Friday, January 19, 2007

Should Homeschooling Parents "Help" Each Other By "Policing Each Other" In Some Way

Update: 1/23/07 9:50am: I am changing the title. boy did the word "monitor" upset people. Now I changed it to be the word "policing" which may upset you further. Yet that is the word that some in my state government have used and it is what they are requesting in order to try to prevent more strict regulation of homeschooling in my state. When thinking about government monitoring of homeschooling, most of the homeschooling parents don't want it, yet we should be aware of what some DO want and how THEY think about it. So some are asking that homeschoolers 'do a better job' of 'policing our own community' so that they don't have to. This is on my mind. Believe me, in no way do I want more government regulation of homeschooling. I also don't want any kind of official monitoring or policing. Perhaps what we need is more diligent self-monitoring, I don't know...

I wish I could share some of the information I have received in private emails and also on the email discussion list where we are talking about this, but I don't have permission to do so from the writers and some of it was already made clear to have been told to me in confidence.


Update 1/20/07 9:50 am EST: It was hard to come up with a short title for this post so maybe the title is misleading my readers to think something other than what I meant. I didn't mean, when I used the word "monitor" for example, a panel of homeschoolers evaluating other homeschoolers. I meant a more casual addressing of something if something is known. I am sorry for any confusion but at the moment I can't think of a better title!

I am getting some very interesting responses especially in private email from those who fear sharing their true opinions on this blog or even to other homeschoolers on the email discussion list that I originally posted this on, they fear their name being attached to their opinion.

So as you read the below blog entry just know I didn't mean some homeschooling panel of monitors or anything formal or like a review team.

My original suspicion is being confirmed especially from the private emails --that homeschooling parents are very opionated and no one wants to hear any kind of opinion or evaluation or even a sincere concern about their children. (Actually I am different as I have nothing to hide and feel my kids are learning enough and doing alright and that my plans are good.)

Additionally I have heard from some who state they knowningly and intentionally do not follow the law out of not agreeing with the educational philosophy behind it, so in fact they don't care if the state would accurately deem their children 'educationally neglected' In their eyes to not know subject X is not to be educationally neglected in the parents eyes. This type of attitude is what may burn the rest of the homeschoolers and may lead us into more government regulation.

I have been thinking about this for a few days. I just posted this note on my local homeschooling email discussion list. I thought I’d post it here. If you would like to comment with your opinion I’d love to hear it. If you don’t have a Blogger account you can email me by clicking on my profile and following the link to access my email address.

I would ask that you really think about what I am trying to say and not just read this quickly or else perhaps the full gist and depth of what I am saying would not be understood.

I am not suggesting that we homeschooling parent all suddenly become police officers to police other people. At the core the most important thing to me is that every parent is aware of the homeschooling laws in their state and that they know what is generally taught in certain grades in the public schools. I would hope that people are keeping up with their homeschooling laws, to follow the law. I also encourage people to educate themselves on different educational theories and alternative educational paths. I fully encourage research and self-education in that area. I am supportive if parents choose to do something a certain way for a real, stated reason. For example if a family chooses to study history more in depth so they are not matching up exactly with what is studied in public school that year, they will know and also can show others that what they are doing is actually deeper and more comprehensive than what the public schools do. In no way am I saying I don’t encourage learning MORE than what is taught in public schools. Frankly though I see no reason to teach less or to end up giving our homeschooled children an inferior education than they would have received at a public school.

Lastly before you read my entry I will remind you I am from Connecticut. Our educational law was written in 1650 and we have very lenient laws regarding homeschooling compared to other states. In a subsequent year an outline was made to just say that a child will learn certain subjects at home (reading, spelling, math, etc.). We are not given a lot of detail as some other states give (and science is not even on the list of required subjects to be taught, can you imagine that?). Homeschooled children in Connecticut are not required to take any standardized tests. So here in Connecticut we homeschoolers do mostly self-monitoring of what our children are learning and we also decide how we will homeschool them and what content they’ll have (the state doesn’t ‘give’ us curriculum, books, etc. as so many citizens assume).

So here is my post---

I have been having some questions from people and some from other states about the fear of increased regulation to homeschoolers to help make sure that homeschooled kids are really learning what they should be learning or shall I say in the ‘outsiders’ eyes to be learning at least what the public schools teach and what the government has decided is a list of basic stuff that children of grade X should be learning. Some that I speak to are those curious of homeschooling and they might start doing it but they just don’t understand how it is monitored or how we monitor ourselves.

I got to thinking about a certain situation and thought that I’d bring this up for discussion here as I am curious what you think.

It is my understanding at least in Connecticut that since such a big part of the homeschooling planning and monitoring is self-monitoring by PARENT to their own children, that is what MOST of we homeschooling parents think that is right and feel it should be done that way.

