Homeschooling & the Poor

November 12, 2007

by Tammy Drennan

Thomas Sowell had this to say in a recent column:

“Making a difference makes sense only if you are convinced that you have mastered the subject at hand to the point where any difference you might make would be for the better.

Very few people have mastered anything that well beyond their own limited circle of knowledge. Even fewer seem to think far enough ahead to consider that question. Yet hardly a day goes by without news of some uninformed busybodies on one crusade or another.

Even the simplest acts have ramifications that spread across society the way waves spread across a pond when you drop a stone in it.”

First I apply this good advice to myself. In urging parents to choose independence, I examine my advice all the time. I do have a high level of experience and knowledge in this area. I’m not speaking off the cuff or based strictly on ideology. Nevertheless, I’m careful to make sure I understand each individual situation before I proceed with suggestions. I believe deeply in independence and the ability of most parents to take it on, but I also know it’s a big responsibility, and different parents will need different advice and different levels of help.

Next, I apply this advice to what others are saying. When someone advocates fervently for a cause, it can be easy to take their zeal for authority and knowledge, but as often as not (and probably more often than not), that’s a false assumption.

How many people pushing for vouchers and other school choice programs, for instance, have given any serious, deep thought to all the implications of this cause as opposed to other options that might prove more hopeful for children and families? Have they explored the many options available and chosen this as the superior one? Have they honestly listened to the informed arguments against their position? Have they read and discussed and thought and thought some more? I would like to talk with the choice advocate who has done all of this.

I said last week that we’d discuss solutions this week. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that there’s not one solution only and also that fixing the mess we’ve gotten into will not be easy. So I’d like to talk about one of the solutions – homeschooling – from the vantage of someone who helps many low-income, single parents get started with it. This is a “class” of people most would consider incapable of homeschooling, due to circumstances or personal level of education.

Of the daily calls I take from new homeschoolers, this is the group that’s growing by leaps and bounds – mostly moms, desperate, with very limited incomes, often with somewhat limited educations, often working outside the home, and quite often with kids who have had trouble in school with low performance, violence, and sometimes getting into trouble.

Interestingly, these moms are often more willing than those in higher income brackets to be creative in finding ways to homeschool. They’re more willing to look around them for help and support outside the classic support group. They’re eager to get down to business and equip their children for life. They’re a little scared but very determined. They’re courageous in taking their children from the hands of a state that feels it has a right to their children above all others.

It takes a little more time to help these moms find their homeschooling feet – more encouragement, more effort helping them find materials. A couple of times I’ve sent curriculum to someone I’ve talked with and more than once I’ve tutored a student by mail.

The key to helping anyone choose independence is honesty. I cannot pretend that their situation is mine or that they ought to fit into the typical homeschooling mold. I must be there for them when they need a little help. We all need help from time to time.

Here’s what I’d like to see for these people: Resource centers staffed with tutors at churches, college students or retirees willing to offer their time to help a student through math or English, more apprenticeship opportunities, an attitude of respect rather than pity for these courageous parents who face up to some serious challenges for the sake of their children. There’s more, of course, but what I don’t want to see is more hand-out programs. Parents are capable and willing to learn and help out. All too many of us have been victims of the same school system we are now trying to rescue our children from, so we have some growing to do.

The solutions to the schooling nightmare in our country are not big, sweeping programs. We’ve tried all manner of them in the past and they have only made things worse. That’s what they’ll continue to do.

The solution is for all of us to figure out what part we can play in helping a parent follow some course of independence. That may be homeschooling or private schooling, tutoring, or something else. We have only just begun to create possibilities. More on that another time.