that they’re currently being defunded.

        It prevents parents from abusing the system by sitting their child in front of the TV and collecting “homeschooling pay checks”

        1. delve says:

          Or the reverse. Give everyone back their money and let the public school require tuition to teach state or federal curriculum. State or federal programs currently in use to provide poverty assistance can provide that tuition directly to the school for students without the means.

          The poor are educated by public money through the state curriculum and everyone else is free to choose what they wish. Certainly states or municipalities with an interest in education are allowed to make grants to school systems in order to ensure up to date computers, or higher salaries or whatnot.

        2. BeardedDork says:

          And what about the money of childless individuals and couples? This would also directly harm those incapable of receiving effective home-schooling. There is no simple solution. Shamus’ suggestion that the option remain available while changing nothing else is the closest to a simple solution.

          1. Kaeltik says:

            Agreed. If we are to be a community then certain services must be in place. Many require that everyone pays in, regardless of whether or not they choose to use those services. However, the freedom to choose not to use those services must be fiercely guarded.

            Anyone not interested in my list is free to stop reading here.

            Public Safety
            Emergency Response
            Basic Research

            This is my minimum set, i.e. those things that a country needs in order to thrive, ultimately benefit everyone, and have not (yet) been convincingly made available to EVERYONE through private means.

            To this minimum set I would add Health Care and Space Exploration, but my evidence is more shaky and may be colored more by personal bias.

      5. Robyrt says:

        How does this fit with your “man on the street” example? There are certain standard pieces of knowledge we expect everyone to know by the time they reach adulthood – “Lincoln was not America’s first president” or “Solve for X” or “Formulate a coherent argument” or “Work together with a small team.” Everyone has an interest in ensuring this stuff becomes universal knowledge, which means knowing who has learned what. How do we get proper metrics without some sort of testing?

        1. Syal says:

          They didn’t learn it. The system failed to instill that information in a meaningful way.

          The point was that you wouldn’t be losing that “standard” knowledge because you don’t really have it to begin with.

        2. Shamus says:

          You misunderstand. I’m not saying everyone NEEDS to know those things. I’m saying not everyone WILL know those things, even kids from public schools. People saying, “Homeschooling doesn’t lead to well-rounded people” are holding HS’ing to a standard that not even public schools can achieve.

          I like the idea, suggested by someone else, of giving tests. (SATs or somesuch.) Purely voluntary, take them whenever you are ready. Businesses and colleges will want to see that you have some moderate level of proficiency. If you want to work on a farm, be a homemaker, or go into some area of skilled labor, you can skip these tests. If you want to go for a more advanced job or education, then you’ll probably have to take the test. However, you can learn the material however you like and at whatever pace suits you and your family.

          That gives a nice safety valve for people who want to educate themselves, while at the same time encouraging them to get that “rounded”-ness that is a sticking point for so many.

          1. delve says:

            SATs (and similar exams) will likely remain in place regardless what the primary education system does. Unless you propose to change the entire university system as well which, on the surface, seems completely unworkable.

          2. klasbo says:

            So here’s an idea: You don’t take tests to get out of school, but rather to get in to school (except elementary school, obviously).

            That makes a lot of sense, because the things you are tested for are the things that apply to whatever area of education you are pursuing. Though there would still need to be some minimum standard for everyone/all schools.

            This is actually quite similar to how people are admitted(?) into music studies (at least over here in Norway). Half of the students are let in from their middle school (13-16 yrs) grades, and the other half from an audition. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be like this for other “specialized” courses.

          3. Kevin says:

            The private school that my kids will be attending is held to a higher standard than public schools. For a kid to pass a subject they have to achieve 80%. If not, they do it again. Once kids get to high school, if they aren’t interested in taking advanced math and science, they aren’t forced to. They can focus on things more suited to their interests without any stigma of “being in the general classes” (vs advanced).

            My brother passed grade 9 in public school and then went to this private school for grade 10. He was always a good student and got good grades (75%+), but when they tested him to enter the private school they found his Math and English skills were at the level of a 5th grader! It turns out he wasn’t smarter than a 5th grader (sorry). He had to go back and fill in the gaps in his learning. The school allows all students to work at their own pace, so he was still able to catch up and graduate on time. Of course no system is perfect, and I think this private school suffers from some of the same problems of kids just cramming and then forgetting, but it does do a better job than the public system.

            Also, my brother was falling victim to the peer pressures of high school. He was hanging around with kids who were a bad influence, and wasn’t trying to learn anymore. I think getting him out of the public school was the best thing for him at the time.

          4. Carmel J. says:

            I don’t remember many details, but there are independent standardized tests that you can take on a voluntary basis. I’m in Georgia (AKA Public Education Can of Worms, Exhibit One*), and I know several homeschooling families here. A few months ago, a friend of mine had a couple of her kids take a standardized test just to make sure they were on track- it wasn’t required. (Not much seems to be here.) Of course, I can’t remember the name of it, I’m pretty sure it was attached more to an Institution of Higher Learning (Princeton, maybe?) than to a government entity. And yes, they did fine.

            *for bonus fun, look up what’s been going on with Georgia education. The Atlanta Board of Education was a mess, loss of funding for some charter schools (almost including the one my kids attend), and TEACHERS cheating on standardized tests! At least the travesty that is our high school math curriculum is getting fixed… slowly… oh, and they did stop testing on Kindergarteners and first graders here… because they cost too much. You can’t make this stuff up, and if not for my charter school I’d be homeschooling too.

          5. Tuck says:

            My older siblings, who were all homeschooled and have all been through university, took the ACT or SAT (there’s no Australian equivalent and the uni accepted the US tests) to get in.

            Needless to say they all had exceptionally high scores: not a standard I could hope to match up to, even though I had essentially the same schooling, but then we’re different people…

      6. Allen says:

        Not necessarily.

        I was a public school kid, but due to a lot of moving around in my youth I went to a *lot* of different schools in different districts – even with “standardized testing”, there is a *lot* of variation in how material is presented (even beyond “good/bad teacher”).

        My brother and sister (who are 10 and 9 years younger than me) were both homeschooled for reasons unimportant here, and that brings me to the other Dirty Secret – the actual required curriculum (the “this is what your kid is supposed to learn”) is *tiny*. Jaw droppingly tiny. (I tried to find a link to it, but smartly they don’t make it too easy to find). Most of what you do in school is review, electives, and waiting for the slower kids to catch up. My sibs did half days for half a year, and easily covered everything required *plus* anything they wanted to do on the side. And had plenty of time for anything else. Hitting the required standards is far easier than you think. (I suspect the “standardized testing” makes it worse because instead of just letting you show that your kid can add, you have to hit these *specific* questions, which is worse than stupid.)

        My daughter just entered the school system here, so I’ve had a lot of thinking into it. I’m fortunate enough to live in a system that has a very flexible set of programs (instead of a bunch of private schools, the public schools each sponsor special programs – this is the list just for K-6 kids – and you can put your kid in any program that will take them. Want them in a second language? Just pick one. Science-focus? Arts-focus? Sports-focus? IB? All there.

        To my mind, this solves the big problem with schools – education is what kids put up with at school to get what they want. I was an honors student, but I was never a huge fan of any of those subjects. I went to school for band and the computer lab and the school paper. I put up with the rest of it to “pay” for the fun parts. Making it at least possible to tailor your school to your kid’s quirks goes a long way.

        As for homeschooling, I believe it can totally work – for some kids and some parents. But not all kids are self-motivated enough to do the work and readings just ’cause. And as for the parents… remember when it was mentioned that most people don’t remember their junior high classes? Guess what – if you’re homeschooling you not only have to relearn it, you have to learn it well enough to *teach* it. And no classroom means no other kids to crib from. Be prepared to call up relatives, friends, anyone with needed skills (I tutored both my sibs through math, and I couldn’t believe how much of it I forgot in only ten years). On the plus side, you can get far cooler experiences that way (my sibs learned bio from my wife’s aunt, who’s a vet – straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were).

        One last point before I get off the wire – I think there is a benefit in making kids (especially pre-high school) take a smattering of different courses. Letting kids specialize too early (or worse, letting their parents specialize them!) means they might never find out they had a knack or interest in something else. (Not to mention that everyone should have at least basic competencies in math and writing and reading. Enough to balance your checkbook, say.)

      7. The Hokey Pokey says:

        You seriously should learn math in the correct order. Math is probably the least flexible thing in the universe. Math is the hardest science in existence. There is good reasons for proscribed paths in math.

        Say for example you wanted to learn multiplication before addition. You could memorize the tables for all of the digits in base 10, but you would have no idea what they mean. You could regurgitate 3*5=15, but you wouldn’t understand that the equation is a shortcut for 3+3+3+3+3=15. Learning addition before learning to count is just as ridiculous. In a well crafted math curriculum, every additional step builds on concepts already learned. Material from Algebra informs Geometry, which in turn informs Advanced Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus. If you learn these disciplines in the correct order, you are able to see the elegance and internal logic of Math as a whole. If you skip around, you might as well just use a calculator.

        1. Blake says:

          Here in Aus the math curriculum involves far more than all that though.
          We have statistics and probability which can really be taught anywhere.
          Lots of time was spent on polynomials which to my eyes were just more algebra.
          Algebra itself is taught as a big thing far too late.
          Radians (and pi itself) are taught in the middle of things without context (it was years between when I knew there were 2pi radians in a circle and when I learned what a radian represented when doing trig).
          I was taught complex numbers before vector math.
          I remember doing Venn diagrams years before dealing with sets.
          I went right through uni and worked as a programmer for years without ever being taught matrices (which I had to learn when reading a collision detection book).
          I was taught that base 8 and 12 existed around age 10, but never even slightly used that knowledge until working in binary at uni (and I’d bet most people never use it ever).
          We were taught factors existed long before we had any need to simplify equations.
          We were taught something to do with perfect squares, I don’t know what use it ever served.
          In primary school time was spent teaching us what hexagons/rhombuses/square-based pyramids were, I think the closest those ever came to mattering was over a decade later doing trig.
          We were taught what arcs/sectors/segments were years before we knew what pi was.

          Some parts of math need to be in the right order, but the curriculum is also filled with a lot of unnecessary fluff.

          Also because each thing is taught at a different level, you either learn stuff before it’s useful, or after you’ve been taught another way around it.

          Like algebra, I knew people in high school who didn’t understand why we were using letters instead of numbers. The problem (I believe) was that algebra was being taught as a subject in itself rather than just a way of treating numbers.
          Like when I was little I played math games on PC, sometimes instead of saying “2+4=?” it would just ask “2+x=6, what is x?”. It was just another way of asking the same question, but it meant I was representing numbers in abstract ways whilst learning addition. By the time I was taught what the word algebra meant, I’d already been using it for years as a means to an end.

          And vectors, to me would make the most sense to start touching on at the same time you’re first learning graphs, if I had’ve been taught x or y was a unit vector along a certain axis it would’ve been easier to learn at that point rather than years later.

          I always learned best by going off on tangents as particular things piqued my interest, and if you imagine math subjects as a kind of tree diagram with multiple dependencies, I would’ve learned much faster rushing up branches as far as I could go before needing to backtrack to learn a different branch to keep progressing.
          I believe any time maths is taught without context it’s hard to learn, and I think a level based approach tends to kill that context.

      8. swenson says:

        On learning things in the “wrong” order, this is one reason why I am a huge fan of, I don’t know if there’s a word for it, but “alternative” courses. Instead of taking a regular English class, you take some other class that incorporates English and it still counts as a credit. For example, in Michigan, they just recently got it pushed through to let industrial technology (shop/technical classes, mostly) classes count as a math credit. There’s so many people I know who that would be perfect for. They’re never going to take calculus, pure math just isn’t their thing. But working with their hands? Yeah, that’s something they would be great at!

        Unfortunately, so many schools these days just don’t have the funds to pay for “unnecessary” extra classes like that. Or don’t think they’re important. It’s unfortunate, because it hurts all of the kids who don’t learn very well in “traditional” classes.

      9. Brandon says:

        There is already a sort of standards enforcement for home schooling: the GED. No homeschooler is required to pass the GED, but even many of the simplest jobs these days require a high school education or a GED. For homeschooled students who want to go on to college, the SAT or ACT are the standards. In these cases the student is measured against the standard at the end of a particular process rather than incrementally. No one is required to take any of these standardized tests, unless they want to move into a job or college that requires them. This allows homeschooled kids and their parents to pick their poison. Once your own kids get older this may be an issue, because you’ll have to decide with them whether you want to prepare them for a particular test and how you want to do so.

      10. Blanko2 says:

        the standard could just be a given curriculum that needs to be filled a some point, so they need to learn at least some basic things, with a broad limit as to when and no limit as to how. having a more choice based system, as some are, like A levels or the IB programme might also be an interesting path to take as you have quite a lot of leeway but you dont just get to do whatever the hell you please, which might help mitigate that whole issue.

        1. Blake says:

          But I bet even with that I would’ve been forced to study history and SOSE, I knew from before I set foot in those classes they were never going to be relevant to my interests. History was the only class I ever got kicked out of (which I did by being intentionally disruptive mind you) because it bored me. If I could’ve taken another maths class or two instead I would’ve loved it.

          Apart from literacy and arithmetic, I think everything else needs to be optional. I wasted years of my life learning irrelevant things in high school when I could’ve been getting further ahead and not bothering everybody else.

          I knew when I was little I wanted to be a programmer, most of the people I knew in high school had a pretty good idea what they wanted to as well (or at least knew what they didn’t want to be, why try to force trigonometry onto someone who has always hated maths, whose brain just isn’t built for maths, and knows she either wants to be a psychologist or a writer?).

          We had people who wanted to be farmers and tradies who instead of being given the chance to learn those skills, was bullying those around them because it was more fun than listening to the teacher talk about colour changing chemical reactions.

          Science tells us adults actually learn quicker than kids, which means if people find out late they need to study something in order to change career, they can do it then.
          I think if people could specialise or move into careers at 14, many would come back later studying the one or two things they also needed, but doing it far quicker, cheaper, more maturely and better than when they left.

          The only real requirements in life that everybody needs are literacy and arithmetic. Any curriculum beyond that is going to be detrimental to someone.

          1. Blanko2 says:

            lol what. youre telling me history is useless? and geography? thats just basic stuff, man. if you come up to me and dont know about ww2 or the crusades or at least a basis behind what ww1 was about imma laugh in your face.
            Shit you need to know, if you dont want to look like an idiot. its all well and good to focus on just the things you like, but LIFE ISNT LIKE THAT, YOU NEED TO DO SHIT YOU DONT LIKE. YOU NEED TO KNOW STUFF THAT YOU DONT WANT TO KNOW. i reserve the right to judge someone based on their ignorance of common events and i will not give up that right just for your entitlement of “i dont need to know history cuz i dont like it”

    3. DungeonHamster says:

      I don’t know about the whole country, but I’m pretty sure there are already a few states that have tests every few years that kids all have to take. If you really desperately want a test, just have ’em take the GED. Lord knows the one regret I have about school is not just taking that test and getting out of there when I could.

      That said, kids are naturally curious and do not like feeling stupid. I’d think that the consequences of not being able to handle the the R’s (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic) these days painful enough for this to be essentially a non-issue. Not that history, the sciences, and even the arts aren’t good to know, but trying to force them down the throat of people who neither want nor need them will do no good anyhow.

      I could see, I guess, giving a test at about 14 or maybe 16 yrs of age to test for the 3 R’s and MAYBE some rudimentary American History, but I’d be very hesitant about anything more than that.

    4. Storm Kraken says:

      Plus it would be hard to have a national homeschooling standard here in the US because the federal government doesn’t have the authority to mandate most educational matters. But I thought that I’ve heard of a few states that did have homeschooling standards too.

  4. Cado says:

    Here here!

    I don’t have much else to add at the moment (though as someone who was homeschooled and favors unschooling I could come up with something) but I will share a link which is tangentially related:

    Schooling is drastically overvalued in our society. Not education, schooling-just like you said. I don’t think progress can be made on a large scale unless we’re willing to slaughter the sacred cow and realize institutions don’t make people smart or successful, people do that for themselves. The right structures are a big help but nothing can substitute for an individual’s passion and focus.

    1. Esteis says:

      I haven’t heard of unschooling before, and Wikipedia suggests it’s a rather broad term. Would I be understanding you correctly if I read it as “there are still sit-down lessons, but learning is offered through other activities as much as possible?”

      In other words: Unschooling intrigues me. Could you write a short newsletter on how you view it? ;-)

      (Finally: it’s “Hear, hear!”, as in “Hear him, hear him!” Or “hear her”, naturally. I wonder: if “here, here” ever displaces “hear, hear”, will people then start thinking it comes from “^^^This.”?)

      1. Unschooling is where you just let kids run wild. They had a rather long article in the Dallas Observer about the movement. Kids learn such useful skills on their own or apprenticing themselves, such as dumpster diving, whoring and the like.

        Apparently it works for some. I had a client who had been raised “unschooled.” He taught himself to read around twelve years of age by breaking into a neighbor’s house with a friend and reading the books in her library. Have to wonder how she always had various primers for reading left out in the middle of the library for them to find until they got better at it. He finally started as a freshman at Duke in his early 30s, having become the boyfriend of a graduate assistant there. Luckily for him he was tall and goodlooking.

        It is an interesting movement.

        1. Shamus says:

          No. No. Sigh.

          My wife is a mentor to a large group of unschooling women, and at no time does anyone suggest “letting the kids run wild”. Unschooling has a lot of forms, but in general it’s a “learn by doing, no by reading a textbook”. Example: My son reads, and was never “taught” to read by traditional methods. He learned to read the same way he leaned to walk. He kept doing it until he was good at it. He’s 10.

          If kids are whoring and stealing, it’s not the fault of their education style. It’s the fault of their idiot parents not teaching them right and wrong and common sense.

          The people you’re talking about are a different problem.

          “I think spanking kids is wrong. Actually, even shouting is mean and abusive. In fact, I don’t like to use force or coercion on my kids at all. I believe that if I love and respect them unconditionally, they will do the same.”

          (Then the kid grows up to be a useless thuggish moron.)

          These people have existed for a while now, but once the homeschool movement formed they sort of gravitated our way. Opponents of homeschooling can use them to score easy points against us, and there’s nothing that can be done about that. Still, don’t confuse “unschooling” with “unparenting”.

          EDIT: To be clear, I’m not blaming this on the no-spanking parents. I’m just showing how some people take that so far as to stop parenting entirely.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Heh. This sounds like one of the lectures in Starship Troopers. Specifically the paragraph about punishing children.

            1. Volatar says:

              I love how so many scifi classics make political points like that. These days people get voted off the island for politics too much of the time.

            2. Blanko2 says:

              starship troopers (the book, not the movie) makes a crapton of good points. for serious.

              1. Aldowyn says:

                Yeah, we’ve touched on that on here before.

          2. The local, formal “unschooling” movement is different from the “homeschooling” movement locally, though I’ve had unschooled clients who were unschooled in Louisiana and in South Texas as well.

            Another use of unschooling in Texas was to collect disability payments from the state. Kids were pulled out of school until they fell far enough behind that they tested as disabled and the parents started getting “Crazy money” (as one family at Church described it as I sat in the lobby with them while they were talking to another).

            I had the interesting coincidence of trying to figure out just what they had been talking about or why it worked when there was a news special on the same topic.

            What you do I would call homeschooling rather than unschooling.

          3. Which is why I said what I said below at

            So when you talk “unschooling” you mean teaching by doing, not by lecture.

            Locally there is a huge difference between the homeschoolers and the unschoolers. I would not consider them to be similar in any sort of way, though I would agree that they are unparenting. Great term.

            I would also note that some of them do not grow up to be thuggish at all.

            The bottom line, from here, is that in parts of the country “unschooling” has been semantically contaminated.

            1. Shamus says:

              “The bottom line, from here, is that in parts of the country “unschooling” has been semantically contaminated.”

              I think you’re right. To be fair, I HATED the term to begin with, even before it became bent.

              So many people have the notion that school=learning. So they see “unschooling” and to them it sounds like “unlearning”. Getting dumber. More ignorant. Terrible, terrible term. You have to sell them on the entire IDEA of freeform education before the term itself even makes sense to them.

              Hm. Now that I think of it, “Freeform Education” would have been a much better term.

        2. decius says:

          I’m pretty sure that nobody else here thinks that word means what you think it means.

        3. Jamfalcon says:

          As someone who was unschooled for several years (and homeschooled for my whole life) I can assure you, as Shamus did, that is absolutely not the correct meaning of the word. What my mother did over that time was to just let us do what we wanted when we were interested. So, for example, instead of working on some of the math textbooks we had I spent quite a bit over time working on a movie script. Looking back it was really, really, terrible, but do you know what? If I hadn’t taken the time off of doing more traditional schoolwork I doubt I’d as good of a writer as I am today.

          My city has a large homeschooling community that uses all manner of teaching methods. I’ve never heard of anyone doing anything even close to what you described.

          1. Cado says:

            I was homeschooled via a more traditional curriculum up until the age of 14, then I started unschooling and went whole hog into exploring religion, particularly the history of Christianity and the proper methods of interpreting the Bible. Though I was raised in a conservative religious household, my mother was wise enough to realize that she couldn’t force me to adhere to a set of beliefs and that I was going to question and explore things one way or another, so I started breaking my conditioning within the very structures that indoctrinated me in the first place. There’s no way I would have had the time or the means to gain the insight and depth of knowledge that I did if I hadn’t delved into it then and I’m much better off for it.

            I’m also the kind of learner that, even today, does not do well in a class room. I want to get my hands dirty. If something requires instruction to do it properly, I’ll keep a book in one hand while I’m working with the other. It’s far less important to learn specific things than it is to know how to learn what you need to know when you need to know it. Someone who can rapidly develop new skills is infinitely more valuable than someone with limited expertise, even if they only apply that flexibility to a single field.

            1. pneuma08 says:

              Vocationally, that’s all well and good, but that all breaks down if you get into academia or any sort of abstract field. For instance, I cannot for the life of me figure out a way to “hands on” learning how monetary policy in one country can affect the investment rates of another country, or how a tail call can speed up a recursive function.

              1. Cado says:

                For me, that breaks down to creating theories and methods of my own as I take in the information and comparing them to real-world outcomes. As long as I have a standard I can measure my work against then I’ll keep adjusting until everything aligns with it. When possible, I test ideas through action so I don’t remain stuck on the level of theory.

                Essentially it’s about finding the shortest distance between learning and application. It’s difficult to figure out how to work it with some things but the principle can almost always be put to work.

      2. Mari says:

        Unschooling, as you say, can be a lot of things. But I think it’s well summed up by the nice buzzwords many unschoolers use to cover their tracks with people who think like Stephen there: student-directed learning. The kids learn the things about which they are passionate or in which they have an interest. Often this leads to other “incidental” learning (think Shamus with his interest in programming – at some point he taught himself “advanced maths” just to keep learning new things in programming; the math wasn’t the goal but it was something he learned on the way to his goal.) They may use a variety of resources to pursue their interests and passions, from library books and other solo research, to asking for lessons from a person who excels in that field, to watching documentaries, engaging in hands-on practice, you name it.

        One of the things that appeals to me most about unschooling is that it’s better placed to aid kids in developing useful life skills for adulthood like time management, goal setting, prioritizing, etc. Instead of an adult/teacher-person saying, “Here’s what you will be doing in my class this year:…” you have a student saying, “Here’s what I want to learn and how I’m going to go about doing it:…” That sounds a lot more like adulthood to me. I’m not saying that this ideal outcome is guaranteed, but it gets you a lot closer than teacher-directed learning.

        And lest this misunderstanding pop up, I’ll try to head it off early: unschooling does NOT let parents off the hook for parenting and educating their children. If anything, it requires MORE of the parent to be successful because parents are educational facilitators who have to help students develop those skills to direct their own learning as well as being closely in tune with their children to see what learning is happening, what learning is desired, and how further learning can be worked in. It requires a subtle observational and guiding approach rather than an an authoritarian approach but parents are typically very, very involved in the process.

        1. Cado says:

          And I think, as a general rule, this approach is far healthier than public schools which, after a certain point, are basically daycare for teenagers. As an outsider looking in, it seems like the whole structure is built to keep people artificially young. It shouldn’t be possible to graduate without basic life skills, work experience or a certificate that makes it easier to procure work (not your highschool diploma-I’m thinking something a bit more specialized), and the ability to handle yourself as an autonomous adult. That many of my peers when I was 17-18 could barely read was mind boggling.

          I’m with Shamus when he says that more flexibility in the system would go a long way toward remedying this. Leave traditional education alone because nobody can agree what to do with it and provide experimental learning environments people can opt into. As for one alternative modality we might consider, I present Sudbury Valley as an example:

          I also think it would be extremely beneficial for us to decide what, exactly, schooling is supposed to be, because that appears to be at the center of a lot of the debate. Is it to enrich us as people through art and culture or to train us to enter the work force? I don’t think these two purposes are necessarily at odds but I don’t know that a system which is trying to cater to both simultaneously can really work. It would be better to disconnect the two functions and let people pursue them separately as per their needs and desires. I’d like to see something where you study math, arts, and the humanities through age 14 and then begin work on a practical skill that, while it may not be your passion, will enable you to earn above minimum wage when you’re out of school and thus provide you with more options and less pressure to jump straight into more school. Neither would be mandatory but they’d be available to anyone.

          I also like the idea of turning schools into community centers as opposed to segregated learning environments. In other words I want to live in a world where learning is a common, shared hobby and not something people are forced to do for the first quarter of their lives. The authoritarian approach doesn’t work and there’s a lot we can do without giving up our standards altogether. The aim is learning, the method doesn’t matter as long as it’s safe and it works.

    2. Lalaland says:

      Schooling does have other non-education related benefits to society though they have no bearing on the child. For a start it frees up a significant portion of the labor force that would otherwise be engaged in educating their children. Given that this role has traditionally fallen on women, the availability of ‘free’ public education has allowed more women to enter the labor force by acting as a sort of child-minding service.

      1. ema says:

        For a start it frees up a significant portion of the labor force that would otherwise be engaged in educating their children.

        This assumes that children need adults to educate them.
        Which is definitely not true for all children.
        For example i dropped out of elementary school after grade 2 and after that i learned a wide range of knowledge without anyone teaching me it explicitly.
        There is just so much information in the form of text, audio and video that you seldom need another human explaining stuff face to face.

        1. Lalaland says:

          Absolutely true but it appears to be necessary for most children, in the classic bell curve the majority require some form of directed assistance be it from their parents or teachers. A lot of the materials that you reference are also affected by socio-economic factors not everyone has easy access to the internet, not all counties invest in libraries to allow those who have not to access it and the wealth of knowledge in books.

        2. MadTinkerer says:

          “This assumes that children need adults to educate them.”

          Ahahahaha. No, I think you missed his point. (EDIT: I mean the point of those who started the whole thing.) The point is not to free parents up by educating their kids, but to free parents up by occupying their kids’ time with something.

