Schooling Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett has made a career out of verbiage and badinage, and he quips as cleverly as ever he did in his recent New York Times“Opinionator” column on the subject of homeschooling (in a mostly ad hominem attack on presidential candidate Rick Santorum).

Sadly for Dick, as even ancient Greeks such as Euripides knew, “cleverness is not wisdom.”

Let’s look at a few of Dick’s opinions on homeschooling. And I do mean opinions, as he makes little pretense at backing his statements with anything remotely resembling research or even actual personal experience.

 I have lost track of distant relatives of mine, parents who also snatched their young kids from school and, for their remaining school years, stuffed them mainly with the Bible. (I’d love to know how they did on their SATs.)

Of course I don’t know how your own relatives did, Dick, but the public record is loud and clear on this subject: generally speaking, homeschoolers equal or excel their public schooled counterparts on such exams. Educate yourself:

Teaching is an art and a profession requiring years of training.

Yes, teaching is an art. No, teaching does not necessarily require years of training. Teachers do receive years of training, but it is in categories such as classroom management, discipline, record keeping, and tracking students. (I know whereof I speak; I have my degree in elementary education.)

While all of these are helpful in a classroom setting, none of them equate to actual teaching. And since a parent is not in a classroom setting, she does not need such teacher training.

Just as one learns to parent by parenting, one learns to teach by teaching. Ask any first-year teacher who realizes by the third day that she has entered the sink-or-swim period of her career, and she’d better learn to teach fast, so that she can start teaching better.

parent learns to teach by teaching as well … in fact, the homeschooling parent starts out with quite a jump on the first-year public school teacher: the homeschooling parent has already been teaching this particular student for five or six years and knows him well. All in all, it is a fairly simple transition from teaching the child to walk, use the toilet, dress, and acquire 6,000 words from scratch (the average vocabulary of most first graders).

I think of the mournful home-school kid watching his friends board the school bus, laughing, gossiping and enjoying all that vital socialization we call schooldays.

Do you really, Dick? Perhaps you should clear your mind of such doleful fantasies and investigate reality. I personally know quite a large contingent of homeschooled children, and my online acquaintance of homeschooling mothers and children is even larger.

A majority of the homeschool children I know tend to feel either amusement or pity (or both) for kids who have to climb into school buses and spend their days shut up in school, as the homeschoolers spend their days exploring their personal interests in depth and generally getting a jump on living life as human beings with purpose rather than as inmates. Oh, and spending plenty of time with their friends as well, both homeschooled and public schooled (though due to their school hours and homework load, it can be difficult to find time to spend with public schooled friends).

Besides, aren’t you arguably a better person for having gone to school rather than having it funneled into you by dreary old Ma or Pa in their faded bathrobes at home?

Well, “arguably” … one can argue any point, whether it has any real validity or not. Since you gave no evidence to back up your “argument” for better personhood but instead dove straight into an ad hominem attack on “dreary old Ma or Pa,” your “argument” is an unsupported statement of opinion which I am naturally unable to answer. Your opinion is your opinion, however uninformed and bellicose.

The funneling image was right on, though I myself think of it in reverse to your meaning: the standard-issue scope and sequence doled out in public schools is the funneling process, as opposed to the highly personalized variety of homeschooling I see in the children I know. For example, in my personal, local circle of homeschooling families I know these children:

  • One young scholar who attends (and wins) national Latin competitions.
  • Two award-winning Irish step dancers who compete in local and national competitions.
  • Three teens collaborating on a regularly published comic strip.
  • More than a dozen children who perform a full production of Shakespeare each year, plus at least one other production on stage, all open to and attended by the community at large.
  • A half dozen teens who attend comedy club classes and perform regularly before real, live audiences.
  • A half dozen or more teens already attending community college classes for college (not high school) credit.
  • One teen who graduated from college with highest honors and was recruited into an incredibly high-paying computer job before he was even old enough to sign a contract for a lease on an apartment.
  • Two young teens who have a national radio show and podcast on Voice America Kids online radio.

And all of these homeschooled children are typical – if one can use the word “typical” in such a sense – of the homeschoolers in a single city and a single group within that city. (And it’s not a very large group, at that.) None of them have exactly the same achievements – or even try for the same achievements – because “dreary old Ma and Pa” are able to individualize their children’s education and focus it on their particular interests, rather than funneling them into a lockstep educational scope and sequence.

And what is the argument for [homeschooling]? For some, is it to protect their innocent ones from hearing words like, oh, “sex” and “contraception”? From forced association with those less desirable ethnically?

Wow. Just … wow. If the section above describing the benefits of varied and personalized education is not enough of an argument for homeschooling, I don’t know what is. Maybe the test results? (Several links shown above.) Maybe the fact that StanfordMIT, and other prestigious schools allow and even actively recruit homeschooled students?

The bombastic and prejudicial theories put forward in Dick’s query are laughably ridiculous. Most homeschooling parents I know, both religious and non-religious (and I know a few more non-religious than religious homeschooling families, but plenty of both) – and for that matter parents of children in public schools too – prefer their children to receive sex education from themselves rather than from their equally ignorant peers. It doesn’t mean they don’t educate the children, it just means they judge the child’s maturity level and expose them accordingly.

Protecting them from “forced association with those less desirable ethnically” is both inflammatory and insulting, not to mention completely false in its implication that schools are a haven of peaceful and productive integration. Are there a few well-integrated public schools with an excellent diversity program and highly integrated population? Yes … but very few. Most public schools house a population that is mostly homogenous by race and even more so by socioeconomic status.

On the other hand, are there a few homeschool families who generally stay at home and associate only with like-minded people? Again the answer is yes … but very few. Most homeschoolers are out in public (at hours when school children are cooped up inside) interacting with a wide range of people, socioeconomic groups, and age ranges. Many homeschooling parents seek out extra opportunities to expose their children to a variety of social populations and interactions.

Who knows what sorts of fears haunt the minds of home-schooling parents?

Not you, Dick; that’s for sure. At the moment my own fear is that one of my children might turn out to be a close-minded bombastic blowhard who broadcasts his ignorance on a particular topic far and wide without even a token attempt to educate himself on the subject matter. But at least if he wants to achieve that goal, I know where to send him to look for pointers.

I guess it’s always possible, when Sally or Billy is walking to school, that a dark figure might leap out of the shrubbery, maniacally shrieking, “There’s climate change!”


Again, teaching takes skill and education and dedication. Home schooling as an idea is on a par with home dentistry.

Teaching does take skill and education and dedication on the part of the teacher … and yet, even so, no teacher can guarantee a student will learn anything from the teaching. Students learn what they are ready to learn, and for the most part, what they are interested to learn, no matter who is doing the teaching or how skillfully it is done.

But children learn … oh, yes indeedy, children do learn. Can you imagine what it would take to stop a child from learning to walk or talk? These are things children are driven to do by their own interest, because they see it as a part of real life. And to see adults they love living real lives makes children want to learn to join in, just as they were driven to join us in conversation and ambulation.

As John Holt wisely said, “Birds fly. Fish swim. People learn.”

Scope and sequence optional.


Sadly, when I switched my blog from Winging It to Carma with a C, I lost a lot of things including comments! So I’m copy/pasting them when I can.

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