Monday, January 11, 2010

My Unsolicited Advice to Homeschoolers

No doubt you've heard of the case in New York, where the parents were arrested recently for having failed to complete the required paperwork for their homeschool. And then yesterday, someone asked a question to one of my many Georgia homeschooling lists that sort of surprised me.

I'm not going to quote the whole question, but basically, the parent was wondering about how to keep the appropriate paperwork and meet the testing requirements--so that "they" know what learning is happening in the home, how to "physically prove" to "them" that learning is happening. Further discussion revealed that the questioner received information about the laws in Georgia in a second-handed, unverified manner.

I wrote the person back and we had a nice little back-and-forth exchange, and then I posted my main remark to the group. It was all very congenial, and I think the person was helped by my response and the responses from others, and I'm glad this matter has been settled.

But I was slightly alarmed, because here in Georgia, there is no "them" to which we homeschoolers are required to demonstrate any kind of "physical proof" of testing or curriculum choices. Nope. And I should make this clear--the person with the question is already homeschooling in the state of Georgia.

There is a "they" to whom we send a yearly notice of our intent to homeschool (DOI), and monthly attendance reports that mark the days each student attends homeschool. That particular "they" is the local (often county) school system. As far as I'm concerned, the above information is way more than "they" deserve to know in the first place, and I certainly don't want "them" to get any more information than is already required of me, lest they begin to expect it, as government officials are wont to do (give 'em an inch!).

I was slightly alarmed by the question, because I think that people who choose to homeschool in our state ought to already be aware of this.

And this is not the first time such questions have been posed to the email lists on which I lurk or participate. So I really don't mean to pick on this particular person. Still. Here I am, alarmed.

So here is my unsolicited advice to homeschoolers here, and across the country:

Know your state's homeschooling laws.

Read those actual laws yourself, with your very own eyes and using your very own mind.

Do not rely on information you receive from your school system, or information that comes in conglomerated, summarized formats (such as on HSLDA's site), or information that comes from other homeschoolers in your state (including me!).

Know your state's laws backwards and forwards, and pay attention to any new laws that might impact the current state of things.

If you know what your laws are, then:

  • You can decide for yourself how (or even if) you will follow them.
  • You will be able to know if (when?) the state or the school system demands information from you that you are not required by law to provide to them.
  • You will be able to stand up for yourself in the event you or your child is ever questioned by a truancy officer. (Note: I haven't heard of that happening recently, or in metro Atlanta, but this is a possibility that lurks in the back of my head.)
  • You can help other homeschoolers who have questions know where to go to find the answers themselves.

In my perfect dream world, there would be no compulsory attendance laws (aka "Butts in Seats" Laws) anywhere. But alas. So for now, I have to deal with the laws of the state I've chosen to live in. I will fight my hardest to keep our laws just the way they are thankyouverymuch, and then I will fight even harder to change them in the direction of MORE freedom for home study families.

The absolute BEST way (in my humble) to ensure that the laws that already encroach on our freedoms remain where they are and do not encroach further, is for the citizens of our state--especially those to whom these laws specifically apply--to be informed about the laws, and alert to any changes (for good or ill) in their status.

So please, inform yourself. If you live in Georgia, here's a good link that will get you to the right place. Go there first, then click the link to the Georgia General Assembly web site to look at the law yourself. If you live in another state, I encourage you to contact your local homeschooling resources to get information about where to read the appropriate statutes, or actually go to your legislature's website.

Your homeschooling freedoms--and possibly your family's ability to remain together--depend on you being an informed citizen.


jody said...

Although a passion for lifelong learning is a main educational goal, I would expect that home-schoolers would have in mind the entrance requirements for university and the attainment of skills for self-support (self-reliance) in the job market. I am familiar with two cases of home-schooling, one in which the home schooler was accepted to a prestigious college on the west coast and became a CPA, and another where the home-schooler appears to have only the equivalent of an eighth grade education although she will soon be an adult. With freedom comes responsibility.

Daisy said...

Great post. More homeschoolers need to shed their fear. The way to do that is to be informed THEMSELVES of what the law says. None of those documents are terribly difficult to understand. Once you understand the documents, don't give them one scrap more of information than they are allowed by law to require.

Saying, "Well, so-in-so told me...," doesn't hold up in court very well, and feigning ignorance just makes us all look bad, imo.

Ryan said...

Thanks for motivating me to do a followup post on my blog regarding homeschool law. I had a brief post following the same NY story and now I realize I should have been more specific in recommending a more thorough review of the actual printed law. I did post "begin learning the laws that affect homeschoolers" which to me translates into "just for starters".

Are you saying that the HSLDA site is completely void of usefulness? I was thinking it was at least a good place to start, as far as helping people find the actual laws by providing the statute numbers etc. I think the disclaimers on their site should indicate to the readers that more research is in order. Due diligence and all that...

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

I see your point, Jody, and it's certainly sad that the one child received a poor education. Keep in mind that many, many kids get out of government school with the same literacy levels. :( I have yet to meet a parent in our local homeschooling community (even beyond the normal groups I hang out with) who doesn't care passionately about their child's education, and who doesn't work toward helping their children gain independence as adults. Yes, I do have a responsibility to my children, but that responsibility was not given back to me somehow from my state when I decided to take on their education. I have moral responsibilities beyond anything the state decides to sanction.

Daisy, I agree that the laws really aren't THAT hard to figure out. Sure, it's a bit daunting to read legalese, but then again, Shakespeare's daunting, too.

Ryan, I will freely admit that I'm not the world's biggest HSLDA fan. I just checked their website for the first time in a good long while, and their little map about how intrusive the state laws are still shows GA as a "Moderate" state, which according to the legend means "State requires parents to send notification, test scores, and/or professional evaluation of student progress."

This is not true. The state wants copies of notification of the homeschool and monthly attendance reports and that's it. We are required to test, but not to show the scores to any govt official. Same with keeping a progress report. Notification of homeschooling is not the same level of intrusiveness as providing test scores or submitting to a portfolio review, IMO.

If someone exploring homeschooling just went by their map, they'd get a wrong impression of GA (I'd consider us a "LOW" regulation state). I can't say anything about the accuracy of other states. I did note that in HSLDA's explanation of the laws, they got GA's correct. But it baffles me why it's wrong on the map, and I think someone who views them as the absolute authority on homeschooling in the US (a view they are happy to encourage) might just look at their map and think that GA requires test scores. Especially if one doesn't delve any more deeply or tries to verify for oneself.

Uh, sorry about the ramble....typing quickly before a sick baby wakes up!

Ryan said...

Thank you for your insight Jenn. I'm very new to the homeschooling scene and I am learning as I go. Sites like yours are so uplifting that I can't put it into words. It IS tough to sort the trash from the treasure on the Internet. As long as we have knowledgeable people like you out there, we have a chance of staying on top of things.

Luckily for me, Kylie is only 4, so I have some time before our homeschooling is "official". I hope to work out the legal and procedural details long before I need to worry about breaking any laws.

Thanks again!