          Child labor laws prevent kids from helping their parents at the textile mills or whatever. But getting the kids out of the workforce resulted in a bunch of kids running around, not knowing what to do and being a nuisance. Thus: public schools. That’s a cynical simplification, but more or less what happened.

          1. Skyy_High says:

            Cynical, but just as truthful today as it was back then. This is the world we live in, you can’t just take public schools out of the equation and expect all families to deal with it well.

  5. Dwip says:

    Despite being a roughly similar product of the same system you’ve described, I disagree on a whole lot of what you’re saying here, but I’ll save that for others to argue. Not my thing, for the moment.

    However, since I missed the last post, I will say thanks for writing these. They’ve caused me to think about my own past, and any time I’m made to do that it’s generally a worthwhile thing. And these posts have been a superb illustration of your writing talent and why I come here every day.


  6. Stephen M says:

    My thought on Shamus homeschooling his own children was this: He’s married to a teacher, has the technology, skills and desire to access an entire world of educational material, and his personal experiences with public schooling means he’s been thinking of a better way to do this since he was a child himself.

    Who the hell would want to challenge this guy? It’s like someone saying “Hey, I don’t care that you’re an experienced businessman with resources and passion. You can’t just make up your own rule on how businesses work.”

    I know it’s a poor analogy, but I can’t imagine any decently-intelligent person looking at Shamus’s current setup and wanting to get in his way.

    1. Rodyle says:

      I know. However, as you mentioned: he’s a highly intelligent man and from his and her posts, I get the feeling his wife is as well in addition to her skills as a teacher. This means that they are thoroughly capable of teaching their children.

      However, this is not true for everyone. And sure, they have the right to home-school their children. I would say though, that their children’s right to good education has a higher priority. This is the main point of friction for me when talking about home-schooling.

      1. Squash says:

        The real issue is “who should decide what a good education is?” The children’s parents, or you? (Or someone else, I’m not picking on you personally.)

        Parents are responsible for their children and what they learn, whether they teach themselves or delegate to others (including public school).

        1. Rodyle says:

          I agree. However, I don’t want the children to suffer from the ‘mistakes’ their parents make, whether it is by sending them to a public school or by choosing to home-school them.

          1. lazlo says:

            All children suffer from the mistakes their parents make. They also benefit from the non-mistakes their parents make. The problem with monoculture is that single mistakes affect everyone.

          2. DungeonHamster says:

            Expanding on what lazlo said, everybody suffers from SOMEBODY’s mistakes. The question is not whether we can eliminate suffering of children from adults’ mistake, but which solution has the least cost for the greatest benefit. If the mistakes of public education forced on those who would otherwise home/private school their children is more dangerous/harmful than allowing those same children to be home/private schooled, it’s still the wrong path to take, even if home/private schooling fails to eliminate all harm.

          3. Paul Spooner says:

            Lazlo and DungeonHamster: Quite so! How, exactly, does one shield children from their parents? One would need to abolish the concept of “parents” altogether. I seem to remember reading about that in “Brave New World”. Lovely book; Do read it won’t you?

        2. Angie says:

          When it comes to education, though, we as a group — society, whatever you want to call it — have a valid interest in what the young are taught and how effective that teaching is. Each generation contributes to society. Twenty-some years from now, kids in school today will be fixing your car’s brakes, piloting the planes you fly in, setting your broken leg, cooking your food, and coding the software that controls the traffic lights in your town. And in a mass, they’ll be voting on laws that you’ll be obliged to obey if they pass, or voting against laws that might make your life better/easier/safer.

          I have a vested interest in kids’ education, even though I have no kids of my own. When the company I worked for “adopted” a couple of elementary schools in the area, I went over and volunteered to help in various ways, from doing in-class demonstrations on how computers work to sewing Glinda the Good Witch’s dress for a third grade play. Parents and teachers who chatted me up always asked how old my kids were, and were astonished to hear I had none. The idea that anyone without kids would care about education, much less be willing to volunteer at a school, was boggling to them. To me, it’s perfectly logical.

          I don’t think anyone’s arguing that bright, motivated kids will find ways to learn, or that bright, motivated parents like Shamus would do an excellent job homeschooling their kids. But if some parent thinks they can teach their kids just fine, and turns out to be wrong, that’s everyone’s problem, not just theirs. And it’s not in the best interests of society in general to let those kids — or millions of those kids — just turn out however they turn out, and then try to figure out how to integrate them into adult society.

          I’m absolutely with Shamus that there need to be more options for kids who aren’t in with the bulk of the bell curve. I have a few teeth marks left from where public school chewed on me, and I certainly have complaints about how my education was managed. But I don’t think throwing it open to absolutely any parent who wants to experiment with their kids, and then twelve years later saying, “Oh, well, your problem,” if that kid hits eighteen and can’t function as a competent adult.


          1. Abnaxis says:


            Thank you for saying this. I thought I was going to explode reading the comments above.

          2. Mari says:

            You have some solid thoughts in what you say. The problem is that public schools do the exact same thing. Surely you’re aware of the fact that at least some kids graduate from public high schools unable to read or write. It doesn’t take homeschooling to subvert the education of a student. Public schools do it, too. Here in Texas one school district was shut down this year because for the past five years a large majority of their students were unable to pass basic competency standardized tests. Another school district, right in my region, is under state supervision because they’re on their fourth year of the same thing. So for at least 4 years now a bunch of kids have attained the age of 18 and had public schools say, “Oh well, not my problem anymore.” despite their lack of literacy or basic arithmetic.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              I am incapable of understanding this. How the HECK do you go through 12+ years of school and not learn how to read? What are you supposed to do with someone who is either too stupid or not motivated enough to learn that? (how can you not want to know how to read?) Then, of course, there’s falling standards, which make it to where people who can’t read well CAN pass.

              1. Mari says:

                There are a lot of ways you can make it through school unable to read. The most common one around here is simply be a really, really good athlete. The pressure from administration to promote students with athletic abilities is intense because of “no pass, no play” rules. So teachers are “encouraged” by principals (who, in turn were “encouraged” by coaches) to pass students who play pivotal roles on sports teams, regardless of whether the kid earned a passing grade or not. Alternately you can become so much of a classroom management problem that teachers will pass you just to get rid of you. Or you can slip by under the radar of “we won’t detain a kid more than X number of years because it sets them up for social isolation and further problems.” It’s a funny world.

              2. Katesickle says:

                “how can you not want to know how to read?”

                I imagine that after a certain point, the prospect of asking someone else to teach you such a basic skill becomes embarrassing enough to offset any desire to actually have that knowledge.

                These kids probably find ways of faking not being able to read (such as pretending to not do work because they just don’t care, so nobody catches on that they couldn’t do it if they wanted to). They don’t want anyone to know they can’t read, which means they can’t ask for help, which means they can’t learn.

              3. Paul Spooner says:

                Well, there’s also the case of genuine reading disorders. My Dad got far into college before anyone suspected he had severe dyslexia. He understood the material, but was failing because he couldn’t read the tests fast enough. He still reads painfully slowly, but he’s quite successful despite it. Being able to read, do basic math, understand history, and appreciate art are useful, but they aren’t everything.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  Dyslexia I get, but just not having the motivation… not so much.

            2. Kaeltik says:

              I support public school in part because my folks could not afford to home school me: they had to work if I was ever going to go to college and they were ever going to retire and their jobs could not be done from home. I needed college level instruction for the job that I wanted and they would not take on debt (they both grew up poor but proud and debt is antithetical to their worldview). Public school let my parents work while giving me what I needed to eventually live my dreams. Could I have done better in some less structured environment? Maybe. Surely in some subjects, but not in all.

              Full disclosure: I was blessed with some truly outstanding (though woefully underpaid) teachers. I realize that this is far from universal.

              Details on a couple of my statements are provided for those who might be interested.

              My mom’s family lived in half of a converted boxcar on a pear orchard where my mom and her sister avoided child labor laws to help her family get by. My dad’s folks moved around a lot, stopping wherever my grandfather could find mechanic work after the ranch went under. My dad put himself through college working as a gas station attendant so that his folks could provide for his four younger brothers.

              My folks worked hard, as did theirs, but they were also lucky. When things are that tight, it only takes one major illness or accident to derail a lifetime. This is one reason (among many) why generational poverty is so hard to shake. This is also why it’s so hard to hear people talk about cutting services to those that need them in the hope that it will “encourage them to better themselves” or some such nonsense.

              When I was five I realized that I wanted to be a scientist. Modern science is nearly impossible without college level instruction. Even with both parents working, we could only barely afford college, to the point where I worked in highschool and held a variety of jobs during college sessions and held construction work during the summer. I spent the last dollar of my money the day before graduation, but we had no debt.

          3. Bubble181 says:

            +1 Thank you for saying this. I was starting to be scared I was all alone in the world :-P

          4. Kaeltik says:

            Thank you.

          5. Tuck says:

            Unfortunately, you’re the exception to the rule (in caring about the education of other peoples’ kids) — well, you and those below who have agreed.

            But there is of course the question: is fitting with the current social status quo truly what these kids will need when they grow up? Or is it better that society change to fit the needs of the new adults — whatever their upbringing and education? Public schooling will always be one step behind social change, yet the very kids in who current society is being instilled will be a part of a different society by the time they finish.

            So while I applaud you for caring about the kids — nobody can complain about there being one more good role model around! Seriously, good work! — I can’t agree with the reasons behind it.

      2. Cado says:

        Well here’s the thing: your parents don’t need to be especially knowledgeable to educate you, they just need to be able to provide you with the resources you need to learn what you want to know. For instance, in the unschooling model, having a tutor or taking college classes is well within acceptable bounds. The object is to go the most efficient and beneficial route to the desired end, and if a kid isn’t in highschool that frees him/her up to jump into classes at the local community college if they want to. There are also countless resources available for little money, sometimes for free, so the economic argument doesn’t hold a lot of sway except in the poorest areas where there might not be a library, or if there is it doesn’t have internet access. I feel for those kids-their schools are usually terrible and they don’t have any other options. They have to claw their way out if they want to get somewhere in life.

    2. madflavius says:

      “Who the hell would want to challenge this guy?”

      Simply, various agencies of both state and federal government. I was home-educated from middle school until my graduation in 2006. During this time, Ohio required my mother to submit a huge packet of papers to the state each year, proving that my sister and I were, in fact, learning. Furthermore, the state government authorized police officers to arrest children who were out of school during school hours on sight and take them down to the station until their parents picked them up (truancy laws). My friends and I had to carry papers issued by the state giving us permission to walk out in public, and on several occasions a friend of mine was accosted by officers who manhandled him until he finally managed to shout out that he “had papers.”

      Cynically, on some level it comes down to power. Bureaucrats in Washington or state capitals have utter dominance over public-schooled students, and each student that escapes their grasp seems to rankle them to no end. It sounds vulgar, but it’s the truth that I lived first-hand for many of my formative years.

  7. blue_painted says:

    Part one: I start from the position that people learn best when they are learning things they are interested in. Add to that the idea that for someone to be interested in something they have to know that it exists and, I suggest, in most cases be given a bit of a start. In a home schooling situation the number of “leaders” (not to say “teachers” – see later) is likely to be more limited than in a school environment.

    Part two: Some people learn best when they are actively taught and teaching is a skill, and one that not every parent is going to possess. In itself, allowing that teaching is a skill, then it is a skill that can be improved with practice and study. If we allow that, then I suggest that professional teachers teaching will be higher skilled and, AOTBE, will achieve better learning.

    Lastly: Targets in any shape or form, are the bane of our society. Certainly over here in the UK and I think probably in the US. And I mean targets as in scholastic test results targets, or waiting list targets for hospitals or sales targets for salesforce.

    1. Lalaland says:

      Targets will always be abused but without them how do you know whether all that money being spent is being spent well? After all a charismatic person can be terribly popular with both pupils and parents but how do we know if they’re actually imparting much learning?

      I agree Labour went mad with metrics though, Private Eye was filled with hilarious and tragic examples of tricks to ‘achieve’ the target that did nothing for pupil or patient.

    2. DungeonHamster says:

      Except, in practice, professional teachers protected by tenure and unions have little incentive to strive to improve their teaching. Not that their are no good teachers in public schools, but that they have less reason to do a good job than homeschooling parents taking care of their own kids. Can teaching be improved by practice? Yes. Do enough people improve by teaching in the public school system to achieve better results on the whole? I have seen no data to support such an assertion.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        That’s why you need to pay your teachers decent money and have teaching standards. People TALK about having reviews and such for teachers, but I can tell you that at least some slip through the cracks.

        In general, though, that is definitely the biggest problem with home-schooling. Even if you ARE an intelligent person, that doesn’t mean you’re a good teacher, and what you teach will certainly be biased by your own preferences. That’s why any kids I have will probably go to school (Maybe even public), and I’ll just have an intelligent environment at home.

        That last part is important. The environment at home has almost as much to do with school as the environment at school. If your parents don’t care, and don’t discuss anything of importance (i.e. schoolwork, interests), then you just aren’t going to learn.

  8. sab says:

    To be honest, I’m a tad bit disappointed by this post. That is, it’s mostly about why homeschooling should be allowed, and why the public schooling system doesn’t work for some people. The thing is, you already had me convinced of this throughout the entire blography.

    [little personal story here, skip ahead if you want to]
    In fact, I’ve had pretty much the same experience. In my entire childhood, I was told about the importance of having a diploma. When I finally flunked out of college, I felt incredibly bad about it. Until about a few years later, I landed a job at a cutting edge web company. And they didn’t care about my diplomas, but how well I did on a few puzzles that they laid out for me during the job interview.
    Then again, maybe I’m just lucky that I’m working in a field that’s been rapidly changing for the past decade and will probably continue to do so for a while longer, and keeping up with it is just simple, plain fun.

    [end of personal rant]
    So to get back to my first sentence…
    I was hoping that in this post you would tell about How you applied homeschooling to your kids (with a couple of examples), how they react to it, and how you ‘measure’ if you’re doing a good job at it.
    I know this is supposed to be the last part of the autoblography, but since this does seem to be something you feel so strongly about, I was hoping you would like to elaborate on this nonetheless.

    1. Steven R says:

      I was wondering about this, too. I’m interested in homeschooling my children, even if right now the finances are not there. But what resources do you use, Shamus? Where should an interested parent go to learn more?

      1. I talk about this a lot on my own site (when I have time) as well as on the various groups/group sites I run. We both feel that at this point in our children’s lives it is better to keep their particular schooling out of the public forum (our oldest is nearly 14, youngest just turned 10).

        That said, we don’t use curriculum, the internet is a key resource in our household as is the library and museums or wherever we are at the moment. Most of the kids learning comes from reading and conversation and just plain life experience. They are actively engaged with us throughout the day and even this comment has been interrupted by various conversations/interactions with kids. We are both with them 24/7 and are actively involved in their lives so we know them well and can strew things around (place things that will stimulate interest in places where they will find and use them whether on a table near where they like to sit or on their computer or whatever) and the dry erase board in the office is often used to demonstrate/explain things.

        Financially we are not well off but we have no intention of letting that stop us from giving our children the best opportunities we can which in our case means being with them and being involved in their lives, knowing them and helping them to discover who they are and what they love and are passionate about. We have never bought formal curriculum (why would we when we are still paying off my college loans). We have always used cheap or free resources and haven’t bought “school stuff” in years.

        I have examples on my site (– search for unschooling as well as many discussions going over at There are tons of resources online that are free– just a google search away. We are Christian so we come at these things from a Christian perspective and therefore my own resources are all from a Christian perspective (not Bible thumping just “love and respect one another” which is our one and only household rule.) There are plenty of secular homeschooling resources out there as well. If you are interested in homeschooling but not unschooling then look into Charlotte Mason which is the best free/cheap homeschooling style out there.

      2. Paul Spooner says:

        If by “finances are not there” you mean “both parents must work full time and can’t spend the time to teach the children” then that is a hard situation. I know a number of people who switched to single-income and moved to a smaller house just so one (usually Mom) could stay home and take care of the kids. That’s a big sacrifice.
        If, however, you mean “we can’t afford the fancy ‘school stuff’ that everyone really needs to get a good education” then read Heather’s blog. Your time and good will is sufficient to teach your children everything they will ever learn. The paraphernalia is completely beside the point.

        1. Steven R says:

          Heather, thank you for the link and ideas! I have a 4-year old daughter in Pre-K now and 14-month old boy. Even if we don’t home-school, I’d like research the options and perhaps incorporate some of the homeschoolin or unschooling into our children’s lives.

          Paul, we’re currently a 2-income family barely floating along, about to drop to 1 as my wife goes back to school to learn something useful. It’ll be a tough couple of years, but rewarding when done.

          1. I don’t recommend the “go back to school” route unless you are 100% sure that the income will far outweigh the expense. (Still paying my college loan here and it is not likely we will ever have the funds to pay it off completely.) We both work from home, me occasionally getting paid for my art and web design/hosting stuff, Shamus occasionally bringing in income from his writing and programming. It is not a fancy opulent lifestyle by any means but the time spent together daily makes it so worth it. Shamus and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

            1. Brandon says:

              What about going back to school because it is what you want to do? Sometimes it is not as straight-forward as “I will make more money!” I went back to school because I wanted a career change. My wife is back in school because she wants a deeper understanding of her field. My own path doesn’t necessarily mean a pay increase, but a possible happiness increase. My wife’s path may well result in a pay increase, but if it doesn’t, she will be better at a career she loves and make her more able to switch to a new position somewhere else if her current one gets to be a PITA.

              1. Shamus says:

                Sure. I think implicit in what she was saying was “If it won’t pay for itself, make sure you can afford it.” Which sounds obvious, but sadly isn’t for a lot of kids.

                1. Brandon says:

                  When you have children the “make sure you can afford it” bit is a lot harder. I don’t yet have children, and for my wife and I, our loan debt is and will continue to be significant. But even with our current meager earnings we are managing to make payments and slow progress. If we had kids things would be a lot tighter, not to mention having little to no time to even take classes, should we have wanted to go that route.

  9. Bill says:

    The rule over here in England is that parents are required to make sure their child gets a suitable full time education (however delivered). If it appears they’re not the local education authority can require a parent to prove that they are and then can only step in if they aren’t.

    It would probably take all day to go through the differences in our education systems but briefly our one is geared towards specific qualifications validated by external exam boards rather than a single high school diploma.

    My main concern about home education is that, whilst home schooled children can do the exams (most do), if they opt out they could find themselves limited in adult life. Even if they were the next Shakespeare, without the line in the CV saying – GCSE “English” – then they wouldn’t reach the interview stage where they could prove it.

    1. Lalaland says:

      This is a very good point, while it may be distasteful that society has come to regard tests and results as the measure of a person, they do. Yes if a person gets to the interview stage of a job application their insight and intelligence could come across and they could land the job but how likely are they to get there without some externally validated benchmark?

    2. Zukhramm says:

      Couldn’t they just take that exam the day in life they find they need it then?

      1. Lalaland says:

        Maybe but I’d have a hard time even passing my Leaving Cert in any subject if I needed it in a few weeks time let alone getting equivalent marks to what I achieved when I was 18. A lot of these standardised exams include stuff that you’ll never use again (hello inter-war Irish politics) so the odds of being in a place where you could take the exam as the need came up is very low.

      2. Bill says:

        mmm….well the day you need them might be iffy as the final exams are usually in May-June with the results issued in August; – but there is nothing to prevent you doing them later in life.

        On a personal note, a couple of years ago when we were looking for our youngest the local secondary school (11-16yr) was bloody awful. We were lucky enough that he passed the 11+ and got a place at a Grammar (selective)School but home education was an option.

        Had we taught him at home we probably wouldn’t have stuck to the national curriculum but would have looked for him to take the usual exams.

        1. Anorak says:

          Wait, where is the 11+ still used? I thought it, and grammar schools, got wiped ages ago. I certainly never did one, but then Wales has a slightly different education system to England. I had to learn Welsh, for one.

          1. Lalaland says:

            Apparently it still hangs around as a sort of local thing for entry into grammar schools rather than being a nationally mandated exam as it was

          2. Bill says:

            Most were, but each LEA is independent – Kent has kept the old Grammar/Secondary Modern system.

            Where we are most schools are comprehensive. I think there are 8 grammar schools (all single sex) in the entire county plus a two Catholic schools and two Comprehensives that offer a few selective places.

            1. Entropy says:

              Edit: Nevermind, wrong page.

    3. Paul Spooner says:

      This is a fantastic idea, as long as public schools must achieve the same standard that non-state institutions must meet. One could easily imagine a double standard springing up.
      I like it though. Make a standard, get there however you want. Simple and fair.

  10. Scott Richmond says:

    I’m still quite a few years away from a teenage child, but I’ve already thought a lot about this topic and have come to some of the same conclusions as yourself.
    I completely follow your logic Shamus, and I think I agree on all your points. However I’m still not entirely sold on homeschooling end-to-end – The fact of the matter is that as parents we really don’t know everything and whilst I’m sure we could pick up a bunch of books and go through them with our children, will we make a satisfactory effort?
    I feel like its a serious undertaking that can only be done at a decent level by the lucky few who are stay-at-home parents.

    I wonder if you’ve considered any schools that employ the Montessori methodology? I’ve been thinking about whether its a worthy path of education.

    1. Elm says:

      I went to a Montessori school (a *genuine* Montessori school, not just a normal school that is awkwardly wearing some of the same clothes), and I have to say that of the critiques Shamus made of education above, it adequately addressed a lot of them:

      Giving people a broader classroom social setting than people exactly their own age? Check. (3-year classrooms)
      Allowing different individuals to work at their own pace, and receive more (or less) help as needed? Check.
      Allowing people to spend more or less time on areas that particularly interest or disinterest them? Check. (Though everybody had to do at least SOME math, writing, etc.)
      Deemphasis on busywork, testing, and lectures, in favor of learning by actually doing things? Check.

      I don’t know that Shamus would’ve been 100% happy at my school (though had he been attending it contemporaneously with me, he would have had the opportunity to start learning some simple programming and such as early as fourth grade…) – but I’m pretty sure he would have had a much better experience than at the schools he actually did attend.

      On a side note, I should mention that my Montessori experience only went through 6th grade, at which point I began attending the region’s “best” high school in terms of test scores. I had some outstanding peers and some very good teachers there, but in terms of educational quality, it was a big step backwards, just because of the systems involved, as Shamus talks about above.

      1. Meredith says:

        That sounds pretty good to me. I’m very in favour of giving kids more freedom to work at their own pace and to seek out more help/information from an expert when they’re ready. I wish I’d gone to a school like you describe.

    2. Mephane says:

      I think the next logical step is not just parents teaching their children – how about multiple families (probably where the parents are friends with each other) banding together so they can mutually fill out the weak spots of the other? I think I could very well teach a kid about how physics or chemistry works, but I would make a very bad teacher at history or arts, for example.

      Also, you don’t have to know everything, you don’t even have to pretend to towards the child. If you say “Oh, I am not sure, let’s go find out” and then you go to a library, with the child, and together you look it up in a book (or on the internet) – that would also be a very valuable lesson, namely how to actively seek knowledge you don’t have yet.

  11. Kdansky says:

    I know, people don’t change their opinion due to reasoning (because you have to admit you were wrong), but there you go:

    You have successfully convinced me that homeschooling isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

    I blame that I learned a ton during school (and university!) due to generally good teachers, that my father is actually a great teacher himself, and that both my parents always encouraged me to learn stuff for thinking homeschooling was the devil’s work.

    Homeschooling can make sense, if you have the time and resources to do it. I would hope for one thing though: The parent should have at least some basic understanding of didactics. Your story essentially shows one thing: Clever people usually make it.

  12. AR says:

    I think a lot of people are missing the point but talking about how ill-suited many parents would be towards teaching or about how parents don’t know everything

    The point is that genuine, lasting education is primary self-directed and therefore would not primarily come from the parents. You’re still stuck in the conception of education as somebody sitting a child down and actively imposing knowledge, when genuine lasting education requires very little of that at all.

    I was going to say, “So long as the child can be taught to read…” but then realized that even this is largely unnecessary. The sheer utility of literacy in today’s world would motivate any child to learn to read on their own in the same way that they are motivated to learn the far more demanding skill of spoken language to begin with.

    1. Lalaland says:

      I think you’re investing far too much maturity in small children, how many children understand rewards delivered at the end of the day let alone diffuse benefits accrued when you enter the labor market decades hence? Literacy in particular is extremely difficult to just ‘pick up’

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Counterpoint: My two year old daughter understands “yes, but you must wait” as well as “If (X) then (Y)”. She also responds immediately to “stop crying”. I just “picked up” literacy because I wanted to read Calvin and Hobbes, and she is doing the same.
        Conclusion: Children are real people. Treat them as such.

        1. toastymow says:

          I always talk to children like they are adults. My sister says this is why I am good with kids, I treat them like real people, not leg-biters.

      2. Aldowyn says:

        This reminds me of Ender’s Shadow, actually. I know it’s fiction, and Bean is supposed to be crazy smart, but how he learned to read isn’t all that different from most smart children. You can “pick it up”, similarly to how you learn to talk. It’s just more complicated because it’s harder to connect the word with the letters than to connect the word with the sound – which is why having parents read to their children (WITH THEM ABLE TO SEE THE BOOK) is a really good way to teach them to read themselves.

      3. Bubble181 says:

        to be fair, I learned to read before I could talk. From the stories my mother read to me, I had learned the meaning of quite a few words and I could read and understand easy sentences (obviously not talking Dickens or Verne stuff her, but “See Spot Run” :-P) before I was 2 years old, while I started talking at 3 years old.

    2. Angie says:

      The thing is, some kids do need it. Maybe for you, the best kind of education is self-directed. I’m like that too, actually. But not everyone is. Some kids really do respond best when they read a few pages in a book, get a lecture, then do a set of exercises to put what they read/heard into practice.

      And no, not all kids are self-motivated to learn to read even now. You’d think so, but there are plenty of young people (and older as well) who see reading as an awful chore, who never learned to do it well enough to be able to do it easily, much less take any pleasure in it, and who do it as little as they can get away with. This is one area where I think it’s appropriate to have hard, non-negotiable standards, whatever system of schooling is being used, to prod the ones who won’t learn it on their own.


      1. Nick Bell says:

        “This is one area where I think it's appropriate to have hard, non-negotiable standards, whatever system of schooling is being used, to prod the ones who won't learn it on their own.”

        But will having hard, non-negotiable standards actually make a difference? How will this standard help kids who don’t want to learn to read, other than to give them one more way to know they’ve fail?

      2. AR says:

        Of course people are going to think of reading as a chore, when it’s taught in school.

        Modern schooling can turn ANYTHING into a horrible chore.

        1. Mephane says:

          This. I despised reading books in or for school, because the choice was almost exclusively bad, with only very few exceptions (Faust, for example, was really nice; and Der Untertan was most entertaining while also teaching a lot about the time when it was written). But when on my own, I devour written text and books if the subject is of interest and the text of quality.

