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Creative Class: Homeschooling and Affluent Kids

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Once considered the domain of only deeply religious families who didn’t want to send their kids to secular schools, homeschooling has been gaining popularity among not-particularly-religious families. In “Meet My Teachers: Mom and Dad,” Business Week covers the growth of homeschooling specifically within the “creative class.”

According to Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class, the creative class consists of educated, affluent people who, um, “create for a living”:

[They]…seek not only fulfilling jobs, but also tolerant and vibrant communities and cities. This new class of workers does not define itself by national boundaries, but is highly mobile, willing to relocate for the best social, cultural, and economic opportunities. The creative class, 38 million strong in the U.S., produces a disproportionate share of wealth, accounting for nearly half of all wages and salaries earned – as much as the manufacturing and service sectors combined.

Sounds like a pretty good life:

Highly educated? Check.
More than adequate income? Check.
Freedom to live where you want? Check.

So what do they have to complain about, these jazzy, improvisational creators? School, apparently. If they don’t like their public schools, the creative class can presumably find a different community with more suitable schools. Or they can pony up and send their kids to private schools — in fact, some of these parents attended elite private schools themselves. But they’re homeschooling their kids instead. Why?

Safety First

According to the US Department of Education, 85% of homeschooling parents cited “concern about school environments, including negative peer pressure, safety, and drugs” as their primary motivation for homeschooling.

Other motivations include religious or moral instruction and dissatisfaction with the standard educational model. Many parents don’t like that in most schools, students cover the same material at the same pace, no matter how poorly that content and pace might suit them individually. They also cite the emphasis on rote learning and standardized testing.

The Internet and changing economy have helped make homeschooling appear easier now than it once did. It’s always been possible, of course, but information about any topic is now just a Google search away, and online courses abound. Plus, the creative class can move around as jobs and the economy change without putting their children through the struggle of being the new kids in school.

Homeschooling Is Like a Box of Chocolates

The beauty of homeschooling is that no two homeschool environments are alike, just as no two families are alike. Each family can tailor its “school” environment to its own set of learning styles, interests, skills, schedules, and even biorhythms. That said, a few common flavors of homeschooling exist.

A traditional model sits at one end of the spectrum. Here, parents implement a school-like system, set a daily schedule, plan a curriculum, and teach their kids what they (the parents) think they (the kids) should learn each year.

At the other end sits the “unschooling” model, in which learning and living are intertwined and where the children simply do the things they’re interested in (year-round). They learn just by living, like going to the grocery store and inadvertently doing some math, or by specifically seeking knowledge or skills in something they’re interested in, like playing the piano or learning another language.

No matter which flavor of homeschooling a family fancies, most families share at least one rationale: Who knows my children better than I do?

Homeschooling Could Help Public Schools — But It Won’t

Homeschooling’s fast growth — 1.1 million kids were homeschooled in 2003, up 29% from 1999 — bodes poorly for American public schools in the short run. More and more parents are dissatisfied with public education and are willing to do something about it. Rather than try to quickly change public schools to benefit their children — which is about as likely as me seeing my 21st birthday again — they’re just walking away from school altogether. Opting out makes a powerful statement simply because Americans don’t usually do that. We’re way too worried about being just like everyone else.

Plus, opting out removes money from public schools, which, according to my backwards logic, means the homeschooling trend could help schools in the long run. Most school districts receive funding on a per pupil basis. Each child who leaves “prevents” his or her annual dollars from going to the school s/he would have attended. That’s bad for schools because they survive by economies of scale.

So we don’t just have poor people wanting private school vouchers to get away from dilapidated, dangerous urban schools. And we don’t just have a small religious minority staying home. We also have educated, middle-to-upper-middle-class families deciding they can live without our suburban schools, even the highly regarded ones.

In a perfect world, homeschooling would grow enough within the middle-class that it causes public schools — from the NEA down to the local school committees — to see that they need to change. Homeschoolers don’t really care what happens to public schools because they’ve left the system behind. But still, their leaving could lead to some educational soul searching and positive changes.

But I’m not holding my breath. In fact, I think the Kafkaesque opposite is more likely: homeschooling will so successfully challenge public schools that it will threaten teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats. Unwilling to allow another *free* educational option to compete with theirs, they’ll lobby to pass laws that heavily regulate, standardize, and test homeschooling until individual families can do little more than replicate the public school model at home. Parents who don’t comply will be prosecuted for daring to raise and educate their kids without government intrusion.

