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What is it With Homeschoolers and Money?

By Diane Flynn Keith

Diane Flynn Keith

Throughout my homeschool journey, I have donated many hours of labor and many dollars from my own pocket to further the cause of home education. I organized lots of events for my local homeschool community -- some for free, some for a fee. I have had interaction with homeschoolers from every socio-economic background imaginable and I have yet to understand what seems to be a collective thought about money -- that homeschoolers don’t have any. Not only that, but because there is a belief that homeschoolers don’t have any money there seems to be an underlying assumption that resources, information and services should be provided dirt cheap, if not for free. Why? What is it with homeschoolers and money?

My observations are based on my personal experience and conversations with homeschool parents, support group leaders, field trip organizers, and homeschool activists and authors. In doing a little research, I also found that responses to surveys by various homeschooling organizations do NOT support the prevailing myth that homeschoolers don’t have money. In fact, one 1999 survey reported the median household income of homeschool families as $50,000-$75,000 per year, a little higher than the national average. In a 2003 homeschool conference exhibitor brochure I found demographics showing a wide income range from $20,000 to $90,000 and up, with 44% earning $40,000-$70,000, 10% earning $70,000-$90,000 and 16% earning $90,000 or more!

You can see that as a group we cannot be defined as poor. So why is there a preponderance of statements, presumptions, and behavior to the contrary?

In fact, based on these statistics there appears to be a sub-group of elite homeschoolers who have discretionary income to spend freely on their kids’ education. If these people exist in homeschooling they sure maintain a low profile.

Actually, I do know one affluent homeschooler (who doesn’t flaunt her wealth) and she confessed experiencing prejudice and resentment from fellow homeschoolers who snubbed her with callous remarks whenever she shared information about opportunities that her family had experienced. Over and over again she was the recipient of comments like, “Well, that’s fine for you - you can afford it,” or “It must be nice to have money,” or the hard-hearted, “You’re not really homeschooling - you’re just buying an education for your kids.” Ouch! What would possess homeschool parents to behave so badly, so insensitively?

I know I’m going to irritate some people with this next comment, but there even seems to be an “entitlement” mentality that is alive and well in the homeschool population. Some parents seem to think that things related to education should just be given to them gratis. They complain about the cost of curriculum, textbooks, workbooks, lessons, field trips and everything else related to educating their kids. They bargain, barter, haggle, whine, and demand discounts or freebies. Don’t these penny-pinchers realize that discounts and freebies aren’t always feasible? Do they understand that decreased revenue (and/or the inability to just recover costs) for suppliers will discourage them from offering future opportunities and products? A desire to gouge the profits of big corporate businesses (you know, textbook publishers) may be one thing, but I’ve seen these cheapskates nickle-and-dime homeschool businesses and support groups that have slim (if any) profit margins. I’ve actually seen them complain and harass the homeschool mom who offers a field trip or a co-op class for a fee. Don’t they know that if she doesn’t get reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses she may feel resentful and be discouraged from offering future opportunities? I just don’t get it.

Is it the self-sacrifice of homeschooling our kids that makes us feel like we have given enough and should therefore be rewarded for our efforts with freebies? Do we resent the fact that we have opted for the restrictions of single-income-living in order to educate our kids at home? Do we feel entitled because we pay taxes that support public schools and reap none of the “benefits”? Why do you suppose we have the idea that education should be free? Is it because we have for so long been dependent on government public schools? Have we grown so accustomed to this educational welfare that we believe we are entitled to educational resources even if our kids don’t attend government schools? I wonder if the government has devalued education by making it “free” (albeit with strings attached) - and by making it a function of the government village to raise and educate our children.

The education of our children (and the resources that facilitate it) have fundamental value. We should be willing to pay for it.

I understand the reality of homeschooling on a single income. I am extremely appreciative of the creativity that families on very limited incomes bring to their homeschooling endeavors. I absolutely believe that all you really need to homeschool is a library card -- and maybe the free admission days at museums. I relish the free resources available on the Internet. I am not one to encourage people to mindlessly spend their hard-earned dollars on every educational gadget that comes along. I applaud grassroots volunteers who selflessly contribute hours of their time to answer homeschool hot lines, moderate online discussion groups, and conduct free homeschool information presentations. I like free. Free is good. Free is my favorite four-letter word. But let’s face it, not every good thing is free. And just because something that will enhance our homeschooling costs money doesn’t make it bad, or useless, or unimportant, or unnecessary. Nor should paying a fair price for value received cause people to feel contempt or resentment.

