Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Herds of Cash Cows

I suppose it was inevitable. Homeschool is growing, but more importantly to business, homeschoolers are buying. And we are buying quite a bit. In the last few years, many companies have branched out of their fields to try to eat in our pastures.

Last year on Facebook there was a savvy ad about how to get your child to learn better with big letters “FOR HOMESCHOOLERS.” At first I laughed, that’s why we stay away from programs and schools - we want our children to learn better and we believe that happens at home with parents teaching their own children. 

I laughed until one of my friends, who was unsure about her ability to teach her children, thought this was a good idea. I pointed out to her that it was nothing more than clever marketing playing on her fears. This year her children are not in homeschool. Those fears ate them up.

It’s a jungle out there.

If you aren’t convinced that homeschool is the way to go, there are many programs that will try to come into your home and teach your children for you, for a price and one that isn’t always monetary.

Sometimes that’s ok. Online schools (also considered alternative homeschools) like the one I mentioned last week, work well if a parent feels they want someone with more knowledge to help out in a subject or if there is a crisis in the family. Personally, though, I’ve homeschooled through crisis, it’s not that hard, and there’s nothing wrong with learning alongside your child, in fact there might be a lot of right in it. We each have to walk with God on what is the best for our own families remembering that we ourselves are homeschooled by the Almighty.

In the last year I’ve had several companies contact me wanting the email list of my homeschool group families. As bizarre as this might sound, most of them are Christian. I’ve refused to give it out.  If they want to advertise, they’ll have to do it on their own time and pay for it. It was pretty nervy to ask me. First off, they simply expected me to hand it to them because they said they had a great product. I heard Jesus overturning the money changing tables in the temple, believe me!

The following has happened within the past year:

o A local company wanted to design classes saying they were doing a favor for us and charge us a lot of money. They are non-Christian and non-homeschooling.

o People offered to tutor our children and balked when I say no. Many tutors are not Christian nor do they necessarily agree with homeschooling, not to mention I do the tutoring here.

o Non-homeschooled and non-homeschooling speakers are trying to infiltrate homeschool conventions and are making mega bucks on us.

o I looked into a very expensive curriculum program for writing that is popular with homeschoolers. It’s written by a non-Christian non-homeschooler and designed to be a cash cow - the curriculum can’t be reused by siblings even. And the owner was less than courteous to me when I emailed about the program.

o I researched a program claiming to make my children smarter, designed especially for homeschoolers that is very expensive and taught by non-Christian non-homeschoolers.

o I was contacted several times by a business who asked me to give them my group email list and promised me freebies for doing so, supposedly Christian.

o A new business has cropped up called Homeschool Consulting. People are charging mucho dinero to help families design curriculum, lesson plans and to encourage them to grow. This is what I do for free as a fellow homeschooler. Many of these people are non-Christian and non-homeschoolers.

Why are all these people trying to get our money?  Homeschoolers have become a financial force. If one homeschooler likes something, we tell a friend and so on. There’s a lot of cash to be made on us and they want to lap it up.

They will come up with any gimmick to get our interest so they are busy researching us. I even read an online ad offering to train people to write articles for homeschool magazines. Writers don’t have to be homeschoolers or homeschooled, just act like it.

Maybe we should start designing some criteria for what we’ll buy and what we won’t buy. Here’s some of mine:

1. Do we really need it? If so, I move on to the next one…

2. Is their marketing wholesome, doesn’t prey on fears, etc.

3. Is it Christian? It doesn’t always have to be, but if it isn’t, is it worth it in another way to make up for the lack of spirituality? And if it isn’t Christian, will it be detrimental to our children because of that? Some things are ok, others aren’t.

4. If it’s a classroom, it’s anti-homeschool in my book unless it’s a homeschool co-op. Can I teach what they are teaching? If not, is it really a need? If I can teach it on my own, why bother with it? This is why we left public and private schools so we wouldn’t have strangers teaching our children.

5. What is the price? This includes the non-tangible cost. I can enroll my children in the local park program that is free for the summer but they won’t be with children of similar values.

6. Will it support and enhance our Christian homeschool values? If not, what are we doing it for? Is it really necessary to drive all over town, spend extra hard earned money and time away from home just to get that art class that maybe a book and a half hour a day with our children might be just as good if not better?

Just a side note on that: I met a retired art teacher this summer who gave me some great resources to use in my homeschool. She mentioned a book she thought was excellent. I’ve been using it for fifteen years now.

We don’t realize the gift we’ve been given. Don’t let the draw of the world suck you in.

I don’t give out our email list but I’ve had people tell me it’s ok to do that. Be wise, research the companies you do business with. You have choices. We have Christians who write textbooks now so we don’t have to buy from secular companies.

Check the fruit under the label.

A number of years ago a supposedly Christian man wrote a text book. Because there was a dearth in the homeschool field in that subject, it took off like wildfire. I contacted him because his book was so poorly written my daughter had a hard time understanding it and I suggested he hire an editor (I wasn’t one at the time!). He wrote back furious with me and said he didn’t have to fix anything because people were buying his book anyway. He lost a lot of customers that day. Now we use BJU Press for Science; they are thorough, easy to understand and well written.

You need to know who you’re dealing with, and numbers don’t help. The next time you think popularity can tell you if something is good or not, consider the pornography industry. Their numbers are through the roof and they aren’t godly by a long shot.

You can’t mass produce homeschool, because the heart of it is love. Satan knows love can’t be bought or sold so he wants to repackage his wares, slap a familiar name on it for you and get you to bite. Don’t feed his cash cows.

Love your spouses and your babies and guess what? If you don’t have the coolest lesson plans or the latest fad curriculum in the world, that’s a good thing because you do have the best Teacher and His Curriculum is priceless.

This concludes my two-part sharing on Christian Homeschool marketing. If you have any questions, please email me! And stay tuned, Paul is writing a post on the subject for you as well.

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