Monday, May 15, 2006

Interview: Barbara Frank – Author of "Life Prep for Homeschooled Teachers" and "The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling"

Below is an interview with Barbara Frank done via email. I am really enjoying these interviews. If they weren't so much work I'd be doing more of them.

I hope you enjoy the interview.


Brief bio:

Barbara Frank is the mother of four homeschooled-from-birth children ages 13-22, a freelance writer/editor, and the author of Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers and the new eBook, The Imperfect Homeschooler's Guide to Homeschooling. To learn more about her and to read some of her articles, go to The Imperfect Homeschooler.


What books did you like to read as a child?

Although I began reading at age three, we only had a couple of books (one was a Barbie reader), so I read the Chicago Tribune every day. (I know it sounds weird, but I had a weird upbringing; the first time we watched the video of the movie “Matilda,” I hid in the bathroom where my kids couldn’t see me and cried because I related so much to her childhood!) When I was 9, we moved to a suburb where there was a public library within biking distance, and that began my love affair with books. I inhaled Nancy Drew mysteries –usually a couple a day, reading the same ones over and over after I’d been through all of them once. I also remember loving historical novels such as Bess Streeter Aldrich’s A Lantern in Her Hand and its sequel A White Bird Flying, as well as books like Christy and Two From Galilee.

Did you go to a public school? What was your experience like there?

I went to a neighborhood church for kindergarten, then attended public school through high school. I was labeled as gifted and enjoyed that attention in first grade, but the thrill soon wore off. I found school to be easy and boring, and got all A’s until sixth grade. One exception to the boredom of those years was my experience in fifth grade, which I have written about. (

In seventh grade, I became fed up with the whole school thing and coasted (with occasional bursts of motivated studying) until high school, where I pretty much marked time until graduation. I consider Graduation Day to be one of the ten happiest days of my life (the first five are claimed by my wedding day and the births of my four children!)

Do you have any unusual skills, talents, or interests?

There’s not much time after homeschooling, writing and caring for my family, but I do enjoy quilting, watching DVD’s of old movies and tv series, and politics (I have visited daily since the Clinton scandal. Lucianne Goldberg, by the way, is a wonderful person and a patriot who also supports homeschooling.)

How did you and your husband meet?

I knew who he was in sixth grade; that quiet guy who slept in the back row of his classes and still got A’s. By senior year of high school, I was tired of dating jerks, so when he asked me out, I said yes. We recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of that first date. We got married while we were in college; I was in journalism school at the time, and my classmates made fun of us for getting married instead of living together. Once they learned I had taken his last name, they figured I was hopeless, I suppose.


From the What's on my mind section on your The Imperfect Homeschooler site you write that your children have been homeschooled from the beginning. What was your path into Homeschooling? How did you find out about it? What helped you decide on homeschooling?

When you believe in God, you know everything happens for a reason. I was eight months pregnant with my first child when I spotted a book on sale at a Christian bookstore about raising children. I bought it and forgot about it until a few months later, when we were frantically looking for a way to handle our screaming baby who hated to sleep, and suddenly remembered the book. It was called Home Grown Kids by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore, and the advice in it about babies was a great help to us. Then I read the rest of the book and learned about homeschooling. I was blown away by the concept. I got on the Moores’ mailing list, and their newsletters got me even more fired up about homeschooling. We went to their seminar in Wheaton, IL in 1984, which got my husband interested, too. It just made so much sense to us. We will always be grateful to the Moores, and to God for using them in our lives.

If I've done the math right, you've been homeschooling for about 17 years. What were some of the hardest times? And what were some of the best times?

No question, the hardest time was when our youngest son was born with Down syndrome and a host of other medical problems. He spent a month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and came home on a heart and apnea monitor. He had central apnea, which meant his brain had not yet matured enough to tell him when to breathe. He often stopped breathing, sometimes several times a day/night. He was on the monitor for two long years. In the meantime, I was trying to homeschool our older children (who were 9 and 8 when he was born) while chasing our 22-month-old toddler. God got me through it, but by the time our youngest turned two, I could no longer keep up with everything. My husband then quit his job and started working at home so he could be there to help me. What a blessing!

As for the best times, there were many. I remember how excited each of the kids was when they learned to read, how their eyes lit up when they realized they could do it. They loved it when I made chocolate chip pancakes for their lunch (I always reminded them that they wouldn’t have had chocolate chip pancakes for lunch at school, lol!) I especially enjoyed watching them take off after their own interests as they became teenagers. Our daughter published an eZine while in her early teens, and started a Christian coffeehouse at age 16. When he was 13 or 14, our son designed and ran a Web site (about his favorite professional baseball player) that was written up in Baseball Weekly. Our younger daughter, now 15, is working on her second novel; I love reading her work, which is so lively and creative. And of course, every time our 13-year-old son with Down syndrome (who works very hard to advance just a little bit) masters something new, it is thrilling for us all.

