Letter from Norma Young

July 16, 1992

Dear Mark and Helen [Home Education Magazine],

I am writing concerning the editorial in the July/Aug.'92 issue on The CommNet. For a long time I've wanted to get feed back from others on things that have bothered me about education, parenting, and other so called family issues and how they are being addressed in today's society. With all the "experts" out there so very willing to "guide" us through the maze of Life, it's very difficult to weed out the ridiculous and focus on what is right for our individual families.

People ask me why I have chosen to Homeschool. I am not a religious person at all, but that is an answer they could understand and accept. When I tell them I fear for my child's individuality, along with her self-esteem and love of life, they look at me as if I have 2 heads! If I criticize the education received in the system, people become defensive and a chip appears on their shoulders. It's as though I was attacking the foundations of America!

Most could accept the homeschooling if we were a religious family or if we conducted school at home. But we unschool here. I do not advocate any method as being perfect. It just happens that this works for us right now. I don't want to give the impression that we are under attack. Right now, I think our friends and family outside the homeschooling community view us as being rather '60ish in having an "alternate" lifestyle. In other words, we're being obstinate and we'll soon tire of our little experiment, hopefully before we ruin Jacky academically, and socially!

My husband and I are trying not to put our lives into compartments. We try to incorporate everything into a family oriented lifestyle. Homeschooling is just one facet of that lifestyle. It may be easier when you have your own business and both are involved in it as we are with a small construction operation. Jacky gets to see that we all work together for the good of the family. We are still trying to detoxify our brains with all the "advise" so freely given over the years.

It has taken alot of effort not to fall for the manipulating , condescending, platitudes we've all heard at one time or another. I feel that all to often, our "leaders", be they school, politics, or religious, feed upon our insecurities, in a continuing effort to maintain power and control. Public school is the first step in creating happy little taxpayers.

It seems to me that the more educated you become, the more secure you would feel. This in turn would boost your self-esteem and make you want to share what you know with others, creating a widening circle of learning. Why does it seem to work the opposite in our society? The more you advance into the halls of higher education, the more difficult it becomes to obtain. The "professionals" seem to want to hoard the information, releasing it to those deemed worthy. They have created a game involving secret access codes (ACT,SAT, ect.), little clubs (fraternities, sororities) and most professions even have their own special languages. We don't believe it should be like that. And we have chosen not to raise our daughter in that environment. Knowledge should be shared. Children have a basic right to be free from fear, whether from physical harm or emotional harm. And parents need to be free to decide what is correct for each child's individual needs. I am very resentful of our homeschooling law here in PA. Why do I need an affidavit to take care of my own child? Why do I have to maintain records? Nothing sucks the joy out of a spontaneous learning experience quicker than the cry of "Let's document this."

I feel as though I have the school looking over my shoulder, and I sometimes find myself "teaching to the law". And even at the tender age of 7, Jacky can sense this, our noisiest disagreements have occurred whenever I lose sight of our goals. She knows how to homeschool better than I, and can usually steer me back on course. My husband too, seems to be able to focus on the long term at times better than I.

I think this is because I am faced with the responsibility of keeping the records and having to deal with the legalities of homeschooling. I sometimes feel as though the law was drafted to mentally wear us down, to make us not want to homeschool. I wonder why homeschooling is viewed as a threat. There aren't enough of us to make that much of a difference financially. And jobs in education seem pretty secure to me.

I've been doing alot of thinking as to why people seem so willing to abdicate their rights as parents. I just can't believe that it is a lack of caring. I don't know anyone that doesn't love their children. And I can't believe that they're lazy, I see them running their kids from activity to activity, never having time for themselves.

Is it lack of self-confidence? And if so, where did the lack of confidence come from? Could it have been instilled by the very institutions we have been taught to revere? It frightens me to think that we, who are supposedly the best educated generation ever, can be so easily lead to believe we cannot handle our own affairs.

I want to be responsible for my own actions and that includes my own mistakes. My goals are simple, a contented homelife, free from outside interference, a well-adjusted child, happy with her chosen path in life. And to die with a smile on my face. I am bewildered as to how I pose any kind of threat to anyone.

