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Wax On, Wax Off

by Diane Keith

Our Readers Respond To:

What Is It With Homeschoolers and Money?

In the last issue of The Link, I wrote an article titled, “What Is It with Homeschoolers and Money?”  (You can read the article in its entirety at The Link website at: www.homeschoolnewslink.com .)  I told readers that I really wanted to hear their thoughts on the subject.  I received many responses that raised further issues for consideration, and thought I would share them with you in this issue…

Why Is it More Noble to Be Poor than Rich, or to Be A Single Parent than a Nuclear Family?

Dear Diane:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for that wonderful article on homeschoolers and money!  It raised a number of issues that I want to address.

In thinking about why poverty is supposed to be more noble for homeschoolers than wealth, I'm still puzzled as to the etiology of this thinking. Perhaps the old Leon Festinger motto, "Rats and people come to love the things for which they suffer" comes into play.

I don’t understand why homeschoolers who are poor seem to think they are morally superior to those of us who are able to use our incomes to better our children's lives. This seems to come up time and time again on many homeschooling email lists that I read. Why do folks who claim that they can't afford to buy books for their kids, or provide them with piano, dance, sports lessons, etc., think that they're somehow "better" for lack of financial resources?  For example, one woman recently posted that as a single mom, she can't afford to provide her kid the "after-school" type activities that everyone else seems to think are good for kids, but that "we all know" just push kids into a stressful rat-race!!  Again, the subtle claim that because poverty precludes putting her daughter into gymnastics classes – it is somehow more noble and better for the kid!

I took my daughter to see a free production of the opera Rigoletto. I mentioned this online and someone wrote me back that I was "elitist" in taking my kid to see the opera. What does "elitist" mean? Is it a euphemism for "white" and "rich?" Similarly, I got trashed once again, for paying "outrageous amounts of money" for my daughter's weekly piano lessons. Is that "elitist?" My kid's been taking piano lessons for almost 8 years.  She’ll never be a prodigy or even a university music major. However, I do think all this musical training will stand her in good stead for the rest of her life -- probably more so than any Calculus or Biology course. I consider it an investment in life's happiness.

While my family is on the other end of the financial spectrum, my husband works hard so that our family WILL have financial security and that we can provide our child with whatever activities, lessons, classes that we think would be in her best interest. Why is having money such an attribute to be looked down on? We don’t live flamboyant lives. So why do people who have less than we do, seem to think that they're somehow better than we are? 

It fries me when people proclaim that "Gee, I'm sure my kid would love to take science class but I just can't afford it."  Then they get into their big Ford Explorer and drive away.  The difference in price between an urban assault vehicle and a family sedan would more than buy the children a wealth of wonderful homeschooling experiences!

And a corollary to this issue, which truly frightens me, is that because single parents have to struggle to parent their children they are morally superior to those of us who are raising children in 2-parent homes. That boggles my mind! Single parenthood due to divorce or choice IS a fact of life but it is a sad one, in my opinion.  I don't mean to put down single parents – au contraire – I have great respect and admiration for their efforts, but it's certainly a far-less desirable lifestyle and "habitat" to raise happy, healthy, and successful children than in a home where children get the love and support of 2 parents, male and female in their lives. Has the nuclear family truly become passé?

I wonder if that might account for the subject of a cover article in a local newspaper that I recently read.  It dealt with adolescents and their “problems” such as depression, suicidal thoughts, run-away experiences, stress, and inability to communicate with adults. I feel out of touch if this is the popular experience. The only one of the issues that the article raised that I could remotely relate to was that of stress. But since we've opted out of the public school pressure cooker, and since I let my daughter have as much autonomy over her life as possible, she experiences little if any stress.  As my homeschooled daughter gets older (she is a teenager), I find the parenting experience to be more and more enjoyable. She really is a decent, happy, young person whose company I enjoy. As a homeschooling parent, I helped shape this. My kid is definitely NOT alienated from society. Many homeschool parents seem to enjoy and spend lots of time with their teenage children. Their teens are the kind of kids that are a delight to their parents because the parents invested themselves (more than just their DNA!) into their upbringing. In the final analysis, the little stuff (like did they pass the SAT, or take gymnastics lessons, or go to the opera) is of minor interest. In the long run we are raising the next generation -- and that IS important to me.

