Monday, August 12, 2013

I offer a mea culpa (but we still need to save public education)

A couple of commentaries ago, I violated one of my own long-held rules of writing.

Don’t generalize.

As soon as a writer offers one or more generalizations – like I did in the piece on the state senator who wants to exempt homeschooling parents from paying school property taxes – at least one reader will rip said writer to shreds – as Jenifer Boros of Holmes County did to me.

Allow me to refresh.

I wrote that Delaware County Republican state Sen. Kris Jordan wants to give a tax break to parents who home school their children. I pretty much panned that proposal, noting that it should die a quick death. That might be an understatement. I called Jordan’s proposal “dumb.”

During my discussion of that proposal, I also took some shots at homeschooling.

I generalized that there were “a lot of parents who think they know better than the professionals.”
Jenifer killed me with exclamation points.

“Contrary to what you may think, many homeschool parents are quite educated!” she wrote. “We have degrees in nursing, engineering, elementary education, graphic arts, occupational therapy, Turf grass management and in many other fields. We are quite qualified to teach many high school courses, and for those we may need help with there are numerous resources out there! We are not afraid to learn ourselves! Many homeschooled children are motivated, independent workers who love learning and thrive even if their parents aren't experts in everything! We personally know students enrolled at the College of Wooster (our daughter), St. Vincent College (our son), OSU, Malone College, Walsh, Tri-C, and numerous others.”

Back in the commentary, I continued to dig myself a literary grave:

"Because public education benefits all of us – even home-school families and even if they won't admit it …” I wrote.

 “Who won't admit it?” she demanded.

“Of course there are thousands of young people doing great things in today's world. I cannot even fathom where you get the idea that homeschoolers won't admit it – maybe because it's simply that we haven't chosen the public school system (your system!). 

“It's unfair to conclude that since we have made a different choice that we are unable to appreciate your choice!  Many homeschoolers have friends and relatives in the public school system – we manage to get along and be friendly! The ball may be in your court – can you in turn appreciate and acknowledge that the young, homeschooled students of today benefit and enrich our society?”

I still wasn’t done. Neither was she.

“Heaven help the future generations because I can’t imagine a population that relies on Mom and Pop to teach subjects that are better left to specialists,” I theorized.

Oh boy.

“Mom and Pop can be pretty darn good teachers, and sometimes ‘specialists’ aren’t what they appear!” responded Jenifer.

“Isn’t it true that some ‘specialists’ may have only earned C’s in their college courses? Looks can be deceiving. In any case, if homeschooling is a growing trend there must be reasons that intelligent, educated people choose it! Get used to it, as my daughter says. She knows a number of classmates at the College of Wooster who were homeschooled at some point in their lives. It is not that weird anymore! The motivation to homeschool can take many forms and it might be worth the effort to ask why so many parents choose it.”
For the record, Jenifer and her husband, John, have five children. Jenifer, who says she has mixed feelings about Sen. Jordan’s bill, has a degree in elementary education, while John holds degrees in business and nursing.

If I’m doing the math right, the couple have been homeschooling their children the last 15 or so years. They began homeschooling because the local Catholic school would not admit their daughter to kindergarten because her birthday fell past the deadline and as an alternative to having their children ride a school bus for a couple of hours each day.

As for me, I still believe Jordan’s proposal is dumb; that the state is wrongly siphoning money out of public education to for-profit charter schools; and that the country’s future depends on a viable public school system for which all of us ought to pay.

As for homeschooling, I offer a mea culpa for my generalizations. But I still think those who choose homeschooling for their children pass up the opportunity for them to learn from many terrific teachers who guide and educate young minds every day in our public (and traditional private and parochial) schools.
That’s not a generalization. That’s my opinion.

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