In October 2012, broadcast journalist Sara Fatima Dhanji submitted a number of questions for a story she was producing on “diversity in homeschooling” for the Dallas Morning News. The story was never published. Below are her questions and my expanded responses to help clear up the more common misconceptions and motivations about parent-administered, Pre-K through 12 education.
- Dhanji: “Why did you decide to homeschool your children?”
Stroud: We wanted to insure that our children developed a lifelong love for learning and would grow into resourceful, independent thinkers with a passion for truth.
As our oldest child approached school-age, we began interviewing school board members, administrators, teachers, parents, and even college faculty. Two questions we routinely asked were, “What is your definition of education?” and, “How would you describe an educated person?” Out of the dozens of interviews, we never received the same answer to either question twice. Particularly disturbing was the fact that not once did anyone mention instilling in the student a lifelong love for learning and discovery. None of the interviewees spoke about teaching students how to be independent thinkers and learners. The emphasis always seemed to be just on process or stuffing children’s heads with disintegrated information, facts and figures so they could perform well on a standardized test.
We knew there had to be more. About that time, we met several families who had been homeschooling and we were impressed by the intellectual maturity and communication skills of their well-adjusted elementary age children. Any myths we had believed about homeschooling were quickly dispelled and all the standard, “What about?”* questions were deftly laid to rest. So, to paraphrase Robert Frost, we took the education road less traveled and it has made all the difference.
*What about academics? What about calculus/physics? What about socialization? What about your qualifications as a teacher? What about the legality? What about missing prom? And the standard, “Are you going to homeschool all the way through?”
- Dhanji: “Did your children have any experience with public school at all and, if so, how do you think it compares to home schooling?”
Stroud: We think you are asking whether our children have ever been enrolled in a public K-12 institution. If so, the answer is “no”.
If you are asking whether our children have ever been in a public school building, then yes: 1) accompanying us to vote when the school serves as a polling location; 2) to take the PSAT and SAT; 3) when serving as election clerks. While our children have friends and cousins who are or have been enrolled in public schools, our children do not believe they are missing out. Our children enjoy the personalized teaching homeschooling offers as well as the ability to move ahead when subject matter is mastered, rather than being held back. It is interesting that a number of their friends in public school have expressed a desire wishing their parents would teach them at home.
- Dhanji: “Why do you think families might feel the need to take this approach to teaching their children (other than religious reasons)?”
Stroud: Most parents in our network homeschool because they are acutely aware they, rather than the state, are personally responsible for their children.
That personal responsibility extends to the education of their children. These parents realize they get one shot at shaping the character of their children and equipping them to thrive in the world. There is just too much at stake to leave that in the hands of strangers who are limited in the personal attention they can give each student. Public school teachers routinely complain about the lack of parental involvement in the education of children. Parents who homeschool their children have heeded that complaint and taken it to its logical conclusion.
- Dhanji: “What do you feel are the challenges and benefits of homeschooling?”
Stroud: To do well in anything requires discipline. Homeschooling is no exception. It requires a reset on priorities, guarding structured time from distractions of phone, TV, video games, agendas of others, negative pressure from well-intended friends/extended family, etc.
It is a marathon, not a sprint, so homeschool parents will occasionally “hit the wall” and need to get their “second wind”. For parents, there are few joys as fulfilling as seeing their child have an “Aha!” moment of comprehension, then blossom with confidence as they attack the subject with renewed vigor. We benefit from seeing the wonder in the faces of our children when observing colorful chemical reactions in a science experiment or when looking at a preying mantis through a magnifying glass. Homeschooling is not just about the children. It is also about making better parents. We benefit from learning subjects “again for the first time”, with renewed appreciation for the order and majesty of the world around us.
- Dhanji: “How can single parents handle the challenges that come with homeschooling?”
Stroud: There is no question single parent homeschooling is a big challenge, but it is frequently done.
We know of numerous single parent situations in which a grandparent, aunt, or other extended family member or close friend has come alongside the parent to assist in educating the child(ren). There is a growing population of veteran homeschoolers who are now empty-nesters eager to assist families in difficult situations. Connecting with a church where there are other homeschool families or joining a local homeschool support group is critical. Co-op arrangements are also an option.
Single parents benefit from the tremendous resources available today for just about any situation and learning style: books, workbooks, online, DVD. Some employers even welcome children at their facility. One parent received permission from the nursing home where she works to bring her twin 7 year-olds for three hours each day. What a great exchange to have the elderly enjoy the company of these children and for the children to benefit from a deep repository of wisdom.
- Dhanji: “How do you feel about the level of regulation of home schools in Texas?”
Stroud: We agree with the 1994 Texas Supreme Court ruling in Leeper vs. Arlington ISD that home schools are private schools. Private schools in Texas are not subject to regulation and that should remain the case.
- Dhanji: “How can we stop people from abusing the privilege of this education while still leaving it an option for others?”
