The ‘Debate’ Continues

Posted by Annie on Oct 24, 2006 in Education |

Last month I found a link to the Dr. Phil Show web page asking for opinions about homeschooling. I wrote down some comments, and sent off my thoughts regarding the topic. I had no doubt that my words would disappear in a flood of other opinions, and since I thought the show was filmed in Chicago, I didn’t give the matter a second thought.

A few weeks later, I got a call from someone from the show, who told me that it was taped in Hollywood and I was asked to attend the taping. I’m a pretty poor public speaker so I told her I didn’t want to be cornered by someone with a microphone and she assured me that I would only have to sit and watch. She then told me to expect a call from one of the producers.

The next call was from a young woman who was very encouraging and reassured me that “Dr. Phil” doesn’t want his show to be like Jerry Springer, and that he tries to “stay neutral”. She also said there would about 50 invited guests and then 200 random people in the back of the audience. I knew they have to fill up all the seats and that they often recruit tourists from places like Universal Studios to accomplish this.

McGraw puts on game face

I asked how many of them would be homeschoolers and how many school employees. She again reassured me that Dr. Phil is fair, but she was only communicating with the folks on one list and couldn’t say how many were being called by other folks on staff. I was still a little apprehensive about the situation, but I generally got the feeling that Mr. McGraw leans more toward being pro-homeschooling. (See last fall’s No Room for Compromise transcript.) So I agreed to come.

I also watched Mr. McGraw that afternoon to see how the show “works”. I was really impressed that he had about six women on from the “Women of Faith” conference. All well known, old time “Pillars of the Christian Faith”. It was a very upbeat, enjoyable show to watch, with lots of laughter and camaraderie, everyone seemed at ease.

When I had the commitment from three others to go with me I felt even better about going to the show especially with two of our group being the head our Independent Study Program. They are well-known, homeschool leaders in this area and do quite a bit of speaking on the topic of homeschooling at conferences etc.

Public School and Porn

A few days later I got another call from someone from the show asking me to attend the taping of another show about a teacher who was fired for being involved in pornography and another who was suing some students for using her identity to create a website. They wanted people in the audience who were sympathetic to the teachers and since I had mentioned that I had worked for the public school system, I guess they thought I would fit the profile.

Needless to say, I declined; this was getting to sound a little Jerry Springer–ish for me. And since I only taught classes as a school nurse, and am not into porn myself, I didn’t feel qualified to help them out. I had no idea what the show on homeschooling was going to be about, but I thought after spot lighting teacher porn stars, and thieving school kids, homeschooling could only look like a life raft to those on a sinking ship.

The morning of the taping, we arrived at the studio between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., as I was directed by an email, also instructing us to dress in “business clothes”. When I passed by the majority of those waiting to get into the studio, I felt like I was at a Teacher’s Union meeting. Most of the other invited guests had the look of the tired, older, public school administrators and teachers, worn out by the stress and bureaucracy of the public school system, like the one I worked for during my time as a school nurse in a Los Angeles suburb.

We quickly found other homeschoolers, and waited together in a kind of outside holding area with benches.

Children Bussed in for The Great School Debate

It was obvious that we were greatly outnumbered by school folks, including bus loads of high school students and their teachers. (One group was from a Public School District the other from a Christian School). They were being interviewed inside in the hour or two before the show, for a video to be played during the show. One of them was a member of our ISP who, I had learned, is an attorney, homeschooling young children. Good representation! (I saw her face in the video for seconds and can’t remember a word that her, or any of the others’ had said, the video was presented in such a hurried manner.)

When we got inside the studio we were directed to our seats; on the far left when looking from the audience toward the stage, and in front of the Public High School group seated in the rear section. Mr. McGraw faced our section throughout most of the show, he was often reading from a “prompt” behind us.

Twenty five minutes prior to the beginning of the show a man came out to hype everyone up. (This wasn’t hard to do with the high schoolers present.) We were enlisted to “make television happen” with Dr. Phil. The performer got people excited about Dr. Phil mugs and vouchers for Dr. Phil books that he was passing out.

He entertained the group by asking random audience members to name three things that make them happy. One of the public school kids said “family, friends and sports. The Christian school student answered with two of the same answers and added “Psychology class” to his list. It seems that peer pressure is pretty strong, even in the Christian Schools.

A man near us who said he was with Considering Homeschooling, and is homeschooling four children, with two more on the way, answered: “The Lord Jesus, my kids and my wife. His answer got cheers from our section.

After awhile, and right before Mr. McGraw came out on stage, the entertainer got everyone cheering and clapping along with a Cher concert video. (So basically, no one was really clapping for Mr. McGraw, but that’s how it appears on the show.)

