Category Archives: Socialization

The Philosophy and Public Policy of Homeschooling

I’m learning to ignore most of the anti-homeschooling stuff floating around out there on the internet. After all, you can find most any opinion expressed on the internet. (Really, if you can find a group for homeschooled fans of Hanson, what could be missing?)

But SwitchedOn Mom mentioned an article recently published in Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly, an academic journal published at the University of Maryland. It’s not so much the “academic” that gets me het up (though I confess, as a former academic I can’t believe what can get published!) as the “public policy” part. When a law professor in the DC area puts “public policy” and “homeschool” together, I pay a little more attention.

The article is “The Harms of Homeschooling,” by Robin West, who purports to identify specific harms of “unregulated homeschooling” and proposes regulatory solutions. I was angered enough to pound out my objections to her call for more homeschooling oversight earlier today. I also shared my annoyance with my family–Violet laughed aloud, especially when I quoted from the section suggestion that children need a break from “intense” family love in the “safe haven” with a teacher who values the child as a learner and actively curious person. (Still not over it, I see.)

Forgive me, this is long, and parts refer to the original article. I don’t quote because then it would be even longer:

Harm #1 – Potential Concealment of Child Abuse
Given that abused children fly under the radar in schools all the time, I am not sure how adding “regulation” to homeschool would help. The idea that homeschooled children would not be seen by other adults, family, neighbors, church members, etc.—as implied by West’s suggestion that school is “the one forum in which their abuse may be identified”—is nonsensical.

But I will grant that Harm #1 is the most compelling she’s got. It would be more compelling if it seemed at all plausible that government officials would be making visits to private homes for no reason other than the family’s intent to homeschool. Social services can’t handle the caseload they have now, and yet they are going to go check up on homeschoolers? And the average citizen is going to welcome government inspections of his/her home? I consider myself pretty liberal, but that would not be something I would tolerate for a second. (Not to imply that being liberal means you would tolerate government inspection of your home just because you plan to homeschool.)

Harm #2 – Public Health Risk as Children Miss Immunization Requirements
Absurd – any family can opt out of immunizations whether they choose public school or homeschool. Further regulation of homeschool would serve no purpose.

Harm #3 – Parents’ Love, or something
Uh, this one is so bizarre I don’t even know how to address it (see p. 9 of the pdf). I do notice that West herself couldn’t come up with a way to phrase this as a harm. What is it, “being loved too intensely by parents?” Besides, “Harm 3” has nothing to do with regulation of homeschool. Regulation of homeschool wouldn’t address this alleged “harm” at all. Only banning homeschool would do it—odd that West brings it up at all if she is sincere in her claim that she’s only going after “unregulated homeschooling.” Harm #3: completely irrelevant to homeschool regulation.

Harm #4 – Political Indoctrination by Parents
Again, totally unclear what kind of state regulation would prevent parents of either homeschoolers or public/private school children from thoroughly indoctrinating their children in their own political beliefs. I don’t even try to do it, and my kids sound like tiny DailyKos bloggers sometimes. I agree, that is really unfortunate, but in a free society I’m not sure what the alternative is. Harm #4: just like harm #3 – totally irrelevant to homeschool regulation.

Harm #5 – Authoritarian Parenting Stunts Children’s Ethical Development
This is a harm of growing up in an authoritarian household, not of homeschooling. Bad parenting is not, thank goodness, illegal. My homeschooling needs to be monitored because there are authoritarian parents? Regulation would address the problem of authoritarian parents? Authoritarian parenting ought to be monitored through in-home visits by the state? Hmmm, no.

Harm #6 – Educational Harm
Oh lord, prove it! Oh but wait, you can’t! I know there are great schools and great teachers, but come on. If my homeschooled children are not learning according to some state standards, then the state gets to intervene. But if my children are not learning in school because the state is providing a subpar education, I can only intervene if I do it the way the state—which has already failed us in this hypothetical situation—says so?

I am satisfied with the way we do it in MN. We promise to do yearly testing, we promise to have the results of yearly testing available should the district ask for it, and we promise to take action if testing reveals that the child isn’t meeting certain benchmarks. We don’t promise to send them to school or allow home visits, just to take further action. I don’t have to send in test results, I just have to keep them around. I can do that.

