Monday, March 24, 2008

3-24-08: Certifying Parents

I read an interesting op-ed on about the recent happenings in California with regard to home-schooled children. Apparently it’s now against California law to home-school your kids without government certification.

The author is pretty openly against this. They apparently don’t like how the teachers unions are somehow benefiting from this legislation. I won’t argue for or against that. I’m not a fan of teachers unions, either, but I do see some of the author’s point in that it does help keep kids in schools.

There are, like almost every topic, several sides of this debate. It’s not a simple Red vs. Blue type issue. One part of it involves the freedom to educate your child as you see fit. One part involves properly educating a child. Another part involves the role of teachers and schools in this. All are valid, but not all are relevant to the core issue: should parents be required to be government certified to home-school their children?

I’m not going to argue against having a mandate. I want to simply point out some of the different sides of the argument and to point out some of the flawed logic involved.

There’s a big assumption being made here, which is that a “credentialed” educator is inherently better at educating a child than a “non-credentialed.” For this argument, “credentialed” means the educator has been certified to teach by a qualified government organization. How is this a guaranteed outcome? How is it that we have legions of credentialed teachers in America and still have poor school systems in certain areas? Even in California there is a wide variety of performance among schools. If all of the teachers are certified by the same institution, then what causes the discrepancy?

There are several possibilities. One is environment; another is culture; another is funding. But how has certification solved this? At what level must an educator be competent to have the proper credentials? If it’s at a high level, then why are some schools so much worse than others? If it’s at a lower level, then why rely so heavily on the standard?

The other issue is the role of individual education vs. the social education a school environment provides. Which is more important? If a child can be given much more individual attention and reinforcement of basic math, science, and English skills at a young age, is that more important than for them to develop social skills? Is there an age at which there is a benefit?

When I was a child I was terrified of school. I’m naturally quite shy. It was only after receiving special, individual attention that I built up the confidence to speak up in class. My teacher was too busy educating the class as a whole, and I don’t blame her for it. It’s her job, and that’s absolutely fine. But many children today and in the past are scared of school. Why not allow those children to be taught at home for a few years to build up their intellect? What if a shy child has a question, and is simply too scared to ask for fear of ridicule? I personally have had that happen to me countless times. Not ridicule itself, but fear of it. I got over it eventually, but it wasn’t by engaging it directly. I received individual attention from my parents and educators, and I gained confidence.

With a variety of class sizes, educators’ competencies, funding, curricula, and many other factors, how is it that simply requiring a parent to be certified will help their child? What if they don’t apply the same principles, but it still works? The scary part is this all started because of a child abuse case. I would never defend some one who abuses their kids. But that’s a case that should be dealt with on an individual basis. It should not be the basis for state-wide legislation against home-schooling.

I do recognize the issue of properly teaching children, though. There does need to be a system to insure some level of competency with the parent if the child expects to enter the public school system. That’s the catch. Many educators complain about how students will come in at the sixth grade and can barely read because they were poorly home-schooled. That’s a real issue. It costs more money and time to educate that child, which is a valid argument.

Here’s what I propose: require any parent without a Bachelor’s Degree who wishes to home-school their child for more than a year, and then to send their child to public school, to obtain a basic level of certification. But, there needs to be a grace period involved in this. That’s the key. Some kids will still slip through during the transition. In addition, there should be some economic incentive, like a tax deduction on the expense for receiving the certification. The state could run the program to help keep it a level playing field.

The reason why I say a minimum of a Bachelor’s is that I believe some one who has completed such a degree would have the basic concepts down pretty well. Now, there is a lot of room for debate there. Perhaps there could be varying levels of the program, and those with a Bachelor’s and/or Master’s degrees could jump in later on or have shorter programs. Those people may also be employed, so taking time away from them and their children would need to be addressed (but that’s also a whole other side to this argument). I would argue that a parent with a college degree should be exempt. At the very least they can research good teaching methods.

One needs to keep this core concept in mind: the best sort of education for a young child depends on the child. If it needs to be done on an individual basis, then why prevent that? It’s up to the parent whether or not they go to public or private school, so if they are already being trusted with that decision, why not allow them to teach their own child? Private schools do not require the same competencies of educators as public schools, yet many of them seem to do a decent job. Who is to say a parent can’t do the same?

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