Home Education Magazine
March-April 1997 - Columns
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Communicating the Strengths of Homeschooling
As homeschoolers we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to provide others with accurate information about homeschooling. As one step in this process, a recent one-page piece about homeschooling is worth our consideration. It is titled Homeschooling Families: Ready for the Next Decade. A Foundation for Ongoing Conversations
Distributing this piece gives us a good opportunity both to share some of the key points about homeschooling with other homeschoolers and to introduce some of the most important aspects of homeschooling to people to whom it is a relatively new idea. This column will discuss why information about homeschooling is needed and in demand, why we homeschoolers should take responsibility for providing it, why distributing this piece is a good idea, and how it can be done. Then some of the points included in the piece will be explored in more detail.
The Need for Information about Homeschooling
The opportunity, challenge, and responsibility we have for providing information about homeschooling comes in large part from the relatively high demand that exists for information about homeschooling. Think about the diverse sources of this demand:
- Families who are considering homeschooling want and need basic information.
- Many people who are not even considering homeschooling themselves want to know more about a way of growing and learning that is so different from their own experiences and expectations. Before many of these people heard about homeschooling, they tended to either accept the idea of attending an institutionalized school without question or assume that attending school is a necessary and inevitable part of life in our society.
- Many public officials, misguided do-gooders, and others feel that they have an equal or greater responsibility for children than parents do. These people claim that they need extensive and specific information about homeschooling and what homeschoolers do.
- Some people who feel threatened by homeschooling (for any one of a number of reasons) want information about homeschooling.
Moreover, information about homeschooling is needed because the modern homeschooling movement is relatively new. To be sure, throughout history the majority of people have been "homeschooled" in the sense that they learned in their own homes and communities rather than in special institutions supposedly developed to promote learning. Even people who spend significant amounts of time in institutionalized schools learn a great deal of what they really need to know in their homes and communities, during their childhood and adult lives. However, the modern homeschooling movement only began to grow significantly during the 1970's. Since homeschooling is, in a sense, new, there is not a storehouse of commonly understood and accepted information about homeschooling that most people have heard and accepted.
Given both the number of people who want information about homeschooling and the relative newness of homeschooling, it will undoubtedly be written about and discussed both in private conversations and in the media. This provides us homeschoolers with opportunities, challenges, and serious responsibilities. If we don't provide information, someone else will. For a number of reasons, it is best if at least a substantial portion of the information about homeschooling comes from us. Among the reasons:
- Our personal experience with homeschooling gives us a clearer, more direct, and more accurate perspective on homeschooling than school officials, social workers, journalists, and others investigating homeschooling from the outside have. To be sure, it is often argued that such people have more "objectivity" than we do, since they have less invested and do not have personal biases, but many people realize that personal experience provides a depth of awareness that is beyond what mere observers can understand or communicate to others.
This is particularly true of an activity like homeschooling that cannot easily be described or explained in a few short paragraphs. Homeschooling is, by its very nature, open, flexible, and not encompassed by a simple definition. Because we homeschoolers learn in our homes and communities and are not limited to conventional school settings, what we learn and the approaches to learning we use are not limited to conventional school curriculums. As homeschoolers, we pursue many different fields of study and special interests. Also, as homeschooling families we are very diverse, coming from different income levels, religious and philosophical perspectives, political persuasions, and work experience.
- As homeschoolers, we understand certain basic and fundamental information that many non-homeschoolers do not really know. It is important for us to keep alive what we know about children, families, and learning, and to share it with others whenever possible. It sometimes feels like we have been entrusted with some critically important insights that are in danger of being stamped out by the pace, values, and technology our society is choosing. We know, for example, that parents can do more for children than professionals and institutions can. We know that learning is a natural activity that people are good at when they have the support and security they need. We have many other insights which are important even though not all homeschoolers might agree about all of them. We hold these insights like lighted candles in our hands, trying to prevent them from being put out and, when asked, trying to use them to light other candles.
For example, a homeschooling teen recently had a conversation with a six year old for whom she provides child care after he comes home from kindergarten. After watching a children's television program that was trying to convince children of the importance of going to school, the six year old commented, "That's how it is with me. I hate school, but you have to go there to learn." Isn't it important that we homeschoolers help people understand that conventional schools are not the only places to learn and are seldom, if ever, the best places? This is a critically important fact that people in our society need to understand and not lose sight of.