Mr. McGraw (appearing to me to very uncomfortable – maybe nervous, definitely “stiff” in his body and facial expression) entered and gave his intro. This set the tone for the rest of the show as he revealed that the first part of the discussion wasn’t going to be about homeschooling vs. public school or private schools, but “Unschooling” vs. public or private.

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Sterotyping Homeschoolers

I guess it wouldn’t have been as entertaining to have a conservative homeschooling family, using a formal approach to education on the show. So instead they picked the extreme, the most socially unaccepted and misunderstood form of homeschoolers to represent all of homeschooling (although this wasn’t stated, I think it was and will be the outcome for those in the audience).

The first people interviewed were a very radical “unschooling” family who stated on their intro video that they didn’t believe in rules in their home; that they only taught principles.

The couple sounded like the typical stereotype of “those crazy homeschoolers” who are raising wild/undisciplined children. They also felt a need to include a video clip that showed that this family believed in, and used the “attachment” approach to parenting and got into their breast feeding and sleeping habits, which really didn’t have anything to do with the discussion, but only served to put them further out of the mainstream of our society. (Talk about having a problem with tolerance!)

When the discussion got under way, it was obvious that a lot of what they expressed, would make some sense to a lot of people, (especially given the age of their children) but that’s not the way it was presented in the tape and to the audience. It was also obvious that they were just beginning to live out their beliefs and didn’t really have a handle on how to present them.

Children Not Allowed?

The next family that they brought into the discussion was sitting in the audience. They had the look of a very successful “TV” family (affluent and attractive, with 3 children sitting between the parents. They were moved out of the front “expert” row to one further back during the first commercial break (I guess someone had goofed in the seating arrangements). Mr. McGraw spoke to the mom of this family briefly, who stated that they are also “unschoolers”. I thought it was interesting that he seemed surprised that the children were attending the taping.

He said to the mother “…and you’re ok with them [being] here..?” I wondered if he was being protective of the homeschooled children because he thought his presentation of homeschooling would affect them negatively. If so, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a little ashamed. The mom was confident that her children could handle it.

The next couple was split on the decision to homeschool, although their children aren’t old enough for mandatory schooling. The mother is set on it, especially after seeing news stories of school shootings immediately after her first child was born, and the father doesn’t want his daughter to miss out on her “first crush” on her teacher. (I guess that it’s important for the first crush to be a teacher.

Mr. McGraw made a point to ask them if they thought the show helped them to change their minds about their positions regarding homeschooling. Both said no.

Learning to Hate

The clincher was when they had a disgruntled ex-homeschooled 26 y/o who said she missed out on being able to “hate the girl with purple hair who thinks she’s all that” because she was homeschooled. I think there’s still plenty of opportunity for that kind of stuff for homeschooled teens in California, if that’s what a girl really wants out of life. Homeschooler’s in our area take classes and play sports together, they have graduation and proms available to them; they have plenty of opportunity to hate their peers if they want to, but I don’t think the majority really want to.

Not many who spoke during the show were older and wiser with grown kids. Mr. McGraw’s argument last year was, and still is, that homeschooling is a good thing up to a certain age, then somehow things go awry for teens, and he uses the phrase “research says” or something to that effect to validate his claim. I don’t know of anyone, who knows what this research is. But I do know high school age homeschoolers; and if anything, these kids seem to me to be more able to handle the “real” world with a more mature approach. Maybe this has to do more with family influences than their peers?

The last person to speak, if I heard correctly, was someone from the State Education department. And then it all came together. Last year in the school district where I was employed, I believe 6 schools were closed due to lack of enrollment. There have been three public meetings held there in the last two months to persuade families to send their preschoolers to the public schools there. I’m sure this is not just happening in this city.

There also have been lots of local as well as national news stories about school violence and killings. If there was no political agenda intended, why invite someone in government to have the last word? Someone mentioned to me that we tend to remember the first and last parts of a story, if that’s the case then most people will remember the “crazy extreme” homeschooling family and then the “education expert” and forget about the more balanced viewpoints expressed during the show.

Diversity Training

The other problem for those running the public school system is that homeschooled kids cannot be reached for “diversity training”. I heard the words “diversity” and “socialization” thrown around so many times as an argument for public schools during that hour; I’m beginning to think that “socialization” the way it is happening in the school setting, is becoming an academic requirement.

Our family and homeschool friends are members of several homeschool support, and church groups, where there is no lack of cultural, racial, or religious diversity. There is no lack of peace either. None of the kids I encounter with my children ever shun another because they are of a different race or religion. They don’t even think about it, probably because their parent’s have been right there with them modeling acceptance of each other since they were toddlers.

In my experience working in the public school setting, kid’s at school learn the behavior of excluding those who are different, not only from other children but also from the adults around them. This includes those in private schools as well.

