The American Right to Homeschool and Raise Children is Something Worth Being Thankful For

One of the tragedies of modern American culture is parents have no idea they have the right to be in full control of their children’s lives and education. When children reach five years old, without thought, parents walk their very young children to the bus stop and send them off to a local institution to be raised and educated — five days a week, 180 days a year. Many great parents hate this moment and know there’s something inherently wrong with it. But the routine is so ingrained in the psyche of our culture that we do it “no questions asked.”

I did the same thing. I told myself that kindergarten would be fun. I told myself that my son would enjoy the bus ride, the fun school activities, and the wonderful teacher. I told myself these things because I never considered the options.

As it turned out, my son was bullied on the bus, he hated the kindergarten activities, and the wonderful teacher was powerless to turn things around for him. It was only this sad turn of events that inspired me to consider alternatives.
As the daughter and granddaughter of public school teachers, as well as a former public school teacher myself, perhaps I was more clueless than most. But, as I started researching the options for my son, I was stunned by the possibilities. Parental freedoms are alive and well in America and available to all.

Here’s the bottom-line: The right of American parents to educate and raise their children as they see fit is astoundingly broad and absolute. Yes, there are a few restrictions, boundaries, and “guidelines” as set forth in court cases that have framed parent and homeschool freedoms. But, generally speaking, parents have the right to teach their children what they want, when they want, how they want, where they want, etc. The state supreme courts of our land have agreed that parents don’t even have to homeschool well, lest states would rush in trying to measure and evaluate children based on the state’s values, rather than the values of parents.

My oldest son suffered in school. Struggling with illness and anxiety, he hated every minute of it. The moment when I realized we could dump the whole thing and start something new was a precious one. I remember when I told my son:

“You mean I really don’t have to go there (school) anymore?” my son asked me in wonder and disbelief, the stress literally rolling away as the happy realization settled in.

I was relieved and happy, too. I was happy for my son, but even happier for my family. All the sudden, a new world opened up to us. We could frame our family life around our loves, our desires, our values, and our faith. We could establish life-long bonds and create something truly precious apart from the constant intrusions of other peoples’ expectations. We could decide and fully manage our time, our schedule, our lifestyle, our friends, and our activities. Our lives became our own again.

In America, the rights and freedoms our ancestors fought for and our brilliant forefathers insisted on sometimes get lost in the routines and expectations of daily life. But today, on Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful and thinking about how wonderfully different the life of our family has been because we stumbled across an educational “alternative” and family-centered lifestyle called “homeschooling.”

Until next time…Be fearless.

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Avoiding American Education’s Spectrum of “Normal”

Jerry Seinfield caused quite a stir last week when he publicly stated his belief he operates on the autism spectrum. I’m glad he “came out.” I hope it starts a discussion about what’s really “normal” in regards to human behavior.

In education, we have children functioning on lots of different “spectrums.” We have spectrums for autism, Asperger’s syndrome, hyperactivity, attention deficit, learning disabled (LD), behavior disabled (BD), and many more. We fuss over these kids, worry incessantly about them, accommodate them, and spend millions of dollars trying to help them. But there’s a larger, much more important question that looms:

What in the world are we going to do with all the millions of kids who function on the “normal” spectrum?

Because THESE are the kids we should be worrying about.

I’m talking about the kids who spend six hours sitting in desks at schools every day and never lose focus or feel hyperactive. Kids who love coloring in lines and filling in tiny boxes…and don’t mind it. The kids who do everything schools tell them to do and never ask questions. I’m talking about the kids who never try to beat the system. Or avoid it. Or change it.

These kids worry me.

Our version of “normal” behavior is based on the 20th century view of what it takes to be a good student in a formal, academic setting. We desire and reward children who can march in lockstep to the school drummer and we label and medicate children who can’t. Or won’t.

This all worked out very nicely in past generations because our world economies demanded workers who could follow directions and find meaning in carrying out low-level, very-defined tasks. These people served as the “cogs” and “”circuits” of work now completed by sophisticated machines and computers. Schools prepared children very nicely for that world.