          That said, when I learnt reading in first grade, we were taught some special “writing font” that could only be found in our textbooks at school and very few books specifically made as an exercise in this manner. I taught myself reading normal printed Latin letters in parallel while the rest of the class was just halfway through the alphabet of that other abomination. I learnt later that politics changed stance on whether to learn some special writing font or normal printed font initially every couple of years.

          This continued through all my school time. If the lessons went boring, or the subject just seemed totally useless, I usually just skipped ahead in our text books and looked for the more interesting stuff. How much time was wasted where I could have learnt even more interesting things…

          1. Timelady says:

            Heh. Yes. Same here. Back when I was in first grade, we were ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN ON PAIN OF…well, pain of something to even attempt to write in cursive. I guess they thought we weren’t ready for it yet? I went and found a little booklet or something on how to form letters and basically taught myself–and, yes, occasionally got in trouble for forgetting and using it for assignments in school.

            And then in second grade, they finally started “teaching” us cursive, and I abandoned it completely (except when they made us use it) because I started to hate it so much.

            (Third grade, there was an absolutely wonderful senior volunteer who taught us all penmanship; he would actually go around and look at people’s work and gently correct us on an individual basis when we needed it. I’m pretty sure he single-handedly (pun sort of intended) got me back into it.) (I was then homeschooled from the middle of fourth grade on.)

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Heh. The infamous “you’ll use this for the rest of your life” line from third grade. I think what happened is it got replaced by typing, but.. I don’t know. I don’t understand how cursive could POSSIBLY have been the standard because it’s so hard to read. Not to mention write when you don’t see it often (There are capital letters I don’t remember. There’s this one statement you have to write in cursive for some odd reason on the SAT and I didn’t know some of them. And I got a 2320. :/)

              1. Timelady says:

                The weirdest thing, though? I do use it every day. We’ve actually gone back to handwritten notes about certain things at work because it’s actually easier to keep track of than by spreadsheet or email. I took so many notes in college I was getting hand spasms. And there’s nothing better for keeping track of information in games than keeping an old half-used school notebook by the keyboard. (I’m 25, by the way.)

                But those capital Qs will get me every time. Why does it look like the number 2, anyway?

                1. Zukhramm says:

                  What?! What crazy style would write a Q to look like a 2?

                  1. Turgid Bolk says:

                    It comes from the loop not being complete. Start at the middle left, draw the loop clockwise, then before reaching the start point, reverse direction and draw the tail. Examples:

                    If you think that’s bad, take a look at cursive capital G. It takes some serious typographical research to make sense of that one!

                    1. Mephane says:

                      When I was in first grade, we had to learn a similar variant, yet some things, like the capital G, where completely different. In other words, to make matters worse, there are multiple competing versions of that thing out there. *shudder*

                2. Aldowyn says:

                  Do you use cursive or print? Or pursive, like it seems 90% of the people who actually write notes naturally do?

      3. Meredith says:

        The thing is, my brother is one of those people who find reading to be a horrible chore and won’t do it if he doesn’t have to. It’s entirely because of the way it was taught to him in elementary school. (i.e.: poorly)

        Sure, he can read, but I don’t think that’s good enough.

        1. toastymow says:

          I’d like to point out the three people I know that don’t like reading all went to school. Two of them are not very academic, and didn’t respond well to reading Shakespeare, in original, in 9th grade. (I wouldn’t either. I could hardly stand Shakespeare in modern English in 10th grade). The other one is highly dyslexic.

          I love to read. My best friend loves to read. We were both homeschooled for a good portion of our lives. We’re also huge nerds…

  13. psivamp says:

    So, at my university, I’m an undergraduate teaching assistant and take a pedagogy class. The whole “school is not learning” statement gets put out alot — albeit in more subtle forms. There is a ton of research about how people, especially children, learn complex subjects and how we can tailor the teaching process and environment to reach more students more effectively. The catch is that the large majority of teachers either don’t look at this research or just don’t care. Some of the studies we read were from the 70’s and they sounded like good ideas that would require a radical restructuring of a class — 40 years later.

    One of the big advantages of homeschooling is that you’ll be using formative assessment — whether or not you know it by that term. Formative assessment is the idea that a teacher should basically keep tabs on where their student is in terms of understanding, rather than finding out at the end of a chapter when the test grade gets computed. The time required to actually apply formative assessment to a full lecture hall of students is just impractical. The university I attend makes nods at it occasionally, but a professor can’t know where 200 different students are with relation to his teaching goals, he can get a feel for a general trend.

    tl;dr Teaching is hard, especially to large groups. Homeschooling eliminates the biggest roadblock to advancements in teaching techniques and some of those techniques are intuitive and just naturally happen when you don’t have a large de-humanized mass of students in front of you.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Isn’t that what TAs are for? Just saying. Also why smaller class sizes are so important.

      1. psivamp says:

        If they want us to bridge the gap, then the physics department needs to give us more time with the students and give them less graded work for that time slot. Right now, I spend an hour and a half a week with about 40 or 50 students while they rush through assignments that take them most of that time.

        Other departments handle things differently. The math dept recitations actually consist of a lecture recap from the TA and then Q&A/practice work. That system isn’t widespread at all from what I hear, but it works quite well. Student who are too intimidated to stop a lecture hall of 200 for a question are more likely to stop a second lecture on the same topic when it’s being given to a classroom of 20 or 30. We actually pitched the idea to the physics department as something they should move their recitation toward or pay us to do optional sessions like that for the students who are interested.

  14. Amstrad says:

    I suppose I should thank you for solidifying how I feel about homeschooling. I’ve felt for a long time that public schools were a broken system but at the same time I’ve been of the impression that homeschooling was something reserved for religious fundamentalists or worse. (I’m not sure how to word that without it sounding derisive of religious folks, so apologies in advance)
    Now I’m more of the opinion I’d probably homeschool any children I have myself, the major sticking point being I don’t feel as though I have the credentials to do it properly, which is a bit of a sticking point.
    I’ve been given the impression that private schools aren’t much better in terms of methodology than public ones and they’re expensive as hell in addition.

    This leaves me wondering what the solution is.

    1. Dasick says:

      I'm not sure how to word that without it sounding derisive of religious folks, so apologies in advance

      I’d file it under “What about parents who want to keep their kids home to indoctrinate them with strange beliefs?”

    2. DungeonHamster says:

      Part of the problem is, I think, relying too much on credentials granted by the same schools that we agree don’t necessarily actually teach very well. That said, if you honestly believe that you cannot competently teach certain subjects, there are many home school groups where certain parents will teach certain subjects, and there are also deals you can work out with local schools to take certain classes in school and be home schooled for the rest (for instance, when I was in 5th there was a kid in my neighborhood who only showed at regular school for sciences and maths).

  15. DanMan says:

    While I agree in principle, I still see a lot of benefit to judging people by schools. Imagine the number of teenagers playing Battlefield 3 right now who see some problem with the game and say “I want to become a game designer and fix that!” Many of them have no idea what that actually involves.

    I work at in the IT department of a large company. We specifically recruit from a number of schools in the local area. We even have a little say in the curiculum that gets taught at some of these schools. We know that if Joe Schmoe graduates with Degree X from University Y that he must have SOME familiarity with Technology Z.

    The HR department does not just say “This guy when to school and got a 4.0 GPA”. They say “This guy went to a school with a very challenging curiculum which directly involves what we do here as a company AND he did very well.”

    The system is not perfect. The system should allow for people who are not good at “school” but are good at the work involved at the job to be able to get a job. But there is no perfect system for evaluating someone without some machine that can see into the future.

    I’ve been involved with a number of interviews. Some people are able to answer the questions, they have great references, they are well spoken, but they just can’t handle our environment for one reason or another. The hiring process as it stands now is very expensive.

    I do believe the schooling system needs work. I believe that once you have reached college age, you should have a basic idea of what you want to do and don’t need to be required to take an art class if you want to be a gym teacher. But I also see the value from the business side of things to knowing what a person has some experience with.

  16. Aeillien says:

    Reading this set of posts was particularly powerful for me, as I am currently in school to become a teacher: you describe alot of the problems the profession itself sees with the educational system as currently constituted.

    Let me touch on a few points:
    -While it perhaps true that Shamus was “unsuited” to school, the practices he describes as not working for him are widely known as bad ones within the pedagogical literature, and don’t work for most children. Most kids, I guess, were/are willing to play along a little.

    -People who are training teachers are, at present, taking a newspaper and hitting future teachers over the head and saying “don’t do that!” The fact that retention of pure lecture based lessons is abysmally known is well established now.

    -I almost hesitate to go into the money issue, but it does not mentioning. Do you know what the most direct and large predictor of a school’s effectiveness, as measured by any standard you care to name, is? The amount of money available per students. In the US, schools are largely funded by property taxes from the local community, which means affluent communities are likely to have good schools with nice libraries, computers, and the best teachers who inspire students, or at the leats prevent them falling by the wayside.

    -While I don’t per se “support” homeschooling, I think its fine. If you think that’s what you want to do, more power to you. In the US, at least, homeschooling is a perfectly legal and viable alternative to sending your kid to public school, and any parent who makes that choice is likely to both have the time and inclination to make home schooling work for their child.

    -As a matter of *public policy* we obviously can’t say “home schooling for everyone!” as that would people (and lets be honest, it would mostly be women) staying home and teaching the kids. There are all sorts of alternatives to public school which are also fine in my book, but they tend to cost money, or suffer from limited availability. As such, I think any discussion on education needs to focus improving public education, both in terms of its results and its experience.

    1. lazlo says:

      I’ve got to take issue with this one part:

      -I almost hesitate to go into the money issue, but it does not mentioning. Do you know what the most direct and large predictor of a school's effectiveness, as measured by any standard you care to name, is? The amount of money available per students. In the US, schools are largely funded by property taxes from the local community, which means affluent communities are likely to have good schools with nice libraries, computers, and the best teachers who inspire students, or at the leats prevent them falling by the wayside.

      Posit, and I have not reason to doubt it, that there is a correlation between the amount of money spent on students and school effectiveness. Obviously, more money can be spent on teachers and facilities, which in turn leads to better education. I think it’s hard to argue that this does occur, however there is an alternate factor that is almost certainly at work, and it is difficult to dissociate the two effects. The money that schools have, as you mention, is provided in a large part by property taxes. That is influenced by the affluence of the area, which in turn is correlated to the drive and intelligence of the parents of the students. There is of course also the factor of the benefits of an affluent home life on a student’s ability to excel. These are difficult factors to separate, but important to acknowledge the existence of.

      1. DungeonHamster says:

        I would like to suggest that, at least beyond a certain threshold, education spending might very well little to no effect on actual learning. Take, for instance, this:

        In sum, South Dakota (yes, I live there) ranks 44th in the country in terms of spending, and 7th in terms of performance by any available metric.

        Now, I will be the first to concede that one state is not sufficient all by itself to demonstrate the ineffectual way in which our money is spent, and it’s been long enough since I did any research on comparing the states as a whole that beyond the fact that the only available results for cost/benefit analysis were in terms of test scores rather than any sort of future success and there didn’t seem to be a very strong correlation in any case, I can’t remember much. But at the very least, we should not simply assume that throwing money at the problem automatically makes it better.

        1. Rosseloh says:

          Hello, fellow South Dakotan! If you don’t mind my asking, where at?

          1. DungeonHamster says:

            ’round Sioux Falls area at the moment. Only been here a couple years, though.

            1. Rosseloh says:

              Watertown, here. Don’t see too many people from around here on the web (at least, the places I frequent).

      2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

        In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the Los Angeles Unified School District spent $29,790 per student, while the average cost per student throughout the country was $10,297.
        Yet somehow, our SAT test scores are still well below average, even for the rest of our state.
        As lazlo says, there are other factors that contribute to low scores here such as a very high percentage of low income families (53% make below $30,000) and fewer parents with a higher education (33% have no High School diploma).

        1. krellen says:

          There’s also the fact that Los Angeles is more expensive than many other parts of the nation; just living there and buying things there takes more money to do, because it’s Los Angeles.

      3. Aldowyn says:

        I would say it helps, to an extent. There’s a point at which more money doesn’t really help. (My school irritates me. We have probably the biggest athletic venue in the STATE, and they can’t pay for a weekly bus for the academic team. Or even for the dang robotics team who made it to the championship the first year. Messed up priorities… ANYWAY)

        IMO, the one biggest thing about public education is paying teachers. Teachers are paid HORRIBLY a lot of the time, and thus you don’t get good teachers (because they’re better off doing something else). If you pay them more and have higher standards of teaching, then you fire the bad ones and get better ones. Better teachers = better schooling.

        One thing you DON’T pay for is a computer lab with TOUCH SCREENS. WTH? Such a waste…

        1. MintSkittle says:

          “One thing you DON'T pay for is a computer lab with TOUCH SCREENS.”

          From what I’ve been hearing, some schools are trying to get iPads for their students:


          Which, of course would lead to this:

  17. Naota says:

    For the most part I have to agree with everything Shamus has said thus far about homeschooling… with the exception of the part about social skills. Yes, children still develop them while working in a home environment, but they’re an order of magnitude less likely to have contact with other children especially on a regular basis. You could perhaps send them to another institutionalized club or place of meeting, but ultimately it would be much harder to make and keep friends (the majority of which go to schools during the day) or even learn how to do so.

    As a good example, in the first year of high school I had a good friend fail a number of subjects and do just this… and for all intents and purposes he just completely disappeared. Keeping up contact with him was devilishly hard, nobody else I knew had spoken to him in months, and the few times we did drop by to visit it was apparent that the only people he did see on a regular basis were his parents. Though he may have been learning the fundamentals of whatever his parents saw fit to teach him, he was learning nothing about living and working with anyone outside of his immediate family.

    Speaking personally, as a young child it took me years of being surrounded by others to figure out how best to interact favourably with different types of people. A handful were always incorrigible assholes, and just as many were consistently nice people, but in the end I learned to get along with the vast majority of others who fall between the two extremes.

    If I had simply called it quits then and gone on to learn entirely from home, isolated from all aspects of social interaction both positive and negative, I doubt I would have ever developed the same set of skills. I would certainly never want to force this constant social contact on anyone as some universal mandate, however. A degree of isolation is a small price to pay for avoiding countless wasted hours in a poorly-constructed and ineffectual educational system.

    Mind you, my schooling experience is from a modern tech school. As a mechanically-inclined individual I had a schedule composed near-entirely of interesting material. In a two-day rotation it wasn’t uncommon to have MIDI composing, 3D animation, Computer Art, Programming, English, Electricity, Engineering, and Physics as my entire curriculum for a year. There were tests and notes in places, and the formula you speak of was still in effect, but the subject matter was infinitely more appealing than anything being taught in the schools my parents attended in the 80’s.

    1. Nick Bell says:

      One does not have to stay home to be “homeschooled.” I recall Shamus or his wife mention this before – his kids did schooling outside the home, interacting with the public. In this, they are actually BETTER served than a public school kid. In public school, you are almost entirely limited to authoritative adults and kids your own age. In high school, you might get a year or two difference. The real world exposes you to a much greater range, experience that will be valuable as an adult.

      1. Shamus says:

        Yeah, my family is always running. There’s the kids in the neighborhood, they meet kids at the library, and they meet kids at church. They get to the science center as often as they can, and so on.

        If anyone is living a strange hermit existence, it’s me. My kids actually poke fun at me for how rarely I leave the house.

        1. Nathon says:

          What is this science center thing? Is it a museum, or like a science lab in a school that you get to use?

          I’m considering the whole kids thing and along with that comes considerations of education. One of my concerns is that home schooled kids are not likely to get access to some of the niftiest equipment we had in my (very good) public school. We had an observatory, a planetarium, and well stocked science labs. In a school with 4,000 kids, it doesn’t cost that much per student to have these things. That does not make them affordable for the home schooling types. Does the science center fill that gap?

          1. Ruthie says:

            The Carnegie Science Center is an interactive museum in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Super fun for kids and adults alike.

            1. Kaeltik says:

              God I miss the Carnegie Science Center. The Omnimax was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Do they do 3D on that now?

          2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

            The California Science Center is a great resource for our community with a cool and educational environment for all ages! My brother and I have gone there quite a bit to help out.

          3. Aldowyn says:

            … your public school had an OBSERVATORY? With, like, a telescope? Oo… our 2000 kid 11-12 school doesn’t even have an astronomy class of any kind…

          4. Lord Nyax says:

            Coming from a school in a town whose total population was only a little over 2,000 (the town’s population: that is, everybody in town, young and old) let me just say that I hate you. I hate you so much. Nothing personal. It’s just that I’ve always hated how the kids at larger schools get all the cool stuff. A planetarium???? We had a computer lab full of emacs, a library full of books from the 70s, and a gym. If you wanted to learn a language than it was either French or Spanish. Thats it. I always hated hearing about the kids who could learn German or Japanese or Russian and who got cool science toys and stuff. So now I hate YOU!

            Sorry. Just had to get that off my chest.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              we have a school with that many people in two grades and we STILL have a horrible foreign language program. German’s been cut, I think, I don’t think French goes longer than 2 years, and Chinese (which was just added, oddly) is having trouble. The only consistently offered language is Spanish.

            2. Exetera says:

              A vim lab would have been far preferable.

            3. Nathon says:

              After I left they cut the astronomy, German, Russian, and Latin classes. Also, for the first three years I was in high school, the building was condemned. It had cracked asbestos tiles on the floor and exposed pipes. The new building with the observatory was big enough to handle (projected) population growth for a whopping 7 years after it was finished. It also didn’t have windows that opened. The observatory was stuck between the biggest road in town on the East, a reasonably large city to the South, and very tall hills to the West. It had an okay view of the Northern sky.

              Of course, none of that changes the fact that my educational experience was way better than yours or that of Shamus. Neener. Did I mention that we had the best math program in the state?

          5. Paul Spooner says:

            It’s possible to have the best of both worlds. Many public schools make their facilities available to “independent study students” at no cost. It’s a bit of a hassle (isn’t it always?) but then you could home-school your kids, and also take advantage of whatever local facilities your tax dollars are paying for. The availability varies widely however. Some schools are quite flexible. Others, not as much.

      2. Naota says:

        I did mention this, but where does one go to have regular daily contact with lots of other people? Most other kids are likely at school during the day, and adults are at their jobs. Barring a club or something similar I’d imagine it’s hard to meet anyone on a daily basis. I’m actually quite curious now.

        It’s certainly not impossible to keep up social contact while being schooled from home, but you have to admit it’s a lot more effort than having to spend a large portion of every day in direct contact with other children.

        Schooling from home, one has to actively seek out interaction and work at maintaining it, while it’s absolutely impossible to avoid while attending a school. For better or worse you will make friends and enemies, and much time will be spent interacting with them. Without that, there are people like my friend – hell people like me who would have spent large swathes of time completely isolated.

        EDIT: Pre-empted by Shamus, that conniving internet time-lord. I must admit I never thought of that last option. Science centres are amazing places provided they’re not owned by a man named Cave Johnson.

        1. Nick Bell says:

          “It's certainly not impossible to keep up social contact while being schooled from home, but you have to admit it's a lot more effort than having to spend a large portion of every day in direct contact with other children”

          It may be harder to spend a large portion of the day with other kids – but not other people. A large portion of our society have jobs specifically focused on interacting with the public. Museums, libraries, churches, stores – the world is full of people.

          There is a large focus on getting kids to interact with kids their own age. There is value in that – it is nice to be able to have shared age-related experiences. But the real world is not age divided. In the decade I’ve worked professionally, I’ve never worked with someone my own age. In my current workplace, the closest is over 5 years apart, and the total range is over twenty.

          1. Meredith says:

            This is a very good point. I went to public school and did outside activities mostly divided by age group, but I nearly always related better to adults than to kids my own age. Even as an adult most of my friends are closer to my mom’s age than mine, especially the ones I’ve made at work. People my own age make me nervous and I think it’s because of bad times at school. I don’t worry as much about “fitting in” with older adults. As Shamus mentioned, that need to be part of the crowd in school can be detrimental to everyone.

          2. Warstrike says:

            In any reasonably populated area you probably aren’t the only person doing homeschooling. Networking works fine here, as the other homeschooling parents are frequently looking for the same kinds of contact you are. Right now my kids go to a homeschooling choir, lego club, chess club, a social, nominally phy. ed. group, concerts for schoolkids, …

            Not to mention the 12hr /week /each of gymnastics they do.

            Probably the main reason we don’t have a whole lot of “free time” social contact is that both we and the other homeschooling parents are too busy doing things with our children to get together socially.

        2. Mari says:

          Wow. Imagine having to go out of your way to maintain relationships with friends. Almost like – adulthood?

          I’ll put it this way: my kids have more and better social experiences now that we’re homeschooling than they ever did in public school. They hang out online with other homeschooled kids, hang out in real life with other homeschooled kids, go out in public where they’re interacting in a mature way with adults and kids of all ages, plus hanging out after school with public school friends. They have the energy to do all this because they’re not in public school with forced social interaction which sucks the life out of my introverted kids and makes them weepy messes by the end of the day who want to crawl in a hole and be left alone. So, they’re opting out of forced social contact with kids who spent 9 years telling my kids (with adult tacit agreement) that they’re horrible people who aren’t worthy of even being treated with basic human dignity and opting into putting effort into maintaining a variety of healthy relationships with people with whom they have interests in common who affirm their value as human beings.

          Granted, we’re still working with one of my girls on self-esteem and being willing to reach out to others. The years of emotional abuse at school had led her to a point where she rejected any overture of friendship from anyone and she had stopped even speaking to people outside the family. Mostly what she said to the family was apologizing for being stupid, fat, bad, and worthless. She’ll talk to some people now and I’ve seen her starting to have moments of happiness again but she’s still a long way from where she should be.

    2. Adam P says:

      Ah, yes, I’m glad this was brought up. I have always been an advocate of homeschooling, when the parent has the drive to make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish this. But this social ineptness that seems so endemic to homeschooling is what has always been my concern. I suppose it’s rooted in the same broken ideology that education/school/learning is an imparting of facts that will enable successful job procurement. I can usually pick a homeschooled adult out when speaking with them individually, simply due to the social aspect. It seems that one of the greatest advantages of homeschooling, the much more equal ratio of teacher to student, gets turned against it. Shamus and Heather seemed to have found great ways to combat this inherent disadvantage of homeschooling. However, I think this is the most common issue of neglect in homeschooling and certainly would be my greatest challenge.

      1. Tuck says:

        But this social ineptness that seems so endemic to homeschooling is what has always been my concern.

        On the other hand, those of us who were homeschooled are almost always shocked by how we’re expected to act in society…you’re judging people on your expectations or those of society, not on their own merits. has an excellent answer to your assertion, much better than I could say.

  18. Nathaniel says:

    Shamus, you have a wife with the skills of a school teacher to teach your children. Would homeschooling work for parents who don’t have that skill set?

    Furthermore, would homeschooling have been even possible in your childhood circumstances?

    I ask this not so much in response to you, but to the people who seem to think they are being oh so daring in suggesting the abolishment of the public school system.

    1. Gravebound says:

      “Would homeschooling work for parents who don't have that skill set?”

      I mentioned in a previous post about being home schooled for a year in elementary. My mother had no previous teaching experience and I learned more in that year than any of my previous classmates learned for the rest of their elementary careers. I think it has more to do with a parent having a much more vested interest in their child and their wellbeing, than does a bureaucratic government-run agency.

      I remember, I took Algebra 1 in middle school after being told that that way I wouldn’t need to take it in High School, freeing up a slot for another class I would like. Cut to next year, in High School, being told that I had to take Algebra 1…again. It wasn’t because of poor grades; I passed with an A- the first time. It was because the system-they-won’t-deviate-from tells them that I should be taking Algebra I in 9th grade. I tried to plead my case, to no avail. I don’t remember what I was told specifically, but it was some non-committal garbage about them not having the authority to override…yadda, yadda…the previous teachers were mistaken, etc. That was a very disillusioning day.

      Later, I wound up with an extra elective period. They can’t just give me a free period. No, no, no that’s against some regulation that I’ll never get to see myself. And I can’t take another art class (the only thing I cared anything about), I’m already taking an art class. Can’t have you pursuing something you enjoy and will use the rest of your life. I had to take REMEDIAL READING!!! Never mind that I was reading at a college level by Middle School and had excellent grades…*sigh* at least I could ace that class with zero effort given.

      If I had been home schooled I could have avoided all that garbage, and the bullying, and run-down school building/equipment (they got a new building two years after I graduated >_<) and would be taught by someone who actually gave a damn if was learning or not.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        … what the heck? I really don’t like school course counseling >.> As for HAVING to take Algebra 1 in 9th grade, that doesn’t make any sense, especially if your district offered it in 8th. My school actually has 3 or 4 different math tracks. (Ranging from Algebra 1 through Geometry and Algebra II to Pre-calc in 9th grade. I have no idea what they’ll do with the kids taking AP Calc as a sophomore when they get to the seniors, we just added a Calc 3 class this year.)

    2. Elizabeth says:

      There are options out there for supplemental classes for homeschooled kids. I was homeschooled from 6th grade through 12th grade and while I was taught at home for the majority of the time, I also took supplemental classes from a variety of schools aimed at homeschoolers. I took these classes because my parents are not good at math and science. Having those opportunities was a huge benefit to me because at the time, I was very advanced in what people call “liberal arts” but struggling in math and science.

      So the quality of education you get by homeschooling does not depend entirely on the parents. A lot of parents have the sense to know when they need additional help teaching their kids about a particular topic, and there are tons of excellent resources available for them.

    3. We spend time interacting with our children and discussing real life things with them as they come up. I spend very little time doing what would be considered “teaching”. Also I have multple friends who are single parents who also homeschool/unschool their children. homeschooling in the school at home sense is very hard to do and takes a ton of time and energy (you are both teacher and parent and it gets expensive to keep up with the Joneses as far as curriculum and studies go. However, unschooling is fairly simple as a single parent as it is just taking time to be with and really know your children and have a real, honest to goodness, person to person relationship with them. This way even if it means working all day or whatever you are still able to get to know your child and interact with them and all their various experiences inside and outside the home are involved in what is considered their education. A lot of the single parents I know who unschool either work from home or do jobs like owning or working for small businesses where the child can be actively involved in the family business.

    4. Cado says:

      Let’s call that sacred cow into question: does a teaching degree make someone better suited to be an educator than someone without it?

      This is purely anecdotal, but in my experience someone either has a knack for teaching or they don’t. I met with teachers as a kid who didn’t get me at all and completely failed to explain key concepts of whatever subject we were talking about even when we were one-on-one. Then I’d talk to someone else who wasn’t a teacher but was knowledgeable about it and they’d present the material in a much more novel way that synced up with my own thought process and made it much easier to grasp.

