The Boston Tea Party was a terrorist act—or so it is characterized in the 6th grade curriculum widely used in my beloved state of Texas. The Pledge of Allegiance—in Arabic? The national anthem—well, some schools have banned it for being “too offensive…” At least the flag is still there—oh, wait, that’s the Mexican flag…Speaking of flags, let’s design a flag—for a new Socialist country. Why is patriotism under attack in America’s public school system?
Better yet, why are kids under attack in America’s public school system? Hugs are banned as a form of sexual harassment, yet condoms and STD screenings are offered at middle schools and high schools. Sex acts go unnoticed in the classroom, worse yet predators posing as teachers go unnoticed in the classroom. School shootings, kids bullied to death, mandatory GPS trackers on school kids, children medicated at younger and younger ages on psychotropic drugs, unfit union teachers who can’t be fired, teachers who refuse to take tests because they don’t measure anything, school officials changing student standardized test answers, and the latest trend—kids being suspended, some even arrested, for brandishing Lego guns, toy guns, bubble guns, drawings of guns, screen saver guns, imaginary guns—really!? These are just a few of the headlines making news lately, and if that’s not enough to make you want to homeschool, I don’t know what is. So as a homeschooling mom to a 9 year old who dang sure knows a terrorist from a patriot, I thought I would share my 2 cents on the subject and dispel some myths:
It has become the norm for American children to attend public school, as their parents did, and as their grandparents did. But it wasn’t always so. Before there were government schools, there were homeschools and homeschool co-ops held in little one-roomed schoolhouses funded and controlled not by the government, but by the parents. And those primitive, humble homeschools produced many of our most cherished American icons and heroes, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, Stonewall Jackson, George Washington Carver, Eli Whitney, Clara Barton, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Thomas Paine, Frank Lloyd Wright, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers, Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, and Mark Twain.
But then in the late 19th century, the idea of forced mass education was introduced, and families were told to sacrifice personal liberty for the “good” of the children—sounds like similar arguments being made in favor of gun control today. In “Why Schools Don’t Educate,” John Taylor Gatto, award winning public school teacher and critic of compulsory education, describes the creation of government schools in America: “Our form of compulsory schooling is an invention of the state of Massachusetts around 1850. It was resisted—sometimes with guns—by an estimated eighty percent of the Massachusetts population, the last outpost in Barnstable on Cape Cod not surrendering its children until 1880’s when the area was seized by militia and children marched to school under guard.” From that point forward, literacy rates dropped in the state, and have not since recovered.
So began a new era in American history. And I wonder, how would our Founding Fathers and iconic American heroes have fared in today’s government school system. How would the world have fared? Would Abe Lincoln be told to put away those silly books—they aren’t on this year’s required reading list? Would the Wright brothers be told to stop fiddling with that machine so they could finish their standardized testing? Would George Patton or Robert E. Lee be told to quit playing hero, as it violates the school’s policy on imaginary fighting?
So many of the people who shaped the world were home-educated, and I wonder to what extent their success was shaped by freedom to explore their curiosities and talents and passions.
But such freedom is no longer the norm, even here in “the land of the free.” Now, we have been conditioned to forfeit our freedom and our individual choice, and to hand over more and more of our parental responsibility to the government school system. We have been conditioned to believe we are not capable of educating our own kids, and that our kids are not capable of thinking for themselves. Today, the government education authority, strangers to our children, decide when our children go to school, what they learn, when they learn it, the time allotted to learn it, how they can prove they have learned it, what school they will attend, in which classroom they will sit, which teachers and subjects they will be assigned, when to eat, sometimes what to eat and whether they can even speak during lunch, when they can use the bathroom, what they can wear, and in many cases what to think and believe. After all, between a 7-hour school day, extra-curricular activities and homework, school kids spend more time with their teachers than their parents. School has become the pseudo-parent—sometimes out of necessity, but many times out of convenience—a one-stop shop for raising our children—for education, transportation, day care, meals, health care, sex education, mental health services and counseling, exercise, extra-curricular activities and even socialization.
