November 12, 2013
Much to my surprise, Alfie Kohn replied very promptly to my e-mail! (Unlike my less than speedy re-post). Here is his reply. I thought it was very considerate and positive.
Alfie Kohn <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sep 19, 2013
Thanks for your thoughtful note. My interest is in supporting and improving public schools, but I certainly understand (and don’t condemn) those parents who choose to opt out and teach their own. I know this poses an excruciating dilemma for people who don’t want to abandon the institution of democratic public education (particularly since their progressive voices are desperately needed to nudge that education in the right direction) and also want their children to be part of a community of learners on a daily basis — yet feel that the local school is doing their children more harm than good at the moment. There’s no easy answer to this.
I appreciate your taking the time to write.
– Alfie Kohn
September 19, 2013
I did actually send this to Alfie Kohn, but I imagine he is probably a bit too busy to answer lengthy e-mails such as this (why am I so damn long-winded?!). So I am going to post it here, and maybe someone else who searches “Alfie AND homeschooling” will find their way here and enlighten me.
Dear Mr. Kohn
After reading a selection of your articles (the latest being “Debunking the Case for National Standards: One-Size-Fits-All Mandates and Their Dangers”), I would definitely say I am a fan of your work and I fervently hope your wisdom is heeded as the nation tackles education reform. I just can’t quite reconcile you’re your dissatisfaction with public education and your position against homeschooling.
In this article, and others, you clearly state that that all kids should get a “great education [.... ] But that doesn’t mean all kids should get the same education.” Yet schools have been churning out kids assembly line fashion since I was in school. If schools haven’t changed in the 20+ years since I was a student, what possible reason can you give me to send my kids back into those mindless fact factories hoping that I will get lucky and see the change we need in the next 10-12 years (my kids are 5, 6, and 8)?
What do you suggest we do if not homeschool? How can I give my sons a quality education, ensuring he has art, music, and P.E., no homework, and plenty of time after his studies for free play and family time? I submit it can’t be done in the current state of affairs.
I would ask that you please consider being supportive of homeschoolers until such time as the reform you speak of is within reach. Right now, I just don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Unless it’s 20 years down the road and we exhort this generation of homeschoolers to become teachers. Imagine the breath of fresh air they would bring to the classrooms!
PS I would like to share with you my backstory to lend some anecdotal evidence to your thorough and convincing research. I began my schooling in a small private school (35 kids in first – fifth grades). I don’t remember taking many tests, but I do remember getting report cards. Everyone always seemed to get a mix of A’s and B’s no matter what. I figured the teacher was sending the message that you are all doing well, but there is always room for improvement. I wasn’t terribly concerned with grades and I enjoyed my studies.
I moved on to public school in the 6th grade. I was tested for placement (of course) and immediately put into the highest of five levels (apparently the private school gave me a good education without yearly testing or over-emphasis on grades). I never got another B for the rest of my public school career. From that point on, I did everything you predicted. I became lazy. I did the minimum work required to get the A. I diligently copied notes so I could cram for tests the night before. Everything I read was discarded after testing. I love reading (especially the “classics”) but every book I had to read for school, I detest to this day (my favorite book of all time is Les Miserables which I read at 14 yo, yet I detest Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which we read 2 years later in class).
Yet I am a public school success story. I always scored in the 99th percentile on standardized tests. I got one question wrong on the ACTs. I was a National Merit Scholar. I placed in the top 10 in an IL State Math competition. I graduated #1 out of 300 and was named Math, English, Science, and Spanish student of the year (I can’t hold a conversation in Spanish, however, BTW). I took 2 years off before attending college (VA Tech). Despite getting a 5 on the AP Calculus exam, I got a C in college Calculus. I had forgotten too many formulas in my 2 years off. And since I never actually learned the “hows” and “why” behind calculus, I was lost without the formulas stuffed into my brain.
And that was the STEM class I passed. I had to drop physics. I was at first excited to learn that much of physics was applied calculus. Despite having taken college-placement Physics in high school, I never actually realized the tie between the two. But after one month I had to drop the course. It was one thing to get a “C” in math after being told I was a math genius, but I couldn’t stand to fail a class altogether.