Elaine,

California

Teach Your Children To Be Good Stewards

Dear Diane:

The topic raised in your article is a hot button in our family. Maybe we should expand the title to "What is it with People & Money?"

It seems so often in my conversations with people that money, or lack of it, comes up.  In our family, we make it a point not to talk money with others.  I get very tired of hearing people say they don't have enough money for such-and-such, or that they can't afford this or that.  People make choices in life that affect their use of their money. Personally, we have been on both sides of the fence.  In 1992 my husband was let go from his job just six days before our third child was born. Near the end of that year, he began a construction business with his brother.  As you can imagine, we didn't have much money for the first several years.  However, with much hard work on all of our parts and the Lord blessing the efforts, they have developed a growing business.  Some people consider the business as "successful" -- which it is, as it meets its goals and provides a livelihood for many families.  Through our experience, we know what a dollar is worth and get fed up with those who are always trying to get something for free.  Yes, we all must be good stewards of what the Lord has given us, using money and other things wisely, but that doesn't mean we should be cheap or cheat others out of a living.  We have a saying:  "You get what you pay for." As you said in the article, “Our children learn their attitudes about money from us."  May we teach our children to be good stewards.

Cheryl

Greenville, SC

I See Nothing Wrong with Marketing to Homeschoolers 

Dear Diane:

Kudos on your article on homeschoolers and money that was run in The Link. It has been an issue that has disturbed me for some time. I have seen decent people given flack because they own their own businesses and market to homeschoolers. I know of one woman who actually said she was "a better source of information" because she gave information away for free. She was comparing herself to another homeschooling mom who supports her family with her own business. Her attitude was "How dare you charge!"

It took a lot of courage for you to write that article and most likely you will get some people who disagree heartily with it. But I'm not one of them. Way to go!

Kate

California

Singling Out Homeschoolers Seems A Bit Harsh

Dear Diane: I just read “What Is It With Homeschoolers & Money?”  I found it interesting, and I have to say that my experiences with homeschoolers are pretty much the same as yours. I will say, however, that I don't think homeschoolers are any different than the rest of the population.  I used to own a business and could not believe the number of people who came in expecting something for nothing.  There were days when I had more people looking for a donation to their favorite cause than I had paying customers, and I would guess that a good half the paying customers expected something for free just because they had made a purchase.  I grew up on a farm and was always amazed at the number of people who expected farmers to donate milk for school lunches.  People don't seem to think about the fact that selling milk is how dairy farmers make a living, and most aren't making a particularly good living at that. In short, I think singling out homeschoolers for their lack of desire to pay for goods and services is a little harsh.  They are no worse than the next guy. Donna

There Is No Evidence To Support Your Argument

Dear Diane:

I found it very ironic to be reading your column in a free publication saturated with advertisements. I counted 30 of 72 pages fully devoted to advertising services or products, of one type or another, for a fee.  In fact, there were very few pages that didn't have some type of advertising. I think you miss the point of free enterprise and capitalism in your column. Prices are set by supply and demand.  Based not only on this publication, but also the glut of junk mail advertising, trade and conference shows (ranging from local to national) and opportunities available thru the four homeschool groups we belong to, we ARE spending money! I would also contend it's a buyers market!

I highlighted your sentence "Nor should paying a fair price for value received..." because a question jumped into my mind.  Who decides what's fair?  In our system the market does, and that's us!  Profit margins are a relative term and any size business will fail if there is not enough demand for the product/service, despite the price.

As to the examples you cited, the wealthy homeschooler and the homeschooler who organized the science classes, they are anecdotal; therefore, they do not provide evidence to support your argument.

In closing, I have no problem being known as one who bargains, barters and haggles.  Nor will I have a problem teaching my children the same.  I think whining or demanding are not accurate descriptions.  We simply will take our money elsewhere if we do not perceive a value for our hard-earned money.