To be sure, most people would agree that it is possible to learn some things outside of institutionalized schools. But people need to really know this, not just nod their heads at the logic of it. People need to feel this in their bones and make it part of the reality of their everyday lives. Instead, most people, without thinking, walk around with the assumption that schools are the places to go to find out what is important to learn and to do the learning. The strength of this assumption can be seen in the fact that even homeschoolers who want to focus on life rather than school as the basis for their learning have difficulty letting go of the idea that conventional schools should be the standard for judging what our children need to know, when and how they need to learn it, and how their learning should be evaluated. (It could be argued that schools have somehow come up with the truth about what and how people should learn. But that seems unlikely when we consider the difficulties conventional schools are facing today and also the large numbers of very diverse cultures that have survived long and successfully without institutionalized schools.) The important contributions we homeschoolers can make is to reduce the hold conventional schools have on our society.
- Another reason it is important that we homeschoolers provide as much of the information about homeschooling as possible is that we will be strongly affected by the ideas about homeschooling that our culture develops and generally accepts. It only makes sense and is in our self-interest to seize the opportunity we have to define homeschooling ourselves, so we end up with a definition, or a series of definitions, that contain the elements that are most important to us and that do not require that we become like conventional schools or adopt their standards, approaches to learning, methods of assessment, and/or timetables.
- As homeschoolers, we need to become more aware ourselves of the essential elements of homeschooling and keep them before us. Otherwise, we could easily lose them. Put another way, the nature and importance of homeschooling are in many ways just becoming clear as nearly a generation of people have now experienced it in this country. Increasing numbers of homeschoolers are beginning to realize that defining homeschooling in terms of academic excellence or commercial competitiveness misses the more important strengths of homeschooling.
- As the general public's acceptance of homeschooling increases, more conventional academic and commercial interests are now endorsing homeschooling by talking about it in very conventional terms. Such endorsements threaten to define homeschooling in conventional language and thereby decrease the uniqueness, flexibility, and freedoms that we homeschoolers now have.
How We Can Provide Information About Homeschooling
There are of course many different ways in which information about homeschooling can be communicated. The accompanying piece is one way. It has the advantage of being short and easy to read. Since it is only one page long, it can easily be included in newsletters of state organizations and local support groups; information packets provided to new homeschoolers, legislators, and others who are interested; articles about homeschooling in the popular press; etc.
The piece can also be used to stimulate discussion at informal gatherings, support group meetings, and workshops on homeschooling. It can be shared with relatives, friends, college admission officers, church members, employers, and co-workers. Some groups may want to take turns reading sections of it aloud and then discussing their implications and ramifications. Remember that the piece is intended to be "a foundation for ongoing conversations," not a finished product that people are expected to agree with or sign on to.
Further Explorations of This Piece
Here are some examples of the kind of discussion that could take place using this piece:
- "People are born ready to learn." Compare this statement with the statement from the current federal goals (Goals 2000) that says, "By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn." This goal and the thinking behind it are used to promote and justify educational programs for 3, 4, and 5 year olds and increasing pressure on parents to send their very young children to conventional schools and remedial programs. On the other hand, homeschooling becomes more possible, reasonable, and acceptable when people realize that children are good at learning and are natural learners who do not need professional experts to teach them how to learn or to get them ready to learn.
- "Children need the love and support of their families and communities, just as adults do." Professionals and institutions cannot do what parents do.
- "Having a sincere desire to homeschool qualifies a parent to homeschool." Parents who really want to homeschool commit time and energy to homeschooling, seek out resources from other homeschoolers and their communities, learn from and with their children, develop strong families through homeschooling, etc. Parents don't need schooling to prepare them for homeschooling. The state does not need to investigate parents' qualifications or require that they have credentials or demonstrate specific abilities.
- "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."
Many of us homeschoolers find that the question we are asked most frequently is, "But what about socialization?" It is about time that we turned this question around. In reality, children who attend conventional schools are more handicapped in terms of socialization than are homeschooled children. In reality, it is children who attend conventional schools who face socialization problems. Many children in conventional schools are socialized to separate from family and friends (sometimes as early as age 3); to be rewarded for a fairly narrow set of learning skills and abilities; to accept economic interests and behaviors as primary; to follow orders; to accept labels and label other people at very early ages; to accept as normal and necessary very sterile and stifling environments and sets of rules and procedures; to deny normal expression, formation of friendships, and cooperation; and to accept the idea that adults with positions in institutions have greater authority and are more important than parents.
