The Unfundamental Conversion

My Neighbors Don’t Go To School

January 28th, 2013 | Posted by Lana Hope in Homeschool

I have been in the states for a month now, and I noticed something. I never see a school bus go by, and I see kids constantly outside on their itouches picking up internet at the house across the street. So I asked why the kids aren’t in school. It turns out that only one family on the block sends their kids to school (they drive the kids), and the other two families are unschooling.

In the case of one family, the boy, around age 10, is staying with his aunt. He’s “homeschooled,” but living with his aunt right now which translate into no school.

The other family has a boy who had trouble getting along with teachers, who was suspended from one school for a while, and so his grandparents, who are raising him, finally gave up and are “homeschooling” him. But the grandmother has an illness and stays in bed most of the day day; its very unlikely he’s doing school as he’s wandering around constantly outdoors (actually the grandmother admits they don’t do any school). His older sister and his birth mother never finished high school.

May I say these are the stories HSLDA doesn’t tell us when they talk about why homeschool families shouldn’t have any regulations? I was disillusioned when I was a kid. Almost without exception everyone in our homeschool group did some academic schooling. Some called it “unschooling,” and by that they meant child-directed learning. For example, if a child had an interest in learning world history, perhaps the family allowed the child to study world history that year instead of making them do state history like every other kid in the 8th grade, and they might study history without a textbook in favor of other means the child suggests. Some people used the ACE curriculum that has a lot of holes (you can read my review of it here), but they still studied and learned something. Academic wise, most of my friends (and my family included) turned out very well when all was said and done.

But see, just because most everyone I knew in the homeschool group learned reading, writing, and math doesn’t mean there wasn’t many other homeschoolers who slipped in the cracks. Last night I started thinking about my homeschool friends, and I thought of a quiverfull family from church whose children never learned basic writing and math skills, who never studied, and whose eldest daughter hasn’t been able to pass the GED. These people, sadly, are not uncommon. They just may not be the majority of homeschoolers.

But here’s the thing I keep pondering. Just because “most” (and I am not sure if that’s true or not. Not every homeschooler joins the homeschool groups) homeschool kids get educated doesn’t mean they all do. And even if its a minority of homeschoolers who get no education at all, that’s still not acceptable. Every kid has a right to an education. But whether its one homeschool kid out of ten who is uneducated, or one out of 50 or one out of 500, every kid who doesn’t get an education is still one kid we let down.

I often hear, in response to this problem, about how public school kids often slip through the cracks too. They do, especially in inter-city schools. But here’s the difference between an uneducated homeschooler and an uneducated public schooler: we *know* and we *acknowledge* that we let down the public school kid, and that’s why we have remedial programs at community colleges to give them a second chance. If an educator stands up and says he wants to reform intercity schools, he will get a pat on the back; if an educator transforms an intercity school, he gets a standing ovation. But if someone mentions reforming homeschool laws, then everyone gets offensive. Why?

I *don’t* have the answer to this because I, too, *don’t* like regulations. But I wish I would see some honest homeschool leader and parents sit down and admit that some homeschoolers are slipping through the cracks, and I would like to see people brainstorm together what could be done.

So with that said, I’m brainstorming. What do you THINK the state or otherwise could do to ensure that all kids get an education? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. My friend Sharon, who grew up in ATI and was taught that college was evil, is applying for a scholarship to go back to college and get her education. She has been instrumental in my life in encouraging me as I’ve fought through my past, and I can vouch for her character and integrity. Please vote for her essay.

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  • I honestly don’t know what “should be done”. I am against government regulations of all kinds with regards to the homeschool option.
    I do acknowledge that there are children who homeschool AND who are in public schools who do not get good educations.
    Do government regulation prevent the cracks in the public school system? Obviously this answer is “no.” I don’t think that the government is the answer.
    So what is? Hmmm…
    I guess something that does not exist at this time…
    If there was a citizen- or parent-run place to register and monitor homeschoolers, I would probably be involved with that and I would support it… But ?

