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If you send your kid to public school, you’re a dunce September 1, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, societal commentary.
Tags: , , , ,

That’s a strong statement, calling someone a dunce because they allow their children to go to a school that’s provided for free and, in most cases, even required by law.  Why would anyone say that?  I’m not sure, but it was about as useful as the title of an article on Slate: “If you send your kid to private school, you are a bad person.”  Generalizations are, in general, pointless things, and they aren’t much better as titles.

The article itself, however, was downright appalling.  The author, Allison Benedikt, starts out by saying:

I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental.

That’s probably the only point in the whole article I can agree with.  The whole thing was a judgemental screed against people who don’t send their kids to public schools.  None of it was backed up with evidence or even anything remotely resembling solid reasoning.  She discusses the fact that she attended public schools, and after reading her complete inability to form a cohesive argument, I dare say she made me even more convinced that our public schools have gone down the tubes.

She did have some reasons for her premise that those of us who send our kids to private schools are bad people.  She starts by saying that if everyone would send their kids to public school, they would improve…it would just take ‘a generation or two’.  You see, those of us who have the means to send our kids to private school are just supposed to sacrifice our kids’ and grandkids’ educational needs to meet some utopian goal that has a small likelihood of occurring.  It apparently never occurred to her that she has made exactly the wrong argument to these people:  people who send their kids to private schools may have several reasons for doing so, but I would guess that the main three are going to be that they strongly value education, they  strongly value the ethical systems taught at some of these schools, and they are worried about what I would generally call ‘status issues’ (things like who their kids hang out with and perception of their families).  Does she really think that parents who are that concerned about one or more of these three things is really willing to ‘sacrifice’ their kids?  That’s the whole reason they’ve elected to go with private schools to begin with: the sacrifice of large sums of money is less important than the sacrifice of their kids’ education (and the things that go along with it).  However, Benedikt wipes these issues away and says they’re not compelling.  She started her whole argument by finding the most compelling way to isolate her audience.

In fact, she starts belittling education and claiming that you really don’t need those things.  She is a perfect example, apparently, because her parents sent her to school and really didn’t care about those things.  That is quite obvious given her line of reasoning…and, as I said above, compels me to want to send my kid to private school even more.

Benedikt says school is really about is interaction with other people.  I won’t disagree that a large part of school is socialization, but I, of course, don’t buy this argument as I’ve written before about how public school is actually generally worse than options like homeschool when it comes to socialization.  Throwing together a lot of immature people to learn socialization from each other results in, surprise surprise, lots of immature people.  More adult interaction with those adults role-modeling mature behavior is a far better socialization system than the one present in most public schools.  Again, this is actually an argument against the public schools, in my opinion.

Finally, Benedikt says that if only we redirected our private school endeavors to public schools, that would make everything better.  Here, I can only assume she is incredibly naive on so many levels.

I will start by saying that I don’t hate the public schools.  The notion of free education available for everyone is most definitely a public good and vital to maintaining democracy.  However, I think that our public schools have some major problems.  As the political right wing says, they don’t work to educate children.  The structure is set up for teachers, not for students.  As the left wing says, they are underfunded and undervalued.  I think both sides have very valid arguments.  Schools have, for generations, taught children using the least effective methods, mostly by people who aren’t well-educated themselves (particularly in the grade school years).  They have a better handle on crowd control than educational psychology.  On the other hand, they have to because of they way the public school system ties the hands of teachers.

There are so many educational reforms that would make the schools *work* but people are not interested in trying them out or are scared that it may affect their job security.  Or they are just apathetic about education.  I’m not talking about things like vouchers or charter schools.  I mean things like making grade levels fluid, getting rid of grades, making the classroom a place where students are leading their learning and teachers are facilitators.  The notion of allowing children to excel in areas of interest and take more time in areas of difficulty is almost heresy.  In other words, what schools ought to be are places where kids really learn, where interaction provides useful feedback about knowledge and behavior, and where you’re not locked into doing something simply because of how old you are.  Education needs to be tailored to the individual student because teaching to the average is useless for everyone.

These are the kinds of reforms that would bring parents back from the private schools.  Simply saying that the schools would be better if all parents sent their kids to public school is naive, at best.  It is as blind a solution to the problem as just shoving more money to the schools, privatizing schools, or forcing kids to pray in school.  Almost every reform out there is completely blind to the fact that we are using teaching methods that actually fail to education children.  If you don’t change our fundamental assumptions about how to educate students, you’re not going to get any different results.

