As someone who often writes about alternative educational opportunities, I’m ashamed to admit that even I had some misconceptions about homeschooling prior to attending the Greater Saint Louis Home Educators Expo in March.
I had always imagined that homeschoolers, as their name implies, stayed at home all day with little or no contact with the outside world. I thought that a homeschooler’s academic success depended solely on their mom's or dad’s ability to teach math, science, and reading at every grade level—a feat that few certified teachers could accomplish.
I was happy to learn that this couldn't be further from the truth.
I recently visited the Pillar Foundation, a private, charitable, educational foundation that functions as a resource center for homeschooling families. Some refer to the Pillar Foundation, which offers high school–level courses to homeschooling families at no cost, as a “co-op,”
What is a co-op? That’s the question I asked back in March when a parent started to explain her child’s schedule and slipped the word into our conversation.
According to one homeschooling mom, “co-ops are groups of homeschooling families who join together to enrich their homeschooling experience by learning from and with one another. Often these groups will participate in field trips, sports, classes, etc.” Parents involved in co-ops usually teach coursework they have a background in. So the mother with a biology degree teaches science, the history buff teaches history, and the artist teaches art. No one makes money, but every parent benefits from the academic expertise of another parent.
In short, co-ops are to education as Uber is to the taxi industry. It's education’s take on the sharing economy.
The Pillar Foundation is different from a traditional co-op in that volunteers, not parents, teach the courses. This semester, for example, state Representative Kurt Bahr is teaching a US Government & Constitution class. For day 1 of the 4-month course, Bahr provided about twenty 10th- to 12th-graders with a walk-through of the Declaration of Independence, using his personal experiences in the Missouri House to explain dense material.
To give students some context for the line in the Declaration of Independence that reads “He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant…” Bahr explained that sometimes, “politics simply is you get your way, because you are willing to outwork or outwait the other side.” What a great opportunity for kids to learn about a founding document from an elected official!
Co-ops and resource centers like the Pillar Foundation aren't well known outside of the homeschooling community, but if more people knew about the resources out there, they would see that homeschooling is a viable option for their children. I hope that more families with young kids who are thinking about how best to educate their children look into the exciting opportunities available to them in the homeschooling world. As a parent to a soon-to-be four-year-old, I know I will be.