The flyer arrived one day in the mail. It was from a school district in Colorado announcing their introduction of a Home School Academy. Someone had meticulously filed it with the other junk mail, and I had to grab it off the top of the trash. I had heard about colleges offering credit courses for homeschoolers, but this was different. It was a grade school option offered by the public school district. This was a new twist, I thought. Why were they offering this? What would they demand in return? What could they bring my children that I couldn't?
What Does It Offer to Homeschoolers?
The public school-assisted homeschool model essentially offers public school facilities, such as teachers and classes, for homeschooling children for a portion of the school week. During this time, the children sit in class and learn one or more subjects taught by a public school teacher. Each child spends the rest of the week in homeschool, taught by his or her parent. The instruction provided by the public school can be core curricula, such as reading or arithmetic, but more often it is intended to complement core instruction provided by the homeschool. The courses can range from art to robotics to sports and physical education.
It sounds generous, doesn't it? Art supplies, spare mechanical parts, and soccer balls all cost money, to say nothing of the buildings and teachers. If schools are as under-funded as the public is led to believe, how could they afford this offer? Wouldn't homeschoolers add to the financial burden schools are facing? In reality, schools opening their doors to homeschoolers would lose even more money if it weren't for the ability of these schools to claim the children as part-time or even full-time students. Depending on how the district is funded, schools can claim additional funds for these students because of their enrollment and use the funds however they see fit.
What's the Catch?
This ability to claim the child is important. For those school districts, during those hours each week a child is in the care of the school with all the legal implications and pitfalls of a public school student. For Kimberly Cunningham of Durango, Colorado, it had serious implications. She found this out one day when she walked into the school to pick up her kids early from their class.
"They weren't in the homeschoolers' classroom" Kimberly states, "so I wandered around the school looking for them. I ended up at the office and was told there was a special assembly, and I'd find them in the gym. Sure enough, the whole school was in there watching a visiting theater troupe perform. The first story I saw was a Hindu theatrical dramatization of Shiva coming to life. Next up was a dramatization from the southwest United States of the beginnings of time. They didn't explain that early Native Americans believed this. They just said, ‘This is how our part of the country came in to being and why it exists.' "
What troubled Kimberly was the worldview the theater troupe presented. "They were great actors and very convincing, but from a Biblical worldview, this was totally unacceptable," she said. There was no explanation of what is right or wrong about it or any encouragement to critical analysis. What's even more troubling, however, was the fact that her children were taken to the assembly with no notice given about the assembly or its content.
"I went to the principal, and I expressed my distress in not knowing this assembly was taking place and asked why I wasn't informed," Kimberly continues. "I told him my disappointment that they would assume this would be okay, and I wouldn't care." Instead of taking her concerns seriously, Kimberly was rebuffed. "I was told that since they were the ‘experts' and I was ‘just a mom,' I should leave the education . . . to the experts." Taking her concerns to the homeschool liaison, she was told the same things, but a bit stronger. Kimberly came away from that meeting with a very distinct impression. "The response was like ‘Listen, lady, once you drop the kids off at our door, they're ours, and you need to just trust us to take good care of them.' " Although it was only their first semester in public school-assisted homeschooling, both Kimberly and her husband agreed it would be their last.
We Shouldn't Be Surprised
The attitude of the teachers toward a homeschooling mom and her concerns shouldn't be all that surprising. The National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, has long supported and actively promoted the erroneous belief that homeschools are run by "well-meaning amateurs." In fact, this is the belief behind the marketing of public school-assisted homeschooling. Treon Goossen, private home educator and Home Education Legislative Analyst/Liaison for the Cunninghams' state of Colorado, agrees: "In order to get parents to enroll, public schools will imply that homeschooling parents are not capable of providing an adequate education on their own. They play on the emotions of parents and tug on their insecurities to make the argument that home schooled children cannot possibly succeed in life with only parental involvement. They plant seeds of doubt and water them with their answer to this imagined dilemma. They say, ‘Let us help you, and it won't cost you anything.' "
In fact, the cost can be high. The effects of the public school-assisted homeschooling concept are very noticeable in the families Kimberly has observed since then. "Parents are drawn in for a semester," Kimberly says. "It doesn't visibly hurt their kids, and the mom enjoys the break so much that she decides to put them all back in public school. We only know one other family that has shared school longer than a year and still predominantly homeschools. The others have been sucked back into the public system."