- The sections on "Not Mixing Causes" and on "Diversity" are closely related. They could be expanded in several different ways, including the following: - It is important for us to understand and remember that diversity among homeschoolers is not a problem; instead, it is a source of strength. It means that homeschooling has a place for everyone, including people who follow conventional school curriculums, unschoolers, people who want to get into premier colleges, people who want explore the world by continuing to homeschool after they turn 18 rather than attending college, etc. Fundamental freedoms of homeschooling are not threatened by the fact that homeschoolers have different approaches to learning. In fact, our freedoms are thereby strengthened.
In order to maintain this diversity that is such an important part of the strength of homeschooling, we need to make sure that we describe and explain the diversity when we are giving information to others about homeschooling, whether we are talking with parents who are considering homeschooling, the press, legislators, or curious strangers. When we stress diversity as The key components of the homeschooling movement, we give people a more accurate idea of what homeschooling is really like, and we promote and protect one of our strongest assets. - Especially as the numbers of homeschoolers continue to grow, it is not surprising to find that a variety of different groups are trying to get homeschoolers to support their causes, political candidates, etc. by claiming that homeschoolers as a group should and/or do support them. However, it is risky at best for homeschoolers as a group to become allied with any non-homeschooling cause, however worthy.
The common experiences and freedoms inherent in homeschooling are shared by a wide range of people, a very diverse group. Although homeschooling is increasingly being accepted by our society, we still need to work together to maintain our freedoms, especially in light of increasing standardization of education, national goals in education, school-to-work programs, increased use of testing and assessments, and other developments within education in general. Therefore, it would be a mistake to think that as homeschoolers we don't need to work together or that we could maintain our freedoms after splitting into subsets defined by the non-homeschooling causes with which we have allied ourselves. As homeschoolers we are simply too diverse a group to maintain the unity we need to be able to work together to reclaim and maintain our homeschooling freedoms and parental rights and responsibilities if we start joining other groups or coalitions as homeschoolers. (Of course many homeschoolers are deeply involved in other causes as individuals, without implying that all homeschoolers should or do support the causes they have chosen.)
It is important not to confuse unity with uniformity. It would be a mistake for any one group of homeschoolers the claim that their reasons for homeschooling were the only acceptable justification.
- Vouchers: Vouchers for education have the potential to cause serious problems from homeschoolers. At first glance, vouchers look like a very good idea to some of us, that is, having the government give us some of the money that we ourselves paid as taxes and that the government would have spent on our children if we had chosen to send them to public school. We are, after all, saving the government money by not sending our children to public school. If the government is going to spend money to provide educational programs for children, parents should have some choice in how that money is spent. And on top of everything else, many of us make financial sacrifices and give up opportunities for earning money so one or both parents can be home more to homeschool our children.
However, The basic features of vouchers means that they would cost us homeschoolers a significant part of our educational freedoms. The key principles of taxation in a democratic society is that the government needs to account for the tax money that it spends. For example, we don't want the government just giving our tax money to road contractors and hoping that they will build safe, long-lasting roads. Unfortunately but inevitably, this principle also has to be applied to us when we are on the receiving end of tax money. If the government were to give us homeschoolers money to homeschool (in the form of vouchers or in any other way), the government would have to devise a way to ensure that we were spending the money to educate our children, which would mean, of course, that we would have to meet government standards that require students to develop specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes at specific times and in specific ways. (Remember that because state and national goals and standards in education are currently being pushed by school officials and big business, the requirements are becoming increasingly narrow, demanding, and rigid.) Add to this the fact that many school officials have been looking for excuses to increase their regulation of homeschoolers, and it is very clear that vouchers would cost us a great deal of homeschooling freedom by forcing us to conform to conventional school standards and requirements. For homeschoolers, the cost of vouchers is simply too high, tempting though the money may be.
Conclusion The homeschooling movement will be stronger if we take seriously the challenge, responsibility, and opportunity we have to tell others about homeschooling. One way to do this is for each of us to share the accompanying piece with others and if possible have it published somewhere as well. The discussion that is generated should contribute to the strengthening of the homeschooling movement as more people, homeschoolers as well as non-homeschoolers, gain a deeper understanding of homeschooling. © Larry and Susan Kaseman
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