We have taken a hard look at the bias against boys in schools and how they are often discriminated against sexually. There are other concerns that we must consider now about how boys learn, why too many of them fail, and how their masculine makeup often works to their disadvantage.
Almost every authority on child development recognizes that schools are typically not set up to accommodate the unique needs of boys. Elementary classrooms, especially, are designed primarily by women to fit the temperament and learning styles of girls. Contrary to the blatant biases described in the previous chapter, however, this disadvantage for boys is largely unintentional. It is simply the way schools have always functioned. Harvard psychologist and author William S. Pollock said it this way: "Girls care more about school. They cope with it. Boys don't. Boys are taught at a tempo that doesn't fit them. They are taught in a way that makes them feel inadequate, and if they speak up, they are sent to the principal."1
Psychologist Michael Thompson, author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, has also expressed alarm about what is happening to very young boys in the classroom. He said, "Boys feel like school is a game rigged against them. The things at which they excel—gross motor skills, visual and spatial skills, their exuberance—do not find as good a reception in school."2 Children are also being placed in formalized educational settings at younger ages, which is very hard on boys. They tend to be six months behind girls in development at six years of age, which makes it tough for many of them to sit quietly and work with pencils and paper and to cope with the social pressures suddenly thrown at them. Too many of them get off to a bad start and begin feeling "dumb" and inadequate.
A man in his twenties once said to me, "I remember sitting in my chair in first grade and thinking, If they would just let me stand up. If only I could stand! Millions of immature kids are like this. They have powerful afterburners but no rudder. They are in agony when required to endure long periods of relative inactivity, a prohibition on noise, and an environment where everything is nailed down tight. They long to run, jump, wrestle, laugh, and climb, which the system simply can't tolerate. Thompson said, "By fourth grade, [boys are] saying the teachers like girls better."3 They are probably right.
Let's face it, school can be a rugged place for those who don't "fit in" with the typical classroom program. What do we do with these kids when they fall behind in the basics? We either anesthetize them with medication, or we require them to repeat a grade. That second alternative is becoming politically popular now. Retaining a very immature boy in first or second grade can be a good idea, because it gives him a chance to grow up without a major downside. But by the third grade or after, holding a child back can be disastrous. I can tell you from many years of experience that the only thing we accomplish by "failing" a kid after the primary grades is to humiliate and demoralize him. That leads either to apathy, rebellion, a broken spirit—or all three. Then he lumbers into puberty a year or two before his peers and causes havoc. Retaining those who fail is not the panacea today's hard-liners promise.
I've met thousands of little immature troublemakers through the years who drove teachers crazy. In fact, I used to be one of them. I remember not being able to keep my mouth shut when I was in the third grade. The teacher, Mrs. Hall, finally wrote my name on the board and warned that if I got two more "checks" for talking, there would be big trouble. I honestly tried to be quiet, but I couldn't keep my thoughts to myself. I leaned over and whispered something to someone sitting nearby. I was caught again by the long arm of the law. When this second check went on the board, Mrs. Hall was visibly ticked. She quietly walked over to her desk and began cutting something out of construction paper. I felt as though I was about to be executed. All the other children watched excitedly to see what the teacher was doing. I soon found out. She was making a sort of mask to fit over my mouth and around my neck. She pinned the paper in the back and left it in place until recess time. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. In fact, I thought my life was over. The girls snickered and the guys pointed while I sat there draped in this ridiculous device. It was just awful.
I really don't blame Mrs. Hall for what she did. I was obviously getting on her nerves and she had had enough of it. But Mrs. Hall probably underestimated the humiliation this experience would cause me. Furthermore, she may not have understood that I was not being deliberately disrespectful. I was just an antsy kid who couldn't hold still and keep his mouth shut.
Variations on this theme happen every day at school. Writer Celeste Fremon described one of them in an article entitled "Are Our Schools Failing Our Boys?" She wrote:
When my son first told me he had been punished for running on the playground of his Southern California elementary school, I figured he was exaggerating. What school would forbid running atrecess? There had to be more to the story. But I learned that the school had recently instituted a no-running policy because, as the principal informed me in vaguely judgmental tones, "Kids could get hurt"—as if such an explanation should be unnecessary to the truly caring parent.
