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Homeschooling High School

An Interview with Barbara Shelton

April 26, 2001

The following interview was conducted live on a chat program hosted by Mary Leggewie. Barb Shelton is homeschool pioneer who, with her husband, Dave (of 25 years as of last summer) has been homeschooling in Longview, Washington for 18 years. Their three children are Sharnessa, 23; Tory (male), 22 (both of whom got married a week apart last August!); and Carlianne, 14. (You may have heard of Sharnessa who is part of the Christian pop band, V*Enna.) Barb has been teaching homeschool seminars around Washington State since 1984, and in 1994 "went national" and now speaks around the country.

She offers a homeschool course called a "Season of Re-education and Renewing of the Mind" which is done entirely at home by correspondence. (Her course is one option homeschoolers have for "qualifying" to homeschool under Washington State's Homeschool Law.)

Barb speaks and writes for burning-out as well as wanna-be homeschoolers wanting to recover from or avoid the pitfalls of listening to the (many loud) voices of the world, and hear the voice of the Lord for their own children.

Barb's workshops and books, including Senior High: A Home-Designed Form+U+la, The Homeschool Guide-a-log and the Jumpstart Navigator for Younger Children, are sprinkled with humor, girded with scriptural truth, and loaded with practical forms, ideas, and encouragement. Barb's website is loaded with information!

You're one of those "veteran" homeschool moms! Did you know any other homeschoolers when you began?

Barb Shelton: Only two other families in our town. The only homeschool leader I knew of was Dr. Raymond Moore (Home Grown Kids; Better Late Than Early, etc.), but he and his wife weren't homeschooling! However, they possessed much wisdom, gained from research, common sense, and having raised children with much wisdom themselves, and they were responsible for totally turning my life around!

What would you consider some of your biggest challenges along the way?

Barb Shelton: Probably my own weaknesses. It's hard for me to stay focused, especially with so many demands for/on my time. But also we went through some very rough times in our marriage several years ago. God has done a GOOD work in both of us, and we were even asked (by our pastor) to share "our story" at our church's marriage retreat last weekend! You can go through hard times and still live to tell about it ~ IF God is allowed to have His way! He is a REDEEMING God, and "REDEEMED" is the theme of my life!

One other big challenge was that we not only had NO support, but since it was 18 years ago, NO one had even heard of homeschooling! "You're WHAT?!? What's that?" Our parents did not approve of what we were doing. Nor did they think I was capable of doing it. I was fortunate enough to not have parents who were verbal about it (at all), but their icy silence was almost as bad! Dave's mom started asking questions and became supportive early on, but it wasn't until 8 years into homeschooling that my parents came around! And it was because of the poise and confidence he saw developing in our oldest daughter, Sharnessa! It was a LONG eight years! The biggest challenge, though, was my own thinking about what "education" was!

Looking back now that you've completed your own homeschooling journey, is there anything you would have done differently?

Barb Shelton: Yes!!! I would have gotten a hold of Marilyn Howshall's Lifestyle of Learning materials before I started doing ANYthing! However, they weren't even written until we had been homeschooling for 10 years! That would have totally changed many things.

I had NO idea of what God's idea of education was when first starting out. In fact, it took me many years to figure it out. When I first started homeschooling, there was a grand total of TWO books for us! (parents) I have found that it is vital to know what education is really about before trying to do it with and for our kids! Many would avoid burnout and bad fruit in their children and homes if only they had understood God's idea of education ~ right from Day 1.

When we're first starting out, we don't realize this. Our minds are still "unrenewed" in this vast arena of education ~ which is only natural considering we're immersed in our culture's idea of "education," and we just want to get the right and best curriculum!

Our society is steeped in the public school system, so we naturally see that as being "the norm" and even "the best." Yet that system is not producing the desired fruit in our children. Even so, new homeschoolers rush out to buy hundreds of dollars worth of curriculum, (we didn't; we didn't have the money!), start funneling that down their kids' heads, and within a year or two ~ sometimes it takes just a few weeks or months ~ burn out! Or experience continual contention with their kids.