However I am curious what you think about the situation when a child is NOT learning what is typically taught in a certain grade or by a certain age and the parent seems to have no clue that the child is behind. I am not speaking of being 6 months behind or something short term like that, but even of a situation where a child is years behind. Or maybe they are 1 or 2 grades behind in something but the parent seems to have no clue at all about it and therefore may indeed be “educationally neglecting” their child.

I am speaking of when a parent has not intentionally chosen to teach at a different pace for some important reason, such as rearranging history to teach world history in grade 2 instead of teaching American History in grade 2.

I am speaking NOT of children with learning disabilities or some medical situation that has them learning at a different schedule.

My question is should the homeschooling community itself not help in this way by gently telling the other parent or something? For example let’s say that you become aware that a certain child can’t do something very basic and they are years behind. What should you do? Should you say something to that other parent in a gentle manner? Or keep your mouth shut?

What about homeschool support group leaders, do we have an ethical issue with this? For example if someone comes to us for advice and we are expected to help them, but if we are made aware of something that is a glaring problem with “educational neglect” do we not then have an ethical issue to at least say something to the other parent?

In the past I have kept my mouth shut, and I am both a HS parent and also a HS support group leader.

Lately though I am thinking that would it not help a family if someone from WITHIN the community gently brought up the subject and made the parent aware so it could be fixed rather than having others from outside the community upset about that child then have them persuading their government officials to make laws or do even call the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to investigate educational neglect.

I am not speaking of me or another HS parent phoning DCF to report “educational neglect” of another homeschooler. I am just asking about talking to the other parents. I am of the opinion that other HSing parents would not want anyone including a HS support group leader to even gently say “Did you realize your child is way behind in math” or something like that (but in a nicer way and very gently).

And also if we know that a person in our community is really falling behind are we doing the CHILDREN a disservice by turning the other cheek? Should not we have all the children’s best interest in mind? (Or is this just not our business what another family does?)

In case you are wondering what some of the standards are this is a free list online that you can easily refer to if you want, it is the World Book Encyclopedia Typical Course of Study. Just click on the grade level. If you reference this be sure to look at prior grades as maybe something you assumed would be taught in grade 4 was actually on the list for grade 2 or something like that.

I am really curious about what everyone thinks.

Today my opinion on this is that if we want to keep regulation out and keep the most monitoring from the individual parent to the child then perhaps to keep that most intact legally/with the government it would be best if also within our small HSing community we helped each other out if we see something that doesn’t appear good or right. I think this can be done in a respectful and gentle way, it isn’t about being confrontational or negative or bossy or anything like that.

I think this is a touchy subject and I am not saying that dealing with it would be easy or comfortable but sometimes doing the right thing is not always easy or comfortable.

From the other perspective would you not prefer to have another homeschooling parent gently ask you why your child is not learning X than have DCS knock on your door? Wouldn’t you rather be gently approached by a friend or acquaintance from within our HS community than to have people trying to persuade our legislators to make stricter laws, to require standardized testing or stuff like that, of ALL of us? Also from what I have heard in other states sometimes the ones calling for increased regulation of homeschoolers are sometimes even the homeschoolers themselves. There are some people who don’t care about regulation of homeschooling because they don’t fear that their own children would pass any tests with flying colors.

What do you think? I know this is a touchy subject and I am really curious what others think.

Okay now that snow play is done, it is time to go do some math lessons. Can’t wait to see if anyone responds.

(I am hoping for some deep thought on this serious matter and not just a glib "Everyone should mind their own business" type of response.)

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the spouse said...

Honestly, I don't think that community monitoring amongst homeschoolers can ever work. I have never seen any criticism of a homeschooling effort by another homeschooler (no matter how well meaning) met with anything other than rancor. I have not tried that, but I have tried to "recommend" books, curriculum, whatever, that an individual who seems to be sinking a bit might find helpful. If this information is not voluntarily solicited from me, however, I have reached the conclusion that it is not welcome, and it the advice is never taken.

There is another step between homeschoolers policing each other and DHS policing us (neither seem very attractive, frankly, because they are both so very subjective).

In NY, for example, homeschoolers must take a standardized test each year in order to assess their progress. That test is simply the same one that public school kids must take each year also. I would have no problem with my children taking such a test, or being required to take such a test. It is more objective than other evaluative alternatives, and the standards and expectations on these tests are fairly low, so achieving a passing mark should not be difficult unless there is true educational weakness in the homeschooling program.

Overall, if push comes to shove, I'd rather have my children assessed by the same test that assesses other local children, than risk loosing the ability to homeschool entirely.

Marsha said...

I don't know if something like what you're suggesting can be effectively done one-on-one, unless the relationship between the parents is particularly close and trusting - almost familial, I would think (although I realize that many of us deal with questions and issues like these from our families with much frustration and varying amounts of grace, so perhaps there is such a thing as too close for these kinds of conversations). Very often we already *know* that problem X exists when someone pulls us aside to discuss it, and it would take a srong person, indeed, to get beyond the massive defensiveness one feels when it's clear that one's dusty house/unkempt hair/unfaithful spouse/child behind in math is public knowledge and has been subject to public discussion.

