If Jaycee Dugard managed to teach her children in hell, why can’t schools do as well with their students?

Morning folks,

A retired sports writer sent me this e-mail. I thought it raised a fascinating question  that many of you will want to address.

Here is his note to me:

Like many others, I’m having a hard time trying to figure out why elementary school kids are doing so badly on state tests.
And this REALLY got me wondering if it’s the teachers, not the students:

People magazine said that Jaycee's daughters showed surprising academic strength in testing considering their kidnapped mother was their own teacher

People magazine said that Jaycee's daughters showed surprising academic strength in testing considering their kidnapped mother was their sole teacher

Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped at 11 years of age and held captive in a backyard “garage/prison” for 18 years. During that time, she had two children, fathered by her kidnapper/rapist.

Both her daughters, Angel and Starlit, appear to have been educated solely by their mother — who herself never made it past the fifth grade.

Yet recent tests show Angel, 15, functioning close to the level of a high school senior — that is, a higher level than Jaycee was at when she was abducted.

Now, if a traumatized kid kidnapped at age 11 is able to learn enough to home school her kids well enough that a 15 year old is functioning close to the level of a high school senior, WHY can’t supposedly educated adults, some with advanced degrees, do the same?

I know they’ll say that Jaycee only had to teach two kids while they’re teaching an entire classroom.

But . . .are they kidnapped and held hostage?

My daughter teaches 5th graders and does a superb job. Since you know me, I won’t even attempt to take credit for that.
All I want to know is why so many teachers can’t teach up to the level of a 5th grade educated kidnapee.

That’s the end of his note to me. My own observation is that Jaycee and her girls had few other options in their back yard prison but to read and talk to each other.

I think it was Jackie Kennedy who said, “”There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

Perhaps, Jaycee took a terrible and limited world and made it bigger and better for her own girls with books. (I think this People cover of a smiling Jaycee is among the most hopeful photos I have ever seen. )

45 comments Add your comment


October 29th, 2009
5:38 am

Should public education become a privilege and not a right? The schools that I’ve been associated with have excellent methods of eliminating distracting behavior and increasing parent participation. In fact, those are probably the two main reasons private schools work: kick out kids that disrupt, and parents are very involved. Maybe folks need to see school a little less as a childcare service, and respect more of the opportunity for learning. If you look at most of the “international studies” that put the US lower than other countries, many of the leading countries separate the kids at age 15 or so into vocational vs. collegiate tracks. I bet the kids would prefer it here too!

Amy Jones

October 29th, 2009
7:20 am

Maybe this retired person should go to schools as a volunteer and take time to read with kids. I am sure that it would be time better sent than blogging on the internet.

Just a thought

October 29th, 2009
7:37 am

Teachers are kidnapped and held hostage – by the bureaucratic and administrative work they are required to produce. I think we have to ask if we want our teachers to teach kids or do we want them to complete an endless cycle of administrative work. I find it odd that so many are quick to point the finger at the teachers yet no one thinks to blame the county level administrators who demand more and more out of teachers (while they cut their pay and resources). Why isn’t anyone blaming the parents who don’t require their children to do any work? Why do we hold teachers accountable for parents who don’t foster a love of learning in their children?


October 29th, 2009
7:42 am

Eons ago,I was an instructor in the Army.I was told that if a soldier in my charge failed to learn, it was because I had failed to teach.It was also understood that a test score not only reflected what individuals learned,but also my effectiveness as a teacher.In other words,I had no trouble figuring where the buck stopped,and it wasn’t with the student.

I.of course, had discipline,and the authority to discipline on my side of the ledger,so I wasn’t handicapped at the outset as school teachers are today.

Educating children is a serious business and it needs to be treated as such.We need a system to teach the ones wiling to learn separate from the ones who show no desire to further their education.Then we need to find a way to deal with the latter group.


October 29th, 2009
7:51 am

Unfortunately, the government mandates what teachers teach and how they teach it. The Jaycee Dugard situation is a great example of how successful teachers can be when they have the autonomy to decide what and how to teach kids!!!