I didn’t last two years in college. I couldn’t handle having to do so much work to be stamped “average”. And when I finally went back 10 years later, I majored in English, despite my love of math. It was just plain easier. And all I wanted at that point was a degree. I jumped back on the hamster wheel and graduated Summa Cum Laude. Some things you never forget.
All that to say, it was an easy decision to homeschool my kids. I was a public school superstar and it prepared me for little. If I am the best that a public school can produce, then how can I possibly, in good conscious, choose that for my kids? Please tell us homeschooling parents what you would have us do? We simply can’t stand to throw our kids under the bus while we wait for reform.
Update: I did get a response! See it here.
February 11, 2013
I just read the letter that the K staff sent home concerning Valentine’s Day cards. While I definitely understand that putting “To: A friend” on each card makes it quicker and easier to distribute Valentines, I am not sure I understand why expediency is the goal for this exchange?
Usually when we make our Valentine’s cards, we stop and think about each name we are writing. We chat about the person that the name represents. Whether it be Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, best friend Jake, or the girl in class named Emily that we hardly know, writing the name is what makes the Valentine special. Without a name, there really is no meaning behind the gesture.
I think instructing my kids to put names on Valentine’s cards teaches my children to be thoughtful and inclusive. Leaving the name off turns the exchange inward. Into just another reason to buy ever more Star Wars or Sponge Bob merchandise.
I understand that parties take away from time set aside for learning. But I am always impressed by how my children’s teachers turn everyday moments into learning opportunities. It just seems to me that taking the time to count and sort Valentines, while encouraging thoughtfulness and caring is a practice worth standing up for.
January 21, 2013
The following is a Rhode Island teacher’s letter of resignation. Too bad the school district let him leave instead of fighting tooth and nail to keep such a great mind in the public school system.
And from there I found this speech by a high school Valedictorian who wants the last 12 years of her life back! She quotes John Gatto, so she wins big points from me right there!
January 18, 2013
I just read the Valve Employee Handbook, and was pretty impressed. Or maybe jealous. Jealous that companies like this didn’t exist when I was a young twenty-something passionate about IT. So I decided to go tell Nathan he should work for Valve when he grows up. (Jobs and careers are a popular topic for the elementary school set anyway.) Here’s what followed:
Nathan: “So I can help make Portal 3?”
Mom: <<sigh>> “Yes.” He would know just who Valve is.
Mom: “Do you know what things you are working on now that will help you get a job like that?”
Mom: “Your math and Scratch.” (Scratch is a programming language for kids designed by MIT.)
Nathan: “Oh, I’m on Scratch right now. Look what I posted….”
And I proceeded to read a discussion between Nathan and some other kids(?) about the strength of his passwords and using Scratch to write a program that evaluates passwords.
Let me interrupt this moment to say that I do not give my kids unfettered access to the computer and certainly not message boards. During the day they are allowed to visit exactly four sites: IXL, PBSkids, Scratch, and Google (and the last only in my presence).
My knee-jerk reaction was to be horrified that my son is discussing his password online! He assured me he would never do that. He also said, “You helped with me this password, mom, and it is ‘moderately strong.’ Maybe I should come up with my own that is stronger.”
I chuckled and left feeling reassured. My next thought might be a bit of a leap, but it was, “I love homeschooling!” Sure, many kids have the opportunity to spend their free time how they choose on evenings and weekends. But evenings and weekends are filled with making dinner, sports practice, Cub Scouts, taking baths, and reading stories. For school kids, add homework to that list. How much time to school kids really have to discover a passion such as this and follow their lines of thought down all the rabbit holes of discovery to their heart’s content? How many kids are learning network security by having a teacher stand up in front of a 20 minute computer lab saying, “Kids, never share your password online.” How cool is it that Nathan is learning about passwords by play-testing a user created password strength utility? Which will have a greater impact? Which will stick out in memory?