The No-Running issue followed on the heels of another incident in which my son, whose name is Will, was nearly suspended from school for jumping over a bench. Apparently this was the second such infraction. "He knows that jumping over benches is against the rules, so this constitutes defiance," the principal said. Iwill be the first to agree that teachers must keep order, and Will has always been an active kid—a climber of trees, a hopper of benches, a wiggler. When he's sad, he is most likely to comfort himself by banging loudly on his drums or teaching himself a new trick on his skateboard.
However, he's also a kind, extremely bright boy who doesn't get into fights, designs whiz-bang projects for the yearly science fair, and scores in the 97th percentile or above on those standardized tests schools give each spring. Yet throughout much of his academic career (Will is now an 8th grader), I've found myself called in for conferences by frowning teachers and administrators. His handwriting is messy, they say gravely. He fidgets during English, when he should be taking notes. And he put his cap on while still inside the classroom.
In my darker moments, I wonder what's wrong with me as amother that so many of the educators with whom Will comes incontact fail to perceive the exuberant future inventor I believe him to be and see instead only an annoyingly rowdy boy. Worse, Ifear that my smart kid is in danger of turning off to academics altogether—and I'm not sure what to do about it. However, I've learned my son is not alone in his experience.4
While I am sympathetic to this mother, I must, to be fair, point out that there is another side to this story, one with which I am very familiar. I taught seventh and eighth-grade science and math when I was in my twenties. I also served as a high school counselor and administrator of psychological services. From this experience, I know very well how disrupting it can be to have a room full of giddy boys like Will who won't cooperate and think everything is hilariously funny. Furthermore, schools are too unstructured, if anything, rather than being too rigid. Discipline is what makes learning possible. Thus, I am not critical of schools for requiring order and deportment, but the fact remains that the way boys are constructed makes it harder for them to conform to school, especially when they are young. At least, we as parents should understand what is going on and try to help them fit in. Let's talk about some of those approaches.
First, I'll offer some ideas for the schooling of boys in various developmental stages and temperaments. We'll begin by considering two kinds of children that are seen commonly in every school classroom. Those in the first category are by nature rather organized individuals who care about details. They take their assignments very seriously. To do poorly on a test would depress them for several days. Parents of these children don't have to monitor their progress to keep them working. It is their way of life. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of them to satisfy parents and teachers.
In the second category are the boys and girls who just don't adapt well to the structure of the classroom. They're sloppy, disorganized, and flighty. They have a natural aversion to work and their only great passion is play. Like bacteria that gradually become immune to antibiotics, these classic underachievers become impervious to adult pressure. They withstand a storm of parental protest when the report cards come out and then slip back into apathy when no one's looking. They don't even hear the assignments being given in school, and they seem not to be embarrassed in the least when they fail to complete them. If they graduate at all, it won't be cum laude; it will be "thank you, laudy."
God made a huge number of these kids, most of them boys. They drive their parents to distraction, and their unwillingness to work can turn their homes into World War III.
If you have one of these flighty kids, it is important to understand that they are not intrinsically inferior to their hardworking siblings. Yes, it would be wonderful if every student used his talent to best advantage, but each child is a unique individual who doesn't have to fit the same mold as everyone else. Besides, the low achiever sometimes outperforms the young superstar in the long run. That's what happened to Albert Einstein, Thomas Alva Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and many other highly successful people. So don't write off that disorganized and apparently lazy kid as a lifelong loser. He or she could surprise you. In the meantime, there are ways that you can help.
One thing is certain: Getting mad at this youngster will not solve the problem. You will never transform an underachieving youngster into a scholar by nagging, pushing, threatening, or punishing. It just isn't in him. If you try to squeeze him into something he's not, you'll only aggravate yourself and wound the child. His disorganization is a product of his laid-back temperament and elements of immaturity—not rebellion or deliberate disobedience. Testosterone is in there working on him too.
