What's Our Next Step? The Future of Homeschooling
By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #50, 2003.
New challenges await the homeschool movement. Let's get ready to face them!
Twenty years ago, the modern homeschool movement began. In the view of Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and now the president of Patrick Henry College, "Though I don't know the day, I know the event. It was April of 1982. That's when Focus on the Family and Dr. Dobson broadcast an interview with Raymond Moore."
That famous radio interview catapulted homeschooling into the Christian mainstream. Prior to that time, homeschooling had been growing quietly behind the scenes, as parents from all parts of the political and religious spectrum had become increasingly concerned about their children's future in both the public and private school systems.
Back in 1982, the position of homeschooling parents was precarious at best. Almost nowhere was it recognized as a legal educational option. However, a decade of dedicated political legwork and court cases completely changed the picture. Ten years later, in 1992, homeschooling was recognized as a legal option in every state. (See the facing page for a brief history of the homeschooling movement.)
At present, over 2 million children are being homeschooled in the USA and Canada. Homeschool movements have sprung up in many other nations, as well. This has led some to become complacent. However, as you will see, our battle is far from over, and there is much new territory to conquer.
The Legal Status of Homeschooling, or What's With California?
In the waning days of the 2002 legislative session, outgoing Superintendent of Public Schools Delaine Eastin sent shock waves through the homeschool community, declaring that only parents who were certified teachers could homeschool. All others, she said, had to register with an "approved" charter school that had a homeschooling option.
Since, under California law, one of the ways homeschoolers can comply is to become a registered private school, local public school officials were urged to target all private schools with enrollments of five students or less. Many officials were more than glad to go along, since they stand to gain thousands of dollars per student for every homeschooler they can force into a public school... and this includes charter schools.
Although Eastin was way off base as far as the law is concerned, surely I'm not the only person who has noticed that recently public officials are increasingly willing to ignore the law as long as the media will let them. So far homeschoolers have been extremely blessed with favorable media coverage and court decisions... so blessed that a Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) membership has become an unnecessary expense, in some people's view. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Under God, HSLDA has come through time and again for homeschoolers when misguided school officials and ill-informed legislators have tried to shut us down. These attacks will continue as long as there is money and power on the side of the public schools.
So, What's Next?
First, we have to lose our complacency about our political future. As so many have said before (although British statesman Edmund Burke was the first), "all that is necessary for evil men to succeed is for good men to do nothing,"
But politics is not really the heart of the homeschooling movement. We have ground yet to break in the area of academic excellence, community service, and expansion of cooperative resources.
Academic Fields to Conquer
Study after study has shown homeschoolers outperform public and even private schoolers.
To be honest, this is like being able to outrace a kid with rickets. Who is pushing a wheelbarrow. And being forced to hop on one foot.
The USA is near to the bottom of the barrel academically, when it comes to the rest of the world. In fact, the best graduates from American high schools do not qualify to get into university in Europe, Africa, or Latin America, where the standards are higher.
If you don't believe me, read the article "A Higher Standard of Excellence" on page 16, and the article "European Tests Unscrambled" on page 56.
I've been studying these European standards for some months now, and basically it boils down to this:
- What they require of 16-year-olds is what we require for high-school graduation. Except that in the USA you don't actually have to know anything or pass any objective test for high-school graduation, as you do in Europe and elsewhere.
- Advanced American kids who take AP courses have managed to get half-way through the "A" level series required for European university entrance. The APs are approximately equivalent to the new "AS" one-year courses, except that again the AS tests are much tougher. For example, students desiring to pass the AS French level must converse with the tester at length in French, as well as write essays in French.
So even if you have passed seven AP tests and are an AP Scholar with Distinction or somesuch, you are still one year short of completing the requirements to just get into a good university in most of the rest of the world.
To really meet our potential, American homeschoolers have to step up to world-class standards. This would require that we abandon the standard K-12 curriculum sequence, which was designed to waste at least two years by repeating material in middle school, then again in high school, rather than just covering it once effectively. It will also require us convincing the European testing authorities to let our students try our wings against their exams. Finally, we need to become more aware of the opportunities in higher education outside North America, while working to support colleges - such as Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia - which are striving for higher academic standards.
College at Home
Another fascinating development: homeschooling beyond K-12. Thanks to distance learning, both kids and parents can now pursue higher education at home. If you want to find out more, see pages 14 and 22.
