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My op/eds are now blogged at the News and Commentary section of Home Education Magazine.


Expanded child care programs offer parents peace of mind
Playing the "Expert" card
But we like Big Brother, he's just a management tool
Why We All Aren't Homeschoolers
Letters to the Editor

November 2004

Expanded child care programs offer parents peace of mind
I am usually on the side of 'mission,' even when 'mission' bugs the bejabbers out of me.  For the most part (and especially in times of emergency) 'mission' must be supported, and families have been recognized as part of 'readiness' because if a servicemember has family problems, he or she may not perform well in a critical situation.  To provide peace of mind to such servicemembers, the Air Mobility Command has instituted Extended Duty Care, Returning Home Care and Mildly Ill Care for children at certain Air Force bases.

I recognize a need for extended duty care. Single parents and dual-military couples must either shirk duties and allow their single co-workers, or co-workers married to a stay-at-home parent, to pick up the slack because care for children is not available past normal duty hours. The returning home care has me baffled because I don't know why the children wouldn't be home when the parent is getting reacquainted. If the kids are in daycare . . . That's a puzzler.

The one that irks my child-advocating soul is the Mildly Ill Care.  When kids are ill, even mildly, they don't want to go anywhere, especially not all day.  They want Mommy or Daddy to stay home with them, but this seems to be interfering with the Air Force's best laid plans for Mommy or Daddy to show up for work.

"While the EDC and RHC programs are heavily used, Ms. Doelger said the use of MIFCC is not nearly as high as expected. Each base provider is contracted for 600 hours per month, yet only 16 percent of the hours contracted have been used among the bases.

“We’re trying to figure out what we need to do to let parents know this is available,” said Ms. Doelger. The mildly ill providers will begin to spend time at the child development and youth centers to meet parents and help them to enroll in the program.

Another obstacle is that not all of the bases have found providers for mildly ill care.

“The challenge is that [providers] cannot have any children of their own at home under the age of eight,” said Ms. Doelger. “The ideal situation is to have a provider who has children in school so that during the day she has no children in her home except these children that are mildly ill.” She said that she is working hard to find providers for the remaining bases and hopes to find them before the new contract period in January."

Perhaps there's something the people who invented the program don't get about 'mildly ill' children and family life, the family life both of the care providers and the families of the ill children, and why parents would choose to stay home rather than bundle up sick kiddies for a car ride and an all-dayer.

I understand that 'mission' is important, that the job needs to be done and that without the people to do the job, someone will suffer. In this case, though, it seems that, on the institutional level, the children are the ones expected to do the (mild) suffering.

Because demand for the program isn't very high, daycare providers are to hang out at youth centers to drum up business? (and where are the kids they're normally caring for while they're out hustling daycare?) Just how far does the concept of the village-raised child go? It seems we are getting to the point where, when a family arrives at a duty station that the expectation is that Parent #1 reports for duty, Parent #2 finds a job, the children are assigned to their respective duty stations whether that is school, pre-school, or daycare. And now a program has been developed where the children can't even get a pass to stay home when they are ill. The reality of bedroom communities has been extended to bedroom families: the only time the whole crew is together is when they're sleeping.

It is far too politically incorrect to challenge the concept of single-parents in the military and dual-military couples; General Elizabeth Hoisington lost that battle in the 1970s and the socialistic tendencies of the military have expanded. (I find this ironic, and it brings me no joy)  Perhaps it is an unreal recruiting goal to allow only unencumbered warrior-parents (those with a dependable partner to care for the kids) to remain on active duty as it was before the 1970s. Perhaps it is discrimination to disallow the service of these otherwise well-qualified people, but military service is a privilege, not a right, and other discriminators are in effect to bar military service where, in civilian occupations, the discriminated-against condition is merely a matter of a work-around. In today's military, though, deployability is all. But this is without taking the feverish kiddies, and how they feel, into consideration, and that's my main objection. The little ones didn't raise their hands and swear an oath to support and defend, and on the days they're ill they ought to be allowed to stand down from their readiness-support positions, and stay home in their own beds with Mommy or Daddy bringing them cocoa or chicken soup.

August 2004

Playing the "Expert" card

Another article on homeschooling is CNN's Survey: Home schooling up 29 percent  Sounds positive, doesn't it?  Read the article first, especially the last three paragraphs, just after "Expert: Anxiety probably fueling growth;" I believe the addition is called 'objectivity.' 