You should, on the other hand, stay as close as possible to this child's school. Your playboy isn't going to tell you what's going on in the classroom, so you will need to find out for yourself. Seek tutorial assistance, if possible, to help him keep up. Clearly, your child lacks the discipline to structure his life. If he's going to learn it, you will have to teach it to him. Finally, having done what you can to help, accept the best he can give. Go with the flow and begin searching for other areas of success.
The disorganized boy in elementary school is likely to remain flighty as he grows older unless he gets help. That characteristic of his temperament is deeply ingrained and becomes the primary source of his academic problems. It doesn't just "go away" quickly. What can parents do to help? Educational consultant Cheri Fuller suggests that moms and dads with junior high and high school students take a look at their notebooks. She says it is possible to tell whether a kid is a B student or a D student just by examining his school papers. An achieving student's notebook is organized with dividers and folders for handouts and assignments. A failing student's notebook is a mess of jumbled drawings, silly notes, folded airplanes, half-finished sentences, and written work that wasn't turned in. There might even be a teacher's note to Mrs. Smith or Mr. Johnson that never got home.5
Fuller says the missing organizational skills in these cases can be learned, and the sooner the better. A good tutor usually knows how to teach them. This early training must be completed before junior high school, where as many as five teachers each day will be distributing handouts, assignments, and projects drawn from different textbooks. It takes a high level of organization to keep them straight and accessible. How are children supposed to know how to handle this requirement if they have never been taught? Boys also need to learn how to complete long-term assignments little by little. The right supervision can help a flighty adolescent become more self-disciplined and self-propelled in time—even if he never performs quite like the natural scholar.
There is one other factor that must be given the greatest priority. If your son does not learn to read properly, everything else will be in jeopardy. He is also likely to struggle with a damaged self-concept. I worked with a high school boy who had decided to drop out at sixteen years of age after being retained a couple of years along the way. He was a tough, angry kid who seemed not to care about anything. When I asked him why he wanted to leave school, big tears filled his eyes. He told me that he had never learned to read. Then he said through clenched teeth, "You people have made me feel worthless all my life. But you've done that for the last time. I'm getting out!" I can't say I blamed him.
The tragedy is that this kid could have been taught to read. Almost every youngster can master this skill if approached properly and with methods that suit his learning style. As a place to start, I am among those who believe in teaching phonics, which are still not incorporated in many public-school reading programs. For whatever reasons, millions of kids are illiterate when they graduate from high school. Wonderful opportunities to make readers of them were squandered when they were in elementary school.
The National Assessment of Education Progress shows that two-thirds of fourth-grade children in the United States cannot read at a proficient level, three-fourths of them cannot write proficiently, and four-fifths of them are not proficient in math.6 That is a national disgrace! There was a time in the 1800s when 98 percent of the population was literate, having been taught by their parents so they could read the Bible.7 We'll talk in a moment about what has gone wrong in public schools, but our focus now is on your boy, who may be foundering. As a parent, I would turn heaven and earth to find someone who could teach my kid to read. There are gifted tutors in almost every community, and there are private organizations that guarantee they can teach your child to read. Even if you have to hock the house to pay for it, I urge you to solve this problem. It is the key to all academic objectives, and a world of adventure awaits those who learn to read.
Profamily leader Phyllis Schlafly taught all her grandchildren to read before kindergarten. She developed a program based on phonics that is available to parents. If you want more information, contact Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs at www.family.org and we will send you the details.
Once your son has learned the basics of reading, you need to motivate him to practice it. Children's author Sigmund Brouwer says that even "reluctant readers" can learn to love books if they are approached properly.8 Here are some suggestions geared for boys provided in an article in the Orlando Sun-Sentinel entitled "Boys and Books Can Be a Great Mix."
- In general, boys want more action than girls, who prefer character development.
- Boys like their characters to be doing something. If the book doesn't move fast enough, a lot of boys will stop reading. Boys want facts and a fast plot.
- If you want boys to read fiction, let it be full of information.
- Snakes, spiders, and airplanes are also captivating to them.
- Boys don't like to read stuff they would call "ooey-gooey." Theyprefer sports and adventure.
