Where do you stand on homeschooling regulation? Does your particular state’s rules influence your opinion? Do you prefer Borders or Barnes and Noble? Regular or decaf? Again, keep it polite.
Iced decaf coffee in one hand and three books in the other (Battles at Sea, Best American Essays of 2009, and The Children’s Blizzards), I approached to lone cashier at one of our remaining Borders. Generally a Barnes and Noble shopper (closer to home, nicer staff, better selection, near Trader Joe’s, etc.) I had a Borders gift card to use, so I drove the extra distance and browsed for my boys. I’m up to my eyeballs in unread books and assiduously avoided all my trigger sections.
Once at the counter, I dig for my Borders Classroom Discount card. I pass it over, seeing that it expired ten months earlier. (See? Told you I prefer BN. Their Educator’s card is always up to date. Even the name is more inclusive.) She looks over the card, which has only my name, the word “Homeschooler” and an expiration date, and blandly asks for my check stub.
Yeah, right. If only. “Boy, that would be great if homeschooling parents received paychecks!” I said. Now, I don’t want to be paid or get a tax break, since that would undoubtedly come with more paperwork and oversight than seems necessary, but that’s the line that popped out of my mouth.
Not a flicker of amusement crossed her face. “I’ll need some identification or certification then,” she continued.
Sigh. I’d had a similar conversation with a barely-out-of-high-school Border’s employee about 6 years back. Then I was a new homeschooler and somehow thought bringing my school-aged child to the bookstore at 10 a.m. on a school day might be evidence alone of our choice. That time, the pay-stub question came after telling him I homeschooled, and my not-so-witty response was born. After a long back-and-forth about how Michigan homeschoolers don’t have ID cards or letters from the school district, he gave in and signed me up.
This time, no such luck. After informing her that no such identification exists in this state, she retorted, “That’s terrible!”
Terrible? Really? I was taken aback, not prepared for a defense of homeschooling without government papers. Generally, I’m okay with moderate regulation. I’m glad the FDA, CDC, and a bunch of groups with letters for names try to keep the country a bit safer, even if they’re not perfect. I’d love to see national health care — as a Physician Assistant in a poor area of the suburbs of Detroit, I spend a bunch of time trying to take care of folks with no insurance and no money. As a single mom, my insurance premium is second only to my mortgage on my house for monthly bills. And that’s not great insurance. Yeah, I’m okay with some regulation.
Until recently, I’d relished in Michigan’s lax homeschooling laws. I report to no one, there are no testing requirements, and I never even had to sign a letter of intent. It’s a paperwork-phobe’s dream state for homeschooling. The other homeschoolers I know largely have gifted kids, and they’re home to meet their needs when schools couldn’t. A few are home for other reasons, but they are all competent folks with high-ability kids. They fuss over details and work their tails off to assemble a terrific education for their kids. I know there are kids who don’t receive that level of care and concern from their homeschooling parents, but not personally. In a bit of a coffee-and-Signapore Math fog, I prefer to think that all kids are homeschooled with at least as much gusto as I homeschool more. But recent reading and a bit of common sense tells me not all homeschooled kids are getting the best education.
Write These Laws on Your Children, by Robert Kunzman, was an impulsive borrow from the library. From my brief glance at the book jacket, I knew it discussed conservative Christian homeschooling, a subject I don’t know much about except that it seems so much curriculum is written for that audience. There’s political and financial might in that group, and as a vocal, liberal Unitarian Universalist who teaches the science of evolution, I’m unlikely to get much more information about that segment of the population without a book.
Kunzman visited six conservative Christian homeschooling families over three years, observing their lessons and interviewing all family members. While his focus remains on how conservative Christianity informs their homeschooling, he spends a good amount of time discussing the merits of some form of basic skills testing and appropriate civics education. Roberts has an education in Education, and his naiveté to homeschooling grated on me initially but actually was refreshing. With no previous experience as a homeschooling child or parent, he comes with the expected baggage of one from the schools but with a willingness to see what’s there. And while he focused on concerns about the childrens’ understanding of history and politics, I found myself drawn away from what made conservative Christian homeschooling different from other homeschooling and towards a few of the families he visited.
Kunzman remains remarkable even-handed and even generous about the families he visits, even in the face of, what to me, looks like educational squalor. I’m not referring to unschooling with plenty of opportunities and enrichment with encouragement to focus. I’m talking about just not much educational, self-directed or parent-directed, going on. After reading the first half of the book, I found myself crossing the state-involvement fence, thinking perhaps a bit of reporting or testing would be better than the hands-off approach of Michigan and many other states take. Not that I want to deal with paperwork and bureaucracy (okay, I’m most afraid of the paperwork), but a few of these families worried me. I know plenty of kids don’t thrive in public education. They fall through the cracks, they don’t learn to read, write or do math, and plenty drop out. But in the very happy place of my head, homeschooling families managed better. After all, why would one go to all the work of homeschooling if not to give it one’s all?
Back to Borders.
I paused at the cashier’s remarks, unsure what was so terrible. Homeschooling was terrible? Perhaps. The fact that I don’t have an ID card with me? No. It had to be the lack of regulation. Despite knowing nothing first-hand about homeschooling (okay, that’s a guess), she’d decided that us rogue homeschoolers need supervision by the state. I sputtered a bit about my older son’s ACT score last year, realizing that was a lame defense at best, and fumbled to a remark about the kids in school who slip through the cracks. She continued her “terrible, astounding, awful” murmurings while I stumbled ahead in my defense.
And then I changed my tune. “It might be better to have a bit of oversight,” I conceded, recalling my reading.
She softened, saying, “That’s the part I think is a problem — the lack of regulation, not the homeschooling.”
I held my tongue. I wanted to add a thousand caveats, how one rule would lead to another and another. How just simple testing of basic skills would raise the hackles of many independent, free-thinking folks who hold it is their right to do it their way. How mandating testing would lead to mandated curriculum or intervention. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. Probably a bit of both. Like those in the public school system, kids at home can fall through the academic cracks. I hate to see kids lose opportunities as adults because of a poor education, wherever that education takes place. Success isn’t guaranteed at either, as any honest parent or teacher will tell you.
But I said nothing more. Instead, I took my books and updated card with only polite good-bye to the clerk. And spent the ride home thinking.