But more and more families are pushing back, seeking alternate forms of education for their kids. According to the US Department of Education, there are now well over 2 million homeschooled kids nationwide, an increase of over 35% in just 4 years. But it is amazing how little the average person knows about homeschooling. Let’s examine the myths…
Myth: “Isn’t it illegal to homeschool?” No…I’m not a criminal! Actually homeschooling is legal in all 50 states in some form—but beware that each state has its own education laws and regulations. The good news is that almost half of our United States are very homeschool-friendly. Those with virtually no regulation include AK, TX, CT, NJ, ID, OK, MO, IL, IN, and MI. The states that only require notification to the school district of the intent to homeschool include CA, AZ, NV, NM, UT, MT, WY, NB, KS, WS, KY, MS, AL, DE, as well as Washington, D.C. The remaining states have some hoops to jump through with various regulations ranging from home visits to standardized testing to time tracking to curriculum approval. For a complete listing of state homeschooling laws visit www.hslda.org/laws/summary_of_laws. Vote with your feet!
For those parents that are concerned about drawing suspicion from nosy neighbors or authorities that confuse homeschooling with truancy, some good advice can be found at www.hsc.org/how-can-homeschoolers-avoid-truancy-officers-or-cps.html. Even here in homeschool-friendly Texas, I tend to keep a low profile during school hours. I avoid taking my son on non-school related errands until after 3 PM just to avoid comments such as “you don’t look sick—why aren’t you in school?” It has also been my experience that families that homeschool from the beginning don’t face as much harassment from the school district as families who withdraw their child, and thus the school’s source of funding.
For peace of mind, consider joining the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org). For $115 per year, members receive legal advice, court representation, advocacy, conflict resolution, as well as perks such as member discounts, homeschooling advice, and a magazine.
Myth: “Homeschooled kids do not get enough socialization.” Since when is it the government’s job to provide my kid with friends? And since when does going to public school guarantee popularity? We have all known kids that that are lonely, shy, or friendless despite being in a classroom full of other kids day after day, year after year.
There is actually very little socialization occurring at today’s government schools, unless by socialization you mean “indoctrination” or “institutionalization.” Recess is becoming a thing of the past, and even lunch period has become a no talking zone in my local school district, with “silent lunch” in effect. The fact is that today’s schools have very little resemblance to the schooldays you may reminisce about.
But homeschooling is whatever you make it to be. The social opportunities are out there through co-ops, churches, extra-curricular activities, you just have to be motivated enough to get your child involved. How do you find other homeschooled kids? When you are out and about during the day and see other school-aged kids, chances are they are homeschooled—introduce yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Search Google or Yahoo Groups for homeschool groups in your area, and if you don’t find one, start one. Ask your local library or teacher supply store if they know of other homeschooling families. Book sales and churches are another good place to start. As you become involved in extra-curricular activities like scouting or sports, ask around—there are probably other homeschooled kids there, too. Soon enough your calendar will be full of play dates and field trips and park days. Good thing our school day is half the length of the public school day and we don’t have homework—now we actually have much more time to socialize with friends and family—a perfect segue into the next myth...
Myth: “I do not have time to homeschool.” The public school day may last 7 hours, but since when was the government efficient? “We’re not trying to do ‘school at home.” We are trying to do home school. These are two entirely different propositions. We’re not trying to replicate the time, style or content of the classroom. Rather we are trying to cultivate a lifestyle of learning.”—Steve and Jane Lambert
Homeschooling doesn’t have to take all day. Here’s why:
- My family homeschools year round. We do not take off for 3 months during summer, or for 2 weeks in winter or a week in spring, or for Columbus Day or early release days or snow days or teacher in-service days. Therefore we can afford to spend fewer hours per day, spread out over more days per year, and we do not have to make up for learning lost over long holidays. When the weather is nice and most kids are busy in school, we can take off and spend more time outdoors and on field trips, without the crowds and Texas heat.
- We have a one-to-one student to teacher ratio, with no distractions.
