Back to School

back-to-school-2629361__340Let’s talk about school. I hated it. I think a good portion of us did, especially if you, like me, went through the American public school system. It was boring and dull, and though I wasn’t bullied or harassed, I didn’t gain any useful social skills out of it, either. Fortunately for future generations, there are new schooling methods on the horizon, some of which could cause massive changes in our society.
The current standard schooling model was developed in the 1800s, to give a minimum education to every child and turn them into healthy, obedient factory workers. I’ve heard the model originated in Prussia; I know more about the Victorian English version, which also produced good workers and was championed by religious reformers who were horrified by the thought of poor children growing up in a Godless wasteland because they couldn’t read the Bible.
Wherever our current schooling model originated, or why, it’s apparent that the model works best for average children. That only makes sense. The originators had to come up with a standard, so they chose one that worked for the pupils clustered in the center of the intellectual bell curve, allowing a majority of children to get an okay-ish education. So children are placed in classes with everyone else of the same age and are taught at the speed of the average child, or a little slower, on the theory that it won’t hurt the smart kids and will be successful in teaching an extra few of the slower ones.
That’s the standard, and while it’s allowed nearly everyone in the Western world to acquire the basic of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, it’s terrible for anyone at the ends of the bell curve, or even people who are a little above average. Anyone wonder why girls are doing better in school than boys? It’s not only an effect of feminism; it’s partly because boys tend to cluster at the ends of the intellectual bell curve (more geniuses and more morons) and girls tend to cluster near the middle, so the ‘teach to the average kid’ model catches fewer of the boys.
It leaves a portion of the girls out in the cold, too. I always brought a book to class, from the time I could read, because I was likely to finish an assignment before most of the other kids and would have had to sit and do nothing for twenty minutes while everyone else was still working. Most of my reading material consisted of small paperback fiction because it was easy to carry around. I love fiction; it’s a wonderful way to duck into someone else’s life without getting arrested for voyeurism. But my time would have been far better spent in actually learning something. The teachers didn’t care what I was reading, as long as I was quiet- I tested this theory by bringing bodice rippers to my high school classes, and was a bit disappointed when no one commented.
Anyway, the point is that classroom schooling is a giant waste of time for a lot of kids. Public school is more like a prison nowadays, with metal detectors, punishments for being out of bounds- even if you’re not disturbing anything!- and feral children masquerading as students.
There are a few ways to improve the situation. Charter schools and school choice force public schools to offer a decent education, lest they lose all of their students. Allowing kids to take classes outside their age group is also helpful- dual college/high school programs are the usual example, but a small elementary school could- with a little effort- schedule lessons in such a way that a kid who really likes say, math, could be bumped up to the next class for math time only.
But I’m more interested in major changes to the entire system of education. Homeschooling is becoming more acceptable, along with homeschool variants like online schools. And technology is improving to meet the needs of consumers.
I’ve been thinking about the ins and outs of homeschooling for a while (I don’t have kids yet, and I’m determined that they won’t set foot in a public school classroom until high school, if ever), but this post was sparked by a talk about gardening, of all things. Recently I attended a meeting for patrons of the county agricultural extension center, and the guest speaker talked about the ways in which the Master Gardener program was using online lectures to change the way they teach.
The Master Gardener program is what it sounds like- a series of classes on soil science, entomology, plant diseases, and other horticultural subjects. This particular program runs for sixteen weeks, once a week, so it was previously limited to retirees and people who could take an entire day off work for four months at a time. Students sat in a classroom and listened to lectures for eight hours a day, with an occasional break for hands-on work.
Last year, they began using an online resource called Blackboard. Course content, including powerpoint slides, useful links, and audio recordings of lectures, is uploaded to the Blackboard site, and the students can use it at their leisure.
To be sure, a gardening class requires some in-class time for things like insect identification and plant diagnostics, but not all classes are like that. My question for the speaker was, how will the proliferation of online classes change how we educate our children? Her answer focused more on the advantages of online university and I, being me, started extrapolating that toward the education of younger children.
Online classroom technology is not new. I used it in college, a few years ago, and while I didn’t find it overly helpful, the technology is improving. My experience was limited to submitting assignments and checking the syllabus to see if I could skip class because we weren’t learning anything important that week- which is an entirely separate topic, worthy of its own post.
Leaving my personal experiences aside, I can see how online education is likely to introduce massive changes into the way we teach our children. For starters, education will be cheaper, because the instructor can record a lecture and offer it to more than one class, so the cost of giving the lecture is spread out over more students. There will be no school building to heat and maintain, because the kids will be at home. Any bullying will be done in a public forum, not hidden from the teacher’s eyes, and there will be no way for one kid to physically beat up another. Kids will be able to learn as fast as they choose, listening to one lecture a day, or five. As long as they complete their assignments, the teacher won’t know if they’re reading a book in between lectures or taking another class.
Combine these advantages with an economy increasingly geared toward telecommuting, and it’s not hard to envision a future in which one or both parents work at home, supervising their children’s education at a level that we haven’t seen since before the industrial revolution. Children of all abilities could finish their education faster and move on to productive work, because they’re not wasting time waiting for the rest of the class to finish each assignment. It’s reasonable to imagine a future in which most kids will begin structured online classes around the age of five and finish a high school education around fifteen. Add another three years for college if they choose (also accelerated with help from online classes), and you have an eighteen year old who has a bachelor’s degree, no debt, and a strong work ethic developed from years of having control over his education. Widespread online schooling could be the antidote to the prolonged adolescence so prevalent in modern western culture.
This future isn’t perfectly rosy, of course. Kids need some face to face interaction with their peers, or it’s likely that they’ll begin to see other people as ‘talking heads in a box’, aside from their parents and siblings. Online interaction is better than nothing, but it can give a very photoshopped view of another person, and kids who only interact with other kids online will be in for a rude awakening when they meet their friends in person and discover that, no, this other person is not the same as they portray themselves online. Even people who try to be honest online look different in real life.
So parents will need to find in-person activities for their kids, like sports, theater, scouting, robotics, 4-H/FFA- there are a zillion non-school activities that, by their very nature, can’t be shifted to online only. Families will find ways of keeping their kids active, unless the parents are determined to emulate those homeschool horror stories, where the kid finishes his lessons and is sent to his room to stare at the wall- has anyone ever actually encountered this situation, unaccompanied by other abuse?
No matter the technology, no matter the cultural shift, there will be people who get it wrong. There will be children mis-educated by online schools. But how is that any different from the current system, from which a large minority of kids emerge illiterate, innumerate, and feral?


