Am I Qualified To Teach My Own Child?
by Michael Leppert
[Note: Anyone involved in homeschooling who talks with parents teetering upon its threshold hears this question, in one form or another, usually right after the “socialization” issue has been addressed. Either the inquiring parent flatly states that “I am not qualified to teach my own children”, or asks “Am I qualified?” with a hopeful, searching look in his/her eyes. To the latter parents, to whom I cannot speak in person, this article is addressed. To begin with: More than likely, yes, you are qualified.]
Every year, eight weeks or so before our Conference in Los Angeles, our family rolls a few hundred Links the old-fashioned way and throws them door to door – or rather, driveway to driveway, disseminating homeschooling “seeds” to the general population of communities in our vicinity, like three Johnny Appleseeds. The first year we did this, shortly after a Sunday morning throwing spree, we received a phone message from a mother who had gotten one of our “seed papers” and called us to say how relieved she was. Her daughter had been having a terrible, catastrophic time in school and the two had been contemplating homeschooling, but were fearful and unsure of the potential for success they could expect to achieve. The Link in the driveway, with its articles by successful homeschooling parents and informative ads, had given them all the information they needed to put their faith in themselves and plunge ahead to a brighter future of self-learning. Each year since then, we have had a similar experience, with at least one family calling us to say that this newspaper “out of the blue” has helped them realize that they, too, can “do” this marvelous thing of teaching – actually, fully raising – their own children. This year, 2003, after an early-morning throwing session, we received a phone message from a woman who stated her opinion that she was opposed to homeschooling because many parents are not credentialed teachers. She said “Why do teachers go to school?” -- meaning, if it weren’t truly necessary to receive some special training, teachers wouldn’t be required to do so. To anyone who ever hears this question, I hope I can herein provide an intelligent, useful answer.
I have two points to address: The first being that parents who can read, write and do simple math are qualified to teach their own children in their homes. Any parent who actually allows himself/herself to be aware of his offspring, can see what is necessary for the child to become knowledgeable and informed and such a parent can either provide the necessary instruction or find someone who is. Let’s face it, few of us feel qualified to teach high school chemistry, algebra, trigonometry or physics to our children, but every college and university has a Tutor for Hire bulletin board or job board where a parent can find a student fully able to tutor these subjects to the homeschooled child. And there are online courses beyond number offering similar services. The body of this article is intended to discuss the issue of credentialing and qualification broadly, pointing out a few facts and observations that can bolster the belief that parents are completely qualified to teach their own – assuming the parent himself can read, comprehend what is read, write and do basic math.
It should be pointed out that doing what school teachers do – moving a classroom of 30 to 40 “unknown” children through the 180-day school year, maintaining order and taking them collectively through various textbooks -- is not the same as teaching one’s own children in the atmosphere of one’s home, where the student-to-teacher ratio is usually one-to-one or at most three-to-one at any given time. (Most homeschooling families find the teaching parent relating to one child at a time, no matter how large the family is.) Studies of classrooms have shown that 80% of daily class time is spent in non-academic activities . . . taking roll, trying to maintain order, etc. In a six-hour classroom day, that means that about 1.5 hours is spent in actual academic pursuits. Most homeschooling families find that they can easily cover each child’s academic needs in 2 to 4 hours per day. . . little wonder.
My second point is that I do not believe that credentialing alone determines one’s fitness to be a teacher. By the same token, a lack of credentialing does not mean that one is unfit to successfully teach one’s own. To support this opinion, I have assembled some objective information.
Aspiring Teachers Fail Exam
On July 2, 1998, an Associated Press report from Massachusetts, carried a story describing the failure of 56% of the aspiring teachers of that state in the reading and writing portion of the State Teacher Exam. The test-takers were all recent graduates of four-year colleges, so they possessed Bachelor degrees of some sort. The reason their failure was big news was that the exam was not difficult. The 56% who failed had missed spelling words a nine-year-old is expected to know; they could not write in complete sentences and failed to correctly define a noun or verb (skills at least an 8th grade student is expected to have mastered). Is this the performance you would expect from people who are fresh from years of test-taking -- not to mention approximately four years of recent, higher education? Do you think such people are qualified to do much of anything, in their present state of ignorance? I don’t. A recent college grad who could not pass such an easy test would seem so academically challenged as to be a hopeless case. I would be suspicious of a Bachelor’s degree awarded to such a person and would immediately wonder if the institution granting the degree to such an unknowledgeable person is taking bribes to do so. Maybe the college sports programs are not the only departments of some universities that need investigating. This could explain the 56% failure rate.
The AP story went on to relate that the Superintendent of Mass. Public Education suggested lowering the standards required of teachers there. (Below a nine-year-old spelling level?!!!) Would you feel comfortable knowing that your child was being taught by someone who could not demonstrate such a fundamental degree of knowledge as that described above? By what stretch of common sense could such an ignorant person be considered “qualified” to teach in a mandatory setting and for pay? I believe the fact that the Superintendent recommended lowering the standards sheds a great deal of light on this question of qualification and credentialing of teachers. If the “standards” held by the state department of education are so flimsy and soft that an 8th grader can achieve them, let’s just admit that public school teachers have sunk to the level of babysitters. (This seems like a good time to add that: Most “state standards” are far too low for a homeschooling family to seriously concern itself with equaling. We need to aim higher than that.) If the Mass Superintendent had his way, a person who is truly a teacher – an imparter of knowledge to others – would have to seek employment in a private school where such a person is desired and appreciated, because no real, professional teacher could tolerate simply babysitting a group of children. The Superintendent’s suggestion is tantamount to proposing that we lower the standards of operating a motor vehicle in order to accommodate blind people!