Stroud: Please clarify and provide specific examples of abuse. (Note: Ms. Dhanji never responded to this request.)
Unfortunately, there is an undercurrent in public opinion expecting “perfection” from homeschoolers, blaming any negative outcome or situation on the parent’s choice to educate their children at home. All the while, that same expectation of “perfection” is not placed on parents who choose to have their children in an institutional setting. The tendency is to blame any negative results and heartache on homeschooling, when in reality, any graceless, loveless, undisciplined, or legalistic home, regardless of the manner/mode of education, has the potential for disastrous outcomes.
Subsequent note: School districts in Texas have been padding their numbers by claiming students who drop out of a public high school or public middle school have withdrawn in order to homeschool. By claiming the students are being homeschooled, this gives a false drop-out rate. The actual metric would reflect poorly on the school district. If a parent or guardian withdraws a student from public school in order to homeschool, the school must maintain a signed letter from the parent or guardian stating that intention. However, when school districts with a zero or abnormally low drop-out rate were investigated, they could not provide supporting documentation for the students they claimed were withdrawn to homeschool. The problem is not homeschooling. The problem is fraud by school administrators and attendance officers. In fact, the very first section in the Texas Legislative Budget Board’s, 2015 “Texas State Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report: Selected Issues and Recommendations” is devoted to, “Improve Data Collection and Reform State Truancy Laws to Enhance the Quality of Truancy Interventions”. This was submitted to the 84th Texas Legislature as a high priority issue.
If the drop-out who the school fraudulently claims was withdrawn to be homeschooled is later involved in criminal or other antisocial activity, guess what or who first gets blamed by society and especially by the media and school officials? Homeschooling and homeschoolers.
- Dhanji: “Do you think there are challenges in applying to college as a student who is not enrolled in a public or accredited private school?”
Stroud: No. There is no shortage of major colleges and universities actively recruiting homeschooled students.
In our network of homeschool friends there are students currently enrolled at Baylor, University of Texas (Austin), Texas A&M University, University of Dallas, Hillsdale, USC, Houston Baptist, West Point, Howard Payne, Mary Hardin Baylor, University of Tulsa, Dallas Baptist University, to name a few. Although we developed and kept high school transcripts, they were never questioned by any college or university (state or private). We do keep records of schoolwork and assignments to support the transcripts. Even though we have two children away at college, a “brick and mortar” higher education is not necessarily the best thing. Technical and trade schools, apprenticeships, entrepreneurship, and online higher education are just as important and may even be better options.
- Dhanji: “Can homeschooling present an economic challenge?”
Stroud: On the contrary. We have experienced significant short and long term economic advantages resulting from homeschooling:
- Reduced medical expenses. Our children have rarely succumbed to the various viruses and bugs that are prone to quickly make the rounds in institutional settings.
- Reduced cost of wardrobe. Our children do not experience the peer pressure of keeping up with the latest costly fads, especially clothing.
- We enjoy better rates for outside activities such as gymnastics and piano lessons since we schedule in the morning or early afternoon.
- Since we homeschool year round, we take vacations during off-peak times in the fall and spring, enjoying significantly lower rates for travel and accommodations. We also use the vacations as fun teaching opportunities for geography, history, math, and science.
- Full, four year scholarships to major universities.
- Employable skill sets for our children. One of our children was recently told by his new employer that his application stood out because he was the only applicant among dozens who knew how to write a resume. While we were excited for our child, we are saddened by the widespread trends employers are seeing in the declining communication and writing skills of not only high schools students, but increasingly college graduates.
It is possible to spend less than $200/school year for curriculum by buying used, making extensive use of the library, utilizing online resources, and picking up second-hand books at thrift shops.
- Dhanji: “How do you assure that your students are exposed to a heterogeneous group of people, whether it be religious, racial, or economic backgrounds?”
Stroud: The question is presuming there is some written mandate requiring all children be exposed to people of various backgrounds. The public schools do not even do this. In fact, they are structured to segregate by age, which is not the real world. The question is also presuming homeschoolers should be focused on differences rather than what we have in common with another member of the human race. Skin color, financial status, ethnicity, heritage, religious background, social standing, education level have no bearing on our interaction with other people.
While a family’s residence may be the primary location for instruction, libraries, neighborhood parks, churches, museums, music studios, farms, ranches, gyms, offices, nursing homes, hospitals, coffee shops, restaurants and countless other venues where people “do life” are routine settings for instruction. This variety allows children and families of all backgrounds to interact in real life settings to gain a healthy perspective and understanding of culture and history.
Note to Ms. Dhanji: As a sequel to this project, you might want to conduct an extensive survey with another pool of parents who have always had their children in the public schools. For each question, just substitute homeschool with public school, and homeschooling with public schooling, and religious with secular. Basically, the same standards/expectations for homeschoolers should apply to those choosing other educational methods and environments.