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Guarding Our Birthright - the Question of Accreditation

by Dr. Mary Hood

Have you ever read the story of Jacob and Esau in the Bible? They were the sons of Isaac, and in those days, the eldest son always received the birthright and all of the father’s worldly goods. One day Esau, the eldest son, who enjoyed hunting, had just returned from his time in the woods, and was absolutely famished. He found Jacob cooking a marvelous meal and as the smell came wafting over towards Esau, he decided he absolutely had to have a taste. Jacob replied that he could have all the soup he wanted, if he just traded it for his birthright. Esau answered something like, “What good is a birthright if I’m dying of hunger?” In one fell swoop, he traded everything for a single meal.

Are we homeschoolers guilty of doing the same? Are we trading our birthright, the right to control and direct the education of our children, for a bowl of soup? How about for a computer, or some free curriculum, or some gambling money to send our kids to college?
As I travel the country, in state after state I see the same thing happening, in slightly different guises. The older homeschoolers, those who fought for the freedoms we now enjoy, are starting to fade from the scene. The newer homeschoolers, in many cases, don’t fully understand the fight that was waged to secure their current freedoms. In some states, like California, they are being enticed by government programs, private school status, or charter schools. However, I’ll let someone from California discuss that some day. For now, I’d like to share with you the story of how the homeschoolers of Georgia (where I live) are giving away their freedom, one chunk at a time.

Years ago, in the eighties, when I was a young homeschooling mom in Alabama, everybody I knew was considering moving to Georgia because the law in Georgia was so lenient. For years, all Georgians have had to do was to file a simple paper at the start of homeschooling each year, hand in attendance papers once a month (as in “Yes, my child was with me today.”), and that was really about it. They were also supposed to do standardized testing once every three years and have some kind of an end-of-year assessment (that they did themselves) in their files, but no one ever actually asked to see any of this.

Over the years, the number of homeschoolers in Georgia grew and grew. They turned into a huge lobby, and after awhile, it became clear that the legislators were never going to be able to take the away the freedom they enjoyed. Then came the big, bad wolf....the “Hope Scholarship”.

Georgia’s Hope Scholarship program is a beacon of light to all, according to the media. Everyone wishes they had a program just like it. Only no one outside of Georgia sees the real effects of the Hope program. In my opinion, it has been the ruination of the educational system at the university level. You can get a full free academic ride at any Georgia college by simply getting a “B” average at a Georgia high school. I hate to admit it, because I really do like living here, but to get a B average at most Georgia high schools, you really only have to show up most of the time and avoid getting thrown out. Therefore, many students are showing up at Georgia colleges now that really have no business being there in the first place. The dropout rate for freshmen is very high. In order to maintain a reasonable number of students past the freshmen year, there has been a large tendency to dumb everything down and inflate grades. Many of these kids wind up getting “B” averages in college, despite the fact that the passing rate on the basic literacy test that is given between the sophomore and junior year is very low.

By the way, homeschoolers are able to get the Hope scholarship, too. They have to wait until the end of their freshman year in college, but then, if they get a “B” average, they receive the scholarship retroactively and continue to receive it throughout their college career, so although they are being discriminated against according to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, they aren’t being discriminated against badly enough for anyone to actually read the constitution and demand a change.

So what is the main problem with this situation? After all, homeschoolers have NEVER had to be accredited to get into Georgia colleges. They are still admitted on the basis of a portfolio and transcript, and can receive HOPE money after the fact. They have NEVER had to show anyone their curriculum materials, or have professional evaluations, like some other states require. However, a few people, (who may or may not be well-meaning, and are often profiting from the situation), have set up something called “accrediting agencies” for homeschoolers. At the curriculum fairs, the programs that have chosen to accept such accreditation have big banners stating, “Fully Accredited and Accepted By the HOPE Scholarship Program”. Despite the fact that ALL homeschoolers are accepted by the Hope program if they get a B average their freshman year, many homeschoolers, especially newer, less knowledgeable ones, are flocking to these programs in droves.

So what is the problem with accreditation? Plenty!!! First of all, so-called “accreditation” is only as good as the answers to the questions, “Who has accredited this program?” and “Who accepts this accreditation and for what?” In the south, the only agency that is fully recognized as proper accreditation in all circumstances is known as “SACUS”, which stands for Southern Association of Colleges and Universities. This is not the accreditation that is being offered to homeschoolers. The other accreditation, in my opinion, is quite bogus. Most colleges, when approached with the question, “Do you require accreditation to apply to your college?” don’t even know what the students are talking about right now. Just watch what happens, though, if the current situation continues to build up steam.

As an educator, with a fairly broad view of the picture, (I’ve taught in college besides being a leader in the homeschooling movement), I can picture what is going to happen. First, a lot of people are going to accept this bogus accreditation. Second, when enough people are doing that, the public universities will be armed with the ability to say, “These people are accredited. Why aren’t you?” At that point, they will be able to sneak a new law or rule into the mix that states that you need accreditation to be accepted at college, or to get the scholarship. I promise you that the MOMENT that happens, the next thing that will happen is someone will say, “But that isn’t real accreditation. You need the real thing...SACUS.” (By the way, each region of the country has a corresponding organization...Midwest ACUS, NE Acus, etc. I don’t know the exact abbrevations, though.)
The moment that it becomes a widespread regulation that such accreditation is necessary for college admissions, we will have given away our birthright. Such accreditation requires a school, a headmaster, a large library, and other things that are impossible for homeschoolers to provide on their own. The only way for homeschoolers to remain legal will be to become satellites of schools. The personal freedoms Georgians have enjoyed for so many years, to select materials and methods without any outside meddling, will be a thing of the past.

What is the issue in your state? Are you willingly submitting to high school accreditation when it isn’t really necessary? Are you trading your freedoms for promises of charter school status, free computers, free curriculum materials, scholarship money, special education services, or anything else? Be careful of any and all attachments to public education. You never get something for nothing. There are always strings attached.

As far as Georgia goes, without a massive change of heart, I’m afraid I’m going to see a steady erosion of homeschooling freedom until it is all gone. Once the high schools really have to be accredited, it will only be a matter of a few years before the middle school, and then the elementary school will go the same route. At that point, homeschooling as a genuine, unique option will have gone away and we will simply be one subset of the public education system.
So, what do we do? Complain and gripe and cry about the situation? Or come out fighting????? Regain the spirit of the pioneers of homeschooling! Trust yourselves and try to do it without all those expensive curriculum materials and extra classes!!! Print out your own transcripts on your own computers and stop relying on “experts”, including me!!! With apologies to Home Depot: You can do it! God can help! - M.H. ■

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Dr. Mary Hood has homeschooled her five children in Georgia and is well-known around the country as the Relaxed Home Schooler. You can obtain a free sample of “The Relaxed Home Schoolers’ Newsletter” by writing to POB 2524, Cartersville, GA 30120. Hear Dr. Mary Hood live at The Link “kid comfortable” Homeschool Conference in Los Angeles, June 8-11, 2006.