More Community Service and Volunteerism
Homeschool speakers and writers have been preaching the virtues of community service for years. Volunteerism is a great way to add that "socialization" our neighbors feel is so important, while simultaneously giving our kids the sense of mission they'll never get from social opportunities built solely around play.
See Tricia Goyer's article on page 19 for some ideas on how to get started!
Co-ops of all kinds are making their presence felt in today's homeschool movement. From the neighborhood KONOS co-op; to support groups clubbing together to provide amenities such as sports, music lessons, and homeschool bands; to an anonymous Michigan donor who donated an entire Home School Building complete with classrooms, gym, bookstore, lounge, and resource center; to the University Model School movement which combines homeschooling with classroom days; homeschoolers are working together and accomplishing more.
If all the public schools were closed tomorrow, I now know what we could do with the buildings!
The public perception of homeschooling has always been that it's exclusively a white, suburban and rural movement. But while white families still are in the solid majority, the number of Hispanics and Asians has grown. African-Americans were initially slow to embrace homeschooling, remembering their lengthy struggle to achieve entrance to formerly segregated schools. But recently two national support groups have been started for black homeschoolers.
There have always been pockets of black homeschoolers, such as the contingent of black parents who work at NASA in Texas. Not surprisingly, professionals and those with excellent educations are leading the way, just as was the case with white homeschoolers.
Now that homeschooling is becoming more racially diverse, it's time to think about becoming more economically diverse. At present, those of any and all racial backgrounds who are the worst served by the public schools are the least likely to consider homeschooling.
Some may consider that a good thing, worrying about the horrors of having undereducated parents struggling and failing to teach their own children. However, all the studies have shown that even homeschooling parents with no high-school diploma produce kids with better test scores than the public schools.
Let's take a page from the University Model Schools book. Imagine a movement that combined classroom teaching (say it was offered at city churches) with homeschooling several days a week. This could accomplish two goals: helping the parents learn what they were never taught (or at least never taught well) in school, and rescuing an entire generation of kids from academic disaster.
Has the Homeschool Movement Reached a Plateau?
As you can see, there is much still to be done. And according to Chris Klicka, Senior Counsel for HSLDA, there are three reasons homeschooling will continue to grow:
- God is still working. According to Klicka, "First, the Holy Spirit is moving on many families and turning the hearts of fathers back to their children. As a result, many families are being faithful to the call to teach their children at home and thereby fulfill the commands of Scripture to train their children in the Word of God."
- The public schools continue to be their own worst enemy. Political correctness and educational methods that just plain don't work continue to drive parents into the arms of the homeschool movement. As Klicka says, "The decline of the public schools is motivating many families to join the ranks of the homeschoolers."
- Homeschoolers are wired! Ten years ago homeschool parents used to have to defend themselves against the charge of raising children who would be technologically underprepared, lacking the wondrous computer lab facilities at school with their advanced PCjrs and Apple IIs. Now that just about every homeschool family has one or more late-model computers, complete with CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive and an Internet connection, the technological advantage has shifted towards the home. Klicka notes, "Technology is increasing and enhancing the ability of parents to prepare their children academically in an even more thorough fashion than ever before. With the Internet, videos, software, and unlimited Christian curriculum, parents have many resources at their disposal, providing a great encouragement to them to homeschool."
The Greatest Danger
Chris Klicka says, "I believe the greatest danger facing homeschoolers is a subtle one. The government is realizing, after many victories by homeschoolers in the courts and legislatures, that they can't beat homeschoolers, so they will try to join them. Many enticements are being offered by public schools to lure homeschoolers back into their fold. The charter school movement is beginning to go virtual with attempts to hook many families into becoming public school students at home. These families are required to use a completely secular curriculum. Many strings and restriction are placed on families who enroll in these virtual charter schools. In time, the money and services received from the school districts may compromise homeschoolers to voluntarily give up their freedoms."
The Greatest Opportunity
Chris Klicka believes, "The greatest opportunity for homeschoolers at this time is for homeschoolers to be able to disciple other people who are looking for answers. As the public schools decline, parents of every persuasion are coming to the veteran homeschoolers to find out about homeschooling. This is a perfect opportunity for homeschool support group leaders and veteran homeschoolers to explain why homeschooling is so important and point them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don't even have to go out and seek them - they are seeking us."