      Teaching is one of those things you’re either good at or you aren’t, and if you aren’t and you want to be it takes serious effort to develop the kind of empathy which is necessary to connect with different kinds of students. In that sense parents have a leg up because they have a vested interest in their child. As counter intuitive as that is, that matters more than actual knowledge of the subject matter because it provides the necessary motivation to get over hurdles in the way of understanding. It’s even better if you take a freer approach where the child explores their passions-nothing can stop a student who wants to learn as long as they have the right resources at their disposal.

  19. Piflik says:

    I agree with most of your points, but I am still not sure that homeschooling in general is a good idea. It might work for your kids, since both you and your wife are obviously intelligent folks, but the world is full of stupid sheeple and allowing them to teach their kids is depriving them of any chance to become mature and complete humans.

    1. DungeonHamster says:

      Wait, a minute. The world is full of sheeple and the the solution to this is to send them to an institution which is notorious for encouraging peer pressure, cliques, etc., etc. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that people are idiots, but that includes an awful lot of teachers. I don’t really see public schooling helping this.

    2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

      My public education was fine, but I’m still convinced that homeschooling is a perfectly viable option for many parents. There are plenty of resources out there to help parents homeschool their kids, and if they lack the ability or faculty to educate their own kids, then public school is an option.

      1. Piflik says:

        It’s not like they would be completely unable to educate their kids, at least to a certain degree, but they just don’t care. I am actually very glad that kids here have to go to school until 9th grade.

  20. Droid says:

    I’ve heard it said (and I think there’s some truth to it) that the modern primary education system in the US is essentially a factory to create… factory workers. The good students are the ones that will become… factory managers. That’s the base premise that everything else has been built on.

    Problem is, people aren’t machines and we’re all out of factories these days anyway.

    1. J Greely says:

      100% true. You can even find it stated explicitly in the original charters of many public school districts. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, it was hard to find workers who had the required habits, so they created them. Show up every day at this time, obey instructions precisely, stand here and do this repetitive task for hours, ask for permission to go pee, eat lunch at the correct time and go back to work promptly, keep working until the last bell rings. Rinse, repeat.

      All of the public-school “reforms” in the US since then have been minor tweaks to a system that needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch, and you simply can’t do that all at once at a national level, because no one knows what to replace it with. Everyone has a pet theory, and many of the theory-pushers haven’t been in a classroom with actual kids in decades, if ever.

      When my mother started teaching graduate-level classes in Education, one of the things she did was have me come in and teach her students to juggle, and then force them to analyze how they learned a new thing. Who worked best off alone in a corner, who got a kick out of helping others solve the problem, who insisted on learning a completely different kind of juggling that was much harder, who got angry and frustrated at simple failures, who needed coaxing and encouragement, who got smug about a quick success, etc. It was a humbling experience for most of them, because they hadn’t been on the receiving end of the experience for many years.


      1. karrde says:

        Pretty good example.

        Teach people about teaching by teaching them a skill they’ve never mastered before.

        (Unless they have…did any of the people you taught have any experience juggling before you taught them?)

        1. J Greely says:

          No, they were all complete novices. They had a lot of fun analyzing the stubborn guy who insisted that the cascade wasn’t proper juggling and insisted on learning the shower. He was cool about it, fortunately, and it became a useful discussion of finding a balance between catering to the different ones and keeping the whole group progressing.

          They all did quite well, by the way, and one of the points she stressed at the end was that they’d learned not just the basic skill, but also how to evaluate their performance and improve on their own.


  21. I benefited a lot from school. While I’ve taught myself a lot, and consider the way my particular graduate degree is taught to be shameful, there are also benefits to schools.

    I’ve seen excellent results from homeschooling and I’ve seen disasters, the same as public schools. I’ve seen “unschooling” which I consider an abomination in most of its forms.

    I’ve known people who succeeded like Shamus, and those I really think could not have.

    Most recently I’ve seen charter “schools” which are basically collectives for redirecting tax money to home schoolers. That is an interesting development.

    We’ve also considered homeschooling our youngest.

    It is complex, but I appreciate Shamus, his voice and his story. I’d like to see that strung together into a book, perhaps in alternating chapters with material on teaching and children; homeschooling and creating a cooperative collective charter school to support homeschooling.

  22. tussock says:

    Seems the biggest problem with education in most western countries is that it’s a political issue at all. Politicians are not teachers, yet they decide what gets taught, what texts are used, how much time is spent in each area, and then try to measure that process from afar and pretend the numbers they see mean anything.

    Everyone learns by doing. Do fake stuff, learn fake stuff. Do real stuff, learn real stuff. Want to be a writer? Write, and write some more. Race driver? Drive cars too fast. Surgeon? Cut into dead people and poke around. Reading explains what you’re seeing and feeling, lets you understand it, but doing it is what matters.

    I’ve heard plenty of times from people with nice tertiary degrees that while it got them in the door somewhere, it was completely useless for understanding the real world. Shamus here isn’t alone in that.

    If you’re lucky, your teacher at school will let you do a few real things, between preparing for more pointless tests.

    1. DungeonHamster says:

      Of course it’s a political issue. Public School is funded by the government, and the government is fundamentally a political organization. Everything having anything to do with the government is political. Just one reason that perhaps we should be encouraging people to seek education, when feasible, out from under the government’s auspices.

      1. krellen says:

        Anything having to do with more than two people is political. Politics is the interaction of social groups; any time there’s a social group, there’s politics.

        1. DungeonHamster says:


  23. Halceon says:

    Ah, this ties in very well with some of my prior musings. I think that there should be an instituion that provides testing. Basically they have tests and expert exams and they give out certificates for passing them. Preferrably the testing would come in a form that doesn’t allow guessing, maybe suprevised by an expert.
    Anyway, it would work in a way that no matter where and how you’ve attained your skills and knowledge, you could attempt to take those tests. (maybe have a mandatory interval between attempts) You know trigonometry in 6th grade? Pass it and skip the relevant lessons later. You’ve spent the summer looking at free online courses on database management? Prove your ability to them and write the certificate on your CV.

  24. Nurbh says:

    The Autoblography series really struck a chord with me. I grew up with very similar circumstances. The most common phrase teachers had when describing me to my parents was “… capable of much more than his grades show.” The standardized tests would come back showing top 10% or so performance as compared with peers, but my grades tended to top out with B’s. Gold stars and grades meant nothing to me, and the repetitive tasks were apparently there to exercise my patience more than my ability. My response to become apathetic about school in general. Sadly this also carried over into a period similar to your dark years in fast food. For me it was a dark decade in various unskilled positions (fast food, call centers, retail). Luckily that is in the past now.

    Thanks for writing this series. Although I was sure there were more people like myself out there, this series and the many comments posted make me think it’s far more common. I agree with almost everything you had to say about public education and homeschooling.

    The only exception is the section about socialization. As a parent I think you are understating the value of peer to peer socialization. I am NOT claiming that schools are a good place for that kind of socialization. They are just as you claim; cliquish, and full of petty cruelties.

    Unfortunately kids learn about socializing by actually socializing. What they need is for those social experiences to be guided until they’ve mastered it like any other skill. The easiest example is conflict resolution. If left to their own devices kids will learn by experimentation how to resolve conflicts. This tends to lead to the social hierarchies ruled by power. However if a parent or teacher is present they can monitor conflicts and step in when the conflicts aren’t being resolved, or are being resolved poorly. Note; they should NOT try to prevent the conflicts. That’s like preventing a kid from walking for fear that he will stub his toe.

    Obviously none of that has to take place at school, and can easily be accomplished with non-school related social groups. The point is that peer socialization plays a very important role in a child’s development that cannot be replaced with child/adult interactions, and that their ability to interact with adults should not in any way be considered an indicator on how they interact with peers.

  25. MichaelG says:

    I think this discussion is missing a few things:

    1. After going through a standard K-12 education in the U.S., a large percentage of kids hate school and education generally.

    After graduation, the average person in the U.S. reads less than one book a year. The public schools are actively harming these people, and reducing their ability to absorb new information or keep up with changes in the world.

    2. Even the successful students get a warped attitude towards learning. They think the only way to learn something is with lots of drill and in tiny, ordered, bite-sized chunks.

    At tech companies, I’ve had them drop a thousand pages of reference material on my desk the first day and say “Learn this. We’d like you to start contributing in a couple of weeks.” When I told that to family, they were horrified. “Don’t they send you off to a class to learn all that stuff?” School just doesn’t operate like the real world.

    3. Many students think it’s all about credentials, since that’s all anyone cared about in school. They don’t want to really learn the material — they want to pass the test. And they think if they have the degree, that means they’re educated and entitled to a job, even if they can’t do anything.

    4. American graduation rates are appalling. See

    “¢ Across the United States, … the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) was 74.9 percent. This rate ranged from 51.3 percent in Nevada to 89.6 percent in Wisconsin.

    “¢ Across all reporting states, the AFGR was highest for Asian/Pacific Islander students (91.4 percent). The rates for other groups of students were 81.0 percent for White students, 64.2 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native students, 63.5 percent for Hispanic students, and 61.5 percent for Black students.

    Since a person without even a high school diploma is almost unemployable, this is tragic. Anyone who cheers the public school systems should also be saying “well, except for the 25% who never graduate.”

    Almost all the best techies I’ve met over the years did it as a hobby before they worked. None of them were relying just on their schooling.

    Even if school doesn’t hurt some of the motivated students, it also doesn’t guarantee anything for the average students. Their education is nearly worthless.

    1. MisteR says:


      Standard schooling brainwashes kids, not unlike the way communism brainwashed people.

      1. Skyy_High says:

        I have no idea how you went from any of those statistics to “school is like brainwashing”. And you threw communism in there too. I think there’s a 50% probability that your next post with invoke Godwin.

        1. DungeonHamster says:

          It is, I concede, a bit of a leap, but not without basis. Communist countries have state-run education systems more concerned with controlling the youth than actually conferring skills and/or knowledge. The same is true of, well, just about any government-run education system I can think of, and quite a few that aren’t. Notice how many private schools are associated with religious groups. I hesitate to make such sweeping statements off the cuff, but it looks to me like formal education in general is more about instilling ideas about how the world works/should work than actual education. Not that’s necessarily a bad thing; I haven’t decided yet, but my gut reaction is against it.

          1. Dnaloiram says:

            Well, history is certainly about instilling ideas on the way history should have been. There’s quite a few inaccuracies and falsehoods to make heroes out of the people on our side.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              History is written by the victors, after all.

    2. DanMan says:

      I’ve had the opposite experience in the real world. My company is very pro-training. In fact, I’ve run into “Hey, I see you’ve been doing this work that is outside your job description for a while. Now go take this training.”

      Many people seem to think that sitting in a class room with an instructor is how you learn something. If I’ve been doing the job for a couple months and you have no complaints about how I’ve been doing, can I please skip the training?

      1. Daimbert says:

        I’ve always found training useful because it gives me a wider view than what I’d learn on my own. On my own, I only learn what I need to get the project done. I ended up, for example, taking the Advanced C++ course after working in C++ for a while, learning what that one warning message meant, and then when back and changed it because it contained a nasty hidden potential bug.

  26. Naota says:

    As a complete aside, the very epitome of Shamus’s frustration with superfluous subject material is still lurking around even at the level of post-secondary education, and it is ugly.

    General Education Courses (conveniently coded as GNED’s) are a cruel and ridiculous blight upon humanity as a whole, and need to be subjected to the business end of a ravenous bear. A ravenous conceptual bear able to maul abstract ideas with no demonstrable merit other than wasting both time and money.

    For those of you who may not be privy to the horrifying specifics of the system, here’s the deal: here in Ontario, colleges offer programs of different courses based on specific interests which are meant to contain everything required to land a job in the specified field. A program for 3D Animation includes classes on making models, rigging, animation fundamentals, drawing concept art and storyboards, and the odd outlier maybe involving art design throughout the last few decades. Everything fits the description on the tin… so far.

    However, one cannot receive a diploma on these courses alone; an elective extra is required for every semester (sometimes even two). This is a General Elective, or GNED course. By definition, a completely irrelevant subject that may be of absolutely no interest to you. That you must both attend and pay for.

    But relevance completely aside, do they teach anything of actual merit at all?

    No. Emphatically no. These courses have apparently been selected using the educational subject material edition of MadLibs, and sport names like “Global Citizenship”, “Exploring Creativity”, “Growing Up Digital”, “A Wellness Approach”, or “Integrated Digital Media”. Having attended at least five of these things, I can tell you that I still have no knowledge of what four of them actually intended to teach. The entirety of Integrated Digital Media consisted of sitting in a classroom while an instructor pointed out where websites used different forms of media, while we took “notes” and were quizzed on the fact that yes, the internet can host videos, photos, sound, and text all in one place. Marvelous!

    Essentially, you must pay someone to stand in front of you and waste 2-3 hours of your own time once a week, teaching you not only nothing of benefit to you, but nothing of substance full stop. You must pay attention and complete their busywork, as a grade of 60% or higher is required to receive the credit. You must do this five times over the course of two years in order to receive a piece of paper that qualifies you to submit an application for a job without being skimmed completely over.

    If you’re like me you may also neglect to pick one up in a semester loaded down with actual work, in which case you have a whole five months of nothing but GNED waiting for you after you’ve for all intents and purposes finished your education.

    Shamus, I admire your sound judgement in walking right out of that course on programming. High school has nothing on our system of “specialized” higher education.

    1. Daimbert says:

      In university — although at least parts of this were a while ago — your elective courses were simply courses taught by other departments, and I really enjoyed them. I took Russian, two English courses, interdisciplinary courses around Technology, Society and Environment, and two Geography courses on Environmental and Politcal issues respectively. The problem seesm to be that in college you don’t have the breadth of departments to make electives about exploring things outside of your field that you might like to learn something about.

      1. Naota says:

        Still, I think there were enough departments on my campus that I would’ve gladly swapped my nonsense GNED’s for a piece of that particular pie. Five courses of sketching, concept art, and creative writing over two years as an aside to my game development program? I’d be game for that… no pun intended.

        Also, Russian as an elective. Seriously? You lucky villainous mountebank.

        1. Daimbert says:

          I have two degrees, Computer Science and Philosophy.

          In my Computer Science undergrad, I had to take free electives — outside of my program — throughout most of it and had to take a first year science and in second year had to take a science or business elective on top of that. I took Physics and Astrophysics for my sciences, and avoided business.

          For my Philosophy undergrad, my electives were … my Computer Science courses, since I did that degree after finishing my Computer Science degree and getting a job. It was and as far as I know still is pretty open. There are no specific GNED-type requirements at the university level that I know of.

        2. Skyy_High says:

          Most degree programs that I know of require you to take some kind of elective courses, but (for example) I got mine by doing a few comp sci courses, getting a Spanish minor, and taking some random but thought provoking English courses (a sonnet writing course – which I have used to make anniversary gifts – a film criticism course, and a short story criticism and writing course). All of these things broadened my horizons in various ways (the comp sci in particular has helped distinguish me from other students in my program who don’t know the first thing about programming), and at worst were an enjoyable break from the Chemistry course load I was pulling. If you couldn’t find any electives in your school that taught anything worthwhile, that’s a problem with your school, not the idea of electives in college.

          1. Rosseloh says:

            He’s not completely talking about “electives”, though. He’s talking about “general” credits, which are courses that you can pick for yourself, yes, but from a limited list.

            For example, I had to take 2 years of math, a year of science, a year of history, a semester of psychology, etcetera. With the limited course choices in each of those blocks, the only ones that could have possibly been important for my computer science degree were the math classes (calc 1 and 2, linear algebra, logic).

            I guess my point is, if I had a real choice in my “electives”, I’d have taken World History for a year or two, perhaps a second language, and probably music-related things. But I was required to take credits in my choice of: chemistry, biology or physics (interesting, but I’m not good enough at memorizing formulas or math to do any of them well. Bio is the one I tried and my class was 500 strong, which I believe was my downfall), micro-or-macro-economics (useful, maybe, if it wasn’t only one semester and there was actually time in later schedules), American lit or composition (I had as much of a bearing as I needed for either from high school), and others. The only elective I actually enjoyed and got anything out of was my World History course.

            (Of course, the real factor that drove me away from that school was the fact that all of their computer degrees were basically programming degrees, something you don’t find out until you’ve been there a couple of years. I wanted to be a network admin, not a programmer. So I left. But that’s another story.)

            1. Aldowyn says:

              From what I’ve gathered most universities have requirements similar to this, general education in things not related to your major, i.e. Math with an english major, in addition to electives that could be darn well anything.

              1. Rosseloh says:

                Yeah, they do. It’s one of the reasons I’m not so hot on the whole University thing. The vo-tech school I ended up at was great, teaching me stuff that actually mattered to my chosen path.

          2. Naota says:

            It still strikes me as very flawed logic, regardless of what the courses actually are. You pay out of your own pocket for a specialized education in something… so they force you to learn completely ancillary things for no immediate benefit before you can be acknowledged as competent in a completely unrelated field?

            There is literally no reason to do this other than some transparent talking point about teaching students “additional skills” that holds no real weight. High school teaches general skills. Colleges offer courses you are free to sign up for should you personally want to learn additional disciplines. It’s ridiculous that I should be mandated to spend my time and money on courses that are absolutely unrelated to my program by definition, especially when I need to cut into my study time for actually important classes in order to churn out their related busywork.

            I would have no issue selecting electives from a list of courses even vaguely relevant to my discipline. Electives themselves are not a problem. Having to waste time, money, and effort on courses that have nothing at all to do with the diploma I’m working for in order to receive that diploma is the problem. The fact that I don’t enjoy a single one of said courses and none of them teach anything of merit to anyone is just icing on the cake.

            1. pneuma08 says:

              But what about overspecialization? It’s easy for a Comp. Sci or other technical person to learn about technology, but isn’t it important to have at least some grounding in, say, the humanities, if only to understand how other people might view the world and approach a problem? Shouldn’t an educated person also be well-rounded?

              My experience in college has been a bit different, seeing as they had very broad categories (like, “Understanding the Individual in Society”) which could translate to all manner of things, for Philosophy to Sociology to Economics. They’re broad enough that there’s bound to be at least a passing interest in something. And perhaps you’ll come across something you didn’t realize you liked before, too.

    2. psivamp says:

      The four-year programs at the university that I am currently attending require 3 science classes (at least one outside your major’s requirements) and one class in each of the following categories: history, foreign culture, fine art, mathematics, English composition, social science, philosophy/literature.

      This sounds all well and good, since you can knock out math and most of the science requirements as part of any engineering major. English composition was marginally helpful. The problem lies, for me, with the remainder of these courses.

      There are no history courses offered that interest me or that are applicable to my major. History of American Sports is class that fulfills this requirement — that’s an actual class, that you get college credit for! And what department offers this fine class? The kinesthesiology department — which is basically code for the sports and sports education department. How does it help make you a more rounded person to take the history of your own field?

      I’m just bitter because I don’t have time to get a minor in computer science and take the Introduction to AI Techniques class. And that the fine arts class I want to take is never actually offered. Futurism and the Arts sounds awesome, but it is never actually offered by the University of New Hampshire.

    3. Bill says:

      Our degrees are (or at least were) more specialised – my mid-1980s Chemistry degree consisted of the following courses:

      Year 1
      Chemistry, Physics, Environmental Chemistry
      Year 2
      Chemistry (split into Organic, Inorganic & Physical)
      Year 3
      Chemistry (split into Organic, Inorganic & Physical)
      & a small research project (IR spectra of copper catalysts)

  27. Jez says:

    One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned yet (apologies if it has), but I know one argument I’ve heard against homeschooling is that public schools serve as a way of detecting kids with developmental problems like autism or asperger’s, things that might go undetected in a home environment. Although the counterpoint to this would be that such diagnoses are potentially vastly overinflated.

    I’m also quite wary of homeschooling without any supervision or tracking of progress from any institutions. Some parents have very narrow political or religious beliefs, and some of those parents are going to push those beliefs onto their children. At least in a public school the ideas of a parent have to compete with other ideas and experiences.

    I think abolishing the entire public school system would be silly. It’s in the interests of every member of society (those without kids as well), that everybody has the opportunity to achieve at least a baseline level of education. There’s an old saying that you can build schools or prisons, and unfortunately the US seems to have been focusing on the latter for a lot of the last few decades.

    Being an Aussie I’ve never really had to deal with any of this stuff. The education system over here is not nearly as much of a political football and the schools don’t vary nearly so much in quality because the funding system is more equitable. I was quite fortunate in that my local primary school was small and I enjoyed it, and I got into a selective (a bit like the US gifted and talented program I think) high school which had good teachers. My general belief about the US education system is the same I have about its health system, that it’s the best in the world if you can afford the right place.

    I also just wanted to say I’ve been reading this blog for several years now (since DM of the Rings) and it’s been thoroughly enjoyable. Please feel free to make more complaints about the retail price of video games in Australia the next time you’re on the subject of video game pricing, as at the moment I’m faced with a situation where the Steam price of MW3 is 40 dollars cheaper for the US than Australia.

    1. toastymow says:

      I will submit to you this:

      If your child is being kept in your house all by him or herself their entire childhood, they’re going to be indoctrinated, period. I don’t care what they are taught, it will be indoctrination. This is an abomination.

      HOWEVER, a homeschooled child does not need this to happen. There are a variety of ways for children to socialize outside of school. I don’t know how it works in the US, or other such nations, I didn’t grow up there. I made most of my friends because my parents knew their parents or they went to my church. (I grew up in Bangladesh, among the ex-patriot community). I met other people, and a lot of them had similar beliefs to me. I also had a friend who getting drunk and smoking at age 14. I also had friends of different religious beliefs to me. I also had friends from other nations than my (I’m American, I had Bangladeshi, Indian, German, Australian, and New Zealand(ers?) friends).

      I realize I’m somewhat the exception to the rule here, but I think it holds to reason that if the parents are engaged in society, then their children will likely also be engaged in society. At least, that is how it worked for me. If your children are engaged in society they will meet other people, some of their age, some older, some younger. My best friend, yes, he is 22, two years older than me. But I had other friends. One of my good friends is a man who works with my parents, he’s in his thirties. In highschool I hung out with a lot of university aged people, I consider these people my good, close, friends.

      Honestly, the fact that all my friends are basically my age right now is rather boring. They’re all white too, basically. No offense to white people (see, I’m white myself :D) but I thrived in my multicultural surroundings. Being at a party with Koreans, Aussies, Bangladeshis, Germans, Americans, and Brits… thats going to be 100% more exciting than a party with a bunch of boring Americans. :p

    2. ZAPHOAD says:

      I don’t know how it works in Australia, but in the US schools do absolutely nothing to identify LD or Gifted kids until the parents start screaming about it. I was in and out of public school and homeschool in some of the best and worst districts in the US – we moved a lot – and the one thing they all shared was a system designed for the teacher’s convenience. If a student needed something out of the ordinary they and their parents needed to fight for it. Even if individual teachers were flexible enough to work with different learning needs, the system wasn’t set up to handle it. There are laws that mandate accommodations for LD/Gifted students, but public schools in the US just weren’t built to handle individuality and they still can’t.

      Statistically, homeschooling and public school turn out kids with the same overall level of socialskill, but with different patterns of strengths/weaknesses. Overall, homeschooling produces better educational results, no one iss sure why although many people think it’s related to the close interaction, better feedback and greater motivation. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as homeschooling moves out into the mainstream.

    3. karrde says:

      My experience is that parents who care enough to teach their children at home usually have the best possible method of detecting autism/learning-disability.

      They also usually have good, one-on-one methods of getting around that problem.

  28. Rayen says:

    I odn’t disagree on any particular point, if you want to homeschool your children thats just fine. I don’t think there should be stasndards and arbitruary goals to reach but i do believe progress should be assessed. I saw this radical liberal set of parents who “homeschooled” their kids but never put forth any effort to teach them. They said they will learn what they want when they want. I don’t know that i would agree with this as a form of homeschooling. It seems to me that it would create ignorant and parental-dependent people. The reason we put kids in school is becasue kids are more able to learn at that age than at any other time. Structure is a nessecary tool. Maybe school isn’t the right structure for every kid but even the homeschooled kids i’ve known had structured learning enviornments. These kids didn’t. and because they didn’t they 14-16 and they didn’t know basic math outside addition, very limited knowledge on how to read and no knowledge of history, science, philosophy, or anything other than their friends most recent status updates.

    Homeschooling should be slightly regulated, Not with standardized tests but an interveiw occasionally about what they’ve learned since the last interveiw wouldn’t go amiss. I don’t know what kind of punishments would be imposed on those who didn’t show any progress, but i feel there should be something there.

    1. MisteR says:

      You have a point in denouncing parents that don’t care for their kids, but I’m still very interested in what these kids do know. I imagine it to be quite a feat to learn nothing in 14-16 years time.

    2. DanMan says:

      This is why I (sarcastically) believe there should be a license for having kids. I don’t believe it would actually work, but there are things people should have to know and be able to do before being aloud to have kids.

    3. DungeonHamster says:

      Interviews would be so subjective as to be worse than useless. Social Services is bad enough now; can you imagine with that much power? A few questions to which “there are no wrong answers” determining whether or not people were competent instructors? No, if there must be an assessment, it needs to be as objective as possible and limited enough for that objectivity to not stifle the students. I said this a few comments up, but I am doubtful that testing anything more than reading, writing, and arithmetic would not do more harm than good.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Which is about all that standardized testing IS. The SAT has those exact categories, and the ACT has those plus science, which is more science literacy then content, since science curricula are no where near standardized, unlike math.

        1. DungeonHamster says:

          So, basically, we’re left with at least one area where it ain’t broke and don’t need fixing. Nice to know we can get a few things right, or at least not wrong.

  29. Jjkaybomb says:

    We still have it in our heads that the more useless cruft you know, the smarter you must be. Name dropping facts and titles is like flashing bling, from scientific journals, to formal literature, to pop culture, to every day conversation. Public education makes you know the minimum amount of cruft so you dont look stupid at parties.

    1. Atle says:

      The useless cruft are actually usefull as hooks and references for learning new stuff that’s not useless.

      You don’t learn who the first presidents were so you can recite this in a party. You learn it, so that when you learn some other historical fact that went on when Lincoln where president, you’ll automatically know something about the context of this new fact.

      Basic knowledge, useless as it may be on its own, still greatly facilities later learning.

    2. droid says:

      I look stupid at parties, but it is because you can name almost any song, movie or TV show from the last 20 years and I will have no idea of what you are talking about.

      Though if you want to know the distinction between NP-Hard and NP-complete we can have a conversation.

    3. Meredith says:

      No knowledge is every completely useless. Just because you might not need it for your job, it really truly does make you a more interesting well-rounded person to know a little bit about a variety of subjects. Besides which, stuff’s just interesting.

      I really don’t understand the attitude of so many people (I’ve noticed it’s very strong in the readership here) that they shouldn’t have to know a single fact if they don’t need it to program a computer or do a chemistry experiment. That’s equally ridiculous to ‘all children should learn at the same pace, via the same methods’. You don’t have to throw out the entire system to improve it.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Agreed. General knowledge is important. Shamus mentioned people thinking Lincoln was the first president, and that is a really good example. It’s best if you know just a little bit about as much as you can, in addition to as much as you can about just a little bit.

