The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
11.3 (Summer 2011)
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Reading and Writing: The Bedrock of Home-Education
I will disclaim first of all any responsibility for bad or inaccurate advice. I have not sought the nomination to write in “Home School Corner”, and I should probably not have accepted it. My own experiences in the genre have been sporadic and almost reactionary. Like so many parents, I detest the public schools not for their abject failure to impart any useful and competent instruction–I could forgive that, since so goes the rest of the world these days–but for placing children at physical risk and for indoctrinating them with PC rigmarole. A child is better off simply staying at home with a few books randomly selected from the local public library. He is not exposed to being cuffed, mugged, or spat on, and he will learn some little something superior to the less-than-nothing–the dismal ignorance–soaked up from “state of the art” textbooks in history and science.
Of science, I will further say by way of explanation that I have not found the textbooks rigidly PC so much as unreadable. The quality of explanation is pitiful, and more and more the Internet is used as a resource for “further reading” (which appears to be code for kicking the failure farther down the line). Home-schooling parents often worry that their children will fall behind because of a lack of costly lab equipment upon which to hone newly acquired skills. I can only second the view expressed in this space a short while back that a legible text supplemented with thorough verbal explanation creates a far deeper understanding of scientific principles than a horribly written chapter full of breath-taking photos and supplemented by the volleyball coach’s reading from her manual. My son positively loathes science, and since this is a development that dates from his enrollment in a formal school (a private school, at that), I can only assume that the response was elicited by a year of having to figure out chemistry all on his own. The wealth of equipment apparently did not suffice to calm the swirling chaos within his frustrated mind.
On the subject of private schools, furthermore, I am distressed to have to say that the conditions are not much more reassuring than at public schools. The enrollment is generally smaller, the student-teacher ratio much better, and the degree of thuggery reduced (though, thanks to the smaller student body, the pressure to play football escalates: to me the “sport” is mere organized thuggery). Because they are unable to draw from bottomless public coffers, however, private schools pay lower salaries. This means that they attract a) very young teachers who have virtually no experience, and b) older teachers who have retired on a rich public-sector benefit plan yet still need more cash. The former are likely to leave within a very few years if they show any ability at all, while the latter are apt to phone in their effort with complete indifference. There are often social problems, as well. Children of the community’s most wealthy may be standing beside your kids in the lunch line, and the ensuing lesson in class consciousness may be one that you’d rather your baby not learn too soon. A double-standard may also emerge in the teachers’ treatment of their students. Children of large donors will simply not be allowed to fail, and they may have to be allowed straight-A’s. It depends on what exactly the large donor thinks he is paying for (and how clearly he expresses his thoughts to the headmaster).
The good news about home-schooling if the private school is your only viable option is that much cheer can be derived from considering the money saved. At about ten grand a year per child, the mother of three who keeps her kids out of private school to tutor them at home makes at least $30,000 per annum. Certainly a person with advanced degrees will have hoped for something more by way of a career–but one should not view oneself on a par with the slave labor provided by one’s grandmother unless one just enjoys self-mutilation.
Of all that I have to say on this subject, the one affirmation I would stand behind without giving an inch is that “literacy skills” make out far better in the home environment. College professors tell me in one voice that their home-educated students read for content and write connectedly far better than other students. These professors are not necessarily advocates of home education. Some I know to be fiercely opposed to it “on principle” (meaning that they believe good citizenship demands of us to support the largest public sector possible). Nevertheless, they can’t dispute the results that leap out at them. Nothing in this should surprise us in the least. Private individuals are free to select books for their children that are actually a pleasure to read. They can encourage reading “after hours” and display a love of reading themselves as they spend their leisure over a book. Writing skills follow directly from sound reading habits. Though the public-school curriculum is built around the assumption that writing is a technical skill amenable to manuals and three-step procedures, the best writing comes of watching others write: i.e., of reading. How would you suppose a young person might best learn to speak eloquently–by reading rhetorical manuals or by listening to exceptional speakers? A little of one would probably assist a lot of the other; and, by the same token, I would not condemn all composition classes as a waste of time. My point, instead, is that ample reading cannot help but favor good writing–so that a parent who does no more than simply make the kids read will rear fully adequate writers. The same cannot be said about the products of a teacher who assigns essay after essay to students who never read more than they absolutely must, and on no account read for pleasure.
Foreign language is the second and equally sustaining pillar of the home academy. I taught my three children Latin to the best of my modest ability after initially having a flirtation with Italian. The language of one’s forefathers is lots of fun to play with, and in some cases (or in one case, I should say), that language is competing with English to be the lingua franca of the United States. Yet to learn the true discipline of language–any language–you must study Latin. In the West, at least, no other tongue forces the student to analyze the various functions of nouns and the various qualities of verbs (person, number, tense, mood, voice) as does Latin. The grammar is the hard part, I admit–the part that children most detest and whine over. Vocabulary, by comparison, is almost a game to them. They love to ask if a new Latin word is the origin of this or that English word; sometimes they will surprise the teacher herself with the keenness of their perception in this regard (though lucky guesses are not unheard-of). Nevertheless, the dedicated teacher should not be whined and wheedled into abandoning grammar for vocabulary. I am convinced that long after my children have forgotten the formation of the pluperfect tense, they will still be using English tenses with more thought because they once knew that formation. I have good evidence already that attention to Latin helps with college entrance exams.
As our nation nosedives into insolvency, its pilots gunning the engine to assist the process of gravity, the distinct possibility draws rapidly near that we may have no choice but to home-educate. When our “bottomless” public coffers turn out to be deep dry wells, we parents will all be left with children on our hands. Whether out of conviction or necessity, those children may very likely all become home-educators themselves. ~ Gianna DiRoberti
Proud owner of a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and one-time regular contributor to this journal, Ms. DiRoberti has obviously turned her attention to more important matters in recent years.