I had better get off my soapbox, I did not intend to make this so long. Thank-you for putting out such a valuable resource in your magazine. I greatly appreciate all the diverse views presented.


Norma Young
1755 Fels Rd.
Pennsburg, PA 18073

Letter from Howard Richman

Dear HEM,

Two pieces in the Sept/Oct issue of HEM leave the impression that Pennsylvania has one of the worst home education laws in the country -- Earl Steven's piece and Norma Young's letter. I was very much involved with the lobbying for our Pennsylvania law from 1984 until 1988, and I even wrote a book about our victory (Story of a Bill), so I take criticism of our laws somewhat personally. At the time our law passed there were more homeschoolers being prosecuted in PA than any other state. Now there are none, and the number of homeschoolers in PA is going up by about 40% a year.

Generally, the criticisms of the PA law focus on the amount of documentation that we have to keep to show that our children are receiving an education. At the beginning of the year we must write down our goals for the year. During the year we must keep a log of activities, and collect samples of our children's work. At the end of the year we must choose a public school teacher, private school teacher, psychologist, or former teacher (many homeschooling parents are available ) to write an evaluation of our children's progress. While our law is clearly cumbersome, it is better than other states in may ways:

1. Unlike 48 states, our compulsory school age doesn't begin until 8.

2. Unlike three states (AR, WV, and high school students in NY), our children don't have to pass tests to keep homeschooling. In Arkansas if your child scores just eight months below grade level on an achievement test, he or she can be forced into school.

3. Unlike three states (teaching certificate in MI, college degree in NM, and college degree if you want to teach in high school in TN) we don't have to have a college education to teach our children. Note, however, that although the law in Michigan requires all teachers (including homeschoolers) to have teaching certificates, few homeschoolers are being prosecuted due to the good efforts in court of Clonlara and the HSLDA.

4. Unlike Arkansas, we don't have to get the approval of the special education bureaucrats to teach handicapped children at home.

5. Unlike 49 states, our children can graduate as homeschoolers and have their high school diplomas recognized by the state for legal purposes such as state scholarship grants to college. Our graduates don't need to be stigmatized by the GED and don't have to pretend to be graduates of small private schools. Furthermore, the required written evaluations are helping even those with mediocre SAT scores get into their college of choice. Similarly, when PA homeschooled children enroll in public high schools they generally have their credits accepted. Even the military is accepting homeschoolers' diplomas in PA.

There are many ways to measure how good or bad a homeschooling law is. If your only measure is how much documentation it requires, then our law may be the worst (though many homeschoolers actually find the requirements to be helpful!). If your measure is whether it allows homeschooling, then our law is pretty good. If your measure is how well it helps homeschool graduates succeed in life, then our law may be the best!

Sincerely, Howard Richman, Editor, PA Homeschoolers, R.D. 2, Box 117, Kittanning, PA 16201

[Ed. Note: The August, 1992 issue of The Pennsylvania Home Education Network newsletter contains a letter which states, "The law (Act 169 of 1988) says, 'The following minimum courses in grades nine through twelve are established as a requirement for graduation in a home education program.' Does that mean you may omit these courses and forego graduation? Certainly not. It means that you must comply with no less than these courses. You may not opt out."

The letter goes on to caution readers about the PA Department of Education's Basic Education Circular, March 1989, which adds a sentence not in the law: "School districts are under no obligation to award a diploma or otherwise acknowledge the completion of a home education student's education."

For further information write to The Pennsylvania Home Education Network, 285 Allegheny St., Meadville, PA 16335.]

From Home Education Magazine (November-December 1992) P.O. Box 1083,Tonasket, WA 98855

Letter from Karen Leventry

Dear HEM,

I agree with Earl Stevens that outside descriptions of individual state law and requirements can be misleading. Unfortunately, so can glowing reports from within the particular state from people with vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Yes, I am referring to the letter from Mr. Howard Richman in which he once again reminds us that thing could be worse. Please be advised that this excuse has been used since 1988 to respond to any criticism of any aspect of this law. A good many of us are also well aware of the fact that Mr. Richman has written a book about his experiences and do not need to be continually reminded that this book is in print and can be purchased from many sources.

