This book began as a blog post on my own life as a working homeschool parent. In it, I asserted that parents who homeschool their kids are engaging in educational entrepreneurship. I also called for more stories about these parents, as well as information on how others could follow in their footsteps.
A few months later and at the invitation of my publisher, GHF Press, I began a year-long study of how American parents juggle conventional roles (breadwinners, volunteers, caregivers for young children, elderly, and disabled family members) alongside their roles as home educators. Essentially, I wanted to discover how ordinary parents were pulling off the balancing act, keeping the plates of work, homeschool, caregiving, and volunteerism spinning. The volume that you hold in your hands is the end result of that inquiry. Hopefully it will help launch a timely discussion about maintaining a career (or at least holding down a job) while homeschooling.
The discussion is pertinent because, at the time of this writing, at least two million children nationwide are homeschooled. That number rises steadily each year as more parents opt out of traditional public and private school models. While homeschooling grows in popularity, I still encounter people who say, “Oh, dear. Teach my kids at home and work, too? Oh, no, I could never do that. I wouldn’t know how to begin. I’d go insane.”
Using the anecdotes shared in the first half of this book, I will demonstrate that one can indeed “do that” and provide sensible advice on how you, too, can do it. In essence, this text is a synthesis of collected stories, experiences, and lessons. (Survey responses have been edited for clarity, as appropriate.)
Through my research and the experience of conducting four online how-to-homeschool workshops in 2012, I’ve become even more convinced that working homeschool parents—armed to the teeth with technology and unprecedented access to information about education—are part of the new breed of “educational entrepreneurs.” Many of us have liberated ourselves from traditional definitions of “school” and freely borrowed and transformed ideas and best practices from various sources to craft unique, rewarding, and customized learning systems within our homes. We have stitched homeschooling into the weave of our lives, if not seamlessly, at least functionally. Our houses and apartments have become laboratories, spaces in which we tinker with ways of teaching, learning, working, and living.
A Creative “Can Do” Spirit
Long before I started working on this project, I noticed a commonality among successful, content, and well-adjusted families who homeschool. Whatever their respective education levels, income, location, or obstacles, they typically are headed up by at least one parent possessed of a discernibly entrepreneurial spirit.
By definition, successful entrepreneurs take inventory of their assets and opportunities, organize, coordinate, tailor, lead, motivate, and, most importantly, take calculated risks with their undertakings. In fact, in the business world, the absence of risk aversion is arguably the clearest mark of an entrepreneur.
All homeschoolers take on risk when they pull their kids out of school (or never place them there in the first place) against convention, norms, and the tsk-tsks of neighbors, family, and school administrators. They pursue home education, uncertain about which curriculum book or teaching style will work for each kid or how long they can teach at home before some unknown, unforeseen variable (the kids, the job, the marriage) changes and derails plans. They come up with the best action plan they can muster and dive in.
However, when parents homeschool while working outside the home, they risk further judgment by bosses, coworkers, and clients. They may reduce hours and salary, give up plum projects and assignments, or sacrifice long-term financial plans in order to place emphasis on fulfilling their children’s educational needs in the near run.
Basically, it takes moxie to work and homeschool.
It also takes a willingness to be a social change agent simultaneously in one’s home (by redrawing the lines of education and day-to-day living), one’s community (in organizing and/or participating in educational, social, and cultural activities targeting homeschoolers), one’s workplace (in openly pairing work responsibilities with home education), and in the wider culture.
Again, all this potentially sets one up for being regarded as “different” and inviting open, uncomfortable criticism or even outright contempt for one’s lifestyle choices. Again, there is risk.
Yet over time and with the efforts of people like those profiled in this book, I predict that much of that risk will wane. It already has in many places. As the number of homeschool families rise and become more visible, we’re introducing other adults to a viable educational alternative. In communities which serve as vibrant incubators of home education, homeschooling has practically become just another education choice, regarded as simply the third option beyond public or private education. The stigma is gone and the risk is diminished, thanks to the parents who went before us, many of them never dreaming that they might both homeschool and work openly and comfortably.
Therefore in their ability, in the aggregate, and to redefine the status quo, we must ultimately regard modern working homeschool parents as social entrepreneurs, people who bring change close to home and within the larger structure of society.
Who are these enterprising people?
Homeschool entrepreneurs are the seemingly ordinary moms and dads who, even though they may feel nervous about adapting home education for their households while staying tuned into the working world, approach the task with a passionate curiosity and willingness to rethink how families work, live, learn, and play together.
Sometimes this entrepreneurial spark is temporary, fading into the background once a reliable routine is established and the family is content with the process. In other families, one or both parents continue to poke and prod at the central idea of home education and tinkers to refine and improve efforts.
In the pages of this book, I will introduce you to some of these homeschool entrepreneurs, people who graciously shared their stories in the form of inspirational and pragmatic advice.
For my research into working homeschool parents, I interviewed almost 100 adults through two simple online surveys. I also interviewed another dozen parents in person, by telephone, or via email. As word about the book spread, people whom I’ve never met took the time to write down their thoughts and email them to me. Fans of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF) Facebook page (Facebook.com/GiftedHomeschoolersForum) provided insights in their responses to two queries made on the page by Corin Goodwin. While most (not all) of the parents who provided insights into the topic presented on these pages identified themselves as parents of gifted and/or twice-exceptional (“2e”) learners, I believe their experiences are reflective of the broader collection of working homeschool parents.
Of course, writers rely not only upon research but also upon their life experiences when crafting an article, blog post, or a book. For that reason, it’s time to move to Chapter 1 and let you in on my life as a homeschool parent.