Cardamom Publishers

What got you started with running your own business?

When our older two children were teens, I designed a curriculum to teach them about all the practical subjects my husband and I never learned in high school, such as how to rent an apartment, understand budgeting, credit and mortgages, figure out health insurance and taxes, etc. I called it Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers. I decided to put it all down in writing because there is a six-year age gap between our second and third children, and I didn’t think I’d remember everything we did by the time #3 was ready to learn these things! Some homeschooling friends encouraged me to have it published, but I didn’t think a traditional publisher would be interested in such a niche market (most homeschooling parents send their children to high school, although I think that trend is starting to change now). So I read up on self-publishing, and with the encouragement of my husband, started Cardamom Publishers in order to publish Life Prep. At that time, my mother shared a small inheritance with me, so it seemed like God was paving the way financially.

I like the phrase: "The Imperfect Homeschooler." How did you come up with it?

In the early years of our homeschooling life, the only role models I had were those moms of families depicted in what few homeschool magazines there were. I always felt inferior to them. In their family pictures, their children were all dressed alike, hair perfectly groomed and eyes all looking in the same direction (no mean trick when you have a lot of kids!) I’d read their stories, and it sounded like they had idyllic lives with perfectly behaved kids. The moms came across as perfectly calm, and seemed to have it all together. That certainly did not describe me. I came from a dysfunctional family that has always been like a volcano with regular eruptions (everything useful I learned about childrearing came from James Dobson!) and I had a hard time juggling the kids, the meals and the housekeeping.

What I learned during our homeschooling years, however, is that God uses our imperfections for good. The fact that I was flawed meant nothing, because He was doing the work. I chose the name “The Imperfect Homeschooler” to describe myself, and to communicate to others that God will use us, despite our imperfections, to homeschool our children His way. It hurts me to think someone will decide not to homeschool, even if God has put in on their heart, because they believe they’re not good enough. I want them to know this: if He has called you, He will equip you.

What prompted you to write the book, The Imperfect Homeschooler's Guide to Homeschooling? Are you working on another book? If so, what is it?

The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling contains the answers to many of the questions I get from other homeschoolers about how to make sure our children are learning what they should, how to handle obstacles in our homeschooling lives, and how to get organized and stay on top of the rest of our considerable responsibilities. Right now it’s only available as an eBook (download or CD), but at some point it will come out in print.

My priority these days is my new book, Thriving in the 21st Century: Preparing Our Children for the New Economic Reality. Its genesis was my husband’s experience of being self-employed in the plastics industry. Over the past several years, he has seen many of his clients (and competitors) close down because so much U.S. manufacturing has gone overseas, particularly to China. His own business has suffered extended slow periods the past few years. His is not the only American industry to experience this. It got me thinking about how to prepare our children for a working world very different from the one we were prepared for. America’s re-entrance into the global economy has changed many of the “rules” we were raised with, such as “Get a job with a company that offers a good pension,” or “Once you earn a college degree, you’ll always be able to get a good job.” So how do we prepare our kids for a world that is changing before our eyes?

I’ve spent a lot of time doing research for the book (my journalism background is a big help), and the most exciting thing I’ve learned is that the things we need to be doing to prepare our children for this 21st century global economy lend themselves to homeschooling so completely that choosing to homeschool is becoming almost a necessity, if you want your child to be prepared for the future. I’m having a great time writing this book, and we hope to have it out by the end of the year, God willing.

Your Blog: The Imperfect Homeschooler

How did you learn about blogs?

Crystal Paine of Biblical Womanhood recommended doing one for promotional purposes, and once I started it, I really enjoyed it. Blogging for Dummies helped me understand how blogs work…I wish I had the time to implement all the ideas in that book.

After a year now is it still fun to blog?

Oh, yes, and it’s also fun to visit other blogs, particularly those written by homeschooling parents. I think homeschool moms are some of the brightest, most interesting people on the planet. Visiting the Carnival of Homeschooling can put me way behind on my work, lol!

What have you learned while blogging?

Being technically challenged, just learning how to set up the thing was a big step for me (and mine is pretty simple compared to most others). I have also learned that there are a lot of different opinions out there, and that the most important thing is not a person’s opinion so much as their motivation in writing what they write, i.e. why they feel the way they do.

The future of homeschooling

Are your children planning on homeschooling their children?

My daughters (22 and 15) have both said they hope to homeschool their children. My son (21) hopes to become a pastor in the Lutheran (Missouri Synod) church, and wants Lutheran schools for his children. The bottom line is that it’s up to God to call them to homeschool, as he did my husband and me. But I must admit it would be pretty darn painful to see any of my grandchildren go to public school!