I beg to differ with or at least expand upon many of Mr. Richman's statements. Surely he will agree that, as a home educator in Pennsylvania, I also have the same right he does to comment about the law I must proceed under.

First of all, a the beginning of the year, there are a few more things we must do besides "write down our goals for the year." We must also submit a notarized affidavit which sets forth: the name of the supervisor who shall be responsible for the provision of the instruction; the name and age of each child; the address and telephone number of the home education site; and that such subjects as are required by law are offered in the English language. Proof that the "supervisor" has a high school diploma or its equivalent (the "stigmatizing" GED?) is also required. (Dust off those fancy diplomas folks, someone finally created a use for them.)

We must submit an "outline of proposed education objectives by subject area" (16 areas for elementary grades, 20 areas required for secondary); "evidence that the child has been immunized," and evidence that the child "has received the health and medical services required for students of the child's age or grade level."

But my favorite requirement of the initial affidavit is the certification I must sign stating that "all adults living in the home and persons having legal custody of a child or children in a home education program have not been convicted of (a felony) within five years of the affidavit." This information is the school district's to keep, and I have to submit the entire package (not just a list of our goals) yearly. And while the law doesn't address the matter of how one should submit the above, I would suggest that one send it by certified mail, return receipt requested, so it doesn't get "lost."

What we are by law required to keep is "a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used, samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student." You may notice that the word "activities" is not mentioned and I'd sure hate to try substituting a list of my child's activities for the list of reading materials the law requires.

Quoting Mr. Richman, "our law is clearly cumbersome." In fact, it is so cumbersome that a book has been written to help home educating parents comply with it without altering their educational style. I'm extremely curious to know how many Pennsylvania home educators are aware of this book's existence?

As for as the many ways in which our law is better than other states, well-l-l?

Yes, at the moment the compulsory school age is still eight, but that is not guaranteed by the Home Education Act. The fact is that just in the last year, a measure was reintroduced in the legislature to lower the compulsory attendance age. This bill is introduced regularly, and only continued public (not just home educators) pressure prevents its passage. If it is ever passed you can be sure *all* parents will have to comply.

No, our children don't have to pass tests to keep homeschooling. However one may feel about testing, at least those states that require yearly testing give some excuse for it. In Pennsylvania, our children must take tests in grades three, five, and eight for no reason at all, since the test scores, by law, cannot be used to judge compliance. We do have the option of taking the state-mandated test or picking from a state-approved list of tests and buying one, having it proctored by someone other than the parent of the child taking the test, and returning the test for scoring. I have chosen the private option and it cost me about $40 including postage.

Then we come to the glowing paragraph about high school diplomas. I'd be curious to know just how many school districts are willing to grant homeschoolers a diploma, given the Department of Education's admonition that they aren't required to. Yes, I do know of one source where I can "buy" an "approved" diploma (no, they won't give it to me for free) *if* I comply with their requirements. Guess who?

As far as the "stigmatizing" GED is concerned, my child can pass the test at any time, however, he won't receive the actual diploma until he's eighteen, and at the present time, PHEAA, the body that grants state loans, will not recognize anything but the actual GED diploma. Therefore, if your seventeen-year-old (or younger, in some cases) wants to apply for a grant from the state, even if he's been accepted to the college of his choice, he's out of luck!

As far as the section concerning evaluators, I would caution Pennsylvania parents. This is probably your most difficult hurdle. First of all, it is your right (and in my humble opinion, your obligation) to choose your evaluator. I could not believe that some parents actually let the school district choose their evaluator! On the other hand, you can't just pick anyone. I can't be an evaluator simply because I'm a homeschooling parent. The law is quite specific as to the requirements in just who is allowed to perform this task. It's also no great secret that efforts have been made to require these people to be "licensed." So far, these efforts have failed, but they haven't been forgotten. Not to mention the fact that while efforts are underway at this time to compile a list of qualified evaluators, at the present time it's every man for himself. Finally, while I'm sorry for those parents who got a big surprise when they went for their evaluations, perhaps people considering home education can learn a lesson. It is *your* responsibility to interview your prospective evaluator and make sure that your educational styles are compatible. After all, you're usually paying for this service, and many times traveling for it, too.