There's still a place for prepared curriculum, but, like TV dinners ~ which are very handy, and all set up for you ~ there are no decisions to make other than which one(s) to get. A steady diet of this is not the "healthiest" option. Once I figured that out, (which was largely due to the influence of Marilyn Howshall's writings), I walked in MUCH greater freedom and purpose! Her materials are not "how-to's"; they are foundational, and give you a much deeper understanding of the learning process and how to apply principles to your own unique child(ren).

Your article, "Refreshing and Re-Focusing the Heart of the Homeschooler," one of your wonderful articles on your Web site, isn't exactly what most folks would expect, is it?

Barb Shelton: No, it isn't. Most people think that the reason they're experiencing frustration or burn-out is because they just don't have the right curriculum; or enough discipline ~ with themselves or their kids. What they need is a new FOCUS! ~ a new VISION! (That's what I help them get!)

What can we do to help get the word out that Christian children should not be in government schools?

Barb Shelton: May I first comment on your use of the term "government schools?" The term "government schools" is actually very accurate, even though most people don't think of it that way, or use the term. The term "public" actually means that the people are free to use the "public" institution, whatever it may be, as they wish. This means they are free to use it... or NOT use it. So in reality our "public libraries" are truly public libraries. If I choose to use their services, great; if I choose to not step foot into a public library for 10 years, no problem. Now, if I choose to not step foot ~ or rather my children's foot ~ into a "public school" for even say 3 days, what will happen? Ahhh! THAT is an entirely different matter! My child will be called "truant" and if I do not hightail my child's little foot into their "public school" in short order, I will be FINED hundreds of dollars! (Now I'm not talking about a situation where I have formally withdrawn my child to homeschool; I'm just talking about "John Smith" who lives in this school district.) The moment a law is made requiring children's feet to be planted on a public schoolroom floor, that institution is no longer "public"; it has now become a government institution.

I tend to work more on an "as the Lord opens the door" basis than on an assertive basis. I see myself as a pawn in God's hand, and I ask Him to move me in and out of the "chess boards" of people's lives as He sees fit. He has each one on a course, and is taking each of us through our own unique process, as each one of us, and each of our lives, are unique.

At the ministry level, one of the books in my homeschool course (for parents) is The Great Escape. On a more personal basis, I have personally found that He most often brings people to me rather than me going out to look for them. What I have at my Web site is what I want to say to people in the government schools, and in many other situations, (like burning out on homeschool, rebellious kids, etc.) Many have told me they have sent friends to my website.

But I think it works best to be an example, and then watch and see what God is doing in their lives, and allow Him to use you to speak to them as He opens the door. I know that's pretty vague, but that's a good question and the response to it could really be a whole article in itself!

What about sending children to Christian schools?

Barb Shelton: I personally don't feel that Christian schools are much better than public/government schools in that they are still operating under the same system. The values of the curriculum are better, of course, and that's a plus. But the kids are still confined to the classroom.

I LOVE what John Taylor Gatto said about this! I quote: "I've come to believe that genius is an exceedingly common human quality, probably natural to most of us."

[From Barb: I have yet to meet a parent who doesn't think their tiny tot is "unusually bright"!]

[Back to quoting Mr. Gatto] "I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself was what was dumbing them down. Was it possible I had been hired not to enlarge children's power, but to diminish it? That seemed crazy on the face of it, but slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior."

And here's one more quote from Mr. Gatto that I love: "We need to realize that the school institution 'schools' very well, though it does not educate; that's inherent in the design of the thing. It's not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It's just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing."

[Back to Barb now] This is just as true for any kind of traditional school, public or private. And if we bring this system into our home and merely do "school at home," we are falling into the same trap! I have an article on this at my website called "What About Christian Schools?"

We have several moms here who are on our message boards at HomeschoolChristian.com and they are wondering how they can convince their husbands that they should homeschool.

Barb Shelton: Well, I may get a few rotten tomatoes for this, but I think that there are some wrong ideas about submission out there. I have heard many moms say exactly what you have asked about, that they want to homeschool, but their husband wants to send them to public (which equals government) school and therefore they have to submit. No questions asked or objections stated. After all, that wouldn't be godly submissiveness!

If, after much prayer and discussion ~ not belittling and arguing ~ the husband still wants that, I might go along with it, but my convictions about government schools are pretty strong, so there would be a very in-depth process we'd go through before I could even think about doing that!

