Monday, August 30, 2010

Will the Real Homeschoolers Please Stand Up?

Joan Collins is a self-described “educator, wife, mother, grandmother and friend” who has been teaching for all of her adult life. Dr. Gloria Allendorfer “earned her degrees in Psychology and graduated Summa Cum Laude with each.” What do these women have in common? Both women write for the website, a “knowledge co-operative” where registered participants write about suggested topics in a wide range of categories. Both women recently wrote articles titled “Homeschooling supplies you'll need” (here and here). According to their biographies, neither woman is or has been a homeschooler. This begs the question, “Will the real homeschoolers please stand up?”

Joan Collins believes that in order to have a successful homeschool you must have a computer, Dinah Zike books, paper, construction paper, scissors, pencils, crayons, markers, “color pencils,” poster board, a library card, folders, center material, and space. I’m not certain where Ms. Collins conducted her research, but I am in my seventh year of homeschooling and last year was the first year where a computer was a regular part of my eldest’s education. We rarely use poster board, folders, or center material, and my son’s test scores are fantastic! I was surprised to read that I’ve needed Dinah Zike books all of these years. Until I read Joan’s article, I had never heard of Dinah Zike. Her books weren’t required reading when I obtained my teaching degree. I am grateful that Ms. Collins told me that I’ll need both paper and construction paper in my homeschool. I knew I’ve been missing something all this time, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Dr. Allendorfer’s advice was a little more palatable. She offered some common sense suggestions, such as the fact that a new homeschooler does not have to rush out and spend a lot of money buying everything at once. I was broke when I started homeschooling. Buying prepackaged curriculum was a luxury that we did not enjoy for years. She suggested joining a homeschool association. She started to lose my interest when she felt the need to suggest that a new homeschooler buy basic supplies like pens and pencils. I guess this is as opposed to having children write the times tables in their own blood.

The good doctor completely lost my interest when she offered two insipid observations. The first was that first time homeschoolers “may need to invest in a tambourine, drum, and triangle or bells for the youngest children, as well as flutes, violins, and drums for older children.” The second was her insistence that a new homeschool must have a designated learning area, complete with student desks and chairs. I read these wondering how my children have been doing so well socially, academically, and spiritually while trapped in a homeschool without flutes, violins, and drums. (We do use a tambourine during séances.) When we did have a drum, my children dismantled it. After that they filled the inside with pens, pencils, and some of Ms. Collins’ “color pencils.” As to the designated learning area, clearly Dr. Allendorfer is not aware that one of the best aspects of homeschooling is the fact that our children create the most comfortable learning environment that works for them. Sometimes, we learn at a table. Sometimes it’s on the couch. Other times it’s on the floor. Many times it is outside. There is no need to recreate a brick-and-mortar school in the home. Hasn’t the good doctor ever heard of unschooling?!

These two writers demonstrated my biggest complaint about non-homeschoolers who write about home education. They took no time to visit, observe, and write about a homeschool that works well. They wrote from a position of ignorance. Why would anybody turn to these people for advice on supplies that are needed to start a successful homeschool? Why do the writers at Helium believe that they know the first thing about starting their own homeschool? Did they sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night?

Both Joan Collins and Dr. Allendorfer focused their entire essays on the trappings of homeschooling. What do parents need to homeschool their children? They need to love their children. They need to love their children enough to sacrifice a second income and all the bells and whistles that come with that money. They need to be prepared to invest time and energy and love, even on the difficult days, into their children’s lives, knowing that they are providing a better education than any school can offer. Parents need to be willing to wear two hats, one as teacher and one as parent, and be able to switch between the two on a moment’s notice. But those others things? You can teach the times tables to children in the dirt with a stick. You just have to want to.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Isn't Homeschooling Worth Defending?

Since Arby started The Homeschool Apologist and invited me to join him, I have given much thought to exactly what it means to be an apologist. According to Webster's Dictionary, an apologist is one who speaks in defense of a faith, a cause, or an institution. Over the last number of years, I have repeatedly been drawn into the role of defender of my own personal choice to homeschool, as well as the "institution" of homeschooling in general. A few years ago, shortly after I began blogging, Arby, one of my first and most faithful readers, noticed that I often blogged in defense of homeschooling. He asked a question which resulted in the following post.

