A Public School Teacher Speaks from the Heart to You ~ the Homeschooler

Mark Twain has famously said, or has been said to have said, something along the lines of, you should not let school get in the way of your education.

quote-Mark-Twain-i-have-never-let-my-schooling-interfere-100661_1 I was blessed to have been born into a family which held this attitude. Also, I was fortunate to have lived in places, where outside of school, there were a plethora of educational opportunities. My parents took me in and out of school to allow me adventures and opportunities that sitting in a classroom would never have allowed. The schools were fine with this. There was a time when there was some mutual respect between parents and school, but in the age of accountability, much of that has gone away. Restrictive absence regulations are in place. Why? Every minute your child spends in a hard plastic chair equals a modicum of progress in the educational Holy Grail – the end of grade tests. I have a passion for what I do; I am a public middle school teacher. I do believe that what I do makes a difference.

However, I know I am working within a flawed system. Hundreds of articles by other teachers attest to the fact that many teachers feel the same way. Until education reform is based on a philosophy that holds the child above all else, rather than on political agendas, this will be the case. As a teacher, I can say that what public schools and most private schools are good at is educating a large population at one time. The hitch is this means there is little room to recognize or sculpt curriculum to a child’s individual needs. If your child has no individual needs, public school is a great place for him. Oh, wait! All children have individual needs. This is why, as a public middle school teacher, I make every attempt to find out my children’s talents and interests, but in a class of 25 plus, I would be lying if I told you that I could really build on those each and every minute they are in my class.

If I discover your child has a passion for nature photography, I can’t haul the entire class out to the Arboretum to help cultivate that passion, while linking it to lessons in optics, botany, biology and writing, then have them all back at school in an hour for their next class. These limitations are the main reasons that I think homeschool parents should feel good about the choices they are making for their child’s education. Yet, there are others. Public school education, even at the lowest grade levels allows for very little physical activity. Recess time has been whittled down to allow more time in class to allow for higher test scores. From this arises a whole host of problems for children such as over diagnosing of hyperactivity and attention disorders, emotional disorders, and to me the worse, children hating school — hating learning. Learning, the great joy of many of our lives, made a hated thing?

Perhaps one of the most hurtful policies is the pushing of advance learning goals to lower and lower grades. For instance, reading in pre-K. Most children are not ready to read for many years after that. Boys especially may not be ready to read until they are seven or eight. My own father never really read until he was ten. When he did begin to read his love of reading and his skill was a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand, my son read at two. He was the unique one though, not like my father and his slower progress. These years of non-reading garnered my father shame and scorn. He thought he was stupid. This is a situation that more children are facing now because of the reading standards are pushed even lower.

In our test crazed system, children are expected to progress according to the standards, not their own unique timetable. However, these standards are not compatible with child development. As I said before, I try to get to know my students and what drives them. I must admit that I can do little with this knowledge and the knowledge I gain is imperfect. You, the parent, KNOW your child. You know what is best for them. If you have misgivings about your choice to homeschool or unschool, this incontrovertible fact should give you heart. You know your child. You know what is best for him or her.

As a final salve let us list some people who were homeschooled and did okay: Thomas Jefferson, Louisa May Alcott, Teddy Roosevelt…feel free to continue the list.

Lisa Hope Vierra-Moore

I have always thought of myself as a homeschooler who sent her children to school. In my upbringing as an “Army Brat,” I have experienced just about any educational environment you can think of. The good, the bad, and the train wrecks. I was born in Frankfurt, Germany in the early sixties and moved often from that point on. As a teacher I have taught high school English, psychology, world history and philosophy. For the last 10 years I have taught 7th grade English Language Arts. I received my undergraduate degree from Presbyterian College. I am a great lover of literature and the arts. Creating whimsical art from found objects, painting, cooking and family fun fill up my non-work time.



Zen and the Art of Homeschooling from an Improv Perspective

Your suggestion is “write me a blog entry.” Go!

It’s 9:30 a.m. on a homeschool day, and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. The kids are still asleep, which means I have time to finish this article. And by “finish” I mean “actually write.” But the hard work is done; I have a title.

Laugh if you will, and I will say the title is the most important part of the article: it gives the writer appropriate context, so that as she is filling up the Word Processor, she will not spill out so many random thoughts. More importantly, it narrows the available options on what to write from infinity to a much more manageable set.