  1. I’ve heard the model originated in Prussia; I know more about the Victorian English version, which also produced good workers and was championed by religious reformers who were horrified by the thought of poor children growing up in a Godless wasteland because they couldn’t read the Bible.

    That is the standard storyline, but I can’t help but notice that the one group that’s really prime prey for every flavor of user is guys who 1) can’t read the contract, and 2) can’t read the instructions.

    It doesn’t matter what rights you have if you don’t know you have them– which is why Sarah’s always hammering on reading the dang contract!

    1. Sunday Schools were originally just that: classes after church, for adults and children, to teach basic literacy and numeracy. The Methodists and other Dissenters did a lot of it in the late 1700s-early 1800s. They got fussed at for corrupting the working class and ruining farm workers. And then the State decided that everyone needed to learn how to read, and children needed someplace to park if they were not working…

      The Colonies were a little different, at least New England, because the Separatists and other Calvinist groups insisted that everyone had to be literate and numerate in order to read and understand scripture for themselves. Thus public schools, paid for by the parents.

      1. English schools had a bit of a different curve to them than American schools. In a nutshell, the labor movement argued for shorter hours so that, among other things, they could educate themselves and their children.

        The prospect of having laborers educating their own kids was scary enough to convince the right people to institute and make compulsory state run schools. They then preserved the class structure through them, by making admission to the next higher level dependent on scores at the lower level – on compliance, essentially. Lord Fuddlebutts could always game that system, or opt out with no repercussions.

        In America, public schooling was sold as a response to immigration of evil Irish Catholics (later, other Catholics, Jews and blacks were added to the list of people who needed some Protestant flavored American Jesus beat into their heads). As the Right Thinking at Harvard evolved, so did the goals of schooling. It is and has always been about control at the most basic level.

        One of geniuses of America is that, in many state, anybody of age can take whatever classes they want at community colleges, and the universities will recognize them, so that, if you never went to school or bombed out, you could still end up educated. (In America, this loophole is being plugged by making college so stupid few escape with their minds intact. But some still do).

        1. Nonsense. Public schooling was part of the Northwest Territory setup from the beginning, and it was all about the schooling. (There were hardly any Catholics around yet, sheesh.)There was land earmarked for schools to be on, and for school funding to come from, in the Land Ordinance of 1785.