(Revised from "The Joyful Journey," Dec. 2, 2007)
"Defending home schooling is a theme in many of your blogs....I am curious as to why you have such a need to defend home schooling. My curiosity comes from the fact that I almost never have to defend our decision to teach our children at home. It is obvious from what you have shared on your blog that you are a very successful homeschooler. I guess I assume that with success comes...peace of mind? I would love to read more of your thoughts on this subject."
Truth be told, I do feel a strong need to defend homeschooling. As I have thought about this I have realized that there are several key reasons why I am increasingly drawn to stand up in defense of homeschooling. I'm troubled by a trend I've seen in the homeschool community. It seems that there are home educators out there who do not feel that they should have to defend homeschooling. They've adopted a position that insists they shouldn't have to answer to anyone. Consequently, they never feel led to give any explanation...ever. This concerns me.

As a 20-year homeschool veteran with a desire to help both new and veteran homeschoolers find success in their homeschool journeys, I am motivated to make the homeschooling path as smooth as possible for those who walk it. I have come to believe that an honest, "no holds barred" defense is a component that has been missing from the homeschooling discussion in this country. But I'm not just talking about engaging in "public discourse." That's being done, but it doesn't seem to be getting us any closer to mainstream acceptance. I'm beginning to believe that it has to be us--the soldiers on the front lines standing up for what we believe is right--not only for our own children, but for others as well.
"I guess I assume that with success comes...peace of mind?"
I guess I need to clarify that my desire to defend does not come from a lack of confidence concerning my own success as a homeschooler. I am thrilled with the results of our academic efforts. Our three adult daughters have validated my success as a homeschool parent with their own post-homeschool success stories. I suppose at this point I could just rest on my laurels and thumb my nose at anyone who either does not support my decision to homeschool or who questions the academic or social effectiveness of homeschooling in general. I do not feel a need to defend my personal homeschooling efforts. In that regard, success has become my best defense.

But, the homeschooling world is much bigger than my own little "classroom." Let's face it, homeschooling is not a new phenomenon. I have friends who began teaching their children at home way back in 1973! The incredible success of the homeschooling movement has been measured and proven. Questions about its effectiveness and validity should have long ago been put to rest. But ironically, I am asked the same questions today that I was asked as a brand new homeschooler nearly 20 years ago. For reasons that I will never understand, questions about socialization and about a homeschool parent's ability to provide her children with a quality education still abound.

These already-answered questions are still being asked by "the intrigued," "the curious," and "the critical." I am of the increasing belief that our answers need be bold in their presentation of the truth regarding the documented success of the homeschooling movement and the failings of the public school system. I am increasingly convinced that questions of socialization should be laid right back in the lap of the institutions that are doing the most damage to the morals, values, and academic standing of our children and our culture. As homeschoolers, we need to stop defending our practices and start demanding that our most vocal critics provide a defense of their own. They deflect attention by picking at the speck in our eye, while conveniently ignoring the plank that has become firmly lodged in their own. I am beginning to wonder if the lack of wholesale acceptance of the homeschooling movement is not due, at least in part, to the fact that we have allowed our voice to be drowned out by the incessant noise of the naysayers. Though their rhetoric is not based in truth, they are drowning us out. Their voice is heard and their voice is believed.

I think we need to start talking louder.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shalom, Rabbi Dude

Parents should be aware that total home schooling can cause as many problems as it solves.

Whoa! This line grabbed my attention. It was the teaser line in an email alert for a most amusing article written by the Rabbi Shmuel Gluck. It was published on the website Yeshiva World dot com. Rabbi Gluck wrote a series of articles titled “Unhappy & Doing Something About It.” They were dedicated “to the art of understanding and, then, reacting, to uncomfortable situations.” Part three of the Rabbi’s three-part article contained a strong warning about homeschooling, filled with warm, home-spun Yiddish wisdom for those of us who are unhappy with our public and private educational choices and are doing something about it. I read this article thoroughly, because if I am causing as many problems as I am solving by homeschooling my children, I’d like to know about it!

One of the greatest challenges of home schooling is the social factor. Without peers, children can’t learn the necessary skills needed in order to be reintroduced back into the classroom.

Well, there’s an interesting assumption. Where did the good Rabbi get the notion that homeschooled children will be reintroduced to the classroom? The vast majority of homeschoolers I have met in person and online assume that they will be homeschooling their children indefinitely, which is also the primary cause for prematurely gray hair, wrinkles, and the occasional afternoon conference with Johnny Walker by homeschooling moms and dads.

Rabbi, the “social factor” is one of the primary reasons homeschoolers keep their children home from brick-and-mortar schools. I won’t go into a laundry list of societal ills right now, but rest assured that homeschoolers know that these early years are the important years for parents to train their children on how to interact with society while maintaining their morals and values, rather than sending their young children into the world and having society shape their morals and values. It is far better for homeschoolers to teach their children than to have their education shaped by teachers who profess political and societal views to which many homeschoolers are diametrically opposed. Besides, I’ve (temporarily) reintroduced two children to the classroom. My teenager’s biggest problem was dealing with the language arts teacher who confiscated all his school supplies and the cute, jug-eared blond thing who was captivated by my son’s freckles. The younger boy learned how to spit on the classroom floor from one of his kindergarten mates. It took us the entire summer to un-socialize him from that habit.