- We do not have to budget time during our school day for busy work, lunch, recess, safety drills, roll call, morning announcements, standardized testing or test prep, bathroom breaks, changing classes, lining up, wasted substitute teacher days, bus routes or special assemblies. There is no red tape in the way of our homeschooling (at least in Texas). As a result, we have no homework.
- We do not impose artificial timelines or time limits. We have a list of lessons to complete each day, and it takes as long as it takes. Some tasks we breeze through, in which case my son isn’t punished with busy work as he might be at school. Others tasks may take a little longer, and that’s OK--I have the freedom to flex something off the list when need be. My son has learned that if he lollygags, that means less free time, so he has an incentive to stay focused. The beauty of homeschooling is that we can focus on knowledge rather than grades or unnecessary work. When he gets it, he gets it.
With that being said, I spend about 4 hours per day homeschooling my son, as well as a few hours each weekend preparing for the coming week. We spend about 2 hours in the morning with lessons in civics, math and geography. After a lunch break, we spend another 2 hours or so on reading, writing, spelling, grammar and history. Science happens all the time. In addition to those hours, we have been active with a homeschool group which offers weekly social activities, and my son is always enrolled in at least one extra curricular activity, such as swimming lessons, day camps, zoo classes or Tae Kwon Do. When I’m not feeling well my son is allowed to use educational software on the computer, but I prefer old-fashioned pencil and paper work.
Myth: “I am not a teacher, therefore I am not qualified to homeschool my kids.” “There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Legally speaking most parents are qualified to homeschool. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, “forty-one states do not require homeschool parents to meet any specific teacher qualifications. The other nine states require only a high school diploma or GED and include GA, NC, ND, NM, OH, PA, SC, TN and WV.” For more information visit www.hslda.org/laws/summary_of_laws.
For skeptics who believe that parents aren’t qualified teachers—if graduating from the government school system renders people incapable of teaching their own children, what does that say about the system? I graduated from high school with honors, went on to earn my Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree, yet, until recently, I couldn’t name all the presidents or states, I couldn’t have told you anything about the War of 1812 other than it had something to do with the year 1812…My tests scores did not reflect my mastery of each subject or lack thereof, but rather my mastery of taking tests! A decent short term memory was enough to get me a seat in the National Honor Society. So the bottom line is even though I don’t have a degree in public education, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do any worse.
As a homeschooling parent I know what my son has learned, I know his strengths and struggles--I have been there each step of the way. In contrast, a friend of mine doesn’t know whether her child has learned the states or where he is on a map because she leaves it to the school to teach him those things. It’s as if it is none of her business. Educating my son is my #1 business, and through research I have learned that there is no “one size fits all” method of education. Children have different learning styles, different strengths and weakness, and there is only so much a classroom environment can do to accommodate a room full of individuals. But homeschooling can be adapted to the individual child, and who knows that child better than his or her own parents? Parents are always their children’s first teachers, and homeschooling is just an extension of that. Homeschooling allows us as parents to provide consistency, rather than changing teachers from year to year or class to class. And for those subjects that we struggle to teach or that our kids struggle to learn, we can always do a little homework or ask for help.
- Partner with other homeschoolers: One of the best resources that we have is other parents in the homeschool community, whether locally or on-line. There are endless opportunities for on-line discussion groups and forums. When I find myself struggling with something, Google usually finds an answer, or at least something different I could try. Joining a local homeschool group or co-op is invaluable for support and advice and even pooling resources and skills for joint classes or private tutoring led by parents in their areas of expertise.
- Partner with community resources: There are endless learning opportunities right in your own backyard for PE (martial arts classes, gymnastics classes, tennis lessons, swim lessons, YMCA or city league sports clubs , public pools, walking trails, parks), fine arts (art competitions, art festivals, art museums, lessons at Michael's/Hobby Lobby, community theatre, acting camps, piano lessons, community band, church/community choir, orchestra performances, dance performances/lessons, photography workshops), scouting, science (zoos, wildlife refuges, nature preserves, state park presentations, 4H, museums, planetariums, farm and factory tours, TV weather station tours), history (re-enactment events, museums, renaissance fairs, heritage festivals, historical building tours, living history events), social studies (cultural celebrations, parades, museums and events), civics (voting, welcome home soldier events, public rallies, patriotic events, museums, memorials, tours of post office, fire station, etc, volunteering), language arts (book clubs, read alouds at libraries and book stores, literacy councils, spelling bees, writing competitions), geography (geo-bees, geocaching), not to mention summer camps and workshops in every subject under the sun. So, you see, it is quite easy to take the “home” right out of homeschooling.