If public schools are doing such a mediocre job of educating poor students now, why is regulation going to help poor “trailer park” residents do any better than their counterparts in school? I know we have statistics to show how well that’s going.

Harm #7 – Perpetuating Economic Disadvantages
This one doesn’t make much sense either. Most homeschoolers have above average incomes, yet the “hardcore” of the movement is considerably poorer than average? How does this make mathematical sense? Unless you define “hardcore” simply as “the people who bug me the most.” Her argument here is not about money, it is about lifestyle. Look, I am not really a fan of many of these extreme religious movements either, but it seems to me that unless they are breaking the law they ought not be subject to state regulation, nor should I be subject to state regulation because they exist. Most of that paragraph seems to be about weird cultural stereotypes, not the cycle of poverty. And by all means, if you come across a family living on a tarp in a field, Fundamentalist or not, press them with all the state intervention you can.

Frankly, as much as it frightens me that some children are growing up on a steady diet of Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, it scares me much more to think that government intervention is being proposed as a solution to that problem. Good lord – what happens when the pendulum swings and being an Olbermann/Michael Moore fan makes you suspect in the eyes of the state?

It’s not that I don’t care about those kids (at home or in public school) who are abused or illiterate – or forced to become Republican — I just fail to see how “regulation” will achieve the stated aims. This is just another badly informed anti-homeschool rant masquerading as a serious public policy proposal.

And what does the author mean regulation, anyway?

Curricular review? My state has chosen the worst-reviewed math curriculum out there. How are they supposed to help me? And if the state-approved curriculum is so great, why isn’t it working better for public school students?

Periodic visits? In what fairy tale land is my beleaguered school district going to send me someone to help with college and career counseling? I couldn’t get them to help me get school right when we were actually enrolled. And when the government starts inspecting families with no probable cause, you will hear me out on the streets protesting with a bullhorn. Luckily, I can’t see where the state would get the money, personnel, or time to do such a thing.

Periodic testing? I can be OK with that, at least as my state has it set up. It is minimally invasive. And what’s going to happen if the state doesn’t like my results? Oh right . . .

Forced enrollment for those who fail to comply: So, if I don’t use state-approved curriculum or focus on state-specified content, I have to send my child back to school, even if by other measures they are thriving at home. If my child does not learn at the standard pace, I have to send them back to school, where not learning at a standard pace will be an even larger problem. If they don’t catch up, do they get to come back home? Doesn’t make sense. If my child had a learning problem, why should I be forced to send her to an institution that has already proven that it is not meeting minimal educational goals for fully half of its students?

For other responses, see Tammy Takashi at Just Enough and Nothing More, Crunchy Mama at The Diosa Dotada Endeavor, Razzed, and Milton Gaither at Homeschooling Research Notes.

I know, it seems pointless to get all riled up about yet another homeschooling opponent. But the yawning gap between the seriousness of the publication outlet and the super-badness of the argument–not to mention that whole “public policy” angle–really set me off!


Filed under In the News, Socialization, Why Homeschool?

A Group of One

Because I am helping with some communications stuff for one of our co-ops, I have been sending notices out about the co-op on the various e-mail lists for homeschoolers in the metro area.

This was an eye-opener — there are even more groups than I had heard of previously. When I searched groups for homeschool in my region, I got a list of 110. That’s just yahoo e-lists!

Many lists purport to be general. Then there are of course several Christian, several Catholic, a Muslim, a politically liberal, a “socially and politically” conservative, general secular, a “night owl” for people who stay up late, Charlotte Mason, people who travel in RVs (which I think could be really fun if we all survived), Thomas Jefferson, chronic illness, part-time homeschool, parents of teens, parents of tweens — in Minnesota.

Also there is a group by a fan of the boy band Hanson especially for homeschooling Hanson fans.

Add to that multiple Yahoo groups for certain types of families, with a certain variation on a theme: natural, holistic, peaceful, gentle, earthy, crunchy. (Among these groups, one interested me because it wasn’t enough to *do* family bed, but you had to *love* doing it. Really? How many nights out of 7?) Out of curiosity, I started looking for other types of parenting: strict, rigid, firm, confrontational. I had a bit of luck with “old-fashioned,” which oddly led to one or two “pro-corporal punishment” groups. One group seemed to be entirely devoted to the defense of spanking!