Credentialed Teachers Are Not Qualified, Per Se
Before we go any further in exploring this topic, let me say that for 30 to 40 years, credentialed teachers have been performing the work of teaching in public schools. In states that are hostile to homeschooling, this issue of credentialed and “qualified” teachers is used as the pivot point for the phony stand by teachers’ unions and school districts alike, that parents aren’t qualified to teach their own. My own state of California scores near the bottom of the 50 states in national standardized test results year in and year out, and the majority of teachers in the state public school system have been and are credentialed teachers. Therefore, it is obvious that being a credentialed teacher alone, does not make one able to teach children successfully. Credentialing is not the only criteria, nor the most important, in determining one’s qualification to impart information. The position of the Mass. Superintendent of Public Education, in suggesting that the standards be lowered, verifies that credentialing, in and of itself, has no more to do with being able to successfully impart knowledge to children than a driver’s license, by itself, demonstrates the ability to skillfully drive a car.
A Job or a Profession?
Long ago, a teacher was not simply one who delivered information, but one who possessed information that had been acquired in real life – not merely from a textbook and by listening to other teachers lecturing and pontificating for four years. Such a professional teacher could teach many subjects with or without a textbook, because he/she knew the information so well. That was the reason that teaching came to be considered a profession, not merely a job, as it has become today – although teachers’ unions try to promote the idea that it is still a true profession. Many, many teachers are simply pontificators: They will tell you “How it is” with all the arrogance of the unknowledgeable. Possibly they are so habituated to either talking “down” to students or conversing on a level with only other teachers, that they display poor socialization skills when they encounter an adult who is knowledgeable and learned, but not a credentialed teacher. You can almost see a short-circuit behind their eyes; smoke coming from their ears, as they try to compute such a being – a learned person who is not enamored with the teacher’s station in life nor impressed with the teacher’s vapid jargon that often passes for knowledge.
There are still real, professional teachers around, but many of them have left teaching in schools and moved into other fields of endeavor. They are the people who would score very high on the Massachusetts Teacher Exam mentioned above, because they actually know things. It matters to them what monumental thing happened in 1066 in England or why to capitalize “to” in a title when it comes before a verb or they know why English spelling is such a logical disaster compared to Spanish, for instance, and they can explain it to their students – in other words, they can teach. These people can ignite a fire in many of their students to know more and more because knowing things can matter to making one’s life better. This was the original point of being knowledgeable – to make one’s life better. But these true teachers are also honest enough to say that not everything is worth knowing and that some things do not have a place of value in everyday life (algebra, for instance). Long ago, algebra was used as a tool to teach reasoning – and a certain type of learner finds it useful as such. Other types of learners grasp logic from a study of other disciplines, but even they have to endure this misguided math-torture and now, all wishing to attend college have to learn algebra just to pass the SAT or CEB exam.
While we are on the subject of knowing things, the old saying is “Knowledge is power” not “Education is power.” Public school systems and state boards of education often attempt to blur the definite distinction between knowledge and education, probably for their own commercial benefit. Those who know things are learn-ed; they can learn more, and can become wise with expanded knowing and being. Those who are educated, are the 56 Percenters of Massachusetts: They know almost nothing, but they have a degree, an education, if you will. Remember the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz? The Wizard couldn’t give him a brain, but he could give him a degree.
It should be a “given” that having children learn certain foundation pieces of information creates a society of naturally intellectual and intelligent citizens. You don’t merely teach a hodge-podge of dates and rules and made-up laws, but you explain the development of grammar and spelling; the foundation and development of law, authority, economics, and the evolution of statesmanship and its poor step-child, politics. The Founders of America were raised in this way and were taught by their parents, since one could not be admitted to the schools of the day (voluntary, by the way) without knowing how to read, write and do basic math. This is why the Colonists could debate with each other in their taverns, town halls and at dinner tables, such dense material as The Federalist Papers without being forced by anyone to do so. This is why before compulsory public school attendance laws, Noah Webster’s Spelling Book sold over 5 million copies in a country of under 20 million in 1818, without any rule or law by the government forcing citizens to buy it! These early Americans valued knowledge and were learned themselves.
The Colonial and early American parents knew what their children needed to know and they made sure it was learned. If a parent couldn’t teach it, he found one who could and made it so. Having a literate child was equal to having a child who learned a trade so he could become self-sufficient. This is approximately where this article began. People are not so different today than they were in the 1750s. Our amusements are changed, our natures are not. Homeschooling parents are those who have had not only a biological experience in giving birth to another human being, but have responded to a much higher urge and calling . . . to actually shape and fashion that human being every step of his/her way to adulthood . . . exactly as the Colonial Americans did at the beginning of this Great Experiment. Teaching parents today may have an easier time teaching than the Colonials, especially with the vast array of books, videos, CDs and online programs available. And most of us enjoy a large network of other teaching parents through park days, support groups and the like. I believe that if you have basic intellectual ability, you can – and should -- teach your own children. They deserve nothing less. -- MJL
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