C O V E R S T O R Y
by Scott W. Somerville
Each year, larger and larger groups of home schoolers march up on a platform, receive a diploma, and hurl their mortarboards into the air. Most go off to college, and more and more colleges have altered their admissions policies to attract these eager learners. A substantial fraction of home school graduates choose to avoid institutional education altogether and go straight from home to the work force. How are these home school graduates doing at getting a job?
The good news is that home schoolers who have made it into the working world are getting high marks from their employers. The bad news is that too many companies have never met a home schooler, and some outdated firms still treat home schoolers like dropouts. Fortunately, each new graduating class is seeing the barriers fall. The working world is getting more home school friendly every year.
Home schoolers have caught the attention of the Society for Human Resource Management, which publishes HR Magazine. They report that employers who have hired home schoolers are generally enthusiastic about them. Chick-fil-A®, a nationwide fast food chain, is so happy with its home school hires that it actively recruits them. According to Andy Lorenzen, who helps recruit Chick-fil-A's 30,000 front-line workers, home schoolers are a unique source of talent. "They're smart, ambitious, and very driven," Lorenzen reports. "They have a high level of loyalty to the business, are diligent and have a good work ethic."
Many businesses have tapped into the home school community to fill slots. Employers have discovered that home school students view work as an extension of their education, are available part time, at odd hours, and during busy seasons. They aren't just perfect for entry level jobs either. According to Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute in HR Magazine, home schoolers are "self-starters, reliable and creative, intellectually prepared, better than average, read voraciously, [and] watch TV less."
|"Chick-fil-A® may be on to something. Homeschoolers are popping up everywhere, moving seamlessly into college and the workplace, thriving in internships and in entry- and professional-level jobs."|
HR Magazine, November 2001.
In finding a job, it has long been recognized that it is not always what you know, but who you know. The "good old boy network" can help one find a job in a tight labor market. Home schoolers may not have such a network (yet), but the tightly knit home school community can be very effective at finding jobs. Home schoolers stick together, and with approximately two million home schooled students across the country, there are more and more friends in high places every day. Some even run their own businesses (see Home school entrepreneurs).
Bumps in the road
Not all the prospects are bright, however. As the comic strip "Dilbert" so often shows, the business world has plenty of pointless bureaucracies and short-sighted managers. Many company hiring policies were written long before home schoolers appeared on the scene. Getting a job at some companies can be very difficult.
Take, for example, the case of Fred Isaack. Fred graduated from home and worked for several months for a company that serves the railroad industry. In March 2002, Fred applied for a conductor's job at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. On April 11, 2002, Fred got a letter offering him a "conditional offer of employment" as a Conductor Trainee. The offer was contingent on a physical, a drug test, and a background investigation. Fred knew he would pass the drug test and was pretty confident about his physical, so he gave his notice at his old job.
A company called Verifications, Inc., was hired to conduct the background investigation, and their report indicated that the department of education in Fred's home state said that "a diploma would not be issued for home schooling." Based solely on that fact, Burlington Northern denied him employment. Brian Yarbarrow, Human Resources Manager for Burlington Northern, said that he could not hire Fred unless the county or state would certify his diploma or Fred obtained a General Equivalency Diploma (GED).
Many people think the "E" in GED means it is the equivalent of a diploma, but economists James Heckman and Stephen Cameron have found that GED holders are "statistically indistinguishable" from dropouts. According to Jay Greene, a senior fellow specializing in education at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the GED is nothing more than "a test that dropouts can take to be given a second chance at formal education." When employers turn down a home school diploma and demand a GED instead, they demonstrate their own ignorance.
|Fred Isaack was denied employment by Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad because his home school diploma was not state certified.|
Frustrated, Fred finally decided to get a GED. (Unlike many of the home schoolers who graduate early, he was old enough to take the test.) Unfortunately, the results did not get back to him by the time his conductor training began.
What can home schoolers do?