But I digress.

I began to wonder — what would my group be? Were I seeking to create a group of like-minded travellers, how would I describe it?

The question was a nonstarter. Everything I could think of sounded too stifling or specific, or too general to be meaningful. All I could do is start a group for me and all my internet friends who have complained over the years that we don’t fit well anywhere.

In this vein, I tried “misfit homeschoolers” as a search term. I got exactly one result:

Well-Trained Mind Secular Homeschoolers. (?!)

If these guys are the misfits, you and I, my friends, inhabit an alternate reality.

Which, since it is a pretty good reality, is OK with me.


Filed under Socialization, Why Homeschool?

No Labels

Oh friends (all 25 of you still reading this sporadic blog), I have so many posts in the draft queue. Posts that I have begun and then thought, No, too personal/negative/whiny/earnest/controversial. And so the blog sits looking unloved and untended, when really the gardener is indoors with the seedlings, which may move to the garden when they are ready.

Speaking of gardening metaphors, I am preparing to put down roots. I think I have chosen a parish, coincidentally the first Catholic church I attended when we lived here long ago and I was pregnant with Violet. I only went a few times, but it was a wonderful place, and I think it still is. So I think we will fill out the forms and check out the kids’ formation programs and choirs and plant ourselves there for a while. But I’m not volunteering for Anything yet.

I’ve also finally started reaching out to local homeschool groups, trying to find some nearby friends. What I find difficult with some homeschool groups is that everyone wants to caucus with others just like them: Christian (which means a particular kind of Christian), secular (which means you can be Christian if you keep your trap shut), unschooling (which means . . . I have no idea anymore), progressive (ditto).

Today when I requested to join a local e-mail list for a unschooling/relaxed homeschooling group, I couldn’t quite get the words out. I don’t believe in unschooling — not that I’m opposed to it, but I don’t believe it exists except as an idea. So even though we do less formal curriculum than some who call themselves unschoolers, I couldn’t claim that title.

And relaxed? I’m not a relaxed anything.

What could I tell them to let them know I could be one of them? We aren’t vegetarians anymore, so that’s not helpful. I’m Catholic, which really doesn’t go over well in any group, including with other Catholics! We were Attachment Parents, but once we were done with family bed and breastfeeding that label didn’t mean much anymore either. How ’bout, I voted for Obama and I don’t shave my legs?


And so, in my 200-character description of why I wanted to join the group, I said “No Labels” and “We like hanging out with interesting people.” And if the group is too committed to the purity of the unschool/”very relaxed homeschool” label to let us in, how interesting could they be?


Filed under Our Philosophy (such as it is), Socialization

For Future Reference

Being a perfectionist, I have a lot of days when I am sure I have ruined my children for life. Yet sometimes there are days where it seems like we might be OK:

This morning, when Victoria came home with dad from piano class, he told us of a particular triumph of hers (she needs a few triumphs). Violet exclaimed “Oh V., come here!” and they had a lovely celebratory embrace.

They have been tromping around the house together cheerfully singing “Deck the Halls,” and when I came to ask them to get their laundry from the basement they were sitting playing chess together.

I mentioned to them that we would be getting new wardrobes for each of them today (attic bedrooms, no closets, you know), which was met with cheering and then an extended conversation on what they might find should they climb through their wardrobes, along with more merry tromping. (Hurrah for the bigger house! Tromping allowed!)

Must remember such mornings on all those other mornings.


Filed under Family Fun, Socialization, Why Homeschool?

My little girl

Always Violet has seemed so big to me. She was a long baby, and then she was off the charts with her growth for many years. She is still quite tall for her age, though not as prone to towering over her peers as she used to be. Obviously she towers over her younger sister.

And then there is the whole gifted thing, with the young child who speaks like an adult, has many adult-like interests, spells better than most adults, etc.

Still, she is a child, despite all the red herrings. Last year when she participated in piano contest, we got her a lovely gown, and she looked so grown-up to me.

Until the concert, when I got to compare her to 15-16 year-olds, some of whom looked like glamorous college grads.