- Boys tend to gravitate toward nonfiction—books about sports cars, UFOs, yo-yos, magic, mystery, and science fiction.
- Make reading a regular part of household activities. Let your son see you read.
- Give books as presents. When you give your son a soccer ball, for instance, include a book on the sport.
- Acknowledge that reading nonfiction and factual information— the sports page, for example—is just as legitimate as reading novels.
- Boys will jump on books that match their interests, but reading level must also be considered. If the book is too difficult, theywon't finish. Too easy, and they'll get bored. Make it a challenge but not an impossible one.
- Take your son to the bookstore or library and let him explore reading options. The librarian can be urged to talk to him about his hobbies and interests and then listen carefully to hisresponse. That will give the librarian a sense of what kind ofbooks he might enjoy. The secret is involving him in the decision.
- Never give them just one book. Try five or six. If they don't likethe first or second, they have a bigger choice.
- Another secret is repetition. Learning to read better is like playing any sport. Unless there is an eyesight problem or physiological problem, most reluctant readers can be turned around through nothing more than practice.
- If you as a parent want more suggestions, read Great Books for Boys by Kathleen Odean.9
I hope these suggestions have been helpful. Let's turn our attention now to the kind of school that your child should attend, assuming you have the resources and the commitment to consider some alternatives. No school structure is perfect, whether public, Christian, secular-private, charter school, or homeschool. Each has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the needs of an individual child and the quality of the programs available in a particular area. That is why I have never made a blanket recommendation to parents about where they should place their children. It depends on finances, family pressures, the quality of local schools, and other individual circumstances. Shirley and I chose Christian schools for our kids, from kindergarten all the way through college, except for a few short forays into public education. I am thankful to this day for the men and women who sacrificed mightily to teach in those Christian institutions. They hardly earned enough money to live on. They did it because they wanted to share their faith with students. God bless 'em.
Still, if we had to do it over again, Shirley and I would probably homeschool our children. I think we could have done the job very well. At the time they were young, however, homeschooling was not fashionable. I had never even heard of it. Given that lack of information, I unwittingly helped start the homeschool movement that is now spreading around the world. The year was 1979, and someone handed me a book by a man named Dr. Raymond Moore. It was called School Can Wait. He soon wrote a companion text entitled Better Late Than Early. Since Moore and I had both earned our Ph.D.s in child development at the University of Southern California, we had crossed paths a time or two. On that basis, I invited him to be a guest on my then-new radio program, Focus on the Family. I was totally unprepared for what would happen next.
Dr. Moore talked that day about the basic concept of homeschooling and why it is risky and unwise to place very young children, especially immature boys, in formalized educational settings. He explained how research had demonstrated conclusively that kids can be taught in very informal home settings with their parents until ages eight, nine, ten, or even older before being plugged in with their age-mates. They tend to catch up quickly and be leaders in their classes.10 These ideas were new to me because I had been taught that early formal schooling was necessary for a child to reach his full potential. That was the rage when I was in graduate school. It has turned out to be wrong, and yet people like actor Rob Reiner and other zealots are still promoting the concept.11 As I listened to Dr. Moore and read the related research, I began to see the folly of the early-schooling perspective.
No sooner had my radio interview with Dr. Moore hit the air than an avalanche of responses landed in our offices. I wasn't even aware at that time that I had so many listeners. We were buried for weeks by requests for Dr. Moore's book and additional information about how to start a home school. The rest is history. The concept skyrocketed and continues to expand. It is now the fastest-growing educational movement in the country, still growing at a rate of 15 percent per year.12 Raymond and Dorothy Moore are still my friends, and I appreciate the enormous contribution they have made to children and families around the world.
Why is homeschooling growing so rapidly? Perhaps the following transcript of a recent Focus on the Family broadcast will help explain it. My guest was Dr. Bill Bennett, the former secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan and the drug czar under President George Bush. He has written and lectured for years about public schools and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas and a law degree from Harvard. If anyone has a clear-eyed "fix" on education, Dr. Bennett is that person. Here is a portion of his comments on that day, edited slightly for clarification:
James C. Dobson: Bill, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Bill Bennett: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.
