December 5, 2005

What Makes a Homeschooler Symposium

Last week I put out the question "What makes a homeschooler a homeschooler?" and sought out the wisdom of home educating bloggers. The answers that have been put together here are worth your complete attention and a full reading. Personally, I think they do an excellent job outlining many of the major issues and concerns in defining homeschooling.

I must admit I was surprised in the commonality of the answers. I was prepared for more diversity and perhaps heated discussion. All who gave me a final submission are included here. There were others who expressed interest but did not offer a submission. Many due to the holiday season. Here are the submissions for your enjoyment.

Ron and Andrea at Atypical Homeschool outline the three characteristics of a homeschooler:

"The first characteristic we identify with homeschooling is that it is an education which is created or developed in the home...The second characteristic we identify with homeschooling is educational independence...The third characteristic we identify with homeschooling is the individualization of education..." Read the entirety of their post.

The following interview in Home Education Magazine illustrates the importance of keeping strong distinctions between homeschooling and home-based public charter schools:

"Sometimes when these discussions happen about home-based public school programs it can be easy to think that the discussion is about the "right" way to homeschool. That is a common misperception and misunderstanding especially for those parents who have recently enrolled their children in a home-based charter school program. The discussions can sadly, throw them for a loop. Asking for clarity in language when there are discussions or articles about these educational options, isn't an attempt to be exclusive or judgmental to any parent for their choice. Again it is the issue of attempting to prevent homeschooling from being viewed as any form of "public schooling". We do not want homeschoolers to be viewed as "public schoolers at home" by the media, the legislatures, the general public or the homeschool community."

Tim who often writes over at Home Education & Other Stuff sent this submission via email:

"Parents who use home-based but state-funded educational options are often shocked and hurt when those who educate their children wholly outside the system tell them they aren't "homeschoolers". "But we're teaching our children at home!" they say, followed quickly by accusations of hypocrisy and elitism.

I'd like to assure these folks that no one is questioning their choices or their approach -- just their terminology, and it's not because we're snobs. There is a huge battle brewing over the future of educational freedom, and hybrid programs such as cyber-charters and part-time enrollment are perhaps the best weapon the other side has come up with.

I've always recognized that home education -- representing as it does the most sustained assault in decades on the government's primary tool of social control -- is inherently political. Every family who thinks little Johnny and Jill would simply learn better at home is really taking part in a revolution that fundamentally questions both the competence and the right of the state to determine what and how our children learn.

Education officials and lawmakers see this, but have become generally powerless to stop it -- our numbers are now such that outright attempts to regulate are routinely crushed in committee or are never even raised for fear of an onslaught. So they've had to get sneaky and create something that blends the best physical and emotional characteristics of homeschooling with the financial, curricular, and legal control of public education.

And it's working -- states that offer charters, part-time enrollment, and "independent study programs" are seeing a leveling off of the number of statutory home educators. That's phase one. Phase two is to continue to build a hybrid constituency while waiting out the current generation of "freedom or death" home educators who make their lives so difficult. Once the numbers are in their favor, phase three kicks in -- changing the laws to herd the much-weakend FODers into the public system.

Reflexive insistence that "school at home=homeschooling" no matter what is clear evidence that the plan is working. Parents who take this line are unwittingly undermining the educational and parental freedom of a bunch of ornery people who have been fighting battles for 25 years and have no intention of losing now. And let me point out that we FODers aren't singling out such parents -- every time a reporter or a local official equates hybrid schooling with homeschooling, they face the same blast.

On a more positive note, charters and other kinds of hybrids could end up being a concurrent revolution -- just about anything that removes children from industrial schooling, even part-time, is a step forward in my book, and one I'm happy to help support -- but first their users and proponents have to recognize their category error and adjust their rhetoric accordingly."

Annette offers a powerful listing of information and quotes that look at the importance of funding, accountability and strings in control of education at AHA Focus on Charter Schools

"The freedom, autonomy and independence that are distinctives of private education become trade-offs for financial gain. There is a direct correlation between bureaucratic government and the decrease of personal liberty. Private education is coming under a legislative microscope in this country, because it takes a microscope to see the lines that are successfully being blurred.

Snips and quotes regarding the relationship between public funds, public accountability and strings... Be sure to read through the entire post and this one as well.

Annette pulls this quotes together to show how it applies to homeschooling more directly here:

"It is not a theory that public funds come with strings, it is a fact. There is a relationship between funding and greater accountability and control. Moreover, there are indications when a portion of a given sector (i.e., private schools) accepts public funding, all of that particular sector in a state is at risk of coming under the "legislative microscope". If homeschoolers are perceived as accepting public funds to homeschool, then all the h hmeschoolers in that state risk coming under the legislative microscope. It is happening, and it is an example of a negative impact to homeschooling. The solution I present is to delineate between home-based public school programs and the principles found in homeschooling."

