Saturday, March 08, 2008

Chesterton and Home Education

After reading this story, we can see that the single case in California has nothing to do with education or school. It has to do with potential abuse going on in the family.

Abuse must be dealt with, but the answer isn't: A) All children must be taught by experts in the Educational Field.

Last time I checked, Educational Professionals are just as tempted by sin as parents, ministers and boy scout leaders who are also ministers.

And the answer is also not B) No one in California can homeschool, because one family might have abused their children. If that were the case, California should also shut down all churches, schools, scout programs, camps, and also outlaw babysitting. Oh, and they should outlaw families, too. But I think they're already working on that.

Now, let's talk about the part of the California situation where the Teacher's Union happily reports that experts with degrees must teach all children.

Seeing as how Chesterton was vastly self- and home-educated, I think he'd be the first to point out the fallacy of having "experts" to rely on for the education of our country.

Chesterton was convinced that even without a college degree, most parents could care for children in all the usual ways: feeding, diapering, teaching to walk, talk, teaching right from wrong, rules, manners, and yes, even, the stuff of life, or what some people categorize as "education". If the California situation is true and the children are being abused, this has nothing to do with education, and is a failure in parenting, in love. It is sin. We all sin, but when someone sins in this way against a child, it is horrible, and we want to fix it. Hurray for California for feeling this way. But the "fix" isn't to stop homeschooling in California so that abuse stops. That answer lacks common sense.

Does a parent need a literature degree to tell a child a bedtime story? Does a parent need a degree in foreign language to teach a child their native tongue (which is foreign to the child)? Does a parent need a PhD in Math to teach the child sums and balancing check books, and making change at the store? Does a parent need to be a philosopher to teach their child right and wrong and how to be good? Does a parent need to be a theologian to teach him about God and take him to Church? Does a parent need to be a Social Services expert to teach their child manners and the normal social interactions of daily life?

The whole principle of having children within a family is that the parents, the mom and the dad, have this forever bond of love, which, in the understanding of the Church is a sacrament, which means a means of God's grace, which helps them raise their children lovingly, to the best of their ability. This grace provides the strength to do what needs to be done everyday: from cleaning up spilled milk, to caring for a child with the stomach flu, to teaching the child the names of the state capitals.

Now, no one is perfect, and granted, we parents aren't perfect. But neither is a system perfect, containing lots of teachers, who each carry with them the possibility of imperfection. A teacher has no more ability to teach a child that is not his own, and in fact, has less. The natural way of the world has been, for thousands and thousands of years, that parents teach their children what needs to be taught. It's only been in the last few hundreds of years that the whole "institutional" school thing has developed. But naturally, our memory for history is so short, we forget this small fact.

The teacher is taught methods of "herding" and keeping 29 students occupied and happy in one room. The teacher teaches to the mid-level of the students. The teacher may try to individualize teaching for a few students, but they could never individualize teaching for all 29. Homeschooling provides that individual learning. Homeschooling is the equivalent of tutoring one-on-one. Teachers who have problems with students who either fall behind or get ahead often suggest tutoring because tutoring is good for students.

Parents have a better ability to teach their own children because of an important fact: they love their children and want what's best for them. Now many parents abdicate this responsibility to the state, and you get what you pay for there, if that's your choice. You should have the ability to have a say so in the matter, since, after all, your tax dollars are at work, but in general, you can attend all the home and school meetings you want to, and life at your child's school isn't really going to change.

Perhaps the education level in California is better than the rest of the nation. Perhaps their record of abusing children is better than the other 49 states. Perhaps California kids are passing standardized tests, getting into MIT and Harvard and Smith at higher rates than the rest of the nation. Perhaps California really has an educational system to be proud of. But I haven't heard those things, so I'm a little sceptical that that's the case in California.

