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  • Writer's pictureTiffany Millen

Educational Freedom vs Educational Neglect

Preface: This is a hard piece for someone in my position to post publicly. If you feel attacked by this because you are worried you aren't doing enough, you are probably not part of the problem I am addressing here. We will always feel like we could do more, but some are actually hiding in homeschooling and not providing their children with an education at all. That is an abuse of the system, and it is neglect. It is a subject that comes up in nearly every conversation I have with charter teachers and administrators. But it is not something anyone wants to shine a light on because it undermines our position as advocates for the freedom to homeschool.

I am known as a passionate advocate for homeschooling and homeschoolers. My experience in homeschooling goes back to 1975 when my parents pulled me out of public school as a 2nd grader and helped to start what today we would consider a homeschool pod. We had six students in 2nd to 5th grade and one teacher. Except for one short stint homeschooling at home, I continued in that microschool model through my high school graduation with my mom working as a full-time volunteer teacher most of those years.

I put myself through college working 20 hours a week for a huge homeschool umbrella organization that managed thousands of homeschooling families worldwide. For the past 20 years, I have homeschooled my own 4 children K-12. In 2007, I founded the Natomas Park Day Group to give and receive the support required for success on this journey. In 2013, our community of homeschool moms added classes to become the Natomas Homeschool Alliance which I have been privileged to lead for the past 10 years. Going back to my college days, I have witnessed a small percentage of homeschooling families who get it very wrong. There are many ways to homeschool successfully. A few well-known models include classical, traditional, Charlotte Mason, individualized, eclectic, unschooling, Waldorf, Montessori, Independent Study, and the list goes on.

One model that is NOT a legitimate way to homeschool is what I call “self-schooling.” In this model, the parent takes a very hands-off approach, providing the student with curriculum, materials, or virtual subscriptions, and expecting the student to educate themselves using the provided resources with no regular accountability.

In all legitimate traditional homeschooling models, it is the responsibility of the parent to motivate the learning. This is probably the most difficult task a homeschooling parent will encounter. Learning can be fun, but inevitably, some of the time, it will not be fun. In those times, the parent has to find ways to incentivize, cajole, coerce, or otherwise persuade the student to learn the material.

In self-schooling, the parent is disconnected and often doesn’t even realize no learning is taking place. Instead of motivating the learning on a daily basis, the parent pops in at the end of the week, the month, or the semester, and acts indignant that the student has accomplished nothing.

At best, this is educational neglect. At worst, it crosses into abuse. When the parent blames, belittles, or punishes the student for the lack of progress, it is abusive. The parent did not take appropriate actions to motivate the learning so the failure belongs to the parent, not the student.

As homeschool leaders, we see this cycle happen all the time where parents will feign shock at their student’s lack of progress when it is the same story month after month after month.

Many years ago, I had a friend who set her son up with a virtual program that provided 100% of the academic content. All he had to do was login each day and complete the lessons. She could monitor his progress from her administrative dashboard. Though she never actually witnessed any of the work he was doing from the computer in his room, she logged in periodically to make sure he was moving forward. He appeared to be killing it - making great progress in good time and getting great marks. At the end of the school year, the virtual publisher notified her that his progress was suspicious because it didn’t align with their averages. Only then did she discover that he had hacked her administrator password and cheated his way through the entire year. She was LIVID. She took it out on him. She abdicated her responsibility of motivating or even monitoring the learning and blamed him when he failed to self-educate.

At the homeschool umbrella program where I worked for four years while in college, we saw this all the time. Parents would send in all of their students’ tests for us to grade and record in their academic file. Those parents who were not monitoring their students but expecting them to self-educate, would send in tests that were copied straight from the answer key. We could instantly tell when a student had cheated, but the parent had no idea. If you leave your student alone with the means to copy out of a score key, it is most likely going to happen. Not because you have bad kids. But because they are people. I can say this from my personal experience as a homeschooled student.

Homeschooling is hard. It can be mind-numbingly boring to sit at the table while your child completes pages in a workbook. It seems like it shouldn’t be necessary. But when you step away, progress will probably stop. It is exasperating. Motivating the learning often takes great patience and creativity. You have to have an endless arsenal of incentives both positive and negative to get through each day. And there will probably never be a day when you feel like enough got accomplished. But trust me, enough did. If you monitored and motivated the learning, even if it felt minuscule, it was enough. It only takes a little progress every day to add up to an education by the end of the journey. But no progress every day is not enough.

For older students capable of working independently, they still need the accountability of knowing someone is going to check-in regularly to make sure they are doing their work and doing it well. I talked to a mom last week who was considering homeschooling her 12- and 15-year-olds. She really thought it would be best, but she was terrified at the thought that she might fail her children academically. It is a feeling most of us know well. Trepidation at the monumental responsibility we take as homeschooling parents is an appropriate emotion. Don’t let it discourage you. You can do this. But you have to do it. Your children cannot do it without your involvement.

I am not here to condemn anyone for their past homeschooling practices or failures. Those of us who work with homeschoolers are passionate about providing the support families need to educate their students in a healthy environment that promotes the development of the whole child.

We know the struggle. And we know how vital it is to connect with others who are currently walking the same road, and with those who have completed the journey and can testify to the fact that it was all worth it.

Homeschooling is not for everyone. There is no shame in taking the path that is best for your child and your family whether that is public, charter, private, hybrid, or home education.

There comes a point where a parent can feel trapped because their child is too far behind to join a classroom of same-age students in school, but homeschooling is not successfully bridging the gap. If you are concerned that your student is not making daily progress in your homeschooling model, we can help. If you feel defeated, overwhelmed, or just need someone to talk to, we can help with that too. No one cares more about your child’s future success than you do. An education is vital to that success so please reach out if you need support at any point along the way.

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