Kim from Life in a Shoe offers her Ultimate Goals in Homeschooling:

Why do you homeschool? What if homeschooling did not produce the benefits listed? Would you still homeschool? In our household, our ultimate goal in homeschooling is to produce children who will serve and glorify God. Plain and simple. This is, after all, man's chief end." Read her descriptions of how that influences her homeschooling.

Finally my own two posts that spurred the idea for me. Check out Q and A with MN virtual Academy which concedes state funding and proves that students enrolled in virtual public schools are legally 100% public schoolers NOT homeschoolers:

1. Can you please outline for me who funds your program? Is it state funded, district funded, grant funded, etc? I am referring to the MNVA.
"As a parent open enrolling 100% to Houston Public schools you would not have a financial responsibility. We are state funded like any other public school student."

3. If enrolled in MNVA is my child legally considered a public school (charter school) student or is she a homeschooler?
"Your child would be considered 100% open enrolled to Houston as a public school student."

In conclusion read my summary of the issue at Homeschooling or Public School at Home:

"The best analogy to sum it up is the difference between homeschooling and public school at home to me is the difference between working at home for a company and owning your own home based business. While both may be done at the same location - the location does not make everything about them the same. If I own my own business I call the shots, I am fully responsible and accountable for my actions. In short I am in control. If on the other hand I work from home for a company - I simply control the location I am in - I am still accountable to the office, they own my work and they make my assignments and decide if I do them well or not. In short, they are in control and I simply gain the freedom of being in my own home.

To conflate the two concepts of telecommuting (working at home) and owning your own home based business would have serious legal implications and therefore the two are kept distinct and separate. The same must be true for the distinction between homeschooling and participating in a public school program in your home. If you do not wish to see the laws and standards of public schooling foisted upon home educators then be sure the two concepts do not become conflated. We can not allow the two concepts to be merged into one or the laws will become muddled and confusing. Keep homeschooling and public school in the homes separate as they should be."

Thank you to all who submitted and to all who read this. It is an important question one that all home educators must think through and make decisions about where and when to stand their ground.



  1. I think homeschooling may be ultimately political for some, but for many of us it isn't. Maybe people who use virtual academies feel that they have more in common with homeschoolers than with brick and mortar public schoolers. What is your practical suggestion? That virtual academy users simply never refer to themselves as homeschoolers? I know that MNVA is very careful that way--they never use the word "homeschooling."

    I understand the problem as the following: Homeschoolers perceive these virtual academies as a potential threat to their liberties. I understand that homeschooling and enrolling in a virtual academy are different. Now what?

  2. Personally I think just keeping the legal and verbal distinction is key. My kids know and have played with kids in the MNVA and have even been in support groups with them in the past. To me the key is keeping the distinction, that is what protects the rights.

    When those enrolled in MNVA answer surveys as homeschoolers, call themselves homeschoolers and allow those in legal and influential positions to believe they are homeschoolers that is when the freedom and liberties of homeschoolers is threatened. That must be prevented and fought against. However, should we work together and support one another? Absolutely.

    We should still support and help one another and as many of our kids will be home at similar times we can do things together. However, the distinction still needs to be kept - one student is home educated and the other is attending public school in the safety and conveinance of their own home.

    I think as home educators we can help virtual charter school students set up their own support groups, as they have many similar yet some different issues and challenges and playgroups and so on. We do not need to be exclusionary from our own either so long as everyone stays respectful of each others choices and rights.

    In my own current support group we have families with students homeschooled with siblings in public or private school and some that do hybrid (Some hs/some ps).

    However maintaining the difference is key and critical. For it is a slow creep against liberty and rights - I think it is essentail to keep the verbal distinctions but still love and support one another. Does that answer your question?

  3. What is your practical suggestion? That virtual academy users simply never refer to themselves as homeschoolers?

    yYes. That label is taken. Y'all need to find your own.

  4. Yes, thank you Tenniel. :-) I can see that lawmakers may not know much about homeschooling and could misunderstand that virtual academies (which I do not think were invented for the sake of plaguing homeschoolers) equal homeschooling.

  5. Oh, Tenn I am so sorry I missed this. I have been swamped lately. I had one just about finished and had a few unexpecteds this weekend. Still trying to dig my way out. Do this again. It was a great idea.

  6. Thanks for doing this. I find the carnivals/symposiums produce some good writing and explanations.