Home Education Magazine
July-August 2004 - Articles and Columns
Homeschooling Books - Elizabeth McCullough
The Home School Reader, Taking Charge
The Homeschool Reader: Collected Articles from Home Education Magazine 1984-1994
Mark & Helen Hegener, Eds.
1997 Home Education Press
ISBN: 0-945097-25-5, $14.95
In their introduction to The Homeschool Reader, Mark and Helen Hegener comment on their experience with journalists who have contacted them over the years for their perspective on the home education movement. They've noticed a certain sameness to the angle the media takes on the subject: "Their articles and radio programs always seem to convey an odd sense that homeschooling is just parents doing what the school teachers do, but doing it better at home."
From where I sit as a consumer of media reports, nothing has changed much. The idea of homeschooling as school done better at home has seeped so far into the public consciousness that even homeschoolers are buying into it. As I surf the various homeschooling discussion lists on the Internet, the same questions and concerns show up again and again: Where to buy a preschool curriculum for a three-year-old. Five-year-olds who won't sit still for more than 15 minutes of desk work. Older children who need to "skip a grade" (cheers!) or "be held back a grade" (sobs).
Into this hothouse atmosphere the essays in The Homeschool Reader come like a breath of fresh air. Here are words of wisdom, insight, and encouragement from parents who have made a conscious decision not to import the methods, attitudes, and burdens of school into their homes. Their collective experience reassures you that your homeschooling challenges have been faced and conquered before, and in creative ways, too. Worried about a late reader? Penny Barker, writing in 1987, thinks that being a late reader is an advantage, not a disability, and she has some good reasons to think so. Wondering how to interest a child in history and geography? Craig Conley's intriguingly titled essay, "How 29¢ Can Buy the World as Your Textbook," provides a clue (hint: Update the price to 37c and you'll have your answer). Stuck in the February doldrums? Helen Hegener persuasively explains why winter is the time of year "when homeschooling seems like the only reasonable and sensible way to raise children."
Best of all, the parents writing in these pages grasp the beauty of homeschooling - that it's not just as good as school, it's not school done better at home - it's not school. It's mindful, loving, family life in which every member is happily engaged - parents just as much as children - in learning and growing. Kathleen McCurdy says it best in her essay "Why Homeschool?" when she gives her simple, but beautiful, reason for homeschooling: to experience "the joy of a child's company and of sharing with him the excitement of discovery and learning."
Taking Charge Through Home Schooling: Personal and Political Empowerment
M. Larry & Susan D. Kasemen, Koshkonong Press
ISBN: 0-9628365-0-8, $12.95
It's been over 30 years since "the personal is political" became the rallying cry of the feminist movement. But it and the other empowerment movements of the Sixties and Seventies are rapidly receding into legend as cynicism, "spin," and corporate interests drive current political debate. The ideal of empowerment still lives on in a few important enclaves, however: the gay rights movement, the environmental movement, and, a little surprisingly, in the homeschooling movement.
Why surprisingly? Because it isn't clear at first glance that there is anything political about homeschooling. Teaching your children at home rather than at school is a purely personal decision, right? Perhaps it would be, but for one thing: the economically and politically powerful public education bureaucracy. The high stakes involved in public education mean that the mere act of removing your child from the path of this juggernaut is a political statement.
And so argue Larry and Susan Kaseman, long time HEM columnists, in their classic handbook, Taking Charge Through Home Schooling. Part how-to, part manifesto, Taking Charge is a clear, thorough, and unapologetic primer in how and why to become politically active as a homeschooler. The Kaseman's view is that homeschooling is a valuable alternative to public schooling, vital to the health of our society, and firmly grounded in the fundamental right and responsibility of parents to direct their children's education. From these foundations, the Kasemans build a careful argument for the effectiveness of grassroots activism by parents united in spite of their religious, political, and philosophical differences.
Published in 1990, Taking Charge is so little out of date, it's almost scary. All (with one notable exception) of today's major influences and pressures on homeschooling are covered. The one exception is the sudden and recent growth of "cyberschools" and "virtual academies" - computer-mediated curricula marketed to homeschoolers and would-be homeschoolers in several states as a "solution" to the "problems" of homeschooling, but with the intention of keeping children tied to the agenda and budget of the public schools.
The topics in Taking Charge run the gamut from how to talk to friends and family about homeschooling, to how to start and maintain a support group, to how to affect educational policy at all levels of government. Even people who aren't interested in writing position papers or lobbying at the statehouse can use the material in Taking Charge to evaluate the laws in their state or the tactics taken by groups hoping to influence those laws.
Frankly, this book covers too much material in too much detail to give an adequate description of its scope here. Perhaps it is enough to say that Taking Charge is itself a prime example of homeschooler empowerment: with its information, suggestions, and strategies in your toolbelt, you'll be well equipped to take effective political action.
© 2004 Elizabeth McCullough
July-August 2004 - Articles and Columns
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