Whenever I am tempted to let that little voice of doubt creep up and question my choices, I remind myself of moments like these. My children are going to know how to pursue their passions and teach themselves the skills they need fulfill their goals. If you have a moment, check out the Valve handbook. For the self-motivated individual, it looks like a dream job. Are we preparing our children to get jobs like this, or to work in cubicles and punch clocks?
Hopefully Nathan can go to work for the 2030′s version of Valve. Nathan is only 7, after all.
I don’t know why, but I feel like responding to this article entitled, “Why I Raise My Children Without God“. Now mind you, no one who has met me since I turned 18 would likely say, “Oh that Heather is a fine Christian!” Not only do I rarely attend church, but I have spectacularly broken a few major commandments and most of the minor ones. The religious teaching my children receive consists of reading various children’s bibles and watching Veggie Tales (both of which, BTW, they adore). I never shy away from answering their questions about God, however, and I unflinchingly give them answers that, though refined over the years, are not too far off from the lessons taught in most Sunday Schools.
Anyway, that’s my background and here’s my thoughts. The questions posed in this article are undoubtedly important to ponder. I actually appreciate the author for making an attempt to articulate her beliefs. In that regard, she is probably ahead of 94.3% of her peers (BTW all of my un-referenced statistics are completely pulled out of my ass along with 87% of all statistics cited on the internet).
A friend of mine posted the above article on Facebook. Being the mom of very young kids, I often find myself starved for intelligent conversation. The comments on my friends post were intelligent and thoughtful. The poster replied to one Christians rebuttal by asking him to refute the article’s assertions point by point rather than just asking for her to “pray for answers.” I can appreciate her request and after reading the article, I felt compelled to take up the gauntlet.
WARNING: This reply turned into a frickin’ novel! Consider grabbing a snack and tasty beverage.
The author’s moral dilemma about lying to her children is the only honest struggle in the entire article. I am surprised it took the author so long to come to the conclusion: “I thought it was only right to be honest with my children.” If you don’t have faith, by all means don’t lie about it to your kids. But this is not a moral dilemma actual believers face. All parents ought to share what they believe to be true. In all things (not just matters of faith), children will eventually realize they can adopt the beliefs of their parents or figure out their own paths. This is part of growing up. If we teach children to mistrust and scoff at their parents for passing on their belief systems (which is often deeply tied in with their heritage), then we are raising self-centered, intolerant, close-minded narcissists. Granted the author did not advocate that outright, but she seems to think it is an enlightened value to raise children without faith. How is it consistent to promote tolerance and open-mindedness, yet belittle those who subscribe to religion?
Overall, she makes a fair point that you should not teach your children things you do not believe to be true. But if that’s not already a rather obvious parental guideline, then modern children are in more trouble than I previously suspected.
Point #1: “God is a bad parent and role model.”
Maybe if you think of yourself as a 3 year old… then fine go with that. I don’t know about you, but my parents don’t have a whole lotta’ say over how I live my life these days. I generally don’t seek out their advice except on the big decisions, and even then, I pretty much know what I want to do already and am just hoping they’ll make me feel better about my chioce. But they know that, and I know that, and they know that I know that they know… well, anyway I know they are there when I need them.
And I also have to refute the idea that “Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children.” If good people didn’t stand by then we wouldn’t feel the need to be mad at God for not intervening. We know for a fact that women and children are being trafficked, elderly are being assaulted in rest homes, and children are being abused by their own parents. Yet, we expect God to step in when we turn away? We expect to stomp our foot, and put out our lower lip, and poof the Almighty will take away all the consequences to all the bad decisions we collectively insist are our right to make!
Point #2: “God is not logical.”
The author asks, “How many times have you heard, ‘Why did God allow this to happen?’” You know what? I have never actually heard someone sincerely ask that question. Not once in the 20-30 churches I have attended, not while deployed to the middle east, not while in Bible College, regular college, or regular life. I have only heard it ever asked in this context. As a straw man argument. If you can’t verbalize the definition of a straw man argument, please Google it. I think if believers and non-believers, progressives and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, could get that basic logical fallacy out of their everyday discourse, meaningful debate might actually take place once again in this land. I am not getting my hopes up, however.