This is one of many little hacks that I have learned from practicing, performing, and teaching improv. People who take improv classes are often surprised to find that improv is so much more than getting up and being funny. It changes you. The skills and techniques that improv is based around are incredibly valuable in business, life, and —yes — homeschooling.

Much has already been written about the value of improv for business leaders and school-age kids. Even the single improv lesson on learning to fail can have a significant positive impact on kids.

And this post isn’t about helping the kids to grow, Mom and/or Dad. It’s about you.

And how you can benefit from taking improv classes (even if you never, ever intend to perform), or at least read and practice the techniques (sometimes called “rules of improv”). Improv is great for parents in the same way ballet helps football players: it strengthens the auxiliary and complementary muscles that help with balance and strength.

Let’s go through those techniques and see how they apply to being a homeschooler:

“Yes, and”
Of all the improv “rules” this is easily the most recognizable, thanks in large part to Tina Fey. The premise is simple: when you use the word “but” it stalls the dialog. In improv, it means the scene is usually over. In life — and I have found especially with teens — it means the conversation is over (and not generally on good terms).

This simple change is so powerful, it has its own book and is a centerpiece of today’s communication coaching for business leaders. It does not mean you must accept what the other person suggests. It is simply a way to affirm what the other person is saying, in order to bring the conversation together. Consider:

Kid: I just want to play Minecraft!
Parent: Yes, but you still have school work to do.

Although perhaps not intended, this response from the parent carries the weight of an either/or proposition. Using the word “but” tends to polarize our thinking: in this case, the kid is likely to now think of the situation as one where he can play Minecraft or do schoolwork, but not both.

Kid: I just want to play Minecraft!
Parent: Yes, and you may when your schoolwork is done.

It is a small change, and it will yield surprisingly positive results both in you and your kids!

Let it go
Don’t let the Disney association fool you: “Let it go” is more than an auditory virus that you can’t seem to shake. Zen masters and improvisers know the value in not being attached to particular outcomes. In improv — unlike scripted sketches or plays — we never know where a scene will go. All we can do is be present, listen to our scene partner, and make good choices for the now, trusting that whatever comes will be worthwhile.

Yeah, it does sound a lot like life. Especially homeschooling, where many of us begin the process before we fully understand it.

There are far too many outside pressures pushing you to have very specific, measurable outcomes. Don’t let that keep you from following your good instincts and moving forward. And the best way to “let it go” is to embrace your inevitable failures.

There are no mistakes, only opportunities
One of my kids is, and has always been, a bit anxious. A few years ago, at Christmas, the whole extended family was sitting around the table playing cards. When it came E’s turn to play, he froze. “I don’t know which one is the best to play.” Several adults offered up suggestions, without much success. I turned to E and said, “Remember our motto.”

Almost immediately, E smiled and played a card, no longer concerned about the best possible play. My brother asked, “OK, I have to ask. What is your motto?”

E beamed and said, “We suck, and we love to fail!”

This is always the hardest technique for adults to really buy into, probably because we weren’t taught how to fail as kids. Although recognizing failure as something to be embraced has been gaining traction recently, there’s still a great deal of stigma associated with it. The problem with shying away from the failures isn’t that you’ll make fewer of them, it’s that you won’t see the opportunities that are available from them.

In an improvised scene, if everyone has dialog that is appropriate and normal, the scene will probably be fairly dull. When someone makes a mistake — by saying a phrase the wrong way, or using the wrong word when they meant something else — we all move toward the mistake. Because that’s where something interesting happened. And more importantly, because we all support each other on stage, we know that we can make that mistake something amazing!

You probably already encourage your kids to explore, to take risks, and to revel in and learn from the mistakes they make. How about giving yourself the same grace? After all, how better to demonstrate that failure is not permanent nor shameful than letting them see it in their parents?

Stop bridging
This technique is for those of you who are considering homeschooling, and haven’t yet decided to do it — perhaps because you’re worried about your qualifications, or your patience, or whatever. Stop bridging.

The term “bridging” is when you know you need to get to the other side of the river, but instead of just crossing it, you spend time building a bridge. In a scene, often when we all know (including the audience) that a particular character has to die, or that two characters are going to rob a bark, or whatever. Bridging is when we stall or otherwise over-plan without actually getting there. People do that a lot in life, too.

Building the bridge helps us to feel like we are getting something done, without actually having to cross the river. Because getting to the other side is often a little scary, and — perhaps more significantly — we’re worried that we might fail once we actually get there.