          “Section 16 in each township” (which consisted of 36 sections) “was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Many schools today are still located in Section 16 of their respective townships, although a great many of the school sections were sold to raise money for public education. In later states, Section 36 of each township was also designated as a ‘school section.'”

          The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 encouraged the building of schools and churches not funded by the public. “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

          To be fair, a lot of townships misappropriated the school lands or ignored their existence. But the ones that did use them for their intended purpose were very proud of themselves, and their kids tended to grow up prosperous. I come from a part of the state of Ohio that took school lands seriously, so that’s my view of things.

          1. Anyway, the McGuffey books came out of the Ohio schools, by way of Miami University here in Ohio. They got a good education, and they did things like memorize famous speeches (like Chief Logan’s) and poetry.

            Most kids who got educated back then got a pretty good smidge of a classical education, although you only learned Latin and Greek if you were ultimately going to high school or college.

            The emphasis on education being “useful” didn’t show up until a lot later. (Other than having a lot of math word problems about bushels and pecks.)

            1. Oh, and here’s the relevant bit of the Bill of Rights in Ohio’s first constitution, the Constitution of 1802. (We became a state in 1803.)

              “That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of conscience;

              that no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience;

              that no man shall be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent, and that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious society or mode of worship, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office of trust or profit.

              But religion, morality and knowledge being essentially necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of instructions shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision not inconsistent with the rights of conscience.”

              So as you can see, Manasseh Cutler of the Ohio Company, and the Ohio statehood guys, actually were concerned about providing religious freedom, including in schools. Which was good, because Ohio settlers were a barrel of religious monkeys. Shakers, Quakers, Zoar, Moravians, Mennonites, Catholics coming up from Kentucky….

              Of course, having religious freedom encouraged more oddball settlers to come! Heh!

          2. I think we’re not talking about the same things here. I thought we were talking state controlled compulsory graded classroom school as are ubiquitous today – what settlers set up under the Northwest Ordinance were in every case I’ve ever run across locally controlled and funded and staffed one-room non-age segregated schools. Even before such schools were emptied by demographics in the 1920s and 1930s, they were under concerted attack everywhere a state had an education department, which departments universally favored Prussian style schools.

            Modern schools are not descended from one-room schools. State departments of education sought to and largely succeeded in exterminating them.

          3. In rural areas there is usually still a grazing-lease on the “school section.”
            (You DEFINITELY wouldn’t want to build a school there, but the one I grew up putting cattle on is a very nice chunk of land– and the only parts that were taken were by the state, for roads.)

      2. They got fussed at for corrupting the working class and ruining farm workers.

        *snickers* Oh, I bet they did…gotta be one heck of a pisser when you’re required to do A, but have been doing B because the guy whose right it is doesn’t know about it….

    1. *laughs*
      Sounds like my kids watching Bubble Guppies or looking at the kids playing at recess…until I pointed out that recess lasted less time than they got for morning break, and they didn’t get to go play as soon as they finished their lessons.

  2. On the “not having kids yet” thing, let me just say that if I had to homeschool my kids, we would ALL end up crazy. (If money were to fall from the sky and I could afford to do what I wanted, I would hire someone I know to teach my kids specifically—mobile tutor, picked by ME, but not me doing the educational bits.) I can teach, and I convey information to my kids all the time, but homeschool would be a recipe for the worst cabin fever you can imagine…

    1. Bah, was a short trip for me, and I know they’d drive me nuts having to run to school because someone moron decided they were a good target….

      That said, it’s surprisingly easy to find Other Stuff to do; schooling just doesn’t take that long, and a lot of the drive you nuts stuff is very easily done by computer.
      You can look at starfall’s ABCs (it’s a website, normal ending after the name) for an idea of how that works, and of course there’s education and Khan….

  3. Blackboard !?! Arrrrrrrriiiighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

    Sorry. I’m currently wrangling Blackboard, a version set up for a different teaching system, different schedule, and different end goal. If anyone ever says Blackboard is simple and intuitive, bop them with a copy of the OED until reason and sanity returns – theirs or yours. IMHO.

    1. That monstrosity was bad enough using it as a student. I’d hate to be an instructor having to use it, or maybe even worse, being an IT type trying to provide tech support for it. Ugh. Though I suppose it could be worse.

    2. Funny thing is, the speaker couldn’t get the Blackboard site to display correctly. It would have been enough to put me off the entire idea, but I’ve seen and heard of other programs that are much more useful.

  4. I refuse to start preaching about the public school system; once I get on that soapbox, it’s going to take a herd of y’all to drag me offa it. I can go some. Short version – sending your child to public schools is tantamount to socially sanctioned child abuse.

