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