Schooled & illiterate

For decades our society has focused on producing more and more high school & college grads, but for some kids it means advancement with little or no education.

Over the past decade, education has received nationwide attention due to the fact that the United States lags behind other developed countries in test scores, particularly in math, science and reading.  Though each President for the past several decades has promised to improve education for our kids, they fail to acknowledge or correct the rampant educational neglect to be found in many schools – neglect that has been taking place for decades, and continues to this day.

While the practice of compulsory schooling is not new in this country, as a homeschooled child it was unknown to me until I became friends with a few of the schooled children in my neighborhood.   A socially awkward adolescent, I became close with a family whose kids went to school and seemed perfect in every way.   Through my connection to this family, I was introduced to a whole world of schooled children, some of whom we would now consider “the cool kids”;  kids who were popular and socially adept.

Though I fell out of touch with my schooled friends as we grew older, a few years ago I reconnected with a few ex-cheerleaders and jocks on a new support blog called “No longer Homecoming King & Queen”.   Poring over their stories, I was shocked to find so many tales of gross educational neglect.  I don’t merely mean that they had received what I now view as an overly standardized education with huge gaps.  Rather, what disturbed me were the many stories about schooled children who were barely literate when they graduated, or whose math and science education had never extended much past middle school.

The previous paragraphs are not real.   They are a twist on an actual article written by Kristin Rawls for the online site Alternet.   That article was titled, “Homeschooled & Illiterate” and I plagiarized much of the first page word for word, changing only the focus of educational neglect from homeschooling to schooling.

Why did I do this?

The Alternet article is irresponsible, both in its’ headline and its’ insistence that educational neglect among homeschoolers is widespread.  The reason it is irresponsible is that it has as its’ only source a religious cult of sorts called “Quiverfull”.   Quiverfull families are fundamentalists who believe education is secondary to morals, and who raise their girls to be good Christian wives and mothers.     There are a few thousand adherents to the Quiverfull philosophy worldwide.   WORLDWIDE.     So how does that translate to widespread educational neglect among U.S. homeschoolers?  There are an estimated 2 million homeschooled/unschooled children in the United States.   Ms. Rawls cites 3 now grown former Quiverfull homeschoolers in her article, but talks about hearing “more and more” first person accounts that convince her that she cannot “…write off what home-school advocates would call ‘exceptions’ simply as fringe outliers.”

Really?  A handful of ultra-conservative religious families telling you their stories means they are not exceptions among the 2 million homeschoolers?

Ok then, here are some hard and fast statistics that I would like to present.    According to a study done in 2008, there are 42 million illiterate adults in the United States today.  20% of those adults are recipients of high school diplomas.   That’s around 8.5 million adults, all of whom were deemed worthy of a high school diploma, who cannot read or write.    This number included John Corcoran, who not only graduated high school but also college and was barely literate.  (He himself says he was completely illiterate.)  He then became a teacher, relying on teacher’s assistants to do any writing in class and grading of written papers.

Is John Corcoran an exception?  Maybe, in that he became a teacher, but 8.5 million is a pretty big number of schooled yet illiterate people.

In her article, Ms. Rawls goes on to make an awkward attempt at even-handedness by saying that of course not all homeschoolers are neglectful, but that there need to be stricter federal regulations of homeschoolers to ensure no neglect at all.   A ridiculous argument when you look at the illiteracy/neglect happening in schools.   If the federal government can’t stop 8.5 million people from graduating high school while completely illiterate, how exactly would stricter regulations stop a religious cult from falsifying records in order to  hide their true activities?

The thing is, I get the impression that Ms. Rawls’ real problem is with the Quiverfull familes and their extreme beliefs in general.   She says she grew very close to one such family as a child, saying they “seemed perfect in every way”.  Maybe upon reading their accounts of neglect  she felt she was duped.   She’s latched onto the homeschooling aspect because right now, what with Santorum shooting his mouth off about homeschooling and good Christian values every chance he gets,  put “homeschooling” in a headline, couple it with some tales of neglect and you’ve sold your story.  (Or at least gotten Alternet to run it.)

That doesn’t, of course, make it reliable.

I could write exactly the same story about educational neglect and illiteracy among schooled children.  And I would have more hard data to support my claims.  Could I then imply that all schooled children may be illiterate?  Or in danger?  Neglected?    Perhaps the title of Ms. Rawls’ article should have been “Illiteracy among Quiverfull Homeschoolers”.   It certainly would have been more accurate.

As to my article about the 8.5 million illiterate high school grads,   maybe I’ll call it “Can Your Teacher Read and Write?”

Catchy, don’t you think?

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