Home is Where the Press Is

My, my my. Homeschoolers continue to be aggravated with CBS News' "Home School Nightmares" series of last week (on which my comments are here and yet again here). The Madame DeFarge of live from the guillotine has sent along an e-mail with a link to this site -- The Dark Side of Public School -- compiling just about everything you can imagine going wrong in the context of public schooling. Of course, as the late Warren Zevon observed, "Life'll Kill Ya."

Meanwhile, via Hit & Run, we find a link to a New York Times story that, with this paragraph near the top, might as well be called "The Dark Side of Home Cooking":

Restaurants of dubious legality, where food is cooked in apartments and backyards, abound across the United States. These underground restaurants range from upscale to gritty, and are born from youthful idealism, ethnic tradition or economic necessity. They lack certification from any government agency and are, strictly speaking, against the law. You dine in them at your own risk. If you can find them.
Bon appetit!

CBS News' Homeschool Hatchet Job, Part II

I was not at home last night -- I was teaching my weekly insurance law course -- so I was not able to catch the second segment of the CBS Evening News' self-importantly horrified report "Home Schooling Nightmares." [Again, the link is to the network's print version of the story; a link to the video is available on that same page. My take on Part I of the series is the next post down this page.]

Not content with basing their first segment on a two-year old, entirely unrepresentative case, CBS used its second segment to expand its misleading parade of horribles, even going so far as to trot out the notorious Andrea Yates mass-bathtub-drowning case (and to feature Ms. Yates' photo prominently with the Web version of the story). Here's the passage in which CBS tips its hand to show its preferred solution to this supposed problem, which is -- what else? -- more regulation:

In eight states, parents don't have to tell anyone they're home schooling. Unlike teachers, in 38 states and the District of Columbia, parents need virtually no qualifications to home school. Not one state requires criminal background checks to see if parents have abuse convictions.
The logic of that last item is particularly odd: even assuming that criminal background checks for homeschooling parents -- as opposed to, say, checks of all parents or annual reporting to the local constabulary by every citizen -- made sense in the first place, how does CBS propose to "protect" an only child or the firstborn in a family, before whom these highly suspect parents had no opportunity to be convicted?

And while I'm on about this, the inner hobgoblin of my little mind asks: can anyone reconcile for me the distinction between CBS' attitude toward regulation of homeschoolers [ongoing investigation based on a presumption of possible guilt is a good thing] versus its attitude toward the post-9/11 Justice Department [ongoing investigation based on presumption of possible contact with genuinely guilty and dangerous people is the End of Our Constitutional Rights As We Know Them]? I'm just asking, don't you know.

I will mention here one other gap among many in the CBS story, which only serves to further misinform viewers who have no contact with homeschoolers: CBS implies that all or a large majority of homeschooling families "go it alone," retreating into their trailers, tents and townhouses to educate their children with virtually no outside contacts of any kind. This is a false impression. Most homeschool families have active lives in their community. Those homeschoolers who started the process out of religious conviction -- a large group in the homeschool world, but hardly the only one -- generally have a high profile in their church and in church-based organizations, if nowhere else. More secular homeschoolers also have lives in which they and their children constantly interact with the outside world. An ever-growing number of homeschoolers regularly send their children out of the home on a regular basis for at least some portion of their schooling, to attend classes in subjects that the parent does not feel qualified to teach him/herself. The number of homeschool support organizations that make such classes available, as well as the number of "outside" classes organized by groups of homeschooling families, increases daily, as does the number of families electing to homeschool one or more of their children.

I could go on, but we'd be here all day and CBS and its viewers would not be any better informed. But you, gentle reader, know better now, don't you?

Not incidentally: Welcome to Joanne Jacobs readers and thank you, Joanne, for the link. More on the CBS story, and more on homeschooling generally, can be found at Daryl Cobranchi's Homeschool & Other Education Stuff, Izzy Lyman's The Homeschooling Revolution (for whose link this Fool also says "Thank you") and at further links on those sites.

