Dec 19 2000
What is truly annoying is that so many people have preconceived notions about homeschooling and homeschoolers, but those who have been the most vocal in their opposition to it seem to be the least willing to do any actual research or to listen to anything that doesn’t agree with what they "know" about it (the "My mind’s made up, don’t bother me with the facts!" crowd). And while these words probably won’t ever be read by any of the people who’ve told me what a dreadful mistake I’m making, this is my chance to say them, at least, without interruption. If even one person reads them honestly or gets any information here, then it will have been worth the time it took to write this web page (above and beyond the sheer venting value, which is significant).
- Is teaching your child at home really legal? Don’t you have to be a certified teacher or something?
In Georgia it certainly is. In fact, some form of home education is legal in every one of the United States, although state laws do vary widely. Georgia does require that I file a Declaration of Intent with the school system each year as well as monthly attendance reports. Georgia law states that children must be instructed in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. In Georgia, it is legal for a parent or guardian to teach his or her children as long as he or she has a high school diploma or GED. Tutors may be hired to instruct children as long as they have a bachelor’s degree, but need not be certified teachers.
- Isn’t homeschooling something that only Christian fundamentalists do?
Nope. The movement to return education to the home wasn’t even started by Christian fundamentalists in this country, but by more liberal thinkers who objected to the rigidity of the public schools. Gentle Spirit magazine has done a marvelous four-part series on the history of homeschooling in the US, and there’s no way I could do anything like the job Cheryl Seelhoff already did in explaining it, so I suggest that anyone who is interested simply read all four parts:
While Christian homeschoolers became very visible in the 1980s and 90s, there were always other people educating their children home who either weren’t Christian or were homeschooling for reasons other than religion. Homeschooling is getting far more mainstream now than ever —even Buffy the Vampire Slayer asked her mother to consider it, saying "it’s not just for scary religious people anymore."
Admittedly, it can be harder for people who aren’t conservative Christians to find support groups, prepackaged curriculum, umbrella schools, and other resources to help with homeschooling —but they are out there, and there are more and more resources all the time.
- So homeschooling has nothing to do with your religious or other beliefs?
While religious issues weren’t the primary reason for my decision, they certainly contributed to it. I live in the Bible Belt, and there’s a lot of de facto Christian indoctrination that happens even in public schools here. I prefer that my daughter not get information from school teachers that contradicts what she learns at home. I don’t honestly think there is any way to completely separate one’s beliefs from education, so I believe that anyone who truly wants her children educated according to her own belief system has to either be her children’s primary teacher or send her children to a school that is based on a philosophy with which she agrees. My religious beliefs aren’t those of the predominant paradigm here in Georgia, so it makes sense for me to turn to homeschooling.
As for beliefs other than those that are strictly religious, I don’t understand how any libertarian can send his or her child to a government school for indoctrination. I’ve also heard far too many sexist, racist, homophobic, lookist and other bigoted remarks from school officials to trust that they won’t be making such remarks to or in front of my child, and I don’t want her to pick up those poisons. (And if other children make those remarks, school officials seldom intervene or contradict the statements at all.)
- What about socialization? How will she learn to get along with other people?
If you think much positive socialization is happening in any average school (public or private), you haven’t been in one lately. In the elementary schools that Katie, Rowan and Geni have attended, at least, the kids aren’t even allowed to talk to each other most of the time in the cafeteria. Talking in the halls gets them in trouble, and they’re frequently ordered to be silent on the buses to and from school. So where was that "socialization" happening? Oh, in the classroom. Right. Yeah, kids get lots of time to socialize there.
So, when the kids get anything like a recess, they have "socialization" time. Oh, and while waiting for the bus in the morning. What’s that, maybe 45 minutes a day? At most?
So here my poor kid is, isolated at home away from all other kids. Except for Rowan and Geni, of course. And the many children in our neighborhood (I’m not kidding —there were about 25 neighborhood kids hanging out around the place while we were moving in!) Oh, and the kids she sees in the drama, dance and Spanish classes she takes. And the other members of her Girls Scout troop, and the kids she sees as homeschooling support group playdays and those she sees weekly at soccer practices and games. Oh, and there are the kids (who don’t live in the neighborhood) who gather at our place for AD&D games every other weekend or so. Yep, I’m really worried about Katie being isolated from her peers.
