December 26, 2007

Is Our Children Learning?

Filed under: — Chap @ 5:11 am

Rambling and pointless post. Mainly I just want to point to a particular YouTube video as evidence of a phenomenon and not just for the information being presented.

Those without kids don’t tend to get as deeply emotionally involved with children’s education as those with kids. (R.I.P. September 07) was identifying school silliness like Reason does for government silliness; the stories aren’t just occasional outliers as I’ve learned from people with kids in school. The homeschooling movement has gone mainstream, a phenomenon I first saw in Hawaii, where military parents can’t afford the cost of the few private schools, aren’t eligible for the racially exclusionary Kamehameha schools system and the public ones are to despair over (one place at which I volunteered had its playground condemned, for instance). EducationNation has been ranting for a while, and Kitchen Table Math is a conversation on exactly that, getting into the details of Singapore versus Kumon and all that stuff.

And the bad schools are bad. I don’t just mean the political indoctrination, or the violence, or the cost, or the all-powerful establishment–I mean the instruction. This video has been making the rounds. I think I get the general Good Idea that was behind the change back in the day–there are ways to manipulate numbers, and we have calculators. However, basics still need done, and not just for tradition’s sake.

Up in San Jose, cosmopolitan home of rich and ambitious folks, the magazine Bay Area Parent has many many listings for Christian schools, Chinese immersion schools, music instruction schools, you name it; right next to the full page ads for pony ride rentals or jumpy room rentals with face painting clowns. Apparently this is also a boutique thing. I should have known this, but didn’t.

Lots of interesting choices and tasks to deal with when you have a young’un. The local schools, though, are going to have to be occasionally avoided as Uncle moves us from place to place. I guess I’d better start looking into Kumon and all that…

8 Responses to “Is Our Children Learning?”

  1. SJBill Says:


    I am ex-Navy and currently an engineer in the electron optics industry. Not rocket science or nuclear engineering, but pretty close.

    My wife and I have been homeschooling for over four years, and yes, we live in San Jose. We had many reasons, the primary one being a fourth grade teacher who hated my son because he reminded her of her ex-husband. She shoved a four page download from a public website, once filled out by her was PROOF that our son was an ADD student.

    Our “California Distinguished School” faculty consisted s of ~ 40% gay teachers and administrators (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Students wrote in the school newspaper how “Mr. X” went up to Frisco to dance every weekend. We were relieved to see that “Mr. X” was removed from our school, and later found out he was made principal of another school.

    On to math — our son was struggling with math. Before he left our clutches to attend this school, he was very proficient and comfy with numbers. He knew all perfect squares, and roots, was facile with numerical manipulations, and then the counterprogramming set in. He was taught the matrix method of multiplication. Cute as it is, confusion set in. He began to falter. The calculator became his crutch. SJSal and I spent months trying to get him up to the mark and we were not successful.

    We pulled him and our daughter out of this “distinguished school”. Our first attempt was with an ISP or Integrated Study Program. The standard California math texts books were being used. Both our kids were faltering.

    We bought videos from The Teaching Company – expensive, but you can get them on sales they promote several times yearly. We work with them whenever they feel a need for help, and that is getting less frequent.

    Both our son and daughter have begun performing quite well. Their instructors tell us they are poster children for home schooling, but most of the kids in their “classes” are that way. Imagine – kids that are self-motivated and well mannered. They get along with older and younger students with no problems. They assist others in need. They help to tutor others in their peer groups, and actually tutor friends/kids still in the mainstream school.

    What about social interactions? Our kids are involved in our group of civilian supporters for active and reserve military. They get along as well with active and retired military officers and enlisted as they do with kids in their classes. My 14 year son sets up Powerpoint presentations to open meetings.

    Our work is paying off. Both our children are interested in moving on to ROTC or to military academies (God, I hope they become Airdales!).

    Chap, the fight is worth fighting. They are our kids — the next generation of this nation. We have to ensure they have the right tools to succeed.

    Do it. It’s easy and fun learning it all over again with them.


  2. Chap Says:

    I posted this thinking of some readers without kids who might not realize the scope of the issue–and one high school teacher who might have an opinion or three on the matter. Thanks for chiming in–I’ve heard strange things about San Jose schools, but better than, say, Salinas.