    1. It felt more like a legal con game where I went school, when I consider what we were actually taught as compared to what we should or could have learned. 12 years of basic math with maybe 1-2 years of something sorta-like algebra in there? The sciences and English and whatnot were all similar. I wish my parents could have used those people.

  5. Homeschooling is definitely not for everyone–as mentioned above, it might end up with both parents and kids going nuts, or perhaps it’s a situation where the parents (or parent) can’t, because work. But where it is possible, and the kid and parent are both sufficiently invested…it’s really awesome. (And where it isn’t an option, school choice is vitally important. NO ONE should have to be locked into a terrible school system because of either rural/isolated location, or because they’re poor.)

    Baby brother, at the age of about eight or nine, decided he was fed up with being bullied, and being considered ‘disruptive’ by his teachers because he asked too many questions, and asked to be homeschooled. It was soon determined that parent-child one on one teaching wasn’t going to work–baby brother could not separate ‘mom’ from ‘teacher who critiqued my essay and didn’t pull punches’ and also was inclined to argue about it (had same problem when we tried ‘much older sister critiqued the essays, and he still didn’t take it well’) and so went with one of the online academies. (Connections Academy, if you want to know. They’re pretty awesome.)

    Of course, the parents heard all the usual garbage: “Your child won’t be socialized!” (Yeah, you socialize dogs, not kids, and explain to me again how having a child only interact with children in his own age group is somehow ‘natural’…?) If a parent is doing their job right with the homeschooling, homeschooled kid will be far more comfortable interacting with people of any age group, and also be good at advocating for themselves.

    Baby brother had the slight problem of living in a very isolated rural area…but the parents still made sure he was advocating for himself with teachers and other students, and by the time high school rolled around and he decided to go back to public school (having discovered girls, and them discovering him right back, and also the fact that he wouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to participate in any extracurricular stuff because the local schools *hate* homeschooling, and he very much wanted to do speech and debate), he could no longer be easily bullied (no longer being a small chubby child but rather a 6′ and still growing also helped, of course). Which meant that when local principal did everything he could to torpedo the speech and debate kids (because it wasn’t a ‘real’ sport, and he hates anyone who won’t do ‘real’ sports), baby brother fought back. Yeah, the parents got involved (because of the likelihood of retribution from said principal and other authority figures against a ‘powerless’ minor), but he had no problem standing up for himself and others. And that was, in good part, down to not having been beaten down by the public school system that says “shut up and do what you’re told and don’t question us.”

    If I am ever so fortunate as to have children of my own, I plan to do everything in my power to homeschool them.

    1. Because it’s not feasible for us to homeschool (I’m an immigrant, husband works full time) we’re sending the kiddlywink to the local school. Hasn’t been so bad at the latest one, but I supplement his education with getting him into reading, and exposing him to the books and encyclopedias I had (we went out of our way to get these) and he’s gotten into reading pretty well. I’m learning though that I’m rather bad at teaching how to write essays because I myself don’t remember how I learned how to do them.

    2. Of course, the parents heard all the usual garbage: “Your child won’t be socialized!”

      Depending on my “read” on the person, I’ve got polite answers– a laugh and asking ‘you mean the kids who won’t stop talking to you, an adult they’ve never met, need to be MORE social?’ – through the much less polite ones, including showing them my scars and demanding how, exactly, they think that was a good idea, or laying out exactly the “social issues” I have, ‘thanks’ to public school, or pointing out that social anxiety is rampant in the publicly schooled…..

      1. Most of my social awkwardness likely wouldn’t have happened if I’d been homeschooled. Ah, well.

        And despite what the naysayers claim, one does not have to be an expert in everything to effectively teach one’s child–one just has to be as willing to learn.

        My mother has always been terrible at math, especially fractions (having discalculia will do that to you)…but when it came time to teach baby brother, she couldn’t just throw up her hands. So instead, she relearned how to do them…and got quite good at them. It didn’t remove the discalculia, but she could teach them.

        (And that’s even if, like you said, Shadowdancer, you can’t do the full time homeschooling, but instead are educating your child over and above what they learn in public school. It’s still ensuring that your kid learns how to learn, and not just passively accept whatever the public school deems acceptable. 😀 )

        1. The worst teachers I ever had weren’t the ones who didn’t know stuff.

          It was the ones who didn’t know that they didn’t know stuff, and refused to find out.

