Friday, March 16, 2007

Homeschoolers - Virtual and E-Charters Versus Sovereign Parental Instruction

There has been some talk lately about Public/Government, Private, Virtual and E-Charter schools and what it all means to homeschoolers.

As a homeschooler, you understand the commitment and work it requires being directly responsible for your child's education. There are many different reasons why people homeschool. There are many different ways to home educate. I think we all understand that, and appreciate the diversity in our opinions, styles of educating and choice of curriculum. Heaven knows there are so many options out there for the homeschooling family to choose from. We do need to understand what those choices are and what they mean. I think we can all agree that public/government schooling is not homeschooling.

New homeschoolers, in particular, may not be as aware of the implications of various choices because they are still exploring the alternatives to public/government and private education, especially if they have experienced public/government education with their kids and may have chosen to do something different.

For purposes of discussion, we should get our terms straight. I believe there are three categories of education that most people commonly recognize. I believe that it is erroneous and misleading to bring into the discussion WHERE education is taking place. The "where" is not particularly important. What is important is who is managing the education, who is determining the curriculum, and how it is being paid for, as well as whom is being paid (or not paid) to do it.

Public/Government School - includes all publicly funded activities no matter where they take place. Public/Government education can take place on the moon if you provide the students with materials and resources which are paid for by the taxpayer, and have a curriculum directed by state/government entities. Children can be enrolled in public/government school via a charter, virtual, or on-site in a brick building. Charters and Virtuals may be done at home but that is not homeschooling in the true sense of what homeschooling has come to mean. In many ways the term homeschooling has been usurped by government school programs done at home.

Private School - is all education where services are paid for by parents such that OTHER PEOPLE are paid to organize and manage the education of their children on a day to day basis, and most often done in an institutional setting outside of the home. Primarily, parents pay OTHER PEOPLE to educate their children. Tutoring may not necessarily fall under this category because it isn't an ongoing full time activity (i.e. 8 hours a day - 5 days a week)- Tutoring is an occasional activity which may be privately contracted but not considered "Private school". Homeschools are considered Private Education in some states simply because they are lumped under the moniker of "Non-Public" education. It commonly accepted that kids who are enrolled in Private School umbrella programs done at home (like "Oak Meadow") are homeschoolers. Technically I'd call them private schoolers because they are enrolled in a private school program, especially if the umbrella school keeps track of their progress and prepares their transcripts, and awards credentials. My daughter is enrolled in such a private school distance program, so technically I suppose we are not really independently "homeschooling". If you simply purchase materials from umbrella schools, without actually enrolling in a program of study, to be done at home under your direction, then that to me is closer to the independent homeschool model.

Homeschool/Sovereign Parental Instruction - Parents take complete responsibility and financial expense of their children's education - completely autonomous from the state and federal management of education. Parents keep track of their child's progress and may even award their own credentials. Curriculum is determined by the parent and child and the goals and purposes they set forth on their own. Suffice it to say that homeschooling has been around since the dawn of time, but the label "homeschooling" is relatively new. The parent may facilitate the learning, arrange for contracted tutors, or purchase specific materials from various sources, including umbrella schools. Learning takes place in all sorts of places and need not happen in the "home", in fact, sometimes it occurs in the car (smile).

With that all said, Virtual schools and Charter Schools are in fact public/government school. They are funded by tax dollars; chartered by local school districts; and operated in a variety of fashions. The most prevalent model of virtual schooling is that it is operated by using personal computers for instruction. Often those computers are set up in people's homes, funded by tax dollars. There are lesson plans to follow, and work must be completed and documented. Parents work under the auspices of the government school and their children are subject to all the rules and regulations of government school, including state testing and other mandates. Parents are used as primary teachers or facilitators in this model. Parents may or may not be paid by the state. Their children are enrolled in public/government school. Education is done in a home setting, and kids may even participate in local homeschool group activities, but this is NOT homeschooling in the traditional and commonly accepted sense.

People may mix and match some models - perhaps they have kids enrolled in a private umbrella school like Oak Meadow or American School and also do some independent homeschool curriculum. Sometimes they add in a Community College course which is really public education.

My point, and purpose, is not to try to pigeonhole anyone or to say that one model is better than another, because the model that is better is the one that works best for your child and your family. Certainly education choice is key even as we are able to mix and match models to suit our children's goals, needs, and abilities. My point is that there are distinguishing features between the different options, and some families may believe that they are homeschooling based solely on where the education is happening.

This is precisely why no one can really define what homeschooling is, except that in its pure sense it embodies sovereign parental instruction (a term coined by Deborah Stevenson of NHELD). Sovereign parental instruction is the instruction of children by their parents in whom independent and supreme authority for that instruction is vested. It means parental instruction of children in freedom, autonomously, without government interference. That being said, I don't really care what you want to call yourself - but I do care what the government says you are.

I think that as homeschoolers we all really need to recognize that if there is no true distinction between “government school at home” and “home school”, then there is no choice at all; there is no freedom to educate; there is only government school. The idea here is not to pigeonhole anyone, but to understand that differences are important. We really must be careful with terminology simply because there appears to be an agenda to usurp the terminology of "homeschooling" such that it will bring those who practice "sovereign parental instruction" into the net of public/government education and it's legislation and regulations purely based on the term "homeschooler".

I'd be interested in your thoughts.