If parents decide to remove children from school they must be confident that they can create all (not most) of the necessary components. These include: teachers, mentors (they can be the same), friends, patience on the part of the entire family, making sure that the children attend and participate in the home schooling, and the ability to keep the children as busy as they would be if they were in a regular school.

Rabbi dude, what incense are you burning in that funky candelabrum? I cannot speak for the rest of the homeschooling community, but it isn’t too difficult to get my children to attend our homeschool. They rarely get lost during their 27 foot journey from their bedrooms to the kitchen table. I keep my children busier than they would be if they attended a regular school because we don’t have all the distractions that take place during an average brick-and-mortar school day. We don’t need to take attendance. We don’t take lunch orders. We don’t line-up to go anywhere. We don’t lose instructional time while attending mass like students did at the parochial school where I taught. We are not constantly interrupted with disciplinary problems like I was with the students who wore their Buchanan County Juvenile Detention Facility jumpsuits to school as a fashion statement once they had been reintroduced back into the classroom.

Parents must also keep in mind that once the children are out of a regular school they may become so comfortable that they may not agree to go back.

We can only hope.

Most parents attempt home schooling as a temporary step, but find that, once the children are home schooled, they do so well that it “doesn’t make sense” to send them back. However, that may be more than the parents can handle. Home schooled children, even with an army of teachers, will require several hours a day from the parents.

Actually, Rabbi, most parents do not attempt homeschooling as a temporary step. And here I can speak for the homeschooling community. We gladly invest several hours a day for the instruction of our children. They are our children. We invest this time and energy for one simple reason. We love them. God gave us these children and the responsibility to raise them. We take that responsibility seriously. By the way, those of us who do homeschool don’t need an army of teachers. We are an army of one. And educationally speaking, we kick ass. Just read the test scores.

In other cases the homeschooling experience turns out to be a failure, but the children, who’ve been home for weeks, refuse to go back to school. In many of these cases the parents, who were so angry at the school, finally realize that it’s the children, and not the school, that’s in need of fixing.

Here we see the truth behind Rabbi Gluck’s analysis of homeschooling. He is dealing with broken families. He views homeschooling through the prism of broken families. I do not doubt that the youth he works with have genuine problems that need serious attention. There is one more step to take when parents realize that “it’s the children, and not the school, that’s in need of fixing.” If there are children that are in “need of fixing” there are families with challenges that go beyond education. My professional experience has shown me that poor academic performance is usually a symptom of other problems and the not the root problem. Obviously, that is not an absolute. Children may attempt to “refuse to go back to school” but that doesn’t mean that parents must capitulate to those demands. If they do, the tail is wagging the dog.

I’m willing to bet that Rabbi Gluck doesn’t know many homeschoolers. He probably has not visited and observed a successful homeschool in operation. He painted a monochromatic picture of homeschooling with an extremely broad brush. I encourage him to increase his knowledge of and experience with homeschooling before he publishes any more articles on this subject.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dropping the "H" Bomb

Every time I read a story about child abuse I wait for the author to drop the “H” bomb. In any story involving parental abuse of children, if there is any connection to homeschooling, no matter how tangential, the “H” bomb will be dropped. Homeschooling will be mentioned. There can be six degrees of separation between the perpetrators, the victim and homeschooling, but it will not matter. With that educational reference comes the inevitable reaction from public school advocates, members of the NEA, politicians, social workers, and friends of friends of friends who had a second cousin in Tucson who homeschooled, all crying that homeschooling needs to be more tightly regulated if not completely outlawed. They will explain that while they believe most homeschoolers are good people, there must be more regulations to prevent children from falling through the cracks. These people believe that public schools are the first and best stop-gap measure.

