Dec 19 2000

TechnoMom’s Home Education FAQ

Tag: Cyn @ 10:18 am

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:

      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!

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