I wish that all government officials (and anyone else that is not an educator, but likes to share opinions on education) were forced to substitute in a public school for at least one week before they could take office!

Amen, “Perturbed” and “Just a Thought”


October 29th, 2009
7:59 am

In addition, Jaycee could threaten her kids with turning them over to her “husband” if they did not do well!

She had unlimited time to teach, and students who were certainly not distracted by Nintendo, etc.

The children were also under a mandate of circumspect behavior, so they would not be found out.

In addition, Jaycee might be a very intelligent woman who poured herself into learning and teaching/taking care of her children. I doubt she was distracted much by the outside world, and I doubt she worried much about making the rent.

How did my grandmother, with a sixth grade education, and my grandfather, with an 8th grade education, end up with a son who got an Electrical Engineering degree from Duke in 3 years? They worked hard, set a good example, taught him responsibility and citizenship and work ethics, and brooked no excuses.

Would that we all taught students like that.


October 29th, 2009
8:38 am

Allow teachers to teach content and you will have better students. Keep making them “teach the test” and you’ll continue to have great test scores but but less learning.


October 29th, 2009
8:41 am

My daughter is in 10th grade at a public school. We tried home schooling, private Christian school, and a home school academy. She returned to ps in 9th grade. I believe the ps setting is good overall, particularly since she is able to attend an out-of-district school with a lesser rate of behavior problems; however, I also believe that a majority of ps teachers, particularly in math and science, are FAR below what teachers should be. It seems there is no real effort to teach and, if you care about your child passing, you simply pay a tutor. I don’t think Georgia will ever rise out of its educational disabilities until the teachers are held to higher standards and made accountable. Yes, especially in certain schools, teachers are too frequently faced with continual discipline problems. However, in my opinion, the problems most likely come from the “failures” – kids who haven’t learned (from teachers who can’t teach)and are merely biding their time until they turn 16 and can drop out of school legally. They are treated like failures and are being prepared for a lifetime of struggle. When I was in school, I was fortunate to have teachers who honestly cared and tried to make a difference — but those memories are not from when we lived in Georgia; I have no memories of exceptional high school teachers once we returned to Georgia.


October 29th, 2009
8:41 am

Jaycee did not have to deal with other parents, administrators, state officials or other disruptive students.


October 29th, 2009
8:51 am

Jaycee was able to be successful for the same reason other homeschoolers are successful. One on one tutoring is highly effective. Once you teach a child to read and do basic math, your job after that is to teach them to love learning and where and how to get the information they need to continue to grow. If one can teach their child to educate themselves then a lifelong gift has been given to that child. As others have mentioned, lots of time spent reading does wonders for a persons educational growth.

Homeschool Mom

October 29th, 2009
9:49 am

It’s obvious to me that homeschooling is far superior to any government schooling, even under the most dire circumstances! Homeschoolers regularly outscore their government educated peers on standardized tests.

Fulton Teacher

October 29th, 2009
10:11 am

Homeschool Mom where is the data that supports that statement? I’ve taught many homeschooled kids that were way behind their peers when they reached public school. There are many great governments school out there.


October 29th, 2009
10:30 am

Homeschool mom. I will admit that many of the homeschooled kids have a better education that many of those who attend government schools. However, you should not lump them all together. Many kids are pulled for homeschooling and then lost. They did not want to go to school and the parents got tired of the school calling them about absences. (I do know about this personally) They attempt to homeschool for a while and then give up. They do not bother to take tests and get lost in the system because there are too few people to check up on them.

Homeschool Mom

October 29th, 2009
10:54 am

Here’s the link http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/ray2009/default.asp. Be sure to read all the Report Resources! You will note that results were collected from 15 independent testing services.

DeKalb Conservative

October 29th, 2009
11:07 am

It is amazing what people are capable of when put in the worst of situations.

W.C. McCall

October 29th, 2009
11:11 am

There are kids in other countries who learn in schools with DIRT FLOORS who are smarter than some US kids.