I want to ask those wives, who would so quickly submit to such a request (demand) this question: Let's say your husband told you he wanted you to get rid of all fresh fruit and whole grains in your house and everyone was to start eating only candy and sugar cereals? And ONLY these things! Would you just quietly submit? I hope not! And I don't mean to rebel or be domineering or nasty about it either!

I would hope you have such a relationship with your husband that you'd be able to talk with him, read some things out of a favorite health book to him that would gently open his eyes to the truth about food.

I feel the same way, only about a thousand times stronger about the "unhealthiness" of the government schools! And the unhealthy "brain food" being fed there regularly is going to affect our kids MUCH more deeply and long-lastingly than mere food!

So to you dads who feel that government school is the best choice, or let's open it up a bit more ~ if you feel that "school at home" is the best way to homeschool, I'd like to humbly say this: Please be open to learning some things about "true education." This will produce more good fruit in your children than your current ideas of education could ever yield.

As the provider of your home, you probably don't have time for as in-depth of a season of renewing your mind as she might, but what has worked well for many couples is for the husband to listen tapes that the wife listens to also, and knows would minister to her husband, or that she (or one of the kids) reads to him on a tape so that he can listen to it traveling to and from work.

Also she can highlight things (in a certain color for him) as she reads, and then they discuss these together. If both parents are not on the same page in understanding, and in unity on how to approach the education of their children, there will be disharmony, confusion, and unrest in the home, with Mom over-burdened and perpetually frustrated with trying to pursue what she believes God is trying to lead her into while her husband is playing "tug-of-war" and trying to lead her in a different direction. And, as many of you know only too well, it's NOT a game either!

I'm not saying that dad's thoughts should not be regarded! Not at all!!! There's definitely much in Dad's heart that God wants to impart to the wife AND children! I'm only saying that if his wife is trying to tell him something, the husband needs to have the humility and meekness of Jesus, be(come) teachable, and take on the heart of a learner.

(I should note that sometimes these roles are reversed! I've talked with couples where it was the husband who was getting renewed in his thinking, but his wife didn't want to go with him out of Egypt!)

What about science? This intimidates a lot of parents into not homeschooling. Can you tell us about your Lab Science book and what age/grade it's for?

Barb Shelton: Yes, lab science is intimidating, and that's totally unnecessary, especially with all the resources and helps available now!

My book, called Lab Science: The How, Why, What, Who 'n' Where Book, is not a lab text book. It's for high school and junior high. I wrote it to give the course planner a better understanding of and foundation in lab science, its many purposes, the many different ways it can be done, how to do it without just going the textbook route (and when that would and wouldn't be advisable), and to give many options, insights from many experts, frameworks for several different types of lab courses (not just biology and chemistry), and reproducible forms for doing so.

One mom said "This book changed my mind from feeling the need to send my daughter to a community college for Lab Science. We can just the this book and figure out a good lab course on our own! We are both relieved and excited about that!"

What about taking college classes at a young age? What do you think of this?

Barb Shelton: I think it can work, but only if the parents have a VERY good idea of where they're heading, and why, and have totally prepared their children ~ mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I'm referring to classes taken off-campus. I personally don't feel that even most college-age kids are ready for the secular campus! (Taking college classes online is an entirely different matter. With a parent nearby and (hopefully) overseeing the studies, the risks are much more minimal ~ providing the parent has a good understanding of "worldview.")

Of course, what some are talking about is taking "dual enrollment" classes at a community college. That's another separate issue, yet with similar concerns. For more of my thoughts on this matter, read an article I wrote entitled "Are "Dual Enrollment" and "Running Start" Really Homeschool Options?"

Generally speaking, though, I feel my time with my kids is limited enough; their childhoods short enough; let's just let them take their time about growing up and be kids for as long as they can. Adulthood will come soon enough. (TOO soon, in my opinion!) There are many areas to develop besides academics, and these just take TIME.

Do you recommend "CLEPping" college courses. For those not familiar with CLEP tests, these are tests taken that give the equivalent of college credit without having to take (and pay for) the courses tested.

Barb Shelton: I think it can be a great idea, and it can be awful. There are many issues involved in this, and many different situations and kids. What's good for one is totally wrong for another. That's why we need to first get our minds renewed about education, learn to hear God's voice, and then ask such questions.