Regulation of homeschoolers was the central focus of attention after Banita Jacks withdrew her children from public school in 2007 allegedly to homeschool them. In fact, she murdered them. Calls for new homeschooling regulations ignored the fact that Ms. Jacks had been the subject of social services investigation long before she killed her children, long before she withdrew them from public schooling. Addressing concerns about the need for closer scrutiny of homeschoolers, “Clive R. Belfield, a professor of economics at Queens College and formerly a researcher at the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia Teachers College, said that “limited compliance and follow-up” gave abusive families “an excuse to get out of being observed” (1). “Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, said school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children” (1). Subsequent to these reported homeschooling concerns, prosecutors argued in court that Banita Jacks killed her first child, daughter Brittany Jacks, in the spring of 2007 while the girl was still enrolled in a local public school (2). Society’s watchdogs must have been Pugs. Ultimately, six welfare workers were fired by DC Mayor Adrian M. Fenty for failure to properly perform their duties in relation to the Banks murders (3). Clearly, homeschooling was not the problem.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution online reported last Friday that Georgia parents James and Anne Marie Cardona face felony child cruelty charges after police found their five and four year old daughters living in heinous conditions that demanded the children be removed and placed in the safety of adults who will properly care for them. There is no justification for the treatment these two children received from their parents. And there at the end of the thirteenth paragraph of the report came the reference I expected to see. Reporters Christian Boone and Craig Schneider dropped the H bomb. “The Cardonas claimed the girls were home schooled,” they wrote (4).

Honestly? The children were homeschooled? I’ll grant that maybe the Cardonas made the statement that their children were homeschooled, but an ounce of common sense on the part of the reporters should have prevented them from reporting something that has the effect of smearing the entire homeschooling community. The youngest child was four years old! She wasn’t old enough to be enrolled in kindergarten. Depending upon the birth date of her older sister, that girl may not have been formally enrolled in school, either. The compulsory attendance laws in Georgia state that children must be in school between 6 and 16 years of age. Reporting that the children were allegedly homeschooled painted a picture of parents keeping their children at home while their peers headed off to school each day, when in fact the children’s being at home was no different than any other child their age being at home all day with a parent. This irresponsible decision by two reporters cast a cloud of suspicion over all homeschoolers conscientiously and lovingly educating their children at home each day.





H/T Nikowa

Friday, August 20, 2010

Teachers as Co-Parents?

As a parent of more than 23 years, and a homeschooler of nearly 20, when I read articles like the one that follows, you can bet it will result in a rant. After this one, I’m not even sure where to begin.

In her blog post “Why I Don’t Miss Homeschooling”, Sierra Black's (Strollerderby) attempts at being complimentary toward homeschooling (and homeschoolers) comes off sounding a bit condescending. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that the condescension was not her intent, but it’s certainly what comes across. Let me share a few highlights.

Sierra begins by describing her homeschooling experience as going “so far as to run a preschool out of my house for my preschool-age kids and some other homeschool-inclined families in our neighborhood.” However, her life as a “homeschooler” ended abruptly when her 5-year old declared that “she’d be going to kindergarten in the fall.” (Don’t even get me started on parents who allow important life decisions to be made by 5-year olds.)

When Sierra admits that she “had a good-natured laugh” over another homeschooler'srosy vision of the close connection they’ll share as they learn together at home” I could practically reach out and touch the sarcasm. Her insistence that this blogger’s vision was “not only rosy, but also real and lovely” did nothing to calm my rising irritation.

My annoyance only grew when I read that Sierra “loved homeschooling”. Really? She homeschooled a few 3- and 4-year olds. Some of them weren’t even her own. That’s not homeschooling; that’s a neighborhood play group. When Sierra continued on, explaining what she enjoyed most about “giving up” homeschooling, I had a "good-natured" laugh myself. (I’m guessing that by now you’re feelin’ my sarcasm, too!)

What I found as I read on convinced me that this post is really more about parenting than it is about homeschooling. It seems to me that what is really being presented here is a justification for part-time parenting. Read on:
“…sending my daughter to school has made me a more relaxed, connected mom.”
Of course she’s more relaxed…she’s relinquished her parenting responsibilities to another adult for several hours every day. I’d be relaxed too. But more connected? How can a mom who is away from her child 5-7 hours each day feel more connected than when she spent every day with her child? That’s just not logical.
“But I chose homeschooling because I wanted my daughters to have their needs and wishes honored. When my oldest made it clear that she really wanted to be in school, I honored that wish.”
Not all the needs and wishes of a 5-year old should be honored. Five year olds have many needs and wishes that, if honored, would endanger their lives.
“Sharing the work of caring for and educating my child let me relax and enjoy her more.”
Again….I would relax more if I chose to share the everyday care of my children with someone else, too! But, homeschooling has not diminished my enjoyment of my children one iota. We play games and read books. We have fun together. In fact, because my children’s “school day” is so much shorter than what it would be in public school, I would venture a guess that we have more time to enjoy each other’s company than Sierra could ever hope for.
“Freed from the need to safeguard her education...I could let loose and play with her more.”
I hope to never to be free from the need to safeguard my children’s education. A child’s education prepares him for life…if a parent doesn’t safeguard this critically important phase of a child’s life, who will? There is much in this world that children need to be protected from. No school or teacher will ever be as invested in my child’s well-being as I am. Placing unswerving confidence in an “institution” as caregiver is, in my opinion, foolishness.

