The importance of record-keeping for homeschoolers

I see a lot of homeschool blogs and social media groups that try to sell homeschooling as a lifestyle (versus a very serious commitment to educate your child) trying to downplay the effort that homeschoolers must invest in record-keeping. This is particularly true for “unschoolers,” who tend to paint homeschooling in general as some super relaxing and stress-free endeavor. Just ignore all that tedious institutional baggage! You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life!

In my personal experience talking to new homeschooling parents and grandparents, it seems like a lot of people are taking this advice at face value. I’ve met many who invest almost no effort in the daily activity log and portfolio of schoolwork that is legally required in our state. Some mothers I’ve encountered even banded together to form a private school, which was mostly to evade the record-keeping and annual evaluation requirements imposed by the state. This is why I say the unschooling fad is the biggest regulatory risk to serious homeschoolers there is – far, far worse than public school activists. They rank up there with midwives and anti-vaxxers in terms of unflattering exposes that will inevitably happen when the rest of society notices they exist. Truly, I miss the 1990s when homeschooling was mostly the domain of tiger moms.

Anyway, my advice to new homeschoolers is to ignore people who praise lackadaisical record-keeping bigtime. They are offering you very bad legal advice – and it is legal advice. While you are at it, ignore their advice on curriculum too. If they are put out by the idea of daily record-keeping, they probably aren’t investing much of their time in actual instruction either.

When we first started homeschooling, our lawyer said the number one thing we needed to do to protect our rights is keep perfect, unassailable records of what we are doing. Should your right to homeschool ever be legally challenged, he said, there is no statute that is going to protect you if you are not keeping solid records of your child’s education. At the end of the day, a judge is not going to care about your hyper-literal interpretation of the law if it seems like you are genuinely depriving your child of an education. As they say, you shouldn’t simply avoid improper behavior. You should also avoid the appearance of it.

You never have to apologize for excellence.

Moreover, from a bona fide risk management perspective, fights over education are more likely to come from a soured personal relationship than meddling government authorities. This is something a lot of social media homeschooling activists don’t seem to grok. To them, record-keeping is mostly a political issue.

I know a couple who has been locked in a custody battle over their children for most of their children’s lives. One of the biggest sticking points for them is where the kids go to school.

Try to imagine an unschooler defending their education practices in a similar context.

Judge: So he wants to send the kids to public school and does not want you teaching them at home any more. You argue that you have been homeschooling them for five years and it would be disruptive for me to change that. Tell me about your homeschooling program. I don’t see many records here.

Unschooler: Well, I believe that play is the work of childhood. We spend a lot of time at the park and on nature walks.

Judge: So you pulled your kids out of school to play all day? Really?

Unschooler: I want my kids to be critical thinkers and not mindless institutional cogs. The children tell me what they want to learn. It’s called self-directed education, see.

Judge: Please explain to me what you are actually working on in your homeschool. All I see in your portfolio are pictures of you and your kids playing on the beach.

Instead of husband, substitute in an acutely concerned grandparent or meddling neighbor who decided to take their NextDoor gossip-fest into the real world. These are the very real problems that some people are going to face. And the outcomes are going to hinge on their record-keeping.

Record-keeping is not a chore. It’s a way for you to document true academic progress, which is something you will likely be proud of years down the line. It’s also a way to protect your kids. Don’t shrug it off just because folks in a granola mommy chat group told you it was okay.

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