          1. Yes, those are the absolute worst, because they inevitably combine that with viewing anyone–especially a student–who DOES know more about it than them as a threat.

            And sadly, it seems as those these days that kind of teacher is in the majority in public schools. (Not surprising, considering the political philosophies most of them subscribe to, but it’s still disheartening.)

          2. “The worst teachers I ever had weren’t the ones who didn’t know stuff.

            It was the ones who didn’t know that they didn’t know stuff, and refused to find out.”

            Hoo boy, I remember what THAT was like. Of course when I did it I was stupid enough to go down to the school library and bring up a history book that proved me right. In front of the class. I did not have a fun year after that.

          3. Looking back over my High School years nearly three decades ago,
            I had a couple of teachers who were overpaid babysitters and utter dingbats
            A good number who were merely incompetent
            A good number who were merely okay
            A decent number who were actually good
            Exactly 4 who were outstandingly excellent
            And I was in honors/gifted for a majority of those classes.

      2. Vincent was a lot more socially adjusted before that effing ‘you can cry when your feelings are hurt = ANY TIME YOUR FEELINGS ARE HURT’ temp teacher.

        It still enrages me to this day. I felt bad for their regular teacher (the teachers that year had rolling cases of the flu) and she was a good teacher.

    3. That said, your brother is a prime example of a kid that wasn’t “properly” socialized– because he was a royal pain in the rump to that principle.

      That’s pretty much what school socialization comes down to– how to only involve the Authorities when it’s something they want to do.

      1. And keep your mouth shut and do as you are told, yes. Because they aren’t in the business of actual education, especially nowadays. It’s about indoctrination, and that’s a lot harder when you’ve got a kid who is vocally and openly challenging that.

        While I was far shyer than baby brother, I still learned early on not to trust school ‘authority.’ Most specifically, when I was twelve years old and being stalked, and the school ‘counselors’ kept telling me it must be my fault. I knew my parents had my back, but I never trusted teacher, principal, or especially counselor ever again.

        1. I am still boggled by the (Boomer or nearly so) relations who were actively assaulted in school, who know it was worse when their kids went through, and is yet worse now– BUT FREAK OUT THAT WE HOMESCHOOL.

          Uh. Wait. Having me yell that NO, you can’t switch the subtraction problem to addition just because the top number in that row is bigger is worse than being groped or worse?! WTF?

      1. I know, right? And this was a kid who would argue if the sky was blue BEFORE he got into speech and debate… Well, he does come from a family of opinionated and argumentative people. 😀

  6. I was homeschooled for most of my schooling. I spent a lot of time doing things with friends from scouting, sports and other groups. In addition, I had time to foster my own creativity and write books in my spare time. Now that I’m in college, I’m getting tired of the structure, since I had such freedom to learn on my own when I was young. At least I graduate in a few months.

  7. Out of curiosity…
    Can anybody recommend some good curriculum?
    We just pulled my fourth graders out of the institution to begin homeschooling them.
    (A large portion of it was a tiff between my wife and the principal, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth!)
    I can cobble together something useful from all the amazing free stuff online, but I was largely autodidactic so I *know* I’ve got blind spots.

    1. There’s some really good online academies that set up the curriculum (and let you pick it, I believe), and also send you the books/supplies/laptop computer.

      But if you want to build your own, there’s all kinds of books, etc available on building one.

      Just a couple grabbed from a search:

      And there’s many more. Some of them, I note, are either quite cheap on Kindle or even available on KU. 🙂

      And don’t let anyone tell you you can’t teach your child if you’re not an expert in it.

      Although you may find, especially in later years (as my mother did) that you’ll find the weak spots in your own education and have to overcome them. 😀

    2. I highly suggest home-brewing your curriculum, based off of something like:
      or similar; homeschool sites often have a “have a good idea what topics to hit if you don’t already know what you want to do” suggestions.
      Check your state law– I suggest HSLDA membership, because they’re VERY handy for personality issues or failure to recognize limits– to see what you HAVE to cover.

      And remember that schools have really, really big gaps, too.

    3. Ah, ha! You’ve discovered my cunning plan of letting other commenters compile a list of homeschooling resources, so the rest of us have a starting point when it comes time to create our own curricula.

    4. Thanks for the recommendation!
      (And it feels good to see some of the things I’ve already grabbed name-dropped as recommendations.)

  8. Your teachers were less observant than mine. I remember that my sixth-grade teacher called my father to warn him I was reading books with “adult themes” like “Exodus,” by Leon Uris (or maybe it was “The Godfather,” by Mario Puzo). He laughed about it, but told me “don’t show anything to your classmates that’s going to make their parents call me.”

