Home school, Shanghai school, and American K-12 all in one conversation

At a charity dinner on Saturday night I saw with a couple who had recently come to a rich suburb of Boston from Shanghai. The father had been home-schooled in upstate New York. He explained that he did whatever he wanted all year, including a lot of reading, and then spent two weeks each year cramming for an exam based on California standards that would show he’d learned everything necessary for his grade level (via these two weeks of work he was able to keep pace with students who physically attended public school in California for nine months). In Shanghai the children, age 5 and 11, had attended an international school that was so demanding the parents had to stay up tutoring until 11 pm some nights. Public school in the Boston suburbs, by contrast, is so easy that the children don’t need any after-school help. However, the mother now has to spend nearly all of her time managing household affairs. “We had three people to help us in Shanghai,” said the father, “but here just weekly cleaners.”

[How is it possible for an adult American to need to spend full-time maintaining a 20-year-old house? I got some insight into this the other day. The contractor’s favorite HVAC subcontractors installed a new A/C-heat pump system in our house last fall. Last week was the first hot/humid weather for Boston this year. Immediately there was a flood of water coming through the ceiling. I brought in my old HVAC contractor who explained that there are four drains on an air handler. One task for the installer is determining which drain is at the lowest point and hooking up the drain line to that one. Our unit had its highest drain hole connected to the line. There is a safety pan underneath the air handler that is supposed to catch any water that drips and, via a float switch, shut down the air handler. In some installations, however, there is a second drain line connected to a hole in the safety pan. If you intend to rely on the float switch you plug up this hole so that the water will actually trigger the float switch instead of spilling out into the attic. This hole was not plugged. Finally it is important to have a float switch compatible with the air handler. Flipping the float switch upside down did not actually shut down the system. So the original contractors did not do any of the three steps related to drainage correctly, nor did they test their own work.]

[Update: Here’s a photo from a fairly new luxury hotel in Cambridge (Le Meridien) showing the quality of local labor:

2015-06-16 12.46.31]


20 thoughts on “Home school, Shanghai school, and American K-12 all in one conversation

  1. I was just reading the Wright Brothers book that you recommended and one of the things that people noted about the Wright Brothers is that they insisted on doing most of the work on the planes they were piloting themselves, even personally oiling the numerous bearings (in the days before sealed grease fittings) with a little oilcan so their nickname in French was “Vielle Burette” – Old Oil Dropper (McCullough botches this anecdote as he botches many other things – he assumes that they are talking about POURING quarts of oil into the motor). When your life is at stake, relying on the workmanship of others is a matter of life and death. Today there is a whole system and infrastructure for assuring the quality of aircraft mechanics but the Wright Brothers didn’t have that assurance.

    As for the two week cramming, you have to understand that almost all standardized tests are really IQ tests (or, in the parlance, “g loaded”). My daughter just took the GRE’s almost cold (she did the official practice test once) and scored close to the maximum, but she (may the Evil Eye avoid her) has the IQ to support this. Others study and take course for months and months and it avails them not, ’cause they just don’t have the mental horsepower.

  2. And yet the woefully inept HVAC technicians were granted licenses by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

  3. @Phil,
    Two words re your HVAC leak: law suit
    As an aside: I think you have absolutely the worst record ever for getting stuck with poor home contractors!

    @Izzie L.:
    Re your quote “Today there is a whole system and infrastructure for assuring the quality of aircraft mechanics…” (As I’m sure Phil will attest), please don’t be so certain about that. There are myriad present day instances where these mechanics make killer flubs.

  4. We did homeschool our kids, it was originally my wife’s idea and I was a bit apprehensive at first but couldn’t articulate why. In the end, I’m very glad we chose that route. Without a fixed schedule, we always did we we wanted to do with them, including international travel to many places.

    Our daughter started college last fall and doing great, it was her first regimented classroom experience and having been a free agent until then doesn’t appear to have been a handicap.

    Our son is now 16, he’s essentially “done” with high school subjects, though we’ll probably have him hold off on college until the year he turns 18, just to gain additional maturity but also to let him keep that freedom for a while longer.

  5. Why did the homeschooled parent think the late night sessions at the international school were necessary? If he was successful, why did that not reflect in raising his own kids?

    Separately, as a homeschooler, it is odd how ridiculously easy to show you are doing as well as the public school.

  6. i would say you have failed as a parent if you subject your child to that sort of education at that age, no exceptions.

  7. Javier,

    Did you follow some kind of program?

    How do you manage when you have to work 10-12 hour days?