Now that you accept failure as a necessary AND AWESOME part of life, there’s no need to keep bridging. Jump in, swim across, and be done with it. You’ll figure out what you need to figure out once you’re there!

…and that’s scene!
I badgered my wife to take improv classes. It’s true. I’m not proud of it, but I am glad I did it. I had been doing improv for a while, and finally convinced her that the skills would be useful in her writing (she’s a writer, so it was a brilliant argument on my part). When she finally gave in, she made sure I understood that she had “absolutely no interest in performing.”

She’s a full cast member now and performs most weekends. And she’s hilarious.

See, you don’t have to be a “comedian” or the person always making jokes to be great at improv. You just have to learn how to give and receive support, to trust in yourself and your scene partners, to give up on knowing how things will go, and to embrace mistakes. If you can do that, you’ll make some great improv comedy.

Funny thing is, it’ll also help you make some great homeschooling.

Carey Head is a writer, improviser, entrepreneur, minor league humorist, homeschooler, and generally opinionated scuttlebug. He lives in Belmont, NC with his wife, three boys, dog, cat, cockatiel, and assorted insecurities. He loves long lists and the Oxford comma.

You can find outdated information on him at http://careyhead.me

Happy April Fools’ Day! Get out there and laugh!

This Secular Homeschool Blog Brought to you by Selective Mutism

While looking at my calendar a few days ago, I realized that we are approaching our twelfth homeschool anniversary. According to hallmark.com, I should expect gifts of silk, linen and pearls. I’ll drop a few hints and register at Saks later. First, I want to share the story of how we became a secular homeschooling family:

Twelve years ago, my oldest daughter was in third grade at the local, public school, and she was struggling, but challenges were nothing new to her. Born weighing less than two pounds, she’d already been through a lot. Doctors were honest and straight-forward about her prognosis from the beginning and predicted that, if she lived through birth and then survived the inevitable preemie complications and infections, she would have significant developmental and learning challenges. We didn’t know how severe or what kind, so every milestone she met was a cause for celebration.

Visits from a hospice nurse and an early intervention specialist began the same week she came home from the hospital. She was monitored closely and diagnosed with mild to moderate learning disabilities and developmental delays before her second birthday. As she got older, she was easily frustrated, often anxious and stubbornly resistant to change. During her first year of kindergarten, she developed an unusual coping mechanism: she completely stopped talking at school.


That may not sound particularly alarming, but this wasn’t shyness. And it wasn’t temporary. The following summer, she was formally diagnosed with social phobia and selective mutism, a response to stress that causes someone to involuntarily become mute in overwhelming social situations. Specialists, therapists and developmental interventionists could not get this child to talk. And she didn’t utter a sound at school from the middle of her first year in kindergarten to the end of third grade.

Some resources describe selective mutism as a disorder. Others approach it as an indirect effect of or coping mechanism for a larger disorder like anxiety. Our search for answers was long, frustrating and fruitless. What eventually became apparent to me was that, regardless of what caused the anxiety in the beginning, it was important to remove my daughter from the situation that caused her the most stress (school) in order to allow her to get a proper education and to learn to cope with and overcome her anxiety.

Home education was the answer for us. Initially, I was reluctant. I knew a few homeschooling families, and I didn’t want to be like them. They were church-going rule-followers with traditional family values. I am not. They used religious resources and Biblical study as a guide. I didn’t want that. And I knew no secular homeschooling families. Nonetheless, with her dad’s support, I took what I thought would be a short break from my career in media and dedicated myself to my little girl’s education and well-being.

It was slow going at first. During instruction, my daughter would shut down and stop speaking to me. Then, she’d resume conversation when “school” was over. Eventually, I learned to take cues from her. When she’d stop talking, I’d stop talking, and we’d write notes back and forth until she’d completed her school work. From there, she graduated to whispering when she was unsure of an answer (she was terrified of being wrong.). Then she began talking all the time. Two years later, she was on a stage in front of a crowd reciting lines from Shakespeare as Helen of Troy.

In retrospect, I know I pushed too hard that first year. My naive goal was to get her caught up with her peers in time to put her back in school. One day, it dawned on me that sending her back would likely undo all the hard work we’d done and plunge her back into a silent existence. At that moment, we became a homeschoolers for life.

Rather than overprotecting or sheltering her from the “World of Stress”, I believed that a homeschool environment based on reason and sound observations would allow us to rebuild her confidence, rekindle her sense of curiosity and then gradually reintroduce her to the “World of Possibilities”. Our hard work has paid off.