And to correct an inaccurate impression I may have created yesterday: to call me a "homeschooling dad" gives me too much credit. The day to day workings of our sons' education -- including tracking down the wealth of resources for assistance, curricula, classes and support that is out there in abundance when one goes looking for it -- has been the province of my indispensable wife. As I tell it to anyone who asks: She's in charge of curriculum and I run the financial services office.

Update: Additional comment on CBS and homeschoolers' response to its story, reported live from the guillotine, can be read here. And do I need to say "thanks for the link"? You bet I do: thanks for the link, O lively guillotinistes.

Just one more: Somehow the last time I passed through there, I failed to notice that Kimberly Swygert's Number 2 Pencil has also checked in with some thoughts about the CBS story. This now seems to have been pretty fully through the wringer as a "they're out to get homeschoolers" story. Someone -- perhaps I'll do it if I can find the time to say something worthwhile -- needs to consider CBS' performance from the standpoint of Journalism. It seems to me that the connections CBS was trying to draw are so tenuous that this would have been just plain Bad Reporting regardless of the particular subject matter.

A Little Learning Is A Dangerous Thing . . . for Journalists

I am still spouting the occasional puff of steam from my ears over the incredibly irresponsible bit of reporting broadcast last night by the CBS Evening News, the first in an apparent series on A Dark Side To Home Schooling. [The link is to the print version of the story; to fully appreciate the tut-tutting, isn't-it-awful tone of the piece, click on the video link if you have a speedy connection.]

Here is what CBS delivers: yet another (genuinely) tragic tale of life in a squalid trailer in the backwoods with the Miller family of North Carolina, ending in the suicide of their teenage son after he first shoots and kills his brother and sister. So far, so lurid, but still largely within the bounds of respectable journalism -- although CBS gives no indication that these sad events unfolded more than two years ago. What can have been the cause of these deaths? To hear CBS tell it, it's not poverty, deprivation or terrible and abusive parenting. No, sir: it's the direct result of homeschooling.

Since it became legal in North Carolina in 1985, the number of home school students has jumped from just a few hundred to more than 50,000. But there's been no change in the number of state employees overseeing the program - just three for the entire state.

'I think there's so little supervision that they really are not protecting those kids,' Marcia Herman-Giddens, of the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute.

Herman-Giddens is on the state task force that reviewed the Warren case. The conclusion: home school laws 'allow persons who maltreat children to maintain social isolation in order for the abuse and neglect to remain undetected.'

'They deliberately keep them out of the public eye because the children do have injuries that are visible, and they don't want them to be seen,' she says.
The logic at work here is interesting. Abusive parents can indeed be expected to keep their children away from those who might perceive evidence of that abuse, but that can be done without even the pretense of schooling. In fact, it would be more effective to simply move out to the woods without telling anyone, since the homeschooling statute in North Carolina provide that the parents must notify the state of the establishment of their school.

To suggest that abolition or tighter regulation of homeschooling is essential because some small number of homeschooling families are also abusive makes no more sense than to suggest that we should regulate or ban families taking care of their own aging relatives at home, because some of those households are prone to elder abuse. Given that an entrenched and ineffectual state bureaucracy is often one of the factors that drives parents to elect to school at home rather than through the public schools, the imposition of just such a bureaucracy on homeschoolers in the name of "child protection" is an undesirable outcome, not to mention an insult to the vast majority of homeschoolers who are responsible, caring and effective parents.

Part 2 of this story airs tonight. We'll see whether the network digs itself deeper into its self-important hole. Dear CBS: Please go to the board and write 50 times, "Correlation does not imply causation."

(A confession of personal bias: Our sons have homeschooled for the past several years, so I am not an entirely disinterested observer on this subject. I submit, however, that based on the evidence of this story I am more trustworthy on this subject than is CBS News.)

[Update:Coincidentally, since I was planning to write about education anyway, I found an e-mail awaiting me this morning from my compatriot Rick at Futurballa Blog, forwarding a link to these assorted educational musings by Kevin Drum. I've repaid Rick with a link about zombies, which he is using here as an excuse to discuss movie-endings. Any resemblances between zombies and broadcast journalists are strictly in the eye of the beholder.]

