Guard It Well

1 Sep 2000

by Lisa Sharpe

 In April, our family celebrated the eleventh anniversary of our first day of school at home. I mark it by that first NCHE Book Fair I attended in a church facility in Raleigh. We began homeschooling the following Monday. That year, and for the few following, Saxon did not sell its math books for 1st-3rd graders, and DNPE actually visited in each home each year. Now there is so much to choose from, that we find ourselves knee-deep in catalogs when we leave the book fair. Many of us actually allow our children to play outside before 3:00 PM; we didn't always. So much water has passed under the bridge since then!

Homeschooling was in its infancy and none too popular in those days. People who homeschooled were considered the “weird, Mother Earth News” types. Homeschoolers were the ones who wanted to upset the status quo and live in the Montana wilderness, with other survivalists just like us. Perhaps the weirdest part of this whole experiment may have been that, for once in the modern history of the United States, we had the support of both religious conservatives and the ACLU! Fact is stranger than fiction, folks.

 I can't remember those days without thinking of those who were diligently teaching their little ones even before me. I remember the mom who had to have her well, septic system, and the “fire exits” in her home inspected in order to meet code, so that her home could be considered a private school. Another mom was visited by social services. It took her a little while to get the county official to agree with her, that since her son wasn't seven years old, he didn't have to be registered for school yet. And if you think it's tough to tell the parents and the in-laws of your decision now... Well, you get the picture.

So what's the point of this sentimental journey? Only this: guard it well friends. If there's one thing my years in homeschooling have taught me, it's that it has its phases, trends and cycles just like everything else in human experience. Remember, once upon a time, public education was in its infancy too. At the turn of the century America witnessed the dissolution of the one room schoolhouse in favor of graded schools. In the 1920's there was a trend toward getting more students to attend high school. Shortly thereafter, began the neighborhood public school system which, in less than 30 years, evolved into the national disaster that we see today.

As a community, home educators have passed through the lean years and into a boom time in what we might call a “golden age” in our profession. (By the time Elizabeth, our youngest daughter, graduates I will have been teaching the girls for over 20 years. Go ahead; “make my day”. Tell me I'm not a professional educator!) We have become a politically savvy group of individuals who can wade into a discussion on educational theory with the best of them. But sometimes I get a little concerned about those who don't remember our fledgling past. I worry that they might not be as careful as we were forced to be, to protect the right to teach our own children. The real danger, in a word, is that homeschooling has become mainstream (Ugh!). When a movement becomes mainstream, I contend that it is in jeopardy.

 In the 1980's, parents considered home education as an option, chosen either from desperation, or a strong sense of God's prompting them to teach their children. This is still true, in large part, but there are no immediate legal risks anymore, and educational materials and mentors are readily available. It's not even as hard to tell the grandparents any longer. After all, just about everyone knows at least one homeschool family, so the idea is not alien.

Some parents are making the decision to homeschool with less deliberation than is warranted. Some do not do the reading and research first, partly because they have already observed that homeschooling is successful. They do not seem to agonize over the decision. There are a few who do not worry as much about making a good impression when they are out in public anymore. We still need to be on our guard and prove ourselves, and will for the foreseeable future. We simply cannot become careless in this. Do not mistake this; we are still being watched. The difference is that now there are so many of us that we are much easier targets. Our integrity as educators and as parents must be above reproach.

Recently, there has been a greater move toward networking and cooperative learning experiences, which poses another challenge. These experiences can offer exceptional opportunities for families as long as we remember that we are not a unified private school, we are homeschools coming together for cooperative learning and enrichment. It may seem that I'm splitting hairs, but the reality is that this difference is as crucial as the demarcation of the boundaries between “homeschool” and “school at home”. As we continue to network there is the potential to create our own style of bureaucracy and to slacken our hold on the reins of our children's education. In short, being in the mainstream has the potential to make us careless, and consequently, to lose all that we had envisioned and all that we have gained. Then we could really be “just like the real schools.” Is that what we want?

Then there arises the question of our personal activity in protecting homeschooling. It is imperative that we pay attention to those legislative alerts. When we get those phone tree calls, we need to at least make an attempt to follow through with the requests. Our congressional leaders still need to hear from us from time to time. If for no other reason, they need to know that we're engaged. We still need to read our local and NCHE newsletters from cover to cover. And we still need to tell our old stories from the early days of homeschooling, to new homeschool parents as we mentor them. One thing is certain, personal liberties are only as real as we demand that they be. We will only continue to have the freedom to homeschool if we are indeed, eternally vigilant. In saying this, we should remember that ultimately there is no permanent political solution to these or any other concerns. Rather, our protection, our solution, is in our Heavenly Father. Teach your children to pray to keep homeschooling legal and thank God every day for this precious freedom.

 Let's check in the rearview mirror, too. We should remember the pioneers of the early 1980's who shaped what home education has become in North Carolina. Let's remember the outstanding job they did in helping to draft the few, reasonable laws with which we must comply. Let's remember their sacrifices and the many ways that they blazed a trail for us on tiptoes through a very thorny place. And let's honor them by following in their diligent, careful footsteps. Count the cost.

Be just as radical as we have been accused of being. Make it a point to stand head and shoulders above the crowd, whenever and wherever your family goes, and in whatever they do. Redouble your efforts to reach for excellence in everything you touch. As parent-teachers, be always growing in faith and in knowledge, as a professional and as a parent, through books, workshops and support groups. Simply refuse to accept mediocrity in any area of your life. Guard it well.

Lisa Sharpe and her husband, Reverend Benjamin Sharpe, live in Fayetteville and are in their twelfth year of homeschooling. They have three daughters, Rebekah, 15, Kathleen, 11, and Elizabeth, 7. Lisa currently teaches the high school public speaking class and coaches the debate team for her support group's weekly enrichment day.

GREENHOUSE is NCHE's flagship publication. 

GREENHOUSE magazine is published fall and spring plus an annual graduate issue in May. GREENHOUSE is mailed to NCHE members.