Next, Sierra quotes another “enlightened” almost-homeschooler:
“I have flirted over the years with home schooling. I decided that neither I nor my boys would thrive with that much of each other. And I couldn’t get past the blurring of roles — as a parent I am the unconditional support section, yet a teacher needs to critique and judge.”
What has happened in our culture that it’s okay to believe that a mother and her children will be better off outside of each other’s company? And how does a person come to believe that it is undesirable for a parent to provide both unconditional support AND discipline in their children’s lives? Does this woman really believe that a parent can only provide one or the other? That makes me very sad for her children.
“It’s not my job alone to make them socially acceptable, responsible, educated humans. I can let their rough edges stay rough without worry. The school is doing more than enough to smooth them out.”
It IS my job alone to raise socially acceptable, responsible, human beings. Period. No teacher should be expected to take on the job of raising your children for, or with, you! Educate? Yes, if that’s your choice. But raise? This thinking strikes at the very core of what it means to be a parent. No one else loves my child like I do. No one else is as invested in his future as I am. It IS my job...and my privilege.

Oh, and the part about school being the place where a child's rough edges get smoothed out...yeah, right. An unattributed quote comes to mind. "I've seen the village. And I don't want it raising my child."
“Being my kids’ teacher was a lot of fun, but I like just being their mom better. Let their teachers write the progress reports. Let me just love them. It’s a much more satisfying division of labor.
Being my kids’ teacher is a lot of fun. And I love being their mom. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive. I’m happy to write their progress reports AND love them. I’ll take the whole package. It’s a VERY satisfying labor of love!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is Education Commerce?

The perennial debate in this country concerning matters constitutional is the manner in which the US Constitution should be interpreted. Some citizens hold that the Constitution should be narrowly and strictly interpreted while others use terms like “living, breathing document” to describe a Constitution that flexibly changes with the times. People who hold the latter view enjoy the power inherent in supporting laws that favor their causes, laws that might not be acceptable under a narrower, stricter interpretation of our founding fathers’ document. The Commerce Clause of the US Constitution was written to regulate interstate commerce, or commerce between the states, but a broad interpretation of the word “commerce” has led to court decisions related to intrastate commerce. An even broader view has led to Commerce Clause decisions concerning issues with only a tenuous connection to commerce. It is only a matter of time before those who hold the broadest possible interpretation of “commerce” will attempt to use the Commerce Clause to control education, and possibly eliminate homeschooling.

Set aside for a moment the fact that Amendment X of the US Constitution states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Set aside for the moment the fact that the Constitution does not specifically address education in the United States of America, and that under the Tenth Amendment the power to regulate education is reserved to the states. These obvious facts have not stopped legislators from attempting to enact laws regulating education at the federal level. The Tenth Amendment has not stopped legislators from using a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause to enact laws that do not directly address interstate commerce.

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in both directions on cases resting on the Commerce Clause, sometimes supporting broader interpretations and holding a more rigid position in others. In 1905, SCOTUS halted price fixing in the Chicago meat industry, finding that “business done even at a purely local level could become part of a continuous “current” of commerce that involved the interstate movement of goods and services” (1). In Katzenbach v. McClung, SCOTUS ruled against a family owned business, one restaurant, writing that “although most of Ollie’s customers were local, the restaurant served food which had previously crossed state lines” (1). In Leslie Salt Co. v. United States, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals “ruled that the occasional presence of migratory birds in these empty pits was enough of a connection to “interstate commerce” to bring the matter under federal control” (2). The Rehnquist Court restricted the interpretation of the Commerce Clause in 1995 in Lopez v. United States, when congress attempted to use the Commerce Clause to justify banning firearms in schools.

Currently, the Commerce Clause is at the center of the debate over the constitutionality of the recent health care bill signed into law. Justice Kagan punted on the question of her interpretation of the Commerce Clause while under questioning from Senator Tom Coburn during her confirmation hearings. How broadly or narrowly our country’s legislators and our highest court interpret the Commerce Clause directly affects the amount of power they have to enact legislation affecting all areas of life. How soon will a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause be used to regulate education in America? How soon will a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause be used to make homeschooling illegal?

Homeschoolers must remain vigilant, always watching, always reading about, and listening to our representatives on Capitol Hill and the decisions handed down by our Supreme Court. Our selection of representatives both locally and nationally, as well as our choice for Commander-in-Chief, has long reaching consequences that will affect our freedom to pursue homeschooling. Homeschooling must remain a viable educational choice for all Americans.



Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Start of School Blues

The plastic tubs lined one long, low table at Apathy Elementary School. They were filled with supplies. One was overflowing with boxes of crayons. The other was filled to the brim with markers. There were piles of scissors, rulers, erasers, and rows of bottles of school glue. On the floor next to all of these supplies were boxes of Kleenex, packages of paper towels, and tubes of disinfectant wipes. These were the supplies that parents were asked to bring with their children to school yesterday. These were supplies to be shared by the entire class. Gone are the days when a teacher sent home a list of supplies that little Johnny needed to keep in a small cardboard box in his desk to use throughout the school year. Now it takes a village to supply a school. Education has become communal.

We witnessed the annual great restocking of school supplies when we attended school to meet our daughter’s therapists. She attends our local elementary school to receive speech and occupational therapy services. I was grateful for two things. The first is that as a very part-time student, we were not expected to participate in this charity event. The second is that we were not attending Pauoa Elementary School in Honolulu, Hawaii, where students are required to bring a four-pack of toilet paper on their first day of school. Stephanie Clifford of the New York Times reported last Sunday that the list of supplies that students are “requested” to bring on the first day of school gets longer and longer each year. In her article “Back to School? Bring Your Own Toilet Paper,” she reported that along with the normal supply of pencils, scissors, and glue, students across the country are asked to bring double rolls of paper towels, Clorox wipes, baby wipes, garbage bags, liquid soap, Kleenex, Ziplocs, cleaning spray, hand sanitizer, cotton balls, facial tissue, sheaves of manila and construction paper, paper sandwich bags, Dixie cups, paper plates, printer paper, wet Swiffer refills and plastic cutlery. I would have thought that cutlery would have violated a zero tolerance policy against weapons in school.

Along with the list of supplies, new students at our local schools are asked to bring, among other things:

• Proof of identity & residency or other documentation, which the Apathy Board of Education determines to be satisfactory

• Proof of immunization of certain disease or furnish documents to satisfy statutory requirements. Booster shots required by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Environment are also required.

• certified copy of birth certificate (Kindergarten & 1st graders only)

• $50.00 book fee (payable by check, cash, or credit card)

Now, why is it that our local school can demand “proof of identity & residency or other documentation, which the Apathy Board of Education determines to be satisfactory,” but the state of Arizona cannot ask people stopped on suspicion of violating the law to show proof of identity and residency or other documentation that they are in the country legally? I faced the acceptable documentation gauntlet at our local elementary school last year. The school has yet to satisfactorily explain to me why a utility bill is acceptable documentation of residency but my driver’s license is not. The school has yet to explain to me why I must prove eligibility at all. In court, the burden of proof is on the state and the accused is innocent until proven guilty. At our local elementary school, the burden of proof is on the consumer, and the consumer stands accused of not being eligible to send their child to school until they prove otherwise. Thanks to a federal judge in a decision concerning a lawsuit brought by our current president’s administration, kindergarten students in America’s heartland face a tougher burden of proof than do people crossing our country’s borders illegally.

My homeschooled children have a much easier time enrolling in school each year. Besides the annual first day of school wake-up call, a boisterous and off-key rendition of the “First Day of School” song as performed by my wife and I, enrollment involves eating breakfast, stumbling downstairs in their pajamas, and starting their first subject of the day. I don’t ask for documentation. I don’t require proof of residency. I provide all their supplies. I even give them free bathroom tissue. All I ask for is a smile, but I’ll settle for the absence of a frown. Homeschooled or not, they are children. They still suffer from the first day of school blues.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Facing Bias from the Bench

The only opposition that most homeschoolers ever face is the occasional question or criticism from well-meaning, but uninformed family and friends. However, when a person's right to homeschool is challenged, it can get a bit more serious.

"Fair and Impartial? Homeschooling and Judicial Bias" explores the problem of judges that allow their own personal bias against homeschooling to affect the judgments that they render. Their assumptions, misconceptions, and outright prejudices can contribute to court decisions that adversely, and sometimes devastatingly, affect a homeschool family. Antony Barone Kolenc's excellent article presents several case studies in which a judge's personal bias effected the outcome of a case involving a homeschool family.

Every homeschooler hopes that this will never happen to us. I'm sure the families involved in each of these case studies had that same hope. Though currently such cases are the exception rather than the rule, homeschoolers SHOULD prepare to be challenged. To that end, Mr. Kolenc also suggests several ideas for how homeschoolers can prepare for encounters with this kind of legal opposition.

Homeschooling parents cannot control the prejudices of other people. But through their own practice of excellence, Godliness, and preparedness, these families can help preserve their right to homeschool both now and in the future.