Educational and Eleemosynary Institutions

That Time of Year is upon us again as the March of Knowledge purports to resume in schools across the land. Your assignment to start the term is to seek out and read as many interesting education-oriented blogs as you are able.
Might I recommend California's own Joanne Jacobs or perhaps Kimberly Swygert's Number 2 Pencil?

Those of you with an interest in higher education and diversity issues might find inspiration in the faculty/intellectual political reporting and commentary at Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass or the well-named Discriminations.

Life-long learning, that's the ticket.

NYC -- Progressivism is Our Most Important Product

Friedrich Blowhard has followed up his earlier nutshell history of "progressive" educational reform [which I noted here] with an update on seemingly ill-fated educational reforms on New York City. His conclusion:

New York City is probably a bad place to be a poor or dyslexic child—but a heck of a place to be a 'progressive' educator!
Worth your attention, if you share my pet fixation on education issues. [This post corrected for spelling, 8/8/03]

Schools Out

If you have any interest at all in American education and How It Got This Way, I cannot give a high enough recommendation to Friedrich Blowhard's lengthy summation of the subject in his post on Education Reform and the Lessons of History. It is the sort of piece in which each part is tightly joined to the whole, so no excerpt can really do it justice. Nonetheless, here's a taste:

The arrangement of the Progressive high school was based quite openly on the notion that most children lacked the mental wherewithal (and cultural background) for academic studies, and that academic studies were actively harmful for the mass of children, making them discontent with their inevitable lot as cashiers, auto mechanics, beauticians, housewives, etc. At the same time, because these non-academic-track children had to be kept in school to ensure their socialization as good Americans (and also to further the empire-building ambitions of educational bureaucrats), less challenging alternatives to the academic disciplines had to be found. This was particularly the case for students in the 'general' track, who didn’t take algebra but did take 'general' math, who didn’t take history but took 'social studies.' Here we see the beginnings of the trend of inventing highly entertaining elective classes on distinctly non-academic topics. This trend is, of course, still quite visible in many high schools (and colleges) today.
Much of the educational challenge today, F. Blowhard argues, stems from the fact that while the expectations we have of our high schools has changed significantly the underlying structures and assumptions of the education system have changed surprisingly little since the Progressive era -- or, for that matter, since the late Victorian era.

A must-read if this is at all your idea of an interesting subject (as it plainly is mine).

Summer School News

I am a product of public schools. (You, in the back row! Stop that snickering!) I attended various grade schools around Detroit until age 16, when we moved to Los Angeles. I finished high school in L.A. then attended the University of California, first Berkeley and then UCLA School of Law. For the past six years, however, my own children have homeschooled. My wife and I made that decision not out of religious or political conviction (we probably do not fit the profile for "typical" homeschoolers, if there is such a thing) but out of despair over the sorry state of the public schools and, so far as we could tell, an increasing number of private schools. Having opted out of the organized education system, I promptly became fascinated by the intricacies of its problems, and the topic forms a nontrivial portion of my online reading.

The past few days have brought a string of posts and articles worth sharing. As good a place to start as any is this item from Friedrich Blowhard on the delayed implementation, or lowered standards, being applied to "mandatory" testing for high school graduation. California is the main topic, but my old home state of Michigan and many others come in for their share of criticism. His closing comment is particularly apt:

For those who think I'm indulging in partisan politics, I can only remark that the Democrats deserve to be publicly shamed for selling out the national interest for 30 pieces of silver from the teachers' unions. It's certainly as sleazy a relationship as anything between Cheney and Haliburton, and it affects far more people.
Meanwhile, a number of sources are reporting the less than stellar performance of California's 4th and 8th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. California Insider, taking a break from the recall beat, reports on the results, with a link to the complete national report. More can be found at the blog of my personal favorite follower of California education issues, Joanne Jacobs.