Educating Locally. Learning Communally. Living Freely.

Interview with Suzanne Brown


Monday, January 27, 2014

  It is my pleasure to have as my guest Suzanne Brown.  Suzanne is a long-time homeschool mom, a founding member of the Upstate Homeschool Co-op, and  an active member in the homeschool community.  I asked her some tough questions and she rose to the occasion with some very thought provoking answers.  You can find out more about the Upstate Homeschool Co-op on their website:

1.      Why do you homeschool? For lots of reasons but mainly because we want to be the ones molding and shaping our children. I like them, on most days, and don’t want to send them away any sooner than is necessary! Practically, I like the tutorial aspect that home educating allows. I can speed things up for those learners who are ready to go faster. I can slow subjects down where my children who have struggles need more focus and time. Home educating allows me to give my children time to explore the world and their natural bents in a wide variety of ways. Most importantly, all the things we do each day can be filtered through a biblical worldview with the end goal being to grow and release young adults who are ready to live out their beliefs in whatever area God calls them. Doesn’t mean we always get it right by any stretch of the imagination, but we are doing it as a family and that is gravely important in grounding children in a culture gone crazy!

2.      You've been homeschooling for a number of years, how has homeschooling changed since you first started? We’ve been home schooling since 1996. I think we have lost the pioneering mentality in home educating. There seems to be a trend toward just accepting what others have done instead of digging in, doing your own research to find what is best for your family and then making a decision. This is a fairly common cycle in organic movements and usually is a good thing. I’m not so sure it has been a good thing for home educating. I’ve also seen the bar lowered in the academic area with families sometimes being willing to do all the great and fun opportunities that are available except hold their child’s feet to the fire to do the hard academic work. This “bad seed”  is planted in the upper elementary grades, is tested in the middle grades and then the lack of accountability with parents not being willing to make the hard decision often “blossoms” in the high school years. Working with students, I hear over and over again: I couldn’t do that work because I had to go to my job, we were traveling, I had sports practice…..  All those things are good, and we also do them as a family, but the school work has to get done. College and a job won’t be very forgiving. My sons can all testify to times we kept them away from a practice or made them sit for part of a game as a result of not doing what they should do regarding their school work. I can get on a soapbox about that subject!
A good change that has happened is that because there are so many families making the choice to home educate, we have  much more support in a variety of ways from people who have gone before than we did when I first started. Curriculum, workshops, conferences….in person or via the internet have exploded! They can often times be overwhelming! I still think one of the very best ways for a new person to get started is to build a relationship with someone who has a little experience under their belt. This means that those of us who have been doing this a while have to be willing to stay available for someone just starting out! That challenge is definitely still for myself!! 

3.  It seems like homeschools are much more accepted by the public now than they were ten or fifteen years ago.  Is there more work to be done there, or do we just need to maintain the status quo? We never need to maintain the status quo for anything we believe in. Turn your head for a minute, and those freedoms will be gone. Public acceptance is huge and we have made massive strides in this area. Public acceptance as it relates to the state, turns into continued freedom to educate. I am a firm believer in choices in education. One size does not fit all. There are times when all types of education are a good and proper fit for any given child on any given year. We all live real lives and things happen from year to year that force our decision making process. Part of the reason, in my opinion, that we have to stay so diligent with home educating as far as public opinion goes is that it only takes one disaster to make the news and that one example becomes a, “See? We knew this was a bad idea. We need to stop parents being allowed to educate their children.”  Because it is not middle of the road, so to speak, we are held to a different standard. One way that individual families can assist with the public acceptance issue is to be open and real. Real in our churches, our neighborhoods and the community. Setting ourselves apart tends to perpetuate the belief that we are all strange and want to shelter our children and I doubt any of us want that type of public opinion!

4.  What dangers do you see for homeschoolers on the horizon? This answer ties back to my statement about lowering the bar in the academic area. I can see regulations coming our way  if we don’t stay vigilant. A way for us to keep more regulations off our backs is to regulate ourselves. We as parents need to make sure our students are working to their highest ability level by using challenging curriculum, staying on top of their assignments, finding outside accountability if they don’t want to be accountable to mom and dad and not letting them slide because of distractions. This personal vigilance might include having our students tested for learning disabilities or ADHD or other factors that might be interfering in their learning. This isn’t because labels are needed  but to enable us to get assistance for those children so they can work to their highest potential. If we don’t take our job seriously, here is the possible cycle played out after a few years. Student slides by and parent inflates their grades because they don’t want things to look bad. Student receives state scholarship money but can’t do the work once in college. Student loses scholarship. This cycle plays out over and over again and finally someone making the decision on who gets that scholarship money wises up and starts questioning things. At this point, legislation looms to “fix” the problem that we could have regulated ourselves. I don’t want us to get there. 

5.  You are one of the founding members of the Upstate Homeschool Co-op.  What led you to start the co-op? The co-op started in my home in 1997 as a way to bring like minded families together to study certain subjects. God’s vision was WAY bigger than mine and I am thankful HE is the one holding the strings. I didn’t set out to start a co-op. As more and more people found out about what we were doing, momentum, desire, and need led to organization and well, here we are 450 students later.

6.  For those who are not aware. please explain a little about how co-ops work, and how the Upstate Homeschool Co-op in particular is helping homeschoolers in South Carolina. Co-ops are a group of families willing to place themselves under the authority of like minded leadership for the betterment of their children. Parents choose them for several reasons that could vary for each of their children. They want the camaraderie of other students and adults, they want their student to learn from a teacher who has gifts and strengths in a certain area or the parent may not feel qualified to teach a specific subject. I like to think and my leadership team, which consists of a board and staff, certainly strives for our co-op to be the best of a structured learning environment where traditional classroom settings are coupled with intense parent involvement and continued teaching at home. We have 91 classes for grades K4-12, Student Government, yearbook, a newspaper, drama, chorus, monthly parent led socials, fieldtrips, an amazing graduation ceremony and of course our many varied sports teams. Our teachers are highly passionate about their subject. Many are qualified by traditional standards for their subject but that is not necessarily what I am searching for when hiring. One of the dangers of being involved in a co-op is that parents can wrongly assume they just get to “write off”  a subject because they are taking a co-op class. Parents are responsible for their students education…co-op or not. It takes daily studying at home with the parents instructing, leading and grading. I pray our organization is impacting families in SC by coming alongside parents and assisting them to continue home schooling.

7.  You have also been instrumental in helping open up a variety of sports programs to homeschoolers.  Tell us a little about that. Sports have been very important to my family for a variety of reasons. They were also important to Shawn Ward who UHC formed a partnership with several years back. Sports are a way for a group of people to be bigger than just their tiny circle and to give them something to rally around. They build community, give our kids opportunities to learn to be a part of a team and they certainly test our emotions and reactions in a sometimes hot fire!  Our sports program is blessed with strong leadership and a model for specific sports  different than traditional sports programs. In the beginning, our leadership team was hard pressed to find any program far and wide that had gone before us so our model had to be tested and developed and it is certainly always open to being reformed. We made the decision from the very beginning for it not to be open to just UHC students but to home schooling families in our community. This goes back to my belief of choice in education and that not all families need or want a co-op environment.

 8.  If you could give every homeschool parent one piece of advice what would it be? Enjoy the journey. It won’t always be pretty and can sometimes be sort of messy. Turns out we are sort of a messy human race. You are going to mess up. It’s ok. Learn from it and ask the Lord daily to help you focus on what is important for THAT day. He loves your children more than you do because He says He does and His promises never fail. One of the greatest joys of my life, notice I didn’t say the easiest, has been walking through this part of the passage with my children.


Post a Comment