Dirt floors! They have an unquenchable thirst for learning and having a shot at a better life.

I’ve seen it. It’s kind of sad, but a reality check too.

Maybe if little Tomy wasn’t “Dad’s biggy boy” and little Sally wasn’t “mom’s little Princess” we’d have real education in this country. Maybe if some parents actually *pretended* to dive a damn that’d help too.

My sympathy to all the teachers out there who actually care (I didn’t have this in public school, only in college) because I know you do the best you can and want the best, but your hands are tied.


October 29th, 2009
11:32 am

I believe that most teachers have many more than 2 successful students in each class. In fact, between 30% and 50% of any teacher’s class will make an adequate or better score on a test of the material taught , with the exception of those classes that are non-English speakers or learning or behvavior challenged. However, when viewed as an entire school or district, this fact gets lost and teachers do not credit for teaching they are able to do under very challenging circumstances.

Public school teachers successes compare favorably to Jaycee’s accomplishments. In a class of 30 students, at least 15 will probably do well. It seems to me that this is evidence that most teachers are in fact, teaching the material required. If not, how some of the students get it??


October 29th, 2009
11:33 am

Seems my posts get caught up in the Filter Ogre quite a lot!


October 29th, 2009
11:52 am

I saw a comparison a while ago that was very interesting. It seems that the top 10% [standardized test scores ] of public school students compared quite favorably to private school students. Once one realizes that private school students are already presenting very high scores when admitted to private schools, that seems a very valid comparison. Much moreso than comparing ALL public school students to the high achieving private school students. So, again, if these kids can learn the material as presented by the teacher, why does all the blame for low scores go to the teacher?

V for Vendetta

October 29th, 2009
12:04 pm

If I were single, I would marry SallyB.

She’s right. What is considered “success?” I can all but promise that well over two thirds of my students will pass the local/state/federally mandated tests. One third will score in the “exceptional” range. So I have to wonder why people act surprised, disgruntled, dismayed when a student who is failing all of his classes, has already failed most of his previous classes, and will most likely continue to fail, finally fails MY class. Weird how that works, isn’t it?

As for Jaycee, she is a wonderful example of why we need to privatize the system: Those who truly desire education will fight for it against all odds and overcome all obstacles. Those who don’t . . . well, to quote Howard Roark: “But I don’t think of you.”


October 29th, 2009
12:26 pm

You raise an interesting question, the answer of which I think points to the intelligence of the two daughters, more so than Jaycee’s “teaching skills”. My husband teaches, and yes, there are many students in the classroom. Had Jaycee’s daughter’s been born with low-average or borderline IQ, then I can assure you, they would not be testing out at the high school level now. Every kid has a right to learn to their fullest potential, but when you ask why aren’t teachers teaching them, I think you have to dig deeper. They are teaching them…not everyone is learning at the same rate.


October 29th, 2009
12:29 pm

I’ve seen a lot of homeschooled kids that lack social skills. If you home school them, be sure to get them involved in something in the community such as sports so that they can interact with others.


October 29th, 2009
1:01 pm

I’m a fan of yours,too, V !!!!!!


October 29th, 2009
1:10 pm

Okay I’ll say it. It is the PARENTS. Jaycee’s kids had a parent that was concerned enought to teach them. Schools can’t do everything. Parents have them for the first 5 years, what problems solving is taught, what bacis skills, thinking skills etc. are being taught and modeled by the parents? Do the parents interact with the kids or watch TV with them? A teacher has 25+ kids in a room, the parent, even Jaycee, has one on one time to help each child at their indivitual level. It’s not the schools, OR the kids, look in the mirror mom and dad. What are your contributions to your child’s education?


October 29th, 2009
1:33 pm

It doesn’t matter if your kid is homeshooled or goes to public school. What matters is the household. My son is in a public school, yet his ITBS scores are in the 99th percentile. I’ll put those scores up against any homeschooled kid. Parents need to stop blaming teachers. The reality is that all kids won’t score high no matter what the learning environment. Some people are just D students, but they have other gifts. Focus on that and move on.