        1. Jjkaybomb says:

          Huh, this blog post has a weird comment thread. Even off-comments towards the bottom are being picked apart. Thought I’d be ignored for being stupid, but here we go.

          There came a time in my life when we learned about Shakespeare, I dunno when that was. Second or third grade. But the thing is, I already knew about Shakespeare. I knew he was English, he wrote Romeo and Juliet, he wore a ruff and poofy pants, because he was from some older time. I remember being wiered out about this. Where the hell did I learn about this? Certainly not from school. I realized that this was what the cool kids called general knowledge, something infused in our culture, repeated and referenced ad nauseum so that no one could escape knowledge of this person.

          Almost all the useless cruft knowledge that one needs to know about culture, history, and science can come second hand from just living in that culture. From reading books, or blogs like these. I learn far more from this blog and a few webcomics than I learn in half my college classes. Of course half my college classes are English, but dewp-dee-dew.

          School can teach fine details. It can introduce you to new fields of learning. I think its probably the best way to learn math, but that may be because I suck at it. But everything you learn at school can just as easily be osmosis-ed from being aware and participating in life, especially now that you can look up the facts online.

          And anyone just mutely participating in media and getting nothing from it still might not learn anything from school either. If they’re so hard set in remaining ignorant, then having them recite things in blando-land is not going to shove things into thier skulls. Life and learning is about participation in the environment. School can be one of those environments, in highly concentrated form. But its just not going to get through to some people.

          1. Mari says:

            You just made a general argument in favor of a variety of homeschooling known as unschooling. Welcome to the dark side. We have cookies and knowledge by osmosis. Of course, it’s not really so much osmosis as the natural curiosity and observation inherent to being, in the words of one of my friends, “new to this planet.” This curiosity and observation is primarily how babies learn to walk and talk. Why is it no longer good enough to teach other, less fundamental, things? Widespread public education didn’t exist to the masses until around the industrial revolution (though some public schools have existed as far back as the first century AD) so before that children learned in some different way. The different way was by being around people all the time as they lived and worked, observing and absorbing.

      2. Pickly says:

        Even more important, perhaps, is that whatever people do at their job, people will be making decisions such as voting, spreading rumors/news around, joining or supporting political groups, etc., and these sorts of decisions can significantly help or harm other people.

        The amount of times I see people spreading wrong information about various health or psychology studies, making really dumb political assumptions (“The Iraqis will welcome U.S. forces”), doesn’t speak well for the quality of this sort of learning, however it is being done.

        1. Jjkaybomb says:

          Yeah, thats one of the careers I would say needs a strong schooling background… but we cant predict when a kid is going to be a politician, so I dunno….

          1. Pickly says:

            I’m not talking politicians here (The point of my comment is to add to the argument that education is about more than just preparing people for jobs).

            Everyone (in the U.S. at least) is involved in politics in some sense, through voting decisions (even not doing anything at all is a decision, in a sense), decisions to talk about or watch particular news stories, rumors, or pieces of information, talking to other people about politics, etc., and political decisions will be effected by how people act and what they know.

            The same applies to a number of other areas in life. Spreading incorrect rumors or information about health, for instance, has a strong effect on other people’s lives.

            (I may have a future additional comment on these issues, if I can think of a clearer way to say it.)

  30. Melf_Himself says:

    School is necessary to get into college if your kid has aspirations to be, say, a doctor/lawyer/research scientist.

    School helps develop critical social skills in most kids.

    Coloring your perceptions based on a small sample size (n = 1) is usually a bad idea.

    “If public schools can't handle kids from broken homes, or kids with odd behavior, or socially awkward kids, then what should be done with those kids, if not give them over to some other form of education?”

    I don’t think broken homes are in a position to be home schooling kids.

    1. Atle says:

      You’re just reciting current doctrine.

      Do you, for example, _know_ that school “develop critical social skills”. Or is this just something you’ve been told by the powers that be?

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Of course many of us feel that we personally DID develop critical social skills. I’m not quite sure whether it did or not, I went into 9th grade after being homeschooled 3 1/2+ years, and I have no idea when or where I got mine.

        1. Atle says:

          If you think about how kindergarten/pre school and school work, it’s not really very “normal” environment or way of interacting with other people. Socially it’s a strange kind of hierarchy, where the kids are equal, all the grown ups are kind of formal persons, and the head master is some kind of angry person you’re afraid of being sent to (at least he were at my school). It’s a very artificial community, and a strange place to learn social skills. Normal interaction with grown ups are missing.

    2. psivamp says:

      Is school necessary to get into college? Not necessarily, there are procedures at many colleges for evaluating home-schooled applicants. I’m almost 90% certain that my high school lost it’s state accreditation, but I still got into college easily.

      Socialization has been addressed from several viewpoints already, and I’m not personally convinced that public school helps much. Private school gave me a better view of where I stood with respect to other people after school. I didn’t graduate high school intimidated by older adults or even professors. I think that public school indoctrinates that kind of awe where my little private school encouraged critical thinking and discourse with my teachers on a more equal footing.

      You’re right in thinking that a parents assessment of their success might be flawed by not having a large sample size or clearly defined control group with which to compare their child. However, public school education suffers from poorly defined objectives and atrocious assessment of student progress. Grades can be almost entirely disconnected from student understanding and yield a false indicator of success in teaching. One-on-one it becomes exceedingly difficult to hide a lack of comprehension.

      tl;dr Homeschooling isn’t perfect and presents a unique set of pitfalls and new considerations. I disagree with Melf_Himself on the necessity of a formal high school education to enter into higher-level education.

      1. lazlo says:

        Above and beyond the question of how hard it is to get accepted to college, if you’re already enlightened as to the virtues of doing what’s important and avoiding needless busywork, you may want to apply to a college as a non-degree seeking student. As I understand it, the requirements are more lax, and if you want, instead of a degree, to receive actual education then you can choose the courses appropriate to what you want to learn.

        A whole lot of this seems like getting to that point where you make a decision of whether you want to get a diploma/degree, or an education. Either has value, and it may be possible to get both.

      2. DungeonHamster says:

        Many colleges like you to take the SAT or ACT anyway.

        1. psivamp says:

          The first google result for ‘homeschool college admission’ said that most colleges that have a set procedure for homeschool student admission require the applicant to take subject tests in addition to the general SATs.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            A ton of selective colleges make you take those subject tests anyway. Just saying.

            Anyway, I think one of the biggest problems with public education is standards. The schools themselves are more focused on passing the kids with at least the bare minimum than actually education them.

    3. How interesting– most of my friends who were homeschooled themselves went on to be lawyers, doctors, and scientists. Almost all of them on full scholarships (off the top of my head I can think of 9 and I know I know more.) In fact, only one I know is even “just” a stay at home mom but she is also a well paid writer.

      1. karrde says:

        To add to your data pool:

        I come from a family of five. All were homeschooled (after the eldest got to fifth grade at a private school).

        So far, four of the five children have attended college, and two of them have achieved master’s degrees.

        The fifth child is still in high school.

        Generally, SAT and ACT, plus a recognizable transcript, have paved the way into college-level work.

      2. Tuck says:

        I’m from a family of six homeschooled kids, of which the eldest four have all been through uni — and yep, one of them’s a doctor.

        The other two of us decided we didn’t want to go to uni straight after school, and haven’t needed a degree to lead successful and happy lives.

        I’ll probably be attending uni in a couple of years, but only because I’m changing careers and it’s pretty much a requirement for employment in the new one.

  31. Airsoftslayer says:

    The one point i would make is that your kids are exceptionally lucky to have educated and able parents to homeschool them, most kid’s dont.

    1. Atle says:

      But but … they all went to public school, so they should be educated and able?

      That irony aside, I agree that at least some kids would suffer from their parents lack of abilities if home schooled.

      I think the best way to solve this is some required tests at regular intervals, to check that the kids are not totally neglected.

      There must be some balance between individual freedom and protecting kids from less that able parents.

  32. lazlo says:

    I’m a big fan of homeschooling myself, and intend to do a fair amount of it, much as my parents did. And, like them, I’m likely to take advantage of the “free” daycare that I’m paying for with my taxes as well.

    While I did learn some trivia in public school, (and a smattering of quadrivia as well, though light on the astronomy) I also learned three very important things that I can’t shake the feeling would be much more difficult to learn in a purely homeschooled setting.

    First, I learned to interact with other children with a minimum amount of bloodshed. Reading your arguments about socialization gives me pause, but I really find it hard to shake the belief that I wouldn’t have been able to learn to deal with others if I hadn’t been forced to do so for 13 years. I haven’t met any homeschooled children myself, so at most I only have half of the observation needed to make an informed conclusion on this. Maybe if I did, I would change my mind on this point.

    Second, I learned to pass standardized tests without any knowledge of the subject matter being tested, and to excel at them with only a modicum of knowledge. This has proven to be an invaluable and (frighteningly) widely applicable skill throughout my career. Actually, it’s unfair to say I learned that in school… I learned it from my father, but school gave me abundant opportunities to practice and hone the skill to a razor sharp edge.

    Third, I learned the very important lesson that teachers (and by extension many other authority figures) can be, and often are, completely wrong. I already knew that my parents could be wrong… I think all children learn this, and mine made no bones about it. But, strangely, it’s a lot harder to believe that other people are wrong unless you see it happen repeatedly.

    Now, while I generally agree with your thesis statement up there, I would have to insist that you should make one change (and you kind of mention this at several points). You say “Homeschooling works. People should be allowed to do it.” I would change that to “Homeschooling can work. People should be allowed to do it.” I think it’s certain that there are some people for whom it won’t work. Even you. While I think that, from an educational standpoint, you would have been much better served by homeschooling (or really almost any type of schooling other than what you got), from a practical perspective I don’t think it’s something that your family could have done (based on what I know of it from these posts). If your mom had quit her job to teach you and Patrick full-time, how could you have survived? If she could have kept a full-time job and only taught you in the evenings, what would have been the disadvantage of having you in school while she was working?

    In the end, while I and, apparently, everyone else is very passionate about education and the need to argue about it incessantly, I have this nagging suspicion that it really matters a whole lot less than anyone is comfortable believing. I suspect that to a very large extent, some people are smart and motivated and will do well in life, while others are not and will not, and no amount or type of education will change either of those people.

    And I also think there’s a 90% rule going on here. 90% of the resumes you send out won’t lead to a fantastic job. 90% of the people you date won’t end up marrying you and being the perfect spouse (ok, maybe more than 90%). 90% of the features of a piece of software are unused by each user. 90% of a public school education is worthless. However, you cannot know *which* 90% is worthless until you’ve done the whole damn thing. And, very importantly, the 10% that’s useful to you will not be the same 10% that’s useful to the person in the seat beside you, just as your perfect spouse and dream job would make him miserable.

    1. MisteR says:

      ‘I have this nagging suspicion that it really matters a whole lot less than anyone is comfortable believing.’

      Yep, I think that’s the problem right there. The whole issue seems to me like a paradigm situation like the science philosopher Thomas Kuhn describes. We just might be on the edge of a paradigm switch between our current understanding of education and a new, as of yet unknown one.

      Current education was created about two hundred years ago to answer the questions they had then: factories needed workers, poor people needed a way out of poorness, the masses needed to be controlled. Centuries later, we’ve got different questions that require different answers: Businesses need specialists, people need fulfilling jobs, the masses need to consume responsibly.

      There’s no doubt in my mind that sooner or later our education will be forced to change, to deal with the changed role it has in society.

    2. Shamus says:

      I would change that to “Homeschooling can work. People should be allowed to do it.”

      That’s a good point. HS’ing isn’t a guarantee, and can go wrong for all sorts of reasons, just like public schools.

      1. Cado says:

        I think one of the issues with the conventional mindset is that we’re trying to turn education into a science when it’s as far from that as a human endeavor can get. People come in lots of varieties and even with the best resources and brightest minds available a child is not guaranteed to grow up cultured and capable. That’s exactly why more flexibility would serve us because we haven’t even scratched the surface on the things we can try.

        1. Bubble181 says:

          Hold on, that’s not entirely true. Pedagogy IS a humane science. It isn’t a positive science; a person is still a person…

          The biggest problem is cost/efficiency. A system where every child has several different tutors for different subjects, all personally invested in the child’s rearing but without a reason to try and coerce the child in any particular direction, with all of the tutors/teachers/coaches having plenty of experience in both the fields they teach, and in teaching, and has the equipment to really use and persue any ideas, can work quite great, for practically all children – be they more gifted mathematically, more linguistically adept, interested in art, dyslexic, suffering from Aspergers, socially inept, very sporty, quadriplegic, interested in animals, or what have you.
          Unfortunately, such a syste is absolutely impossible to afford.
          Homeschooling, private schools, public schools, all kinds of programs to “help” children who are ahead/behind/otherwise challenged/… are all just ways of trying to fit a system that’ll get the most out of most children with the minimum amount of waste (human, intellectually, spending, whatever).

          I’m personally convinced that public schooling CAN work, in most cases better than homeschooling…But it ISN’T, at the moment, performing as it should.
          Ideally, most children can learn properly in relatively small groups and do well; special cases can then be given additional or replacement lessons to try and have everyone leave school at a certain age with a certain minimum knowledge (such as reading/writing/basic addition/enough knowledge of at least one language to function in society, but obviously determining the “minimum” required is a very touchy political problem), and those capable of it, with much more. Then, afterwards, they can follow a path of interests and more specific learnng – be it academical, technical, or whatever.
          Obviously, at what age to start diversifying (at 6? College?), how much “help” and what type to offer, etc etc, are all once again political questions.

          Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – the working/failing of any schooling system is, at its root, a political and cultural problem.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Despite it’s length, I believe paragraph 2 sentence 2 is actually a sentence fragment. It is missing a verb! “A system where (modifying clauses).”

            Grammatical snobbery aside, you’re spot on. There are lots of things we could do with infinite resources. Your description of the ideal educational system is beautiful and fantastic. I also agree that public schooling can work. It is not perfect, but neither is it somehow impossibly flawed.

            The trouble is, just as you say, someone has to pay for all this. My stance is that I will pay for my children, which is all well and good. Where people (myself included) get upset is when someone (invariably well meaning) says “You must pay, not only for your children, but for John Doe’s children as well. If you do not, I will kill you.” This is what “Free Public Schools” means. Someone always pays for it, and if the government enforces the payment, then it is under threat of death.

            But, like Shamus said, there’s probably no hope of it just going away. So, there’s that, for good or ill.

            1. Kaeltik says:

              I would posit that everyone benefits from a more educated populace. Some disagree with this.

              Assuming for a moment that everyone benefits, then everyone who can afford to do so should pay, just as we must for infrastructure, national defense, basic research, and emergency services. Anything else would be parasitism on the community.

            2. Zukhramm says:

              I can’t find any missing verb, the verb is “work”.

                1. Bubble181 says:

                  Though, to be fair, I did make it a needlessly long and convoluted sentence :-P Sorry, typing while answering phones and writing about work makes me los track of what I was writing, exactly, so my posts (when made from work) tend to come out a bit too train-of-thought :P

          2. Cado says:

            It’s also a question of methodology, which is why political and social problems become such a nuisance.

            Psychology is a science but people are individuals and individuals will respond very differently to the world around them, each according to their own mental processes and worldview. If I understand you, you’re saying school would benefit most or all kids if they had the resources to cater to every kind of learner, yes? I don’t think that’s possible within a bureaucratic system, and the art involved in this is figure out what appeals to different kinds of students and then optimizing it for their use.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying science is irrelevant, I’m saying that intuition plays an incredibly important role in properly shaping a child, perhaps a bigger one than any data sheets we currently have available. The science of the mind is still very primitive when you consider how much we don’t know and how far it can go so it’s going to take some bold experimentation to figure out what’s optimal for the most people.

    3. Aldowyn says:

      That last bit is the most important part of that post. Different things are important to different people, and public school probably gives you a wider view (or a potentially wider view) than being homeschooled, especially when you’re interacting with other people with vastly different interests.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Well, yes. It’s perfectly possible to be a parent who truly means well and wants to give their children a perfect, balanced education so they’re knowledgeable about all matters of importance – but if you happen to be tonedeaf and not have a musical bone in your body, your little Jimmy Hendrickx might go unnoticed.
        Of course, as has been pointed out earlier, it’s not because youre homeschooling that you can’t ask others t help in the education to try and broaden their horizon; nor is a public school a guarantee a talent will be picked up (as can be seen in Shamus’ tale).

        Still, I do think it’s a valid concern.

  33. ccesarano says:

    I just want to leave a comment saying thanks for writing all of this. I wish I could have contributed more these past few discussions.

    I agree with a lot of what you say, though. But on the whole, this was a fascinating look into your life. Thanks for taking the time to get through it all.

  34. Rob Lundeen says:

    First I wanted to thank you for sharing your story with us Shamus. I’ve really enjoyed reading it.

    On the issue of education I am of a similar mind. I never finished high school (I couldn’t bring myself to finish grade 13 English. I tried 3 times). I wasn’t dumb, I was uninterested. After high school I took a job as a security guard and was eventually convinced to go to college (here in Ontario this is like a trade school). I dropped out once because the first year was just like high school (busy work). Eventually I tried again and found it really enjoyable once I got past the first year (it was a three year program). Now I work in IT as a programmer/analyst. I make a good living and love my job.

    As my kids enter the school system (my oldest started kindergarten this year) I am very anxious. I hadn’t considered home schooling as an option until I read this post. Thanks for opening my mind to it as an option!

  35. WWWebb says:

    I don’t have a problem with home schooling. I know lots of adults who were home schooled and plenty of kids who are home schooling right now. The “products” of home schooling usually turn out just fine, if nothing else, because of the extremely low student-to-teacher ratio. They are able to get personal attention from someone who cares about them.

    Let me rephrase that last one because it’s important: as long as kids get personal attention from someone who cares about them, they’ll probably turn out alright.

    The problem I have is that while home-SCHOOLING maybe very effective, from society’s point of view home-TEACHING is extraordinarily inefficient. You have robbed society of an fantastic person (Heather) who could otherwise have been positively contributing (i.e. making $$$) to the larger economy.

    It’s really hard to say that last part without sounding trollish. Heck, it’s hard to THINK that last part without feeling trollish…but it’s true. From a policy perspective, public education serves TWO major functions:

    #1- Educate the next generation of adults to be positive contributors (i.e. make $$$) to society…this is already being discussed ad nausea above so I won’t get into it.

    #2- Free parents to work. For all the complaining people do about the high cost of education, they never seem to remember that “free childcare” allows an extra 20-30% of the population to work…and that “pays” for education right there.

    Oh sure. These days we talk more about reason #1, but it’s #2 that provides the biggest boost to the economy. As bad as all the involuntary unemployment in this country is right now, the VOLUNTARY unemployment (or underemployment if I’m being fair) caused by home-teaching is worse, because it generally self-selects the brightest and most motivated. It’s fine if a few people home school their kids, but don’t go making a movement out of it. The economy is bad enough already.

    1. Atle says:

      A lot of what you write seems to be based on an implicit idea that individuals belong to society, and not that society is there for the individuals.

      While I do agree that we need most people to be positive contributors to our society, I think that this should never come at the expense of the individual.

      When you’re building a society at the expense of individuals, you’ve lost sight of the reason we have a society in the first place.

      The solution to this problem is simple: Make the schools so good that most people want to use them. And allow the few that still don’t want to use that option the freedom to choose otherwise. (But check up on the kids, so that they’re not neglected by their parents. This is also about protecting the individuals, and not something done for the sake of society.)

      Never forget that society is there for the individuals that make up the society, and not the other way around!

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Easier said than done. I agree, though.

        1. Kaeltik says:

          Seconded on both counts.

    2. Joe Cool says:

      It seems your argument could be made not just about home-schooling, but at stay-at-home parenting as well. Is my wife robbing society by staying home to raise our two boys? I’d emphatically argue, no. Her contribution to society is… two well-adjusted boys.

      If efficiency is the issue, then I’d just argue for larger family sizes. Considering that the average size of the home-schooling families I know is about 6 or 7 kids, I think home-schoolers have the efficiency thing down too.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        The ironic thing is, it doesn’t matter what proponents of small families and/or public education stand for. They will be out-reproduced right off the charts by people (good or bad, knowledgeable or ignorant) who have lots of kids and teach them personally. In the long run, the best way to spread your ideas is to spread them through your progeny and teach them to do the same.

    3. Cado says:

      This doesn’t account for entrepreneurial efforts which can be undertaken from home, such as freelance writing or programming. The internet makes it far easier to build income streams without formal employment than it’s ever been before, so if someone wants to make a contribution to society there’s nothing stopping them, and it’s likely that it will be more meaningful than a lot of the work they could land in the corporate world.

      People who don’t do anything of economic value most likely don’t want to, and as long as there’s enough money coming into their household to support the family I don’t see a thing wrong with that. Anyone who wants to claim ownership of someone, their time, or their work, can sit on a cactus for all I care.

  36. benjamin says:

    Dunning”“Kruger effect. how do you estimate that you are fit to teach your kids? your own success? lot of people go far in their career without having a single clue on how to teach. because your wife is a teacher? isn’t is the exact same kind of people you don’t trust?

    don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you did great with your kid, but how a lambda guy (or gal) know if he/she have what it take? by the Dunning-kruger effect, the worst people for homeschool kids will be the first to do it.

    I’m from france, and here school isn’t only to teach you a job. it’s also a good way to mix different social class and “races” as you say in the US. it’s the occasion for kids to see something different than what they have home, outside of their parents supervision, and I think its important. school is seen as the very fabric of the social tissue.

    of course french and american school system are quite different. I must have paid less than 4500$ for my whole education (I’m currently a Ph.D student (with a salary)). so high level education is more of a choice than an investiment (or only an investiment in time, depens how you see it)

    1. MichaelG says:

      Your education isn’t cheap, it’s just paid for with other people’s taxes.

      And I thought Paris had a ring of un-assimilated minorities around it. Did they not go through your educational system too?

      1. benjamin says:

        the education of everyone is supported by the society as a whole (as it should be, as it improved society as a whole). on the personal level, there is no family that can’t afford an high level education (if the price is still too much there is grants, based on the family revenue for the attribution). as I see it, that mean that the people having a diploma are the most motivated/talented in the pool of people who wanted to study a field, not the most motivated/talented in the pool of people who could afford to study a field.

        the question of the suburbs and the question of emigrants in france are both complex and it’s not the best place to discuss it, but keep in mind that I didn’t say that the french school system was perfect, I just pointed out some differences.

        as of the suburbs, this is the limits of a systems who was built assuming a certain variety of population in every city. interesting enougth, the second generation population of the suburbs tend to define itself as “from the suburbs” not from the country of theyr parents. this is quite interesting when you consider that the population is a mix of different arabs country, from africa, from the Antilles, from portugal, from china and more and more from east europe.

        as assimilation as a whole, even with the bad reputation of racism that france seems to have, if you look at it from a demographic point of vue, it works. there is something around 30% of wedding between people of imigrant origin and the “french” population, and the measure tend to show that population of foreign descent tend to align on many metrics with the national average, like level of education, level of crime, level of religious practice, level of fiscal fraud,… ( in both way, if a population have a lower criminal activities, it rise until it reach the french level). I have to add that older emegrant comunauties have been completely assimilated, notably the swiss,the italian,the spanish,…

        finaly I want to point out that racism in france is mostly based on the culture, not on the race. not saying its better, just pointing out a difference.

        if you are interested in the subject, you should read “le destin des emigrées” from emmanuel todd, a really great book on the subject (its compare emigration in england, the us, germany and frances. not sure if an english traduction exist).

        love sea of memes by the way.

        1. MichaelG says:

          Thanks. What I had read about France was that it got very idealistic about education and immigration — “We’ll teach them to be French. End of story” and didn’t even keep track of success rates by race/culture.

          Then you read that there are areas where the police won’t go, where unemployment is very high, and where burning cars are a common sight. So I wonder if they’ve had any success at all.

          I hope it’s better than it sounds.

          1. benjamin says:

            ah ah, yeah, that basically how it go. it’s illegal in france to make statistique by ethnie (for historical reason, it was decided after the german occupation in world war two). that make precise stat a bit hard to obtain, as we have only indirect observation and comercial study to work with. this lack of data tend to add to confusion.

            the suburbs are a very real phenoma that is a shame for the country, but it shouldn’t mask the fact that statistically speaking, France is succeeding in it’s assimilation of the emigrants culture (in a painfull and ugly way, but still).

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      Couldn’t resist pointing out that my favorite political economist and all around practical thinker, Frederic Bastiat, was French. Check out his writings, especially “The Law”, some time. Most of my thoughts on education can be traced back to him.

      1. We love Frederic Bastiat around here– brilliant guy.

        1. Chris says:

          The Law is a brilliant tome that explains the meaning of plunder.

  37. Elm says:

    My wife and I are considering homeschooling our children (when we have them) for most of the same reasons that you’ve enumerated above, though I must say that we’re less confident on the socialization angle than you are. We’re also idly considering starting a Montessori school, provided we have the opportunity to pick up the necessary teaching credentials in the meantime…

    Regardless, I think it’s beyond dispute that homeschooling is preferable the normal educational system for some children, but I am concerned that there may be something of a lack of correlation between:

    1. Parents who have the time to successfully homeschool their children.
    2. Parents who have the ability to successfully homeschool their children.
    3. Parents who have children who would particularly benefit from being homeschooled.
    4. Parents who actually decide to homeschool their children.

    Which is to say that many children who should be homeschooled are probably not, particularly because their parents lack the time, and many children who ARE homeschooled receive a very poor education because their parents aren’t up to the job. (And I know a half-dozen or so of the latter type personally…)

    I also want to take issue with one of the points you raised above, which is:

    If your beliefs are worth anything, then you should be happy to let them compete for mindshare with everyone else's beliefs by persuading other adults to your way of thinking. If you can't persuade adults to embrace your way of thinking, then it's pretty tyrannical to attempt to impose your ideas on their children.

    I wish it were that simple, but that more or less Enlightenment view of how people’s minds work doesn’t seem to play out that well in practice, thanks to our brains propensities for things like confirmation bias and our ways of coping with cognitive dissonance. As a species, we’re just not great at being persuaded to believe things that are true when we already have a firm belief in the opposite, especially when that belief is strongly associated with our self-image.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Then avoid giving them a firm belief and discuss both sides of the issue.

      1. Tuck says:

        Is it wrong to want your children to hold the same beliefs that you do, and to teach them those beliefs at the exclusion of others? After all, you who hold those beliefs are yourself a member of society…

        My parents brought me up with one set of religious beliefs and taught me that all others were wrong. Was it wrong of them to do this? I’m sure that lots of the people here would answer an emphatic yes…

        1. Aldowyn says:

          I would say you don’t need to teach them the alternate ideas yourself, but be willing to discuss them if they come up. Fair compromise?