Is home education really growing by 40% a year in Pennsylvania? That's truly amazing in a state whose law is designed to discourage all but the most determined individuals. I'm extremely curious as to how he arrived at that figure, since I have no way of compiling such figures.

These comments don't even begin to cover every aspect of the law, and there are many other areas in the overall situation that need to be seriously addressed by all home educating parents in Pennsylvania. In particular, those of us who are concerned about the "new" DOE "Outcome-Based-Education" program have noted the amazing similarity of the Home Education Act and some of the provisions of OBE. The ramifications of this program lead me to wonder if the days of "our" law are numbered?

If any Pennsylvania homeschooling parent is interested in learning more about this, or has any comment on this subject, there is a state-wide grass-roots parents organization that would like to hear from you. The Pennsylvania Home Education Network can be contacted at 285 Allegheny St., Meadville, PA 16335. There is no charge for the information they provide.

For those of you who live in a state that has an even worse (?) law, you tell me: Would you move (all other things being equal) to Pennsylvania with all it's "helpful" requirements, or to Maine. Frankly, one sheet of paper, one envelope, and a 29 cent stamp sounds pretty good to me.

Sincerely, Karen D. Leventry, Box 191, Summerhill, PA 15958

From Home Education Magazine (January-February 1993) P.O. Box 1083,Tonasket, WA 98855

Letter from Diana Baseman

Dear HEM,

I am writing in regard to Howard Richman's letter in the Nov/Dec issue of HEM. Mr. Richman's letter contains a great deal of misinformation which I would like to correct.

Pennsylvania currently has at least two laws regulating home education and the possibility of a third. The easiest law to work with is the private tutoring provision, which requires PA teacher certification and has very few requirements. Some homeschoolers are also attempting to homeschool under the private school laws, but it is not clear at this time that they will be able to do so. The third option, used by most people, is the home education law Mr. Richman refers to. I believe it is one of the worst home education laws in the country. In fact, many homeschoolers contact the Pennsylvania Home Education Network, of which I am the current coordinator, just to find out if they can become certified teachers or start private schools because they feel so burdened by its requirements.

I would also like to question the inclusion of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers on your list of support groups and organizations because it is a private, profit-making business of the Richman family, with no members or advisory board, and because the Richman's take action on behalf of their business interests while misleading homeschoolers into believing they're acting on behalf of all homeschoolers. Most homeschoolers, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, believe PA Homeschoolers is a legitimate state organization. In order to sell its "services" (such as testing, evaluations, a newsletter, and high school diplomas), this business masquerades as a state organization. But most of these "services" fill "needs" which were created either by 1) the law which the Richmans were primarily responsible for passing, or 2) by their illegal interpretations of the law. PA Homeschoolers has created a parallel bureaucracy to that of school and government officials. Here are some examples:

1. Homeschoolers are advised to provide much more information to school districts in their portfolios than is legally required, and they are advised that low test scores may jeopardize their ability to continue homeschooling. This sets dangerous precedent for other homeschoolers. Although they are not told outright that they must use a particular teaching method, it is difficult for most homeschoolers to figure out how to provide large quantities of paperwork and a daily log of educational activities without resorting to school methods of education. The educational viewpoint presented in PA Homeschoolers' publications is that children must be forced to learn, that they must be motivated by adults, that they should be involved in competitions, writing clubs, public speaking, etc., to prove they are being "properly educated." Other viewpoints have consistently been censored and the contributors have been told either that their ideas are negative, illegal, or there was "no room for them."

2. Home education evaluators are encouraged to make their own regulations of the home education law and not to trust homeschooling parents to educate their children. I attended a workshop for evaluators in May of 1991 conducted by Howard Richman in which he said that inconsistent, scanty homeschooling logs show that parents are letting education slide. He equates documentation with education. The law requires only a short statement about appropriate education, yet the Richmans insist on writing lengthy detailed descriptions of the child's progress or lack thereof in their evaluations. They insist they do this so homeschoolers will "get their money's worth." Many homeschoolers have commented that they would rather pay less and get a shorter evaluation which would be less likely to set a dangerous precedent for officials who then ask all homeschoolers to present this type of information.

