Friday, November 24, 2006

Homeschoolers Respond To Dr. Phil’s Show About Homeschooling

On November 24, 2006, the Dr. Phil show episode that aired was titled “Great School Debate”. There were numerous negative statements made on the show as well as some common myths, worries and misconceptions of homeschooling portrayed.

The Shows Main Points
1. The main issues posed were citing recent school shootings and asking the question if homeschooling is better and safer for children as an option to avoid violent crimes that occur in school.

2. Another topic was whether homeschooling provides enough of a social experience for children and teenagers. (Dr. Phil said there is a lot of research to show that homeschooling does not provide enough social experiences for children who are middle or high school aged. I have never seen that study data. If you can provide me with it I would appreciate it!) A 26 year old woman homeschooled from grade two through to the end of high school was on the show (without her parents) saying she felt socially stunted in her development and basically cheated out of a mainstream high school experience.

3. One couple had young children and the mother wants to homeschool and the father wants the children to go to public school—they are still in disagreement about this decision. Unlike on other episodes of Dr. Phil's shows he did not help this couple come to a common ground or to a resolution, he must have been content that they were still in conflict over this important decision since he didn't help them resolve it.

4. Lastly a main issue was a focus on examining how one family interprets their ‘radical unschooling’ lifestyle, including describing what I consider to be “non-coercive parenting” and her self-defined parenting style of attachment parenting, toddler breastfeeding (age two) and child-led weaning, and co-sleeping.

5. There were some guests in the audience who were homeschooled who seemed to have a lot to say but were not allowed to say it.

This entry will either contain responses from homeschoolers to the show, or I will link to other homeschoolers blogs or websites that carry a response to the show.

My intention is to gather into one page, many different opinions and voices to respond to some of the questions or issues raised on the show.

I will be updating this entry as it is expanded and more opinions become available either on the web or sent to me by email. If you would like your voice posted to this main blog entry click on “view my complete profile” at the top of my blog and it will take you to a screen with a link to email me.

I recorded this episode so I can refer back to it later if necessary to double check facts or statements presented on the show.

I will also say the show wrapped up with presenting school options as homeschooling or unschooling. I found it very interesting and was surprised that unschooling was not rolled into the same definition of homeschooling.

If you want to discuss topics with other Dr. Phil viewers you can access their message boards, here. The message boards are divided by show topic/episode. You must be a (free) registered user in order to post on the Dr. Phil message boards. Please consider leaving positive homeschooling comments on those message boards. I left a response on

Here is the link to the archive for this episode “Great School Debate”. This webpage has long text quotes from some sections of the show.

Today there is a poll on the Dr. Phil website asking what type of schooling is best. Note they have unschooling and homeschooling as two separate choices. The other two choices are public school and private school.

As of right now the still-open Dr. Phil survey results are this:

Private school 20% (368 votes)
Public school 13% (285 votes)
Homeschooling 44% (920 votes)
Unschooling 23% (477 votes)

(So far all this tells me is that the homeschooling community in general is keyed into this show having aired and that they took the time to visit the site and to vote. I know it is not true reality to have so far, 67% of the population thinking the best schooling method is either homeschooling or unschooling. If that were true then more than the current 1-2% of children in America would actually be homeschooled (with unschooling or whatever other method they choose).

If you want to vote in the Dr. Phil poll, go here.

Due to holiday business and holiday-related fatigue, I hope to revise and expand my own opinions tomorrow.

Here are some responses that I have received:

1. My own opinion as an experienced homeschooling mother is….
The show was not as bad as I imagined it could have been.

It seemed to me that the bulk of the show was dedicated to one family, Dayna and her husband (who sat on the stage with Dr. Phil), who are self-labeled “radical unschoolers”. Dr. Phil spent a lot of time examining her parenting philosophy. Although she said she practices attachment parenting what I heard her talk about seemed more like non-coercive parenting to me, which is another entire philosophy which is not a base component of attachment parenting at all. To sum it up quickly some of the things discusses were no rules in the home, no rules on what children can and can’t eat, what they should do or not do, what types of learning experiences they should have. The learning environment seemed in line with unschooling in that it was ‘learner-driven’ or ‘child-driven’ or ‘child-led’.

One thing that Dr. Phil made clear was that he felt that as a child he would never have learned anything constructive if left to his own devices. He also said very clearly that he hated every minute of every day at school, for every year he was in school. One thing that no one mentioned on the show is that it is typical that a child who first went to school and is used to complete coercion and forcing of ‘learning’ all the time often does act and learn differently when not in the school building. Children who are withdrawn from school and begin homeschooling often need a ‘deschooling’ or ‘decompression’ stage to release the old habits and ways and to adjust to a different lifestyle free of the school rules and school routines (good and bad). Children start off life with a desire and a joy for learning. Some who attend school get this flame extinguished, for various reasons and by various methods. A happy homeschooled child often does need some breathing room to adjust to the new routine and method of homeschooling vs. school. I can see how someone would not understand that a child who never went to a conventional school can and does learn on their own or with some guidance and facilitation of the parents. Even a radical unschooler must make their home environment rich with learning opportunities, from games to books and other things and to provide opportunities in the real world also. I don’t think that Dr. Phil grasped the point at all.