I understand that money matters are relative. What’s cheap for one may be considered expensive to another. But even here, I find an enigma that I just don’t understand. Let me give you an example of what I mean. A homeschool mom I know organized a series of ten, l.5 hour homeschool science classes. The classes were conducted by an engineer, who was not only a terrific instructor but one who offered lots of hands-on activities backed up by solid scientific explanation. The mom offered the series for a fee of $80 dollars per student -- that included materials. Would you believe that some parents gave her grief that the classes were too expensive? Before complaining did they consider for a minute the costs of paying the instructor, purchasing the materials, and renting the facility where the classes were to be conducted? Did they place any value on her time to organize the class, not to mention her costs for related telephone calls, as well as photocopy costs for fliers and reservation forms? Did they bother to break down the cost of the series to determine the amount per hour of instruction? If they had, they would’ve discovered that it works out to $8 per class, or $5.33 per hour per student – and that included materials! We’re talking about the cost of a “Happy Meal” or a Starbucks’ Mocha Latte and a biscotti. Is it worth it? Is a Yu-Gi-Oh! pack of cards worth $5.00 or more? I leave it to you to decide.

I have given the subject of homeschoolers and their attitudes about money a lot of thought. I wonder about the common assumption that homeschoolers don’t have money or expendable income. Is it true, or is it a myth? It calls into question our beliefs about money in general -- how we earn it, spend it, save it, and invest it. Our culture is rife with platitudes about money, most of them negative: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” In my quest to understand, I came across a book with the unlikely title of Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsh. Here is an excerpt that I found particularly relevant to this discussion:

You carry a thought around that money is bad. You also carry a thought around that God is good…Therefore in your thought system, God and money do not mix… This makes things interesting, because this then makes it difficult for you to take money for any good thing. I mean, if a thing is judged very “good” by you, you value it less in terms of money. So the “better” something is (i.e., the more worthwhile), the less money it’s worth.

You are not alone in this. Your whole society believes this. So your teachers make a pittance and your stripteasers, a fortune. Your leaders make so little compared to sports figures that they feel they have to steal to make up the difference….

Think about it. Everything on which you place a high intrinsic value, you insist must come cheaply….

This having-it-all backwards is a propensity with you, and it stems from wrong thought.

The wrong thought is your idea about money. You love it, and yet you say it is the root of all evil. You adore it, and yet you call it “filthy lucre.” You say that a person is “filthy rich.” And if a person does become wealthy doing “good” things, you immediately become suspect. You make that “wrong.”

The author goes on to say that there’s only one way to change all of that: You have to change your thought about money. The book contains a wonderful explanation for how to change your thinking for those who are unhappy about their money situation. It seems to me that many of us are unhappy with our money situation. Perhaps that is why we complain so much about the scarcity of money and longingly express our desire for it.

Another book that I found relevant to the whole question of money is the popular, Rich Dad, Poor Dad - What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That The Poor And Middle Class Do Not by Robert T. Kiyosaki. He says, “The main reason people struggle financially is because they have spent years in school but learned nothing about money. The result is that people learn to work for money…but never learn to have money work for them.” The author contends that this leads to years of financial struggle for most people and that it sets them up to experience anger, resentment, frustration, and disappointment over money. He goes on to show parents why they can’t rely on the school system to teach their kids about money and explains what parents need to teach their kids to ensure their future financial success. The step-by-step recommendations are easy to understand and implement and cannot help but change one’s actions, and as a result, one’s thoughts about money.

I’m not sure that there is one answer or solution to the question of, “What is it with homeschoolers and money?” But I think I’m on the right track. Changing our behavior and deeds as they relate to money and education will change our point of view. Our children learn their attitudes about money from us. They learn how to manage their money based on how they see us earn it, spend it, and invest it. As homeschooling parents we need to ask ourselves if we are modeling behavior with money that will benefit our children as they become adults. Are we raising our children with the financial savvy to experience abundance and have the ability to well-afford what they need? Or are we perpetuating an endless cycle of resentment about earning and spending money -- and entitlement with regard to education -- that will cause our kids to one day balk at the idea of paying $5.33 per hour for a science class for our grandchildren?

Copyright 2006 by Diane Flynn Keith
All rights reserved ■