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Homeschooling Invaded by Marketers

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #10, 1995.

Non-native homeschool products will soon be invading the homeschool market. Will we be ready?
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Mary Pride

Is it better for homeschooling to be “in the news,” or for us to be mostly ignored?

The answer is not as obvious at it might seem.

By this time thousands of articles have appeared about homeschooling, and dozens of TV shows have at least mentioned the topic. But, surprising as many of us might find it, most people still don’t know very much about homeschooling, and a large number of very important people don’t even know it exists.

This may be about to change, and I’m not sure it’s for the best.

Invasion of the Booty Snatchers

In America, nothing attracts attention like money. And recently some Very Important Media have started picking up on homeschooling, not as a movement, but as a market. Publisher’s Weekly, for instance, ran an article in its July 17, 1995, issue urging secular book publishers to aggressively market their secular educational titles to homeschoolers. The National School Supply and Equipment Association’s best-attended workshop in their fall convention was on the subject of marketing to homeschoolers.

All this interest means just one thing: big bucks are soon going to be spent to persuade homeschoolers to switch their allegiance from products created by fellow homeschoolers, to products created to make money from homeschoolers.

Right now, the vast majority of homeschoolers’ educational budgets is spent on products that have grown up from within the market. Some were created by homeschoolers, such as the Greenleaf Press line of history unit studies. Others were originally created for public and private schools, but were so well suited to homeschools that they quickly became standard homeschool purchases, such as Sing, Spell, Read and Write, Play ’n Talk, and the A Beka and Bob Jones University Press textbook lines.

Most of the “native” homeschool products are Christian or Christian-friendly. The people marketing them are either homeschoolers, or have spent the time to thoroughly understand what homeschoolers want.

What the “native” homeschool products also have in common is (usually) small advertising budgets and inexpensive, non-glitzy packaging.

So how will native homeschool products fare in an all-out commercial war against products from Fortune 500 companies?

Hooked on Phonies?

Homeschool veterans are unlikely to switch product allegiances because of a clever marketing campaign. However, with the homeschool movement doubling every couple of years, there are always lots of new people who don’t know the difference between dyed-in-the-wool homeschool products and the latest and greatest from Madison Avenue. In fact, new homeschoolers, having been accustomed to life in the “mainstream,” may initially prefer glitzy products with a professional appearance (and testimonials by “experts” on the box) to solid homeschool products that actually work.

One of the real problems with our supposedly free economy, in which big companies can lobby to make deals and rules to suit themselves, is that whenever a “niche” market appears to be profitable, these big companies can bring an overwhelming amount of money in to literally “buy” the market.

Since homeschooling is a growing market, this need not necessarily be a problem. Huge companies could capture 50 percent of a homeschool market that has doubled, and “native” suppliers would still have as many customers as before.

The problem is, “What kind of products will the big companies try to sell us?”

The Publishers Weekly article provides a clue. The article highlighted secular publishers who were marketing their existing secular products to homeschoolers. These publishers were not changing their products in any way to suit homeschoolers’ sensibilities. They were hoping to make a lot more money from their existing products.

If this approach is successful, ultimately homeschooling will turn into parents acting as free public school teachers, teaching our kids exactly what they would have been taught in public school. Which would be a big mistake.

A Better Way

You and I do have some voice in all this.

We can vote with our pocketbooks, demanding that products for homeschoolers meet our standards. At a bare minimum, this should include honoring the family, recognizing the religious nature of holidays such as Thanksgiving and Easter, encouraging actual virtues such as honesty and kindness rather than phony virtues such as self-esteem, and teaching useful skills quickly without a lot of busywork twaddle. We shouldn’t have to fight our way past illustrations of ghosts, witches, and vampires to use their workbooks. We shouldn’t be treated to sibling nastiness and parental indifference as “normal” behavior. Daycare , divorce, and depression should not be on the scholastic menu. The myths of overpopulation, echo-apocalypse, and evolution should not be presented as scientific fact. The weight of the world’s political problems should not be dumped on our kids’ shoulders, and they should not be pressured to become pint-sized propagandists for politically correct points of view.

There are enough products out there already to choose from. We have no need to put up with the very same problems in our homeschool materials that we left the public schools to escape.

To the Big Guys

To any of you from Big Companies reading this—there is room in the homeschool market for great new products. But we would all appreciate it if you would take the time to get to know us and what we really want. If you really want to serve us, and pay the necessary dues to prove it, we are a loyal and growing market. If you see us as just a profit center, or a dumping ground for your existing products, please don’t bother. We all have library cards, after all; we can get all the politically correct educational material we want for free. We want something more. It’s your job to find out what that something is. The first Big Company to do this should do very well.

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