    Are there any other options to prevent families from dropping the ball? Families drop the ball in many areas: discipline, health care, basic nutrition, character education, etc. As long as you allow freedom in a system, some families will always be unwilling to do their share and some will be inadequate and unable…

    This makes it sound like I just give in to this reality. But, really, I don’t have a better answer right now.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    • well I agree that I don’t have a good alternative right now. But I was thinking that in states that require you to register your kid as homeschoooled, and say what your are learning, it would discourage people like my neighbor who are probably too lazy to even do that.

      With regards to public education, there will always be cracks in their system because of the very nature of school. For example, how can you work on a kid’s academic self without addressing the whole person? If a kid is struggling with a home life, its not surprising many of these kids can’t and don’t want to concentrate on math. I used to teach at a community college, and it was the hypocrisy of the system that made me want to stop, not the students themselves. They were great people.

      That said, some charter skills have had great results in bad neighborhoods. Its interesting to think about, and I don’t have the answer.

  • I think every home schooled child should be given a yearly (proctored) exam to ensure that minimum educational standards are being met. Children have a right to an education, and I believe this supersedes parents’ rights to treat children as property. The gaps in my education have limited my life choices, employment opportunities and have even caused me problems with basic daily life tasks like knowing what “45 degree angle parking” means. You can compensate for a lot of parental failures as an adult, but you can’t get back twelve years of education without it taking twelve years that adults can’t generally afford to spend doing nothing but studying.

    • Great point. That’s a lot of years. I am not opposed to an exam, but I am not sure what that exam would look like since grade levels do blur. For example, when I was a kid we started out doing a study all the way through world history; we got to American history later. This did not cause me problem. Math would be easier. Thanks for sharing your story too, btw.

      • Exams are a very poor way to assess learning in general, but I think for the things that you really can’t compensate for later they work OK. I’m talking about super basic stuff: literacy, foundational maths and science skills, critical reading (not of any specific text, just as a skill). That sort of thing. It’s not perfect, but it would push parents to make at least a basic effort. I think privately operated schools should have to do the same thing. I have a friend who taught at an Exclusive Brethren school and although theoretically girls graduated with the same diplomas, she said that in practice the classes were segregated and the girls weren’t taught anything but sewing and cooking after they turned twelve. I’ve heard similar things about Hasidic schools.

        • Ouch. I can believe what you say about the Brethren if they are related to the church. not good.

  • I have two ideas that may curb some of this “homeschooling,” but first I must say that any regulations must involve some sort of outside entity, whether that is the government or some sort of privately-owned homeschool standards organization. There is nothing wrong with government regulations per se. The government can be inefficient, bogged down, corrupt, etc., but so can any other regulating agency or entity.

    As for my two ideas:
    1.) Hold the parents (or primary homeschool teacher) to the same standards as public school teachers. They should take some sort of test to make sure they are qualified. The test would be the same one they issue to public school teachers, which is admittedly not very difficult. I simply propose this because it would provide a check-point to eliminate caregivers who are “homeschooling” out of laziness.

    2.) Employ government social workers to oversee standards or contract with a private homeschool-oversight agency to do observations and communicate with parents the state standards, etc. Parents should be required to schedule two observation days per school year to be make sure that the child is learning. Public school teachers are observed on a regular basis to make sure that they are doing their jobs. I understand that some kids are more self-directed than others, so these observations can simply be used to show the child’s workbooks, projects, etc. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the parent is seen teaching a class, but merely to demonstrate that learning is happening.