  8. How do you manage to home-school children or tutor them after school if you work 10-12 hours a day?

  9. bobbert makes sense. What is the need to forcefully school children in some specific patterns in the infinite or nearly infinite world? Is it true that all Shanghai students getting 800 on math portion of SAT? Many teens score 800 on math SAT without extra training.
    If not parents doing disservice for their kids by forcing them to study all night. Compare early 20th Cambrifge mathematical tests with modern pre-college math problems. Old ones harder by factor of 10. Is our technology worse that 100 years ago? I agree that some old 1909 photos look much fresher that ones developed in 1999, but overall we are way a head now.
    MA labor is totally different story. Foreign carmakers, Boeing and US government move plants/shops to southern US states because of cheaper real estate, less regulation and cheaper and productive labor force. Not sure how MA self-made problems reflect on US educational models – there is no single models in the US, although common core is trying…

  10. We had a new heat pump installed 4 years ago. The following spring, during the humid months, it leaked from the ceiling constantly.

    We went through multiple HVAC contractors trying to find one who could discover the problem. During this period I had to rig a 5 gallon bucket, 6 feet of vinyl hose and a small plastic funnel to capture the leak. The bucket needed to be emptied twice a day.

    Finally found a contractor that actually thought about the problem. Seems that there are multiple installation options for the upstairs units that the original contractor chose incorrectly. Now it runs very dry and the portable dehumidifier never comes on.

    Oh, also discovered how HVAC contractors keep high ratings on Angie’s List; they just walk away from a job if it looks too difficult.

  11. Have had the pleasure of knowing several home-schooled kids. They are pleasant enough, smart and courteous, but they all have lacked the tools necessary to interact with kids their own age. They are great with adults, which I think is a problem. They are not adults, yet.

    I just don’t see the reason for home schooling. I understand parents have the right to do so, but I don’t think it makes a huge educational difference if any, and it damages a child’s ability to empathize with their peers. I’ve seen it over and over again.

    To those who home school, I mean no offense by this…but it’s a fact: your kids are not special.

  12. Jim: By your reasoning most children throughout most of human history were harmed by their parents. School is a relatively recent invention. Previously children learned by being apprenticed to adults or being tutored at home by parents or professional adult tutors.

  13. Phil: That’s quite a leap to suggest children were educationally harmed.

    If we were living in the times of apprenticeship I would agree. But we live in the 21st. century and school is the normal path of learning.

    Apply your reasoning to current times and home schooling then becomes the harming factor.

    All I’m saying is that the home schooled kids I know don’t relate well to kids their own age.

  14. That is correct, apprenticed at age of 12 after 5 years of schooling that covered same material as modern high school up to pre-calculus that enable them to attend college later and lead very successful life in general, even without college.
    Those were the years. I suggest that home-schoolers should use school athletic facilities and attend after-school activities since I presume their parent are paying school taxes. It seems that after-school activities are more important than impossible stretched school work for personal development. Unlike school, after-school children associations are voluntary.

  15. Jim: we were raising our kids to be adults, not kids forever, and we valued the great number of opportunities they had to interact with adults as they were growing up. They also had friends of their own age, acquired through either playing with neighborhood kids, or through some of the activities they were involved in, like orchestra, karate, etc.

    I never thought our kids were any “more special” than any other kids. We did what we felt was best for our family, and we always advocate that, to have the choice.

    In closing, it’s great that you had the luck to meet so many homeschooled children as it hopefully gave you the chance to avoid generalizing based on a small dataset.

  16. Re: power and network outlets.

    There’s no “correct” orientation of power receptacles. Hospitals often turn them “upside-down” because it’s perceived as safer (third prong ground on top), and more physically stable. Some residential and commercial contractors turn them upside-down to indicate that they are switched by a light switch somewhere.

    On the other hand, neither of these face plates are anywhere close to level. That would drive me bananas.

  17. With regard to “unsocialized” home -schoolers: We started home-schooling our two children when the oldest hit middle school, so we have experience with both sides. My observation is that there are indeed some home-school children who cannot relate well to other children but they are home-schooled *because* of that, not the other way around.

  18. I wasn’t quite sure what your photo was supposed to indicate? I thought maybe just general poor workmanship (covers not being 100% vertical, clumsy labeling on the left). But if you did mean “upside down” on the right one, I would slightly disagree…
    I wired my own house (amateur), back in the early ’80s I referred to a DIY manual from GE (or some other major electrical company). They said to install the plugs upside down, I resisted at first, but thought about it and eventually went that way. I believe the thinking is that the ground plug is longest, and by having that at the top makes it easiest to start the plug in, since you generally are looking down on the outlet. Thirty years later, all I can say is that it is a trivial issue, the juice flows either way.

    Also a home school family here (just one kid, now all grown up).
    Jim: were your example homeschoolers the religious variety? (I would guess that 60%+ of homeschooled children have Fundamentalist parents that don’t want them to interact with heathen children. We were more of the “unschooled” flavor) And really, is there that much value to kids interacting with their own age group? Because that is something you see everywhere, outside of the artificial school grouping of same age classes. 🙂

    FWIW, our son did get together about twice weekly with a homeschool group of varying ages, usually about a dozen at a time. He is still good friends with a few of the similar age ones.

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