“That moment made me realize that, while my parents were highly invested in us jumping through all the hoops to make sure we succeeded, not all parents are like that. Not all homeschool parents know how to educate their children — let alone educate them well. Not all homeschool parents care about the quality of their children’s education.”
I didn’t always believe in homeschool oversight.
I used to think the IRS was “the Gestapo of the United States” and that public schools were run by “communists and socialists” who want “to brain-wash America.”
When I was 15 years old, I had a pocket-full of libertarian dreams inspired by the Cato Institute andWhatever Happened to Penny Candy? I made a low-quality website, stitched together with my beginner-level html skills, and dubbed it “The Center for American Freedom.” On that website my teenage self waxed (not very) eloquently about how American children were “hooked on drugs, are likely to commit suicide, and know no difference of what is right and wrong” — and all because of “the federal-run public schools.”
As I have grown up, I have realized that accountability and responsibility — even when required by the government — can be great tools. I have realized that checks and balances — even checks and balances on parental authority over children — aren’t a vast left-wing conspiracy but are actually fundamentally conservative.
What might be most confounding about this shift away from my childhood’s “libertarian or bust” mentality that loathed all government intervention in education is that I had a positive homeschool experience. Believe it or not, my positive experience is exactly why I support oversight today.
I was raised in the state of California. I was homeschooled all the way, from kindergarten through high school graduation. My parents were dedicated, thorough, and conscientious. They wanted to besure that we received a good education, so we took the Iowa Basic Skills Test several times. We took the PSAT and the SAT. Subjects my parents could not teach, like chemistry, we took at the local junior college. My parents kept detailed records of what we did, so that our transcripts were legitimate and descriptive.
But we had privilege.
I was lucky. Not everyone had parents like I did.
Not everyone had parents like I did. That’s why I support oversight.
Here’s how I realized this: When my older brother and I were about 16 and 14, my parents had us take the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE). The CHSPE is an early-exit exam for high school students in California. Students who pass it are — for all intents and purposes — “graduated” from high school. California law declares, for example, that any business that requires a high school diploma for any purpose must accept the CHSPE as satisfying the requirement.
As my brother and I (and a few of our friends) prepared for the exam, we heard about how easy it was. We heard that the fact that it was easy was proof that public schools do a bad job of teaching. If it’s so easy and that’s all you need to graduate from public high school, how bad are the public high schools? Har har!
Full disclosure: it was super easy to me. And I was 14 years old. There was not a single algebra problem on the exam. It was nothing but arithmetic.
But two things surprised me:
One: I wasn’t the only young kid there taking the exam. There were other 14 year olds who were public schooled. Some of them even finished the exam before me. So I realized that my perception of public schools was slightly off. Whether a school was “home” or “public” couldn’t be presumed to be indicative of the quality of a child’s education.
Two, and more importantly: A few months later, after my brother and our friends and I passed the CHSPE with flying colors, we were standing around joking about how easy it was and how stupid anyone must be to not pass it. It just so happened that, unbeknownst to us, a 17-year-old homeschool girl overheard our conversation. She went home crying. We found out later that this young woman — 17 years old — failed the CHSPE.
17 years old. And homeschooled.
That moment was the beginning of a long journey, a journey that has led to what I believe today. That moment made me realize that, while my parents were highly invested in us jumping through all the hoops to make sure we succeeded, not all parents are like that. Not all homeschool parents know how to educate their children — let alone educate them well. Not all homeschool parents care about the quality of their children’s education. Even the parents that co-existed with mine, that went to all the same meetings and conventions that mine did.
My parents did everything above board because they believe in accountability and stewardship. And they looked to existing laws to ascertain what “above board” meant. Not every state even has such laws.
I didn’t always believe in homeschool oversight.
But I used to be blinded by my privilege.
Ryan Stollar was homeschooled in the 1990s and early 2000s in California. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.