    1. For me, it was Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard paperbacks with . . . shall we say *eyecatching* Frazetta and Whelan covers.

      Amazingly, no one ever complained.

    2. I started on Orwell in the 4th grade- “Animal Farm” was okay, but I suspect “1984” may have been a trifle too much.

  9. Homeschooling and computer supplements are fine, except

    Children whose parents don’t care if their kids learn anything, because they didn’t
    The community that is proud that only 2% of their high school graduates went to college, and wishes the number were smaller [No, I did not make that up, but I was in the Army and listened]
    Parents who are poor, so that the house is lacking a few things, like a book, a computer, or an internet connection.

    There is a significant chunk of home-schooled children who do not get beyond business math, as a result of which there are large numbers of jobs and professions that are closed to them permanently.

    1. …you do know that colleges are starting to require rather basic math classes for high school graduates, because the schools routinely fail it so badly, right?

      And that every objective-measurement type study has shown a higher outcome for home schooled kids?

    2. Here’s the thing, though: Parents who don’t care? Yeah, they’re not going to be homeschooling their kids. They’re content to let the state do it.

      As for ‘only’ learning business math…well, again, that’s down to the dedication of both parents and the kids. If they want to learn more, they can. There’s nothing stopping them. Especially in this day and age.

      Compare that to that huge number of publicly schooled kids being ‘graduated’ who can’t even read? Or do basic math?

      Also: I’m not sure why you say ‘a significant chunk’, when there are a lot of numbers out there indicating that homeschooled kids consistently score higher on the standardized tests and do better in college, etc that publicly schooled kids. (because even homeschooled kids still have to take those stupid standardized tests. But unlike their public school peers, they’re not just learning to the test and nothing else.)

      If someone wants to learn, they’ll learn–and have an easier time doing it when not actively being fought by the system. I was one of those so-called ‘gifted’ kids, and yet was a terrible underachiever in public school because I was bored out of my mind. I did read voraciously, so I didn’t leave school in any way uneducated…but had my parents been more willing to take the leap when I was a kid (I’m the oldest in a family of seven), I probably would have excelled rather than just ‘rubbed along.’ And I admit: my ambitions regarding schooling in a public school were pretty low. I had no motivations to do otherwise, because I learned in first grade that the reward for doing all your work early and doing it well was…boring busywork. (My parents have expressed a regret that they didn’t homeschool me, but they were young and I was their firstborn, and so fell under the ‘experimental child because we have no idea what we’re doing other than our best’ category.)

      If someone doesn’t want to learn, or if someone–be it parent or teacher–doesn’t want to try and change that…well, nothing on earth is going to compel them to do so.

      1. Compare that to that huge number of publicly schooled kids being ‘graduated’ who can’t even read? Or do basic math?

        Oh, the LOOKS I get when I show the kids how to calculate price-per-unit at the store– and how to pay attention to what units are on the price tag, because it’s not always standardized– you’d think it was magic.

        I’ve got a shelf full of TINY boxes of something or other because it was less than half the price per unit of the “bulk” container. Minor pain to use, but for twenty cents a pound, I’ll do it.

          1. Same here in Canada at a lot of the grocery stores. Used it pretty much all the time and compare prices from budget grocery to Costco. Somethings are cheaper, others about the same, only difference being brand name versus no-name brand. Big difference in quality.
            Also, my mother taught me how to price compare before they started doing price/100 ml’s type stuff.

    3. And this isn’t even a new problem:

      During their first math class at one of CUNY’s four-year colleges, 90% of 200 students tested couldn’t solve a simple algebra problem, the report by the CUNY Council of Math Chairs found. Only a third could convert a fraction into a decimal.

      For comparison’s sake, using Scholastic’s “third grade skills” workbook (and work-sheets if she has issues with that), my eight year old can take a fraction to a decimal and visa-versa, both long-hand and on a calculator.

    4. The community that is proud that only 2% of their high school graduates went to college, and wishes the number were smaller [No, I did not make that up, but I was in the Army and listened]

      I gotta wonder…did you listen to why that was so?

      Because I grew up in a rural area. And the problem with folks leaving for college is that they didn’t come back. Cost of education alone makes it difficult.

      It’s not that they prize ignorance, it’s that when the price for knowledge is abandoning the place… well, only a small number doing so, though they graduated, is a good thing.

