Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The homeschooling single parent

There's been a bit of a dust-up over at Business Week over their recent cover story, The Permanent Temporary Workforce. The story was written with the intent of casting the rise in the free agent workforce in as negative a light as possible. For some people it is a bad thing -- you're doing the same job as an independent contractor, and so not getting any benefits. But for many of us who consider ourselves more entrepreneurial, it's great not to call any one company boss, and certainly worth the trade-offs (like buying our own health insurance, something I did for a few years).

Anyway, the dust-up is that Business Week later had to run a letter from the lead character in the story, a single mom named Tammy DePew Smith, disagreeing with the whole premise, namely that "You know American workers are in bad shape when a low-paying, no-benefits job is considered a sweet deal." Smith works with LiveOps, a Santa Clara provider of call-center workers. She works from home, basically when she wants to, earning about $15/hour -- not great, but not exactly poverty, either.

So what does this have to do with education? Well, it turns out that Smith is also homeschooling her 7-year-old son. I know a lot of Gifted Exchange readers are homeschooling, and often this involves one parent stepping out of the workforce for a while to function as their children's full-time teacher. But the economy is changing. More of us are working wherever, whenever. While working from home is not a good way to save money on childcare when you have little children (trust me on this one), if an older child can be started on a lesson, the parent can then go do something else. In Smith's case, what she does is go answer customer service phone calls for half an hour or so until he's done. This allows her, as a single parent, to support her children, and homeschool one of them too.

Indeed, Business Week could have written a whole story about that! It could have read, "isn't it great that the economy is now so flexible that a single mom can not only support her kids, she can homeschool, too?" But I guess this was not the company line. Michael Bloomberg, whose Bloomberg company now owns Business Week, has often told graduating classes in his stump commencement speech that "it never hurts to be the first one into the office each morning -- and the last to leave." Well, it hurts if you don't get to homeschool, and you've decided that's what's best for your kids.

I always like to hear stories from homeschooling parents about how you're making it work, particularly if you are combining it with paid work or other commitments.


Anonymous said...

This is the first year we're homeschooling, and both parents work for a living. Our son is a freshman in high school using an online accredited curriculum, so with a bit of extreme time-flexing, we're managing to cover the academics and provide real-time, face-to-face supervision and guidance. Where we're struggling is with the extras. The homeschool groups in our area are militant about *only* scheduling enrichment activities during normal working hours--no evenings, no weekends EVER. Apparently they feel the only good parent is a stay-at-home parent.

The Princess Mom said...

Have you considered non-homeschool groups like 4H and Scouts? City league sports teams meet in the afternoon and evenings, too. It's actually quite difficult for me to find activities (music lessons, community theatre productions) that rehearse during the school day.

Anonymous said...

@Princess Mom

We're doing Civil Air Patrol in the evenings, but it's just once a week. The way our rec leagues work, if the child isn't enrolled in a particular sport by the age of 5, they're "not experienced enough" to play on a team at 7. (Yes, this is Park & Rec, not the Olympics. I am parent to a washed-up has-been who's 7, ROFL.)

How funny is that, that you can't find stuff during the day and I can't find stuff in the evenings/weekends?

Margaret L said...

I'm glad you posted this. I'm a single mom considering homeschooling my toddler when she's older, and wondering if I've lost my mind. It's good to know others are making it work.

hschinske said...

It would be fine to buy your own health insurance if there WERE any out there that was cost-effective to buy! (There are some exceptions, especially in some states, but usually there's almost nothing available, even for the most stable sole proprietor.) I think we couldn't do more to jumpstart our economy than have universal health care. People would be far more inclined to start their own businesses -- no more staying in a dead-end job for fear of losing benefits. That would open up lower-level jobs for young and/or inexperienced people who really needed them as a step up, who would perform them more enthusiastically.

I have to say, though, that fifteen bucks an hour, without benefits, as a sole income, especially if circumstances forbid your working more than part time, really is poverty, though not destitution. Ms. Smith has three kids, and appears to be able to work at best three-quarter time, perhaps only half-time, so her family is very likely below the federal poverty threshold for its size (just under $22,000 a year). I wouldn't be at all surprised if they qualify for food stamps, Medicaid, etc.

Helen Schinske

JulieC said...

I've been an at-home mom for 12 years. The past seven years I've homeschooled my profoundly gifted, 12-year-old son. An incredible opportunity was handed to me a couple of weeks ago. I was asked to be the administrative assistant for a new public charter school opening this fall. It not only blesses us to know we'll have a bit more income, but also because my son needed some high school classes. He'll attend the charter school for those classes, and continue his private online schooling for the rest of the day - all in an office next to mine. I also get to set my hours around my publicly-schooled, 10-year-old daughter's schedule. So I will make some money, and yet get to have lots of control over my son's education.