          1. Tuck says:

            If you truly believe that those ideas are wrong, then why would you be willing to discuss them beyond denouncing them? You wouldn’t want your kids to have anything to do with them. So no, I don’t see discussion as a requirement, but I agree that it’s good.

            What parents shouldn’t do is limit their childrens’ access to information — not something I’ve personally encountered in any homeschooling families but it would appear to be more common in the US (from comments here).

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Hmm. I see. It is REALLY hard to be unbiased in a conversation like that. I think what I’m looking for is not so much something concrete, but more a general atmosphere that allows children to disagree with their parents on such issues, even if the parents never really discussed the alternatives.

              1. Tuck says:

                Yah, I don’t think we really disagree on the fundamental: people, both the parents and the children, must be free to hold their own beliefs.

                But if you start trying to influence what parents may or may not teach their kids then you begin to impinge upon other freedoms. Atle’s comment above is pertinent.

                And of course it’s all very cultural, and such questions would never even arise in many countries around the world. :)

  38. OldGeek says:

    As a teacher, I can tell you that we have long been aware of the fact that traditional educational methods don’t reach everyone. We give it a lot of lip services. Most professionals have taken “Multiple Intelligences” classes, where they study that sort of thing. Yet the basic outline of K-12 education has not changed in thousands of years. The basic concept of grade levels is in itself archaic. Yet we do nothing.

    The scary thing is, in the US right now, because of the economic difficulties, less and less money is going to education. Schools are having to make do with less. Fewer teachers, fewer classes, fewer materials. That means there will be less experimentation, less reaching out to children who learn differently and more focus on teaching the one way that gets test scores up.

    And as a teacher, let me say this. If I could home school my daughter, I would.

    1. karrde says:

      hasn’t changed in thousands of years…

      Actually, it has.

      That is, K-12 education as we know it has been practiced for approximately a century.

      If you go back a century before that, most children in America tended to learn literacy and (maybe) arithmetic. Many children stopped formal schooling between the ages of 12 to 16, and a few went beyond that.

      I seem to remember that during the late-Colonial period, the average age of admittance to Harvard was 16. Said Harvard students had to show the ability to translate Greek or Latin to English before being admitted…talk about skills deemed useless in the modern world.

      Every once in a while, I’ll get an email claiming that an impossibly-hard high school exam was ‘typical for 1890’. I then learn, from my own research, that during that time period less than 15% of the population finished high school.

      It really is amazing that America has gone from 15% graduation rates to 75%+ graduation rates. But then I ask…does a high school diploma from the 1990’s have the same meaning as one from the 1890’s?

      Anyway, I digress. But I think I’ve shown that thousands of years is hyperbole.

  39. kmc says:

    Here’s why I’m so torn on the whole issue, and be warned that I’m going to repeat many of the points mentioned above. I’m admitting that I’m not really adding anything new, so feel free to skip past. However:

    1. Socializing with other children does not build the social skills you need as an adult. Socializing with adults teaches you those things. This might be a danger if you literally never left the house, but any kid who does any kind of community activity–volunteering, going to church, even just being a part of a large family–will get plenty of interaction with non-parent adults.

    2. I don’t know who’s supposed to do all this homeschooling. I realize that Shamus and many of the posters here aren’t advocating abolishing the public school system. Even so, for people to care about the quality of public schools, people of means have to have children in public schools. If the public attitude (I’m not talking about laws) moves in the direction of homeschooling, just as with private schooling, the public school is entirely populated by the children of people who don’t have the resources to homeschool. Public schools languish even more and you end up with a class of children with, functionally, no access to education. As a citizen, I care about this.

    3. Public school education is already languishing, though, and the argument about some parents being innately more qualified to homeschool than others is offset in my mind by the fact that many public school teachers–particularly elementary and middle school teachers–are equally unqualified to teach their particular subject. I’m talking about 7th grade science teachers who, in a social environment, will say things like, “Math is hard,” and mean it. I’ve had some very good teachers who were very knowledgeable and I’ve had some teachers who were dumb as rocks. (A particular English teacher comes to mind, who was always mis-pronouncing stuff. She wasn’t very good at reading on the fly.) I blame the attitude passed down to college students that, if you don’t want to try hard, you can always go after your teaching credentials and some college out there will give them to you. It seems like we put many of these people in charge of the youngest children.

    4. Also, there is already a class division between the students in public schools whose parents can supplement the school’s inadequacies during non-school time and the students who don’t have that support for multiple reasons. This is not a good solution in the long run, and, putting my citizen hat back on, does not ensure that the majority of children will grow up with the basic skills necessary to support and further a democratic, technological, and enlightened society.

    5. Finally, I generally approve of people learning professions and those things being done by those people, for this reason (bear with me; I’m going to go through a couple logical steps): Most people get their college educations because of some thing they want to do. If I, say, get a physics degree, it is because I want to be a scientist and do research in a related area. For any other subject, particularly in any field that undergoes rapid advances, my understanding becomes fairly frozen in a place in time. I can keep up with some things in my spare time, and I may try to be well-read on these things, but they pass you by; it’s just what happens. The goal of education is not just to get kids to the point where they know exactly as much as the last set of kids to go through–it’s to get them farther. Every generation has more to learn about each of the different school subjects because they’ve advanced. So how to you really reconcile the desire for your kid to surpass you (general sense) with the fact that you’re the one teaching them? It seems like that’s a pretty good case, at least, for the cooperative homeschooling organizations, but it’s not exactly easy.

    So, you know, if anyone knows how to fix that… Well, I’ll bake you a cheesecake, because I don’t. Because of this post, though, I am thinking more about using the resources I do have to have my own small-person-to-be homeschooled (by Grandma, since Mom and Dad both have to hold down careers to afford the whole thing) for some of the earlier years, and switching to a public school when the time seems right for little Spike. (Her name, until we pick a real one.)

    1. Atle says:

      I was about to give you the answers, but I hate cheese cake. :D

    2. burningdragoon says:

      No, I think you should name your daughter Spike. That’s awesome.

    3. Paul Spooner says:

      Well, I do have an answer, but it’s a hard one and goes pretty deep. Basically, the difficulties you are struggling with are a result of a false philosophy. The core idea is “Through education, socialization, and knowledge, anyone can be made into a good person.” If we assume free will (and if not, then why are we talking at all?) then this is demonstrably false. If people can choose, then some will choose evil, because that is what they want.
      Neither parents training, nor government sponsorship, nor rewards, nor threats can change a person’s heart. The way to a changed heart comes through Jesus Christ. Shamus alluded to it, and I believe this is the (fairly unsatisfying) “way to fix that”. You can’t fix it, only God is able.
      We can talk all day about the details. Is it better to live among bad people to help them, or to live among good people to become like them? How much effort should we spend trying to improve bad people? How much can education change a person’s mindset? When is it useful? All excellent questions. But, if you are seeking salvation from government or society, you will remain unfulfilled.
      If anyone knows another way to change a person’s heart and motivations, their pleasures and intentions, I would love to hear it.

      P.S. My wife makes a mean cheese cake. Give it to one less fortunate than I.

      1. Cerapa says:


        Is Jesus a mind controller?

      2. krellen says:

        You are saying that the only way to change from bad to good is through Christianity. This carries an implication that the only way to be good at all is through Christianity. Both statements are demonstrably false.

        And also something Shamus never said, so you probably shouldn’t try to use him to support your argument.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Yes, that is what I am saying, with one niggling caveat: substitute “Jesus Christ” for “Christianity”. I know it’s petty, but the organized religion and the person have always been distinct entities. Shamus has alluded that he is a Christian of sorts. The central concept is, “We all bad. God is good. Jesus Christ! QED.” But I don’t claim to speak for anyone here.

          I don’t want to start a flame war or “religious discussion” (so just nuke this whole thread if it’s out of line Shamus) but… here goes!

          I trust you with this krellen. Would you please summarize the demonstration?

          1. krellen says:

            Barry White; his life was changed by music, not Jesus.

          2. Bubble181 says:

            Moses was a good person. Mozes was not Christian.
            QED: it is possible to be a good person and not Christian.

            I’m at work and tired (it being 11:30 pm here), so I can’t think of an example right away, but for the second: anyone in the Old Testament who changes from bad to good, must have done so without Christianity.

            “Logic” aside, if you aren’t open to the idea that it is possible to be a good person through any other moral or ethical dogma than your own, your worldview is either incredibly narrow, or incredibly biased.
            Consider that, by what krellen said and you acknowledged as your point of view, it is literally impossible for anyone to be a good person other than a Christian. This in direct contradiction to what Jesus and, more explicitly, the Apostle Paul said.

          3. Kaeltik says:

            Counter example?


            I live by a moral code, do good works, and love unconditionally. This was not always true, but is now and has been for quite some time. I was changed by three things: love, life experience, and education.

            I am not Christian.

            Tell me I’m wrong.

            Your comment offends me, but it is your right to say it, even on my favorite blog. If Shamus decides that this reply is itself inflammatory I will withdraw it.

            1. Shamus says:

              Thanks for the temperate response. I know this stuff really sets people off, and I’m always gratified when people respond calmly.

          4. Cado says:

            I want to add to this: who decides what’s “good” and what’s “bad”? Even things like unconditional love aren’t agreed upon because the term is just vague enough that it can change definitions depending on the context. It’s abundantly clear what it is, or what it’s supposed to be, but the ways it can be expressed will always be under debate.

            From a purely pragmatic standpoint there are plenty of reasons not to steal and kill, the most blatant one being “I don’t want to live in a society where that’s acceptable because then it’s more likely it would happen to me.”

            Myself, I don’t believe in objective morals or some kind of higher order, and I don’t believe peace and love are “good” just because they’re the human ideals we praise in our time. I do, however, think that war is a stupid waste of our resources, I like walking down the street without fear of being murdered and I suspect there’s something seriously wrong with people who feel otherwise, and stealing on a large scale would render society untenable so it’s probably a good idea that we enforce our economic systems.

            In short: if someone isn’t stabbing you or taking your stuff, what does it matter to you whether they’re “good”?

  40. Jericho says:

    I was home-schooled, and while I respect your opinion on it, I disagree, especially on socialization. My social development was nearly crippled, and it took me years to learn how to behave in social situations acceptably, well into high-school.

    Maybe I’m the flip-side of you, I might have been ill-suited for homeschooling and public school might have been a better choice for me.

    Granted, I learned a lot more then I probably would have in public school, but I’m not entirely sure it was worth it.

    Anyways, just my 2 cents. Great series, thanks for the read.

    1. Aadel says:

      Jericho- do you think it was homeschool that crippled you socially? Or just that you were different from the “crowd”, or your family was weird? There are socially crippled people in public school. Often when I see grown homeschoolers blaming homeschooling for their socialization issues they had I have to think back when I was in school. I was weird. I didn’t fit in and kids tormented me endlessly. To this day I am an introvert that has to try hard to get along in social situations. I mean no disrespect to you I just think that homeschooling doesn’t always deserve the blame for lack of social skills. What could school have done to improve them?

      1. Destrustor says:

        Yep. If you roll an 8 on your charisma score during character creation,even public school can’t turn it into a 18. Likewise, homeschooling can’t actually turn your 16 into a 10.
        Your actual personality doesn’t depend entirely and exclusively on the school you went to.

        [sorry for the D&D analogy, I just figured it demonstrated Aadel’s point accurately]

        1. Mari says:

          I like you a whole lot at this moment in time :-)

  41. Graham says:

    Very interesting post. I can only find one statement that I take issue with. (There are others that I’m not sure about, but I don’t have the experience with the American school system to know for sure.)

    But I disagree when you say “schoolwork isn’t learning”.

    Now, I understand fully that schoolwork wasn’t learning for you, and you got what you needed through listening. I never had that ability, however.

    Listening to a lecture in class would make me kind-of-aware of what was being taught. But I learn by doing stuff. It wasn’t until I did a worksheet, or example problems, or something else (preferably something more interesting, but it wasn’t completely necessary) that the concept really stuck.

    Would I have learned better if homeschooled? Who knows. All I know is that without schoolwork to reinforce what I was learning, I wouldn’t have learned enough to become a civil engineer, as I am.

    So yes, schoolwork (not testing, but assignments) is indeed learning. But it is only one type of learning, and it obviously won’t work for everyone. Just as lectures won’t work for everyone, reading textbooks won’t work for everyone, etc.

    1. decius says:

      Shamus learned states and capitals by the worksheet method. I can’t think of a more efficient method to learn them.

      But a worksheet full of “Calculate x for a=x+b” (Or the equivalent) doesn’t teach a thing to anybody. The people who don’t know how to do it don’t learn, and the people who do know how don’t learn anything new.

      Problem solving (NOT “Calculate x for a=x+b after determining a and b from the paragraph”) has some advantages in math, but a key feature is that they have to be unique. Things like “Sum all the integers between 1 and 100 inclusive” are problems once, until everyone knows how to get 5050 quickly; then “Sum all the integers between a and b inclusive” becomes a rote exercise.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        The problem is, how do you determine the difference between a “problem” and an “exercise”? It’s extremely difficult to have different assignments for different levels in a single class, so you HAVE to go to the average. Personally, I would say that for an average person the easy ones should approach (APPROACH) exercise, while the harder ones should be problems, hopefully with some they can’t figure out. At least that’s what I’m used to, and it makes sense.

      2. Gravebound says:

        I can't think of a more efficient method to learn them.

        Here’s how I learned them, no worksheets involved:
        Wakko’s America

      3. Bubble181 says:

        ” a worksheet full of “Calculate x for a=x+b” (Or the equivalent) doesn't teach a thing to anybody” has been proven false a hundred times over.
        There may be *better* methods to learn, there may be more efficient, faster, interesting, motivating,… ways for people to learn something, but it still works for most people.
        To YOU this may not seem ideal; it’s still one of the most efficient methods of teaching that we have; with “efficiency” determined as the amount of paid hours needed to teach a specific skill to a group of people. Obviously you’d rather things were taught without regards to the money it costs, but we’re not there yet by a long stretch.

        Repetition of a task helps form specific problem-solving pathways in our brain. By repetition – and ONLY by repetition – of identical or similar tasks can our brain learn how to tackle certain problems. Yes, that can lead you astray when presented with similar-seeming problems with a different type of solution – but in most cases it’ll be useful.

        1. Kaeltik says:

          As much as I dislike repetition, this is a proven neurological effect, essentially the knowledge counterpart to “muscle memory”. It may be the primary means by which I learn, though the repetition is usually embedded in some larger project. Perhaps therein lies a better alternative.

      4. Graham says:

        Honestly, I have the most difficulty with History/Geography, whether in worksheets or lectures, because it’s rote memorization. Math, as well, can be difficult in that format, I agree. (It still helped me in Math, however.)

        But it’s the sciences and applied sciences (Physics, Chemistry, etc) that worked best for me. You hear and read the basic concepts, but it’s while applying them to actual problems and exercises that I learned them well.

        As you’ve shown by your comment, this sort of method obviously doesn’t work for everybody. But like I said before, it’s still learning. It’s just a different type of learning.

  42. Blake says:

    This is pretty deep and buried pretty far, but I do actually have another question I wished I’d seen in bold type:

    Shamus, you’re 40 years old and talking about one education system, which at best was state-wide. How do you know any of this still applies?

    At my public high school I learned a ton, and I was well-ahead of the curve. Teachers let me change assignments around to be more interesting, frequently blow off ones they knew I could already handle and gave us interesting and widespread discussion topics. A history class could easily launch into a political discussion and our world religions class sprouted into serious philosophical discussion that name-dropped Descartes and Plato and the like. I did musical theater, extra-curricular reading programs and played tabletop roleplaying games and was one of the most popular kids in school. Never suffered for dates, or parties or anything like that. Ask anyone, and I was a “nerd”, but that just wasn’t a big deal. Nobody wanted to be the stereotypical bully from some after school special, and when it came to making fun of people, you stuck to your friends so they knew it was cool. It was one of the best times of my life and five years on, I still can’t believe how good I had it.

    The fact is, you’re complaining about a system being outdated and useless, and it already changed in the 20 years or so you were away. Kids are smarter (although arguably, they find new ways to be stupid), teachers are more reasonable, and the system is better funded. Granted, I’m Canadian and don’t want to make generalizations, but it just doesn’t seem like I ran into any of the problems you did, until you got out of school which is when I really started to empathize with you.

    1. Cerapa says:

      I live in Estonia and am going to school right now.

      Only thing I can say is, nope, absolutely none of that holds true for my school. School still shit, people still assholes.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      Much of this I agree with. “Nerd” is no longer an insult, at least among the more intelligent, popular crowd. (The way AP programs are set up, my community is essentially 300 or so smart kids in a class of 1000, with occasional appearances by others).

      Political discussion was often skirted around (we never talked about abortion in my english class because it was too controversial. This was a class where we talked about the mosque being built near the 9/11 ground zero. And my US History teacher never told us her party affiliation.), but we’ve attacked it several times in my AP Government class.

      It’s actually pretty amazing how varied the students are, to be honest. I’m going to take a guess and say it just depends. I’m sure there are schools where it is still much like Shamus describes, and then there are schools like ours.

    3. MerryVulture says:

      I went to school roughly (2 years older) the same time as Shamus, only a bit west (Utah). My high school experience was much like yours. But.* My brother a year behind and a friend a year ahead had much the stereotypical bad high school experience, as did my wife and ex-wife. I don’t think it has changed much, save the people going and running the asylum.

      *I know it is not proper grammer. I intentionally did to emphasize my point(lessness). Spelling on the other hand is completely my failure.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        You didn’t actually spell anything wrong. Other than grammAr.

  43. Ross says:

    I was educated in a public school.
    My grandmother was a public school teacher for 16 years.
    My mother was a public school teacher for 30+ years.
    My mother taught at the high school I attended, and I was her student in 5 different classes.

    There is no single system that can work for every child. It’s simply not possible. Try to make a single educational system for every child to go through is foolish and shortsighted.

    People decry (or at the very least express concern about) homeschooling due to a lack of standards, particularly national standards. The national standards for public education are absurdly low (may as well not exist), and the standards that actually matter are at the state level (highly variable from state to state and ranging from demanding to absurdly low). This is no different with homeschooling. Illinois has standards for homeschooled children. They have to meet the same amount of math/English/science/history/etc as everyone in public school. The difference is how it’s taught and learned. Yes, tests still have to be done for proof for the state, but how you get to that point is not dictated by a school board and the needs of the many outweighing the few. Is Illinois’ standards for homeschooling the perfect solution for kids? Of course not, but no system is perfect.

    Personally, even with my family history, I was so bad with the arbitrary rewards system that I even turned down money for good grades from my grandmother once.

    1. psivamp says:

      State standards for curricula and performance can also be arbitrary. In Maine, for instance, the private school I attended had to add a state history class in order to apply for accreditation.

      1. susie day says:

        in colorado, everyone was required to take state history in 4th grade, and then constitutional studies in some later grade. I think it’s good to learn about the place you live, and I can still spout off some of the interesting facts I learned in that class.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          I’m sure that every state has something interesting about it, but it’s hard to devote an entire year (or even a semester) to a state, especially a newer one. Oklahoma is basically “trail of tears, land run, plus oil and natural gas.” (Note: OK is the 47th state, second last in the continental U.S., being founded in 1907. There’s just not that much.)

          1. krellen says:

            OK was the 46th. New Mexico and Arizona were the 47th and 48th, respectively.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Raar. I was close. Point is still valid.

              Still feel bad, though. I should know that. Probably just got it stuck in my head that it was 47th. Maybe I’ll remember now. Wait, I got the second last in continental U.S. right, so I just got the number wrong. Then my math is just off. Now I’m confused :/

              1. krellen says:

                No, you didn’t get second last in the continental right. New Mexico was the second last in the continental. NM and AZ were not admitted on the same day, like the Dakotas; there was a month between admissions.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  … I need to pay attention. 3rd last… I was wrong. Okay. Admit it, move on…

                  3rd last and 46th. Remember, self.

  44. Vextra says:

    Although I have nothing to offer on the subject of Homeschooling or Education, I can say that my biggest concern about Home Schooling my children would be wether they’d be able to get jobs. I have been fortunate in going to University(here in the UK) and as a result I have a lifetime debt of £25,000 plus interest to the Government. I am currently unemployed, despite my considerable qualifications. However, despite the fact that for all intents and purposes it is my actual skills and experience they intend to hire me on, a depressingly large number of companies here have taken to automating their hiring processes via their websites.

    It is impossible for me to communicate as a Human being with these companies. I cannot give them an impression of my real abilities and capacity for the job. Instead, I have to select qualifications, tick boxes and fill in 250 character boxes to describe prior work experience. At my previous Job, I had to try and actually modify one of these labyrinthine databases to allow for internal position filling. The idea was that people best suited for the job would automatically be assigned to it. The problem was that the nature of the software we used was strictly quantitative. If I assigned Qualification B to Position 1, then only people with Qualification B would considered. If i select Qualifications A-Z, then only people with ALL of those qualifications would be considered.

    Long story short, I imagine that this worrying trend towards automation is actually moving companies further towards relying on qualification asessments. And the only way to get these Qualifications is to fork out money at a local or not-so-local College or Adult Learning Centre, and do busy work for six-twelve weeks to get a certificate.

    In contrast, I sent my CV via email to a small local business. They had me in for an interview within 2 weeks. They were able to asess me on how I presented myself and how I responded to general questions. I didn’t get the job, but in the process I learnt that I didn’t really want the job anyway. So, in conclusion, my point is, if you want your kids to go to University or work for something like IBM or Halliburton, you’ll have to put them through public education. Take them outside the system, and they can apply more readily to small companies.

    Wait, thats not a bad thing….

    1. Mari says:

      I offer the following rebuttal: I don’t WANT to work for a company that can’t be fussed to use a real person to rummage through the CVs. There will always be places of employment that do things the easy way. These places will always skew towards the public school graduates. There will also always be places of employment that are run by real people who are interested in hiring other real people. These places will still be accepting and looking through CVs the old-fashioned way. I’d much rather work for the latter because it would be a work environment in which I could thrive and we could form a relationship of mutual benefit (I do good work for you which directly or indirectly increases your profits which you will use to pay me a wage that keeps me eating to continue to do good work for you). Companies with an automated CV-scanning process obviously don’t value me as a person from the outset. I am an algorithm to them and will continue to be one as long as I work for them. When the algorithm that is me ceases to fit into the algorithm that is the company they will cease to pay me without ever once knowing who I am, what work I’m doing for them, or anything else. I don’t care to work there so I’m not particularly put off by the fact that their employment screening process makes it impossible for them to sell them on ME.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        I can’t imagine a company not even conducting a cursory interview, except in a minimum-wage, entry level position like Shamus’ initial fast food job, and maybe not then.

        1. Kaeltik says:

          My department had a speaker come in September to talk about hiring in biomedical science industries. His firm specializes in – and I couldn’t make this up – outsourced human resources. In other words, they make all of the preliminary hiring decisions for other companies on a contract basis.

          He said that all application submissions are automated and only those that meet set criteria in their parsing algorithms and are identified as the best 5% for a given position are ever seen by an actual human. Even then, he instructed us on the use of keywords and advised against the use of non-prescribed synonyms lest prose ourselves out of job opportunities.

          1. Mari says:

            Thus making my point for me. I don’t believe I care to work for a company that uses that firm for hiring. Luckily I’m not in biomedical sciences so no worries, eh?

            But yeah, I’ve seen some of the ugly side of non-human resources by watching the hubs in the workforce before he quit playing with computer chips to go play in the dirt. Honestly I don’t envy any of you in the job market to work for others.

            1. Kaeltik says:

              “Non-human resources” = an annoyed minotaur behind a desk with a towering stack of memos and a cold cup of coffee.

              As to the job market thing, that talk was just one more thing that convinced me to never work in the biomedical industry. I’ve too much of a basic science bent and a problem with authority anyway. So it’s academia for me.

  45. Vorp says:

    Great series, It has really reinforced for me the idea that educational systems need to cater to each child individually.

    I have had the fortune of skipping most of normal schooling. I dropped out after fourth grade and went to university, graduated at 18 with a Computer Science degree, and I am currently finishing my Game Development qualifications.

    This would not have been possible if my mother hadn’t recognized that I was incredibly bored with school, and there is very little that I would have learned in school that I haven’t taught myself.

  46. Uscias says:

    Though i largely agree with all that was written, my education helped me with discovering my interests. Having focused solely on science in high school i learned about my strengths, weaknesses and my passions. And while it was a miserable experience being the “weird kid” and one of a few people actually being bullied in school (small school). The education itself helped me decide what college degree to pursue and that resulted in meeting like-minded people and having the time of my life.

  47. HeadHunter says:

    Babies learn to walk between 9 and 18 months. That's a really large window. Imagine if we sent babies to school to teach them to walk. Imagine the hassle of of trying to make kids learn to walk before they were ready, and the hand-wringing over all of the “under-performing” babies. Just picture how wasteful this would be, since by two years you can't tell the difference between the early walkers and the late walkers. This is public education.

    We cannot forget the other ramifications. Babies that learned to walk early and on their own would still be required to go through all the “walking lessons”, and even babies who have already learned to walk would be required to take frequent “walking tests” to demonstrate that they still know how to walk. Walking babies would be required to “show their work” in order to demonstrate that they understand the concepts of balance, center of gravity, and momentum – and babies that could not show the math would fail, despite their demonstrated proficiency.

    But yes – you’ve hit the nail on the head with this analogy!

  48. Matt Freeman says:

    Thank you for your story. I enjoyed reading it, and although I’d like to get involved in what is no doubt a very interesting debate on education, I’m going to keep my blood pressure low by not reading it.

  49. Ruthie says:

    Your children spent the day with me awhile back. You live in a rural/suburban neighborhood. I live in a diverse, and sometimes rough urban neighborhood. I took them to the park down the street from my apartment, and watched your children interact with ease [on their part]with the other children there. Your son approached two boys, one much older, one younger, and boasted about his knack for swinging very high. The boys looked and acted very differently than your son. I know most children would have been hesitant to approach them, but your son only saw potential friends. Your daughters did the same. When we left, they all ran to say goodbye to their “friends”.
    I found this remarkable and wonderful. They were not intimidated by the new surroundings, or different kids. They were very socially graceful. I was proud to be their aunt.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Bingo! People worry all the time about how non-standard methods of child-rearing perform. “How will they do on tests?” and “How will they become socialized?” To which we need only respond, “Look and see!”

      1. Aldowyn says:

        XD “Who cares HOW they did it? They ARE!”

  50. SteveDJ says:

    I may have missed/forgotten something from all the posts, but I take it that this whole discussion on schools is targetting the grade-school system (up through high school).

    Clearly college education is different because it has only [mostly] students that want to be there, and are willing to pay for the privilege (or are smart enough for scholarships).

    For grade-school, I am mostly in favor of the homeschool concept. But I do have a question. How do you take the homeschooled knowledge, and get into college? Particularly some of the big-named universities?

    1. Um, you do know that Shamus never went to college right? I did and barely use what I learned other than as an “expert” because people are all about that.