I also do home education evaluations. During the passage of the homeschooling law I told Howard Richman that I was concerned that some families would fall through the cracks, that they would not be able to get evaluations done, especially those with lateblooming children or those who did not know how to speak educationese. He assured me that he would help those families.

On a number of occasions both Howard and Susan Richman have given me examples of families they considered to be "not really educating" their children or unworthy of a good home education evaluation or out of compliance with the law (because they did not have a daily log). All of these families were poor, most of the parents did not have many educational qualifications, some of the families were using Christian workbook curriculums or books the Richmans did not consider good enough, and a few had lateblooming children, or lifestyles they did not approve of.

The law does not require large amounts of documentation "to show that our children are receiving an education." To put it in plain English, each student must have a list of objectives, including at least one for each of the required subjects, a list of book titles used, and two or more samples of his or her work. Students in grades 3, 5, and 8 must also have standardized test scores. These requirements can easily be met by any homeschooler. So why is this one of the worst laws in the country?

It is what some have called a "nuisance law." In other words, it is meant to discourage people from homeschooling by making all kinds of requirements which have little to do with actual education and everything to do with controlling families. It is five and a half pages long (I wrote a 118 page book, The Pennsylvania Home Education Handbook, just to help people navigate it), and includes all of the following provisions:

1. Special education students must have a program approved by a PA certified special education teacher or a licensed clinical psychologist. Since these people are part of the educational system it is almost impossible to find one who is willing to write an approval letter. I receive phone calls all the time from parents of special education children who need the required "special education approval letter." I have not been able to find even one special education teacher in Pennsylvania who will just write a letter.

2. The law states, "A home education program shall not be considered a nonpublic school under the provisions of this act." This is usually interpreted to mean that homeschoolers are part of the public school system and cannot take advantage of any benefits of private education and cannot start private schools.

3. A notarized affidavit must be filed. Among other things, it requires evidence of immunization and medical and dental exams (you can exempt out of these, but most people don't know that), and a certification that all adults living in the home have not been convicted in the last five years of a long line of criminal offenses.

4. Any time a family moves out of their local school district (there are 501 of them ) they must apply by registered mail to their old district for a letter of transfer to their new district thirty days before relocation. If the family is in trouble with the old school district, they can be denied the letter of transfer.

5. Twelve subjects are required to be taught.

6. All students must be evaluated and must be interviewed by their evaluator.

7. Evaluator's qualifications are complex. It is not enough to be a certified teacher. Various types of experience are also required. Homeschoolers may ask for permission for someone without the qualifications to be approved to do their evaluations, but school districts are not required to give approval.

8. Homeschoolers must submit their portfolios as well as their evaluations to the local school district at the end of the school year and at any time during the school year that the school superintendent has a "reasonable belief" that "appropriate education may not be occurring in the home education program."

9. If the superintendent is not satisfied with the portfolio he may request additional documentation. If the family does not provide it, the student must be enrolled in school. If they do provide it, and he is still not satisfied, a due process procedure begins, which includes the appointment of "an impartial hearing examiner" by the local school board. The hearing examiner may decide either to continue the home education program, to establish a remedial program at home, or to require enrollment in a public or private school.

10. Any time a home education program is determined to be out of compliance with the law, the parents are not eligible to homeschool for twelve months.

Sincerely, Diana Baseman, RD 3, Box 256B, Tarentum, PA 15084

From Home Education Magazine (January-February 1993) P.O. Box 1083,Tonasket, WA 98855

Letter from Ron Baseman

Dear HEM,

I am writing in response to Howard Richman's letter in the Nov/Dec issue of HEM and because I would like you to remove Pennsylvania Homeschoolers from your list of support groups and organizations. This letter is an edited version of one I sent to Howard and Susan Richman in September, 1991, in response to a letter Susan Richman wrote to the Penn HEN, regarding an article I wrote about boycotting educational experts who exploit homeschoolers. The letter was prompted by an article by the Richmans about a family that "shouldn't be allowed to homeschool" (PA Homeschoolers, Fall, 1990), and the outrageous foolishness about a state sanctioned Richman diploma (more "valid" than any other) for homeschoolers.