- There are countless internet and software resources available for learning everything from foreign language to flight simulators.
Myth: “We can’t afford to live on one income.” Or, more eloquently stated, “We didn’t have the luxury for her not to work.”–President Barrack Obama…OK, first of all, not all homeschooling families have a full-time, stay-at-home parent/teacher. Some families have one parent that works part time or from home. Other families have two parents that work opposite shifts so that someone is always home with the children. Second of all, being a stay-at-home mom is not a luxury—it is a sacrifice. We chose to sacrifice my career, half of our family income, and most of our luxuries so that I could stay home with my son, so that I could provide him with a home education and avoid government schools, and so that we could move to a country “retreat” full time and raise a few homestead animals. It’s not that we can afford to do this, it is that we can not afford not to. There is a huge difference.
The bottom line is that while it is true that you can’t maintain a two income lifestyle on one income, there are ways you can make one income work. What would you be willing to give up?
We have gotten our monthly budget down to $2100 per month for our family of 3. Notice what is not in our budget:
- No government assistance—although we would probably qualify, we are not on food stamps or any other government subsidy.
- No dream house—after years of searching, we found a 750 square foot, 3-room cabin on 9 acres of land in farm country about 15 minutes from a small town. We got rid of at least half of our belongings and kept only our most cherished possessions. We heat only with a wood burning stove and cool with window units—there is no central heat or air. Our mortgage of $430 is cheaper than the monthly rent of $495 at a travel trailer campground a few miles down the road!
- No car payments—we own two older model 4 wheel drive vehicles. The cost of maintaining them is much cheaper than purchasing a newer car, plus the insurance is cheaper. Again, no bells and whistles.
- No toys—no boats, RVs, motorcycles, 4 wheelers…
- No jewelry.
- No credit cards—we have learned to live within our means and pay cash for what we need. Otherwise we do without or save up.
- No manicures, pedicures, massages, waxes, facials. My beauty routine involves a $13 haircut maybe 4 times a year. My husband and son cut their hair at home.
- Very low clothing allowance--most of our clothing comes from Goodwill (yes—you can get good looking clothes there for $1-4 per piece! Military gear is also a steal and much cheaper than at Army/Navy stores, ranging from $1 for hats to $5 for BDU, especially at Halloween). Occasionally we will buy clothes on deep clearance sales, usually off season. I don’t go window shopping. I don’t go to the mall or department stores.
- No trash service--we burn our own trash in a pit in the ground.
- No travel budget—we can’t afford to travel, which is just as well, because we can’t afford to pay for a pet sitter! It’s one thing to ask a neighbor to feed your dogs or cats. It’s another thing altogether to ask your neighbor to milk your goat! Something to think about!!
- No expensive hobbies or entertainment—we do not have internet at home—we have not found a good rural internet option that we can afford. Instead we use the limited internet access on our cell phones, and take the laptop into a town once a week for free wi-fi at fast food restaurants (on a laptop that does not contain our personal info). We do not have I-pads or I-pods or any of those gadgets. We do not go to the movies—instead we rent movies for $1.30 at the red box. My husband doesn’t golf or go to sporting events or go on hunting trips with his buddies. I don’t do girls’ night out, or facebook, blog, twitter, scrapbook, or read trashy novels or magazines or watch soap operas. We do watch TV (cheapest package available, no DVR, no high-definition), read books, play board games and card games, and spend time outdoors. We eat out maybe once or twice a month, and we take advantage of Kids Eat Free nights in our area.
