Top Down Vs. Bottom Up

In my view, public schools aren’t primarily about educating kids, let alone encouraging them to understand and reach their true potential. It’s about creating people who will conform to the demands of authority figures so that the societal status quo will be maintained. Part of this status quo is the school system itself, in which a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach is imposed on students and families. Homeschooling, however, offers an opportunity for bottom-up education, where each young person is at the center of his own education.

Public school officials often make misleading and false statements to support their brand of education. In June of 2014, Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, was interviewed on CBS This Morning. Asked about Common Core Standards as one-size-fits-all education, he replied that he doesn’t want one-size-fits-all teaching, that it’s important for each student to utilize strengths, overcome weaknesses, and work on reaching a “high bar.” He neglected to address the fact that it’s the same bar for everyone. He also mentioned that the Common Core Standards were developed by governors and state school officials and were initially voluntarily adopted by more than 40 states. He failed to mention that there are financial incentives provided by the federal government. Duncan pointed out that Common Core Standards are just that, standards, and that states establish curricula. He didn’t point out that content is the central piece of any curriculum; in some definitions, a curriculum is nothing but specified subjects to be studied.

In 2011, a local assistant superintendent was quoted in the newspaper as saying that students who want to go to college need to get on a preparatory track at the beginning of high school, and when they reach junior level, it’s too late. This is a false statement. By the time a student in this district becomes a junior, even if he has followed the least academic program recommended by high schools, he will have completed a few college preparatory courses that are also required for graduation. It is possible to plan a two-year program for any student beginning her junior year that will allow her to complete admission requirements for some colleges. Regardless of what a student’s high school record looks like, he can always go to community college, build a solid record, and transfer to a four-year college or university solely on the basis of his community college record. Furthermore, any California student in her junior year can take a state exam, earn a high-school-diploma-equivalent certificate, and begin at community college without finishing high school. The person who made the “too late” statement is now district superintendent. Homeschooling provides opportunities for kid-centered education. In California, education laws allow for almost complete flexibility in homeschooling. Some other states are more restrictive, but ways to be flexible can be found.

Two stories to demonstrate the freedom that homeschooling affords.

Sasha Dobson grew up in a musical family, and decided at age 15 that traditional high school studies were not what she wanted. I provided her with a diploma that was based not on her academic studies, but on her musical accomplishments and talent, and on her desire to move on beyond high school. She spent some time on partial scholarship at the New School for Social Research in the jazz program. Along with Norah Jones and Catherine Popper, Sasha is a member of the Puss n Boots band. On their album, No Fools, No Fun, Sasha sings and plays acoustic guitar, bass, and drums.

In a recent e-mail Sasha wrote,

“I stayed for a semester and a half in their jazz program and then took a break. I made most of my connections after I left that school, but a lot of people I went to school with as of recently (17 years later) have been popping back up in my life/career, which feels kind of great. I’m not the only one who is struggling along trying to stabilize a life and career in the arts. Things recently had an upswing of luck but it’s been quite a journey. And not easy. And super challenging over the years being alone. I made such a huge decision as a young adult moving to New York; I still can’t believe it. But things are coming together a little more. And hopefully a little more and a little more and more. By now my survival skills are top shelf, something I could have onlylearned through experience.”

Anna Lorenz began playing the piano at age 2 and began harp lessons at 8. The harp became her instrument of choice, and she developed her talent to a high degree. In pursuit of her goal to attend the prestigious Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, she auditioned with the harp professor and submitted along with her application an eight-page, detailed transcript showing her homeschool studies; this transcript has a lengthy Fine Arts section. She was admitted and began studies at IU in August of 2014. As a homeschooler, Anna completed studies in traditional subjects, not because they were mandated by the state, but because she needed to do so to reach a goal she had chosen herself.


Wes Beach worked in public schools for 31 years and now directs Beach High School. He is also author of Forging Paths: Beyond Traditional Schooling and Opportunities After High School: Thoughts, Documents, Resources.