She is still awkward and uncomfortable in many social situations, but she has learned how to handle herself, make friends, hold conversations, tell jokes and be happy. At the age of 22, she may not know how to drive (yet) but she is learning computer programming and hopes to create her own games and apps. A few years ago, she returned to her old school to meet with and actually speak to her former teachers. Some of us cried. It was amazing to see her come full circle.

Now, I am homeschooling my younger daughter. Although I hesitate to call her typical or average, she has none of her sister’s challenges. They couldn’t be more different. We started this journey to help a silent little girl find her voice, but I continue to homeschool because I’m convinced that I can give my children a better, more realistic and more useful education based on reason. It has been the best parenting decision we ever made.

Natalie West (Guest Post) is a writer in Mississippi.

Savvy Homeschool Moms Podcast

Our very own Mari Beth Buckroth was recently a guest on the SavvyHomeschoolMoms podcast!


Listen to her episode here


Why “Neutral” Science Isn’t Neutral

Are there any science types reading that title wondering who I am? Or do you know who I am and think that I’ve finally lost it? I am not talking about science as it is practiced and taught at most universities throughout the United States. I’m talking about that special brand of “neutral” science found in the homeschool community.

The “neutral” science I’m referring to is science that suffers from omission. These are middle and high school level science courses that leave out the bits they think will offend people because of their faith and philosophy of life, or omit things to obfuscate the importance and acceptance of science principles and theories. Any middle and high school level science course that does not include the main principles and theories that are the foundation of that science is not neutral at all. In fact, they would be the opposite of neutral. “Neutral” science allows for a pernicious form of proselytizing that for the most part goes unnoticed in the homeschool community. It allows for groups such as the intelligent design camp to sneak their views and beliefs into texts that look like they only teach science. Texts that are infused with someone’s religious beliefs are actually well-disguised religious treatise and dogma. They are not neutral, and do not represent mainstream science.

If you had told me a decade ago that I would be arguing against religious extremism in science I would have thought you were nuts. I am a scientist, not a religious scholar, or a religious philosopher. As such I write about science not religion and not philosophy. Unfortunately, in the homeschool community, there are those who write science texts who allow their faith to affect their writings about science. For someone who is a passionate advocate for the teaching of science this is actually offensive to me. It is also disappointing when I see people unwittingly recommend courses that have this sort of religious dogma hidden within them.

Personal beliefs don’t have a place in science courses. It isn’t the job of science to support an individual’s philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works, even when scientific explanations are at odds with the person’s philosophical beliefs. Science by its very nature is neutral. What is neutral for science is to report the facts, accepted principles, and current theories. As a textbook author, I do decide what to include and what not to include in my books. My decisions for this are based on what is taught at well-regarded universities. I choose the best of those courses, look at what they include and how they are structured, and then write courses structured similarly, for the appropriate grade level. This is what you should expect from a course that you are using to educate your child.

How can you as a nonscientist figure out what to use? There are some key things to look for in a middle school or high school level science course that is truly neutral:

  • The inclusion of evolution: Here is a neutral statement from the science of biology, “Evolution happens.” When we talk about the theory of evolution, the theory part refers to the processes of how evolution works. For example, there are theories about how multi-cellularity and eukaryotic cells evolved; no one knows exactly how either of these evolutionary steps occurred. That evolution occurs is a fact. No neutral middle school or high school biology course would omit it. No neutral biology course would omit how all the organisms on earth came to be here.
  • Is the word design used in place of the word evolution? Fashion designers design clothes. Scientific researchers design experiments. Organisms evolve; they are not designed.
  • Is the word created or creation used when discussing how organisms, the universe, or matter came into existence? Organisms evolved; they were not created. The universe and matter formed from events that started with the Big Bang; they were not created. There is simply no evidence that any of these were created. The only topics and statements that belong in science courses are topics and statements that have evidence supporting them. Topics and statements based on a person’s beliefs with no supporting evidence belong in a philosophy course, not a neutral science course. When scientists do not know the answers to questions, for instance: “how the first organism evolved, and what its exact chemical makeup was” or “what it was like right before the Big Bang,” it is inappropriate to answer with personal beliefs.
  • The inclusion of the Big Bang Theory: Here’s a neutral statement from the science of astronomy, “The universe is over 13 and a half billion years old. The best explanation for how it came into existence is the Big Bang Theory. The evidence for the Big Bang Theory grows all the time. The Big Bang Theory explains how all matter and antimatter in the universe came to be, even the matter that makes humans.” This is a scientifically neutral statement. An astronomy course that does not include an explanation similar to that about the Big Bang Theory is not neutral.
  • Another neutral statement, “Humans have been burning fossil fuels in increased amounts since the Industrial Revolution. This has led to an increase in carbon dioxide and other molecules in the atmosphere that absorb sunlight in the form of heat. The more heat trapping molecules that are in the atmosphere, the more heat that is trapped, and the warmer the planet becomes. It is simple thermodynamics. The increase in absorbed sunlight is causing climate change on a global scale.” Any geology or environmental science course that does not include this topic is not neutral.
  • Does the middle or high school level biology course only teach the old Linnaean system for classifying organisms? This is the system that uses kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. This might seem like a minor point, but scientists and universities only use the Linnaean system for naming organisms. The Linnaean system is popular with courses that are not neutral because it supports the philosophy of the “Great Chain of Being.” The modern method for classifying organisms used by scientists and taught at universities is phylogeny and cladistics.

