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Home Education Magazine

July-August 2003 - Articles and Columns

Publisher's Notes - Helen Hegener

The Future of Homeschooling

Long-time readers of this magazine will know we've addressed the issue of charter, cyber, e-schools and related programs for several years now, highlighting the pros and cons of these programs, explaining the dangers we see and offering potential solutions. As these programs have grown and proliferated in state after state we've come to feel they are perhaps the single most important issue affecting the future of homeschooling. Understanding the dynamics involved is critical to ensuring that homeschoolers are not eventually drawn back into the public and private school systems.

Unfortunately, any discussion of these programs almost immediately leads to charges of seeking to limit options for families, to advance only "one right way" to homeschool, to refuse to take a broad-minded approach to educational options. Due to the controversial nature of the topic, conversations are often ended before they can even begin. Tempers flare on email discussion lists and online forums when the subject is brought up, and long-time friends suddenly find themselves in opposite camps, wondering what happened and why this topic is so relentlessly divisive and difficult to resolve.

In early May two individuals, Liz and Gina, broached the topic on our discussion list for the subject, HEM-CharterFocus (see below for instructions on finding the discussion online). Their mutually respectful exchange was filled with insights and perspective from both sides of the issue, but of primary interest was this explanation from Liz on why charterschoolers calling themselves homeschoolers is problematic:

"It is the legal aspect that makes the name critical. Since charterschoolers are legally enrolled in public schools, they are accountable to the public school system. Homeschoolers are legally private education and we are trying to hold our own against accountability to the public school system. Charterschoolers don't mind the requirements, but homeschoolers do. If charterschoolers blend the lines by calling themselves homeschoolers, then they may also blend the regulatory lines and cause homeschoolers great harm. So, in my opinion, if you want to be a homeschooler, then you have to step across the legal line and be a homeschooler. If, as a charterschooler, you want to be a friend to homeschoolers, you have to accept that you are a charterschooler and we are homeschoolers and the names do make a very big legal difference for homeschoolers."

Over the course of the last few years public school districts have increasingly focused on locating and enrolling students who will be learning primarily in their homes. Professionally termed home-based education or home-study, this new development within the public schools is strongly affecting the homeschooling movement as school districts seek to regain some of the students they have lost to homeschooling. It's easy to understand the financial aspect of districts seeking to recapture the per-student funding, but there are other forces at work as well. Much has been written about the true purpose of education in America, and it does not square easily with the beliefs and principles of many homeschooling parents.

In 1908 James Russell, Dean of the Teachers College at Columbia University, addressed a symposium of the National Education Association, saying, "How can a nation endure that deliberately seeks to rouse ambitions and aspirations in the oncoming generations which in the nature of events cannot possibly be filled? If the chief object of government be to promote civil order and social stability, how can we justify our practice in schooling the masses in precisely the same manner as we do those who are to be our leaders?"

This attitude is still evident today in bureaucratic directives and goals, and as the nation responds to an educational atmosphere that would permit "no child left behind," homeschoolers are finding ever more reason to distance themselves and their children from national education standards and mores.

Returning to the online discussion referred to above, Gina explained part of the problem in her reply to Liz: "In deference to your political concerns I can relinquish my claim to the term 'homeschooler' but 'charterschooler' does not work for me. It gives the school far too much credit for the work that I am doing. I'm not sure what I could call myself... Parent/Educator? Educational Facilitator? She who has devoted her life, skill, thought, and prayer to ensure that her children are actually educated rather than just moved through a system? Do you see my dilemma?"

Many people can understand Gina's dilemma and are struggling with the problem. Among those working the hardest to bring clarification and understanding to this issue is a group known as "We Stand for Homeschooling," whose website can be found at www.westandforhomeschooling.org. An open letter about the effort appears in our letters section for this issue. Please read the statement, and consider standing for homeschooling with the increasing number of people who have already signed it.

Long-time homeschooling parents can recall a time when parents seeking to teach their own children were viewed on a par with truants and felons. In some places, where specific homeschool legislation is not in effect, homeschooling workarounds have been developed and an often uneasy truce exists between families and their local school superintendents. Homeschooling is right for some families, public school options are right for others. But if the lines between homeschooling and public school become too blurred, or are even erased, how then will future generations view this moment in time? My fervent hope is that we won't be remembered as those who clumsily dropped the ball and let the promising potential of homeschooling in freedom and independence be lost.

2003 Helen Hegener

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July-August 2003 - Articles and Columns

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