But for those out there you are sincerely crying out “Why, God, Why?” Well, I am sorry to say none of the answers the article gave are what a theologian would give. And I am just not going to go there. For starters, this argument has been discussed ad nauseum by scholars much more learned than me. But really though, because the answer to this question is pretty much the crux of faith.
If you are on your knees crying out to Him in despair… then that’s on Him to answer, not me. For every person who has been there and felt no reply, there has been another that has felt God’s embrace. Who are we to judge their hearts? Who are we to say the first didn’t pray hard enough, but the second has God’s attention? Who are we to know whether the first will find God not in their grief, but in their recovery? Who are we to know how and where and in what way an omniscient being can be understood by another? We can’t even know the minds of the opposite sex! I think it is pretty arrogant to place God in a box and then toss Him away because the box is not to our liking.
For fun, I am going to get purely philosophical, rather than theological. If you were an all-powerful, all-knowing being who could create the heavens with a word, and for whom 1,000 years passes in the blink of an eye, would you intervene in every crisis… every tragedy? Maybe for Him it’s like watching a series of never ending movies? A non-stop carousel of Les Miserables, Legends of the Fall, My Girl, Beaches, Dead Poets’ Society, etc. etc. on and on, over and over. Maybe before every single one of us is born, he lays these scenes out before those souls vying for a turn at mortality and warns them that the chance of finding riches or Romeo is equal to their chance of being born with an extra-chromosome. Maybe we all decide to take that risk.
Sound silly? Fantastical? Perhaps. But we can’t know. If you have a scientific mind, check out these mysteries of the stars “which defy everything we know to be possible.” The more we know, the more we learn we don’t know. It is beyond arrogant to claim to have examined all possible facts in a highly controversial matter and then pronounce a final judgement. In all of human history, faith has played a central role. But all it took was a mommy blogger to lay this matter to rest? Gods be praised! Errr… I mean… anyway….
Let’s stir up the pot with some more controversy. Imagine God once again. A God who created all life, knows what was, is, and is to be and knows every life before it is even formed within the mother’s womb. What do you suppose that God thinks of abortion? He probably doesn’t much care for it. From a purely artistic standpoint, it must irk Him to waste all that effort. You don’t find it at all logically inconsistent to ask Him to stay the hand of a gunmen, but avert His gaze from the scalpel (or nowadays, vacuum)? 1.2 million abortions take place a year. Yet we tell Him to mind his own GD business when it comes to the uterus! Oh, but help me out on my math test and make sure all the babies we do deem worthy of birth are all perfect specimens in our eyes?
So that brings me to me next bone of contention…
Point #3: “God is not fair.”
Just because your neighbor gives God credit for her new furniture, doesn’t mean He really had anything to do with it. Guess what… both Packer fans and 49-er fans did some hard-core praying last weekend. Why did God pick San Fran? I am guessing He didn’t. But some people are inclined to praise God when good things happen. I say, go for it. Why does that bother anyone?
Maybe God is to all of us exactly what we expect Him to be. I am the adult daughter who never calls or writes, but shows up for Christmas dinner. If anyone ever asks, I say “Yeah, I love my Father, he’s great.” But he’s not paying my mortgage, feeding my kids, or grounding me when I’ve had too much to drink. Nor do I want him to.
<<sigh>> What more can I say on this one? This whole section is just so disingenuous it’s hard to take seriously. How can she even assert that God “answered” the cited inconsequential prayers? This God who doesn’t even exist. At best she can state that she knows someone who claimed that God blessed her with money for furniture or a soccer victory and she also knows someone who claimed to pray for a healthy baby but did not receive one. Neither instance reflects whether God, did or did not, in fact, answer those particular prayers. Rather all we can surmise is that prayer does not guarantee a particular outcome. Gee… what a shocker there. God is not a genie. I totally thought my Bible was the Grimmerie capable of magic spells and granting wishes.
And this sentence is just ridiculous: “A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind’s existence has not created a fair game.”
What game does not use dice or shuffled cards? Dice were created to add randomness to games. We often call this luck. It adds to the fun and makes a game more realistic by mimicking the seeming randomness of life. I play Euchre. I generally win. The deal might leave me with an unplayable hand now and again, but my winning average is due to skill. If the luck of the draw was the only factor in a game, then no one would ever outgrow War.