Jim Thoma
Prosperity, SC

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

Dear Diane:

Unfortunately, I've found much the same thing as you.  One of the things I find here is that no one wants to actually PAY for anything!  My theory for the folks here is that public school is supposed to be free, therefore, why isn't homeschooling?

I actually had a woman ask me how much it costs to homeschool my kids on a yearly basis and when I told her (it's about $l,300 per year for the whole family) her jaw dropped.  I asked her what she had to buy for public school per year and I was amazed.  They literally spend hundreds of dollars on stuff from scissors to paper to books and then they have to go out and sell wrapping paper!  All this for a FREE education!

  Bottom line, I think it comes down to accountability.  If you're going to be accountable, it's going to cost you!  Frankly, the thought of government vouchers makes me barf, but there are plenty of people who think the government should subsidize our homeschooling efforts.

Terri Blessman

Colorado

Using the Library Is A Pain In The Neck – So I Clean Houses To Buy Books

Dear Diane:

I just HAD to respond to your article, because it is so timely for me! I usually spend about $1000 on books at the beginning of every school year (and probably another $500 during the year). We fall into the $20-40K income level. I clean two other houses (besides my own) each week to pay for my educational endeavors.  My kids help me, which is a good experience for them as well. Most of my friends’ hubbies probably make substantially more (based on the size of their houses and the cars they drive). Anyhow, they are always nagging me, "Why do you BUY everything? Why don't you just use the library?"

So...YESTERDAY, I did it...I did the dreaded deed...I went to the library. I was prepared, I had my list of books in hand and the kids had their schoolwork so they could sit quietly while I looked for the needed items.  My list consisted of 17 items. A few were books that were out of print and I figured the library would DEFINITELY have those items. I wasn't sure about some of the newer books. I found four of the 17 items I wanted and it only took me about one hour (not including driving there and home). Then, I went to a friend's house and did a library search on her computer of the library adjoining our county. Again, I found about 4 of the books. This process took about an hour.

Last night, I got out my box of homeschool catalogs. My husband brewed me a cup of hot tea and the kids were in bed. In less than 30 minutes I was able to find ALL of the books except the few that were out of print. I later found those on the Barnes & Noble website. So, in under one hour, I was able to procure EVERY item on my list. Isn't my TIME just as important as my MONEY???

I have found that I use about 95% of the curricula I have bought. In talking to my friends who use the library, they are missing some of the MEAT of their programs because the books aren't available when they need them.

However, the thing that annoys me MOST, is how those "library gals" call to BORROW my stuff!  In fact, I had a "waiting list" on one of my books! Now THAT is ridiculous! So, I have begun saying, "Yes, I DO have that book and I'm renting it out for $X." They are STUNNED. RENTING it out???

I wish they would just admit that using the library is a pain in the neck! It is time consuming to find the books and if you don’t return them when they are due -- you have to pay a fine.  A friend recently confessed to me (when she was renting one of my books) that her library fine is $30 and she can't borrow anything else until she pays it!

The OTHER thing that annoys me is the negative reaction people have when they ask my kids if they do any extra curricular activities. My 13 year old says, "Well, I take piano, tae kwondo and an art class." My 7 1/2 year old adds, "I take art, tae kwondo and acting" and my daughter finishes with, "I take ballet, tap, liturgical dance, art and piano. Next year I'm dropping ballet and doing acting instead".  The disapproving way people react to this information is astonishing.  (In case you are wondering, we have an arts program at a community center in town and we spend 3 1/2 hours there two days each week. My kids are all in classes at the same time and my husband meets us there w/a picnic dinner).

As I was saying, people’s reaction to the news of my children’s activities is so critical. They like to point out that the kids won't be able to be good at everything they do. Do they think I don't know that? But, how can you find out what you ARE good at if you don't try a lot of different things? My kids have also found out you can enjoy the activities that you are good at because you shine, but you can also enjoy the activities that you struggle with because the challenge makes every victory that much sweeter!