But, in the 21st century, advanced robotics and computer applications have replaced human cogs and circuits. Now the world needs innovators and thinkers, brilliant dreamers who can create new ways of living and working in the world and astute and clever leaders who can sort though and apply all the ideas the creators generate.

“Proficiency” and “excellence,” qualities that schools love and reward, need to be replaced by “imagination” and “genius,” qualities that schools see as abnormal, the byproducts of people who are either very gifted or very “different.” The truth is, ingenuity and brilliance are very normal qualities of people who have been created in the perfect image of a masterful and incomparable God. These qualities are on the “God spectrum.”

What a shame we spend 12 years of a child’s life renaming and redefining “normal” within the context of facilitating an organized and orderly school environment. I’m not worried about all the abnormal kids in this environment. I’m worried about the “normal” ones.

Until next time…Be fearless.

One Thing That Worked in My Homeschool This Week (“Bad” Curriculum)

One of the perceived faults of using commercial educational materials designed more for fun, than classroom use is that they are not complete or systematic curriculums. Glossy workbooks and texts that are popular sale items at places like Target, Sam’s Club, and Costco do a great job of turning the heads of children with their beautiful and interesting graphic design. But they tend to lack the kind of systematic instruction and evaluation that most teachers desire for their children.

But wait! Before you toss out the “Big Book of Science” or the “Everything a Fifth Grader Should Know About Maps” workbooks, consider this: Is it possible that slick educational materials that only whet the appetite actually stimulate and inspire more learning than traditional curriculums, which are complete and methodical, but also dull and uninspiring?

This morning my girls were working in their very basic and very incomplete (but beautiful and interesting) science workbooks when they started talking about how much they were learning. Of course, my ears immediately perked up. I always like to hear when my kids think we’re doing something right in our homeschool!

But I was surprised to find out WHY my girls were learning. As it turns out, the workbook is SO incomplete that they are learning very little from inside its pages. In fact, they can’t find or understand the answers to many of the questions being asked in the assignments. And this, it turns out, is what sparks the REAL learning. Because now my girls need to turn to an outside source to get the answers. That outside source is the Internet.

On the Internet, my girls are finding all the answers to the questions and more. But, more importantly, they are building a skill critical to perform well in college and life, which is the ability to collect and sort good information in order to complete tasks and tell stories.

Finding information within the pages of a school curriculum is usually very easy. Information is generally presented is a very organized manner, oftentimes chronologically. There are titles and sub-titles that give clues to where you can find information and key words are often printed in bold. If you can’t find what you are looking for, you can flip to the front of the book and check the Table of Contents or the back of the book and check the index. These are all great skills to learn, but in the 21st Century, children have to learn to search more than just one book for answers. They have the world at their fingertips (Internet) and they need to know how to search and sort through information that’s not served them up on a silver platter.

In schools, we like to deal with finite amounts of information because that is what is easy to measure and evaluate. But the real measure of a smart person is not what he knows, but how he deals with what he doesn’t know. None of us will ever be perfectly prepared for any task or life situation, but our ability to gain and sort information quickly and then make smart decisions accordingly will spell the difference between success and failure.

My training and career as a journalist helped me to see the importance of this skill. When you have to make a living writing factual stories on deadline about people and topics you know nothing about, you simply can’t rely on what you know. Instead, you learn to ask good questions, where (and who) to ask them to, and how to sort, organize, and communicate the answers very quickly. This skill is now a prerequisite for almost any job today. My girls were discussing this very thing when I overheard their conversation about how much they were learning in science. They were also pointing out to each other that this skill would also serve them well in college.   

Recently, it’s occurred to me that we’ve gotten this curriculum thing all messed up. Maybe, instead of complete curriculums that systematically teach all the answers to children, maybe we should seek out curriculums with gaping holes instead, ones that inspire questions, rather than answer them. Maybe real learning begins at the the point where the easy answers end.

Until next time…Be fearless.