In an article, 'both sides' of the subject are to be presented.  It is assumed, of course, that all subjects have at least two sides, one usually 'up' and the other usually 'down.'  Another assumption is that the person being asked to render an opinion on the subject in question is qualified to offer that opinion.  In this case a person who helps direct an association of school psychologists is presumed to be an expert on homeschooling.  That is akin to asking the the director of an infant-formula company to rate breastmilk.

In the CNN article parents are described as having "no formal training as teachers."  In response I wonder about all that hands-on time I had with my children while they were growing from babies into children.   At a minimum of 12 hours per day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for five years, I racked up over 20,000 clock hours of one-on-one experience.  If divided by 180 clock hours per credit hour, this span of time equals 111 credit hours.  Does that count, at least, as being an expert on my own children?  Teachers may have been trained in classroom management, and how to use teacher-proof materials, but I know my kids. 

Concerning the "variety of subjects" that the expert wonders whether or not I can "handle," why it assumed that as an adult I can manage the intricacies of modern life, but yet I can't figure out how to pass on the information that I was taught in school?  I'm supposed to be clever enough to figure out the differences in medical insurance plans (and to be a savvy health-consumer), file income tax returns in compliance with the IRS's rules, be able to safely merge into 70+ MPH traffic (or 140+ KPH traffic on the Autobahn), negotiate a mortgage in buying a home, pick the best candidate for office in elections from dog catcher to president, and perhaps even be able to serve a soufflé before it falls, but yet Lewis and Clark, i-before-e-except-after-c, A² + B² = C², iambic pentameter, and writing legibly are all beyond me?

Why, oh, why, do the experts insist that, as children, we need to work towards and overtake all the milestones of The One Right Way in order to be educated, but then, once we're adults and beyond educational compulsion, assume we're too dim to pass it on to our own children -- or adjust to changes in the information?  Did we get it, or did we not?  If we did get it, why aren't we assumed to be able to pass it on?  If we did not get it, why should our kids have to be subjected to a long, ineffective process?   Was it the right way or not?  If it wasn't the right way 'back then,' and if the present way is still only a guess, why do I want more experts experimenting again, this time on my kids? If these people are so enthused about the process of educational experimentation, let them be like Piaget and get their own kids.

At the risk of being presumed to be wearing a tinfoil hat, is all this an overarching agenda to convince us we're all in need of government help from our cradles to our graves? Or perhaps is Education yet another governmental jobs program meant to work towards full employment?  Or maybe there really are people who enjoy making the population jump through hoops? Can someone please explain the whole point, because the logic doesn't carry through. 

Continuing with the article, the question is asked if homeschooled "students" (I assume this is edu-speak for 'children') get the same materials they would have at schools?  (the seeming implication is that homeschoolers use inferior materials) Now why would we want to do that?  Has this psychologist read any school materials?  Has the article-writer?  Do either of them remember how 'riveting' textbooks are?  Maybe they're getting reports of schoolchildren staying up past their bedtimes reading textbooks under the covers with flashlights?   Sir, one reason to homeschool is to escape having to use school materials.  Many of us have no wish to duplicate the use of school materials, nor to replicate the school experience.

Near the end of the article comes the statement (without the link I provide), "More federal research is needed to help resolve such questions about home schooling."  I get tired just reading things like that.  I see tax-dollar signs.  I see committees.  I see experts-with-the-ear-of-the-legislator, and people who have adjusted to bureaucratic restraints, all assuming restraints are natural, while those of us affected by their attentions have to take time out of our lives (and away from our children) to clear the air.  Parents have been raising children successfully for millennia.  As I recently explained to my four-year-old grandson (who was questioning the natural order of things, specifically why I got to tell him what to do, and not vice versa), the reason children are born into families with grownups in charge is that the grownups have been around longer, and know more than the children.  Those of us who haven't won Darwin Awards have figured out a thing or three, and it is our job to pass on that knowledge to children.  Humans raised in such a way have adjusted to cultural change down through the ages, and 'progress' has been made.  So far, the parts of human society that have changed from being hunter-gatherers have not slipped back to living in stone-age conditions.  There have been pockets of people in other times and places who experienced close calls, but humanity collectively recovered. 

