Home Education Magazine
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Homeschooling: Our Perspectives, Their Views
Since the late seventies, homeschoolers have been working to educate the public about the strengths of homeschooling. The widespread acceptance of homeschooling today rests on the hard and effective public relations work homeschoolers have done.
However, the work is not done. Homeschooling is still sometimes misunderstood by conventional educators, legislators, homeschoolers' friends and relatives, and the general public. Misleading and inaccurate reports continue to appear in the media. And the work is still important. The more people understand the strengths of homeschooling, the more we have won the hearts and minds of the people, the more secure our homeschooling freedoms will be.
The way we homeschoolers view ourselves, other homeschoolers, and the homeschooling movement influences how others view us. This column discusses how our perceptions of homeschooling shape the way homeschooling is viewed by others, important points homeschoolers can communicate to the public about homeschooling, pitfalls to avoid, and ways we can respond to commonly asked questions.
How Homeschoolers' Perceptions of Homeschooling and the Homeschooling Movement Shape Public Perception of Homeschooling
Much of the general public's understanding of homeschooling comes from us and how we view and present ourselves as homeschoolers. It is through us that the general public learns about the concrete reality of homeschooling. To be sure, the media continues to sometimes present inaccurate, misleading, or distorted reports on homeschooling. But many positive reports have also appeared. Many people now have a friend, relative, acquaintance, or a friend-of-a-friend who is homeschooling. As homeschoolers, we have influence over and responsibility for how homeschooling is understood.
As we are all aware, homeschooling has important strengths. Among those that come quickly to mind are:
• outstanding learning opportunities for both children and parents,
• opportunities to take responsibility for our families and exercise more control over our lives,
• strengthening of family ties and bonds,
• increased self-respect and confidence of children and parents, and
• greater opportunities for children to understand their strengths and pursue their special interests.
The more we focus on the strengths that homeschooling has, the more positive the public's perception of homeschooling will be. This does not mean denying or ignoring problems and difficulties. It means dealing with the relatively few difficulties that may arise as effectively and matter-of-factly as we can and then moving back to the positive as soon as we can.
Emphasizing the positive can be done on both personal and community levels. On a personal level, we can keep our attention focused on the ways in which our children (and we ourselves) are growing and learning. Rather than focusing exclusively on academics and limiting ourselves to the "school" part of homeschooling, we can include practical skills our children are acquiring (learning to cook, create a comfortable and welcoming home, maintaining a bike or a car, etc.), their ability to interact with people of all ages, their moral development, and other things.
Often jotting down interesting things that kids do, questions they ask, and observations others make about them helps us discover that much more is going on in our homeschool than we'd realized. Recognizing the many different ways in which kids learn about a wide range of topics deepens our understanding of homeschooling. We can also resist the temptation to discuss our doubts and concerns about homeschooling with critics who are unlikely to be able to help us put them in perspective and who may use them to support their doubts and criticisms. Instead, we can share our concerns with people who understand and support homeschooling and can help us deal effectively with them.
Emphasizing the positive within the homeschooling movement often means focusing on what brings homeschoolers together, namely, our commitment to maintain the rights of families to choose an education for their children consistent with their principles and beliefs. Working to maintain our rights allows us to concentrate on what brings us together as homeschooling families. When we then recognize and respect the need, ability, and right of each family to make its own decisions about approaches to learning, use of curriculum and other learning materials, areas of study, schedules, testing, and other such matters, we can work together as a group of varied individuals and families that emphasizes unity but not uniformity.
Developing a positive attitude both to our own family's homeschooling experience and to the homeschooling movement is important partly because we are most likely to see what we are looking for and expect to find. When we are feeling confident that our children are learning in a wide variety of ways, examples of their learning are easy to find, partly because we are open to so many different kinds of learning. When we're feeling doubtful, what stands out is that John misspelled "potato" or Mary just doesn't seem to understand long division or none of our kids has learned Latin or taken music lessons like the Smith kids.
The same thing happens with the homeschooling movement. When we're focused on working with others whom we respect even though they are making decisions that differ from ours, we see a strong and viable movement of which we are proud to be a part. When we're focused on problems and just waiting for those we dislike to make a mistake, we're more likely to see and overreact to problems. However, this doesn't mean that we should stand by and allow important freedoms to be taken away if the actions of other homeschoolers threatens to do that.
Important Information About Homeschooling That We Can Communicate to the General Public
Among the points we may want to communicate to the public about homeschooling are the following:
• Homeschooling has been the subject of favorable, supportive articles in our local media and in highly regarded national publications.
• Homeschoolers are part of the solution to the problems our society is facing; we are not part of the problem. The more problems that our society faces, and the more serious they become, the harder those in power look for scapegoats on whom they can blame the problems. Homeschoolers are a likely target, especially since we are a small minority, we bring into question an institution that most people accept without much question (conventional schools), we have chosen an approach to education that is difficult for many people to understand, and our efforts are getting positive results. If the media and others try to blame homeschoolers for some of the problems our society is facing, it is important for us to remember that we are really offering creative solutions rather than creating or contributing to problems.