Perhaps the answer is in strengthening the homeschooling community in general and attempting to ease the stresses and fractures that keep many of us isolated even when we have many activities or are involved in groups and co-ops. I'm not talking about peer pressure or anything so insidious, but rather the kind of group norms that make a safe place for someone to come forward and say, "You know, I've tried and I've tried and I just can't quite get the math thing going. Can anyone please help?"

But as things are right now there are as many divisions in homeschooling than there exist (IMO) in institutional settings. If we invested less in our own homeschooling identity as individuals and paid more attention to the things that unite us, as well as developed a greater inclination as a group to ponder ideas and thoughts from "across the aisle" - radical unschoolers have much to teach me as a classical ed mom and vice-versa, just to mention one of the either/or scenarios that currently exist), we likely would find it much easier to assist each other with these kinds of questions.

But *should* parents monitor each other? No, I don't think so.

christinemm said...

Please see the update I put at the top of the entry a few minutes ago.

I think my title is not a good match of the content.

I never meant to suggest a panel of sorts to monitor people. I can't even imagine something like that.

Sorry for any confusion.

I have one email from someone who has been in the homeschooling community for a long time and homeschooled her children all the way until college admissions. She said she feels we have a moral obligation to do something directly with the person who is "educationally neglecting" their children. To turn the other cheek is immoral and wrong and also bad for the kids. I still think this puts us in a hard spot when the person who is doing it doesn't want to hear "nothing from nobody" as another person said--she is right.

Margaret said...

I don't know any homeschoolers whom I feel are "educationally neglecting" their children; perhaps if I did I would respond differently.

I do know many homeschoolers who have problems in various areas, and they are generally very open about the troubles and seeking advice on them. For example, one of my children is "behind" in math because although he can understand many concepts and solve many kinds of problems, he can't do multiplication yet. (Now you know, being "behind" is a whole other subject - who decides what is "behind" and what is "normal?" The World Book Encyclopedia?) We have struggled with basic math for a long time. I am working on it, and my homeschooling friends know I am working on it. So I would be quite offended if someone were to pull me aside and tell me, however gently, that they've noticed my 9 year old doesn't know his multiplication tables.

Now, if someone joined my homeschool group and had obvious, serious problems - say, a 9 year old with no apparent disabilities (or the parent has not mentioned any disabilities or struggled) who could not read a word - perhaps there might be cause for concern. I might talk in a general way about reading, but I would not be likely to point out directly to that person that her child is behind.

I'd wager that people who are truly educationally neglecting their children do not join homeschool groups. And I'd also wager that they are few and far between, and that they have other problems that may or may not need addressing by child protective services (or whatever title each state has).

You also mentioned "rebels" who intentionally flout the law because they disagree with the educational philosophy behind it. They don't see that skipping "subject x" is not educationally neglecting their children. I do believe in obeying the law, unless it would force me to disobey God. (So far I haven't come across any homeschooling laws that do this, though some folks might disagree with me.) Wonder what types of subjects people mean - reading? Basic math? I might as well have skipped science (though I have a college education) for all I learned and remembered. It hasn't had a great negative effect on my life, until now as I homeschool my own kids and I see how much interesting stuff I missed. But it didn't affect my abilities to get good jobs, support myself, attract a husband (just kidding there) and be a productive member of society.

Last, you ask "would you not prefer to have another homeschooling parent gently ask you why your child is not learning X than have DCS knock on your door?" Are those the only 2 choices? I think you are presenting a false dilemma. I don't want either. Being part of a group of like-minded homeschoolers with whom one can be open and honest about struggles is my choice.

I wonder if some of your emailers would permit you to post portions of their comments (unidentified, of course) - sounds like they are interesting.

JaneMarple said...

I decided this was worthy of more detail than a standard comment: see my post Closer to Fine: Monitoring Homeschooling!

Heather said...

I guess I left my comment on a different post...I'm pasting it here where it was meant to be:

Should Homeschooling Parents Help Monitor Each Other?"

NO. Absolutely Not. I don't want to be monitoring other families and I surely don't want my family to be monitored.

"if we are made aware of something that is a glaring problem with “educational neglect” do we not then have an ethical issue to at least say something to the other parent?"

It is a matter of one's opinion what educational neglect is...for instance some people may think unschooling is educational neglect when in fact their parents are providing them plenty of educational opportunities. Some people may consider it "neglect" if you don't do school work as in worksheets, tests, assignments 8 hours a day. Some people may even consider homeschooling to be educational neglect because they highly value the PS system.

By even suggesting "monitoring" it could open a whole can of worms and regulations making it impossible for anyone to homeschool.

What does the monitoring mean? Observing something "suspicious" at a homeschool event?? Or a child not performing like some nosey person thinks he should perform and based on their opinion??

If a parent is truly neglecting their child educationally by not providing anything for that child... then they are probably neglecting that child in other ways is not an "education" issue but a "parenting" one.