JCD: Let's talk about public education today. Why don't you start by giving us a report card on today's schools? How are they doing compared to years past?
BB: Well, let's look at the academics. I can do it in shorthand, Jim. There are lots of feel-good reports out there in the country. There are alot of high grades. When parents are told how the children are doing, they're told they're doing fine. When you evaluate the test scores from the states, it looks pretty encouraging. Then you put our children in an international competition against children from other industrialized nations, and it's very bad.
In the third grade, in math and science, our children score near the top compared to third graders in other industrialized nations. In the eighth grade, they score in the middle. In the twelfth grade, they score atthe bottom. In short, the longer you stay in school in America, the dumber you get, relative to kids in other countries.
JCD: What an indictment that is.
BB: It's a dumbing-down process. But it's interesting because our children do reasonably well in the third grade, which suggests it's not the children's fault; there is something wrong with the system. This has been studied and examined. This has happened now several times, and we see that the longer kids stay in school, the further they fall behind, relative tothe children from other nations.
JCD: What is wrong with the system?
BB: It is a failure of competition. There is no competition in the system. There's very little accountability in the system. There are some wonderful teachers in our schools, but there are others who have no business being there. The last numbers I saw said that only 20 percent of our high school math teachers had majored in math in college. So the lack of preparation in subject matter is a very serious problem.
A study done at the University of California at Berkeley pointed out that one-half of elementary school math teachers could not divide one-and-three-quarters by one-half. All of the Chinese teachers from the People's Republic of China (I call it Communist China because that's what itis) who were tested could divide one-and-three-quarters by one-half. Now you need to be able to do that if you're going to teach math to my child or your child. I think this is what explains some of the numbers from the international comparison.
Up to the third-grade level, it's pretty basic stuff: decoding a text, doing addition, doing subtraction. Things really fall apart in the middle grades. More important, Jim, there is curricular confusion. There is chaos. There is a lack of agreement about what should be taught. You've got all sorts of theories coming from schools of education in universities. Once you get past the fourth and fifth grade, it's really anybody's guess about what a child might be getting in school.
JCD: Given these results, you would think professional educators would be saying, "My goodness. We've got to get busy here or somebody's going to blame us for failing our kids. They are not doing well academically. Too many of our kids are not making it. Let's see if we can fix the problem." Instead, one of the primary objectives of the National Education Association and the U.S. Department of Education is assuring that homosexual propaganda is taught to every kid in America—kindergarten to grade twelve. If they have their way, the gayand lesbian point of view will be integrated into every academic subject—math, science, language arts, and social studies. There's something crazy about that.
BB: Yeah, there is something crazy. It's the old story. When something goes wrong, change the subject. If the subject is math, change it tosomething else. If the subject is science, change it to something else. Sohere's yet one more cause to be promoted. We have larded onto the schools job after job, task after task, things that are not central to the educational mission. But the last thing the American people want is to have their schools preaching to their children about the need to accommodate homosexuality and to encourage the view that all lifestyles are equal.
Do you remember the curriculum called Heather Has Two Mommies? It was a program to promote a new definition of families involving gay or lesbian parents.
JCD: Yes, I do.
BB: I was with some of those brave folks in New York recently—those citizens who stood up and said, "No, we will not permit this." They were right to oppose it, but now we're seeing a resurgence of this effort to foist this stuff on the entire school system. These values, these ideas, are inimical to most parents. They won't stand for it.
JCD: You told me in my office a few minutes ago that if California and other schools move in this direction that millions of parents will flee. Homeschooling is one of the places that they will go.
BB: Jim, if the NEA wants to see a further exodus out of the schools and a further increase in the ranks of homeschoolers, and a further dissatisfaction with public education, it will proceed in this way. When parents read in the newspapers about the shooting at Santee and about the shooting in Granite Hills or the shooting near here in Littleton, Colorado, then they will begin to ask, "Why are we sending our children to public schools? There are risks of all sorts."