- Veterinary care—we have learned to provide most vet care for our animals, including giving injections, assisting in birth and newborn care, administering antibiotics, using a drench gun to provide fluids or liquid medications. We do visit a mobile vet clinic which offers rabies shots for $10 each—most vets in the area charge an office visit fee of at least $30 just to get you in the door...
- No expensive home security system—a fence and locked gate, 3 large dogs, 2 x 4s held against the door with barn door bar holders, and guns are our home security system…
- No expensive gifts—we have officially withdrawn from the holiday rat race. We do buy gifts for our son, but not for extended family members. We do offer gifts of homemade goat milk soaps and fresh farm foods, but so far those gifts haven’t been appreciated…
- I guess extreme couponing would be an option for some, but my local grocery store has put a stop to that. There is not a bulk warehouse in my neck of the woods either.
How’s that for luxury, folks? I think Michelle just might have me beat. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Myth: “Public school is free--we can’t afford to homeschool.” According to the Census Bureau, on average it costs American taxpayers over $10,000 to send one child to public school for one year. What a rip off! Homeschooling families pay those public education taxes even though their children do not attend public school. They must then purchase their own homeschool materials and supplies out of pocket, which are not tax deductible. Luckily, unless you run your homeschool like a bloated bureaucracy, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here’s the nitty gritty:
- School Discards: It is amazing what our tax-funded government schools throw away. Every so often schools review and update their materials and discard old inventory and even brand new sample materials and library books, either by throwing them away or donating them. I once received a whole car load of brand new or slightly used textbook sets including workbooks and teacher guides spanning multiple grade levels and multiple subjects—all for free, including expensive brands such as Saxon math. Contact your local district to determine a contact person and schedule for curriculum dumping—they will often be glad to give the books to a good home. Also, when a new school is built to the take the place of an existing school, or when a school is scheduled for major remodeling, or when a school’s technology is updated, or at the end of the school year/beginning of summer break, you can bet they will be cleaning house. This is a good time to keep an eye on dumpsters. We have pulled art prints, textbooks, workbooks, even TVs and overhead projectors from the dumpster. A find well worth the embarrassment of dumpster diving! Get permission if needed in your area.
- Garage Sale Leftovers: Garage sales are great, homeschool/teacher garage/retirement sales are even better, and free garage sale leftovers are the best! Local newspapers sometimes offer searchable classified listings on-line to help you narrow your search to keywords “teacher” or “school” or “homeschool.” I have made it a habit to purchase a few things, introduce myself, and then ask for any leftovers that they might want to get rid of after the sale. If they are planning to donate or toss, they may as well give it away to a family that will gratefully use it. I’ve received two car loads of free books and supplies that way. Best of all, most of the maps, posters, charts, etc. are already laminated, which can be very costly.
- Bulk Trash—some of the towns in our area host a free bulk-item pick up once or twice a year. This is a great time to do some treasure hunting! We have picked up desks, bookshelves, encyclopedias and other school supplies, as well as household items such as metal bunk beds, toys, toy boxes, etc.
- Swap Meets: Organize a swap meet with other local homeschooling families to trade books, games or other materials that your children have outgrown or that you do not want. This is also a good way to trade any multiples that you may have received in classroom sets obtained from schools or teachers. Many homeschooling families do not write in textbooks or workbooks so they can be passed down to younger siblings, and then eventually resold or swapped.
- Free On-Line Resources: The internet can be an invaluable resource for lesson plans, worksheets, printables, arts and crafts, videos, discussion groups, live web-cams, etc.
- Don’t forget on-line resources such as CraigsList and Freecycle for give-aways. I received a huge ocean collection of coral, shells, starfish, seahorses, even a stuffed shark from a woman who just needed to make room in her house. The collection is actually better than that offered at our local children’s science museum!
- Homeschool Tracker (www.homeschooltracker.com) offers a free record keeping download that allows you to schedule assignments, record grades and field trips, generate report cards and attendance records, track time spent, log books read and resources used, etc.
- Search for free classroom or homeschool materials, promotions and give-aways. I have been sent free posters, DVDs, etc. Most giveaways marketed for schools are also available for homeschoolers. Office Max once offered free laminating to teachers, which they extended to homeschoolers.
