By Martin Forte
Homeschooling freedom: What is it and how can you achieve it? Simply defined, it is the concept that the homeschool family is able to create an environment free of unreasonable restrictions, to provide a true learning experience for the child. Ideally this would be an environment that allows for the child to identify his talents and interests and through the identification — and use of his dominant modalities and dispositions — achieve his own goals.
“Wait! Do you mean that the child actually has some input into his educational journey?!” You bet; the more ownership a child has, the better the result. Imagine a child who spends most of his time on activities he “wants” to do instead of “has” to do. Imagine a child who gets up in the morning excited about the upcoming day and the learning opportunities it presents. Imagine a result where the child actually knows how to learn. The best result is when the child becomes a true “lifetime” learner. He can achieve this because he actually learned how to be a self-learner. Imagine an environment where harmony replaces struggle, where long-time success replaces failure, where dreams are created and realized instead of drowned with mundane assignments and where you, the parent, can say at the end of the day “We had a great journey.”
In order to get a grasp on the concept of homeschool freedom as well as the fact that we are on a journey to homeschool bondage, it is important to have a feel for the history of the modern homeschool movement. The following section is a brief but fairly concise history of the movement.
A Brief History of Modern Homeschooling
The modern homeschool movement is going on 35 years now. The vast majorities of current homeschoolers, were not even born yet, or were at best, a very young child. Who knows, maybe you were among some of the first of your generation to have been homeschooled. Let’s spend some time to identify what I consider to be the three phases of the modern homeschool movement. In short we will be discussing the influences of the Pioneers, Settlers, and lastly the Refugees. Almost sounds like a history lesson, but guess what — it is!
Now, these were the heroes of the movement. Imagine a time when there were no organized support groups, park days, Friday Schools, field trips, resource centers, conventions and Lord forbid, the Internet! These were the families that discerned the short comings of a classroom education system whether it be public or private. Interestingly enough, there were two diverse groups that played an important role in the early years of the homeschool movement.
The real influence on the early homeschool movement evolved from faith-based families looking for an educational option to allow them to reinforce their world views to their children. In the state of California, our state of residence, we saw that the Christian homeschoolers were the ones that became very organized. Even today, the largest homeschool organization in California is CHEA (Christian Home Educators Association). While faith-based reasons dominated the drive to homeschool, their motivation also included academic considerations. Yes, even back in the 80’s, the question of academic quality permeated the minds of the public and for many, the intrusion of indoctrination instead of education started to raise some suspicions.
The other influential group was the Un-Schooler, as advocated by the late John Holt. This option in many respects was in total contrast to the more formalized methods that most Christians used at this time. Even though the unschooled population was less organized and fewer in numbers, it has evolved into a strong homeschool style today. Some of the participants of the unschooling option, of course, were the hippies and their pursuit to escape the common society.This is not to say that every unschooler was a hippie, but this unschooling group, by their own nature, was not as organized as the faith-based participants.These types tended to give unschoolers a negative connotation, even though they did not represent the majority of unschool families.
Regardless of the style of homeschooling, both camps experienced many of the same consequences. With the possible exception of the individuals who lived “off the grid”, most homeschoolers were under a heavy cloud of suspicion by not only their neighbors and family but by school districts and law enforcement. The old adage, “Do not open your drapes until 3:00 p.m.” was all too true. Many homeschoolers were afraid to be on the streets during normal school hours. The fact that some homeschool parents actually were imprisoned for their attempt to homeschool, provides a wonderful insight into the willingness of the Pioneers to take the arrows. As pioneers, my wife and I were excited to take the risks and think out of the box by homeschooling. The rewards have been phenomenal.
Wow! The pioneers survived and more of the general population actually started to see the wonderful rewards of homeschooling. While the reasons to homeschool had not changed, more families were empowered to at least try homeschooling. At this point, in the short history of the modern movement, we started to see the creation of more support groups, park days, state wide organizations and openness about homeschooling.
The diversity of homeschooling still prevailed and in the state of California we saw the creation of two non-religious, statewide organizations — HSC and CHN. The growth of homeschool conventions grew with each statewide organization having conventions. In past, the largest of the organizations (CHEA) attracted around 8,000 attendees. The settlers were looking for all the resources they could be exposed to and at this time the internet was starting to be an interesting component of the movement. Public acceptance of homeschooling was increasing by the day. During this time period, the major educational publishers (the Christian publishers were first) realized that the homeschool community represented a huge market potential.
The acceptance of homeschooling become so common that even schools were realizing that this movement was here to stay and in 2012, it is legal in every state. Of course there are some states where it is easier to homeschool in than others, but at least we have achieved legitimacy among the general population. During this point in time we were seeing our first graduates who were homeschooled for their entire educational journey and the results were impressive. Statistics showed that properly-homeschooled children tested higher than their classroom counterparts, did better in college and in the work force. With these impressive results, the public started to notice and definitely supported the concept. The curious aspect of this acceptance is that the non-supportive public still resorts back to the age old “socialization” argument.
