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Education Reporter

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Public Schools, Public Menace: How Public Schools Lie to Parents and Betray Our Children, Joel Turtel, Liberty Books, 2004-05, 344 pp.

This book offers a well-researched look at the problems of public schools and urges parents to use alternative educational methods for their children. While it has a strong point of view, it uses more reasoned argumentation than one might expect from the alarmist title.

Readers of the Education Reporter already know about many of the problems highlighted in the book, including anti-parent and anti-Judeo-Christian values, whole-language reading instruction, failed approaches to teaching math, politically correct and anti-American social studies texts, failure to discipline students, refusal to group students by ability, official pushing of mind-altering drugs, and senseless union-backed rules on teacher licensing and tenure that don't exist in the private sector.

Less familiar to most readers is the historical overview of the rise of public schools. Most early Americans learned reading and arithmetic at home. At least ten U.S. presidents were home-schooled. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison had almost no formal schooling. Not until about 1900 did the U.S. have universal public schooling with compulsory attendance.

In 1765, John Adams wrote that "a native of America, especially of New England, who cannot read and write is as rare a phenomenon as a comet." A 1992 adult literacy survey by the Educational Testing Service found that 42 million Americans over the age of 16 couldn't read. What's wrong with this picture?

Turtel fails to point out that the early New Englanders came from British stock, and the U.S. subsequently absorbed huge numbers of immigrants from non-English-speaking countries who needed to be educated by someone other than their parents. Still, in 1940 the literacy rate was 96% for whites and 80% for blacks, whereas by the 1990s the illiteracy rate had quadrupled for whites and doubled for blacks. Obviously something went wrong with the U.S. educational system over that 50-year period.

The author believes that the regimentation and one-size-fits-all approach of public schools are unnatural for children, who develop at different paces. "Albert Einstein didn't talk until he was three years old and didn't read until he was eleven," Turtel notes.

The most useful chapters in the book are those on low-cost alternatives to public schools, chiefly homeschooling and cyber-schooling. Turtel gives detailed advice to parents on how to select a learning plan, along with a lengthy compilation of additional resources. The internet age has made homeschooling easier than ever.

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