You might think that chemistry and physics are immune and that you didn’t have to worry about those two subjects. The problem is what is being left out. What key parts of these courses are omitted? As Bob Seger says, “Deadlines and commitments; What to leave in, what to leave out.” If scientists are writing these courses, and I’m not always sure that they are, what are they committed to? No scientist committed to adequately educating people in these areas of science would omit these facts and theories. They must be omitting key parts of these science disciplines to further an agenda other than quality science education.

Here’s the problem with a chemistry or physics textbook that omits key parts:

  • Chemistry is the science that definitively proves that evolution occurs.
  • Physics is the science that gives the clearest evidence that the Big Bang is how the universe came into existence.
  • Physical chemistry is the area of science used to study and explain climate change.

Many of the so-called “neutral” science courses omit the parts that provide the evidence supporting these facts and theories. If you use these “neutral” science courses for your middle school or high school chemistry and physics, your child will be left without the necessary science background to understand evolution, the Big Bang Theory, climate change, and other key science principles. If you use these “neutral“ science courses for middle school or high school biology, astronomy, geology, or environmental science, your child will not even be getting the necessary background in these areas of science to understand that science discipline. I think you’ll agree with me, that isn’t neutral at all.

Blair Lee, M.S.

Author REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2 and Chemistry 1 published by Pandia Press

Visit my Blog


I will be speaking about science and creating a Handcrafted Education at the CHN Conference, Torrance, CA, June 19-21 and the HSC Conference, Santa Clara, CA, July 31 – August 3


Have a voice. Help Build the Vision. Be Represented. Represent.
Attend the 2014 Inaugural National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers Conference September 4-7th in Atlanta, Ga.

NASH will be a registered non-profit with By-Laws and an elected Board of Directors who will appoint an Advisory Board. We have reached the stage in our development where we have what is currently necessary in order to host the 1st Inaugural Conference and thereby finish building the foundation of NASH. Our current agenda contains items that are actively being addressed while still being open and flexible to incorporate the input from those at the planning sessions and first Board meeting.

We are moving forward with our expectation that NASH will officially launch between October 1, 2014, by opening member registration, and as a registered non-profit at the first of the new year. The necessary discussions and subsequent decisions will be made with the input of all those secular homeschoolers who give their input, offer to volunteer, or otherwise lend their voice as well as those who support secular homeschooling and secular homeschoolers. The conference is being held to conduct the 1st Executive Planning Sessions and Board Meeting of NASH.

The NASH staff experience includes those who work or have worked in the areas of: finance, legal, administration, community outreach, media, public relations, political affairs, and marketing. We also have individuals, who work in their own community homeschool groups, dedicated to Program development and Membership Services. Our intention has always been to create an alliance organization with the input of those with whom NASH will serve.

It started with a general idea and was fueled by a passion and it’s grown to where it is at this time. The further growth and evolution of NASH is not only going to come from the efforts of those who are currently working for NASH but from ALL who will come and give their input and time at the planning sessions.

Thank you.

Moving Secular Homeschooling Forward

The National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers

is honored to announce
the support of

Secular Homeschool.com


We are proud to reveal the new N.A.S.H. website:


N.A.S.H. wishes to thank its Volunteer Staff for their hard work and dedication!

Coming Soon!

More exciting announcements from N.A.S.H. and Secular Homeschool.com.

As the secular homeschooling movement moves forward in the 21st century, be a part of the journey!