Now, we have come to the point in history where we are seeing a huge influx of refugees entering into the homeschool arena. We welcome these individuals, but they also bring a totally different attitude to the community. I define a refugee as a family who has a child that has been expelled from school, are really questioning the quality of education or they are afraid of the violence of the school their child is attending. These individuals realize that the public school system is not a viable option and at the same time cannot afford a private school, so they reluctantly “resort” to homeschooling. This has resulted in a different outlook on homeschooling as well as a huge change in how to homeschool. These individuals are looking for a “school at home” venue with minimal personal interaction with their children. Now to be fair, many families start out as refugees but develop into real homeschoolers in spirit and execution. The refugee attitude has given rise to the popularity of charter independent study programs and other alternative options. The influence of the refugees is still unknown, but I fear that it will lower the achievement levels of the homeschool community and insofar as they flock to charter schools, increase the control of the public sector over homeschooling.
It is very important as you read this article that you do not forget about the fact that the Pioneers really had the attitude of achieving educational freedom for their family although the environment was rather restrictive. Even through all the struggles, it is my opinion that the families of the late ‘80’s were far more “free of bondage” than the current population. Let’s take some time and discuss the forces that are diminishing homeschool freedom.
The first big question to consider is: Are you homeschooling or schooling at home? As time progresses we are seeing a paradigm shift toward schooling at home. More and more families are falling victim to the hard core “scope and sequence” of the classroom environment, which is a disaster in the classroom and will be a disaster in the homeschool. The problem is that scope and sequence type of programs base their standards on the fact that every child is ready for a particular level of academic accomplishment at the same age. This is so far from the truth that it hurts. If this were true, we would see every baby learn to speak, crawl and walk at the same age. We know through our own experiences that this is not the case and logically it should not be the case for academic milestones.
Scope and Sequence
The “scope and sequence” method totally disregards the fact that physical maturity dictates academic preparedness, as is evidenced by the fact that the system is introducing algebraic notation in second grade, where the student is a “concrete” thinker instead of waiting several years for the “abstract” thinking skills required to understand algebra style notations to develop. Instead of letting a pre-school child participate in the activity of “play” we are too busy trying to prepare them for academic readiness by forcing reading and math skills at an age totally inappropriate for those activities. This not only results in frustration for a large segment of students, but is also a causative factor for early onslaught of “near-sightedness.” The question now becomes: How did I get into this “scope and sequence” position? Very simply, due to the unconditional love for your children and a dose of naivety, you were encouraged by a seller of “curriculums” that this was the best choice! Result: Lots of money spent and a poor return on your investment. Hard core adherence to an off-the-shelf curriculum will add to the bondage quotient. You will be so caught up in the formal meeting of the demands of the textbook curriculum that having the freedom for other “learnable” activities will be seriously curtailed. Realize that the text book publishers are not the only thieves of your freedom; anyone that wants to control your day to the minute is equally guilty. Beware of any program, curriculum or organization that dictates time management and does not allow for the freedom of your family to explore your child’s interests and talents through electives.
Another thief of freedom is testing! Are you subjecting your family to “standardized testing” on a regular basis? If you are a long-term homeschooler going all the way through high school and understand the fact that all children learn at different times in their lives, why would you subject your child to testing? The commitment to testing also commits you to the “scope and sequence” fiasco due to the fact that standardized testing in reality is a measurement comparing your child to the masses in the classroom environment. An unintended consequence of a negative test result, say as a result of your child not feeling well that day, is that both you and your child will feel like failures. Your failure complex will be that of the failed teacher while your child will feel the failure of the student. It really does not provide you with enough positive factors to risk both you and your child feeling like failures. Except for the College Board PSAT and SAT in high school, you really can increase your freedom index by avoiding these standardized tests.
The next thief of freedom comes into your life more like a cat burglar. Families that concentrate on “core” subjects at the cost of exploring the electives erode away at the freedom index without realizing it. How many times have you told your child that you cannot go on an exciting fieldtrip because of math or English assignments not finished? How many times have you discouraged your child from exploring subjects he is interested in because of spending too much time on core subjects? How many times have you said no to park day because it is Monday and you need to start the week with core subjects? Don’t let this cat burglar steal your freedom! Pay attention to the interests and talents of your child by chasing the “electives” instead of the solo race to core subjects.
The last thief for our discussion is the charter school movement. This thief plays on two components to lure you into their claws of death to freedom. First of all, you will be lured into the charter movement by the promise of financial consideration. Yes, it is difficult to resist the temptation of money, but you must ask yourself if it is really worth the loss of freedoms. They will also lure you into a perceived level of confidence and ability through the fact that a supervisor will be overlooking every move you make. I find it interesting that after going through the classroom system yourself as a student, that your confidence in your abilities is at an all-time low and you want to subject your family to the same system.
You will discover that as time goes on, they will provide you with fewer options to exercise your right to academic freedom. Another great danger this thief poses is that the state will eventually use the charter system as a model for homeschool laws which will pose a serious threat to all homeschool freedom. It may not happen on your watch, but it could affect the freedom quotient when your children want to homeschool your grandchildren. The bottom line is that the Pioneers were able to successfully homeschool without the use of public money and supervision. With the vastly-increased number of options and resources available today, you too can achieve a higher level of freedom without the use of the charters. Yes, you may have to pay for lessons or prioritize your objectives but it will still be worth it. The pioneers and settlers fought the battles, took the arrows and created a wonderful educational option that enhances your freedom to participate in an educational path that is best for your family. I encourage you to participate in a manner that will always increase the freedom quotient for your family and the community as a whole. Once freedoms have been taken away it is very difficult and costly to regain them.
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