Anyhow...I just wanted to say THANK YOU for the article! It helped me to feel okay with the fact that I'm just NOT a library gal and that there is NOTHING wrong with cleaning the homes of other people to enrich the lives of your children.

Carrie Bislow

Pay for Goods, Barter for Services, and Get Information For Free?

Dear Diane:

I think the money problem is based on goods versus services and information. Goods are "understandably" costly due to production and material costs. However, "help" in the form of services or information is at times free and at times not. So, you expect to pay something for a coat or a dishwasher, but you don’t necessarily expect to pay someone to help you.  Often, we want the exchange to be free or a barter for services (help me move, and I'll help you fix your bumper).

The idea that things should be free is also a more recent trend given the Internet. Free music on the Internet. Free information. Free books. Free courseware. Free newsletters. Free software programs, etc. I think it is not just a homeschooling problem but a society problem.

Homeschooling classes are sometimes "co-op" so again people are emotionally expecting to "barter" even if they have nothing to contribute at the time (or ever intend to).  One other thought is that "educators" get "discounts" so that may further the "where's the discount" mentality among home educators. I also think your comment about our compulsory education being "free" (and therefore a strong contributor to our assumption that all education should be free) is right on target .

I think your article will help those who want to offer classes, etc. to feel less uneasy about applying a fee -- and maybe help others to find their compassion.

Kathi

Danville, CA

A Matter of Common Courtesy

Dear Diane:

I agree with much about your article.  I try to plan one group field trip a year. On one such trip I "made" some money.  I did warn the group -- before the trip -- that any money left over would be donated to a homeschooling advocacy group.  Believe it or not, someone said I should have called the 20 or so people to ask for their permission.

I have also conducted field trips for which I undercharged and just ate the cost. I learned a lesson.  Now, I pay attention to the person who organizes field trips and make sure to ask if she received enough money to pay all the expenses. I think all homeschool parents should have the courtesy to ask that question of their hosts, and offer to contribute more in the event expenses are not covered.

Anna

California

A Lesson In Finances From God

Dear Diane:

My husband and I live in a trailer so that we can afford to live on one income and homeschool. 

I was raised to economize.  I had to do it for so long, I got tired of having to always "make do" and be "creative".  Even as our finances improved somewhat, it was still hard for me to have to pay full price for anything.  I felt guilty over going out to eat or buying a new dress for myself.  I had gotten stuck in a poverty mentality.

Whenever any extra money came in, I would excitedly plan what I would do with it...things on my need or want list...things I had put off for so long.  Almost without exception, a major crisis would come and take the money -- like a car repair, home maintenance or some unexpected expense from out of the blue.

Once, when we had a $500 repair job done on the heater, I felt so awful about it.  I kept thinking surely there was some way we could have gotten it for less. 

Then the Lord showed me, "Robyn, that man is supporting his family by doing this job.  I have provided the money for you to pay for this work.  Now be glad that his children will have food on their table."  There is at least one scripture about the laborer being worthy of his hire.  God reminded me of that one.

Believe it or not, God gave me permission to spend on luxuries!  I felt guilty when we went out to a restaurant.  But when it turned out to cost more than I had expected, I would just feel sick.  Then a thought kept nudging me..."You are contributing to the economy.  Because you eat here, these employees have jobs.  Their families have food and clothing and shelter."  After that, I felt glad to have contributed to their well being instead of worrying about the extra few dollars I hadn't expected to pay.

Now I know that a “shop-a-holic” could take much comfort from my words...but I don't mean them as an excuse to be unwise.  God just helped me lighten up with my penny pinching misery.

He's shown me much more along the way about valuing myself enough to buy decent clothes and cosmetics and taking better care of myself.  How can I love my neighbor as myself if I don't love myself first?  If I totally neglect myself, soon I have nothing left to give.

Often, after we had tithed (whether we had money for the electric bill or not)...we would see someone in need and not be able to help them. That felt awful. In our current church they are raising money for a new building.  We need one desperately, but I still see the American "gotta have it all and have it now" attitude at work in my church.  There are times when I feel led to feed the hungry or clothe the naked or pay someone's electric bill instead of supporting whatever new thing is the rage in my church.  I think we often confuse "church" with "kingdom"...even though there is much flesh and error in the human church world.