What's "right" for one child may be very different than what's right for another of our own children! So there are no "right or wrong" ways; only hearing God for each child, each step of the way.

What about college over the Internet? This seems to popping up quite a bit now with places like Phoenix University.

Barb Shelton: In the on-campus setting, parents need to be willing to go through much of the material with the student to make sure the worldview is correct ~ which it often isn't (even with Christian colleges!) ~ so they need to help their kids work through it. This is why I feel if younger kids are going to take college classes, they need to be done at home. Otherwise you can't have that input.

My focus is really high school ~ and getting everything out of these years that God has for us ~ but I do think that internet classes can be used at the high school level too. I personally feel that there should be a variety of learning methods, and the more of the student's "real life" that's encompassed, the better.

Barb, we've got a lot of moms of young children on our Web site. Can you tell us a bit more about the The Homeschool Jumpstart Navigator?

Barb Shelton: I wrote it for parents whose children have been in "regular school" or are burned-out on too much "school-at-home." These kids need time to "decompress" while getting occupied in some healthy "real-life learning"; they do NOT need a different pile of work heaped on them!

Once the child is all set academically (which this book helps you do), the book also gives specific direction to get the parent going on a season of "re-education" ~ which will be very freeing and joy-producing for those who have been bound up in traditional methods!

I have received hundreds of letters from exhilarated moms who are having a BALL with their kids! They didn't know homeschooling could be so fun! This book shows you how to get started ~ and how simple it is ~ and gives lots of practical learning tools to use with your children!

Do you offer your homeschool courses in person at all?

Barb Shelton: Well, I need to differentiate between the different things I do... I offer a homeschool course, called a "Season of Re-education and Renewing of the Mind," which is done entirely in your home, the only contact with me being in book and tape form. Click here for an intro to this course...

It consists of reading books, articles, and booklets, and "journal-responding" in a course syllabus I designed to help you think everything through for your own family. When done, you can get a Certificate of Completion, if you desire. OK, so that's my "course," and I don't do that in person. However, I do speak in person, upon invitation. I have several workshops that I do at conventions, (click here,) and I also do my own one or two-day seminars.

I am not soliciting speaking engagements during this season of my life, but am open to doing them. I still have one daughter at home, Carlianne who's 14, and with Sharnessa and Tory married and gone, it has hit me like a ton of bricks how QUICKLY this time with our kids is GONE!

And I was even able to keep my kids with me longer than usual; Sharnessa until she was 20 and Tory 21. I do speak here and there, but only as it is evident to me and to the hostess that this is something God is leading.

Audience question: How do colleges feel towards homeschool?

Barb Shelton: There's no one way they feel; it's on a very individual basis. Some are actually recruiting homeschoolers; others are very biased against them. Probably even the various staff people in any given college vary greatly in their attitudes toward homeschoolers. We are still in the pioneering stages! But my understanding is that the attitude is generally becoming more favorable. The proof really is in the pudding, and homeschoolers generally excel in many different ways!

Audience question: Do you know of any good ways to get scholarships for college or grants?

Barb Shelton: Actually college, scholarships, grants and such things are not my focus; my focus is on the heart of true education. Cafi Cohen has written much on this that you would find very helpful.

Audience question: Don't you feel if the Lord wants our children at a particular college etc. that the doors will be open or the hoops won't be too hard to manage?

Barb Shelton: Yes! I feel that if we follow God's leading all through our homeschooling years, He will open the ONE door that needs to open. I also feel our focus needs to be more on preparing our children for LIFE and for their calling in life than for (merely) college. For college, yes, if that's what God has for them. But I think too many assume that college is for everyone. I believe God has more creative (and less expensive) options than we have considered.

If our kids don't have anything particular they'd like to study - and the Lord hasn't put a particular on our hearts - do you recommend doing the "basic" things that kids cover in regular school - like English comp, algebra etc. I've been homeschooling 14 years, I don't do school at home, I try using neat stuff, but sometimes the creative juices are lacking.

Barb Shelton: I think it's a good idea to try several things. I've heard the analogy of putting a taste of many things on a child's palate. That's one way to find out what they might be interested in that they hadn't thought of. There is an article at my website by Gregg Harris called "Delight Directed Study" that would be very helpful!! (There are two others on this topic too!)