What can home schoolers do if they are denied a job because of their educational background? That depends on the employer. In a truly free market, employers are free to discriminate against employees for any reason. Unless some particular law prohibits it, employers can fire a worker (or refuse to hire one) for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. There are federal and some state laws that create special protections for some classes of employees (race, sex, religion, and national origin are well-known examples), but no government has yet passed a law prohibiting employment discrimination against home schoolers as such. Thus, if a company isn't interested in what a home schooler has to offer, it is usually best to simply move on to a more open-minded employer.
This does not mean that the home school community should ignore companies that discriminate against home schoolers. Companies turn home schoolers away for one of two reasons. A few companies reject home schoolers because they don't like what they stand for, but most of the companies that reject home schoolers do so because some manager believes that some law requires them to have an "official" diploma. In most industries, the latter is far from the truth.
There is also the problem of inertia. Some personnel managers know they can hire home schoolers, but would have to change some internal policy to do so. That may seem like too much effort for a very busy (or very lazy) manager, since home schoolers make up such a small proportion of the workforce. Often, it is much easier to discriminate against a micro-minority than to change the company paperwork.
For this reason, home schoolers cannot afford to be silent about outdated policies. Home schoolers have had years of practice at contacting their elected representatives about laws that might affect home schoolers. The same principles that work in Congress can work in the business world. A handful of intelligent letters to the president of a small to mid-size company can light a fire under the busiest personnel manager. Multi-national corporations may take a little longer, but home schoolers have proven they are willing to work together to accomplish big goals.
In today's interconnected economy, home schoolers have every reason to succeed. The pioneers conquered the West because neighbors gave neighbors a helping hand. In the same way, wave after wave of our immigrant ancestors succeeded by helping each other out. Home schoolers can get established in the twenty-first century economy through the same means. All they have to do is follow a few simple rules.
- Remember that our reputation is at stake. Each resume, interview, or first day at work is an opportunity to enhance the reputation of home schoolers everywhere—or else to undermine it. Home schoolers have sacrificed too much for too long to lose it all through silly, self-indulgent behavior. We still need to prove that home schoolers can do the job!
- Don't give up easily. Every salesman is trained to respond to at least three "nos" before giving up. Home schoolers can't quit the first time a mid-level manager refuses to take a risk. Ask why you weren't hired. If some policy requires an accredited diploma or GED, ask for a copy of that policy. Get the name of a supervisor or the president of the company, and take the time to write a courteous letter asking for a chance to explain why the policy should be changed. If they still say no, pass the word to the local support group or state organization. Send HSLDA a copy of their hiring policy. Make sure somebody keeps the pressure on this business until it sees the light.
- Open doors for others. If a decent job becomes available where you work, pass the word within the home schooling community. If your firm hired one home schooler, it may be willing to hire others. It's much easier to start your career in a friendly company than try to force your way into a hostile office. Once you're in, other companies will hire you because of your proven success. One good entry-level job can launch a career.
Home school entrepreneurs|
One way to get a job is to start your own company. While most new businesses fail, many do succeed, and the attempt can be an excellent education in itself.
Ben and Nick Tedesco, Nathan and Mike Somerville, and Ian Lotinsky opened Ceratile.com in 2000, with the expert advice and financial help of a home schooling family with an existing ceramic tile business. Ceratile's mission was to provide high quality ceramic tile over the Internet for home improvement projects. The result? A ton of work, a lot of fun, a few sales, and invaluable business experience. When the bottom fell out of the dot-com market, these home school entrepreneurs moved on with their lives (which included a full business scholarship for one of them).
Aaron Fessler's startup followed a different path. Aaron started his own mail order business in his teens, helped his parents with computer projects for their state home school organization, and worked at Home School Legal Defense (HSLDA) as a network administrator. He founded Allegro in 1995 with $5000, built it up to $7 million in sales by 1999, and sold it later that year. Aaron is now Chief Executive Officer of MediaForce, Inc., a firm that fights software piracy.