      And colleges adore homeschoolers, especially self-directed ones. You create a transcript and send it in and take whatever tests necessary for that school. All of the homeschooled kids I know who chose to go to college are doing excellently, enjoy their classes, and are there because they want to be unlike most of the public schooled kids. Professors enjoy having homeschooled kids in their classes (especially unschooled kids) because they actively enjoy learning and are interested. (I am friends with many college professors and it is an ongoing conversation about how horrible it is to have public schooled kids in class.)

      1. asterismW says:

        “You do know that Shamus never went to college right? I did and barely use what I learned other than as an “expert” because people are all about that.”

        Whereas I discovered what I wanted to do with the rest of my life because I went to college. All growing up I never had the slightest interest in computers. Then my parents got me one for high school graduation because I’d need it in college, and I thought, “Hey, this is kind of neat. I’d like to learn how to take care of this.” And then one year one of my roommates was taking a C++ course that looked really interesting, so I took it the next semester. And here I am six years later working as a sys admin at an aerospace company.

        I’m not trying to argue against your point (and I know you weren’t saying college is useless for everyone), just presenting a different experience.

        1. Mari says:

          But it wasn’t college that sparked the interest in you. It was getting the computer, which occurred prior to you leaving for college. If you’d gotten that computer eight years earlier what would have happened? If you hadn’t gotten the computer at all, would your college career still have been the same?

          1. asterismW says:

            I think even if I had gotten my own computer 8 years earlier, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it the same way; I just wasn’t ready for that. Had I not gotten the computer at all, college would have been much different. Far more annoying, in fact. I can’t imagine I would have enjoyed school as much if I had to traipse over to the college and wait for one of the crappy lab computers to open up every time I needed to do my homework.

            So yes, while it was getting my own computer at the right time that sparked my interest, it was still college that fanned the flame. I never would have learned to program on my own; I needed the structure of a classroom setting. And while I’m not cut out to be a programmer, those skills deepened my understanding of computers and how they work, and have made me a better geek.

    2. Rob M says:

      I was home-schooled all the way up to college, and ended up getting a scholarship at CUA’s graduate philosophy program. The place I did my undergrad had an admission guy specifically dedicated to homeschoolers, as will any college worth its diplomas. Homeschooling in no way disqualifies you from a university education.

      1. Rick says:

        I was wondering about this… Very glad to hear it.

    3. Paul Spooner says:

      One standard and well-respected method is to attend a “junior college” or equivalent part time during highschool, to build authenticated credibility. I got into a good school with no problems that way.
      That said, College was a colossal waste of time and money (for me anyhow) and you should avoid it if at all possible.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        … You say it’s a waste specifically for you, and then say YOU should avoid it. College, just like school before it, is good for some people and not good for others.

      2. Kaeltik says:

        College isn’t for everyone. It’s like fried calamari that way. I recommend that folks try both to see if they like it, unless they’ve already found their perfect fit. (Like Shamus with code, my buddy Scotty with the Marines, or my three-year-old with tomatoes.)

        College introduced me to cultural differences that I never would have encountered in my very homogeneous home town. Liberal arts requirements also introduced many subjects I’d otherwise have avoided but now enjoy: anthropology, philosophy, East Asian art, theater, biblical literature, etc.

        Besides which, there’s really no other place to learn at least the laboratory portions of my upper level chemistry and molecular biology courses (though the latter is changing somewhat if you can find a used thermocycler on Ebay and don’t mind smelly microbes at home).

  51. Michelle says:

    Seriously? I am just NOW coming upon this site?? OH my heart is broken.

    This is the most amazing piece! It says everything I’ve been trying for years to convey. It’s amazing..and I’m sharing it with everyone.

  52. Michael says:

    My wife and her siblings were home schooled until highschool. They are all now: a nurse, a lawyer, a teacher, and a banker.

    Interestingly enough, the teacher stopped teaching so that she could home school her own kids. They all entered into a private school around 4 or 5th grades due to not learning very well at all. The 8 year old couldn’t read or write much beyond her name. Whether home schooling works has just as much to do with the parent(s) teaching as it does the kids learning.

  53. James Pony says:

    I read a news article yesterday about how some people – that is, ministers, officials and such, not “some regular citizens” – want to add hours into the school day here in Finland.

    Fun fact: Finland has been on the very top of the PISA ranking in several years.

    These people want to make school days longer because… because what? Because other countries have longer school days? Seriously, that’s all there is in the news article. Finland has the “3rd shortest school days in OECD countries,” we are so helpfully reminded in the article, by a quote from the secretary general of the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare.
    That and “short days causing problems for families” are the only “arguments” for it in the article.

    Basically, Finland looked at things and said “our education has a very good reputation, how do we punish children for it?”


    1. Tizzy says:

      When I was a kid, I had long school days simply because it was a more convenient way to work with parents’ schedules. It does not strike me as a very good reason.

    2. Mari says:

      LOL I had pretty much this argument with my sister (a US public school principal) a week or so ago. She’s in favor of even longer school days here in the US because our kids aren’t “up to snuff” on the PISA rankings. My point was “Look at who IS on top and emulate them. Finland has shorter school days, starts mandatory education later, and ends it earlier. So if we want their ranking, why would we do the opposite??”

    3. Sumanai says:

      Two ways of looking at this:

      First, Finnish officials, ministers etc. including quite a few “commoners” view the popular culture impression of USA as something to strife for. Pop culture says education USA has bad education, so Finland needs to have one too. (Of course, they most likely looked at the longer days and decided it must be good because it’s USA doing it.)

      Second way of looking at this is that in Finland the people deciding about education are bloody idiots. They’ve been actively trying to make it worse on all levels for well over ten years by aping what other countries are doing. And because they are bloody idiots they’re aping the wrong stuff.

      1. Mari says:

        Normally I’m not big on correcting people’s grammar and syntax on the web but I’m just going to get this one out there because it has the potential to get you into trouble. “Something to striFe for” would mean “something for which to go to war.” I think the word you’re looking for there is “striVe” which means “set as a goal and work to attain.”

        Other than that, good points. If the first scenario is the case I sincerely hope someone shakes some sense into those people because the US educational system is not something to strive for.

        1. Sumanai says:

          Thank you. I was wondering about that one when making the post, but it seemed close enough according to the dictionary. Really should’ve checked both spellings.

  54. COD says:

    How do you take the homeschooled knowledge, and get into college?

    My 17 year old son, who has never been to school. already has one $80,000 scholarship in the bag, (with an invite to interview for the full ride) and he is being aggressively recruited by a lot of schools, many that you have heard of. And this is for academics, he will not be playing any varsity sports.

    The reality is that it is much easier for a homeschooler to stand out from the crowd. In fact, I’ve been a little surprised at how little of an issue this has been with college applications. Pretty much every college now has a process for dealing with homeschoolers, and most of them seem to want homeschoolers.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Excellent! However, perhaps consider skipping college entirely and going straight into the workforce. If a university is trying to give away the “education” in order to secure a clearly well performing student, what exactly will they be able to teach him? Once he gets about ten years of experience (the length of a doctorate program) his diploma may not be worth the paper, let alone the wasted years.

      1. Simulated Knave says:

        …Or maybe they think being able to say “X went here”, having him think fondly of the school, or simply having him as a student will bring in more money in the long run than his education will cost.

        I’m *really* curious how many long-term jobs you think there are out there for kids with just a high-school degree.

        1. Mari says:

          I summit, in response to your question, the following link to a list of 100 entrepreneurs who hit it BIG without a college degree. It includes some interesting names from Benjamin Franklin to the guy who started Tumblr.

          1. Zombie says:

            I hit my face on my keyboard when it put Christopher Columbus on the list. Of course he was mostly home schooled! They didnt have public schools, and they didnt have schools at all if you were a commoner. Also, there werent very many schools in America in Jacksons days on the fronteir. The fact that he became a lawyer is amazing.

          2. Simulated Knave says:

            I would point out that I said jobs, not entrepreneurial opportunities. The idea that people will be jumping up and down to hire the kid because a college wants to let him go there for free seems very debatable.

            Also, a hell of a lot of people on that list made it on that list before modern restrictions, or back when having a college degree was a 1% thing, not a 10%, 20%, or 30% thing.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      … 80,0000? That’s way, WAY more than enough for my state universities for 4 years, and a HUGE (more than half) chunk of an ivy league school.

  55. *applause*, shame you didn’t run for president! *laughs*

    I wish I had homeschooling, your kids are lucky Shamus, you are a level headed and logical thinking parent, I assume your wife is similar.
    By the sound of it your kids are very objective in their view of the world, which in my opinion is ideal.

    Am I correct in assuming the following Shamus:
    That rather than encouraging your kids to only one specific way to solve a problem, you instead encourage them to come up with a valid method of solving the problem?

    This is something that most school programs fails to do.

    Note! For those no clue what I’m talking about. Teaching someone a specific way to solve something only makes them good at solving it in that way or under the same conditions.
    Teaching someone to think of a method to solve something teaches them to become more adaptive in problem solving, and more capable of dealing with unknowns.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      oh yes. I have no idea how many times I’ve been trying to help my sister through a problem and she says “but that’s not the way the teacher said to do it!”

      To be fair, though, sometimes you have to do things the hard way or the long way for later use. To be unfair, though, that means you picked a bad problem. If a method is useful, then assign problems where it is the most useful.

  56. Joey Palzewicz says:

    Mr. Young, there’s already lots of people that have thrown their two cents into this discussion on education, and since I was a bit unconventional in my schooling (twelve years at private schools, currently attending an engineering college), I don’t really think I have a say.

    So I’ll just say this:

    Thank you so much for this Autoblography series. Seriously, I think this is one of the best things you’ve done on this site.

    The way you’ve written it leaves us in awe and in wonder about what will happen next, even though we knew that everything turned out alright for you in the end. Your writing style is clever and funny when it needs to be, serious and somber when it has to be. Never once did it feel boring, and at the end of every part I was left wanting more. Everything just flowed naturally.

    My favorite bits would have to be the day you finally got out of the Dark Years, and when you met the future Mrs. Young. Beyond that, your recollection of the events was astounding, and did a great job of placing the reader in your mindset. When you were stressing yourself out at the college you went to, the writing style made it seem even more stressful. When your life turned around after the Dark Years, your writing style reflected the pure euphoria you felt. When you were dating Mrs. Young, the Adorkable-ness on your part and the unconditional love on her part made it really heartwarming.

    In short: Thank you, Mr. Young. This was a great read.

    Now, let’s just hope your novel is as good as this. :)

  57. Mark says:

    I was lucky enough to have attended a succession of public schools where the teachers were knowledgeable in the fields they taught and given enough leeway by the administration to engage their intelligent students. Or, I should say, I was lucky enough to have had parents who went out of their way to find and then send me to such public schools. (The faculty might have thought them just another pair of pushy busybodies, but I suppose I managed to vindicate them.) The sheer economics of the situation mean that few schools can attain this distinction, but they are out there. A hint might be a high concentration of AP classes.

    No nontrivial education can succeed without the involvement of somebody who understands the student, and nobody understands the student better than the parents. Whether it’s by escaping the system or simply making it work to your advantage, education – and, by extension, parenting in general – produces the best results by the application of proactive involvement. I’m half your age and I can say such things, but I can hear you thinking, “Yes, well, wait until you actually have to do it, sonny!”

    It was a great read.

  58. Jamfalcon says:

    As someone who has been homeschooled for my entire life (save for a couple of months of preschool) it’s really nice to read something from someone that I admire so much that addresses the complaints I’ve constantly heard about my education. The biggest being the one about a lack of socialization. I think when most people hear homeschooling they assume that means sitting at a desk and working all day, just at your own home rather than at a school, when in most cases that is wholly incorrect. Granted, I do some of that now as a necessity for my diploma, but most of my life I never had to sit down and work more than an hour a day at the most. My city had quite a large homeschooling community, organized groups such as one where people could (but didn’t have to if they were shy like me) give a little presentation about something tangentially related to a theme like history, survival, engineering, or even toys. Every month we’d host it at someone different’s house, and we’d all get together and play for a while, then go listen to all the presentations, then go play some more. These were big groups with quite varied ages as well, probably upwards of twenty people sometimes, ranging from infants to about sixteen, not counting parents. We also did all kinds of tours, classes, and sports days. I also had quite a decent amount of friends over the years. Maybe not as many as if I were in school, but if I had been more outgoing there were certainly enough that I could have had more (especially considering that some homeschooling families have absolutely ridiculous amounts of children.) Basically, my point is that anyone who says homeschoolers don’t have any oppertunity to socialize are making what I understand to be an almost universally incorrect generalization.
    While doing all those activities, I also did do some more traditional (and nontraditional) learning at home. My elder brother went to preschool for a year, but my parents felt he wasn’t ready for kindergarden yet after that and decided to homeschool us. I’ve tried all different styles of homeschooling; when I was quite young it was mostly a focus on reading, basic math, and history (which both my brother and I were interested in.) Then we got more into working with textboooks my Mom bought with her still teaching us the material before we did the work. Then we did a couple of years of unschooling, which at the time felt like getting a few years off from learning, but when looking back I realize it was incredibly educational.
    Once we hit highschool we went back to something a bit more structured, using math and writing programs that instructed with DVDs and textbooks. The writing one didn’t work for us, so we stopped after a couple of weeks, but the math one is great and very effective. In the last few years I’ve been taking “regular” courses online, because it is unfortunately very tough to get a job without a highschool diploma. I eased into it at first, just taking one fun computer elective over the course of a year in addition to continuing with the math. The next year I took another computer course that looked good and a social studies. After that I took a much heavier five course load with some more intense subjects like accounting and English. This year I’m just taking the final English course because of weird regulations involving adult diplomas, so I’ve taken up working on a novel which is something that I’ve always wanted to do, but previous attempts haven’t gone beyond a few pages. Forty three pages in after a couple of months and with a good outline laid out, I’m feeling pretty confident this time. :)
    Woo, while not nearly as lengthy (or interesting) as Shamus’s, that may be a bit more of my life story than anyone cares about. Maybe its time for me to start a blog.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      can’t you get a GED by taking a few standardized tests or something like that? It’s essentially equivalent, and I thought that’s what most homeschoolers do. Or maybe I’m completely wrong :/

      1. Jamfalcon says:

        Could be where you are, but since I’m in Canada the rules are a bit different =/. I believe it’s possible to “challenge” a course and write a test to prove that you have the knowledge for something such as math, but it’s not a method I’ve ever really looked into or heard of anyone else doing. The “weird regulation” I mentioned is not so much logically problematic as it is a personal annoyance. The rules used to be that to graduate you needed English 12, Math 11, Social Studies 10 or 11, a grade 11 science and X amount of grade electives. So when I was grade 10 equivalent I took the Socials 10 course and planned to take all of the 11 and 12 courses in the appropriate years, using the Social Studies as an introduction to doing a more academic course. Unfortunately, our premier (the person in charge of the province) made some incredibly unpopular political decisions that culminating with his resignation, and his replacement decided to change the graduation requirements to include grade 10. So when I was looking at my options this year, it was either a whole ton of courses over the next year (about 14 I think?) or just go for an adult diploma, which only requires English 12, Math 11, and three grade twelve electives, the catch being that I can’t graduate until I’m 19, which having a late September birthday complicates. So it’s all kind of weird, but since I have no idea what I want to do once I graduate at least it gives me an extra year to think on it. :)

  59. Karrius says:

    Another voice to say getting into college from being homeschooled wasn’t hard – I was homeschooled from 6th grade to highschool, and managed to get into a great local college and get a degree no problem.

    Unfortunately, I have problems suggesting homeschooling as heavily as Shamus does. While it’s not reflective on all homeschoolers (obviously, as I am one myself), some of the most intolerable, intolerant, ignorant people I’ve met have been homeschooled or homeschoolers. I think part of the problem is that it’s actually a hard task for the parents; it’s easy to say that intelligent parents should be allowed to homeschool, but I feel like there still needs to be some sort of standards in place, to prevent parents from raising children with no “real” education. At least those in a bad public school can try to seek out knowledge on their own, from their favorite teacher or whatever. But someone with bad parents who is being homeschooled is basically screwed, and that’s what doesn’t sit right about me.

    1. Cado says:

      I was in that kind of situation and I found ways to get books from the library, discuss taboo (within my limited circle) topics on internet discussion forums with educated people, not to mention the whole slew of resources that were on the internet. I eventually found out I could be more open about my questions/interests without repercussion, but when I was starting out that was invaluable.

      It’s easier than ever to get your hands on knowledge these days, and kids are very clever. I’d even say homeschooling allows more opportunities for breaking from the mold because there’s no way your parents can monitor you closely 24/7, and a typical homeschooler will have a lot more free time because s/he can get through their work a lot more efficiently.

      That’s no guarantee they will. I know one family that was super strict with their kids; they weren’t allowed to play video games, and the only music they could listen to outside of hymnals was classical. Let me put it like this-I went to a conservative church that banned Christian rock and considered the King James bible the only valid english translation and these guys didn’t think it was strict enough. Their kids are still very much stuck under their thumb, both of them living at home, one of them married to an army man that now shares the basement with her. It is pretty much the worst case scenario as far as religious homeschooling goes.

      But you know what? They (the two kids) never tried to break out of that. When I started questioning my conditioning, any challenges I posed to them went right over their heads. Part of me wants to say they were afraid of disrupting the status quo, another part of me thinks they were content like that. Probably both are true to some extent. I know they did things without their parents’ knowledge that are taboo even by conventional standards, I know they had a bit more freedom than they ever fully exploited, so while I hated what their parents did to them at this point it’s on their shoulders. If they want out, they have to break out, and if they wanted out they needed to use their intelligence more fully than they did.

      And for all the bad things I can say, they’re very smart. They’re socially dull and their heads are filled with a lot of empty rhetoric designed solely to defend irrational beliefs but they have a ton of book knowledge and are very competent at anything they set out to do. They’ll do just fine economically when they’re on their own, the question is where they’ll go from there.

  60. Shamus Wrote: “I don't think there is a simple answer that will fix everything.”

    A simple answer that will fix everything? No. However, there is a simple answer that will fix everything that CAN be “fixed”–get rid of government schooling. Privatize the whole business. Completely. No vouchers. No government-assigned requirements or curricula even for private schools and homeschoolers. (I don’t know how they do it in PA, but in a lot of states, homeschooled kids still have to take standardized tests and their parents have to jump through a ton of hoops. This also needs to go.)

    How will this fix things? People will be free to seek out and find the education solutions that work for them or their children. Schools (and individuals) will be free to offer a wide variety of customized education solutions.

    So why hasn’t this been done? Because people react hysterically to the idea of just leaving other people alone to figure out what works for them and what they can afford. If we don’t FORCE people to go to school NOBODY will EVER LEARN ANYTHING OMG!!!!

    Is this true? No–and even if it were true, it would not justify taking people’s freedoms away from them. Some people eat bad food and ruin their health. This doesn’t justify putting them on a government-mandated diet and exercise program or fining them or locking them in jail if they don’t comply with it.

    That being said, I am in favor of one form of government intervention re children that does NOT take place nowadays. If you violate your children’s rights, your children get taken away. Permanently. You do not get to take your former heroin-addicted self to court six years after the police took your twelve starving kids away from you and make some claims about how you’re clean now and you WUV your kids SOOO MUUUUUCH and get them back. You do not get to fight over custody of children placed in foster care for years and turn the life of those kids into a living hell. Why? Because kids have the original rights. The rights of parents to/over those children are derivative rights legally assigned to them *because* they provide for those children. If they fail to do so, they forfeit now and *for all time* any rights regarding those children.

    That, the government can and should mandate. But not education. If your parents, for whatever reason, don’t provide you a formal education, you can, of your own initiative, supply that lack later in life. If they fill your head with nonsense about mystical spirits, leylines, and sacred rituals, you can still change your mind later in life. If they beat you up or starve you or lock you in a tiny room, you may be damaged permanently. THAT makes them criminals. Not lying about their address to try and get you in a different school district. :P

    1. klasbo says:

      Or just copy what Finland does. Which is quite the opposite.

      I’ll just say straight up that your idea is terrible:
      Look at catholic schools in the UK.
      Look at what happens to teachers that aren’t unionised.
      Look what happens to kids whose parents don’t have the ridiculous amounts of money it takes to get into a would-be decent private school.

      You just need a competent government. Which means Scandinavia is a good place to be.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        The biggest reason the U.S. government is incompetent (it is, in a way. The way it was designed and the political atmosphere has issues, occasionally), is that the population is so diverse, ethnically and especially socio-economically. Some public schools are just fine, and others aren’t. What needs to be done is to figure out what makes the good ones good.

        1. Simulated Knave says:

          As I understand it, schools in rich neighbourhoods get more than those in poor ones.

          That right there would seem enough to screw up a system.

        2. klasbo says:

          The problem isn’t the diverse population, but the way governing is so decentralized. The federal government has too little power, and the states too much. There’s also too much of an “us vs them” mentality resulting from the two-party system, rather than a “good solution vs bad solutions” thinking you get with a multi-party system.

          The taxes are also too low. And capitalism is broken. Just putting that out there.

          1. Nick Pitino says:

            The federal government has too little power, and the states too much.

            Yet somehow a great many of us would argue we have exactly the opposite problem. Funny that.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Welcome to America.

              1. Zombie says:

                More like the founding, and ongoing argument, of America, from ALL the way back to what, 1776?

      2. Bill says:

        “Look at catholic schools in the UK.”

        Not just the Catholic ones of course. There are 4,456 Church of England, 1,708 Roman Catholic, 26 Methodist, 52 other Christian, 28 Jewish, 4 Muslim, 1 Sikh and 1 other(?) state funded faith schools in England.

        We also have religious education on the curriculum. My youngest went to both CofE and RC primary schools and was taught about non-Christian religions in both.

        1. klasbo says:

          It’s mostly that I wanted a specific example, and that’s what came off the top of my head. But yes, most faith schools have the problem of teaching the kids lies and fiction, and if every school were to be privatized, I can tell you what the result will be…

    2. WWWebb says:

      Because people react hysterically to the idea of just leaving other people alone to figure out what works for them and what they can afford.

      No, people react hysterically to the idea that a child’s access to education would be dependent on their parents’ economic circumstances. You are advocating an education system currently employed in rural India and sub-Saharan Africa.

      If you violate your children's rights, your children get taken away.

      … and given to whom exactly? It can’t be the government, because then the government would be responsible for educating those kids.

      If they fill your head with nonsense about mystical spirits, leylines, and sacred rituals, you can still change your mind later in life.

      You have a very optimistic opinion of both the malleability of the adult mind and of the ability of children to ignore emotional (non-physical) trauma.

      1. Katesickle says:

        “No, people react hysterically to the idea that a child's access to education would be dependent on their parents' economic circumstances.”

        Isn’t this already the case, though? You have to send your kids to the school in your district, which is funded by the taxes from your district. Poor family = poor neighborhood = poor school, while rich family = rich neighborhood = rich school. If you want to send your kids to a better school in another district, you either have to move (which assumes you can afford to live in the better neighborhood), give custody of your children to someone else, or forge papers saying your kids live with someone else and risk getting convicted of a felony.

        1. Simulated Knave says:

          Sane countries don’t do it that way.

    3. Simulated Knave says:

      Things used to work that way. And a lot of people didn’t get educated, in part because they couldn’t afford it, and in part because many parents saw more value in putting their kid to work in the fields. Yes, this actually happened. I know people who used to get hauled out of school once their passing was inevitable so they could work in the fields.

      There are many, many bad parents who will not send their kids to school if they do not have to, and many poor people who won’t be able to send their kids to school because they won’t be able to afford it. As far as I can tell, you expect these kids to catch up in later life. In addition to being massively unfair, that’s also likely to be nigh-impossible.

      Oh, and the freedom to be forced into failure from birth is a greatly overrated one.

    4. TSED says:

      No. No, no no no, no, no no no no no no, no, no (!), no.

      “Privatize everything!” has never, ever worked. People with power (ie money) will use the resources they have available to consolidate the power towards themselves.

      Everyone else, who does not have the resources available to consolidate more power unto themselves, are left further and further behind. There’s less of the pie available to them because the big pie eaters own the bakery, get the bakers to tell them when the pies will be ready, which pies will be ready, etc. etc. By the time the average person shows up – even if they had been trying REALLY HARD to get there first – all they’re left with are crumbs in a tin.

      Education is one of the few (and I mean VERY few – less than 5, for sure) ways to break out of the cycle of fat cats eating pie. Letting the powerful work their tomfoolery on that system will result in feudalism. Powerful ruling classes and subjugated peasants with no hope EVER for upwards mobility.

      The USA is famous for already having that social rigidity crystallizing. Why would you make it worse?

  61. Paul Spooner says:

    Shamus I completely agree, but that’s not saying much; We had the same thoughts before you wrote it down. I hope what you have written is able to convince those who wish to require state-sponsored indoctrination that it is not the best course. I am glad to hear that there are others in the world who are dissatisfied with the waste (in both potential and in practice) of bulk education.

    Comments were tl;dr though I’ll probably go back over them later.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yep, went through and read a bunch. The whole “cool and don't post mad” thing kept catching me under the chin. Here’s a free sample:
      “AAAAUGHHH! You morons! What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know anything about logic? Statistics? How did you even survive long enough to learn to type? Where do I even start? What you just said is just so… what?”
      It goes on and on like that in my head.

      So, here’s to all the excellent comments and cool headed responses to what must appear to be infuriatingly stupid ideas (my own comments among them). Well done everyone!

  62. COD says:

    But someone with bad parents who is being homeschooled is basically screwed, and that's what doesn't sit right about me.

    FTFY ;)

    1. Karrius says:

      I don’t agree with that. I know plenty of people who have had bad parents of different cuts, who managed to turn out OK due to the ability to pursue things on their own, find help elsewhere, or make escapes elsewhere.

      1. Thomas says:

        Children don’t have much independent power as it is, a child with little independent power who isn’t introduced to other adults looking out for their interests and even other kids and other kids parents necessarily?

        Besides how would you judge it? The parents might just be crud at teaching people things and the kid is in no position to demand they’re schooled. The success of homeschooling involves every parent being good at evaluating their own teaching ability and has no place for kids being taught nothing because there parents have a bad idea of their own ability.

        1. Cado says:

          As I said elsewhere, your parents don’t need to be good teachers for you to learn, you just need to be dedicated and have the right resources available. If your parent isn’t getting you to a point where you’re able to grasp a topic, any parent that cares is going to hire a tutor or buy books relating to the subject. Depending on what it is, it might even be possible to try it firsthand and practice as you’re learning.

          When traditional schooling doesn’t work, the kid is basically brow-beaten until he conforms to the system. When homeschooling doesn’t work, you alter your methods until it does. A roadblock isn’t the same thing as failure, failure is giving up and/or not caring about your kid in the first place.

  63. Unbeliever says:

    You make many excellent points, Shamus (as usual).

    My concerns about homeschooling/”unschooling” are mainly cultural.

