March-April 2010 Selected Content
Publishers' Note - Mark Hegener
A History Lesson
Starting in the late 1980's we voiced concerns about a strategy for protecting homeschooling freedoms, most prominently pushed by Michael Farris, founder of HSLDA, because it tied homeschooling to a narrow political agenda, thereby limiting the base of support for homeschooling. In 1991, with the publication of Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk, we denounced both the exclusivist tactics and the overall political strategy; Farris, in return, labeled us "anti-Christian secular humanist bigots." While a politically expedient slur for the times, he was wrong, because he could not know how I worship my God, nor should it have been his concern. And simple logic told me that, unfortunately, I would be right over the long haul.
My reasoning was informed by the efforts surrounding the passing of home education legislation in Washington state. In early 1984 a Republican State Senator told me that he would not be voting for any bill homeschoolers came up with because of prior commitments, but he applauded the diverse citizen involvement he saw from homeschoolers and would help how he could. He was good to his word, but I have long speculated that some of the constituent service he provided came right out of the Senator's own pocket.
Once the bill was passed, an aide for a Democratic legislator said his boss had been against the idea of homeschooling - until he took a good look at the people who were asking for this legislation and could not pigeonhole them. He, unlike his Republican colleague, voted for the bill.
Fast-forward to today. Over the last couple of months we have seen calls for greater regulation of homeschooling in both the media and in legislation. Stories of arrests went viral on the Internet when families failed to file correct paperwork, complete with mugshot photos and pictures of people in handcuffs. Editorial pages burned with calls for greater regulation and scrutiny of homeschooling. The comments sections were peppered with openly hostile attitudes toward 'know-nothing,' 'fundamentalist nut job' homeschoolers. Academic papers were published that advocated reining in homeschoolers for the good of the children, but also curtailing the power of evangelical politics. Homeschoolers in New Hampshire, working to achieve respect for parents, have been met with opposition from law-makers because of perceived ties to an extra-homeschooling national agenda.
At the same time, we saw retired teachers respond to editorials calling for greater regulation with passionate calls to "leave homeschoolers alone, they're doing just fine." In the context of the current debate over failing schools and educational reform, we are seeing high stakes testing questioned. We read a report of a high school science teacher who has turned her kids on to learning by backing off the convention and following kids' interests, and, coupled with experimental assessments have shown advancements in science understanding. This experiment, which homeschoolers will recognize as just the way we learn, will most likely not go far, because assessing kids this way is very hands-on, and therefore expensive.
In the context of calls for longer school years we see parents getting excited about experimental programs put in place to fill those extra days called intersessions. What excites parents is that these programs move in the direction of supporting a child's interests - "they didn't even know they were learning science, and they came home excited!"
So we have former teachers supporting homeschooling. We have the very things that homeschoolers have been questioning for over 30 years being questioned. We have the learning styles homeschoolers have been advocating being advocated in the language of today's educational reform.
Given this, where do the overt hostility and virulent comments directed at homeschooling come from? The only way I can read the responses to homeschoolers is that they are not merely responses to homeschooling; now that political power in this country has changed, the hostility is not even directed at homeschooling.
I am not going to argue that Washington state's home education law is the model legislation to emulate, or even that the legislative route we took back in the 80's was the wisest path to take. But those state legislators recognized the focus of our efforts and the strength in our diversity, and we now need to re-learn that lesson.
United we stand, divided we fall.
Editor's Note: To help put this Publisher's Note into historical perspective we reprint political editorials from Sept-Oct/89, May-Jun/90 and May-Jun/91. A volatile time within the homeschool community.
© 2010, Mark Hegener