Right now, homeschooling laws vary by state; some states regulate fairly strictly, while others take a laissez-faire approach. But give homeschooling another ten years of exponential growth, and I promise you that all states will assert more control and that the federal government will stick its fingers in the pie, too.

Indeed, some education “experts” are already banging the regulatory drum:

Schooling in isolation could threaten civic cohesion and diversity of thought, says Stanford University education professor Rob Reich. Reich favors stricter homeschooling regulations to supplant the current patchwork of state laws so that children can be assured of exposure to more than just what their parents sanction.

First, how do you get “diversity of thought” out of one-size-fits-all public schools and not from individual families charting their own educational courses?

And second, you can see that Reich, who makes his living off the public school model, feels threatened by the people who don’t value his “expertise.” When enough people like him get the ears of our state and federal legislators, you can bet your bottom dollar that homeschooling will become just as regulated as public schools, to the detriment of all parents who value choices in education.

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About Lori Mortimer

  • Sonlight Curriculum is a literature-rich, Christian-based homeschool company that provides complete homeschool curriculum programs and materials from preschool to 12th grade. Our comprehensive curriculum has a global focus,and provides children all across the world with the desire to learn.

  • COD

    //Originally posted at Lori’s other site – reposted here because this is where all the other comments are//

    Interesting article, but I think your fears of state regulation is unfounded. At the state level, few special interest groups are as effective as homeschoolers. Having worked to get HS’ing legal in all 50 states, it’s going to be hell for the establishment to take that freedom back.

    What is much more likely – and actually happening – is that the schools will co-opt home education by offering public school at home type programs – complete with govt provided computers, curriculum, and a teacher to oversee the process.

    A lot of people will probably be quite happy with that set up. They’ll get to claim that they are homeschoolers without the messy work of making actual decisions about their children’s education.

    I suspect the dramatic growth numbers will level off as the 2005 and beyond statistics get released. Which is fine with me. The bigger homeschooling gets, the bigger threat it becomes, and I think we are much better off staying under the radar.

  • Lori,

    You mis-read the chart from the NCES 2003 study on homeschooling. 85% cited it as a reason, but only 31% cited it as the “most important” reason.

  • freestone

    It’s funny… when we lived in the US, we didn’t care about the homeschooling laws. Living in Indiana and Kentucky the laws were fairly lax, and the enforcement of these laws wasn’t something that anyone was going to do as long as you didn’t make waves.

    The only real trouble that I’ve ever seen is where the child is in public school and the parents pull them out to homeschool them. If the teachers and administration have a poor opinion of the parents (“that woman couldn’t possibly teach her children anything”) they might be motivated to cause trouble. However, where the school system doesn’t know that your children exist… you’re off the radar.

    We took the radical view that our children are our business and the State doesn’t have a say in the matter. Now that we no longer live in the US, it’s even easier. As far as the local government is concerned, we’re just tourists and they don’t care what we do.

    The problem with most Americans is that they want to have the official sanction of the government in everything they do. Far more are of the “if it isn’t specifically allowed it’s forbidden” philosophy than the “if it isn’t specifically forbidden it’s allowed” category.

  • Karen

    You know you don’t have to register, and all these problems go away and there is no debate

  • Great article Lori.

    I’m sending the following to my own blog:
    (a link to your article)

    What Lori has to say is true of Australia too, the creative class is highly represented in our home ed communities and the States are responsible for setting their Education Dept’s regulations.

    Each time there is a review of the various Education/Schools Acts it becomes harder to edcuate your children at home without government intervention and increasingly more onerous ‘requirements’.

    Victoria is going through a review right now and may well lose the least interefering recognition of Home Ed in all of our Education/Schools Acts.

    WA is coming up for review.

    ‘School at home’ is unworkable as no families have 25+ kids to control and the whole point of home ed is individualised learning. Home Ed is about learning not mass education. Home Ed is about true socuialisation within the community not within the artificial world of an institution. Home Ed is about preparing children to take part in society not a factory. Home Ed is a symptom of the Information Age.

  • Thanks for the links, heidi.

    The socialization issue really is a non-starter. Students certainly don’t get much time to socialize in school. That’s usually a punishable offense. “Johnny has detention because he was talking to his neighbor in class today.”

    So when critics of homeschooling talk about socialization, they really mean group/class management, not actually learning how to interact with other people.

