Friday, November 10, 2006

Setting Standards For Home Schooling

PZ has an interesting post up regarding standards for home schooling which I'm ambivalent about. First, he calls for a reinstatement of state laws regarding certification of parents who home school, to which I have the following responses:
  • Why is certification necessary?
  • Assuming certification is necessary, does the current process of certification actually ensure quality pedagogy?
  • Is it possible to provide a quality education for children without being certified?
Starting with the first bullet, I can certainly appreciate the rationale for requiring public school teachers to be certified. Since the state requires that parents send their children to school the certification process (allegedly) assures parents that the individuals instructing their children will meet a minimum level of competence. But if they parent chooses to do the instructing themselves presumably they already have confidence that their children's instructor is of appropriate quality. To assert that the parents need to be certified by the state implies that the state has a legitimate interest in seeing that a specific student is educated to a particular level using a particular curriculum. The state has a vested (and perhaps legitimate) interest in assuring that some significant portion of the populace is well-educated (hence public schools), but to assert that the well-being of the state turns on a specific individual being educated in a specific way is by no means self-evident. Second bullet: Does the certification process really ensure quality pedagogy? I'm reminded of my father, a PhD in physics, who took to substitute teaching in his semi-retirement. At one point early in the game he started the certification process, thinking he might become a full-time teacher, but he didn't finish due to irritation with the certification program. He seemed to regard a lot of the requirements as superfluous and tangential; I'm by no means convinced that my father was teacher material, but at the same time I cannot dismiss his observations. Considering also some of the mouth-breathers I took classes from during my time in K-12, all of whom I assume were certified, I'm by no means convinced that being certified is a guarantee of quality. Item the third: Can people be quality instructors absent certification? This question is of particular interest to me, as my wife and I have seriously considered homeschooling our (still hypothetical, at this point) children. Though we're apparently in the minority in this regard; we've no objections of a religious nature, we just think we can do a better job. There's little in the K-6 (maybe K-8) curriculum that can't be taught by any well-educated person. More importantly, kids spend far too much time gluing macaroni onto construction paper in the early grades; face it, its state-sponsored daycare more than anything else. I've no reason to believe that between myself (BS in computer engineering) and my wife (BS in studio art/MD) we're more qualified that the average grade school teacher. But when PZ whips out the righteous indignation regarding religious exemptions to certification requirements I'm standing next to him with my fist in the air. I've made my position on religious exemptions abundantly clear. I've a non-religious objection to sending my kids to public school which is no less (and is probably more) valid than any religious complaint.

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