I had a similar feeling when I found this recent update on the Sen Lin Hu site, my little 10yo tromping around with a group of high school boys. Lordy she is still a baby!


That’s her in the gray t-shirt and black track pants. (The gray shirt, BTW, was supposed to be a Nightshirt Only, per agreement when we were packing.)

I do look forward to seeing her soon, but I am so happy to give this to her. I hope that Sen Lin Hu will be a favorite childhood memory for her.

And I am so happy for this reminder of how young she really is, how much more time we have for childhood. than I sometimes feel, when we’re already looking at high school and college curriculum.


Filed under Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Socialization

What’s Up — Ten Assorted Things

1. Victoria has been reading the Little House books, and has been really taken with the bizarre concept of head cheese. So we got a couple of slices at the grocery store. It was not a hit.

2. The girls have been building stick forts with brush from the neighbors’ yard. This has been taking a blessedly long time every afternoon.


3. We went to the Kalahari waterpark in Wisconsin a few weeks ago and had an awesome time. Except that I developed tendinitis — the inflammation started with excessive Dance Dance Revolution-playing and then went over the top with climbing waterslide stairs over and over. I am still somewhat non-functioning, footwise.


Happy child


another Happy child

4. Save me from myself. But be nice to the blog owner, who seems to be a very nice guy. (I always think of that cartoon: “Someone is wrong on the Internet!”)

5. One reason I am not blogging a lot: my mind is full of American politics. And I don’t want to write a lot about it. Tea parties, torture, gay marriage, socialism — we seem to have gone a little insane. (Note: the only thing these things have in common is that they are hot-button issues in the news.) I do post some tidbits in the delicious sidebar. And if you also use delicious, please let’s network. I do try to post homeschooling related stuff that I want to save–ideas for projects, online classes, etc.–and would love to share with others.

6. I am trying to reach out to the world again after an unintentionally self-imposed isolation. I promise — I will comment on your blog again soon.

7. Been reading about La Rochefoucauld — wow, not a happy man. Also finished Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — maybe worth a quick read for the serious fan, but not nearly as entertaining as I had hoped. Then again, how can you beat that title?

8. I made these for Easter. They look very much like the work of someone who has never knitted toys before — because they are.


They are made from a linen yarn with some kind of weird silky blend for the inner ears.

9. I also have not been blogging a lot because I have been online looking at where I could quickly enroll my children for the remainder of the year! But I think that is calming down. We are seeking a little assistance in dealing with the intensities in this household. Ten is striking in full force, hormones are rampaging, life will never be the same.

10. I can never fail to be charmed by Violet’s love for this song, which earned her love by mention something remotely related to Shakespeare. Hearing her sing it around the house — and watching her watch the video on YouTube — is a very sweet harbinger of things to come. (As opposed to the loud and nasty harbingers we get at other times.)


Filed under Family Fun, In the News, Oh Mother, Schoolday Doings, Socialization, Why Homeschool?

Not as Smart

I was working out this morning amongst a chatty group of older ladies. One was saying that she was so happy because her grandchild had requested books for his birthday.

I confess I live in a small world, where the vast majority of children and adults love books, so I smiled to myself when she said, “He couldn’t have said anything to make me happier.” Really? Nothing? But maybe this was a big change for him, a reason to celebrate. Who knows.

She then carried on to say that the younger sister was “not as smart.” Apparently she does not read as much. (It was later revealed that the less smart sibling of the great reader had just turned 5.) Someone suggested—a little pained, like I was, to hear a grandmother comparing her grandchildren’s intelligence—that the younger sibling perhaps had other interests.

“She plays with Barbies,” said the grandmother, sealing the deal—clearly the younger sister was never going to be a member of the family brain trust.

I spoke up then, saying that while early reading is very often a predictor of high intelligence (however you want to measure that), not being an early reader is not a predictor of anything.

She looked back at me just as you might expect a smart, affluent grandmother to look at young, sweaty, disagreeable stranger waiting for the biceps machine, and said nothing. Another lady took up the discussion with me, thank goodness, so that I did not feel so much like a big turd in the older ladies’ flower garden.

We talked a little about my girls, my oldest, who read her first word before turning two, my youngest, now a good reader at five, but who also suffered from unfortunate comparisons between herself and her early reading sister. (Not anything anyone said out loud, of course, but people do ask me about it, and I wonder about it myself sometimes.)