What do you think is going to happen with homeschooling in the coming years?

I’m no prophet, but my instinct is that traditional homeschooling will keep growing and flourishing as our public education system continues its slide into mediocrity (and worse). But I make a distinction between traditional homeschooling and its modern counterpart, which I have learned about from the panicked phone calls and emails I receive from moms who are burning out from the exhausting lifestyle of driving their children back and forth between co-ops, private lessons and organized sports and activities. When you’re so busy running your kids to such activities that you have no time to sit with them and read, or do math, or just spend the afternoon outside enjoying nature, you are no longer homeschooling. You have chosen “private school á la carte,” i.e. picking and choosing between the growing number of such “educational opportunities” available to you.

I think that lifestyle causes children to lose out on three big advantages of traditional homeschooling or unschooling: time with family, time alone, and avoidance of peer pressure. But I do understand why many of the parents who have chosen “private school á la carte” do so. They can’t afford private school, and they don’t want their kids in public school because of the many negatives. Some moms have told me they cannot handle being home with the kids all day, so this lifestyle is their only option.

If we can bring about true school choice in this country, where federal dollars are tied to each child, and parents are free to choose where to send their children to school (thus bringing the federal dollars to that school for tuition), I think you’ll see the private school sector explode with new schools….religious, technical/vocational, classical…the possibilities boggle the mind. And that’s when you’ll see the “private school á la carte” set break off from homeschooling, because they’ll finally be able to afford private school for their children.

The way the system is set up now, it’s stacked against any of us who want better than the public schools for our kids. We homeschoolers pay ridiculously high taxes to support failing schools our kids do not attend, plus we pay for the materials we use to educate our children. Let’s hope true school choice comes soon. Even the homeschoolers who choose not to accept federal money to pay for homeschooling expenses (and my husband and I would be in that group) would at least be supporting a decent system of education based on parental choice instead of the mess we’re paying for now.

And again, thank you for letting me interview you.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, education, ,


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your interviews, Henry. Thanks for putting in the extra time as it's appreciated.

I'm glad Barbara is in Illinois. We need great homeschooling advocates like her here.

My only concern with Barbara's suggestion about true school choice in this country, where federal dollars are tied to each child and parents are free to choose where to send their children to school (thus bringing the federal dollars to that school for tuition) is if homeschooling gets tied in with that as well. There are many homeschoolers who aren't willing to lose autonomy to get back some of our tax money; like Barbara's (and our family).
I agree that our tax money should be better spent for our kids in our communities. I hope for families to all have good choices to educate their kids; whether it's public school or homeschooled. But I'm really concerned about that fuzzy line with homeschoolers/public funds.
has quite a bit of information about the Ohio homeschooling/virtual charter (public) school experience.

Henry Cate said...

Susan, you make a good point. I worry about the camel's nose getting into the tent. It is frustrating that the public schools waste so much money, but I can't think of a good way to get some of that money to homeschoolers without opening up a huge can of worms.

I think Barbara was saying that vouchers would help improve public education. I don't know how you draw the line between a private school and homeschoolers.

Barbara Frank said...

Hi Susan :)

I understand your concern. We in Illinois have a lot of freedom because the state doesn't place many demands on us as homeschoolers, but people in other states are not so fortunate. I've heard a little about what's going on in Ohio, and it doesn't sound good. I always admired Christian Liberty Academy for their stance (I hope they still feel this way) that they would not apply for accreditation because they did not want anyone telling them what they could and couldn't teach. I think some homeschoolers would bypass money from the government in order to homeschool their children in the way they see fit. Those that would not refuse the money had better inform themselves of exactly what freedom they'd give up if they took the money. As for drawing the line between private schools and homeschoolers, that depends on the state and how it defines each.

I'm worried about the kids who are currently being shortchanged by the public schools. They are the pool from which our future employees, our future leaders and possibly our children's spouses will come. I'd like to see them be able to access a wide arrange of options, and as far as I can tell, that will only be possible through some kind of voucher or tax credit program. If anyone knows of any other viable options, I'd love to hear about them!

Anonymous said...

Those that would not refuse the money had better inform themselves of exactly what freedom they'd give up if they took the money.

That is exactly what we can only hope for with these families. It sounds like too many homeschoolers who homeschooled without the strings in OH but then chose the public school/virtual route had some real surprises about testing and other oversights. Sounds like the marketing skills of K12 (and others?) were excellent even as it didn't serve the homeschooling world well from that aspect.

I'm worried about the kids who are currently being shortchanged by the public schools. They are the pool from which our future employees, our future leaders and possibly our children's spouses will come.

You and me both. Then it becomes a parental watch issue. :-)

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