Rachel Coleman: “Good homeschooling … is not something that happens automatically”
“All of the things my parents did—creating curriculum plans, putting together annual portfolios, having us tested—they did in an effort to homeschool us effectively and responsibly. My parents would not have found oversight of homeschooling an inconvenience or burden because they already voluntarily did everything effective homeschool oversight generally requires.”
I was homeschooled from kindergarten through 12th grade, from 1992 to 2005. I received an excellent education and went to college on scholarships. So far, four of my siblings have similarly graduated and headed off to college on scholarships as well. A fifth sibling will graduate this spring and already has college all lined up. History, art, accounting, engineering, computer science, nursing—my parents have launched five, and almost six, homeschool graduates who are successful and productive adults by essentially every measure.
I was homeschooled in Indiana, a state with no oversight of homeschooling. My parents did not even have to file notice, which meant that as far as the state knew, we did not exist. All of the things my parents did—creating curriculum plans, putting together annual portfolios, having us tested—they did in an effort to homeschool us effectively and responsibly. My parents would not have found oversight of homeschooling an inconvenience or burden because they already voluntarily did everything effective homeschool oversight generally requires.
At the beginning of each year, my mother planned what subjects my siblings and I would study and created a curriculum plan for each of us. She poured over homeschool catalogs, browsed curriculum at homeschool conventions, and consulted with my father and my siblings and me. She sought to take each of our desires, needs, and interests into account. At the end of each year she created a portfolio for each of us. It included that year’s curriculum plan (revised if there had been any changes midyear) and samples of our work on each subject. Much of what was included was creative work, along with worksheets, tests, and exercises. At the end of sixth and ninth grades my parents had us tested using the Iowa test in order to see where we scored compared to other children our age and ascertain what subjects needed extra work.
One of my younger sisters has Down syndrome, and my mother diligently put in the research and found therapy for her. My parents joined a support group for parents of children with Down syndrome and participated in the local Down syndrome community. My mother worked with various service providers to draw up developmental plans and goals for my sister, according to her own needs and abilities, and regularly assessed where she had made progress and where she had more work to do. She is ahead of her therapists’ projections for her.
There was more that contributed to our success, of course, including numerous cooperatives and enrichment activities. During high school, my siblings and I took AP tests at a local high school and courses at a local state college. There were children’s choir, music lessons, music groups, and ballet and gymnastic classes. Over the years we were also involved in a variety of homeschool co-ops and activities. Especially memorable to me are a music and arts co-op and homeschool speech and debate, both of which I participated in throughout high school. More recently, number of my younger siblings have been involved in Civil Air Patrol.
Good homeschooling, the kind that produces productive and successful adults, is not something that happens automatically. It is something that takes effort, work, and tireless dedication. My parents were well-educated and financially stable, which gave them access to resources and social capital that also contributed to our positive experience. Further and perhaps most importantly, my parents placed an incredibly high value on education and took their responsibility very seriously. My mother worked with my siblings one on one, and my parents have been receptive to feedback from their oldest children as well. When several of my siblings and I told our mother some time after we graduated that learning advanced math independently out of a textbook had been too challenging for us, she responded by finding math tutors or online programs for the middle and younger children. My mother also recognized that each child was an individual with different interests, learning styles, and educational needs. When one of us had difficulties in a given subject, she sought out resources and looked into new teaching strategies. Today, my mother speaks at regional homeschool conferences on subjects like getting started homeschooling, homeschool record keeping, and homeschooling through high school.
Growing up, I assumed the other homeschooled children I knew were receiving the same solid education I was, and perhaps they were. My friends and I generally bonded over things other than our schoolwork or academic pursuits, and I lost touch with many of them when I moved away and went to college. When I was first in graduate school, however, one of my brothers got me in touch with a friend of his who was in an abusive and neglectful homeschooling situation. I wanted to help, but there wasn’t much I could do because of the laxity of Indiana’s homeschool law. After I talked ot her and heard her story, I called child protective services, the only agency that deals with educational neglect in homeschool settings in our state. When I got back in touch with her some years later, I learned that child protective services had indeed visited, and that they had helped. I also learned that her parents had moved to Tennessee, and that as a result of that state’s more thorough oversight of homeschooling, her younger siblings’ education had improved. When I told her that I had called child protective services, she responded by saying “Thank you for caring enough to call.”
Better homeschooling laws would have improved my own experience in some small ways. Some of my siblings were interested in sports, but were barred by law from participating in the state’s public school leagues, which severely limited their options. Also, a homeschool law with specific subject requirements for high school would have helped my parents better plan my high school years. When my mother went to put together my high school transcript, she found that in order to award me a “Core 40” diploma I would have to meet certain subject requirements. She had not known this, because the lack of any homeschool law meant it was not specified anywhere. I did not meet the requirements, and that sent my mother scrambling to pull things together. She did not have this problem with the middle and younger children, but only because she had belatedly learned what was needed when graduating me from high school.
While my homeschool academic experience was overall very positive, my interaction with my brother’s friend revealed to me just how badly homeschooling could go wrong, especially where there is a lack of accountability. I am an advocate of homeschool laws that provide homeschool parents with guidance and accountability and offer homeschooled students resources and safeguards. I believe that every homeschooled child should have access to a basic education, and I would contend that even dedicated homeschool parents like mine stand to benefit from effective oversight and good homeschool laws.
Rachel Coleman was homeschooled in Indiana from 1992 to 2005. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
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