Funny thing, this. It's 11:13 on a Monday morning. My kids are running around in their pajamas (actually, their t-shirts and boxers). They slept in partly because we stayed up late last night watching science experiments on YouTube and the first several episodes of the Teaching Company series "The Human Body: How We Fail, How We Heal." Fisher was enthralled with the explanation of cell biology and the inflammatory response. Rhys insisted on doing a Google search for sodium acetate so we could make our own hot ice. We also read a chapter of John Bellairs' The House With a Clock In Its Walls and a book about Mars; Rhys even favored us with a reading of Mr. Putter & Tabby Spin the Yarn. This was after the boys had spent the day constructing a menagerie of imaginary animals out of air-dry clay… building models on the Lego Creator site… playing a rousing family game of Carcassonne… and taking a two-hour trip to OMSI with Papa so Mama could get some of her so-important work done. (I wrote a CV. Heh heh. I have a CV.)
Yet, despite the boys' stubborn non-presence in school today and the notable lack of any sort of textbooks in & around our home, we are apparently not actually homeschooling. Nope. Not according to the authorities at Home Education Magazine, anyway–and they've been doing this a lot longer than we have, they should know.
How can this be? Check it out:
We homeschoolers know cyber charter schools are NOT
homeschools. Their spread threatens to change the definition of
homeschooling and do us in both with regulations all charter schools
are under because they are public schools and with hoops cyber charter
schools have to jump through to demonstrate that their students are
really learning and are studying for the number of hours required by
compulsory school attendance laws.
Yep. We are the tainted, the unwanted, the cyberschoolers. Not because we felt we "don't have enough money or confidence or education or whatever," as Helen Hegener suggests. But, rather, because EdChoices, the virtual school where our boys are enrolled, offered several benefits we were looking for:
- Flexibility. Our boys are each enrolled in a math class, and Fisher's taking Rosetta Stone German. I didn't see any need for them to take an online language arts, social studies or science class… so they're not.
- Understanding of homeschooling–no, really. Our facilitator-teacher-person, Kendra, wholeheartedly supports our decision to learn as a family; she's not a bit pushy, and the boys enjoy getting messages from her about their progress in math.
- Cooperation with Village Home. EdChoices has set up a partnership with Village Home (our home education resource center) whereby they actually pay for our membership and classes out of the public-school funds they receive for our boys. This has meant that for the winter term, we'll be able to take more classes than we did in fall term. Plus, with my unemployment, we wouldn't have been able to pay for any classes at all, meaning the boys would lose their social nexus as well as the great learning opportunities they experience at VH.
- A teeny, tiny tad of structure. Yes, I'm pretty much an unschooler to the core. All I have to do is stand back and take a look at what I've learned, what Jim has learned, what the boys have learned all on our own without anybody "making" us. But at the same time, I think an important set of life skills involves accountability, organization and learning to play by the rules when necessary. (This is why hard-core unschoolers will never consider me an unschooler, either. Heh.) I am not well equipped to set up and carry out an entire course of study, and I am glad to be able to tap into a resource that does so for me.
So since I'm not a homeschooler, I guess I have no right to tell real, true, honest-to-golly homeschoolers what they should think about the creeping plague of online charter schools. But if one of them did want to bend her ear my way, this is what I'd tell her:
When I look at what EdChoices is doing in partnership with Village Home (created by homeschoolers, for homeschoolers… and with a fairly strong unschooly bent), I see a great opportunity to build bridges between public and home education. I, along with many other home educators, would love to see a new model of public school emerge: one that's more like a library than a factory, one where individual choice and interests and needs are respected and honored. The children of Real True Homeschoolers are not the only ones who would benefit from individualized education–I think every child, in a better world, would have the same opportunity to learn, grow and discover that my kids currently enjoy.
And what of the argument that any alliance with public schools opens the door to "guvmint interference," that dreaded bugaboo of every homeschooling family? Personally, I'm not too freaked out about the annual test required by Oregon state law; I think yes, it's possible for there to be bad homeschoolers who shouldn't be keeping their kids home (the woman I knew from MOPS who taught her kids exclusively out of the Bible leaps to mind) and I don't think (though Real True Homeschoolers surely disagree with me) that parents have exclusive rights to control the contents of their kids' minds.
In a democratic society, we have the right to "petition the government for the redress of grievances"… surely that means that home educating families have the right, if not the responsibility, to get involved with politics as it applies to homeschool law. Don't like the current law? Rather than retreating to your cabin to mutter darkly down the barrel of your gun, try writing letters, attending meetings, making your voice heard, participating in public life. Show (don't tell… or scream at) the world that homeschooling is a viable choice practiced by an enormously diverse group of families.
Seriously, in our (non-)homeschooling journey, one thing I've been really surprised and saddened to discover is the extent to which many homeschoolers enjoy dividing the world up into "us" and "them." Whether it's radical unschoolers telling people the restrictions they place on their kids' video game playing are tantamount to child abuse, or Michael Smith of HSLDA talking up Patrick Henry College students' standardized test scores as proof that Homeschoolers Do It Better… it bothers me no end how attached people are to building their little boxes and shutting other people out.
But then, don't listen to me. I'm not really a homeschooler.