Of the fifteen families who were enrolled in the shared school program with Kimberly's family—all of whom solely homeschooled prior to the shared school option—only one besides Kimberly's is still homeschooling.
A Slippery Slope?
Such trends are alarming to Treon. "Over time, the public school system has slowly but surely infiltrated the homeschool community and it has steadily eroded parental commitment in education, which could possibly lead to the erosion of parental freedom in education. They say ‘it is all homeschooling,' but this blurring of the lines of independent homeschools and the public school programs at home is a dangerous, slippery slope."
Treon continues: "The public school system wants people to believe that ‘it is all homeschooling,' so when they make their move to eliminate the control of parents over their independent homeschools and thrust them back under state control, it will appear to be the most natural thing to do. They want to make the argument that because so many parents have voluntarily placed themselves under state control by participating in such programs, this must be what all homeschoolers need. The strong possibility then exists to press their case by saying that homeschooling can be simplified by being placed under state supervision, where all aspects are under the same guidelines and use the same curriculum, and that the state can be assured that quality education is taking place in homeschools."
Following is an excerpt from an article by Baylor University's Perry Glanzer, quoting Rob Reich, Department of Political Science at Stanford University in a discussion on the regulation of home education: "Reich admits in the end that he is not merely interested in regulating a freedom in order to ensure that it is not abused. He also hopes that such regulation will persuade parents not to exercise their freedom and, as his conclusion indicates: ‘In fact, finding ways to draw homeschooling families back to the public school system seems to me a necessary complement to the passage of effective regulations.' "1
Reich's closing lines of his chapter on homeschooling, as many closing lines do, perhaps reveal his underlying agenda. He states, "In fact, finding ways to draw homeschooling families back to the public school system seems to me a necessary complement to the passage of effective regulations" (Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in America, 172). It is quite clear that for Reich, homeschooling is not a freedom to be celebrated in liberal democracies but a freedom to be feared.
Inadequate-or More Than Inadequate?
Homeschooling parents desire the best education for their children, which is why they educate their children at home. Yet some parents feel inadequate when they compare their efforts with the public school programs out there. What alternatives do homeschooling parents have to using these public school programs? Homeschool co-ops, support groups, and church groups offer similar alternatives, including science labs, art classes, field trips, and even sports and scholastic competitions. Additionally, these support groups can help parents seek out solutions to the issues parents may struggle with, solutions far better than what a school district can offer.
Whatever the effort parents put into these activities, they cannot lose sight of the fact that homeschooling has proven to be a superior option. Time and again, independent homeschooling has proven itself as a superior means of providing an education to future leaders. Research from the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) continues to verify that homeschoolers outperform their public school counterparts in academic testing. Reports of outstanding achievements by homeschoolers in national scholastic competitions continue to roll in. Homeschool graduates are eagerly sought by many top colleges. This hardly sounds like the inadequate, well-meaning amateurs that homeschooling parents have been made out to be.
Like other aspects of parenting, homeschooling here in Colorado has its challenges, but the flyer we received that day preyed on our fears and offered an invitation to surrender our freedoms as homeschooing parents. We would so needlessly because our abilities are more than equal to the task, especially when we look to each other for the help we need. Our dependence on our own well-founded abilities as well as on each other's support preserves our independence from government intrusion and our freedom as Homeschool families.
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Steve Walden lives in Colorado with his wife, and together they homeschool their three children, ages 13, 10, and 6. Steve is a freelance writer, and when he's not blogging at www.HomeschoolBlogger.com/SteveWalden, he's searching for new opportunities to write about homeschooling, coping with disabilities, and connecting with God. Steve's desire is to help others rediscover God as their first love and the source of their strength.
Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Summer 2009. Used with permission. Visit them at www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com.
1. "Rethinking the Boundaries and Burdens of Parental Authority Over Education: A Response to Rob Reich's Case Study of Homeschooling," (Perry L. Glanzer , Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Baylor University quoting Rob Reich, Department of Political Science Stanford University). You can find the full quote (Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in America, 172) linked www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgibin/fulltext/119389971/main.html,ftx_abs#ss11#ss11.