-Antony Barone Kolenc

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Defending Homeschooling

I've believed in homeschooling since before I had children. I've practiced homeschooling for nearly 20 years. Now, better-late-than-never, I've become a fierce defender of homeschooling!

For years I allowed public opinion and my own fear of offending others to temper my attempts at defending my choice to homeschool...a decision which, ironically, I had made with complete confidence, believing that it was the ONLY choice for my children. Yet, despite my personal convictions, when questioned, I found myself uttering half-hearted responses like:

  • "Homeschooling is a great option, but it's not for everyone."
  • "I always wanted to be a teacher, so homeschooling was the perfect option for me...I can be a teacher and stay at home with my children."
  • "My school district isn't the greatest, and I can't afford private school, so homeschooling is really my best option."
  • "'What about socialization?'...well, my children go to Sunday School, Awana, baseball, dance class, library story time, YMCA gym class and homeschool field trips."

However, a couple of years ago I began to listen--really listen--to the answers I uttered in response to my curious and often skeptical friends and family. And when I listened, here's what I heard myself saying....

  • "For some people, school is really a much better option. Homeschooling doesn't work well for everyone."

  • "The real reason I'm qualified to teach my children at home is that I am a certified teacher."

  • "A good school system is really a better option than homeschooling."

  • "Socialization is such a critically important part of the public school experience that homeschoolers need to work extra hard to fill their children's lives with a plethora of 'social' experiences so as not to permanently damage their emotional and psychological development."

I'll give myself credit for one thing. I'm a nice person. But in my attempt to be nice, I spent a lot of years making a big mistake. By offering these somewhat apologetic answers, I managed to undersell...and even undermine...the success of the very thing that I have staked my childrens' entire academic futures on. And in the process, I have managed to give the impression that I think homeschooling is nothing more than just another option. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

So, here's the truth as I see it:

  • Public school is RARELY the best option. While public schools don't fail every child, our country's public schools put all children at risk spiritually, academically, emotionally, and socially. Why would any parent knowingly expose their children to these risks if they don't have to?
  • Despite what "the experts" have to say, a child's parent is almost always better qualified to teach his or her children than a certified teacher. (And unfortunately, I do feel the need to qualify that statement to some degree!) A parent knows and understands a child's academic and emotional needs and is better suited to meet those needs than anyone...even without "credentials".

  • Even in "good" schools children do not achieve the same level of success as their homeschooled counterparts. Lynn O'Shaughnessy's recent article helps to strengthen the argument that public schools, even at their very best, can NOT compete with homeschooling in terms of producing a well-rounded, well-adjusted, well-educated child.

  • The socialization that children are exposed to in schools today is largely negative. Period. When a child is socialized in a group of other children, very little good can come from it. Socialization is the process by which a child develops into a mature, productive member of society. Exactly what qualifications does a school-aged child possess that authorize him to assist other children in this all-important process? The process of socialization is accomplished more effectively at home than anywhere else. Studies increasingly show that homeschooled children ARE better socialized than children schooled in public schools.

So, in recent years, I have attempted to give more honest answers to the questions that I am asked about homeschooling. In fact, at times I have been brutally honest when asked to defend my own decision to homeschool.

Guess what? Some people don't like hearing the truth. And I think I know why.

Sometimes the truth hurts.

Why Aren't You Homeschooling Your Children?

A long time ago I decided that when someone asks me why I homeschool my children the best answer to their question would be, “Why don’t you homeschool yours?” Why should I have to defend my decision to homeschool my children? Why not make the other person defend their decision not to homeschool their children? I discovered a refreshingly honest response to my answer in an opinion column written by Daniel Brigham and posted on Mr. Brigham is an educational consultant and communications specialist in Louisville, Kentucky, and a former instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder. You can find his column here. I encourage you to read this short but interesting article.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Homeschool Q & A

Catholic Online is running an article written by Sonja Corbitt titled “Frequently Asked Questions on Homeschool Education Practicum.” The article, and yesterday’s companion piece”Homeschool Education Levels Well Above National Averages,” is a question-and-answer style look at education in the home. There wasn’t much new in the article except for the general pro-homeschooling theme, so I was not surprised to read that the very first question the author answered was (and you can all say it out loud with me) “What about socialization?” Her answer surprised me.

“Since it is always the first question "inquiring minds" want to know this is surely the most important function of institutional school,” Ms. Corbitt wrote.