Point #4: “God does not protect the innocent.”
No, He does not. If that is why you don’t believe in Him, then that’s all you have to say. It’s a fair statement, and like I said before, has been argued over the course of centuries. We are not going to work this out here. But I also think it is fair to say that this article does not qualify as an intelligent contribution to that discussion. The author sums up the entire free will argument by expecting God to treat humanity as naughty toddlers. That is not exactly a thorough and though-provoking rebuttal to the complicated issue of “free-will”.
Time for more wild speculation! Imagine once again that you are God. You are in the final stages of creating humanity. You have formed man and woman and created them to be perfectly complementary. You have set them into a beautiful world and told them to enjoy all that they see. But being all-knowing, you see all the possible futures laid out before you. One is a blissful planet full of contented Eloi (see Time Machine by H.G. Wells) lazing about the face of the Earth. Always content but never moving forward. No need means no innovation. No want means no work. No work means no satisfaction in a job well done. Never a broken heart or bruised ego. Never the satisfaction of conquering a fear, the ecstasy of winning the object of your affection, or the pride of overcoming failure. What you want, you reach out and grasp. I guess I can see the appeal to the weary and trouble-laden. But it’s a world no philosopher, poet, nor author has ever embraced. Another option, is a world with suffering. Agony interspersed with joy. Highs and lows, pleasures and pains. It’s what we chose for ourselves. If you don’t believe in God, you probably don’t believe that either; that someone else long ago made this choice and it affects you today. But for a believer, it’s logically consistent. Why is there pain? We chose it. And God chooses to honor our wishes. He was even nice enough to give us an out (if we choose to take it).
If that second world, our world, is not what we truly in our hearts believe humanity craves, then why is the the fallen angel theme repeated again and again in our contemporary mythology. I do honestly believe God created a perfect world and then left it to our care. This is what we have done with it. We have been poor stewards and WE must own this fact. Not blame it on the Creator. You don’t sue Peterbilt when a trucker falls asleep at the wheel and runs you off the road. God is not asleep at the wheel. WE ARE! Which, to be fair, is the one point the author and I seem to agree on:
“Only we have the ability to be logical and to problem solve, and we should not abdicate these responsibilities to ‘God’ just because a topic is tough or uncomfortable to address.”
At the end of the day, bad things happen because we let them. We prefer an exciting world to a dull one. We prefer choice to servitude. We demand “rights” that often hurt others. We take our blessings as our due and simply can’t be bothered to promote the love that is required to stamp out the evil.
The span of a human life is but a blink of His eye. To Him, our suffering lasts but an instant. Since the author loves the parent analogy let’s beat it to death. When a child bites another, you don’t put the biter to death nor do you anesthetize the wounded child so she doesn’t feel any pain. You show both children how to move on. God isn’t callous; he isn’t laughing at bites and bruises. But He is allowing us to choose to seek his comfort or not.
Of course God did not call the children of Sandy Hook home to serve as His angels. Those who say such things are choosing their words poorly in a misguided attempt to give comfort. They are not God’s words, however, and using those words as reasons to disprove God is like me playing this quote and then insisting Obama is racist. Do we need to discuss the straw man argument again?
Point #5: “God is not present.”
Here are some other things that must not be present either: bacteria, UV rays… you know what? i don’t even think we have to continue this line of thought. Planck, Einstein, and Bohr already covered this one.
Please understand I am not trying to say science proves God… I realize it can’t be done. But neither do the author’s arguments persuade me that we must choose between no God, or a cruel God. The case just hasn’t been made.
Point #6: “God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good.”
Who tells their children to be good because God is watching? They are more likely to depend on Santa to pull that one off. Most children do not make decisions based on consulting their inner moral compasses. They repeat the behaviors that garner parental attention. Eventually they figure out that the actions that earn praise are “good” and the actions that earn a time-out are “bad”. Most kids like making their parents proud. Why is it bad to also like making God proud? I don’t see that it makes that much of a difference.
