Monday, March 17, 2008

Unpublished (see below) Letter to the L.A. Times on Homeschooling

In response to the a rather nasty op-ed on 3/13 in the Los Angeles Times, I wrote the following letter to the editor. Today, letters in response to the op-ed were published and mine was not among them.

Re: Coombs & Shaffer Regulating Homeschoolers 3/13/2008

As a secular homeschooler I strongly resent Professors Coombs & Shafffer's attempt to pigeonhole all homeschoolers as some kind of religious nut cases who leave the education of their children to television. My six year-old daughter is studying American history, geography, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, cursive handwriting, literature, mathematics, and science. In addition she takes ballet and art lessons and has more friends than I am able to keep track of. A child's education, like a child's upbringing ought to be a parent's responsibility and prerogative. In the absence of specific evidence of abuse or neglect the state has no right to interfere.

Update 3/18: The letter was featured as the last of five in the L.A. Times Blog.


Michael Gold said...

Here are some comments regarding the quality of modern education, especially that in the public school system, which you might find interesting. In the letter below, I have a few anecdotes from my time teaching.

I was having dinner, reading some news and blogs on the Internet, when I came across two posts at the "Independent Woman's Forum" about the court case between some homeschoolers and the state of CA:

One of the posts linked to this article:

After reading the article, I sent the following letter (a slight rewrite of a comment I had left on the IWF site) to Mr. McCluskey:

Mr. McCluskey:

John Lock, the Founding Fathers, and Ayn Rand gave a grounding to the parents' right to educate and care for their children. They said enough, elegantly enough (whether explicitly or implicitly), regarding the first part of your commentary; I have nothing to offer above, beyond, or better than they.

However, I can make some claims and give some examples regarding the second part of your post, the part about teacher quality and credentials. I can give some examples from the "front lines."

I tutor privately. One student I tutor in algebra 2 recently had a question we call a "work problem." This question asked:

'John can get 1/4 of a wall painted in 1 hour. Working together, John and Betsy can paint the wall in 35 minutes. How long would it take Betsy to paint the wall alone?'

The teacher said the way to get the answer was to solve:

1/4 + 1/x = 7/12 (She got the 7/12 by simplifying 35/60.)


Everyone makes mistakes. I sure do, and I will fight for my right to be wrong. But I catch my mistakes and I admit it when I am wrong.

But what did this much-vaunted "credentialed teacher" do when faced with the student saying I got a different answer?

Solve the equation, and you get x = 3 hours. Common sense should make you wonder immediately how the two could get the wall painted so quickly, if it took each person, on his own, so long.

You might also wonder about your answer if another professional got something different -- this teacher knew I had gotten a different answer; the student I tutor had told the teacher.

In either case, you should start asking questions:
1) How much would they get done at that rate if they worked an hour? (7/12 of the wall. did they finish in 35 minutes???)
2) How much would John get done in 35 minutes? (Even an estimate gives you that he would do about 30/240 = 1/8 of the wall. That means Betsy would have to do the other 7/8 in about 35 minutes. You could then do 7/8 = 35/x, which implies x is 40.)

This teacher did neither. She continued to say she was right.

Where are the much-vaunted "critical thinking skills" they talk about? Where is the "professional expertise" they imply credentials convey unto a person?

Another (public) school I worked at years ago made mistakes in teaching how to solve trigonometric equations. When we got to that topic and I looked at the notes all the trig teachers used, notes which had been used for 3+ years, I found they were wrong. In some trig equations, you have to solve for multiple angles; they were getting answers in the wrong quadrant.

When I pointed the mistake out, the teacher I told said 'we'll correct it for next year, but we will not admit to the students this year we taught them wrong. It would make us look bad.'

Another student I tutored recently in trig had a teacher who said that the period of the tangent function was pi/2. After an argument of 20 minutes or more, the student finally got the teacher to see the light: the period is pi. My student had to argue with the teacher to correct the teacher on several other occasions.

Some teachers in public schools are awesome, some are horrible. Credentials as such are no guarantee you can teach. Or even think logically. Sometimes having credentials should be a mark of disqualification.


Michael Gold

The teacher who taught the "work problem" should know that you do

35/240 + 35/x = 1

to determine how long it would take Betsy to paint the wall by herself. The answer is 40.97 minutes; so the estimate (above) of 40 minutes was durn close.

And she should teach that this type of question is an instance of "part + part = whole" I taught my student.

What she did was so full of errors and so unintegrated, it is unbelievable...


Gideon said...

Thank you for your comment and for the links. Yes, I constantly hear similar anecdotes from other people who deal with public school teachers.