As I told her, now that Victoria is getting older and expressing her curiosity more verbally, we get a little window into the scientific, engineering brain that is always observing, always thinking. She was not an early reader, and I don’t have a number to say she is “X-points smart,” but I know it is way to soon to say she is “not as smart.”

As we spoke I thought about my father-in-law, a successful and caring physician, who as far as I have heard has never been a great reader. I remembered that one of his sons, my brother-in-law, came in for some teasing because he had never been a great reader, though his wife seems finally to have converted him at least a little. He’s the chemical engineer; his wife is an epidemiologist. They are smart.

And of course I thought of myself, my children, my friends, my children’s friends, my friends’ children—Barbie players rife among them. (Well, my girls were not great Barbie players, but they do play with dolls.) I know I am spoiled by having children who actually have to be told to stop reading and go outside, but really, why should a five- or even ten-year-old child be expected to prefer reading to imaginative play? The cognitive and intellectual benefits of imaginative play are in the newspaper and on the radio regularly these days. And I think the learn-to-play window may be narrower than the learn-to-love-reading window, at least for children who live in a house where reading is valued by adults.

(I will spare you my rant about putting down traditionally girlish forms of play—it is a pet peeve I have spoken of before.)

Moving up and down on the stairstepper, I thought about my own prejudices about education and intelligence and decided to give the grumpy grandmother a break. I did not fall into homeschooling and gifted education without having to alter a few assumptions, erase some stereotypes, and even confirm the validity of some negative observations about homeschoolers.

Though don’t you wonder if there is just one awful homeschooling family out there introducing themselves to everyone? Otherwise, how is it that everyone seems to meet that rare bad homeschooler when the vast majority of the homeschoolers you know are so normal and nice?


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Socialization

The Courage of My Contradictions

I am really a schizophrenic homeschooler.

I am just too many conflicting personalities rolled into one person, which means one part of me is always doubting the other.

Part of me is a free spirit. A special kind of free spirit, I admit. No one would mistake me for a flower child or bohemian; I guess I wear my patchouli on the inside. But a big part of me puts very little value on security and familiarity. This has long been a quote that resonates with me:

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time — Andre Gide

I found this while I was writing my dissertation, and it helped me stay curious and open to new conclusions rather than doing my research and interpretation with a particular end in mind. I think of this quotation often and bring it to bear on many parts of my life. The sentiment behind it has long been a guiding principle for me. It’s the reason I’ve been an independent contractor all these years, a factor in our decision to start homeschooling, a step in my eventual conversion.

On the other hand, part of me — in fact, closely related to that Christopher Columbus explorer part of me — is a very take-charge, git ‘er done, “if you want something done right you’ve got to do it yourself” kind of person. This personality works well for homeschooling in a way — I very rarely feel cowed by experts (though I can’t say I never do). If anything intimidates me, it’s knowing that *no one* really knows what to do about a lot of things.

The downside of this personality type for homeschooling is that I am frequently tempted to get in there and learn for my kids, or get them to wrestle their learning to the ground in a way that seems sufficiently aggressive.

I felt this pull today, strongly, as I listened to the girls play, frankly playing in a way that really annoyed me and seemed immature for Violet — though there was really nothing wrong with it. This follows a week of doodling in the history books, doing short, cursory piano practices, and general dawdling.

So while I often say that I love homeschooling because it lets my bright children be both advanced and age appropriate, I find that I’m not always feeling it. Violet in particular likes to play and be crazy — anything for a laugh. The other day at co-op I had to tell her to take a garbage can off her head! Even I struggle to reconcile that part of her with her super-brainy side — and I’m married to her anything-for-a-laugh, loves-to-cross-the-line, cares-not-for-social-mores, super-brainy father. (You might suspect, moreover, that if I would marry that kind of man and have that kind of child, I might not be a paragon of normalcy myself.)

Apparently when it comes to my children, I would rather not lose sight of the shore. I don’t want to discover new lands. Like millions of parents before me, I want my kids to grow up and be strong and happy, and I am not willing to take a lot of risks with that.

