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September 2008
By Matt Binz

(Mr. HomeScholar)

The 5 Corners of #Homeschooling @TheHomeScholar In our neighborhood is a quaint relic of a bygone era known as 5-Corners. Sure 5-Corners is an intersection, but it is also much more. In reality, it is a silent monument to the greater Seattle area's proud history of alcoholic traffic planners.

From 5-Corners you are faced with a plethora of options. You can turn right, veer right, go straight, turn left or assume the transportation equivalent of the lotus position; doubling back on yourself in a truly unnatural act of automotive contortion.

As I was waiting at the red light, weighing my options, I thought about the myriad of choices awaiting homeschool families as they enter the high school years. Far from just moving straight ahead, there are dozens of billboards enticing families to veer off into some sort of educational Promised Land.

  • Straight ahead is homeschooling high school with graduation, college and career success clearly visible just over the next rise.
  • To the right are alt-ed programs with their promise of "free curriculum" and state sanctioned education.
  • Veer right toward co-ops with their ready-made social structures and pre-chosen curriculum.
  • To the left are accreditation agencies and certified teachers who entice you with a "certified" transcript and "professional" educators.
  • Doubling back to the left will lead you to public schools, but that road, I've heard, is filled with pot holes, nails and broken dreams.

So, which way to choose? The brightly colored signs are all very tempting. I wonder what would happen if I turned another direction....

As I consider turning right onto Alt-Ed Avenue, I begin to ponder the wisdom of my then 11 year old economist son, Alex, who was the first to reveal to me the hidden mysteries of our state controlled economy.

The 5 Corners of #Homeschooling @TheHomeScholar
Alex, age 11, studies economics

"Dad," he said, stroking what in years to come would grow into thick blond stubble, "In a normal economic exchange both parties are saying that they value the thing they gain more than the thing they give up. The problem with exchanges with the government is that you can never be really sure about what you are giving up."

"Not bad for a midget," I think, as I'm filled with a proud paternal glow.

In terms of alt-ed, what this means (I think) is that what you are getting is tangible - money for books, curriculum, and lessons. What you give up is less obvious, but not less valuable. What value do you place on being able to educate your own children? How much money would you need in exchange for the right to freely communicate your faith and values to your kids? In truth, alt-ed is making the most craven of appeals: money in exchange for your children. Now, I'm sure I love a good red porridge as much as Esau did, but not nearly enough to sell my birthright.

Well then, how about veering off onto Co-op Court? What could possibly be wrong with teaming up with like minded homeschool moms in order to educate your kids? Seems perfectly harmless, right? Perhaps. But again, the annoyingly high pitched memory of my pre-adolescent son's voice comes to me:

"Dad, what will you be giving up? Is it worth less than what you gain?"

The 5 Corners of #Homeschooling @TheHomeScholar
Alex, age 75, Federal Reserve Chairman
(age enhanced photo)

In the case of co-ops, what you give up is control. Not control in the bad sense, but in the positive sense of homeschooling independently: The ability to choose the perfect curriculum for your child; one that is tailor fit for their needs and passions. Control of the speed at which you move through the school year, with the ability to start, stop, and rearrange to perfectly meet the needs of your child and family. Control to allow a true measure of delight-directed learning along with the more standard curriculum. And, perhaps most importantly, control to guide your child toward healthy relationships in the broader context of society; rather than giving them over to the frequently shallow attachments common in any classroom setting.

Many co-ops started out as small bands of moms, but have grown so large and structured that it is virtually impossible to distinguish them from public schools. One co-op board member complained that a student came rushing through the hallways and around the corner, smacking right into her. To his credit, the student apologized before dashing off. What was significant about this event was that our friend confessed that she didn't have a clue as to who the child was.

Think about that. A coop leader who had been involved in the very founding of the co-op did not recognize one of the students! We were surprised until we learned that this particular co-op had over a thousand students! Nobody could keep track of that many kids!

The 5 Corners of #Homeschooling @TheHomeScholar OK, but how about Accreditation Lane by way of Certification Circle? Surely if you want to get to college, you're going to need to travel there. That has a LOT of value, right?? Once again, my young Milton Freidman comes to me....

"Dad, you know the oldest trick in the book is to try destroying the value of what the other person has in order to convince them that exchanging with you is in their best interest. Think about why you bought your Wii. Wasn't it because you were convinced that your PlayStation 2 wasn't cool enough? And now, they both sit there, silently mocking you...."

At this point I'm tempted to throw my nunchuk at him but remember I'm in my car and not playing my beloved, but somewhat dusty, Wii.

With accreditation agencies, you give up autonomy and control to gain a piece of paper that declares your homeschool "accredited" and your report card "official." Never mind that most colleges don't care much about accreditation or "official grades," or that even some public high schools aren't accredited. So how do these groups convince so many to take this left turn?

They use fear.

They reinforce your doubts by suggesting that you are incapable or will fail your children if you teach them independently. They raise the stakes by reminding you how much you can lose if you don't homeschool "correctly." They make homeschooling high school seem so difficult that no one could possibly do it without their help. You've got to give them credit - those are some pretty powerful buttons they are pushing! Don't believe them for a second, though. It's a lie.

You CAN do it, and I can prove it. We did it ourselves!

So what to do? Time is running out. It's time to choose!

The light turns green and I head straight....

Straight back home.


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