In all honesty, around Atlanta, at least, it’s more difficult to decide which activities and social opportunities we’re going to participate in and to keep from being overcommitted than it is to find opportunities for socialization.
Of course, the others kids she interacts with aren’t all exactly her age, and they wouldn’t all be in the same grade with her if she knew them through a school setting. And pretty much all of the interactions she has with other kids are supervised by me, Sam, and/or other parents. I can’t quite bring myself to think that’s a bad thing. Just how many times in your life after formal schooling have you been in groups of people who were all within twelve months of your own age? Doesn’t happen much in the real world, does it? Katie is learning to interact with older and younger kids, kids her age, and adults of various ages —just like she’ll be doing for the rest of her life.
- How can you possibly teach your child as well as professional educators could?
Honestly, I can do better. I know her, have known her all her life, and always know what’s happening in her life that might affect formal studies. I have one-on-one time with her and don’t need to spend time coddling those who aren’t getting something as quickly as she does or accommodating students with learning or behavioral disabilities. I’m able to choose material that reflects her interests —and mine —and we can spend as much time as we like on a topic rather than following a school’s strict calendar. I don’t have to get anybody’s permission or arrange for a bus to take us to a museum, bookstore, or anywhere else, or try to schedule library visits so they don’t conflict with other classes time there. I love her, and I have far more reason to care passionately about her education than any hired professional of any sort ever will.
Yes, there are things that I don’t know, and that I may not be able to teach her. There are, however, many classes for homeschoolers for just that reason —and there are certainly many private tutors available. There are also other people in our lives who know many things that I don’t know, and who Katie and I will certainly approach for help in learning those things.
While it’s difficult to gather statistics on homeschoolers for several reasons, those that are available show that homeschoolers consistently outperform public schooled students on standardized tests. Historically, the literacy rate in the United States has gone done since the advent of compulsory schooling. Think about it —when most people taught their children themselves or sent them to church-sponsored schools, the literacy rate was higher than it is now, when free public schools are available to every child in the US and parents are legally required to obtain some sort of education for their children. Why does that not surprise me at all?
- You can’t possibly provide the resources a school can!
Oh, I beg to differ.
- Computer technology? Katie has access to a PC with internet access pretty much 24/7 with little to no waiting (and since we plan to expand our home LAN shortly, what waiting there is now will soon be a thing of the past). Also, since it’s our equipment and our network, she gets to learn to work with the computers at a far deeper level than if she were simply using systems someone else had set up for her, then forbidden her to change at all.
- Lab equipment? She’s used a microscope and been able to do various lab experiments here at home, and never had that at school. Yes, those kinds of things will get more expensive as she gets older and more advanced in her studies, but I don’t anticipate any trouble finding access to anything she needs in Atlanta.
- Books? We have more at home than in any classroom she’s ever entered. We buy both non-fiction and fiction books as the need (or whim) strikes. We also go to the public library several times a week (which has far more resources than even the best school libraries).
- Periodicals? Well, there are usually copies of two different daily newspapers available around here. In addition, we are the Magazine People. The ones that the kids read on a regular basis that come to mind right away are:
- New Moon and New Moon Network (the girls read New Moon, Sam and I read New Moon Network)
- Archaeology’s Dig
- Time for Kids
- The Blessed Bee
- National Geographic’s World
- Kids’ Wall Street News
- Science at Home
- Scientific American’s Explorations
I had no idea that there were so many magazines for kids when I was one —in fact, I don’t think there were. I knew about crap like Tiger Beat and Teen (magazines which do not come into this household), but would have been fascinated by New Moon. I know those magazines weren’t available at my school and aren’t available at the schools Geni and Rowan attend now. Of course, there are also quite a few publications around the house that aren’t marketed to or written specifically for children, and the kids read those as well sometimes —Rowan especially likes Discover.
- Then there’s the whole fine arts thing —can’t forget that.
