Saturday, April 12, 2008

Public School Budgets and the Homeschooling Parent

Our oldest son was enrolled in kindergarten last fall at our local government school. He has always been a bright and inquisitive kid with a natural learning ability - what you logophiles might call an autodidact. We sent him to school to experience social interaction with children his own age. Big mistake.

While he enjoyed making friends with the other kids, and having new experiences, there was much that he (and we) did not like. Such as riding the bus for nearly an hour (one way), being tired from getting up at 6 am, and being away from home all day. I especially did not like the school's encouragement of collectivism; school supplies which we paid for and labeled with our son's name were immediately confiscated and placed in a general pool for community use.

He gradually became resistant to reading at home. Before school started, he knew the alphabet and was able to read a few simple words. The more he was exposed to school, the worse his reading became - when we could get him to try. He would guess at words that he previously had been able to read without hesitation.

I attribute his decline in reading performance to the government school's teaching method of "developing phonemic awareness." I will not delve into an Ed T&P discussion here, but this reading instruction method is based on what is known as "whole language," where, in place of learning letter sounds (phonics), students are required to memorize whole words, or parts of words, and guessing is encouraged. Accuracy is not essential, or even required, so long as the student "understands generally" what is being presented. The problem (one of them, anyway) is that the student is only given the bluntest of tools for learning new words. He must guess his way around, by comparing the "shape" of the new word with the "shapes" of his list of known words. Phonics teaches the student the "code" of the letters, so that any new word may be immediately read, and the student can then focus on learning the meaning of the word.

We pulled our son out of school at Thanksgiving break, and he is so much better for it. We spend about 15 minutes nearly every day on reading, using a phonics book. We use flash cards and play math games regularly. His handwriting continues to improve. And his younger brother, who just turned four, is picking up on all of it. They are even learning to play chess, which they nearly beg for.

So I find it quite amusing when I receive breathless e-mails from PTO types encouraging me to contact the county board of supervisors, or sign this or that petition, in order to preserve the full funding of the school board's budget. I have no earthly idea what the budget contains. There may be an item funding the purchase of kittens and puppies to make crush videos with, for all I know. My requests for a copy to review go unanswered by the school board. We are required to fund the school through our property taxes, despite the fact our children will not be educated there, but we are blind to how the school board spends our money. Why would I sign a petition sine scientea?

Please feel free to correct my Latin.

For a great homeschooling resource book, try The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. The phonics book we use is written by one of the authors of Well Trained Mind. It is: The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.

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