I don't mean to overdramatize this; we know that the incidence of school violence is actually lower than it's been for years before. But there are so many things that parents have to worry about now when it comes to sending their children to school. Why encumber the system with one more tangent? Why would the schools or the NEA irritate parents and cause them to look for alternatives? Look, you and I have talked about this a number of times. It is now known that the success of homeschoolers is virtually universal.
JCD: Kids are getting a great education there. That is undeniable.
BB: The kids in public schools score, appropriately enough, at the fiftieth percentile on tests of academic competence. In other words, their combined score is "average." Homeschoolers, however, are at theeighty-seventh percentile—for about one-sixth the cost. These homeschool kids are getting into the colleges that their parents want them to attend, and the program produces a high degree of parental and child satisfaction.
One other very interesting thing we've just found out about these wonderful kids is that they tend to be active in political affairs. They tendto be joiners. They tend to be people who are engaged in civic activities—just the opposite of what people have said. I have a theory about that, which I would defer to you. But I think these kids are so filled with mother love—you know, so much affection and devotion from their moms and dads (dads do occasionally play a role in homeschooling; let's get in a word for dads)—that they are just supremely confident.
JCD: Many homeschool kids come here to Focus on the Family on field trips. It is interesting to watch them. They are very confident, as you said. They look adults in the eye and respond to them respectfully. There is something different about homeschool boys and girls, and that difference is good. I believe in that movement. It's not for everybody, but it sure works when people are committed to it.
BB: Not all teachers are parents, but all good parents are teachers.
JCD: I was watching television and saw the finals of the national spelling bee. I'm telling you, that was a thrilling experience. The first-, second-, and third-place winners had each been homeschooled, which has also occurred in other competitive programs of that nature.
BB: That's right. That's exactly right.
JCD: The winner looked into the camera and thanked God that He had given him the ability to compete. His father was even more impressive. He said to the interviewer, "I'm proud of what my son has accomplished. He did a good job. But I'm much more pleased about the development of his character than I am his intellectual accomplishments."
BB: That's right.
JCD: This is the value system that parents are able to instill at home, which their kids will not get in public schools, where it is prohibited by law.
BB: Do you remember the great Ronald Reagan story? It was written up in Reader's Digest. The president read about a little girl who found a purse and returned it to its owner. She told her counselor and then asked, "Did I do the right thing?" The counselor said, "Well, let's talk about it with the rest of the children." They all talked about it and the counselor said, "Now let's vote." The children voted in the majority that the girl had done the wrong thing, that she was stupid. She should have kept themoney. So, of course, the child looked up plaintively to the counselor and he threw up his hands and said, "I'm just here to see what people think, just to facilitate discussion." There was a time when a counselor orteacher would have reinforced the rightness of what the child had done. Now the kids are asked to vote on what is correct morally.
JCD: When I was in the first grade, I found a dime on the school playground one day. A dime was a lot of money when I was six years old. I don't mean to imply that I was some kind of little saint, but I had been taught at home that I shouldn't keep something that didn't belong to me. Now children are asked to debate what is right or wrong, based not on an established standard of morality but on peer-group opinion. That is just incredible.
BB: Think of that poor lost child who looked to the adult for guidance, but the adult couldn't give an answer. He or she had been told not to favor one point of view over another in this kind of "values clarification"—and not to use language of right and wrong because there are no absolutes.
[Later in the interview]
JCD: I understand you now have a new online curriculum available for children in grades K-12 to assist homeschool parents and others wanting to teach children directly. Give us the basic idea.
BB: In many ways, this is a very simple idea. What I am doing with my colleagues is developing an educational program on the Web, for kindergarten through twelfth grade, in six subjects: math, English, history, science, art, and music. We are developing a lesson for every day for every year of those thirteen years. It will consist of books and materials and programs on the Internet.
We are offering it to parents, teachers, or whoever would be interested in it. We've looked at science programs in different states; we've looked at reading and writing programs everywhere. We have assembled what we think is the best educational program that a parent or a school can have. We are hoping that homeschoolers will be interested in the whole thing, or a piece of it, or a part of it. We're hoping that public-school systems will look at it too, and that parents will consider it.
JCD: How can parents get more information about the program?
BB: Just log on the Internet at http://www.K12.com.