- Visual arts? We have more art supplies (of higher quality) in this house at any given moment than I saw in 12 years of public schooling. Various kinds of crayons and pens and oil pastels and colored pencils and paints and special drawing pencils and a whole mess of special paint brushes (but we always seem to need a new one or two for each project) and what seems to be every kind of paper known to mankind (construction, tracing, drawing, banner, newsprint, finger painting, posterboard, gridded in various fashions, special papers for the various printers to make T-shirt decals or mug inserts or whatever caught someone’s fancy this week). There are glues and glitters and stickers and stencils and stamps and ink pads —look, imagine going through the arts and crafts aisle at Zany Brainy and grabbing some of everything. That’s what the craft supply area looks like. I suppose one might argue that my needlework supplies shouldn’t be counted, since I acquired most of them in my pursuit of the stitching hobby going back to well before I had Katie. I consider them school supplies now, though, as the kids know there are boxes of fabrics and fibers and bead and patterns and buttons and ribbons and glues and such that they can use to their hearts delight.
- Music? Katie’s been surrounded by good music since her conception! We have an ungodly number of CDs, cassette tapes and even some old LPs on vinyl (I suspect the existence of some 8-track tapes in the garage, but I’m avoiding finding out for sure). The music available here ranges from Bach to Rockapella to Clannad to the Backstreet Boys to Ani Difranco. We have two metal flutes, one wooden flute, an ocarina, a dragon whistle, two very nice keyboards, a couple of recorders, a dhoumbek and various smaller percussion instruments, and are working on adding a really good digital piano to the mix so we can start playing with midi. We regularly make music at home or with various groups, and will arrange any formal musical instruction in which the kids show an interest. Katie has already had several years of piano lessons and may return for further study. I would like for all of our children to take at least one year of piano simply as a solid grounding for further musical study or lifelong music appreciation. As for making music with groups, there are homeschooling choirs and bands in the Atlanta area as well as other possibilities should any of the kids decide they’re interested.
- Drama. Oh yes, we’ve got drama —good roleplaying demands it, and the kids are getting better all the time! Katie’s also taking a class with a group of other homeschoolers, and is interested in finding a more advanced class when this session is over —and adding voice instruction. And we have trunks full of cool costumes to be used in playing dress-up or staging plays —I dreamed of having those kinds of things to play with as a child!
- Dance. Katie has taken jazz and ballet for five years. She’s continuing her studying of those disciplines and moving on up in them.
- Should the kids develop interests in anything for which we don’t currently have materials or equipment on hand, it’s quite easy for us to acquire or get access to whatever is necessary for them to explore that interest. We don’t need to get approval from anyone or submit budget proposals or seek grants to fund such purchases —we can just make it happen.
- But there are all those field trips!
How many field trips do your kids actually go on a year? When they get there, how much time do they have to really explore the place? In a total of ten years spent in public schools in the metro Atlanta area (three in Cobb County, seven in Gwinnett County), I had one trip to the zoo and one to the Capitol Building. (My two years in the city schools of Gadsden, Alabama didn’t include any field trips —those were reserved for the "special education" kids but they seemed to take a lot of them.)
We have annual passes to Stone Mountain Park, Fernbank Natural History Museum/Science Center, SciTrek, and Zoo Atlanta. Other places we’ve visited or are planning to visit soon include the High Museum of Art, Atlanta History Center, Southeastern Railway Museum, Carter Center, Wren’s Nest, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Oglethorpe University Museum, and the Tennessee Aquarium. While we’re up in Tennessee, we’ll probably go down to Ruby Falls and see Rock City and who knows what else. We can do that, because nobody makes our schedule but us. We’ve already had more "field trips" in our few months of official homeschooling, both with groups and as a family, than I had in my entire school career.
- Uh, gifted programs! She’s missing out on the gifted programs!
