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Home Education Magazine
January-February 1997 - Articles
1996 National Homeschool Association Roundtable
by Christine Webb
It was a perfect weekend - The best in my memory! The beautiful Berkshire mountains, not yet ready to give up the last of their fall color, hosted us in their cool, crisp bosom. Under a full harvest moon, the dry fragrant leaves scuffed up around us as we tromped from lodge to meeting rooms to dinner. Voices, mostly adult, but occasionally the shout or cry of children, carried and echoed through the woods. Competing only with the woodpeckers and the rustling of the trees to break the silence, these voices told their stories.
The stories were told in workshops, and over dinner, and in quiet twosomes and threesomes as we walked along. They were told with shouts of laughter, in intense explanations, and with quick tears during an impromptu slumber party. And they were shared in whispered confidences at night as, not quite ready to give up, we attempted to not wake sleeping children. For, although the main text was homeschooling, the subplots were our histories, our families, and often, our battles.
We came to this camp outside Becket, Massachusetts with a purpose: the National Homeschool Association had issued an invitation for homeschoolers to participate in the National Homeschooling Roundtable Conference. Titled "Freedom In Education," it was a gathering designed for us to discuss and to consider the future of homeschooling. And although there were men and children participating, it was the women's voices and stories that drew me and which continue to intrigue and to inspire me: knitting mothers, nursing mothers, and mothers attending children. Homeschooling mothers. It was these mother-voices telling their stories that was compelling to me personally, from the first cautious hello to the last lingering goodbyes.
It was through the stories of these committed homeschoolers that we were able to explore a variety of issues related to the theme. Complex and controversial issues like how acceptance of vouchers by homeschoolers can jeopardize homeschoolers' rights. About how to minimize oversight of homeschooling families by both the government and private homeschooling businesses. And how homeschoolers can create networks to address political, societal and media concerns. The workshops were simply a jumping-off place for discussions that lasted into the wee hours and which will need to be continued in the years to come as we work intentionally toward a secure homeschooling future in this country.
Lonely voices came from women isolated in their daily homeschooling lives - women who have no support group in which their family's unique way of homeschooling would be acceptable, let alone encouraged. Hungry for contact and eager to delve deeply into issues, these women were passionate participants in discussions around topics so close to their homeschooling lives: How can we build inclusive support groups for families? And what is compelling so many of these groups to become less inclusive? What are the larger ramifications of accepting vouchers, of writing laws to provide for homeschoolers to participate in interscholastic school activities, or of participating in government sponsored homeschooling programs? How do we balance the specific needs of an individual family against the sometimes opposing need to protect the rights of all homeschoolers? Tears, close to the surface, overflowed on occasion in appreciation for the acceptance and generosity of those who listened and supported.
Weary warrior voices spoke of battles ended, battles in progress and battles yet begun. We learned from the women from Michigan, so disappointed at the results of their new homeschooling law, to be ever vigilant, how to build networks of support, and that we should never, ever let any person or organization speak as the dominant voice of homeschoolers in our states. Their understanding of the complex business of political lobbying and networking will help homeschoolers in many states begin, or continue to work toward, the least restrictive homeschooling environment possible. Their indomitable, unfailing spirit and determination will be an inspiration to all of us facing issues relating to the crafting of new homeschooling law in our states.
Voices of laughter rang out spontaneously in every gathering and it was this that was the greatest gift in the midst of all the intensity and intellectual effort. The small group of women who came together face-to-face for the first time after months of online communication found an easy, immediate camaraderie that was infectious. An impromptu evening gathering of theater games brought out the hams and even the most serious found themselves wiping away tears of laughter. The ability to find the amusing amidst the profound was inspiring and anyone who thinks homeschoolers are just too serious should have seen the small group which offered a parody of Handel's Messiah, appropriately titled "The Oversight Oratorio," during the plenary. It brought down the house.
Some of those voices have been writing and speaking about homeschooling issues for decades. Others were newer, less experienced, but equally impassioned. Each contributed a diversity of perspective, background and experience. The blending of those voices produced, for me, a kind of rhythm of possibilities. The soft and gentle and reassuring, washing over me like a soothing heartbeat, combined with the strident and staccato, filled with the energy of a blazing crescendo. And it is now, when I sit back to remember, that I hear their voices. The voices of wisdom. The voices of experience.