- The world is our classroom. Mother Nature is a wonderful resource for free learning materials, and what better way to learn than to collect and examine specimens first hand rather than looking at illustrations in books. Turtle shells, feathers, nests, bones, skulls, leaves, plants, insects, etc. line our shelves. Of course, observation and appreciation of nature do not have to take up space on a shelf. Homesteading offers many opportunities to witness science first hand, from sky and weather observation to life-cycles, birth and reproduction, to anatomy lessons at chicken cleaning time.
- Catalog of Ideas: My local teacher supply store, which is very expensive, offers free catalogues. A quick search through the over-priced products has given me ideas for things I could make rather than purchase.
- Free field trips--Many museums offer a free day each month during a low-traffic time (free on the first Wednesday of each month, for example). Call around or check web sites for public free days. Our local symphony offers free admission to the last rehearsal performance before opening day and encourages families with squirmy kids to attend then, so the paying audience won’t be disrupted. Our local art museum offers free family days on one Saturday each month, with children’s art activities as well as free museum admission and tours. Many places offer free open house dates from time to time—take advantage.
Low Cost Resources
- Low cost field trips—
- Most museums, zoos, etc offer discounted group rates, so coordinate with other homeschool families to take advantage of discounts.
- Many museums, zoos, and even some amusement parks in larger cities now offer annual or semi-annual homeschool days with special exhibits, shows and pricing.
- School shows—some symphonies, ballets, theatres, renaissance fairs, etc offer school performance shows which are closed to the public and deeply discounted. Usually homeschooling families are welcomed. We have attended the symphony and ballet for as little as $3 per person. School shows usually occur at the same time each year, so plan ahead to get tickets before they sell out.
- Family Memberships—many museums and zoos offer family memberships that are well worth the price if you plan to visit often.
- Thrift stores, library sales, garage sales and fundraiser book sales, although not free, have been a great resource for very low cost books, games, supplies, and videos. I typically pay 25 cents to 50 cents each for paperback readers or educational magazines such as national geographic magazines, and $1-2 each for hardback books, textbooks, computer software, DVDs/videos, workbooks, and other resources such as flashcards or educational games.
- As a last resort, shop retail sales. Stock up on school supplies only after the back-to-school rush is over and supplies go on clearance. The Dollar Tree chain store offers a teacher supply section that includes charts, posters, timelines, maps, reward stickers, bulletin board decorations, etc., as well as school supplies for, obviously, $1 each!
Plan ahead. Do not wait until the last minute. I have been stockpiling school books and supplies since my son was an infant, and it is amazing how quickly they have come in handy.
Myth: “Homeschoolers are white, right-wing, religious extremists.” Heck they’re probably a bunch of preppers, too! The demographics of the homeschooling population is ever changing, as are the reasons for homeschooling, which do include religion and politics, but also concerns over school safety and security, overcrowding, bullying, privacy, poor school performance, and just your basic freedom of choice. Across the country, you can find homeschool groups geared toward children with special needs, only children, secular families, teens, Native American families wishing to preserve their culture, Muslim families—and yes, even Christians and preppers! Concern about the government school system is universal.
Myth: Homeschooling is a cover for parents that are too lazy to take their kids to school. There may be a few bad apples in the barrel, but homeschools must be doing something right. Homeschooled kids continue to outperform their public school peers. And according to a report by US News, “students coming from a homeschool graduated college at a higher rate than their peers and earned higher grade point averages along the way.” Homeschooled children have also fared well in academic competitions. According to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, “although homeschoolers make up approximately 2% of the US school-age population, they made up 12 % of the 251 National Spelling Bee finalists, and 5% of the 55 National Geography Bee finalists. Three of the past seven spelling bee winners have been homeschooled. Last year’s homeschooled winner of the geography bee was 10 years old, the youngest in that event’s history.”
So if it is cheaper, more efficient and more effective to homeschool our kids, what is the purpose of government schools? A chilling quote from John Gatto: “Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever reintegrate into a dangerous whole…Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a preteen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age, there’s no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.”