Dear Howard and Susan,

I am frustrated with the attempts of experts to take control of the do-it-yourself phenomenon of homeschooling. The paranoic concern of political bodies with the education of the nation's children makes it relatively easy for those trained in education to achieve mastery over the efforts of those families who seek to educate themselves. For about 150 years much, indeed most, of the state budgets throughout the country have been spent on education. This has created a large class of people who make a living educating the rest of the population. There is always a large group of people who make a living teaching, consulting, or writing textbooks in this country.

To attack the profession of educator is to attack the livelihood of these people. One cannot blame educators for fighting back when attacked, and for trying to prove that the work they do is valuable, essential, and should continue. Perhaps it is, in some contexts.

You, along with many others across the country, have assumed this sort of role within the homeschooling community. I question the validity of such a role, I first question whether the educational experts (like you) play a positive part in our society, and I conclude that in spite of the great power delegated to them by society, experts have certainly not achieved a victory over the downward slide of our civilization and that educators are either themselves responsible for the social deterioration of today, or powerless to do anything to stop it. If this is so, then why trust or rely upon them?

And if we do not trust or rely upon educational experts, then why should they run our lives? Now here you might say that I am exaggerating the role of educational experts -- after all, their job is merely to figure out how to teach things to people in better ways, not to run folk's lives. But much more is taking place, and by involvement with the content of what is taught, by setting standards and evaluating other people's efforts, "experts" do indeed run people's lives, and exaggerate their own roles to the point of inevitable incompetence!

By subtle, indirect, economic and social means you and other educational experts wield tremendous power over all of us. I call for a boycott of educational experts who are irresponsible in the way they use the responsibility entrusted to them by society.

Social responsibility goes hand in hand with doing business. Companies and individuals can -- and often do -- many things which make money, and are not, strictly speaking, immoral, and certainly not illegal, but which are simply "not right."

We all know it is not right to limit the rights and freedoms of homeschoolers, whether it is done overtly or covertly, knowingly or unknowingly. If you evaluate a family's children or child, and you can see that overall progress has been made in the educational program, then you are morally bound to state in your evaluation that the requirements for homeschooling has been met. If you do anything else -- refuse to do the evaluation , for example, no matter what your reason, then you have taken away that family's rights, and you deserve to "lose your license," just as an auto mechanic would lose his license if he refused to give the sticker to a car that passed the minimum standards for state inspection. I don't want evaluators to be licensed, but I want them and you to behave, and a consumer boycott is the only way to enforce proper behavior in this case.

I am sure you understand where I am coming from. Assure me that you will properly evaluate those who meet the minimum requirements, and you needn't worry about your business being interfered with by me. In the various speeches you make about the "role of the evaluator," tell folks about the social responsibility to protect people's rights under the law, instead of playing up your imagined responsibility to convince legislators that we are "homeschooling for excellence." Stop pretending to be a statewide organization, and admit that you are a business both to the public and to state government officials. Do these things -- "clean up you act" -- and you will not be annoyed by nasty articles calling for boycotts of your business, although the many others I addressed in my article may still have to deal with my big mouth.

But as long as you try to manipulate our fellow homeschoolers, as long as you profit by selling services that people do not really need, as long as you pass off your profit-making business as a statewide organization, and as long as you pretend to represent homeschoolers' interests to legislators and state officials without any mandate to do so, I will not shut up about it. After all these years, with all the wonderful work and research the two of you have done, you could be playing such a beautiful role in changing the way education is conducted in this country, and instead you are earning a living by importing the standard of public schools into people's living rooms, and playing the role of "ghetto police" by trying to keep the other homeschoolers in line for the state government. How sad!

Nobody's perfect, least of all me, and all is forgiven if only you will change your attitude. You do not realize the tremendous effect you have upon the homeschoolers of this state. People all over hang upon your every word and look to the two of you as the supreme gurus of homeschooling. As such, you must not be allowed to misbehave in this fashion. Where are truth and goodness in this sad, sad tale of compromises, day to day profits, and the scramble for personal importance?

Sincerely, Ron Baseman, RD 3, Box 256B, Tarentum, PA 15084

From Home Education Magazine (January-February 1993) P.O. Box 1083,Tonasket, WA 98855