by Gary Grammar

On July 2, 1998, a story out of Massachusetts was carried by the Associated Press describing the failure of 56% of the aspiring teachers of that state in the reading and writing portion of the teacher exam.
The governor referred to the failed test-takers as idiots and the state head of education suggested lowering the standards for prospective teachers. (Somewhat like intellectual limbo dancing: “How low can you go?”) The teachers’ unions considered this music to their ears, while much of the state legislature fumed along with the governor.

Most of the reason for the hubbub was that this exam was not particularly difficult. The “56 Percenters” missed spelling words a nine-year-old is expected to know, could not write in complete sentences and failed to correctly define a noun or verb. No matter how sympathetic one might want to be, this really is inexcusable! These college grads are supposed to become teachers —having completed the degree portion of the certification process, the remainder should be a cakewalk, intellectually. Many homeschooling parents can attest to the fact that members of the teaching occupation strongly question (and doubt) if parents are capable of teaching their own children. I have never met a homeschooling parent whom I thought could not spell on the level of a nine-year-old. Nor have I ever met one who could not write in complete sentences —even if simple sentences —at least they are complete. Also I am confident that every such parent I have ever met would be able to define a noun and a verb.

This is very poignant because one often overhears prospective homeschool parents expressing, with worry lines creasing brows, “What if I am not qualified to teach my children?” This statement takes on new meaning in light of the Massachusetts 56 Percenter performance. What exactly is “qualified to teach your children?”

A teacher’s job in public school is to move a group of 30 to 40 children through time, on time. If the school administration has decided that the 5th grade classes must be on page 65 of the math text by Thanksgiving break, then the teacher’s duty is to have her class on page 65.

I do not wish to demean the work involved in such an undertaking. (I do not believe that I could do it.) However, I wish to point out that this work is not particularly intellectual in nature. This sort of teaching is more crowd control and schedule maintenance than it is Plato strolling through the orchards of Greece switching on the cranial lights in the minds of his students.

When it comes to teaching one’s own child, love enters into the picture. The loving parent teaches her child anyway, why let an intrusive government program interfere? Massachusetts’ 56 Percenters prove the folly of Mass Education. Unless one has more than three children, there is little crowd control to consider, and at home, time is on the parent-teacher’s side. You have a full 16 hours in which to switch on the cranial lights of your students and pump them full of wonderful information! Although some times of day are more suited to brain activity than others, the home-teaching parent has the clear advantage over the school teacher.

When do you suppose school teachers are going to read the same newspapers as the rest of us, realize that we are very aware of the 56 Percenters (and other aberrations of institutional teaching) and come clean that “Yes, of course, parents are just as qualified as school teachers to teach their own.” If you, or any homeschooling parent you know, has a problem with flak from a school teacher I suggest you visit your local newspaper’s morgue and obtain the July 2, 1998 story about the 56 Percenters in Massachusetts. Clip it out, photocopy it and distribute it to every homeschooling family you know. The next time a school teacher asks you if you are qualified to teach your own child, hand him a copy of the article and ask “How could I not be qualified?” Then —right before his eyes —perform a demonstration of your ability: Spell four or five words your nine-year-old can spell. Write a paragraph composed of three short but complete sentences (with a subject and a predicate, i.e. verb) and then write out the definition of a noun: (A word that names a person, place or thing.) And then a verb (A word that shows action or being.) Hand him the sheet of paper demonstrating that you have English skill enough to pass the Massachusetts exam and await his response. G.G.