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Letters to the Editor

by Mary and Michael Leppert

Dear Ms. Leppert:

Thank you for keeping me on your mailing list. I appreciate my copy of The Link, and never fail to read it carefully. In this respect, I do not agree with you that all the people, publications, organizations, and processes that you list in Who's Who & What's What in Homeschooling" are of "help" to this form of education. Please allow me to explain.

One, you list people, e.g. Sam Blumenfeld and John Holt, who take remarkably opposite views of what productive homeschooling is. Reading the writings of these two men together doubtless would highly confuse the homeschooler as to how this craft should be conducted.

Two, the listing of the Whole Language approach to children's literacy development is unfortunate. None of its unique principles nor novel practices is corroborated by relevant experimental research. Did you intend to imply here that literacy instruction should not be based on scientific evidence?

Three, the listing of the "tactile" and "visual" learner is unwarranted. The theory that children at schooling age each have unique and immutable "learning styles" has been found by disinterested educational scholars to be empirically unfounded.

Four, do you suggest by the listing of the "Trivium approach" that homeschooling that "focuses of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric" is appropriate for meeting the educational needs of the modern student? If so, I propose that this is misadvice to modern homeschoolers. Five, "phonics" is not "a method of teaching the act of reading." Phonics is a body of information about how letters regularly are used to represent speech sounds. That information can be taught in varied ways. The most effective manner is to teach it in a direct, intensive, systematic, early, and comprehensive (DISEC) style.

Six, the listing of Horace Mann and John Dewey puzzles me. Historically speaking, Mann was one of the most active opponents of homeschooling in the 19th century. Dewey had more influence on teachers adopting experimentally discredited nonDISEC methods of instruction than any other education professor in the 20th century.

Patrick Groff
Professor of Education Emeritus
San Diego State University

Dear Professor Groff:

My wife, Mary, the Editor, has granted me the honor of responding to your well-received letter. I hope I am able to do you and our readers justice! Thank you for reading The Link and for taking the time to write to us. Before we go on, please allow me to remind you that homeschooling is not the same animal as mass-schooling. In mass-school, a teacher is required to move 30 to 40 previously unknown children through 180 days to an end goal defined and required by a third party - a state official of some sort. In homeschooling, an interested parent or grandparent nurtures and progresses a well-known child/children often to a totally unexpected but very satisfying goal far beyond what can be measured or weighed on the state's scale. Mass-schooling seems to me to be a very industrial activity, like working in a factory, while homeschooling is more akin to gardening or a cottage industry, if you will. Therefore, many of your observations and comments are more relevant in the mass-schooling realm than the homeschooling realm.

Now, I wish to begin by stating that in running the "Who's Who, etc." section, it is The Link's intention to inform the reader of names and terms which are bandied about the homeschooling world - sometimes at a very confusing pace, especially for the newcomer. Therefore, we are not so concerned about sifting out one ideology or another, but to simply present the name or term and a thumbnail of explanation so that at least the reader can be familiar with the term or person's name. If the juxtaposition of some of these entries seems confusing, it is because it is our desire for parents to read of two opposing people or viewpoints close together. Hopefully, they will read these simultaneously and make informed comparisons and decisions. We consider the average parent to be quite capable of sidestepping any confusion - and we have seen this borne out empirically, time and again. In the case of Messrs. Blumenfeld and Holt, this is particularly the case. Besides, if one only knows that Holt was pioneer of the modern unschooling school of thought (!), that will be enough. The person can then take up a more thorough search, if desired. In the case of Horace Mann, we feel that since he was a major architect in the modern socialist, mass-schooling most citizens have been subjected to, it is a great service for our readers to "Know the enemy." Mann has many public schools named after him . . . we wish people to know why. We feel that Dewey's work also had influence in shaping the mass-schooling mindset as it grew through the early 20th century; therefore, he occupies a similar place in the anti-homeschool camp. Because of this, he deserves a mention for the same reason as Mann: "Know thy enemy". Dewey presents what appears at first blush to be an impressive array of knowledge and mind power, which can be very daunting to a homeschool parent. We feel this apparently awesome set of credentials, body of work, etc., is actually more akin to the Wizard of Oz - which I think describes the entire monolith of mass-education - merely a little man behind a curtain, projecting a large, frightening image of himself to those cowering before him.

In terms of Whole Language, we do not support it and we think it constitutes a shell game, promulgated by the spiritual great-grandson of P.T. Barnum and foisted upon California children for far too long. We are not scientists, we are merely parents and literate, thinking ones, at that. We can read the writing on the wall and we know nonsense when we see it. (Please see below for more on science.)

As far as "learning styles" are concerned, my wife, son and I (as well as a number of others) have a great deal of empirical evidence to support our contention that an analysis of one's personality vis a vis learning styles, is valid and quite helpful in focusing on how to process information - or present it to one's child. I do not know if one's learning styles are immutable or if a child's is immutable. My wife and I have both been predominantly one type of learner with three other "styles" being secondary for each of us. This mix in our personalities has proved to be immutable, but I am willing to concede that in very young children such may not be the case. Whether or not disinterested third parties have found it to be valid is not a concern of ours. Disinterested third parties have a way of producing theories that fall flat in daily practice. Let me offer an analogy: As a general rule of practice, pediatricians will tell you that children don't run fevers when teething. Any grandmother, mother or father, will tell you that the contrary is true. As a father who went through this same debate when my son was an infant, I can tell you that the "learned" medical knowledge is false. The truth is: Children run fevers when teething. Since the late 1980s, I have watched numerous relatives go through the same nonsense, hearing this "science." By the same token, it is my opinion that scientific meddling in education is the worst possible thing that could have happened to citizens of the U.S. in the past 120 years. I do not believe in herd mentality on any level. Therefore, the results of scientific studies of the herd mean nothing to me. I believe that the Founders of America were extremely adept in thinking ability and in further knowledge-gaining ability. That is my definition of educated. Sadly, the "scientific" tinkering and meddling in education, especially of the past 120 years, has produced a nation of worker drones, not thinkers or self-instructors. In terms of your DISEC manner of teaching, or your definition of phonics, I wouldn't have a clue about it, nor do most of the homeschooling families I encounter in my work here with the newspaper or at our conference. Here is a fundamental difference between teachers and teaching parents: There are no statistics for us. Saying that something works 50% of the time in a control group of 3,000 is gibberish to us. There is no 50% here nor are there 3,000; there is only one, "my" child. But, by using phonics to teach our children to read, we are producing literate people who will be capable of reading anything - including the writing on the wall and between the lines. Our children are developing a quality best expressed by the word "savvy." Just as the Founding Fathers knew a scam, knew the truths of life and knew themselves and human nature, our children are learning much more than a system of reading.

As for the Trivium, or anything else contained in the "Who's Who" section, it is not our intention to filter or edit information, but to make it available. I cannot imagine how teaching the Trivium could be detrimental to the modern student! It builds a brain, does it not? The one element I see sorely lacking in many younger people I meet today (not homeschooled, by the way) is that they do not seem to have a fundamental mentality upon which to build. I have assumed that the value of the Trivium is that it builds such a mentality. If I am wrong, I would like to have such explained to me. Possibly you could do so?

Again, Prof. Groff, thank you for writing and please continue to do so. Your letters are always welcome!

Michael Leppert
Copyright © 2006 Modern Media