21 Oct 2015

It’s the fall of 2015, the beginning of a new academic year. I trust you had a summer full of activities that took advantage of the great resources in NC, from our mountains to our beaches. I hope you were able to schedule an extended visit with family and friends. I hope you were able to read a good book and take in a summer blockbuster. I hope you were able to take a break from structured academics and that you were able to reboot.

I have been enjoying applying the notion of a reboot to the experience of home education and the human condition. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, reboot is a commonly used information technology term which has made its way into the more common lexicon. It originally referred to the process of turning a computer off and on again, with the hope that whatever issue was ailing the computer will be resolved. Often computers are asked to do so many tasks that they have difficulty prioritizing them all. The tasks start to compete against each other for the computer’s limited computational resources and, in essence, thwart each other so that fewer and fewer tasks are accomplished. Eventually, the computer’s processor starts to degrade in performance and some tasks are aborted. It is likely that we’ve all experienced the spinning hour-glass icon, or, the Apple spinning rainbow wheel of death. These icons tell you to wait, but also give you the sinking feeling that files are not going to be saved, and the computer might even crash. A reboot in some ways is an admittance that things have gone too far afield and it is not going to get better on its own. The hour-glass icon keeps rotating; the rainbow wheel keeps spinning, and an intervention is required. Best to cut one’s losses. Reboot.

The notion of reboot has transitioned successfully to the cinematic arts, where it has been used, successfully, and less than optimally, according to the several teenaged movie-critics-in-residence at my domicile. In film, a reboot basically restarts a story. If you enjoy movies at all, it is likely you have experienced some blockbuster reboots, for example, Amazing Spiderman and Star Trek. There have been multiple sequels to the original Star Trek movie. The second installment, The Wrath of Khan, was a sequel that expounded on a story line from one episode in the original TV series. For all their success, however, there was a sense that the story had run its course but not necessarily so, according to some. What was needed, rather, was a retelling that would bring the story up to speed with the now more sophisticated ways of doing film. For fans of a story, reboots can be both exhilarating and terrifying. Will the writers, producers, directors and actors all honor what the fans deem essential to a beloved character or sequence of particular events? Will the rebooting extend the inspiration received of the first telling, or will they instead undermine what is so captivating and possibly deliver utter disappointment? To take on a cinematic reboot is a bold and daring move for movie-makers. The stakes are in some sense higher, as they are not only charged with captivating the audience, but doing so in a way that honors the legacies of past artists. They could fail and be the scorn of an entire fan base. Or, they could succeed and essentially resurrect an entire storyline.

I recently read an article that argued that the concept of reboot is helpful for thinking about essentials of Christian doctrine, of creation and Christ’s kingdom. In simplified terms, that means in the afterlife, we will not be sitting on clouds and playing harps all day but going about the labor we were made to do in a manner that is far better than we do today. I find this vision particularly exhilarating because there are many things I do really enjoy and even sometimes feel I do well. There are relationships to people and things, like my favorite song, that I don’t want to lose. I believe it makes far more sense that heaven will include a way of honoring these things in the hearts of the redeemed, individually and collectively.

I find the notion of reboot useful for describing the homeschooling experience. Home educators see learning as integral to life. Life is, in some sense, a constant retelling of the story of one’s learning. Sure, there are sequences in knowledge development. One learns certain things first and other things second—algebra before calculus, the names of colors before art theory—but in some sense, complex subjects are just more nuanced and sophisticated retelling of simpler subjects. It may even be that sometimes we have to re-learn how to do certain things because we have fallen out of practice, or perhaps the way we have been doing it something no longer meets our needs. In learning more, we are often re-learning something. At the beginning of the new year parents may find that certain skills a student possessed last year now seem to have disappeared! Urrg! Do we need to repeat a grade? Never fear—your student may need only to be re-engaged in a subject to have these skills ready to again be used in everyday activities. The knowledge and skills are intact, only a slight reboot is necessary.

The concept of reboot relates to homeschooling at even deeper level. North Carolina has caught the attention of educational policy researchers by its rapid growth of homeschooling, with an average annual growth rate of approximately 20% since 1985. During the 2014-2015 academic year there were over 67,800 registered homeschools serving and estimated 169,500 students. This statistic is significant: in North Carolina, there are more students who are homeschooled than are enrolled in private schools. Although the Division of Non-Public Education has not yet released official numbers for 2015-2016 school-year, it seems the trend of homeschool growth is continuing. At the beginning of this school-year, there were over 70,000 homeschools listed with DNPE. Contrast that to 1985 when there were 381 schools. The 2015 academic year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the 1985 Delconte case, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruling that clarified that homeschooling is legal in North Carolina. Prior to the Delconte ruling, homeschooling parents risked jail. Homeschooling parents of that era tell stories of strategies to avoid detection. These parents were deeply dissatisfied with the status quo of education. For more and more children, education was being thwarted. The fundamental aspect of civilization, that of raising the next generation, needed a reboot. Educating children to be active, productive adult members of society involved them being active, productive members of their social unit, their family. Education systems that sought to teach children in a manner which did not acknowledge and respect the rights and values of parents had their priorities and responsibilities confused. Many children were not flourishing and advocacy efforts fell on deaf ears. Something had to be done. A small and devoted handful did not send their children to school but rather began to extend what they were already doing naturally, teaching their own children in their own homes. Today, roughly 70,000 families are benefitting from the actions of a few, and their commitment to start again, to sacrifice and risk for the sake of their conscience and the healthy development of their children.

The 2015 academic year includes roughly 4,000 new homeschools in North Carolina. If that is you, welcome to the reboot. Restarting can be challenging; it is hard work. I believe your family, you and your children, will find it rewarding.

Kevin McClain and his wife, Brea, started homeschooling in 2002. Kevin has a master’s in education, instructional technology, from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in educational studies from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he works as an educational technologist. In 2010, he joined NCHE's board as education vice president. He served as NCHE president from 2012-2016.