Audience question: Do you think its a good idea to get your GED after you finish homeschool?

Barb Shelton: I don't think there's anything particularly good or bad about it ~ it just depends on the direction God is taking your child, and whether or not that would be helpful to them. It has had an unfavorable "stigma" attached to it, but can be useful in certain situations.

Audience question: Do your children intend to homeschool your grandchildren?

Barb Shelton: Yes!!! My daughter-in-law (Tory's wife) was not homeschooled, but she definitely wants to homeschool, and has a heart to learn! She asked me a few weeks ago if she could come to my workshops with me! I would have felt like I'd failed somewhere had my kids not wanted to homeschool their kids.

Audience question: If our child doesn't know whether college is in his future - should we still try to prepare by doing some of the "done subjects" just in case the Lord leads in that way?

Barb Shelton: Yes, but we can do them in more interesting ways than merely straight text/workbooks. Many think that the best and only way to do a subject is with a textbook. I just don't agree. For one thing, it is not related to the child's real life and much of it just falls off their brains, like water over Vaseline! But additionally, there are MANY ways to teach almost every subject withOUT a single textbook! I have MANY examples in my book, Senior High: A Home-Designed Form+U+la!, (See the forms at the bottom of my High School Helps page! And this is just an intro!)

One more thought...Sharnessa said, "I LOVED homeschooling! Instead of being stuck in a classroom for 6 hours a day and then an added 1-3 hours of homework, I was able to focus on the areas I loved and was passionate about! I mean, I still had to fill all the credits required by my mom, but we got to fill them with such awesome, hands-on experiences! We went to seminars, workshops, historical sites and museums all around Washington (state), conferences, on field trips, watched videos, and more! ~ It was incredible!" (Sharnessa is very enthusiastic!) (This is from a Letter of Encouragement from Sharnessa to a Reluctant Homeschooled Boy.)

Audience question: Any suggestions for handling the pressure from others when you have a very athletic daughter who doesn't really think she wants to go to college but everyone else thinks she should? (Not necessarily us)

Barb Shelton: You need to come up with an answer ~ a gracious one, of course ~ that you AND your daughter feel comfortable giving. I don't know why people think they need to give their unsolicited opinions! But the more confident you are and the more graciously firm, the less freedom they will feel to pressure you. I HOPE!

Audience question: Are the examples of teaching without textbooks in the old version of your book or just new one?

Barb Shelton: The philosophy behind it is presented in the new and the old versions. A few examples are in the old, but there are MANY MANY more examples in the new version because I wrote that AFTER I had finished homeschooling two high schoolers; I wrote the first version from an "I plan to..." angle; the next edition had a few inserts into the old from an "I'm still in the process, but here's what I've learned" angle; the 1999 edition is from a "DID IT!" angle. (There is only ONE edition of the new one, by the way, so if it has pictures of our family on the cover, it's the latest.)

As for examples of real-life learning... In the new edition of the book I have examples for every class I could think of, and for many classes that I invented! Like "Building Life Relationships" which is where we put all our talk about "courtship" and "Educational Foundations" which is where the kids learn the foundational stuff about true education. THEIR minds to be renewed as much as ours!

I did produce two "Addendum's" over the years for those with the old versions, but these are very sketchy and incomplete. A "drop in the bucket" of what's in the new version. I personally think the new one is well worth getting if you're going to still be high schooling for at least a year or more. Many ask me whether they should get the new version if they already have the old, so I put together an article called "New vs. Old Form+U+la" to help you decide. (Isn't that a clever title for such an article?!?)

Audience question: Do you call material produced by homeschool families, "textbooks" if they cover a particular topic. Example: creative writing?

Barb Shelton: I think of "textbooks" as what the curriculum companies put out. I probably don't need to name names. And some ARE helpful for some classes! But not a steady diet of them! Three articles that will shed more light on this are "What About Prepared Curriculum?" (by me), "The Need for Structure in the Learning Process" (by Marilyn Howshall), and "Delight Directed Learning." (by me)

Many thanks to Barb Shelton for sharing her thoughts with us here at HomeschoolChristian.com!

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