    I personally think we need to get past this distrust of all government, as it doesn’t help anything. The description of your neighbor kids just running lose in the street instead of learning remind me of the orphan kids in a French novel or the children before early 20th century progressive reforms. Government regulations have helped children on the whole–less child abuse, more widespread education, eliminate unjust child labor, etc

    • I really like the first idea. I think a basic competence skills test could work. That said, I think many homeschoolers contract work out during high shcool. For example, many students take classes online at The Potters School (I took two classes, and my sister did English and Spanish there all through high school. Many other families take science and math there, but my mother is good at science and math, so that wasn’t necessary). Some homeschool kids take English classes outside the home, etc. So I don’t think we should require parents to have mastered through a high school level every subject, not to mention some subjects can be required with the parent having prior knowledge (history).

      Another thing that would help is if public schools were open for homeschoolers just to take one or two subjects at the high school. Some high schools do this already, but if they all did, then homeschoolers would not have any good excuses if they couldn’t afford The Potters School. Generally speaking, I don’t worry too much if there are gaps at the high school level as long as the student is learning, exploring, and growing. My foreign language studies in high school were a flop; I’m totally bilingual now. Who cares.

      As far as government regulation, most homeschool families are pro-life, and think the government should regulate that one. Whose a purist?

      • “Parents should be required to schedule two observation days per school year to be make sure that the child is learning.”
        I think that’s a fantastic idea!

  • Personally, I don’t really see the need for much oversight except maybe occasional testing. I think the vast majority of homeschooling parents see it as being critically important that their children get a good base education and a specialized one.

    I do, however, think that testing the parents for competency at grade level that they want to instruct their children might be beneficial. I cringe when I hear a homeschooling parent say “I’m not good at math and I don’t like it.” So, you think you should be teaching your kid math then? I’m due to graduate with my BS in math this December, hopefully, but I’ve always felt more than proficient at every subject that I tackled. I just don’t think that some homeschooling parents can say the same. For example, my Danish is a little frightening, so I leave the teaching of new Danish words to my husband who is very good at it. What does a homeschooling parent who doesn’t have a love of math or physics or chemistry instil within a child that they are solely teaching? I don’t know and I do worry.

    • If someone can’t teach their kids elementary math, that’s scary. High school math can be contracted out. I am good at math and have helped tutor kids in algebra for that reason. But I think you raise a good point — not everyone is academical able to homeschool their kids. Will you homeschool your daughter all the way through?

      I definitely have gaps in my science education. Thankfully, I only needed one science in college, and I took chemistry.

      • I’ve seen people not contract out the high school level subjects though. I’m actually not sure whether we will be going back to regular school next year or not. I feel qualified to teach all the way through to university level, but I can see that her social needs might be better suited in a traditional setting. I want to homeschool her, but I’ve got to put her needs first. We don’t live in a world where young children can be out running all over the place without direct supervision and it can be hard to encounter other kids when not in school, to be honest.

        • Understand. I like homeschooling better, but I do feel it is harder socially. No, not even close do all families contract out, but these things could be options in a regulation plan. Also, I think that if homeschoolers were allowed to take one class at a high school without attending full time, then the excuse would go alway.

    • ““I’m not good at math and I don’t like it.” So, you think you should be teaching your kid math then?”
      That pretty much sums up my education right there~ I was light years ahead in the humanities but math stopped around grade 4 and I was never taught any chemistry/biology/physics (except that evolution is a conspiracy that all scientists are in on because science is basically a stepping stone to satanism).

      • oh no, not good. I hear you on evolution. Your not the only one, lol.

  • I have such strong feelings on this since me and my siblings were some of those severely educationally neglected kids. Thankfully my grandparents stepped in and helped and I was able to overcome it. I know people who were not though and I have a bit of survivors guilt I think. I did my masters degree capstone paper on homeschooling and the deregulated environment, so I have a lot of ideas on what could be done and most of them involve better regulations. In my capstone I suggested that parents have to register as homeschoolers, not private schools; that there be testing with various alternative tests and schedules allowed for people who do alternative curriculums/learning style or have a kid with learning disabilities; and that people with less than a HS diploma/GED or convicted of abuse or sex offenses not be allowed to homeschool. Also, homeschooling should not preclude educational neglect, like it does in some states like Missouri.