During all but the last century and half (roughly), people managed, without federal research, without centralized planning, and without government oversight, to get along and get ahead.  Yes, we are still putting on our collective pants one leg at a time, and Edenic paradise has not been achieved. This will probably continue as long as the human race survives:  each new cultural or technological advancement becomes the new 'normal' and we adjust.  Consequently, I think that American society, and others, can weather homeschooling without a federal imprimatur as to its efficacy.  The question is, will the experts?

July 2004

But we like Big Brother, he's just a management tool
PowerSchool 2004

No, it's not the latest and greatest in schooling for kids.  It's the latest and greatest in tracking them.  PowerSchool is an integrated system that is, ". . .reaching a level of granularity that is unprecedented, with up-to-the-minute information about a student's progress, tracked for reporting and automatically streamlined with multiple data systems."

"The PowerSchool SIS 2004 SIF agent will provide schools with the appropriate tools for tight integration, through real-time data exchange, with other administrative systems such as transportation, library, curriculum and other SIF-compliant applications."

How soon before the kids have to swipe their cards to enter and exit classrooms, lunchrooms, and libraries?  Testing, too, could be even more closely controlled by having the kids swipe their cards at a computer terminal, and take tests whose scores are automatically downloadable by anyone with access.  It makes the end-of-year public posting of the academic standing of each person in my high school senior class seem practically friendly. Or maybe the kids can just wear an RFID tag around their necks on one of  the ever-popular ID-card lanyards I've seen in all the places where access is controlled.  Dedicated surveillance for the junior set.

And for families who school their kids at home, no need to feel left out.
"PowerSchool 2004 will also provide an automated process for tracking attendance for students participating in California Alternative Education Programs. The new version will be able to track attendance by hour, enforce maximum numbers of hours per day/week, backfill hours to previous weeks, support the notion of full time equivalents and much more to ensure appropriate state funding is received for Alternative Education Programs by accurately recording student program hours." 

Thank goodness!  The only question is, will you have to install the RFID terminal in your front door, or will the state pick up the tab?


Soon after I wrote the above an east-coast online-email-list-friend wrote and commented, "You seem surprised by all this."  She works in a public school system and her specialty is testing and working with talented-and-gifted children.  The school uses PowerSchool.  A summary of her comments is:

    ~~ easily tracked because teachers email attendance to the office
    ~~ schedules are tracked because it is known where children are at any time

    ~~ child's average known to anyone with a password into the system

Lunch cards:
    ~~ swipe-able
    ~~ child's purchases could be tracked by PowerSchool

    ~~ laptops issued to children were wirelessly networked so that teachers could log on to any student's computer and look at that child's laptop activities
    ~~ all the information could be downloaded and archived creating a virtual portfolio; it is not inconceivable that the system could be programmed to look for selected activities, a personal HAL for each child? Or, as another list-member asked, the "paperclip helper on steroids?"
    ~~ the state my friend lives in originally planned for the laptops to be distributed to all junior-high-age-children in the state, including privately-schooled students and homeschooled children

All this can be useful.  Teachers can save time figuring up grades (a big benefit for them).  Or, as my friend notes, when a parent comes to pick up a child early only one class has to be disturbed because it is known where each child is.    Parents-with-passwords could also check on the whereabouts of their children without leaving work. 

As is usual with new technology, we implement it before we have any idea of the effect it will have.  Today most of us are comfortable with the concept of mandatory mass-schooling where children arrive, are sorted, and are instructed with the information driven by the largest markets.  Because of this, we who choose homeschooling feel compelled to justify our choice despite continual examples of the mass-schooling-model malfunctioning.  Would George Washington's mother have felt a need to justify why George was home?  Similarly developments as diverse as electricity,  internal combustion engines, highways,  television (that wonderful target for many social ills), computers, the internet became a part of our Perfectly Normal World.  I made a joke (above) about RFID scanners being used to track kids.  Serendipity struck again:  Florida Hand Scanners .

Homeschooled children have (so far) been spared the technological Sorting Hat experience of the public-school model.  But, by returning to the public-school system, even from the safety of their homes, families are supporting the growth of 'accounting technologies' and lending their approval to the process, and the technological creep of top-down control.  Cultural 'toothpaste' cannot be (easily) smushed back into the tube, but that doesn't mean we have to roll in it.