I don’t feel that non-unschoolers were represented much at all on the show. Even eclectic style homeschoolers, or ‘relaxed homeschoolers’ seemed to not be addressed. The methods were represented as teacher lecture driven teaching at the kitchen table or else ‘radical unschooling’. That is not an accurate representation of the homeschooling community.

One point that Dr. Phil also made clear was that to function in the adult workforce a child must be forced to learn in a classroom environment with assignments and deadlines, goals and expectations such as can only be provided in a public school. My always-homeschooled children have been involved in various kinds of classes and teacher-led projects since they were babies. I didn’t like that no one stated this. For example at seven months my older son began taking Gymboree classes with me. Beginning at age five he took an art and craft class with other homeschoolers led by a real art teacher in a classroom/art studio environment in which parents were not allowed to stay in the room. My children have done sports from gymnastics to swimming to baseball in the community mixing mostly with non-homeschoolers and they have not been under my guidance or supervision for those lessons, practices, and/or games. With Cub Scouts my children are in many different situations including being taught by complete strangers. Now at age nine my older son is taking an online electronics class for gifted homeschooled children, this has goals, deadlines, projects, and even real tests to take. And at home regarding the academics that I teach my children, they have goals and assignments. I resented the over-focus on ‘radical unschooling’. There was no ‘middle-ground’ as Dr. Phil so often likes to talk about in his other episodes.

Regarding the parent teaching the child it was made clear on the show that the best teacher is a trained school teacher who takes teacher workshops and learns to teach a specific subject. It was said that no parent could match this.

Overall I thought the show seemed intent to discredit homeschooling. I could go on and on. For now I will stop. I may expand this later.

2. Jane, a homeschooling mother who participated in this Dr. Phil episode gave her permission for me to share her feedback on the show. Jane wrote this after she attended the show but before she watched it air on television.

Jane’s opinions are in blue. I did not edit or shorten what she wrote.

Last month I found a link to the Dr. Phil Show web page asking for opinions about homeschooling. I wrote down some comments, and sent off my thoughts regarding the topic. I had no doubt that my words would disappear in a flood of other opinions, and since I thought the show was filmed in Chicago, I didn't give the matter a second thought.

A few weeks later, I got a call from someone from the show, who told me that it was taped in Hollywood and I was asked to attend the taping. I'm a pretty poor public speaker so I told her I didn't want to be cornered by someone with a microphone and she assured me that I would only have to sit and watch. She then told me to expect a call from one of the producers.

The next call was from a young woman who was very encouraging and reassured me that "Dr. Phil" doesn't want his show to be like Jerry Springer, and that he tries to "stay neutral". She also said there would about 50 invited guests and then 200 random people in the back of the audience. I knew they have to fill up all the seats and that they often recruit tourists from places like Universal Studios to accomplish this.

I asked how many of them would be homeschoolers and how many school employees. She again reassured me that Dr. Phil is fair, but she was only communicating with the folks on one list and couldn't say how many were being called by other folks on staff. I was still a little apprehensive about the situation, but I generally got the feeling that Mr. McGraw leans more toward being pro-homeschooling. (See last fall's "No Room for Compromise" transcript.) So I agreed to come.

I also watched Mr. McGraw that afternoon to see how the show "works". I was really impressed that he had about six women on from the "Women of Faith" conference. All well known, old time "Pillars of the Christian Faith". It was a very upbeat, enjoyable show to watch, with lots of laughter and camaraderie, everyone seemed at ease.

When I had the commitment from three others to go with me I felt even better about going to the show especially with two of our group being the head our Independent Study Program. They are well-known, homeschool leaders in this area and do quite a bit of speaking on the topic of homeschooling at conferences etc.

A few days later I got another call from someone from the show asking me to attend the taping of another show about a teacher who was fired for being involved in pornography and another who was suing some students for using her identity to create a website. They wanted people in the audience who were sympathetic to the teachers and since I had mentioned that I had worked for the public school system, I guess they thought I would fit the profile.

Needless to say, I declined; this was getting to sound a little Jerry Springer–ish for me. And since I only taught classes as a school nurse, and am not into porn myself, I didn't feel qualified to help them out. I had no idea what the show on homeschooling was going to be about, but I thought after spot lighting teacher porn stars, and thieving school kids, homeschooling could only look like a life raft to those on a sinking ship.