Some critics of home schooling claim that home schooled children never get a childhood. They argue that home schoolers are forced to be little adults, who are deprived of the opportunity to just be children. There is no question that home schoolers are getting ready for life in the real world, not the artificial world of K-12 classroom education. At the same time, many home schoolers insist that their children are the ones who get the chance to enjoy childhood without the pressure of the public schools.
Whether or not traditional schools really allow children to "just be children," they certainly subject their students to a rude awakening when they finally leave the classroom for the real world. Traditional schools create an artificial distinction between education and life. Students learn all the rituals of an elaborate youth culture to gain status at school, and then they have to suppress most of those behaviors to get by at home or at their after-school jobs.
Most home schoolers replace this artificial distinction between education and life with a more integrated view of lifelong learning, where chores and family devotions are considered as much a part of education as grammar or fractions. The "apprenticeship" process that begins with making beds and emptying the garbage in kindergarten continues with internships and part-time jobs in high school. The home school ideal is that student should learn for the love of learning. We want to raise children who will tackle every new challenge as another opportunity to grow. We don't want to produce the stereotypical "classroom child," who is always asking, "Will this be on the test?"
A reason to work
Many home schoolers are teaching even more fundamental lessons about the very reason for getting a job in the first place. Our secular, materialistic society looks for meaning in life in the next paycheck, weekend, or recreational vehicle. Too much of our culture is summed up in the bumper sticker that says, "He who dies with the most toys wins." Few home schoolers would agree with that position.
The courageous choice to teach a child at home sets a family apart from this cultural mainstream. Home schoolers are part of a counterculture that puts a lower value on things and a higher value on people. Most home schooling families sacrifice one parent's income in order to train up their children in the way they should go. The pattern of the parents sets a clear example for the next generation, who see that they will need a job to make a living, but they need much more than a job to make the living worthwhile.
People—especially men—do better if they have a good reason to work. According to Kerby Anderson, President of Probe Ministries International, men around the age of 40 begin to reassess the meaning of life and the fate of their youthful dreams. Many start asking the big questions: Is this all I am going to do the rest of my life? Is this all I am going to achieve? Mr. Anderson writes, "Many people find that what they thought was going to make them happy isn't making them happy. They enjoyed law school and the first few years of law. But the thought of practicing law for the rest of their lives is not very fulfilling. They enjoyed the first few years selling life insurance, but the thought of selling insurance for another 30 years sounds more like torture than a career."
One way that home schooling fathers can avoid that mid-life trap is to devote themselves to the task of teaching their children to love God with all their hearts, all their souls, all their minds, and all their strength, and to inspire their children to take up the task of doing the same for their grandchildren.
|About the Author|
As Staff Attorney at HSLDA, Scott has successfully handled hundreds of legal contacts on behalf of families across the nation. He and his wife, Marcia, have six children. Three have graduated from the Somerville home school, and the other three continue learning at home in Derwood, Maryland.
No matter what happens to the economy, home school graduates prepared in this way can smile at the future. They are ready to deal with bosses, customers, and every other person in the business world, for Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to pray for those who persecute us, and even to love our enemies. They are prepared for the ups and downs of the business cycle, because the Bible tells us to count it all joy when we encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces patience. They are ready for the uncertainties of a changing economy, because Jesus told us to pray for our daily bread, and not be anxious about tomorrow. When fellow employees take shortcuts and compromise their principles, they may succeed for a time, but the man who builds his house on the rock of God's Word will remain firm. If we, as parents, are faithful and diligent, our children will be uniquely prepared to succeed in this world—and the next.
Ready for the future
What kind of future awaits the home school graduate? No one can predict the circumstances that will arise over the next few years. The economy may boom, or bust. New technologies may flourish, and old business may go bankrupt. The only thing certain is that constant change is here to stay.
Home school graduates are uniquely ready for an uncertain future. Unlike large institutional schools that must prepare thousands of students for "the economy," we are raising individuals for life. If a child is given the opportunity to learn what he or she can do best, that child is as prepared as anyone ever will be for the future.