Monday, February 16, 2015

"If I can't have it, then neither can you"

There comes my way every now and then an article by somebody who really doesn't get homeschooling. This article is one of those.

As the words in this article sink in, I actually find myself more and more flabbergasted. But why?

First of all, let's look at the title:

Homeschooling Only Deepens Silicon Valley's Rift
With the Rest of Us

How do I begin to articulate what I'm thinking?
  • The rift Wohlsen is speaking of at first is the gap in income--the difference between those who have and those who have not. But he's not suggesting that this income gap is going to get deeper by homeschooling, just the general differences between those in Silicon Valley and those not, in this case, the difference in education. Differences aren't necessarily bad things. It seems to me that it's a rather communist view of things--everybody should "be the same" doesn't allow for difference--but a "land of the free" should see that some rifts are just about people being different and that's not a bad thing. It's the reason why there are specialty programs in certain public schools, why there are all kinds of different private schools, why there are charter schools. We are different from each other, despite our common points, so a difference in educational style or options doesn't have to be a bad thing.
  • If Silicon Valley is already different to the point there's a rift between Silicon Valley and the rest of us, then does it really make a difference if that rift is deeper? Why does it matter to Wohlsen? Is there jealousy? Envy? What exactly is at the heart of his uneasiness about this "rift"? Is this rift actually poor relations? What harm is coming from this deepening? Other than being unhappy that public schooled kids don't have the same freedom and opportunities? Or is it holding to this idea that we should all be the same?
His main beef doesn't seem to be with homeschooling itself (although he does say "trend", which one might conclude means that he doesn't think very highly of homeschooling, and there's also his flippant comment about all kids not liking school, another point confirming he just doesn't get homeschooling), but with the idea that kids in Silicon Valley who are homeschooled are getting better educational opportunities--which is deepening the "rift". Wohlsen's solution is that parents, instead of homeschooling, should have their kids in school and be getting the public schools to change. I literally snorted as I wrote that. It's a very naive thought that this minority of parents is going to change the system for everybody, or even just one school, and by the time their child will be out of school so they can actually get that type of education. Public school curriculum is not determined by parents but by the government, first off. You would need to have an overwhelming number of parents on the same page for any kind of change like that to even be possible--and still not guaranteed to occur because parents haven't really been involved in the deciding of curriculum since the time that it was parents in communities who worked together to create a school, hire the teacher and be completely responsible for the school. While smaller scale things can be put in as clubs and such, that doesn't come anywhere near what homeschoolers are able to experience outside of the system.

But the naivety doesn't end there, or perhaps it's the lack of seeing what's what: each family has chosen their own way of doing things and modifies as they see fit as their child grows and changes. How is that going to translate to something for all school kids? How are families going to work together to create those changes, if they were even possible, when their approaches are vastly different? Not to mention that not every child is going to want or use the hackerspace Wohlsen so admires and thinks that, in a best-case scenario, the public schools, and therefore every child, would already have. My head just shook there. Literally. As I'm sitting here typing, my head just shook on its own. There are these different families from different places who have an interest in something, or perhaps just one of their kids has an interest in this type of thing, yet parents should be working so that every child has this, whether they want it or not? (Head is shaking again.)

Let's consider, too, there will undoubtedly be parents who will complain about such a space, wanting their kids to "get back to basics" and stop monkeying around, blocking any progress with the idea. What is the likelihood that public schools would ever have the hackerspace set up? And how long would it take? There is no guarantee that the public schools would ever set it up and who is going to pay the price in the meantime? The Silicon Valley homeschooling kids who now have it but apparently shouldn't because it creates a greater rift, so they should be back in school so that their parents can try to make the public school system change and probably won't see that change in their school lifetime--or their lifetime, period.

*sigh* (Yes, literally.)

I do wonder if he has such issues with Silicon Valley parents choosing charter and private schools, as well.

Then there's this:
The homeschooling trend plays into the suspicion that techies would rather live in a bubble than the world we all share.
In a nutshell, parents in the Silicon Valley shouldn't homeschool because of what the non-homeschoolers (or perhaps non-Silicon Valley non-homeschoolers?) think about them. Or perhaps it's just this author already thinks negatively of those in Silicon Valley and he thinks homeschooling confirms his suspicion? 

At one point, Wohlsen talks about "solutionist" fantasies, but he lives under a fantasy of his own:

Education, by contrast, isn’t supposed to have winners and losers.

Um... Whether it's "supposed to" or not, the whole system is set up so that there are winners and losers (you can especially ask those who are trying to get into colleges) and despite the government's best attempt at making sure nobody loses, some are winning and some are losing. Daily. Weekly. Yearly. At all grade levels. Kids are failing. Many are bored (yes, I consider that losing). Many need outside tutoring--if the school system were the way it's "supposed to be" without any winners or losers, no child would need outside tutoring. The whole paradigm behind what public schools are trying to do makes it so that the models of homeschooling that Wohlsen is somewhat admiring aren't possible in government-run schools. At least, however, he does seem to see that these homeschooled kids are "winning" the educational battle, if we might call it that, but he doesn't seem to see that he would be making them "losers" by having their parents put them back in school.