The morning of the taping, we arrived at the studio between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. as I was directed by an email, also instructing us to dress in "business clothes". When I passed by the majority of those waiting to get into the studio, I felt like I was at a Teacher's Union meeting. Most of the other invited guests had the look of the tired, older, public school administrators and teachers, worn out by the stress and bureaucracy of the public school system, like the one I worked for during my time as a school nurse in a Los Angeles suburb.

We quickly found other homeschoolers, and waited together in a kind of outside holding area with benches. There were also some adults that were interviewed inside, in the hour or two before the show, for a video to be played during the show. One of them was a member of our ISP who, I had learned, is an attorney, homeschooling young children. Good representation! (I saw her face in the video for seconds and can't remember a word that her, or any of the others' had said, the video was presented in such a hurried manner.)

It was obvious that we were greatly outnumbered by school folks though, including bus loads of high school students and their teachers. (One group was from a Public School District the other from a Christian School).

When we got inside the studio we were directed to our seats; on the far left when looking from the audience toward the stage, and in front of the Public High School group seated in the rear section. Mr. McGraw faced our section throughout most of the show, he was often reading from a "prompt" behind us.

Twenty five minutes prior to the beginning of the show a man came out to hype everyone up. (This wasn't hard to do with the high schoolers present.) We were enlisted to "make television happen" with Dr. Phil. The performer got people excited about Dr. Phil mugs and vouchers for Dr. Phil books that he was passing out.
He entertained the group by asking random audience members to name three things that make them happy. One of the public school kids said "family, friends and sports”. The Christian school student answered with two of the same answers and added "Psychology class" to his list. It seems that peer pressure is pretty strong, even in the Christian Schools.

A man near us who said he was with Considering Homeschooling, and is homeschooling four children, with two more on the way, answered: "The Lord Jesus, my kids and my wife”. His answer got cheers from our section.

After about 20 minutes, and right before Mr. McGraw came out on stage, the entertainer got everyone cheering and clapping along with a Cher concert video. (So basically, no one was really clapping for Mr. McGraw, but that's how it appears on the show.)

Mr. McGraw (appearing to me to very uncomfortable – maybe nervous, definitely "stiff" in his body and facial expression) entered and gave his intro. This set the tone for the rest of the show as he revealed that the first part of the discussion wasn't going to be about homeschooling vs. public school or private schools, but "Unschooling" vs. public or private.

I guess it wouldn't have been as entertaining to have a conservative homeschooling family, using a formal approach to education on the show. So instead they picked the extreme, the most socially unaccepted and misunderstood form of homeschoolers to represent all of homeschooling; although this wasn't stated, I think it was, and will be the outcome for those in the audience.

The first people interviewed were a very radical "unschooling" family who stated on their intro video that they didn't believe in rules in their home; that they only taught principles. The couple sounded like the typical stereotype of "those crazy homeschoolers" who are raising wild/undisciplined children. They also felt a need to include a video clip that showed that this family believed in, and used the “attachment approach” to parenting and got into their breast feeding and sleeping habits, which really didn't have anything to do with the discussion, but only served to put them further out of the mainstream of our society. Talk about having a problem with tolerance!

When the discussion got under way, it was obvious that a lot of what they expressed, would make some sense to a lot of people, (especially given the age of their children) but that's not the way it was presented in the tape and to the audience. It was also obvious that they were just beginning to live out their beliefs and didn't really have a handle on how to present them.

The next family that they brought into the discussion was sitting in the audience. They had the look of a very successful "TV" family, affluent and attractive, with 3 children sitting between the parents. They were moved out of the front "expert" row to one further back during the first commercial break (I guess someone had goofed in the seating arrangements). Mr. McGraw spoke to the mom of this family briefly, who stated that they are also "unschoolers". I thought it was interesting that he seemed surprised that the children were attending the taping.

He said to the mother "...and you're ok with them [being] here..?" I wondered if he was being protective of the homeschooled children because he thought his presentation of homeschooling would affect them negatively. If so, I wouldn't be surprised if he was a little ashamed. The mom was confident that her children could handle it.

The next couple was split on the decision to homeschool, although their children aren't old enough for mandatory schooling. The mother is set on it, especially after seeing news stories of school shootings immediately after her first child was born, and the father doesn't want his daughter to miss out on her "first crush" on her teacher. (I guess that it's important for the first crush to be a teacher.) Mr. McGraw made a point to ask them if they thought the show helped them to change their minds about their positions regarding homeschooling. Both said no.

The clincher was when they had a disgruntled ex-homeschooled 26 y/o who said she missed out on being able to "hate the girl with purple hair who thinks she's all that" because she was homeschooled. I think there's still plenty of opportunity for that kind of stuff for homeschooled teens in California, if that's what a girl really wants out of life. Homeschoolers in our area take classes and play sports together, they have graduation and proms available to them; they have plenty of opportunity to hate their peers if they want to, but I don't think the majority really want to.