    HSLDA has done a lot of fearmongering about persecution if there are regulations but I think it is bs (this is not the 70’s when a few ppl were prosecuted for breaking truancy laws) and HSLDA has interest in keeping people thinking this is reality because it keeps them in business and it furthers their view where parents have all the rights and children are essentially property.

    Also, my view is the hole these educationally neglected kids have fallen in is a dystopian reality, and I am much more concerned about that than some possible dystopian future of CPS workers with a vendetta. The actual people being hurt by lack of regulations are being ignored and silenced because its rare for kids who grew up like me to actually get educated enough to where they’re comfortable enough to speak out or have enough time away from menial low wage jobs to do it and nobody cares to hear what they have to say anyway because they just blame the parents. The government has a responsibility to these kids too, from a human rights perspective and because they will be a burden on society if they grow up without these basic skills. They deserve a fair shot.

    Thing is, smart regulations can also be used to help protect and help responsible homeschoolers, such as having an independent appeals process if homeschoolers feel that their local district is being unfair, and access to resources paid for by tax dollars (playing on sports teams, a la carte participation in local public school classes and clubs, access to workshops by veteran educators, etc.). Also, if we do nothing, enough stories of uneducated and illiterate homeschoolers will eventually become public and mess up the nice little (inaccurate) reputation homeschooling has set up for itself (largely through Brian Ray’s dubious NHERI stats). It will be an embarrassment in addition to a human rights violation, and homeschoolers need to consider that.

    I think this topic is really important Lana and I have been working with some other former homeschoolers on what to do about it. If you want to know more about that, let me know.

    • About to link to this comment. Of course, I want to know more. Glad you are speaking up about this.

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  • kansas

    I homeschooled my kids. I mean I really homeschooled my kids. I live in Michigan. Every time my kids encountered other ‘homeschooled kids’ they were shocked. For instance, the 15 year old who wrote my daughter letters in crayon and could not spell Christmas or grandma. Yes it does need to be talked about. PS HSLDA is constantly lying to parents. I’m actually very sad that it took me so long to figure that out. I am stuck between regret and thankfulness, when I reflect on my decision to homeschool. On the one side I feel that I did what was best for my kids – but on the other side, I now understanding that the whole ‘homeschooling’ issue is a ruse to help defund the public school system. It’s a perpetuating cycle, as homeschooling takes money out of the public education system. The less money the public school’s have, the worse they become. The worse the schools become, the more parents that choose to homeschool – and the less money the schools have.
    When I think about it now, I feel really sad. It just never occurred to me that another child might be denied an education altogether, because of the choices I made. Before anyone says that every parent can homeschool, it’s their right, or whatever – reality says otherwise. Homeschooling (that works ) takes money and privilege. It takes a two-parent family that can afford the best curriculum and the field trips and participation in community and social organizations, it also takes an educated parent. It is not an option for single parents, for parents that work full-time, for parents who don’t have a good education themselves, etc…
    In honestly I don’t believe homeschooling is successful for most people. Having been on the inside of that, I saw way too many kids who were clearly behind socially and academically, I saw lots of girls in long dresses being educated in homemaking and child care (taking care of siblings) and met way too many boys who could barely read and write, when they were supposed to be high school age. The philosophy at the time was that ‘boys learn to read and write later than girls’ however, I had two boys and they were both reading before age 4 and writing by age 6. There was also the BS about how kids could get their whole day’s assignments done in under two hours. Again something I never understood, if kids are actually taking a number of difficult courses and parents are actually teaching them. It got to a point where my kids just couldn’t stand to be around the ‘homeschooling group’ anymore.
    There were a few other families like mine, but were the exception not the rule. I like to think of myself as a good person, and I know those few parents like myself are the same, yet none of us ever spoke up about what we saw, mainly because HSLDA kept us terrified of losing our rights or being thrown in jail, all of which was a part of that organization’s dishonest communication with parents.


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