October 29th, 2009
1:37 pm

It’s a hasty generalization to take one specific experience and extrapolate to make a general conclusion. The sample size is too small. It’s great that these children apparently are well educated despite their terrible situation, but it provides no insight about the quality of homeschooling, the quality of the public schools, or the importance of teachers, class size or economic status. It is a sample of ONE. Many times I have heard people complain about schools and say something like “I had 45 kids in my classroom, and I turned out all right,” or “we were poor and had only one parent and I turned out all right.” When you do have data on all the other of the 45 kids, or all the other poor kids from single-parent families, the we can talk. Until then, your example is just an anecdote.


October 29th, 2009
1:54 pm

LMAO @ rj’s comment that some people are just D Students. I’ve never seen anyone that can’t learn if they focus and put a little effort into it. The human brain has no boundaries when it’s a healthy brain that limits it’s ability to learn.


October 29th, 2009
2:07 pm


Well said. Proposing such a question brings into serious doubt the education level of this sports writer.


October 29th, 2009
2:10 pm

GaNative I didn’t say they couldn’t learn. I said they just may be a D student, although that was wrong. I should’ve said C since D’s don’t exist anymore. No matter how much I try, I’ll never dance like Michael Jackson, never sing like Christina Aguilera (sp?), never paint like Picasso and never write like Margaret Mitchell. My point was we all have talent but not everyone will be able to understand pre-calculus. That’s all.


October 29th, 2009
2:55 pm

The homeschool study is funded by homeschool organizations and conducted by a homeschool advocate, and interestingly, only pulled data from less than 10% of the homeschool population (yet compares against ALL public school students)?


October 29th, 2009
5:08 pm

That is what I found too, Carol, and so I don’t put much stock into the study.

Fulton Teacher

October 29th, 2009
6:33 pm

Sorry Homeschool Mom but I read your “data” and found it interesting that it was on a website owned by a homeschool organization. Of course they would find these results. What I find happens is students on the elementary level can do a little better than some IF they’re being taught at home. But once they hit middle school and the subjects become more difficult, parents find themselves lacking the knowledge to teach certain subjects. This is especially true of math and science. If you’re equipped to teach your child at home I say go for it. But don’t think that just because your child is being homeschooled they’re getting a superior education to those in public school. Check out the data regarding Fulton County Schools. You’ll find that many of our schools rank high on standardized tests. We have some of the best schools in the state.

Fulton Teacher

October 29th, 2009
6:33 pm

Where did my entry go?!


October 29th, 2009
8:12 pm

Some are better at doing the best with what they have. Some lack responsibility, ethics, morals and determination. Our company motto sums it up: Winners work, losers complain. Kudos to every parent who has their childrens education as priority #1.


October 29th, 2009
10:02 pm

Catlady brought up HUGE points…it’s all about the culture in which we learn. This woman was in a horrible situation, but used the time in a good way – to be a great parent and get her kids ready for the day they’d be free.

For kids to succeed in any environment, whether it be public or private, the culture is so important! My public high school’s culture is one that promotes learning at high levels and focuses not only on developing students academically but also in other areas by encouraging student involvement and leadership. That’s what keeps us performing well. For private schools and homeschooling, the culture is also one where students usually feel safe and welcome, and then learn.

I’m glad this family is fine, but it does show just how important the outside factors are in education – so much goes into how well and how much a child learns than just the teacher and student.

Sage Boyd

October 30th, 2009
12:53 am

The manifest function of the education system in the US is not to educate children, but to keep them out of the workforce so that they don’t compete for jobs that need to be available for adults. The reason there are mandated (6-16 in the US) ages that children are supposed to be in school is to keep them from working during the day.
When the focus of “education” is occupation there is no question that “education” will fail to do more than occupy.
If you want your child to be intelligent, to learn how to think, and to be knowledgeable about the world as it was, is or should be, teach them yourself or pay someone to teach them. No one is paying ‘educators’ to teach. If they were, ‘educators’ pay would reflect the value we place on educating our children. As it is… one reaps what one sows.


