Thursday, August 21, 2008

Amatuer Surgeons and Professional Educators

The indomitable, unmatchable, and utterly irreplaceable Thomas Sowell weighs in today with a typically pithy piece on the failure of central planning of economies. This sort of thing is Conservatism 101, but he illustrates it with an example I thought much of my readership might appreciate:
When amateurs outperform professionals, there is something wrong with that profession. If ordinary people, with no medical training, could perform surgery in their kitchens with steak knives, and get results that were better than those of surgeons in hospital operating rooms, the whole medical profession would be discredited.

Yet it is common for ordinary parents, with no training in education, to homeschool their children and consistently produce better academic results than those of children educated by teachers with Master’s degrees and in schools spending upwards of $10,000 a year per student — which is to say, more than a million dollars to educate ten kids from K through 12. Nevertheless, we continue to take seriously the pretensions of educators who fail to educate, but who put on airs of having “professional” expertise beyond the understanding of mere parents.

8 comments:

Shane said...

I dunno man. I think there is much to be said for school choice (I'd love it if someone asked every legislator opposed to vouchers whether their children are enrolled in public education), but I'm not a fan of home schooling as a solution to our nation's education troubles.

Public schools already work really well in communities that value education. I grew up in a suburb where the public high school got a higher percentage of kids into Ivy League than most top-tier private schools. Our graduation rate was pretty amazing. I entered (a pretty awesome public) college with over a year's worth of A's in college credit, but couldn't even crack into the top quartile at my graduating class.

In communities that do NOT value education, I don't think home schooling will make things better in the slightest. I just shudder at the possibilities if you grab kids out of the projects or the trailer parks and tell them to go home and let their mothers teach them all about math, science, literature, and social science.

I'd say the true solution to poor public schools would be data-driven education techniques, like Direct Instruction, that take teacher skill largely out of the equation. I read about it in Ian Ayres' Super Crunchers and it seemed awesome to me, the statistics enthusiast with no expertise whatsoever in education.

I really wish I could get unions, especially the teacher's union, out of my political party.

Thursday's Child said...

I would point out that a big difference is that homeschooled children receive a LOT of individual attention. They have almost an unlimited amount of time during the day to complete their work and it's easy to just work on something until they've mastered it.

In a classroom you have one teachers and almost as many different learning styles as there are students. What a "professional" teacher does is very different from what a homeschooling parent does. Well, not so much "what" they do as "how" they do it.

Yes, some are better than others. The trick should be to encourage those that are better and help those who aren't to improve or else find another calling.

I'm speaking from both sides of the fence here. I'm a professional teacher and I homeschooled the Boss from K-2.

Thursday's Child said...

Also, while I'm a professional teacher I'm NOT a professional proofreader. ;)

Evan said...

I don't think Sowell meant to imply that homeschooling could ever be a solution society-wide. His point is that successful homeschoolers do undermine professional educators' claim to a monopoly on education. I think it's pretty clear that parental involvement and encouragement are key to success whatever the educational context.

elephantschild said...

Public schools already work really well in communities that value education.

The problem, of course, is that the educational system and I have a fundamental disagreement over what constitutes "working really well."

I really wish I could get unions, especially the teacher's union, out of my political party.

That would be a good start.

Shane said...

The problem, of course, is that the educational system and I have a fundamental disagreement over what constitutes "working really well."

I'm not sure what you mean by that, and people will differ in what their goals are. But I was also intentionally vague in choosing not to define what I mean by "communities that value education" as well.

That would be a good start.

You want them? By all means, pander away. Unless we conspire to get them totally unrepresented in either major political party, like you know, what happened to small government conservatives.

elephantschild said...

What I meant about "working really well" is that I'm not convinced that any school built on the model of public schools in the country during the last 100 years or so really has as its goal education.

I believe the public school model (and most private schools are built on the same model) is fundamentally flawed and can't be fixed, no matter how well-funded, well-run, and well-loved it is.

Yeah, I know. I sound like a nutroot. Well, I'm Evan's sister, so there ya go.

Lutheran Lucciola said...

The home schooled kids in my Oakland, California area are so unbelievably different than the public schooled kids, you couldn't believe it. So many of the government schools here are pure "maintenance" oriented, just get the kids the basics and hope they don't kill each other.

The homeschoolers, living in the same districts, run races around them.

It's incredibly sad.