Well no, she’s not. In our county, at the elementary level at least, what used to be called the "gifted program" is a pull-out program. Kids are taken out of their normal classrooms and go to a special class once a week to engage in fairly silly games and the occasional extra assignment. Around the seventh grade, as I understand it, there are some integrated classes for the children in those programs in some schools —advanced math or social studies —but not at all middle schools, and not for all students. Everything we do is part of the "gifted program" because it’s all set at a pace and level designed to engage my gifted child. As for socializing with other gifted children, there’s another gifted child in this household and most of our friends’ children are labeled gifted by their various schools. Should we find the need for more formal interaction, we’ll turn to Mensa or a similar organization.
- Come on, you have to admit that she’s missing something by not being in school.
Oh, absolutely! Cafeteria food. Sexual harassment (yes, it does start that early). Peer pressure to smoke, drink alcohol or use recreational drugs. Homophobia. Substitute teachers who have no credentials other than getting to the school if they’re called. Having to get permission —or being denied permission —to take care of basic bodily functions like going to the bathroom. Being told to stop as soon as she’s gotten interested in a subject because the scheduled 20 minutes is up. Feeling like she isn’t as good as someone else because she doesn’t look like the current ideal, or doesn’t have the hottest clothes, or doesn’t live in the right neighborhood, or whatever —or being pressured to not associate with someone else for those reasons. Getting the idea that she’d better hide her intelligence because it’s not feminine, or because being smart just isn’t cool. Bullies. Those lovely frequent lice checks because some parents just won’t ever take care of their children’s infestations. Living on someone else’s schedule. Yep, happily she’s missing lots of things that most people take for granted in their children’s lives.
After reading Mary Pipher’s books Reviving Ophelia and The Shelter of Each Other, and remembering the climate when I was in school in the 70s to mid-80s and knowing that things have only gotten worse, I had no doubts about the kinds of things I wanted my daughter to miss. And Sense of Self: Listening to Homeschooled Adolescent Girls by Susan Sheffer was one of many sources that helped me to realize that deschooling Katie would be healthier for her than public or private schooling.
There’s also the issue of high profile violence. One month after the infamous Columbine shootings, a kid pulled out a gun at Heritage High School in Conyers, GA (Sam’s alma mater) and started shooting his classmates. That same week, a bomb was found —yes, a real one, not a fake one —in a bathroom at Berkmar High School in Lilburn, GA (my alma mater). I don’t want my child in a school where any freak wanting a target-rich environment can walk in and start shooting (or set off bombs, etc.). Yes, somebody could come into our home and start shooting —but it’s unlikely a stranger would choose our home as a target, and if he or she did I happen to be armed and dangerous myself. I know that my ability to protect my child when she’s with me or in our home is far greater than any school’s ability to protect her.
- But you can’t be sure she’s getting an education as good as what she’d get in school!
Actually, I can be sure she’s getting a far better education that she would get in the local schools. I’m using the local school board’s curriculum standards for each grade as the absolute minimum. Far more of our material comes from a combination of The Well Trained Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Classical Education by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer and the Core Knowledge Foundation’s materials. The school’s standards don’t come anywhere near the breadth or depth of the standards set forth in WTM or by the CK Foundation.
- The only people who pull their kids out of school are the ones whose kids are having problems there, or who didn’t do well in school themselves, right?
No, that isn’t the case for us or the vast majority of homeschoolers we’ve encountered. Katie was a straight "A" student, never had one discipline problem, and had lots of friends at school. Even though she missed many days of third grade due to her father’s illness and death she was a straight-A student and never challenged academically in the slightest. I was the valedictorian of my high school class, was involved in many activities, and had plenty of friends. The fact that both Katie and I were good at jumping through the hoops the schools set up doesn’t mean we think they meant a great deal or were set high enough.
- How can you stand to spend that much time with your kid?
That’s the question that always shocks me and tells me a lot more about the person asking (and, probably, his or her child) than my answer can ever tell him. If you don’t like spending that much time with your child because you just don’t like being around children much, why did you have a child in the first place? If you don’t like spending that much time with your kid because of how he or she behaves, why haven’t you bothered to raise a person who is pleasant company? News flash: I love spending time with my daughter! She’s a great person to be with! And her father and I actually thought out the fact that we wanted to raise a well-behaved, intelligent, thoughtful, fun-loving person well before we ever had a kid!