Why We All Aren't Homeschoolers

Down through the years (and the discussion concerning public-schooling-at-home has had birthdays) the concept has been brought up more than once that 'everyone' homeschools because the grand majority of us attended to our children so that they learned how to speak, to walk, to feed themselves and so on.  Because all of us 'homeschool,' some people feel that all parents homeschool regardless of where their children receive their educations.  It sure sounds good, doesn't it?  The trouble is, we're not all homeschoolers.  We do all, indeed, learn continuously.  If we didn't, we wouldn't be able to adjust to changing circumstances.  But, if everyone 'homeschools' then the word means nothing because it is only by having other situations with which to contrast situations,  phenomena, or existences, that the thing being described can be described. 

    Without death there is no life. 
    Without up, there is no down. 
    Without hot, there is no cold. 

So, it follows that, if 'everyone homeschools,' then no one does.

Compounding the problem,  the word 'homeschooling' has no pat definition, despite what dictionaries print.

    "Instruct a pupil?"  Where does this leave some unschoolers, especially the radical ones? 

    " . . . an educational program?"  What about those who use no specific educational        

    ". . .  outside of established schools?"  Given the development of virtual instruction via
    computer, what is "outside?" 

It is this lack of definiteness that may be the source of much of the controversy surrounding online-charter-school discussions, and the We Stand For Homeschooling resolution.

It may help to compare the situation to another ubiquitous activity amongst humans:  cooking; specifically home-cooking. 

What is 'home-cooking?'  Is it cooking done outside of commercial kitchens, especially in the home?

    If so, is it 'home-cooking' if the cook prepares a boxed mix? 

    Is it 'home-cooking' if the cook heats a frozen meal in the family's oven?  

    Is it 'home-cooking' if the cook re-heats leftovers from a restaurant but adds some
    cheese, or parsley, or chopped chives? 

    Is it 'home-cooking' if the meal preparation follows a dietary plan devised by a
    dietician, using pre-packaged foods consumed on a recommended schedule, but is
    eaten at the dining room table? 

The meals may be what one is accustomed to eat at home, they may be filling, they may be nutritious, but no, these foods are not 'home-cooking.'  To me, 'home-cooking' is the assembling of the needed ingredients, the combining of them (either by hand or mechanically -- depending on the level of your sensitivity to purity of method), putting them into a utensil, and supervising the finishing method (heating, cooling, or keeping little fingers out of the bowl).  I even see a difference between bread that I hand-knead and bread that I throw together in the bread machine. 

All of the above methods allow people to provide food for  legitimate eating -- but not all of the ways are 'home-cooking.'

So it is with homeschooling.  There is an educational continuum from pure autodidacticism and radical unschooling, through to instruction in a military academy*.  All the 'educational forms' result in learning something, just as the 'cooking forms' provide materials for eating something.  But they are not all identical and cannot shelter under the same words.


* For civilian-readers, 'military academies' have nothing whatsoever to do with 'the military,' the Department of Defense, or the Pentagon.  'Military academies' (other than the United State Military Academy, aka, West Point) are private schools run in a military fashion by people who are civilians (but may have been servicemembers at some point in their lives)The actual schools run by 'the military' through the Department of Defense Educational Activity (DoDEA) teach no military 'subjects,' the children do not wear military uniforms, and no one marches anywhere unless it is to go down the hall 'in line.'


Letters to the Editor

1 October 2004
In reply to:  Smart start in preschool Sep. 30, 2004

The Smartest Start for future workers and taxpayers, today’s children, is not state-sponsored preschool, but strengthening families. Expanding children’s time in the school system will not increase their economic worth, which seems to be one thrust of the universal preschool movement.

Research shows that disadvantaged children gain competence in an improved environment, but, when the enrichment is removed, the gains fade. Advantaged children, already at the norm, proceed as usual in a rich environment. Unless a stimulating environment envelopes a child and continues, as with advantaged children, early-enhancement competency gains decline.

Sustainable, enveloping enrichment of families in poorer neighborhoods could be: self-help centers, local ‘discovery’ parks with residents hired as caretakers, local library branches, and grandparent-babysitting-subsidies to allow parents who need to work to continue to do so.

If wealth must be redistributed, give it to the people in need, not to fund-hungry middlemen.

Closing the Achievement Gap: Head Start and Beyond
Competing Visions
Benefits of Preschool Don't Last


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