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Practical Homeschooling® :

Can We Have Business Without Bureaucracy?

By David Ayers
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #7, 1994.

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Dr. David Ayers


When you begin looking at the possibility of partnerships with big business, some questions arise. Being successful means real money and big plans—from creating and running thriving urban homeschool resource centers, to building up national organizations of size and power which are capable of negotiating with top executives, to writing (or helping others write) professional proposals, to serving as information clearinghouses and referral agents. In many cases this also means hiring and expanding staff, while establishing standards for those who work for you and for those you strive to help.

Many homeschoolers understandably cringe at all this. Why jump out of the frying pan of public school bureaucracy just to just to create our own private bureaucracy?

Our answer is that we can consciously avoid creating a homeschooling bureaucracy, while still becoming major-league players in the educational world.

Business funding means more resources for poorer homeschool families, and more help for families with less experience. This will mean more new homeschoolers, which will lead in turn to a richer community of fellow laborers and more political clout—not to mention a helpful transformation of the youth in our communities! And resources can be made more widely available which many of us could potentially use, but few of us can afford—from big software libraries and the establishment of many new local homeschool bulletin boards, to more featured speakers and workshops.

Here are some ideas about what we can do to build stronger homeschooling groups, while still keeping them on the leash. Certainly, this list does not exhaust the possibilities—so we’d love to hear from our readers on this one—but it is a start.

(1) Maximize the power and number of strictly volunteer staff. Some groups have strong volunteer boards that donate their time and keep close eye on all operations. Others are mainly staffed by homeschool parents who donate their time. Sometimes, this means loss of efficiency (more people going on and off shift, turnover, etc.). If a small cadre of salaried personnel are used to maintain consistency while most of the work is done by volunteers, a good balance can be struck—especially if salaried personnel with decision-making authority are elected by the membership.

(2) Keep budgets that are low on salaries, and high on equipment. Computers don’t talk back or plot takeovers! Whenever you think of hiring extra people, ask how much of that extra workload can be taken care of by simple technological upgrades. Such investments are usually cheaper in the long run. Fewer professional staff members means a smaller chance that your group will turn into an unresponsive bureaucracy.

(3) Use existing, “tried-and-true” groups to take on new obligations. At the national level, ideally a group like National Center for Home Education (NCHE) would be willing, with the right funds and help, to build databases of business contacts, provide sample grant proposals, and so on—and work directly with national business educational reform groups. Although NCHE has told us they are not willing to take on this challenge at this time, we can keep on hoping! Meanwhile, state associations can work with groups such as state NAPE affiliates more effectively than smaller local groups could. These entities have the equipment, staff, and contacts to do this. They will often be more trusted by businesses as stable groups to deal with (local volunteer groups tend to come and go too quickly). Most already have good guidelines to prevent abuse.

(4) Resist pressure to develop accreditation or compulsory “benefits.” Some universities or companies that might work with homeschoolers to offer “how to homeschool” classes might push for some kind of “certificate” to be granted upon completion. Before you know it, you have people advertising themselves as “certified homeschoolers.” This easily starts us on the slippery slope to requiring parents to have certain courses to participate in a resource center or similar entity (“We only accept certified homeschoolers!”).

Anti-homeschooling forces would pick up on this fast. “Look, they require certification of their own people, so why should it be a problem for us to throw in a few ‘reasonable’ requirements of our own?”

So we need to avoid offering certification or accreditation, and must certainly not force anyone to partake of certain “benefits” as a prerequisite to participating in organizations we create.

(5) Watch the contracts you sign. Think through carefully what commitments and restrictions you can and cannot accept. Don’t shut out internal criticism or warnings in your rush for business dollars! When agreement time comes, use experienced homeschooling lawyers in your own communities, or wise groups like HSLDA, to help you draw up agreements with funding sources. Be wary of companies who already have dangerous policies, such as those with aggressive, “politically correct” quotas and speech regulations.

As long as we follow these five guidelines, we should be able to benefit from business partnerships while extending our influence, helping many more families, and maintaining our rights and privileges as homeschoolers.


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