    Around Omaha there were many homeschooling groups, even though the schools there were very good overall. The Catholics, for instance, had a very robust homeschool support program through the churches. Most of the homeschoolers had better social lives than mine, which isn’t saying much but indicates how little the social stuff was an issue for them.

    You might like digging around in the Kitchen Table Math site linked above, or even the Kumon site. What I know about Kumon is that when we lived in Japan all the kids were doing it after school and it seemed to help–that, and the books on language they have for little kids looks a lot like what they’re teaching at DLI–same methods and everything, but little kid focused.

    I remember the wasted time I spent in school. My worry is being stationed in Badschoolistan with work hours that prevent much interaction in the schooling–that puts the burden wholly on my better half. That, and there are things that need learned that won’t be learned in most of the schools I’ve seen. I worry when I see not only what is required for California kindergarteners (math, and reading) but also the process that resulted in the babble I see on those standards. Recognize and name all the letters of the alphabet? This is the standard for six year olds? Eek!

  3. sonarman Says:

    We’ve homeschooling for 12 years. I’ve been aware of the stupidity of public schools all my life. The pendulum has completely swung the other way. I chose to homeschool, not just for reasons of faith, but because of the horrible experiences both my wife and I had. We did get a good education, but a kid shouldn’t have to pay for it with an ounce of flesh. As far as the “social interaction” thing goes, it’s rubbish. Kids go to school to get an education, not learn Johnnie’s bad habits, or for Billie and Suzie to find a secluded place to grope eachother. My kids get plenty of “social interaction”, the proper kind, from my wife and I, and then they get to go practice it with their friends.

  4. Buck Says:

    I watched the video, Chap, and immediately fired the link off to my ten-year-old son’s Mom, with the obvious question about math teaching in my son’s school district. She home-schooled our son for three years, but put him back in public school when he entered the fourth grade. My ex- tells me the schools in semi-rural Colorado (near Fort Collins) are pretty good, but I have no first-hand knowledge.

    I really sympathize with your plight and that of others in your situation. It IS to worry.

  5. SJBill Says:


    By any chance, didja see Lex’s post today,

    I don’t know how old your kids are, or if they are setting sights for a technical degree, but Shazam, MIT has unleased some incredible course material. Today, all of us have sat down before the monitor to watch/listen to some the best lectures, ever.

    MIT link:

    Do check out the Dutch professor that delivers the Physical Optics lectures – he’s a hoot, especially when he pronounces Huygens last name to his gathered class!

    All totalled, 1800 lectures are presented in the series, along with class notes in PDF format — a true mother lode of INFO.


  6. Chap Says:

    Thanks for the pointer. I first noticed this way back in the day–turns out a few impoverished countries are using it for their schools, too. Some other Ivies are trying to follow suit but I guess it’s too hard to let go of the monopoly. I figure by the time my young’uns get to that point, college will have changed significantly…

  7. Doc Says:

    I couldn’t watch past the first four minutes. Too painful. I left the faculty proper just as the move to “Learning Focused Education” was making the jump to warp. I kept wanting to ask, “Just what the f*** do you think we were focused on before?” About every ten years, someone earns his or her PhD or EdD by renaming everything we’ve been doing since before the days of Socrates. If we give it a new name, it must be a new thing. The hours wasted in these exercises in terminology are criminal. Yes, new teachers benefit from the ensuing intense focus on pedagogy, and more experienced teachers may learn a new trick or two, but for the most part, those really effective teachers who were making a difference to begin with simply learn new terms for old best practices, or worse, waste hours reshaping great syllabi into shells of what they once were, but shells that contain all the proper catchwords. What irks me most of all is the spinelessness of administrators who refuse to recognize this process for what it is: a dilution of real teaching in favor of “better” facilitation of learning. “Putting the emphasis on student effort and involvement.” Horsefeathers. It’s a glorification of self-service education and belongs in the same category with no-fault divorce. Judges should judge. Teachers should teach.

    The whole “cluster problem” activity was a beautiful example. “But it engages so much more of the child’s higher mental faculties to find his or her way through these things in this manner.” F*** that! Teach them the fastest, surest, most consistent way to the right answer and let them stretch their higher faculties on some “elementary” differential equations. (I had to become an English major to recognize that as an oxymoron.) Peace, out. Sorry I got started.

  8. Chap Says:

    Apropos of nothing, this lovely person.

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