I said all this to explain some of the processes God has taken us through to change our thinking about money.

As we have learned to listen to God about paying fair price and giving from the heart we have experienced much more financial freedom than ever before.  We can give joyfully.  We can even experience joy when handing over $500 to a repairman. (Though that's a little harder sometimes!)

However, through all my poverty and thrifty ways, I could always find money for books (often used, though) even if I had to do without decent clothing or other things!

When it comes to homeschooling, I'm starting to believe many homeschoolers would rather be doing anything else.  It's a drudgery...a duty...more like "paying" than "giving" from the heart.  They don't value their children enough to invest money, time or energy in their education.  They resent having to do it at all.  They want what's cheapest and takes the least time from them.   Lots of homeschool kids possibly would get more invested in them in public school. 

I'm afraid many are homeschooling because it's the "politically" correct thing to do among their Christian friends.  When that's their motive, it certainly shows in how they approach it.

Most homeschoolers are even worse when it comes to doing their share in the local support group.  There is a new breed emerging in the past 3 or 4 years.  They think they are "entitled" for someone to offer classes and activities for their children. They act as if the support group is an "institution" that exists for their convenience.  They ask lots of questions about why don't "they" (whoever "they" is) or "you" plan or do this or that.  They are downright offended that it might be up to them to plan or organize whatever bright idea they are promoting.   Many of them actually think they can just drop their kids off.

Some of these are willing to spend a little money.  People are constantly calling a local tutoring service and homeschool support group leaders and asking "Will you homeschool my children?"  They probably would expect to pay $1 an hour.  These people view the support group as an educational "institution" much like the public school system.

Well, that's probably more than you wanted to hear!  Right now I'm pretty fed up with homeschoolers in general!  The new ones expect too much and the self proclaimed "veterans" whine and want to control everything (at least in my neck of the woods).  Why can't we all just act like adults and respect each other? 

Robyn

Tennessee

Consider A Husband’s Influence, and the Number of Children

Dear Diane:

Possibly, the reason that some of the homeschoolers feel the way they do is that their husbands, being the ultimate authority in the home, have put a budget on homeschool spending.  So the mom feels she could spend her money on more things if she tries to find the best price.  Many homeschool moms are “book people” as I know that I am (and my husband is not - which makes it hard for
him to understand why we need so many books).  That $48 per student per class that you wrote about could buy how many books?  Now, I thought that class sounded like a good deal, but I have my 8th child on the way and if I were even going to send 3 or 4 of my children to this class it would really add up.  So, for some moms this can be a deterrent. 

I think for the most part it has a lot to do with how the husband, who works hard to earn a living, feels on the whole subject.  Since moms are the ones primarily responsible for curriculum choices, purchasing, teaching, and knowing how each of the children learns best, it's hard for our husbands to really understand what we are in need of for our children's education. 

Wanda

Wisconsin

Homeschoolers Complain About FREE Field Trips!

Dear Diane:

I have been in our school district’s home study program for many years, and have organized field trips, workshops at nearby museums, and weekly classes.  This year I heard the best money complaint yet!  One of our science classes cost $1.00 each week for materials.  One woman said that sometimes the $1.00 was a problem and wanted to exchange supplies!  I do not believe anyone cannot come up with $1.00.  You can find change under cushions or recycle cans!  Of course, she also wanted reimbursement for curriculum, and the program advisors to meet her at night!

I have also organized museum workshops that cost $6.50 for the class (includes entry to the museum). Homeschoolers sign up and don’t enclose their payment. I have to call to remind them to pay, or pay myself and hope to get it eventually.  One woman delayed sending her check, and her husband is a doctor!  Another laughed and said, “My husband forgot to send the check.”  People don’t seem to understand that we have to pay for classes by a deadline, and that if we make a deposit, and then have to cancel, we don’t get a refund. 

For these reasons, I have learned to schedule free trips – and then some homeschoolers fuss about the quality or size of the free gift some businesses give us! 

Nellie

California

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