  • You must be joking, Great Gazoo. It’s hard to even take you seriously enough to bother responding. Are you really advocating bullying as a means of “teaching kids the real world”? Wow. Welcome to 1955.

    How many homeschooled kids have you actually met? Because I have met many, and none of them present as you so ignorantly proclaim. Not only that, actual studies have shown that the “socialization” issue is a non-starter.

    (An article on the Fraser study, and another.And for a list of scholarly articles, see here.)

    I would like to point out to other commentators that the idea of having an outside-the-house income is growing less and less difficult, especially for that “creative class,” but also for many others. With telecommuting as an increasing and even necessary possibility (what with gasoline prices and so forth), more and more parents are able to stay home and work and also manage their children’s home education. There are an awful lot of people who commute to work physically who don’t really need to, but for the controlling desires of their bosses. (And it could be said that the same goes for children.)

  • I think I speak for all publicly educated kids when I say thank you to The Great Gazoo for so adeptly illustrating the values we all learned in public school.

    As for homeschooling laws, I can see each state having a law that says parents are required to educate their children. But I really wish all states would say little to nothing else beyond that. If you want to take on the responsibility of homeschooling your kids, you should be able to do it any way you want.

    Regarding school uniforms, I’ve heard all the arguments in favor of them. I think the one about leveling the socio-economic playing field has the most merit, but overall, but it’s not necessarily a good thing to make everyone look and feel the same. Kids should learn that it’s okay to be individuals while also being a part of the larger community.

    I don’t really buy the idea that school uniforms help prepare kids for schoolwork. (I also don’t think school has to be “serious work” but that’s another story for another day.) Clothing won’t make kids focus better: interesting learning opportunities will. If they’re doing stuff they’re interested in, they’ll stay focused on it.

  • Steve

    I went to school in the UK, and in the primary and comprehensive schools I went to, they insisted on school uniforms (in high school at least for the younger years). It was a treat not to have to worry about the latest fashions, but just put on the uniform in the morning and forget about it until you got home in the evening. No teasing about how you dress, no worries about fashionable, expensive shoes or whatever getting nabbed. It was great.

  • The Great Gazoo

    Most of the home schooled kids i’ve met are social retards. The girls become sluts when they turn sixteen because they haven’t been around boys and feel they need to catch up. No bullshit. Sure they can spell, but how well adjusted can they be if they never recieved a good beating??

  • Most laws restricting homeschooling in most states are the result of work by teacher’s unions. As Ruvy says, they’re not sleeping on the job!

    Of course, some laws are because honest legislators want to protect children, but most, if not all, of those protections aren’t unique to homeschooling.

  • Lori,

    The college degree requirement in Minnesota is the product of a powerful teacher’s union there. They are not sleeping on the job – of protecting their own turf.

    As for school uniforms, the idea, at least as I see it, is to give kids a sense of going to an environment dressed to do business, not to prove how much mom and dad can spend at the mall.

    It was a money saver, and not anywhere near as intrusive as it sounds. When I was a kid (boy, I must sound like an ancient geezer), I was expected to arrive in school in a shirt with a collar, a tie, and a decent pair of trousers. My hair was not to be excessively long and I was expected to comport myself in a reasonably serious way. This was a public school, not some fancy private institution for the rich and snooty.

    The reason given for the dress code was identical as for the uniforms: to give kids a sense of going to an environment dressed to do business. At the time, there were no shopping malls.

  • Thanks, Ruvy. Homeschooling definitely suits families better if they can survive on one income and one parent can stay home most if not all the time, particularly when the kids are younger. I’m sure families with two working parents do it, but I believe they’re in the minority. Seems like it would be a lot more complicated. Single-parent families obviously would have the hardest time pulling it off.

    I have to say that I don’t understand the college degree requirement. Why do you need a college degree to help your kids get through the equivalent of high school?

    And uniforms, Ruvy?! Say it ain’t so!

  • Very nice article, Lori.

    If we’d had the money, we would have home-schooled our boys in St. Paul when we lived there. In Minnesota, the home-schooling parent has to be a university graduate – which meant me.

    So I spent hours trying to figure out how I could quit my job and home-school the kids and live on my wife’s income alone.

    It wasn’t going to happen.

    l could spend several pages complaining about St. Paul’s public school system. Instead, I did what I could. I joined the school governance committee, I pushed for uniforms in the schools, I voluntered some time to teach history…

    If reality doesn’t spin out of control, I’m afraid that you will see the kind of interference in home-schooling that you predict.