Point #7: “God Teaches Narcissism.”
Can I pull out Scripture on this one? I mean the author is claiming to know what “God teaches” so unless she is a prophet of a new religion, we got to go with what actual people of faith claim that God teaches. So I’m gonna’ do it….
From the Bible:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” Phil. 2:3
From the Talmud:
Even if you be otherwise perfect, you fail without humility.
From the Qur’an:
Successful indeed are the believers
Who are humble in their prayers,
and who shun vain conversation,
and who are payers of the poor-due,
and who guard their modesty.
It is humility that exalts one and favors him against his friends.
Kipsigis Proverb (Kenya)
If anything, WE are the ones teaching narcissism. We worship our kids from the moment they are born. Photograph every moment, memorialize every milestone on social media, send Christmas cards plastered with our angels’ faces rather than the traditional exhortations. We are a generation of parents demanding that our children be labelled special, gifted, and advanced. No, it is not old time religion promoting narcissism, my friend. It is you, me and Facebook. At the very least, man up and retract this last one.
In conclusion, faith cannot be empirically quantified. I have a scientific and mathematical mind, but for some reason I also have faith. I believe I have an incomplete picture of God, but will one day know Him fully. In times of sorrow, I find comfort in my faith. In my head, I can hear the sound of my grandmother playing her piano and singing “I’ll Fly Away” and I know one day I will get to hear it again. Why does anyone wish to take that assurance away or mock that faith as simple? (As I have seen in many a Ted talk, their intolerance of faith being their one repeated shortcoming in my book).
I will offer up as my final thought an excerpt from Dennis Prager’s most recent column:
Though I am intellectually convinced that only an Intelligence (i.e., God) could have created intelligence, I understand atheism. Anyone observing the terrible amount of unjust human suffering understands the atheist. But even atheists — indeed, especially atheists, since they claim that, unlike believers, they are guided solely by reason and intellect — have to be intellectually honest. They would have to acknowledge that, in terms of consolation, there is no comparison between “The dead do not suffer” [a message of consolation often given by Robert Green Ingersoll, "The Great Agnostic"] and “Your child lives on, and you will be reunited with her.”
Faith cannot be disproven. It is not irrational. It is not only the crutch of the uneducated. It does not make someone intellectually simple. And it is not a lie to those who sincerely believe.
Oh and for the record on my flippant uterus comments. Those are an appeal for intellectual honesty, not an argument for legal reform. I have never written my Congressman, picketed Planned Parenthood, or re-posted a pithy FB quote concerning abortion. While the thought of ending a human life in the womb grieves me to my core, I do not think relying on the laws of man are the answer. I think women will stop getting abortions when they no longer feel the need to do so. When women feel safe and secure, they tend to keep their babies. So those are the issues I think we should focus on, not backing women into a corner or turning them into villains.
December 6, 2012
I feel like calling my sister and giving her a bit of advice. But she never takes my advice. Also I resolved some time ago not to offer up unsolicited advice anymore. But I can offer it here… to the ether… to no one.
Don’t buy a house. Or if you do, buy it in such a way that you can unload it easily. Duh… housing bubble and all that. Everyone knows that now, right? I don’t think so.
I just read in Cal Thomas’ column today:
Our ancestors learned to do without in order to retain things of real value. I was taught that excessive debt was a great evil because it contributed to a loss of freedom. If that is true for individuals, it is truer still for our country.
Maybe that is what I don’t have that I am longing for. I always bought into the idea that “growing-up” or “arriving” was marriage, kids, a house, 2 cars, a garage full of tools, and a 401k. But being in the military showed me another way of life that steeped into my being. Travelling, trying new things, moving every two years, learning new jobs and skills.
I miss all those things. But I like my life now. Could I have this life and freedom? I think I could. I homeschool for crying out loud. I don’t need a “good” school district. If I had freedom we could move into an apartment downtown for a few years. Then move out to the sticks next to the forest preserve. Maybe get a tiny, cheap place for a year or two and spend every free moment abroad.
But then there’s the house. We will always be slaves to the damn house. I like the house… really I do. But it’s freedom I long for.