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Homeschoolers Bite Back

CJW, September 14, 2010 9:17 AM

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"I homeschool to give him the world as his classroom,
with all the wonderful diversity it offers."

Why Does the Mainstream Media Reflect Only the
 Fun House Mirror Version of Homeschooling?


by Chele Coyne

It seems that the mainstream media is dedicated to promulgating a distorted vision of the homeschool community, in which "most" or "the majority of" homeschoolers are religious fanatics, or else we are extremely privileged and wealthy hipsters. Apparently, the press would have America believe that we are all bigots or brainwashers, or too trendy and elitist to be taken seriously.

Here's the latest from the New York Times: In which a bunch of urban artistes with preschoolers apparently make homeschooling in vogue.

After the hatchet job that ABC did on unschoolers, I predict far more of the silly stereotyping, because most homeschoolers who don't fit the narrow media image are completely uninterested in signing up to be misrepresented to the world and ridiculed.  (Ed note: see videos below).

Perhaps someday the media will understand that:

Homeschoolers come from every race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, educational background and belief (or nonbelief) system. My homeschool group is far more diverse in every conceivable way than my neighborhood school. I do not homeschool to keep my child away from "people who aren't just like us" as the charge is often made. I homeschool to give him the world as his classroom, with all the wonderful diversity it offers.

Single parents and families in which both parents are employed can and do homeschool. We are not all wealthy. In fact, many of us have considerably downsized our lifestyle in order to be able to do this. And some of us have the laudable stamina and dedication to be able to do it in the hours when we are not working outside the home. The "homeschoolers are wealthy elitists" stereotype spits in the face of all the families making financial and personal sacrifices in order to follow this path.

We don't have to do it the same way the schools do, and are not bound by their choice of schedules or curricula. Homeschooling can happen in hours other than 9 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday. Some of us learn in the evenings and on weekends. Some keep a year-round schedule as opposed to taking the long summer break that the schools do. Additionally, it does not take as much time to cover academic material with one or two of your own kids, whom you know better than anyone in the world, as it would in a school setting. Homeschoolers do not have the bureaucratic and crowd control concerns that you end up needing to address with large groups of children who are virtual strangers taught by strangers.

Homeschoolers enjoy an unbeatable student to faculty ratio. Our kids get individualized attention, and we do not need to subject them to standardized tests to assess their progress, because we are intimately involved in it. We have the luxury of teaching to our children's individual level, and taking as much or as little time as is required for them to master the material. We do not have to bore a kid who "gets it" with endless repetition because some of his peers do not. We do not have to leave a struggling student behind in order to keep pace with the average student. This is the tremendous advantage of homeschooling. The differentiation that public schools can only strive for, we can make reality. We also are not hamstrung by administrators requiring us to teach to the test, and practice practice practice the test, at the expense of real learning. Many of us decided to homeschool for just these reasons.

Homeschooling doesn't mean we just stay home all day, everyday. This is why we have no patience left for the uniformed inquiries about socialization. Homeschoolers are out and about, enjoying the real world, while schooled kids are stuck in an artificial age-segregated microcosm of society. Yes, there are some weird, socially awkward homeschoolers, just as there are some weird socially awkward school kids; it has more to do with personality type than educational choice.

Parents do not all need to be able to teach calculus and high school physics in order to even consider homeschooling. First of all, we can outsource those subjects to more skilled teachers, if necessary. There is an amazing wealth of curriculum materials and classes that homeschoolers can access. Secondly, while we may have forgotten what we learned in school, we are perfectly capable of learning a subject alongside (or just slightly ahead of) our children. We value instilling in our kids a love of learning and the ability to find the answers they need in life above rote regurgitation of a set of facts. Children can only be inspired when they see their parents learning and growing along with them.

Does the hypothetical horrible example homeschool parent exist who doesn't care about his/her child's education at all? Probably. Certainly there are parents who are utterly disinterested in their schooled child's education, and who do nothing to ensure that homework is done, or that studying happens. There are bad apples in every barrel. But unlike the school systems, homeschoolers don't think the hypothetical lowest common denominator should be used as an excuse to infringe the liberty of the rest of us who are doing the right thing. Nor do we believe that the government is entitled to dictate what goes on in our homes and families in the absence of probable cause to believe that abuse exists. That's the standard for government intrusion into family life. The fact that we homeschool doesn't mean that we have waived our constitutional rights to due process so that different rules apply. When the government is free to come into your house and check whether your kids did their homework, and not before, will I agree to have it look over my shoulder. Or maybe not. Because on that day, America will have ceased to be a free country. In the meantime, I will comply with the existing state regulations, and oppose any attempt to broaden state control over my family.

Homeschoolers in most states do not receive any funding whatsoever from the government. I think that Alaska and maybe a couple of other places do have some sort of financial aid available, but here in New York, and in most places, homeschoolers do not get subsidies. However, we do pay school taxes, from which we reap no personal benefit. Teachers are allowed to deduct supplies they use in the classroom, but not so homeschoolers. And most of us like it that way, because there are no strings attached, as there might be if we were accepting public funding. Public schooling is state action, undertaken with public funds, and that is why it is regulated. Homeschooling is a purely private endeavor in which the government should have no purview. So that is why we don't all agree with the premise that, "Well, if you are doing the right thing, why shouldn't you want your kids tested like the school kids? If you have nothing to hide, why not?" Because I'm not an arm of the state, responsible to the people, nor am I sucking on the public teat, and spending money in which the American taxpayer has an interest. I am raising my own child, and saving the system the resources it would otherwise need to be committing to his education. Why that makes me a presumptive villain, I will never understand.

Ultimately, homeschoolers believe that the privilege and responsibility of raising our children and educating them belongs to families, not the government, and we are prepared to buck the system and do it ourselves, because we believe it is the best thing for our families. That is in no way a comment on what is best for anyone else's family, or a knock against people who send their kids to school. Everyone should be free to choose the best course for their own family. For us, it is homeschooling.

###

You can find more essays by Chele Coyne on her blog "Homeschooling On Hudson".



Other related links:
Detroit Free Press: "No place like home for school; more parents seek customized education"
Huffington Post - "Homeschooling: For Trendy Brooklynites? Or People Like Me?"
On Unschooling:  "The Tapestry of Themes That Make Up a Sudbury Model School"
John Holt:  "John Holt and the Origins of Contemporary Homeschooling"

Videos from ABC Good Morning America with George Stephanopoulos on "Unschooling" - not to be confused with home-schooling - below:



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Great article Chele. You bring to light so many aspects of homeschooling that the public is not aware of.

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It's time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve; it more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy.
Albert Shanker, president of American Federation of Teachers(1974-1997), (1928-1997)

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