October 30th, 2009
2:18 am

Come on, Maureen, these situations are entirely different. You are trying to compare apples and pineapples. Your antipathy for public school educators is hardly disguised.

Maureen Downey

October 30th, 2009
7:40 am

LouieB, My kids attend public school. And I fully support public schools. (Read anything I have ever written on universal vouchers.)
However, it doesn’t meant that folks shouldn’t ask questions. Blind support of any institution is dangerous.

Susan N. Watson

October 30th, 2009
8:31 am

I have taught exceptional students in public school and exceptional home-schooled students in college. The key is the home situation and the parents. Parents who are involved, who value education, and who set behavioral standards are the backbone of an educated society.

sad story

October 30th, 2009
4:17 pm

It’s just so sad to see teachers immediately listing excuses after excuses for not being able to teach their students. Their lack of professionalism is just so sad.


October 30th, 2009
5:36 pm

What a bizarre story and the comments are even more nuts. We have a kidnapped woman living in a tent with little education in a horrific situation, and you are treating this like a valid comparison with homeschooling? Next thing you will argue for is breeding more children from rapists because these kids are genetically superior somehow.

We are a great and advanced country because we have free and universal public education. Suggesting we end it is foolish just because some students don’t do as well. The world is modern and complex, and we can’t afford to have women stay home and be unproductive by trying to teach their children for 12 years and act like that will prepare the majority of students for a competitive university.


November 1st, 2009
4:05 pm

One word…Politics! Children do not individual attention when in the classroom. Individuals who are not in tune to a school’s “best practices” tend to lose out.

mitch faar

November 5th, 2009
12:10 pm

this is one utmost stupid comment i have ever encountered in my entire life! the difference between Jaycee (age almost 30), angel (age 15) and the average 12-15 year old today is that the average 12-15 year old would be looking to escape each and every day because they he or she will be missing on facebook, tweeter, playstation and iphone. whether they are able to read at their proper grade level will be irrelevant. they will know being captive in a shed in a backyard is wrong. which leads us to one conclusion: just because jaycee and angel know how to read, it does not mean they comprehend what they are reading. If they knew how to read critically, they would have grasped the difference between freedom and slavery and would not have waited to be rescued. they would have jumped over the fence a long time ago.

that is the goal of education: to grasp and develop ideas, not to merely learn the 3 rs. stop obsessing over the 3rs. so what if your child makes a couple of spelling mistakes here and there? critical thinking is the meaningful purpose of education. can1z at aim dot com.


March 8th, 2010
3:25 pm

As an educated adult, I find this entire post absolutely appalling. I’m not sure how someone would compare the education of two captive children to public education. A life of captivity and public education are not comparable! If I were to put myself in the Dugard’s shoes (which is a situation I cannot even begin to fathom)I would presume that learning and reading was an escape to the life they were forced to lead. Thier environment was outlandishly different than public education.

Now, as a teacher, I also find this post absolutely appalling once again. Teachers put many hours of dedication into thier work. Our government should fund the education system adequately to get the results they desire. I do not respect the opinion of this post. Rather I find it one-sided, biased, and completely irrelevant. I suggest if one would like to bash public educators, then perhaps a better comparison is order.

Emma Kaye

July 31st, 2010
6:01 pm

I have 3 teachers in close knit group of friends. The oldest is in his 60’s and retired, the next is in mid-30’s and the youngest is 29. I will say that the students I know (personally) that were taught by the oldest teacher, have more respect and a higher knowledge level than the students of the younger 2 teachers. When I ask why, I am told, by the younger teachers, “we are not paid enough,we don’t have enough resourses, and the biggest EXCUSE is that the students today don’t care” HOG WASH!! Reading can start early and at home. try this to help you out, child book publishing company
(this is a true accounting of my experience with family teachers)