I will say that I agree that it’s sad not more people take an interest in seeing public education thrive.  However, part of the reason is that the way public education is conducted is virtually set in stone.  It takes a divine act for most places to change even the smallest things.  Too often, school teachers don’t have the time or knowledge to deal with individual students’ issues and the parent of such children is viewed as an enemy combatant.  My choice as a parent then becomes whether I want to devote my time to change the outcome for my individual child through whatever means I have (for instance, by homeschooling or sending to private school) or continuously shoving an immovable object.  If I had left either of my kids in public school, I wouldn’t have fought harder…I would have quit because of the futility in trying to work with most teachers and administrators who have no interest in seeing the system change.

WSJ’s “Burden of Raising a Gifted Kid” April 4, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, Fargo, gifted, homeschooling, older son, younger son.
Tags: , , , ,

I came across the article The Burden of Raising a Gifted Kid last week, and two thoughts crossed my mind.  One was, “Absolutely!” The second, a bit more complicated, was how I, like some of the commenters, get frustrated that so many of these stories always focus on prodigies.

But first things first.

Right now, I’m personally frustrated with the whole time/financial burden that seems to come with my kids’ being ahead of the curve.  To show why this is frustrating, I’ll look at each kid individually.  First, the older one is in a school where they simply don’t believe in acceleration.  He’s not allowed to take AP classes until he’s a junior, period.  While he’s taking some classes at the local public school, these are more related to the arts.  There’s no way he’ll stay interested in the classes he would take at the school, and if he’s not interested, he won’t learn. (And he certainly won’t remember to turn in homework!)  Our solution is a combination of classes through homeschooling and other resources.  The materials that seem to work the best for him usually run on the order of $100-$200/class.  Granted, this is cheaper than a college class, but it’s not exactly cheap.  Some of his classes are done on the computer, which run about twice this.  And he’s planning to take some classes at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – running between $800 and $1300 each. And he probably will start college either junior or senior year of high school…so that’ll be even worse.

The younger one isn’t much better.  He’s in private school ($$$!) and he’s taking classes through Stanford’s EPGY program  – running around $500 every 3 mos. per class.

None of this includes the ‘normal’ kid expenses – various clubs and activities and lessons that they are also involved in, like scouts or swimming lessons.

I realize that this is a whining rant, but it frustrates me that there is a simple, inexpensive option that the public schools won’t provide: acceleration.  I guess it’s even more frustrating to realize that if I were willing to move back to the Minneapolis area, we would have several options not only for acceleration but for specialized programs for the kids…at no cost to us.  The two years that I lived down there were admittedly stressful, but I think that’s the only time that I’ve not had to worry about my kids’ education because I knew it was being taken care of. It involved a ‘normal’ commitment of time and finances. (Which is good when you’re on a grad student salary!)

I guess, in reality, this is a trade-off based on where I live.  I like living here, but the schools are only great if you have normal kids.

This brings up the problem I had with the article: gifted kids are really prodigies.  

But inside the private lives of families of truly gifted kids – the less-than-1% whose extraordinary talents are so obvious that parents themselves are surprised — the juggle can get pretty crazy, as I report in today’s “Work & Family” column.

I realize that was not the intent, but it’s frustrating as the parent of gifted kids who are not prodigies to deal with this stereotyped notion of giftedness.  Realistically, a lot of people have come to believe that ‘gifted’ either means a child is some sort of super-driven, highly successful and accomplished adolescents…or you’re just some parent who is really pushing an average-to-bright kid to do more than they are able. (Of course, even if you point out that they are already achieving at a very high level, this just means you’re uppity.)

While I have no desire to try to keep up with a profoundly gifted kid (the ones who are prodigies usually fall into that range), keeping up with my two is already a struggle because of the lack of educational support.  Really, I’m having to do it myself or shell out lots of money to someone else, prodigy or not. If my kids were prodigies, I feel like at least it’d be easier for someone to recognize that you can’t just put them in a normal classroom and expect them to suffer through the boredom. Even being in the top 1% doesn’t mean that their gifts and needs are obvious, especially to classroom teachers.

Overall, however, I think the article was good at making the point that it is not the parents pushing this: the parents are doing what they can to provide for the kids needs. But some of us are incredibly frustrated in the meantime.


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