Seeing homeschooling as a solution to problems is especially important these days when parts of the media and many individuals are viewing the family in general as a source of problems ranging from poor school performance to child abuse to juvenile crime. A claim is often made that parents either are incapable of making good decisions and raising their children or that they do not want to do so. To cite just a few examples: Over and over we hear that young children need to be screened and evaluated by professionals at an early age, perhaps as early as at birth, rather than allowing children to develop according to their own unique timetable and trusting parents or others in the community to notice serious problems that require attention. Parents are being encouraged to send very young children to preschools that supposedly provide better opportunities for learning than their homes, families, and communities.
As homeschoolers we provide a strong and important example of what many parents want to do and can do. We can make an important contribution to the way in which families are perceived in our society by sharing our experiences and what we have learned in many different ways, including
--personal conversations with friends, neighbors, relatives, coworkers, members of our churches, parents we know through organizations like 4-H and Scouts,
--public meetings we hold in libraries or similar locations to introduce people to homeschooling and answer their questions (Among the most frequently asked: How do children learn at home? What qualifications do I [a parent] need to be able to teach my children? What about socialization?),
--letters to the editor and feature stories in our local papers,
--comments we make on radio call-in programs,
--brochures prepared by homeschooling organizations that explain a few basic facts about homeschooling and provide a source for additional information, and
--perhaps most important, the example that our children and our families set.
• Homeschooling works! One effective way this can be done is by presenting stories of individual homeschoolers and what they have done. Such stories can come from our own families, support groups, communities, publications such as this one, etc. Particularly effective are stories about young people who were having difficulty learning in a conventional school and who are doing very well as homeschoolers.
Convincing evidence that homeschooling works also comes from aspects of homeschooling that either have been long regarded as sound education practice or are currently being promoted by educational reformers or both. For example:
--The importance of parental involvement in education is being highly touted by educational reformers, and conventional schools are trying to increase role of parents.
--"Open classrooms" are recommended so that students can pursue their interests and learn according to their strengths, abilities, and their own timetable.
--Low student/teacher ratios and one-on-one tutorials are highly regarded by educators.
• It is important to help others understand that homeschoolers are a varied group that cannot accurately be categorized or labeled as anything except homeschoolers. To be sure, individual homeschoolers are involved in a wide variety of other activities, have a wide variety of ideas and beliefs (some of them strongly held and proclaimed), and are working for a variety of causes. But the homeschooling movement as a whole is united only by its commitment to homeschooling and cannot accurately be associated with any other commitment, movement, or cause.
The differences among homeschoolers strengthen the movement, allowing it to draw on various traditions and sources of information and support. They validate the essence of homeschooling itself by showing how well this approach to education and family life works for a wide variety of families with differing backgrounds, nationalities, income levels, values, approaches to learning, life styles, etc. These differences are not something we need to hide, downplay, regret, or for which we need to apologize.
Ways We Can Respond When Homeschooling is Misrepresented
As discussed above, homeschooling makes a tempting target. When homeschooling is misrepresented, it may help if we keep in mind points such as the following:
• We can respond by focusing on the strengths of homeschooling.
• Keeping the attack or misrepresentation in perspective is likely to help us avoid either overreacting or becoming defensive. We can remember that homeschooling has gotten a lot of strong positive support and recognition recently and that it is something of a challenge to understand homeschooling, especially without personal experience homeschooling.
• We can continue to emphasize the variety within the homeschooling movement and to view and present this as a strength. It is helpful to refuse to speculate about either the absolute numbers or the percentage of homeschoolers who think or believe some specific idea or who participate in a specific activity. Instead, we can say people homeschool for a wide variety of reasons, and it is impossible to assign numerical values to these reasons.
• If we are going to keep the homeschooling movement constructive and positive, we need to resist the temptation to try to make the movement "pure," to screen out those who we feel might cause trouble or generate bad press for homeschooling. For example, some families are being forced into homeschooling because school officials have told them that they should homeschool, but they may appear to be unprepared to homeschool. However, any attempt to ensure that parents are qualified to homeschool their children would give the organization that was certifying parents an enormous amount of power and authority over homeschoolers. We are far better off risking the possibility of having a few homeschooling parents who may appear to be less qualified to homeschool their children than some people may think they should be than giving up freedom for all homeschooling parents.
Focusing on the strengths of homeschooling will help us educate the general public about homeschooling. We can emphasize the many ways in which homeschooling works; the variations that exist among homeschoolers' approaches to life, learning, and religious and philosophical beliefs; and the ways that homeschooling shows that parents want to be very involved in their children's lives and educations and are capable of doing so.
© 2005 Larry and Susan Kaseman