Today I had to backtrack with Violet and tell her that I am glad that she’s a kid, and that I like homeschooling because I want her to be a kid for as long as she *is* a kid. And I mean that . . . mostly. I also told her that I think she is a great kid, and I mean that too. Both my kids are great, but they have big personalities and big ideas that put my history as a free-spirited risk-taker on the line.

I was reminded of a homily from a few weeks back, about how one of the best ways we can comply with God’s will is just to get out of the way — the presider was speaking about the dogmatic church and the overzealous believer, but no doubt that applies very well to parents too. I think I’m getting the message that it’s time to pull up anchor and loose the sails.


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, I'm Catholic Why?, Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Socialization, Why Homeschool?

A brief thought on comparisons

This is in response to Patience’s comment on the last post — I started making a comment, but it got too long:

I wonder if it [the tension around kids talking up homeschooling to non-homeschooled kids] has something to do with the weird combination of hyper-competitiveness and a warped version of equality that we have in America. I am especially guilty of always wanting the “best,” the most “authentic,” etc. Yet of course we firmly believe that no one is better, smarter, etc. than anyone else.

So we are all deeply invested in believing that we have found the “best” yet our Midwestern humility and American egalitarianism requires us also to believe that what we have is no better than anyone else, and probably just a little bit worse. 🙂

I think as a result pretty much all differences are threatening. I have sat in homeschool groups listening to people complain about vegetarians, environmentalists — not because they disagree with their principles (which are varied anyway, but I digress), but because they somehow get a “feeling” that those people think they are better than everyone else. Of course the irony is they probably have friends somewhere saying the same thing about homeschoolers while they are out of earshot.

You could look at the recent election for more on this constant fear that someone, somewhere, is thinking they are better than you. But why relive that unpleasantness? 😉


Filed under Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Socialization, Why Homeschool?

Double Income, Two Children Homeschooling, No Nanny

I so wanted a good acronym — DITCHiNN isn’t quite it.

We’ve been without a nanny for just over 5 months now, and we’ve had both parents working from home for 4 months.

So, how’s it going?

Pretty good, thanks.

We’re saving a ton of money, of course, which is no small thing. And our homeschooling day is not as chopped up — there’s no rush to make sure we have a reasonable amount of things done before 10 or 10:30. Now we might not get started with anything “formal” before 10:30. (Though we try — especially if we want to go out later.) This has made for a much more pleasant relationship between mom/teacher and Violet/student: we talk together about what she wants to accomplish and how much time she’ll need to do it, and what other things she may want to do — watch Word Girl, go to the park, whatever.

My favorite part of the no-nanny arrangement is that the children make their own fun. We have less of the “What’s our outing today?” and more simple playing around together, inside or outside. I like to see Violet less dependent on someone to provide entertainment, and I really like to see Victoria wandering around the house, figuring out what she really enjoys herself when big sister is otherwise occupied and not providing all the direction. She likes to play with the dog and work on training her, she gives her doll a bath and styles her hair, she does Tux Paint on the computer or she draws with pen and paper.

Violet seems to be getting a lot more done — she’s making it work with 2 languages in addition to history, grammar, literature, math, science, creative writing class, piano, and faith formation. And there seems to be enough time to do it while still running around outside and swinging on the swingset. Victoria — and I suppose this is the age, too — seems to be getting a chance to learn about who she really is.

On a practical note, this is how we try to do it: I work for a block in the morning before 8:30, and another block in the late afternoon before dinner. I usually work a fair amount on weekends. Eggmaster is there if I need to go out, to help get the girls fed for breakfast or lunch as needed, and to be another grown up to check in with throughout the day. In reality, since I’ve been sick, I’ve been sleeping in and working more at night — and just plain falling behind, but that’ll take care of itself eventually.

I don’t work full time, but I aim for 20 hours in a week (actually, I aim to meet my deadlines, but as I plan my work that’s the number I think about).

I’m pretty happy with how it’s working out. I do feel a bit overtaxed, but I’m hoping that once the illness lifts and the thyroid is set (hard to tell how that’s working) I’ll be on surer footing. I definitely like the more relaxed pace of homeschooling we have, and I think both girls are happier as a result.


Filed under Family Fun, Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Schoolday Doings, Socialization