The conversations were vital and the issues complex - much too complex to attempt to write about in one article. Hopefully, as the participants from this gathering digest their experiences, many will find forums like Home Education Magazine to share their perspectives on some of the specific issues that were discussed.
Perhaps the most important accomplishment was what did not come from this meeting. There were no "Plans for the 21st Century." No documents of agreement. No grand pronouncements or mandates. Just a lot of thoughtful conversation and one beautifully crafted piece:
Homeschooling Families: Ready for the Next Decade
A Foundation for Ongoing Conversations
* People are born ready to learn. Learning involves everyone
everyday. Living and learning are not separate activities. Learning cannot
be contained in a place or time. Learning is too wonderful and powerful
to limit it by turning it over to conventional schools.
* Children need the love and support of their families and communities,
just as adults do. Throughout time, families have raised their children
to be knowledgeable and competent adults. Having a sincere desire to homeschool
qualifies a parent to homeschool. A homeschool is a good place for people
to heal from the inaccuracies and injustices that accompany labels such
as ADD and LD.
* People gain social experience and skills by interacting with a diverse
group of people of all ages. Homeschooling provides opportunities for such
interaction easily and naturally.
* Hundreds of thousands of families are showing that homeschoolers
do not need to be regulated by the state. There is no evidence that any
regulations foster better homeschooling.
* To maintain homeschooling freedoms, homeschoolers learn what rights
and responsibilities they have, refuse to do more than the minimum required
by law, and avoid setting precedents that exceed the law and cause difficulty
for homeschoolers. Laws and court cases cannot protect our freedoms. Any
law, even one that is viewed as good, can do damage. No law, no matter how
good, is enough. Exercising our rights and responsibilities daily and consistently,
even on seemingly small points, is essential.
* We oppose special regulations or requirements for small groups of
homeschoolers, such as those who want to play sports; those who have been
labeled "at risk," "ADD," "LD," etc.; and
those who have been accused of truancy. Increased regulation of any homeschooler
can easily lead to increased regulation of other or all homeschoolers. Homeschoolers
are not joining the bandwagon to beat up on those for whom conventional
schools do not work.
* Attempts of homeschoolers to regulate each other are unnecessary,
complicated, divisive, and dangerous.
Federal and State Goals and Standard
We are concerned about the way state and federal standards in
education, standardized tests and assessments, and schooltowork programs
are moving conventional schools toward "compulsory education"
(different from the currently required "compulsory attendance")
which will undermine the basic freedoms needed to maintain a free society.
We are committed to resisting the homeschooling movement being drawn into
this web of compulsory education.
Not Mixing Ccauses
For homeschooling to remain about homeschooling, we must resist
being used by others for their agendas.
There are many approaches.to homeschooling that work. A major
strength of homeschooling is the diversity of people, methods, and philosophies
involved. Having close connections across diversity lines is a radical act.
Homeschoolers foster diversity by:
* Respecting and celebrating diversity.
* Respecting anyone's desire to homeschool while remaining true to
principles that make homeschooling freedoms possible.
* Understanding that what supports one family's homeschool might not
be right for another's.
* Working to maintain the rights of families to make their own decisions
regarding the education of their members.
* Developing and maintaining inclusive organizations across cultural
and religious diversity lines.
* Describing to others the diversity within the homeschooling community.
* Refusing to speak for homeschoolers; rather, providing forums for
individuals' voices to be heard.
The knowledge and effective support homeschoolers offer one
another are major strengths of the homeschooling movement. Homeschoolers
who create and participate in support groups, share resources, and gather
for activities and discussions are making an important contribution to the
growth and stability of the homeschooling movement. Grassroots organizing
and networking have been a source of the homeschooling community's strength.
We would not expect the government to give away tax money with
no strings attached and no accountability. Government programs to supplement
homeschoolers' educational resources (by providing services or funding)
would have accountability strings attached. We realize that vouchers given
to families would lead to increased government presence in our homeschools.
Vouchers inevitably lead to increased government regulation and unacceptable
reductions in our homeschooling freedoms.
Homeschooling strengthens families and communities. Strong homeschools
are an asset to our communities and our nation. They provide alternatives
to conventional schools, save taxpayers' money, and provide valuable perspectives
on learning and education.
This statement was written to stimulate discussion, not to speak
for all homeschoolers.- Copyright 1996 NHA
YOU ARE ENCOURAGED TO REPRODUCE THIS AND DISTRIBUTE IT WIDELY.