At one point, he says,

But without the hard, messy work of trying to integrate these models into the lives of all children, these efforts will remain symbolic gestures without much substance. 
I almost get the impression that he thinks these homeschooling families are lazy, they're taking the easy way out by taking on their children's education rather than doing the "hard, messy work" of changing the world. I think, though, it has more to do with the bubble he thinks Silicon Valley families want to live under, that they are going to live in their bubble and not think of others and just do their own thing. I've already touched on above how there are so many different models of homeschooling, families couldn't work together to get all these different approaches into the school system. Well, not unless the government is willing to throw curriculum out the window and make every school a democratic or free school along the lines of Sudbury Valley or Summerhill  (but, you know, even that is only one model of schooling that isn't in line with what a lot of homeschoolers choose to do). But with his comment of "these efforts remain symbolic gestures without much substance," I have to beg to differ: they are not symbolic gestures for those homeschooling kids and other homeschooling families who get inspired by that and decide to do the same. It is substance for those families. It is the substance of who these kids will be as adults.

Wohlsen ties this "messy, hard work" to the "not scaling well" aspect of what these families are doing, but either I've completely misunderstood his point or he doesn't seem to really grasp what the original article (his article is really a response to another article, was meaning when Jason Tanz wrote:

But, to put this in tech terms, it’s an approach that doesn’t scale very well. It seemed exhausting enough for Samantha to help her two sons write one-sentence business plans; it’s hard to imagine anyone offering the same kind of energy and attention to each student in a 20-person classroom. Indeed, that’s precisely why schools adopt a one-size-fits-all model.

The point being that it's not just "messy" and "hard" for these families to make the things they are doing at home happen at schools, but that they are changes that are just about downright impossible to make happen in schools. This has nothing to do with Zuckerberg and him failing at making changes so people think they can't make changes. Parents have been trying to make changes for decades. When you have an education system based on a packed, standard curriculum that all students are expected to learn at a certain pace and get a certain minimum percentage on in classes of 20-30 kids almost exactly the same age, there is very little room to incoporate models that are focused on individual needs and wants.

He writes as though the Silicon Valley homeschooling parents are the only people who can do anything about what's offered in schools, or maybe it's really about how he sees it as their responsibility to do something--especially since he thinks they are in a world apart and need to come back to "the rest of us." But they have done something: they've voiced their opinion by walking out. People do it all the time, like not giving a tip or boycotting companies. If enough parents walk out and walk out for the same reasons, then, maybe, the school system will start to be open to that kind of change. The thing is, if Wohlsen wants the hackerspace and other changes in the public school system, then what's to stop him from working on doing just that? If he wants it in his kid's school, why doesn't he get together with other parents and try to make changes at the school level, then the district level and so on? Why should it be the Silicon Valley homeschoolers' responsibility to make a change happen in all schools that he wants to see in his kid's school? (In his ignorance of homeschooling, he doesn't seem to realize that if those hackerspaces appeared now, the bulk of the families using them would continue to homeschool because, as many discover, homeschooling is so much more than just things like hackerspaces.) There is nothing prevent him from join a hackerspace guild, or get one started in his area, get his kid doing that kind of stuff now and use the information from the guild to bring to the schools to introduce the idea to them and other parents. Nothing but the idea he has in his head that it should be the Silicon Valley homeschooling parents who should be doing it.

When we get down to it, while the title suggests his issue is about the rift, Wohlsen's thesis statement is:

The issue is a Silicon Valley culture that can too often prize breaking away at the expense of chipping in.

This is his true main beef. It's not about the rift, really, and it getting larger, but what he perceives as Silicon Valley families living in a bubble, doing their own thing and not helping others out. The difficulties of helping change a school system where each family would want different changes aside, you know what they say on planes: You need to put your oxygen mask on before you can help your children. But it goes even further than that: You help your child with their mask before even beginning to think of helping others. The thing about homeschooling is that it's a loooooooooooooooooooong process of getting that mask on the child. These parents are chipping in, many have likely even overturned their lives to pull their kids out of school and start homeschooling them. They're just chipping in on the level they can right now, the smaller scale, family level. To be honest, his comment reminds me of a post I read years ago about unbelievable things people had said to homeschoolers, one of them being something like, "If you took more responsibility for your children's education, you wouldn't need to homeschool them." It's just that Wohlsen seems to be saying, "If you took more responsibility for other children's education, you wouldn't need to homeschool yours."

In his fixation on what he thinks is Silicon Valley families not making changes on a larger scale because they want to stay in a bubble, Wohlsen doesn't see that what he is truly proposing is another version of "Dumbing Us Down"--but this time, about general educational opportunities rather than the specific curriculum. He is stuck in the one-size-fits-all mentality, that everybody should have exactly the same educational options in public schools that these homeschoolers have, and the result of his position really is:
If public school kids can't have this now,
then neither should yours.
What a shame.

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