I have been really interested in the latest news from California. A ruling in a case dealing with alleged child abuse by parents who homeschool might make it mandatory that any parent who homeschools have a teaching certificate. While I think it is extreme, it does appeal to me on some levels.
First, let me say that I have very ambivalent feelings about homeschooling. I admit there are parents out there who do a great job, but I also believe the number of parents capable of excelling at homeschooling their kids is quite low. I know all about the advantages: more one-on-one attention, curriculum can be tailored to the student, less time wasted on waiting for slower kids to catch up, control over what is being taught. That last one, though, really scares me. Is it really a good idea for kids to only learn what their parents want them to? Is it really advantageous to shelter a kid in such a way? Not only does it keep kids from learning diversity, but it can also mean perpetuating false information.
In the documentary "Jesus Camp" a scene shows a mother teaching her child that global warming does not exist, but is a lie of certain politicians. Now, I know for a fact that certified teachers can perpetuate misinformation (believe me, I have some stories to tell about this!) but in normal cases, a teacher is not the only source of information in a kid's life. If a child is homeschooled by mom, that is not the case. All of a sudden, mom becomes the expert on all things and the purveyor of all knowledge. There is no system of checks and balances. Mom does not have a principal who sits in on her class and gives her a review. She has no one making sure she meets the state's standards. And the kid has no one to complain to if the teacher is doing a bad job. At least with requiring parents to obtain certification, there would be some standardization of the teachers and their knowledge. Of course, it still would not guarantee they would be decent teachers.
I happen to have a friend here who was actually homeschooled by her mother in California. In my opinion, her education was severely lacking and this has hampered my friend's success in college, not to mention her social success, to some extent (but the social aspect of homeschooling is a whole different issue...). This is a woman in her late 20's who had never heard of Toni Morrison, and until recently, had never written a paper! I don't think she has read any of the classics at all. She practically had an anxiety attack on her first day at the local community college, because she was not used to classrooms. This is also a woman who routinely drops classes because she doesn't like the teacher's style. She has a difficult time pacing herself and working on her own and is easily frustrated because the teacher does not hold the students' hands. I have seen her struggle many times, all because she had never learned certain skills in high school.
I have seen in Chicago, too, some cases of bad homeschooling. Cases where the kid really was not being taught what she should have been. My friend here claims that anyone can homeschool and she is contemptuous of the idea that a parent who homeschools needs a college education. This of course rankles me. I am not unbiased, as I have taught teenagers and adults in various settings for more than 6 years. I have seen the results of bad teaching, and it is not pretty. But it is one thing to get a bad Chemistry teacher one year in high school; at least the damage is restricted to just one year and one subject. Not so, with homeschooling. You don't get a fresh start each year with new teachers, who have new teaching methods. You also never learn how to deal with different personalities and teaching techniques. After all, part of education is learning how to learn in less than ideal situations.
I am not saying I would never, ever consider homeschooling. I doubt I would, but you never know. What I do know, though, is that anyone who wants to teach kids should have a very firm grasp of the knowledge he/she is trying to impart, which in my opinion, means the parent or teacher should have a degree higher than a high school diploma. Teaching is a very serious responsibility and should not be taken lightly, whether you are teaching one child or a whole classroom.
Anyway, I doubt California will uphold the judge's ruling. There are way too many angry parents and even Governor Schwarzenegger is against it. Too bad, because I think they may be onto something......