JCD: Thanks for being our guest again, Bill. You are always welcome at these microphones.
BB: Thanks, Jim. I always enjoy talking with you.13
I hope our readers understand that despite the concerns expressed by Dr. Bennett and me about public schools, neither of us is "negative" about them. There are many deeply dedicated and conscientious teachers and administrators in public education today who are just as committed to children as those I described in Christian schools. I do have to admit, however, that if government schools continue to drift much further away from traditional morality and common sense, such as today's over-the-top sex education programs and the postmodern stuff being promoted now by the NEA and the U.S. Department of Education, I soon will be very decidedly opposed to them.
One of my most serious criticisms is with a philosophy that was expressed in 1973 by former first lady and now U.S. senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Perhaps her words written so long ago have been forgotten. No matter. The philosophy she expressed is reflective of the direction taken by public educators in many locations and, certainly, among its union leaders. Here is a summary of Mrs. Clinton's viewpoints, written by columnist George F. Will:
If children are miniature adults, naturally endowed with most ofthe qualities necessary for participation in adult society; if they require scant shaping; if there is little need to restrain and redirect their natural impulses—well, then, "the legal status of infancy or minority should be abolished and the presumption of incompetency reversed" regarding motherhood, abortion, schooling and much else.14
This statement makes no sense to me. Children, said Mrs. Clinton, are not immature little people who need to be disciplined, shaped, trained, and directed. They are fully competent individuals who should be given the legal status of adults. Schools, therefore, should get out of the way andlet nature take its course. Educators are not supposed to "teach" kids, which implies a superior status. They are "colearners" and "facilitators" who simply help children discover for themselves what is in their best interests. The continuation of this philosophy is why, as Dr. Bennett said, there is "chaos in the curriculum." Many educators profess not to know what they should teach—or even whether they have the right to teach it. No wonder our kids get whipped in international academic competition. They may know how to use condoms, but too many of them can't compute, read, or write.
This is why many parents have turned to homeschooling as a means of coping with a hostile culture. It allows them to transmit their values to the next generation. And as we have seen, it has also been demonstrated to be a highly effective learning environment. Students educated at home are now enrolled in some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation, where they have distinguished themselves academically and personally. Homeschooling offers a highly successful approach for parents committed to it.
Those who have chosen to teach their own children are often warned that their "isolated" boys and girls will grow up to be misfits. This concern about "socialization," as it is called, is a dark cloud hanging over the heads of homeschooling parents. I believe it is a bum rap—for several reasons. First, to remove a child from the classroom is not necessarily to confine him to the house! Once beyond the schoolyard gate, the options are practically unlimited! Homeschool support groups are surfacing in community after community. Some are highly organized and offer field trips, teaching co-ops, tutoring services, social activities, and various forms of assistance and resources. There are even athletic leagues and orchestras in some areas. Furthermore, some public-school districts permit homeschooled students to participate in activities and programs.
Even if you're operating completely on your own, there are outings to museums and parks, visits to farms, factories, hospitals, and seats of local government, days with Dad at the office, trips to Grandma's house, extracurricular activities such as music, church youth groups, service organizations, and special-interest clubs. There are friends to be invited over and relatives to visit and parties to attend. The list is limitless. Even a trip with Mom to the market can provide younger students with invaluable exposure to the lives and daily tasks of adults in the real world. While there, a multitude of lessons can be learned about math (pricing, fractions, pints vs. gallons, addition, subtraction, etc.), reading labels, and other academic subjects. And without the strictures of schedules and formal curricula, it can all be considered part of the educational process. That's what I would call socialization at its best! To suggest that home-educated students are strange little people in solitary confinement is nonsense.