      As for books… that isn’t due to being poor. I grew up poor, in the 90s– eligible for gov’t lunch, though we never took it– and we had books, and computer, and internet. Because it mattered to us.

      Now? When most of your entertainment is going to be online?
      Back in ’12, most recent year showing up, even those households with an income under 25k/year were more likely to have the net at home than not. (54%) Households with any child in them, more than 82% had net access at home.

      For books?
      Heck, we’ve got a big bag of books that I didn’t want, because it’s a go-to offering for anything that has a lot of kids. We walk into the Ag Extension office to ask a question about weeds, and they gave us SIX BOOKS. Three fun, three sciency.
      You want learning books? Walk into Goodwill and spend the price of a fancy coffee. Or hit Craig’s list. Or hold still for too long around the “friends of the library” sale, or a homeschool group.

      1. Dolly Parton has a free books for kids program, run through libraries, but delivered to your door.

        And yes, poor families have awesome smartphones and full Internet data plans for their kids. And actually, a lot of people do a lot of reading on their smartphones, these days. It’s kinda funny, seeing a whole breakroom or store full of temporary introverts.

        1. Yes, there are poor families with smart phones. There are also really poor families whose televisions rely on broadcast signals because they cannot afford cable, let alone a computer. I have a friend in Charleston SC who runs a program to put computers into homes of the impoverished, where they are received with much gratitude, and one obstacle is that the computer has no way to speak to the internet. They take scrapped computers refurbish them, I believe replace the disk drives, etc.

        2. No no no, we’re supposed to be HORRIFIED that people aren’t “interacting” as they always use to!

          *insert picture of guys on a train with every single one holding a news paper*

    5. A certain organization has been sending me flyers about the fifteen year old cohort last year testing a lot worse on the math portion of the standardized tests that are used to rank nations by school quality. (Said organization is not one afraid to call out the current President for things they disagree with. Wonder why they won’t acknowledge that the previous administration’s mucking about may be at fault?) Kids who go to public school and don’t have their folks providing remedial education aren’t learning math as well as they used to. There’s a lot of fields closed off if you learned division badly and are hence afraid of math. Poor minorities likely disparately impacted.

      1. Being surrounded by a culture that considers educational attainment to be a sign of social failure doesn’t help those kids… And no amount of .gov- or other funded tutoring will solve that problem.

  10. for least parent interaction in homeschooling. Has a good record of quality education. We homeschooled the last 4 girls til high school (with A-beka, hadn’t heard of Robinson). They are now homeschooling themselves – all successfully.

  11. I wouldn’t say that boys tend to “cluster” at the ends of the intellectual bell curve; the IQ distribution for men still looks like a bell curve. A better phrasing would be that boys don’t cluster in the middle as much, and are more spread out over the entire curve, thus leading to more geniuses and more morons than the women’s IQ curve, which does tend to cluster in the middle more.

    Your overall point is absolutely correct, I’m just picking at the phrasing, which makes it sound like the bell curve goes up at the extremes for male IQ. It doesn’t, it just goes down less slowly at the two extremes than the female IQ curve, so the area under the curve at both extremes is significantly larger.

    And be careful — you could get fired from Harvard for saying that. 😉

    1. That is, alas, becoming a lost art. I greatly enjoy it, myself, but the baffled/awed looks I get when talking about it…And the disbelief when I try to say “Guys, it’s not hard, and one of the key things is making sure your kitchen is REALLY CLEAN before you start…”

      1. she taught both me and my older sister canning, and my mom’s garden occasionally produced enough for us to practise, but its been probably 30 years since i have done it.

      2. Making cheese or beer requires the same thing: Clean everything!

        Pro tip: Shut off the ceiling fan, too. I’m convinced that’s what spoiled a batch of beer.

        1. I suspect humidity plays a role, at least in some things. I’d had no trouble making batches of cold process soap in my generally very dry high mountain desert climate…and then one day it failed. But it had been rather damp that week (relatively speaking…)

          Or who knows, maybe I looked at it funny. ::shrugs::

          I have issues with getting jam to set up. I suspect the altitude.

  12. I homeschooled and now teach in a small private school so I have a couple of comments… The worst aspect of switching to teaching in a school was the adversarial relationship that exists between the students/parents, and me. I spend wicked amounts of energy trying to keep that under control. And I hate grading and then moving on. I’m always leaving two or three kids behind.

    But I have to say that online education cannot be the only thing or it will result in kids just having to learn in a particular way. If it isn’t their way, well too bad. Ideally a teacher sees that a student is stuck and helps them solve the stuckness.