I've noticed a curious trend in schools these days. Schools are demanding more and more education for their teachers. I know of kindergarten teachers who have their Master's Degrees. And I've also noticed, seemingly at the same time, a huge lack of education going on in the schools. Kids not passing test, misbehaving, becoming bullies, doing group math and watching a lot of movies, etc. Seems to me that kids learned a lot more in the old one room school house where discipline was demanded and the standards were high, and the teacher had just a bit more education than the students. If you look at a McGuffey reader or a spelling book or a math book from back then, and you will not believe kids were doing that work in 3rd or 5th grade. What some high school seniors cannot do today.

So, what do I think about California? There is a family that needs help. The system responds by saying the old "it takes a village of PhDs". Everyone has become so expert, no one has any common sense any more. Check the test scores. Who wins the geography and spelling bees in this country? How come colleges and universities all suddenly have recruiters for homeschoolers? Are homeschooling families the only place where abuse is found?

Our educational system is broken in this country. There are a few pockets of goodness. For the main part, though, we should take government out of the business of education. When governmental funds are removed from the situation, I think we'll find some real education can take place.

I think the court system must be broken, as well, to have let this situation happen.


  1. If you want to read GKC's careful exploration of this matter, please go quickly and order What's Wrong With the World, where you will find this:

    "There is one thing at least of which there is never so much as a whisper inside the popular schools; and that is the opinion of the people. The only persons who seem to have nothing to do with the education of the children are the parents."


    "How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe?"

    "The trouble in too many of our modern schools is that the State, being controlled so specially by the few, allows cranks and experiments to go straight to the schoolroom when they have never passed through the Parliament, the public house, the private house, the church, or the marketplace. Obviously, it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people; the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby. But in a school to-day the baby has to submit to a system that is younger than himself. The flopping infant of four actually has more experience, and has weathered the world longer, than the dogma to which he is made to submit. Many a school boasts of having the last ideas in education, when it has not even the first idea; for the first idea is that even innocence, divine as it is, may learn something from experience. But this, as I say, is all due to the mere fact that we are managed by a little oligarchy; my system presupposes that men who govern themselves will govern their children. To-day we all use Popular Education as meaning education of the people. I wish I could use it as meaning education by the people."


    "It is persistently assumed that unless a child is civilized by the established schools, he must remain a barbarian."

    and much, much more.

    --Dr. Thursday.

  2. As a public school teacher and devout chestertonian, I would like to respectfully disagree with the connection between teachers' education and bad behavior. The bad behavior comes from the teacher's hands being tied and the school's terror of lawsuits. The teachers' quality of education is often applied to do the best that they can to teach, despite the 'small laws.' There are many heroic teachers that are fighting the good fight.
    I would also add (and maybe get in trouble), that I have worked at a Catholic School that has the attitude that a teacher's education has no correlation to whether they can teach. The results, I assure you, were not, to put it charitably, productive. Now, a great deal of effort is needed to train the teachers.
    Training teachers is not worthless. I have several college degrees in all my fields as well as state certifications and would respectfully say that the training I received was very productive, useful, and essential in helping these poor children that are stuck in schools handcuffed by the laws.

    I believe you make a good point about homeschooling. I support homeschooling. I love homeschooling, but teachers and education at public schools are not worthless.
    I see a danger of idealizing the alternatives to 'traditional' schooling. I see too much evidence to the contrary. There are many homeschooled children at my Parish that have an appalling lack of discipline, are rude to adults, behave poorly at Mass, are bullies and unkind. In other words, the same behavior I see at my public school, I see among some homeschoolers. Moreover, academically, many are years behind where they should be because of homeschooling done badly. (There are also excellent examples and marvelous homeschooled students too. I'm not bashing homeschooling here, just pointing out what I see. When done well, homeschooling is absolutely fantastic! But so is traditional schooling.)
    I do not conclude from the bad behavior of some homeschooled children that homeschooling is worthless and should be denegrated, and neither should the same be done to those who are in traditional schooling scenerios (i.e. parish and public schools). It's not us/them. There is plenty of room for reform on all fronts. But, Heaven help us! not from the government!!!!I think we all agree on that--and most public school teachers I know want the government out just as much as the rest of us!

    But our education, no, that is not our deficit.