The great advantage of homeschooling, as we have described, is the protection it provides to vulnerable children from the wrong kind of socialization. I'm referring now not only to the cultural influences we have considered but to what children do to each other. When thrown together in large groups, the strongest and most aggressive kids quickly intimidate the weak and vulnerable. It is the immature and "different" boys and girls who suffer under these circumstances. When this occurs in nursery school or in kindergarten, they learn to fear their peers. There stands a knobby-legged kid who doesn't have a clue about life or how to cope with things that scare him. He has to sink or swim. It is easy to see why such children tend to become more peer dependent because of the jostling they get at too early an age. It stays with them well into adolescence. Research shows that if immature boys in particular can be kept at home for a few more years and shielded from the impact of social pressure, they tend to be more confident, more independent, and often emerge as leaders three or four years later.15
If acquainting children with ridicule, rejection, physical threats, and the rigors of the pecking order is necessary to socialize our children, I'd recommend that we keep them "unsocialized" for a little longer.
I know I have given an inordinate amount of attention in this chapter to one approach to education, that of homeschooling. There are many other alternatives, and I have not done them justice. Furthermore, there are many parents who are not cut out emotionally or temperamentally to make a go of home teaching. Others can't afford to live on one salary. Therefore, it is not for everybody. In that environment, I continue to be grateful for Christian teachers in both public and private education who are working every day for the betterment of children. There is also great promise in the charter-schools movement and what are called "magnet schools" that offer attractive alternatives. Without them, public schools would have a hammerlock on every child in America.
To the parents of immature boys who are not ready to sit in class hour after hour, I urge you to at least consider the other possibilities while your boys are small. Your sons can excel if given an opportunity.
Questions and Answers
What is your perspective on vouchers that allow parents to select the school of their choice and pay for schooling with government money?
Let me give you a roundabout answer. The enormous success of free enterprise and capitalism as economic systems is linked directly to the presence of competition. It is why America leads the world in productivity and efficiency. The absence of competition explains the dismal failure of communism and other socialistic forms of government. The simple fact is that competition improves human performance in almost every context. McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King dare not fall behind their competitors in the quality and quantity of the food and service they provide. It would be fatal to do so. That principle has endless applications. Take a look at how the Department of Motor Vehicles, the local Social Security office, the post office, and other federal agencies operate. Contact them and see if you get a prompt return call. I don't mean to disparage the fine people who are working in those and other government offices, but if you need something from them, you will recognize immediately that they don't need your business. They have a state-run monopoly for which there is no competition. People get sloppy when they don't have to hustle.
Do you remember when the Bell Telephone system held a virtual monopoly on America's long-distance service? A call out of the area cost approximately thirty cents per minute. After Ma Bell was broken up and competition from other companies was permitted, the rate dropped to six or seven cents. It is still falling. The relevance of this point to public education should be obvious. It will never provide the service parents want, or reach a high level of efficiency, until educators are forced to compete. That is why I support the concept of vouchers. Giving parents the right to choose their child's school will put power in their hands and motivate public schools to do a better job. The only thing blocking this proven idea is the powerful education lobby, which holds sway in Washington and in state governments.
The teacher of my son's third-grade class told me in a conference lastweek that my son was the "class clown." She said he would do anything for a laugh. He's not generally that way at home. What do you think is going on with him?
Your son is not alone. There is at least one class clown in every classroom. These skilled little disrupters are usually boys. They often have reading or other academic problems. They may be small in stature, although not always, and they'll do anything to draw attention to themselves. Their parents and teachers may not recognize that behind the boisterous behavior is often the pain of a poor self-concept. Humor is a classic response to feelings of inadequacy, and that's why many successful comedians have been hurting little boys or girls. Jonathan Winters's parents were divorced when he was seven years old. He said the other boys teased him about not having a dad. He said he acted like he didn't care, but when no one was watching, he would go behind a tree and cry. Winters said all of his humor has been a response to sorrow.16 Comedienne Joan Rivers often joked about her unattractiveness as a girl. She said she was such a dog, her father had to throw a bone down the aisle in order to get her married.17
These comedians and most others got their training during childhood, using humor as a defense against childhood hurts. That is often the inspiration for the class clown. By making an enormous joke out of everything, he conceals the self-doubt that churns inside.
Knowing that should help you meet the needs of your son and help him find more acceptable ways of getting attention. Playing a musical instrument, participating in sports, or acting in a school play are good alternatives. Cracking down on his silly behavior would also be a good idea.Book: Bringing Up Boys
By Dr. James Dobson