Language arts education and homeschooling: the often-overlooked consequences


Homeschooler and journalist

Some years ago, while searching news sites on the internet for appropriate current material to share with my group of homeschoolers, I came across an article in a Pakistani newspaper written by the renowned journalist Robert Fisk and was both shocked and delighted to find myself reading material of a literary quality that merited one or more rereadings and prompted me to make a note of his name and subsequently to follow his reports whenever I could find them. Later, I learned Dr. Fisk had won more journalism prizes in Britain and worldwide than any other foreign correspondent. I eagerly shared excerpts from his September 25, 2008 lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, which was presented in its entirety online, with the homeschooling students I was teaching at the time; I have found that children are often much more easily inspired by the spoken than the written word.

The entire presentation is delightful, and Dr. Fisk makes some insightful points about the current condition of journalism. He relates the decline in readership to the lack of literary merit and style in the writing of many American journalists. His grammar, vocabulary, and metaphors in this impromptu speech are perfect examples of the kind of formal English tested on college entrance exams and expected of college students, making this an invaluable resource for my homeschooling efforts.

The well-known writer disregards homeschooling.

By contrasting newspaper fare with a remarkable example of personal correspondence, a letter from an American serviceman stationed in Iraq, Fisk beautifully presents and illustrates his point that American journalism is so often lacking in literary value. However, in doing so, he makes one grave journalistic error. However, this is a prevalent misconception held by individuals either unaware of or disdainful of the significant impact homeschooling may have on a child’s development. Fisk fails to provide his awestruck listeners with the most crucial piece of the puzzle when he quotes a superbly worded letter from an unnamed officer in Iraq to his father at home, which then elicits a well-deserved ovation from the audience.

Fisk cites this extraordinary letter, in which the author describes the challenges of promoting self-governance in Ramadi, Iraq:

Sovereign stewardship can only flourish in its native speed and shape if the instinct to impose order and command the necessary discipline in the Iraqi leadership is stifled. I have to force myself to keep a low profile. Passive observation is not in my nature. The American love of action, which I share, has continually compromised the country’s interests abroad. If we stay here, the dependent state will only worsen, and when we go, we’ll leave nothing but a facade. What Iraq was will eventually be restored. Because this culture does not share our common sense, it deserves due regard. Despite my best efforts, I can’t help but feel a twitch toward the stupidity of intrusion.
The Secret Exposed

Who could anyone not applaud that? Indeed, the author of this moving paragraph uses words with the skill and grace that Fisk attributes to Joseph Conrad, to the delight of any serious reader of English literature.

A bit of online sleuthing revealed this eloquent Marine as one Major Benjamin Busch. While Fisk is correct in saying that Major Busch is not trained in journalism and is right in saying that Busch writes better than most journalists, he failed to mention an important detail. Busch’s out-of-the-ordinary academic expertise is explained away by having a degree from a prestigious university, but this is merely coincidental. The letter’s intended addressee, Frederick Busch Sr., was not just a professor emeritus of literature at Colgate University but also a well-published author and recipient of numerous literary honors.

Fisk might get off easy since unschooling isn’t widely condemned.

Fisk’s unusual absence is somewhat understandable given that homeschooling is neither commonly listed nor considered a respectable entry on a resume, especially if it is informal and served just as a complement to the formal education the applicant received. Maybe he didn’t think to look into Busch’s family history since he didn’t know it was necessary. It’s not so much Fisk’s reporting as it is the widespread but erroneous belief that one needs to go to school to learn anything, let alone language abilities.

It is clear that Major Busch had a strong bond with his father, not just because of the quality of his writing but also because of the presence of a parent-child relationship that would necessitate crafting such a thoughtful and well-crafted letter. Indeed, this is hardly a parent to whom a son would write in the slangy, ill-formed, unconnected style typical of American slang. These thoughtful comments for Mr. Busch’s father demonstrate a level of verbal communication shared by father and son, a grace of speech that may be more readily absorbed in the home environment of unschooling than in any number of classroom settings. Sentences crafted by Major Busch were works of art intended for an attentive audience.

Where can the homeschooling family learn more advanced language skills without a parent of Professor Busch’s illustrious literary standing or Dr. Fisk’s superb narrative and oratory style? We want to answer this through our homeschooling curriculum and resources.

To learn more, please visit:

The full text of Major Busch’s letter is available at[email protected]/msg01352.html from the peace-justice-news mailing list archive.

Check out this clip from Dr. Fisk’s talk at

To the college-bound severe student with little time, limited patience, and a low boredom threshold, we recommend SAT, ACT, TOEFL College Prep English Practice by K. Titchenell (

K. Titchenell’s Advanced Writing Course, both in-person and online, can be accessed at College-level writing for high school graduates and others with the maturity to tackle the content.

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