    American society is already highly anti-intellectual. And whatever the potential virtues might be (and it sounds like your children are benefitting well from this arrangement), my concern is that home-schooling is primarily of interest, not to parents who want to EXPAND their children’s education, but to parents who want to CONSTRAIN it.

    Hide from science, here, read this Bible instead.

    I think certain minimum national standards for education are a good thing. Maybe there’s no stopping parents from raising their kids as creationists, but doggone it, their kids should at least be required to have a minimum basic understanding of what evolution ACTUALLY IS before dismissing it.

    Certainly, standardized education can go too far. And it’s insane that, for example, to get a decently-paying programming job (which is something I was highly interested in from my first exposure to computers), I had to get a piece of paper from a university, which required me to pass multiple courses in Calculus and Differential Equations (which I loathed, and has zero to do with programming) first.

    But I do think we need a certain basic “competency” level of required education, with enforced standards, prior to “follow your heart, learn what interests you” — which admittedly, would have served me very well…

    1. Brian Forbes says:

      “Maybe there's no stopping parents from raising their kids as [evolutionists], but doggone it, their kids should at least be required to have a minimum basic understanding of what [creationism] ACTUALLY IS before dismissing it.”

      See, this is why I homeschool my kids. Creationism is awesome. It’s supported by geology (the layers are flat!), physics (thermodynamics!), biology (this would take a lot more explanation), and most of all, history (genealogies to Noah, nations being named for their patriarch, deification of ancestors, flood legends, etc.) and philosophy (the meaning of life, ethics, etc.). It’s illegal, according to the supreme court, who said it was religious in Edwards v. Aguillard, to discuss it in a science class. Making something religious doesn’t make it false, and yet our government categorically rejects anything religious; thereby, it rejects what is true. Homeschooling is the salvation for my kids.

      I advise that you consider just how much evidential support evolutionism has. Is is any less of an extrapolation there than you get with high caliber creation scientists? The motivation is certainly different between the two (humanism vs. Jewish history), but they’re looking at the same evidence. Perhaps you don’t know of any reputable Creation scientists. Look up Dr. David Menton, Dr. Steve Austin, or read Dr. Carl Werner’s book, “Living Fossils”. You’ll find it interesting, even if you don’t find it convincing. Do you think that these men needed more or better education?

      Read “JUSTICE SCALIA, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.” here:

      Creationists may have lost the vote in the supreme court and in the court of popular opinion, but we are certainly on the side with the evidence. To force all families in America to conform to wrong ideas is, itself, a wrong idea.

      1. Dev Null says:

        You make Unbeliever’s point for him remarkably well.

        Perhaps we should stop giving tests to the students, and simply make the _teachers_ – including homeschool parents – pass a test before they’re allowed to teach.

      2. Cerapa says:

        What I read from that is that you are a creationist because you dont understand geology, thermodynamics, history and apparently philosophy has a say in anything besides dealing with morals.

        Im interested in the biology part though, if you could be persuaded to type up your explanation.

        1. Unbeliever says:


          [Don’t get me wrong; I’m interested too. But I have *ALREADY* annoyed Shamus by trying to start a religious thread once this week. I will not do it again.]

          This is about HOMESCHOOLING, and my concern that some people use it, not to educate, but to indoctrinate. (Public school at least provides a tiny tap on the eggshell. Hey, look, there’s stuff you’re not being told about at home, if you’re interested…)

          There are plenty of opportunities to debate creationism on other sites…

          1. Shamus says:

            I’m Shamus Young, and I endorse the above message.

            (For clarity in this messy thread: I’m talking about Unbeliever.)

            1. Brian Forbes says:

              Public schools indoctrinate quite as much as homeschools do. They’re just using different materials.

              Imagine the issue was the application of survival of the fittest in human morals. Would you begrudge a concerned parent for removing their kid from a school where this idea is promoted? If atheistic evolution is as true as “unbeliever” makes it out to be, I see no reason why teaching children that the mightiest nation will rule the lesser ones is wrong philosophy. It flows. I just think that’s reprehensible. Don’t you? Or would you let the kid go to a public school to hear that every day? Would 20 minutes a night be enough to counteract it? It’s just easier to develop good habits when they’re young so that they won’t have to break bad habits when they’re adults. If they decide that modern evolutionary science is true after going through college, they can change.

              I’ve never heard of a YEC turn atheist ever regretting their past. I’ve never heard of an atheist turn YEC who didn’t.

              1. Unbeliever says:

                All right. I *WILL* respond to this. Briefly.

                1) I did not refer to “atheistic evolution”; I just said “evolution”. If you ever find a public school actually saying “evolution happened, THEREFORE THERE IS NO GOD”, please let me know. [I’ll move there.]

                2) The fact that you “see no reason” why “atheistic evolution” wouldn’t lead to ghastly, amoral philosophic teachings… says much more about you, than it does about atheism.

                Hint: Read up on Humanism. You may be surprised…

          2. Chris says:

            Where in formal education is the accepted doctrines questioned?

          3. DungeonHamster says:

            For my part, I think I’d be content if the whole random/deliberate creation debate and all such questions were moved to where it belongs, in philosophy classes, rather than the science classroom

            1. TSED says:

              And then I, as a philosophy minor, will be outraged.

              “This isn’t a question of philosophy, this is a question of theology! Move it to the theology classrooms!”

              You just can’t win, can you?

      3. Aldowyn says:

        One thing: I accept that there is evidence that a worldwide flood happened. That doesn’t really support creationism, though, because it can be explained. (like, I dunno, the end of an ice age? Civilizations started next to water)

      4. Entropy says:

        No. I won’t argue in any way about history, biology, geology, or philosophy. But that is not how Thermodynamics works. The law creationists so often invoke (The 2nd law, to be specific) applies only to closed systems. The Earth is not a closed system, as there is an external source of Energy. That is all.

      5. Cado says:

        Here’s the thing: a god isn’t required to explain any of that, and the assumption that there is a god is non-falsifiable. It’s completely unscientific. That doesn’t mean it’s false, it means that under current methodology it’s meaningless. We have a lot of “I don’t knows” and saying “God did it” isn’t an explanation, it’s a crutch which would prevent us from digging further if it were a formalized explanation.

        I have no problem with someone teaching their kids about their god and their perceptions about the meaning of life but we have to understand that this isn’t rational or scientific and a proper education in these disciplines won’t let them say it is. I think there’s a lot to be gained from spiritual inquiry but only when we acknowledge its limits.

        1. Brian Forbes says:

          If it’s not science, it’s not considered in science. That kinda puts limits on what is allowed to be true, doesn’t it?

      6. Simulated Knave says:

        First year university geology was enough to teach me that many layers aren’t flat. They start flat, mind you. But tectonic forces throw them about. And then you’ll get flat layers on top of the angly layers. Fun times.

        I’m not even getting INTO history.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      The struggle occurs over who decides what is “basic competency”. Nearly always this is resolved to be “the majority decides”. That’s fine if you’re part of the majority. But just imagine that the majority were (to amplify your example) militant fundamentalist Christians? Suddenly the whole “majority decides” thing looks crazy right? Suddenly it’s very sensible to start yelling “Leave my kids alone! Don’t teach them that stuff! I’m keeping them home to keep them out of your hands!”

      Well, that’s what it looks like from the other side of wherever you’re standing, no matter who you are.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Yeah, but they’re NOT the majority, and the whole concept of majority decides is that the majority is always right. Since the majority AREN’T fundies, they’re wrong.

        I seem to be working myself in a circle. There’s an abstract concept I’m trying and failing to explain :/

        1. TSED says:

          They’re not the majority because they cannot defend their points well.

          Majorities aren’t just randomly selected; important things factor into the status of a majority as well.

          For example: most of North America is white. There are a number of very logical reasons for that to be the case, though a good number of that number are kind of horrifying.

          Now apply that line of thinking to fundies. As of right now, they CAN’T be the majority. I imagine that, if their breeding programs continue successfully, they will start meeting more and more resistance as they take up bigger and bigger chunks of populations.

          1. Shamus says:


            “Breeding programs”?

            Do make an effort to remember they’re human beings. I disagree with their politics as well, but they aren’t some hive mind or conspirators. You sound no different to me than a preacher warning his flock to look out for the “Gay agenda”.

            1. TSED says:

              You’re correct. I should have made an effort to clarify as to what I was referring to. Be aware that I can feel my face blushing right now.

              *I heard about one church / community / something which is evangelical and has put forward organizational efforts to maximize children in an attempt to become a statistically significant population with which to influence politics. I never did any further investigation on this topic, so it could very easily have just been blatantly false anti-religious propaganda. I guess I internalized it without skepticism because a number of peers have also mentioned it offhandedly before, and that builds the kind of mental laziness that requires a kick to realise the topic warrants a deeper investigation.

    3. J Greely says:

      My public high school’s Honors Biology class was taught by a creationist who made it perfectly clear that the section on evolution was being taught only because the state required it, and not because it had any place in science. I almost spat in his face, and settled for failing his class that quarter.

      So, yeah, there are homeschoolers who do so because they disagree with parts of the curriculum, but there are also incompetent teachers who inflict their ignorance on the children they “teach”. The homeschooler may damage their own children’s education; the bad teacher damages thousands of children, and the union protects his job.


      1. Shamus says:

        This happened in honors biology?


        1. J Greely says:

          Yes. My biologist friends cringe when I tell the story. Science education in Ohio has improved since 1982, but a bad teacher is still hard to get rid of.


    4. Chris says:

      Blah blah blah. I have never experienced this serious intellectualism that you allude to in the formal schooling except for a few professors.

      If you don’t think public schools have a doctrine you are mad.

      1. Shamus says:

        Remember above: Don’t post mad.

        1. Chris says:

          Mad angry or mad crazy?

        2. Chris says:

          In either case I’m not angry. I merely maintain that teachers and even entire institutions have doctrine that fervently subscribed to and deviation is not taught as a practice.

          Which is not to say that a student deviating cannot be a basis for thriving. I did well in public schools, grade side, even if I see very little purpose in the dogma.

  64. Abnaxis says:

    If you're hiring people, break out of the mindset of looking at grades and sorting applicants by the stature of the university they attended. Look at people and figure out which ones are smart, motivated, knowledgeable, and personable. That's what your managers and human resources people are paid to do. If all they do is sort people by grade transcripts, you might as well fire them and give their job to a computer.

    Uh…they do. I spent all of last year sending out applications I would be ideal for. I got called back twice, because my educational background isn’t a cookie-cutter diploma. Anymore, the portion of HR that fields resumes is nothing more than a bot that looks for keywords in your resume, run by an HR company that’s managing the company you actually applied to plus fifty others. Even if it makes it past the bot, I guarantee the first human who looks at your information will have zero clue about the nature of the work you are applying for, let alone whether or not you are qualified.

    Paying employees to look at applicants is all well and good, but it’s way cheaper to just ignore the applicants and let the computer take care of it, right? Gotta make sure we make that bottom dollar…

    1. Cado says:

      Going the formal route is a bad way to get a job, period. Even if you have the credentials it’s way better to know somebody or to get to know somebody than it is to send a cold resume.

      I rather like this article for breaking down the basics:

      1. TSED says:

        The nonchalance in your dismissal of what society’s kind of based around in the “finding a job” section…

        I find it really terrifying.

        Not everyone “knows someone”, especially people who seek to escape their horrible, horrible hometown.

        I don’t disagree with you in that this is how it ACTUALLY works. I disagree in that it SHOULDN’T work this way. It shouldn’t!

        1. Cado says:

          It doesn’t matter how things should work, effective people work with what is. Things can change and if there’s a notable improvement to be had it should, but I don’t necessarily see how it’s horrifying to think that building social connections is just as important as important as credentials, or that being able to perform a skill is more valuable than schooling.

          Both the formal and informal markets have their place but if I had to pick one to dispose of it would be the formal market. Why? Because it gives us the impression that if we feed the right papers through the machine we’ll be rewarded for it. It mechanizes human beings and takes away any sense of community we build through our interactions. That is what I find horrifying. If the crux of a society rests in dehumanizing mechanisms that society shouldn’t survive, and if it can weather changes that move away from that it should.

          Employment as we know it has only existed for the last 150 years or so. Before that people worked on their farms or a trade they apprenticed in. The idea that you relied on other people to determine your value and pay you based on that would have seemed absurd prior to industrialization. I’m not bringing that up to say we should return to it, I’m saying that our systems evolve and that there are things we can learn from that approach which would enable us to make something better in the here and now.

          %^&$ the status quo. I don’t want to return to it or say it’s how things should be, I want something better. This is the perfect time to make it happen.

          1. TSED says:

            … Let me break that down for you.

            You want to get rid of the “status quo” in preference for something better, while espousing the merits of the system that has existed for the entirety of the history of civilization.

            You also say that “being able to perform a skill is more valuable than schooling.” This is a nice statement in one respect – very difficult to disagree with – but the ramifications of it are huge.

            Blacksmiths, shoemakers, sweetmakers, ditchdiggers, these are the kinds of people who have skills but no schooling. Compare them to individuals who have educated themselves to the doctorate level or whatnot. Now, let’s say society breaks down. I don’t disagree that the blacksmith will be more likely to survive; not only does he have valuable metalworking skills, but he likely has closer relationships to persons with similar immediately useful skills. But the zombie apocalypse, or mosquito-born Ebola, or magnetic reversal of the Earth’s poles causing the destruction of all digital data, or the pulling out of the alien colonization project due to unmet profit expectations, or etc. passes. Now there’s no one around who can start building the infrastructure back. There’s no one to consider the effects of a psychologically scarred population’s sudden penchant for twinkies. No one to look at the before and after literature. No one to start genetically engineering crops that will feed the once-again booming population. No compscientists to replace the lost data networks.

            Because those people were all locked up in their ivory tower with no where to go. Social networking stratifies society and forms different society-spanning cliques. Walk into a middleschool English class and ask for some opinions on Twilight, and then walk into a postsecondary institute’s English department. These two groups will (most likely) NEVER get along. They’re too separate to reconcile with each other.

            If the “formal” job market was the only one, then people are based on their apparent merits. References can be used to show whether or not a person’s actually personable. Don’t be afraid to fire people for not being able to pick up the job-specific tricks and knacks required. Yeah, firing someone’s kind of expensive, but you know what? It’s also direly needed in most of the world today.

            Because, frankly, most people don’t know what they’re doing. I work for the government and my bosses definitely favour that “informal job market” thing, and it’s AWFUL. People who are amazing work like 10 hours a week, and bumbling incompetents get 40. A new position opens up and people who knew the new boss from her old job get on the fast track – screwing over those 10 hour people again. You only see like 1 in 10 people who actually know what they’re doing – in ANY job – but no one calls them on it because the 1 in 10 who are good don’t have the power necessary to make actually beneficial changes (and they never will).

            This whole informal job market thing leads to a world where people predict the housing bubble burst five years before it happens and get fired for it. Then the housing bubble burst happens and no one knows what to do. No kidding, you laid off the only people who can actually tell what’s going to happen just because they had negative predictions. This is not ok.

            I’ll gladly take a world where qualified professionals deem you qualified or unqualified for the job over one where I get forced to work with the boss’s obnoxious daughter for 4 months before she moves to take college classes on becoming a certified aromatherapist. I’ll take a country where democracy functions as it’s supposed to, instead of being entirely driven by making the right childhood friends and getting on the only track with a political career. The “informal” job system leads to people who don’t know what they’re doing, nepotism, and a complacent culture. And you are OK with this?

            P.S. Got my government job through a cold resume and an interview after being told about its existence by a friend. That is the most “informal” the system should get.

  65. Deadpool says:

    I agree that homeschooling IS an effective and capable alternative to normal school. I can even accept it’s better in many regards. Hell, there’s issues with public schooling you haven’t even TOUCHED upon…

    I disagree with the socialization aspect though. Sure, public school socialization may not be the best, healthiest or even kindest. But going from MY personal experience, living in that environment, watching the other kids, has been invaluable to me. I’ve learned more about human nature, about what makes people tick and about how I can make that tick to MY advantage than I could EVER have learned at home.

    And it’s a skill that’s helped me in pretty much every facet of my life. Every job, every relationship, romantic or otherwise. Getting people to think, feel and want what I want them to has made my life considerably better, and it’s a skill I wouldn’t have learned without being able to watch and test out possible methods against hundreds and hundreds of other kids…

    Granted, I’m not the norm… Just offering a little counter point.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Homeschooled kids are MUCH less diverse than public school kids. Thus, it’s difficult to have as diverse a social experience as a homeschooled student.

      1. Tuck says:

        The experience of my family and every homeschooler we know (who number in the dozens if not hundreds) says quite the opposite. Homeschoolers are a very diverse bunch with a wide range of life experience, much more so than the kids who receive cookie-cutter public schooling… (in Australia anyway)

  66. Andrew says:

    I don’t significantly disagree with anything in your essay, Shamus, but I think it is worth stressing that in addition to being abnormally poorly suited for school, it sounds very like went to some abnormally bad schools.

    My education experience was almost nothing like yours. Filling in worksheets was something I did (at all, and not much of the time even then) for perhaps the first two years of schooling; there was no rote learning; the only tests we had were at the end of the school year on the entire year’s work; good students got good marks, while poor students (even if they put in a lot of effort) failed (“passing” was not required or demanded- there is no such thing as “graduation” in Scottish schools).

    I think you may also have ended up in something of a vicious circle. You had a bad experience for the first few years of your education, so you didn’t try, so you ended up in classes for poor students, where the education was in general poor and particularly poorly suited for you, so you became even less motivated and never got into some decent classes that you might actually have found useful.

    Incidentally, I have absolutely nothing against home education.

  67. Eärlindor says:

    Well said, Shamus. Again, it was a pleasure and an honor to read your autoblography.

  68. MikeH says:

    I’m working on my Masters in History and I cannot disagree more. A lot of home schooled folks that get into college with this course of learning in mind found at the collegiate level that they had studied the wrong things to make it through the survey courses. Many found that vital facts had been twisted or left out by the slant of their at home texts. Some had been taught that the South had won the Civil war. Those people are not going anywhere in this field.

    No one that I have met in my 3 Graduate courses thus far are home schooled. In History you -need- at least a Masters Degree in order to make a good living or do anything with your knowledge unless you want to teach at elementary or high schools.

    Religious private schools are not much better. In a graduate program your up bringing isn’t going to save you at the lofty heights of the Ivory Tower; if your view of History is wrong, then it is wrong. As the Professor of my Historical Methods (HIST 600) once said, “We don’t acknowledge or give legitimacy to ignorance.”

    1. WWWebb says:

      As the Professor of my Historical Methods (HIST 600) once said, ‘We don't acknowledge or give legitimacy to ignorance.’

      So he ignores ignorance? That’s barely forgivable for a historian. Ignorance has profoundly shaped history and continues to influence modern social and political movements.

      The ivory tower is supposed to be a beacon of light in the darkness, providing hope and direction to the masses. It is NOT a fortress to exclude the uneducated.

  69. klasbo says:


    School up to grade 10 (or 11, or whatever) should be a general-purpose education that everyone needs and/or should have. Math, language, a general understanding of history and ethics, science and critical thinking. This is about opening doors: giving everyone chances to see what interests them, and what they want to continue working on.

    I’ve learned a lot of interesting stuff because I had to go to classes I didn’t think I would like. With home-schooling, I think there’s a danger of the kids learning only what the parents think is interesting, and also the 20-something year old versions of those things.

    Throwing lots of information and ideas on young kids – and then letting their interests be piqued – is what (elementary) school should be about. It should not be about forcing the kids to remember all the information, else they fail. I think everyone can find anything interesting (or at least appreciate the worth of) as long as it is presented properly. Though this will require a huge amount of staffing, a gap home-schooling can easily fill.

    Why not have the best of both worlds?

    PS: There’s a reason the “man on the street” is on the street.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      One note: Elementary SHOULD teach basic math and reading skills to a standard, IMHO. Everything else… anything goes, really.

      1. klasbo says:

        But failing people who are obviously competent in specialized areas seems like a bad solution. Failing people who are just lazy – however – I am totally ok with.

        I had an idea in another post here: you have to pass tests to get in to school, not out. A more specialized study course could have lower requirements for subjects not directly related to the content of that course. Nobody is left doing extra years of unnecessary paperwork, and everybody gets an opportunity to get an education that directly applies to a job, or move on to higher education.

        But hey, there’s a reason I don’t want to work in government.

  70. Vekni says:

    I love your topics/blogs and I never would have guessed that I’d enjoy the autobiography more than almost anything else here. I see a lot of my own experience reflected, and it’s weird to look into a mirror with someone else’s face on it!

  71. DoctorSatan says:

    I always like my stories end in tragedies. It decreases the chances of a stupid sequel.
    So which way now?
    To the Left, where nothing is right? Or to the Right, where nothing is left? Turn Back, to where everything was a front? Or go Front, where everyone has turned their back on you?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      And then, in a mere two hundred years, everyone in this story, everyone who read this story, and everyone who remembered those people, was dead.

      The end.

  72. Tizzy says:

    Unlike Shamus, I have only fond memories of all my years of schooling. But even bearing that in mind, I am not so foolish as to say the system “worked” for me. There are tons of ways in which a curriculum more tailor-made to my own interests would have done wonders for me.

    A few remarks on the points addressed in the post.

    On Reform:
    either you’re making ambitious reforms, or you just put a new coat of paint on a crumbling buildings. The ambitious reformers, admirable as they are, never seem to address the question: “Who is going to teach your stuff?” As in: if you want to revolutionize the way a subject is taught, and roll back decades of training, how many teachers are able, willing, and have the time to completely relearn their subject and how to teach it? This must be one of the main reasons behind the failures of the more ambitious and worthy reform attempts.

    On waiting for kids to be ready:
    kids are not all ready to learn at the same age. Schools tend to force the issue, meaning also that the way things are taught have to be progressively emptied of their substance since many kids are not ready for it. Things cease to make sense, and test results are poor. What is the solution? Let’s start teaching that subject/concept even earlier, so that it has more time to sink in. Vicious cycle anyone?

    On the tyranny of GPA:
    I’m still trying to figure out who started this obsession over GPA and grades and standardized testing. In the US, it appears to be profoundly rooted in the culture. (E.g.: though IQ tests were invented in France, the US was the first country to use them widely.) Whoever is to blame,
    I don’t know who is going to get us out of it. I’m just glad to point out that some pioneers have started working on this:

  73. Thomas says:

    1. Catching abuse is really really difficult with homeschooling. I’m not sure where the line goes on badly educating the country and letting some child be a sex-slave to their parents and locked in cupboard for their whole life is, but I myself would set it pretty high in favour of not having the latter.

    Even with the system as it is with an absolute crudload of people trained and designated to look out for it it’s not perfect. Legally letting parents keep their children out of sight would only make it so much worse. (My parent is a childrens commissioner in the NHS)

    I had a lot of other points, mainly that learning to deal with bullying is a skill just as invaluable in the work place as it was in school. Not everyone is as lucky as you in working from home. But in the end it really begins and ends at point one for me, people do things that most of us are luckier enough to never have to hear about on a scale larger than we’d ever think

  74. Nostromo says:

    Why on earth would I want to spend 24/7 with my children?

    I don’t think it would be sane for them. It certainly wouldn’t for me.

    Besides, sometime both parents need to work.

    1. Cado says:

      Why the hell would they be home all the time? Let them go see their friends or other family members, or give them what they need to pursue an obsession of theirs while you’re taking care of something around the house. The older they get and the more self-directed they are early on, the less time you actually need to spend watching them. It’s actually not long after they normally start school that they have some level of autonomy. There are plenty of scenarios where a healthy parent-child relationship in a homeschool environment is a lot closer to three or four adults sharing the same living space and spending time together on the evenings and weekends when there’s not much else going on. That doesn’t mean taking a hands-off approach, it means putting the machinery in place to make it work like that as they grow up.

      I find kids aren’t nearly as much of a handful when they’re granted enough freedom to become self-sufficient but not so much they fly off the rails. Maintaining that balance is the challenge, not spending 24/7 with them.

  75. Knight of Fools says:

    I wish Homeschooling were more prevalent and understood. My mother tried homeschooling me when I was a child, but stopped after one year for a variety of reasons, the main one being she didn’t know how to turn me into a self-motivated learner. Now that I’m older I enjoy learning about things all on my own, but I regret that some of the resources we have now didn’t exist twelve years ago.

    I still don’t like school that much. It taught me a couple things I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t gone, but I desperately want my children to never have to go through the pain and boredom of a public classroom. I can teach my own children much better than even a good teacher can, because where I can afford to focus my attention on one student at a time, the teacher has to divide his or her attention between thirty.

    And I’d be more willing to say “Some parents aren’t meant for homeschooling” than “Some students aren’t meant for school.” 90% of children would probably do well in homeschooling, but there’s probably a lot of parents that just aren’t prepared for it.

  76. Dev Null says:

    I’ve just read a bunch of different people’s comments with variations on a theme of interest-based learning; e.g. “you can’t force someone to learn who doesn’t want to”, “let students explore the topics that they’re interested in”, etc. I wish I could tack my reply onto all of those threads, but I can’t decide which to choose, so I’ll just start my own.

    I have nothing against homeschooling, and I think the percentage of homeschoolers who truly follow a “let them do what they want” approach all the time would be very very low, so I’m not trying to use this as an argument against homeschooling. But I would argue very strongly against letting that “let them do what they want” approach become too central to the learning process. Shamus, in his autoblog, showed himself to be exceptional in a number of ways; he may not have been motivated enough to do makework in most areas, but he was strongly self-motivating in at least one:computers. He _wanted_ to learn, he just wanted to learn certain things. But how did he _know_ he wanted to learn about them? Because he was exposed to them _in school_. Would he have learned about them anyways? Probably eventually. Is that a problem for kids today? Well for computers, obviously not. But what about the kid with a deep-seated passion for quantum physics that he just hasn’t discovered yet?

    My nephews are good kids, and they’re both smart in various ways, but neither is a self-motivated learner about much of anything. Neither does terribly well at school. If you gave them the choice to pursue whatever they wanted in their learning, the one would play basketball, and the other play computer games all day. They wouldn’t learn _anything_ if it was left up to them to decide what to do.

    Shamus doesn’t say we should disband all schools, he says we should be tolerant of people who don’t fit into the school mold, and are drawn elsewhere by their passions. But to find their passions in the first place, they have to be exposed to a lot of experiences, many of which they’ll _hate_ at the time. People can do that for their kids at home; heck, almost by definition its easier to do in any environment where you can work 1-on-1 or 1-on 2 with the kids. But not _everyone_ can or will do that for their kids at home. So to the couple of people in comments here who seem to be twisting Shamus’ argument of tolerance into an argument for totally unstructured learning, or on the other hand to an argument for abandoning anyone who doesn’t express an interest in learning, I have to say you’re taking it too far. The ideal is not that you only teach kids what they’re already interested in, its that you teach kids in such a way that they _become_ interested in what you’re teaching.