The most important function of institutional school is socialization? Now there’s an admission I never expected to see in print. Homeschoolers across the country have long believed that this must be the sole function of attending a brick-and-mortar school since it is the primary concern of homeschool critics. It is also the easiest criticism to defeat. A cursory glance at the behavior of school aged children reveals actions that at one time would earn an “X” rating in movies. Now it’s considered “G” material by too many people.

One other comment that jumped off the page came in a paragraph answering the question, “Doesn't removing homeschool kids damage government schools?” Ms. Corbitt observed that “legalized abortion removes more children from institutional education” than enrolling children in either home or parochial education. Of course, enrolling children of illegal aliens will make up for part of this shortfall (tongue firmly in cheek), but losing 46 million students from the educational roles is hard to overcome when public school funding is based upon student attendance. It’s a point worth considering, although I hope that there are better reasons for preserving human life than the student population of public schools.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Let's Not Make A Deal, Mr. Hall!

The first question that I would like to ask Nicholas Byron Hall, a student at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, is whether or not he has observed a successful homeschool in operation. If the answer is “no,” I respectfully encourage this young man to return to his philosophical studies (he’s a political science major, too) and leave the subject of home education to people who know what they are talking about. Specifically, that would be homeschoolers. I suspect that the answer to my question is “no,” since his article “What are the disadvantages of homeschooling?” published on offers absolutely no evidence for his critical view of home education, contrary to the statement in his biography that his "claims are well-supported by available evidence in accordance with philosophical and scientific standards." His only qualification appears to be his job as a “Channel Manager of Social Values & Norms.”

Do people really get paid for that?

Mr. Hall manages things. “I suggest titles, monitor quality, encourage new writers, and perform other tasks. If you need assistance with something, let me know,” he wrote.

I need assistance, Mr. Hall. I need help stopping my head from exploding after reading your highly qualified essay. Do not misunderstand me. Mr. Hall is not highly qualified to write about homeschooling, but he appears to be incapable of writing a statement without qualifiers. “Homeschooling can come with a variety of disadvantages.” He countered that with the observation that “homeschooling may come with advantages.” Later in his essay he wrote that “this makes it appear that perhaps homeschooling is the best option,” before continuing his criticisms. These quotes highlight another problem with Mr. Hall’s anti-homeschooling opinion – he’s all over the map.

Mr. Hall, take a stand. Pick a side of the argument and argue for it using strong, bold statements. Allow me to provide you with an example.

Mr. Hall, you are wrong!

You were wrong when you wrote that “Parents are rarely qualified to teach their children; sorry, it's true.” If parents are not qualified to teach their children basic reading, writing, and arithmetic then the entire public schooling system should be scrapped. A person with the IQ of a melon should be able to teach ABC, 123; red, green and blue, and how to glue, to a kindergartener. Anyone with a high school diploma should be able to teach a child basic grammar school curriculum through the third grade. Parents with a college diploma should be well qualified to teach a variety of subjects to their children. Have you paged through a curriculum guide lately? Home education isn’t that hard!

Mr. Hall was wrong when he argued that “the best education, in theory, would be under someone specifically trained to educate students.” The best person to educate my children is the person who knows and understands my children, knows and understands how my children think, has my children’s best interests at heart, and creates an educational experience that serves my children’s needs. There are thousands of excellent, well educated and well trained teachers operating in classrooms across America, but no one is better suited to meet the criteria for teaching my children than I am. Those teachers are casting an educational net over a classroom of twenty or more children and hoping to capture most of them. I have my sights set on a more manageable number.

As for the argument that when people “opt out of a corrupt system rather than work together to change it, these and other [“poor”] children suffer,” I must tell you that I will not offer my children’s education as a sacrifice for some communal good. I will not allow my children to toil away in a substandard educational system and hope that along the way while we all try to fix the problems that they will learn enough to succeed later on in life. I will provide my children with the best education that I can possibly offer them. They will be far healthier, happier people, and better citizens, if I give them a solid educational foundation.

Finally, Mr. Hall, if “public education puts kids of multiple backgrounds together, and they challenge the values that their peers have,” then I will not put my children in a public educational system until I have trained them to defend their values and withstand the peer pressure brought on by their classmates. I would be a negligent parent if I allowed society to shape my children’s values. Should their values be shaped by children who value drug use? Should their values be shaped by children who value pornography? Swearing? Violence? Theft? Will your desire to see my family’s values challenged be satisfied when my son contracts HIV from little Susie Hottotrot after she gives him a diverse educational experience underneath the bleachers at school? Mr. Hall, when you wrote that you wanted children put together so that they are exposed to other values what you really meant was that you want my children exposed to your values. You want to challenge my family values through my children in your preferred educational setting. You’ll have plenty of time to challenge their values when they are older, have graduated, and started their own lives.

Until then, hands off!