At one point toward the end of the show, Dr. Phil asked for a show of hands of those who were for homeschooling in general, then those who were for unschooling as a method of homeschooling, then those who were only for public or private schooling. It was obvious he and his producers already new the stats. Maybe they were making an effort to reflect the general population? This in itself was fair, what was not fair was that those who are average successful homeschoolers were poorly represented. The fact that most homeschoolers were somewhere in the middle between “unschooling” and doing “school at home” was not emphasized.

The following are comments received from a new homeschooling friend, Yvette, who had the advantage of sitting among the public school group right next to two of the speakers:

“I was sitting in a shark tank…I was next to the third grade teacher of one of the producers…the one they called up to the microphone…and the lady sitting just over my shoulder is also a teacher who made negative comments on tape…the entire section was filled with school teachers. They were making snide comments and snickering and tisk-tisking from their high-horse-trained-educator point of view.

One comment ‘Oh, Dr. Phil is making mince meat out of them. He’s leaving me nothing else to say,’ really made a great impression on me. If “educators” would waste less time worrying about homeschoolers and more time making the classroom a place of learning…perhaps their problem of losing pupils (and the cash they bring in) would go away on its own.

And cash is definitely what this show was about…Ratings for Dr. Phil and an hour long commercial for public education which culminated with a government official reminding us that any number of education choices are available to children…all under the public school umbrella.

When the show airs, I will be encouraging everyone I know to post positive homeschooling comments on his website – with no mud slinging – including comments such as your observation that there was no representation of experienced homeschoolers such as the Fortes.

You did forget one small “guest” the short haired lady who is concerned that homeschooled kids will one day be making public policy and that she doesn’t want to live in a place influenced by homeschooled kids. She was a real peach, and did more good for homeschoolers than harm, with a ridiculous and hurtful comment like that. I thought that public education was about tolerance and diversity….did I miss something?

Interestingly enough, the teachers in my section were very disappointed by the show. The comments they were making as they prepared to leave included a comment that they felt that there were far more homeschooled guests (people who actually got to speak on camera) than “educator” guests and that the show was very one-sided in favor of homeschooling.”


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  • Jane says:

    Dear “Anonymouse” I took statistics and research in college – whatever do you mean by your statements? You are not giving information, just assuming Morgan doesn’t know what she’s talking about. You seem very young. Jane

  • Anonymous says:

    Morgan:You need desperately to take a statistics course to actually understand this mathematical form. Only then you realize that one receives their answer through heavy manipulation and a very small pool of candidates. Maybe after a semester or two of a college stats course, you will come back and rebuke your statement. Anonymous

  • Anonymous says:

    Morgan, could you tell us the citation for those fantastic stats? I think that may be another answer for my skeptics :-), but they’ll ask me where i got it from, of course!Thanks!Cynthia

  • Morgan, Apple Valley says:

    What is Dr. Phil et. al. really afraid of? I think this is it: • Over 76% of homeschool graduates ages 18-24 voted in a national/state election the past 5 years, compared with just 29% of 18-24 year-old public school graduates.• Only 4.2% of homeschool graduates consider politics and government too complicated to understand, compared to 35 % of U.S. adultsWe are aware, and we vote!

  • Jane says:

    Hey Annette, You’re not too far off in your vision. I’m really enjoying the homeschool talk radio websites I’ve recently discovered. Maybe someone should interview “Dr.Phil” on a homeschool channel and then he can enlightened all of us confused homeschoolers. HmmmmThanks Spunky! That’s a great site you have there. I’m sending out links to my Yahoo Group to both of yours and Annette’s.

  • Spunky says:

    Thanks for adding in your thoughts Jane. I added this link to my post yesterday on Dr. Phil. It will be interesting to see when and if this show actually airs. It is not listed on the Oct. 27 date which is what guests have told me was the date.

  • Annette M. Hall says:

    Dear Jane,Thanks for sharing your experience and that of Yvette. I don’t know how she managed to keep her cool while sitting where she was.I’ve been getting various reports from other homeschoolers who were there in the audience that back up your claims.Perhaps after all of this the Dr. Phil show will see fit to issue a formal apology for the way they treated the homeschooling families who were kind enough to make the effort to appear on his show.I don’t know about you, but this entire escapade has left a sour taste in my mouth. I don’t think I’ll ever look at talk shows quite the same again.Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the homeschooling community had their own channel? One where homeschoolers controlled the content and guest appearances. We could present different styles of homeschooling, along with various ways to present a lesson.We could have classes on assorted subjects and share ideas. It would be a huge hit. The homeschool education channel would provide yet another medium to open the doors of education to those who think, “but I can’t do that…”Only in a perfect world.

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