    In the early 1900s the Catholic parochial schools were huge assimilators though they get not-so-much credit for that.

    The book, Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield is all about these educational issues, as well as being fun to read.

    A math website — Purplemath. And Khan Academy as mentioned above.

    1. The different learning styles thing is actually rather easily solved with e-learning– if it’s built from the ground up, rather than being a raw import of a class.

      The ideas in common core were largely pointing at attempting to fix exactly this issue– that the kids aren’t offered more than one way to learn. (the solution ended up being worse– do one or two problems in each style of doing it, so the kids don’t get a grasp of any of them, but it was an attempt)

      The best method I’ve found is to require the kids do each method as you try it, but when they finally find one that works really well, stick with it. The requirement to manage to be mildly proficient is because about half of the methods that “click” for them are ones that didn’t work at all…right at first.

  13. About computerized lessons: I’m deaf. What I see is mostly saving travel time for the professor or the student by moving the classic lecture to video. Video is a horribly slow way to transfer information. Lecturing usually is like a manuscript before it has had the benefit of editing. Few people can organize their thoughts and present them in a logical order concisely. Also one also has to be an orator instead of droning on in a monotone. Does anyone actually teach public speaking as a part of instruction? Students could learn from a text better if they were trained to that method early, but they are not. I had to learn to do that from necessity, but if a student can learn from the manuscript – well that threatens the lecturer’s livelihood doesn’t it?
    The few teachers who are really outstanding and worth listening to could reach more students if their instruction was made available to more students, but the schools are socialistic and work for full employment of the mediocre instead of pushing the exceptional. The idea of competing to instruct would horrify the teacher’s unions. The competitive models works for things like music and art – but instruction? Why not? Feedback from students to instructors has never been great. If an instructor can’t explain something the first time through they often aren’t going to improve with a second go at it. That is supposedly the reason for smaller classes but it’s crap. You could perform that function better with a model like online help services. Again you would keep the people who had the highest satisfaction numbers for helping students and drop those who were not helpful. But the dropping part is forbidden. They can’t afford to discard somebody with years of training to teach, and they have no model at all to prevent hopeless drones from starting down the path to their teaching degree.
    Don’t even get me started about the value of involuntary socialization with a body of people who you would never pick as friends or even invite to lunch. You can get the same exposure to bullies and low-life scum by being sentenced to prison. I suppose it is useful if you are going to be the warden.

  14. I’m about to start homeschooling my son. The core is going to be “The Story of the World” series, married to Classical Conversations’ cards for History, Science, and Art. (As a long-time gamer, of course, I look at that and go “hey, where’s the war cards with the chariots, catapults, cannon, etc.?”)

    Math will be Singapore Math, which is what Common Core is (incompetently) based on. As you might imagine, the Singaporeans were NOT incompetent.

    And RPGs!!!

    I’m using the FATE system, which is simple enough for a younger child and also has interesting mechanics that will meta-teach some important behavioral concepts.

    Idea is:

    * Mission briefing begins the week.

    * Given mission-specific “magic” items that only work if the child knows something about a subject. Anything from “you must correctly play X on a real piano to invoke effect Y” to “This pin will turn you into any type of butterfly, moth, or caterpillar, but you’re going to have to pick the right types at the right times to avoid certain dangers.”

    * Time in The Endless Library. Over next few days he can visit the real library, use the Internet, and ask non-parents for help. “Power up” the magic with knowledge, and learn about where he’s gong.

    * Near the end of the week we play, dropping him into various situations from history. He experiences it, and uses his knowledge. A companion / item comes along to fill in some blanks and help things along, but has limits to how much it knows or can do.

    Any members of the Mad Genius Club interested in the development of this idea and sharing of resources, scenarios, etc. can contact me. Joe over at windsofchange, dot net.

  15. I’m enrolling one kid in CodeKingdom. He’s a preteen who will be learning Java by building Minecraft mods. Not even a teenager yet.
    Also, other of my kids are getting language and other coding classes on Udemy. FANTASTIC learning opportunities!

    1. I have a whole slew of Udemy courses I’ve picked up on their various super-cheap sales. Including a number of coding ones. The single biggest flaw, I felt, in my graphic design study course was the fact that nowhere was there anything to do with learning code.

      But all the jobs out there seeking web designers would really, really like you to be able to code, not just design. And a large chunk, so I gather, of the coders out there don’t know design…

      But there are all kinds of awesome courses on Udemy. I probably got too many for my (admittedly weaker than I would like) self-discipline to sit down and do…

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