    'I know of kindergarten teachers who have their Master's Degrees. And I've also noticed, seemingly at the same time, a huge lack of education going on in the schools. Kids not passing test, misbehaving, becoming bullies, doing group math and watching a lot of movies, etc. Seems to me that kids learned a lot more in the old one room school house where discipline was demanded and the standards were high, and the teacher had just a bit more education than the students.'

  3. I would just like to disagree that the amount of professional degrees and education a teacher has is directly proportionate to the education happening in the classroom.

    Certainly, a teacher who is passionate about teaching can learn "on the job" and has the experience to do a good job in her classroom, and in many ways, is probably the motivated person who continues her/his education with professional degrees/certificates.

    I object to the school system coercing teachers in to obtaining higher degrees, so that on paper, it looks like the level of teaching is great at this school or that school system, because I do not believe THAT is a direct correlation.

    Obviously, there are committed teachers in every school and system. I think you would agree that there are also some teachers who are just there.

    And a big difference between homeschooled and schooled children is the ultimate responsibility. The parents are, ultimately responsible for the education of their children whether they send their children to school or not. So, the behavior of children that one sees, whether a schooled child or not, is really the parents responsibility. And proportionately, even though you do see poorly disciplined homeschooled children, proportionately, homeschooled children are better behaved. This is simply a matter of time. A parent spending all day with a child cannot "let" behavior go [she has to live with this child all day, and what parent wants back-talk and an uncontrolled child to live with each day?] the way a school parent can.

    And a parent with a child at home, who feels responsible for that child's education, is in general going to make every effort to educate the child. The responsibility level is quite different from the teacher in the classroom, who has the child for one year, and then passes him along.

    And as for homeschooled children being behind grade level, I suspect there are children in every single classroom in America who are behind grade level. And ahead of grade level. Now, we'd have to talk about who decides what is "grade level" and if those criteria are really set in stone or not. So you can see that that argument is not going to work on a homeschooler, who finds that if her first grader can't read well, they turn into an avid reader by 3rd or 4th grade, for one example. The school that determined that reading was a first grade task is going to be unhappy with this child. But the homeschooled mother will know that that arbitrary fixation on grade level isn't as important as developing a child who can read with ease and loves reading. And that is but one small example.

  4. One thing I meant to say was that a good teacher is more WHO she is than the degrees she's obtained. I believe that a good teacher could teach with a Bachelor's degree. A good teacher could teach with a PhD. The DEGREE isn't as important as the dedication and PERSON the teacher is.

  5. Thank you for clarifying. I think we all agree that there is not always a correlation between number of degrees and what makes a good teacher. I was trying to point out that just because one is a public school teacher with degrees, it does not always mean she is a bad one, and just because someone is a homeschooler, does not always mean she is a good one. I did not think that you meant to say that in your entry, having read many of your other works, but, taking the entry alone, you seemed to be conveying that.

    ps. When I was talking about behind grade level, I meant twelve-year olds who still couldn't write or read, or 15 year olds who had never been required to write in full sentences. (not the often arbitrary measurements)

  6. I have written about this situation myself. It is good to see others who are taking this seriously as there are many who are not.

    You can read my take on this matter here:

  7. I think the bottom line is that there is a parenting problem in our society, and school is just the fall out zone.

  8. I second that Nancy. I hope that California will work this out.

  9. Is this true?

    "Seeing as how Chesterton was vastly self- and home-educated, I think he'd be the first to point out the fallacy of having "experts" to rely on for the education of our country."

    I think Chesterton went to a regular elementary school, and even though he didn't like it, he did benefit from it. His self-education was mostly reading a lot of books on his own, perhaps talking about them with his parents.

    I realize there are problems in the public school system, and I am not against home schooling, if the parents are up to it—I mean if they have some basic level of education so that he or she can meaningfully teach the required curriculum, and if they have the commitment and a lot of time to do it properly. Still, home schoolers lack social interaction with their peers, and I think they may be shielded too much from the real life to which they will have to become exposed one day anyway.

    Wild Goose


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