Not many who spoke during the show were older and wiser with grown kids. Mr. McGraw's argument last year was, and still is, that homeschooling is a good thing up to a certain age, then somehow things go awry for teens, and he uses the phrase "research says" or something to that effect to validate his claim. I don't know of anyone, who knows what this research is. But I do know high school age homeschoolers; and if anything, these kids seem to me to be more able to handle the "real" world with a more mature approach than those I’ve met raised in a public school setting. Maybe this has to do more with family influences than their peers?

The last person to speak, if I heard correctly, was someone from the State Education department. And then it all came together. Last year in the school district where I was employed, I four schools were closed due to lack of enrollment due to the quality of education the district is offering. There have been three public meetings held there in the last two months to persuade families to send their preschoolers to the public schools there. I'm sure this is not just happening in this city.

There also have been lots of local as well as national news stories about school violence and killings. If there was no political agenda intended, why invite someone in government to have the last word? Someone mentioned to me that we tend to remember the first and last parts of a story, if that's the case then most people will remember the "crazy extreme" homeschooling family and then the "education expert" and forget about the more balanced viewpoints expressed during the show.

The other problem for those running the public school system is that homeschooled kids cannot be reached for "diversity training". I heard the words "diversity" and "socialization" thrown around so many times as an argument for public schools during that hour; I'm beginning to think that "socialization" the way it is happening in the school setting, is becoming an academic requirement.

Our family and homeschool friends are members of several homeschool support, and church groups, where there is no lack of cultural, racial, or religious diversity. There is no lack of peace either. None of the kids I encounter with my children ever shun another because they are of a different race or religion. They don't even think about it, probably because their parent's have been right there with them modeling acceptance of each other since they were toddlers. In my experience working in the public school setting, kid's at school learn the behavior of excluding those who are different, not only from other children but also from the adults around them. This includes those in private schools as well.

At one point toward the end of the show, Dr. Phil asked for a show of hands of those who were for homeschooling in general, then those who were for unschooling as a method of homeschooling, then those who were only for public or private schooling. It was obvious he and his producers already knew the stats. Maybe they were making an effort to reflect the general population? This in itself was fair, what was not fair was that those who are average successful homeschoolers were poorly represented. The fact that most homeschoolers were somewhere in the middle between "unschooling" and doing "school at home" was not emphasized.

The following are comments that Jane received from a new homeschooling friend, Yvette, who had the advantage of sitting in the Dr. Phil show's audience among the public school group right next to two of the speakers:

"I was sitting in a shark tank...I was next to the third grade teacher of one of the producers...the one they called up to the microphone...and the lady sitting just over my shoulder is also a teacher who made negative comments on tape...the entire section was filled with school teachers. They were making snide comments and snickering and tisk-tisking from their high-horse-trained-educator point of view.

One comment 'Oh, Dr. Phil is making mince meat out of them. He's leaving me nothing else to say,' really made a great impression on me. If "educators" would waste less time worrying about homeschoolers and more time making the classroom a place of learning...perhaps their problem of losing pupils (and the cash they bring in) would go away on its own.

And cash is definitely what this show was about...Ratings for Dr. Phil and an hour long commercial for public education which culminated with a government official reminding us that any number of education choices are available to children...all under the public school umbrella.

When the show airs, I will be encouraging everyone I know to post positive homeschooling comments on his website - with no mud slinging - including comments such as your observation that there was no representation of experienced homeschoolers such as the Fortes.

You did forget one small "guest" the short haired lady who is concerned that homeschooled kids will one day be making public policy and that she doesn't want to live in a place influenced by homeschooled kids. She was a real peach, and did more good for homeschoolers than harm, with a ridiculous and hurtful comment like that. I thought that public education was about tolerance and diversity....did I miss something?

Interestingly enough, the teachers in my section were very disappointed by the show. The comments they were making as they prepared to leave included a comment that they felt that there were far more homeschooled guests (people who actually got to speak on camera) than "educator" guests and that the show was very one-sided in favor of homeschooling." '

3. Homeschooling Mom, S. at the blog "Treasure Keeper" blogged her thoughts on the show, here.


Here are a few links to some other informational sites and blogs that I did not link to in the above blog entry.

A to Z Home’s Cool website (all methods and styles)

Archives of the
Blog Carnival of Homeschooling, read many voices of homeschooling parents here (47 carnivals have been published to date)

My favorite homeschooling magazine,
Home Education Magazine, secular

Homeschool World, website of the Practical Homeschooling magazine, Christian

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Note: entry expanded/updated on 11/26/06 3:20 p.m.

1 comment:

Henry Cate said...

Thanks for posting the account of the taping of the show. I had seen one report. It was nice to have the second report, which said basicaly the same things.