May-June 2010 Selected Content
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Homeschool v. Home School: What's In a Name?
How do you spell homeschooling? Some may respond, "Isn't it obvious?" Actually, three versions of the word appear frequently. "Homeschool"
seems increasingly to be the most common.
"Home school" is not unusual. And "home-school" pops up, especially since some people consider it the correct spelling when
"home school" is an adjective , the same way that a noun like "ten year old" is changed to "ten-year-old" when it is used as an adjective.
Historically "home school" and "homeschool" seem to be following a path similar to that of other nouns that began as two separate words when they
first appeared as labels for a new idea and then changed to one word (sometimes going through a hyphenated version along the way) as they became more widely accepted.
For example, consider the way "wild life" has become "wildlife." While most official sources still spell "web site" as two words, it's not uncommon to see "website." Thus in the 1980s, "home school" was the common spelling, but by the early
1990s "homeschool" was on the rise.
This column considers reasons to spell homeschooling as
one word rather than two. It then discusses ways in which the choice of spelling can affect our
homeschooling freedoms, especially as we work to maintain the distinction between homeschools and public school programs that involve students doing school work primarily in their homes. Finally, suggestions are given for ways to encourage homeschoolers and others to spell homeschooling as one word.
Reasons to Spell
"Homeschooling" as One Word
What difference does it make how "homeschooling" is spelled? The choice of spelling influences the meaning that is conveyed. For some people, "home school" brings to mind the common meanings of both words, that is, a "home school" is assumed to be a SCHOOL that happens to be located in a family's HOME. In this case, the assumption is that the "school" is very similar to a conventional school. There are desks, textbooks, workbooks, a set daily schedule, lesson content students must learn each year, tests, grades, and perhaps recess.
On the other hand, "homeschool" proclaims a new idea (or perhaps the rediscovery a very old idea that nearly disappeared when compulsory school attendance laws were passed). "Homeschooling" is not limited to the meanings of its two root words. That is, the most important thing about "homeschooling" is that it is an approach to learning in which parents take direct responsibility for the education of their children with as little state regulation as possible. A homeschool may or may not resemble a conventional school.
In addition, rather than being limited to their homes, homeschoolers are active in their communities and learn through volunteer service, field trips, travel, and other activities outside their homes. (It's interesting to note that the increasing acceptance of homeschooling as evidenced by the shift from two words to one has made it possible for homeschoolers to feel more comfortable both being active in their communities during conventional school hours and letting people know that they are, in fact, homeschoolers.)
So one could ask: Which spelling most accurately reflects what homeschooling really is? The answer is clearly "homeschool." The defining characteristic of homeschooling is that parents take responsibility for their children's educations, choose their curriculum, the values that underlie it, the standards that guide it, and the ways in which learning will be evaluated. Homeschooling is defined by who makes the choices, NOT by what choices are made. Some homeschoolers choose curriculums, values, standards, approaches to learning, and methods of evaluation, including standardized tests, that are very similar to, if not the same as, those used by conventional public schools. Other homeschoolers make choices that are quite different from those of conventional schoolers. All these families are homeschoolers as long as parents are making the decisions. In addition, even homeschooling parents who make choices very similar to those of public schools value the opportunity they have to make decisions themselves for their own children and to change their minds if they want or need to.
An important choice homeschooling parents make is how their children's learning will be evaluated. Conventional schools are increasingly relying on standardized test scores despite the well known fact that such tests can be inaccurate and misleading, penalize children with backgrounds different from those of the test makers, fail to measure important qualities (such as creativity, integrity, musical ability, mechanical ability, common sense, etc.), and have other drawbacks. On the other hand, homeschooling parents have the opportunity to observe their children frequently, for many years, in a wide variety of situations. Teachers in conventional schools don't have this opportunity because they interact with a large number of children for a relatively short period of time. In addition, with the exception of standardized tests that homeschoolers in some states are required to take, homeschooling parents can decide whether they want their children to take standardized tests, and, if they do, which tests, when, who will be allowed to see the results, and what actions, if any, will be taken. Parental control over evaluations is one of the factors that makes homeschools very different from public schools that happen to meet in students' homes.
In short, spelling "homeschooling" as one word more accurately reflects the growth and widespread acceptance of the practice of parents taking responsibility for their children's education. This acceptance of both the concept of homeschooling and the one-word spelling is reflected in the fact that during the early 1990s, most prominent dictionaries changed the spelling from "home school" to "homeschool."
So why do the two word and hyphenated spellings persist? Part of the reason is that editors of many mainstream publications persist in using the two word and hyphenated spellings despite what is found in dictionaries, including the very dictionaries a publication claims to be using as their standard for editing. In addition, many academic researchers, public school officials, and federal and state government agencies continue to refer to homeschools as "home schools." These practices mean that when most non-homeschoolers see a reference to the activity we're discussing, it's spelled either "home school" or "home-school" rather than "homeschool." Perhaps in the eyes of editors and those in the academic world, spelling homeschool as one word does two things that they are reluctant to allow. First, it gives power and credit to a successful "new," and, to their way of thinking, challenging concept in education that they are still fighting and certainly don't want to have any role in promoting. Second, this spelling indicates that homeschooling is an approach to education that is different from that of conventional schools. Acknowledging the legitimacy of homeschooling and its strength and distinctiveness may call into question the idea that conventional schools are the only or the best approach to education.
How the Spelling Affects Our Homeschooling Freedoms
Okay, all this may be interesting, but does it really matter? Yes. It's part of homeschoolers' current efforts to prevent our good name from being taken over by public school officials and public schoolers who happen to learn in their homes. This includes both students who enroll in virtual charter schools run by public schools and families who enroll in public schools and willingly submit to public school regulations, including curriculum, values, standards, and testing, so they can be reimbursed for some of their homeschooling expenses or so they can participate in public school activities. To maintain our homeschooling freedoms, we need to make it clear that homeschools are private schools, not public schools, and therefore should not be subject to the same regulations as public schools, including compliance with state standards, state-mandated testing, etc.
Sometimes actions by homeschoolers themselves blur the distinction between homeschools and public schools that operate in students' homes. For example, public school families sometimes ask to join homeschooling support groups for the social experience. It can be difficult for support groups to deny their request, especially when a family used to homeschool and participate in the group.
In addition to the confusion caused by mixing the two groups, it can shift the group's focus. Public school students studying at home have many concerns that homeschoolers don't, including interactions with public school officials, schedules, dissatisfaction with the public school curriculum, concerns about required standardized testing, and more. Such concerns can reduce the time the support groups spends on homeschoolers' interests and questions that are not shared by public schoolers, such as choosing a curriculum. Also, media representatives may assume that the public school families are actually homeschoolers and present them as such in stories and reports.
Somewhat ironically, the importance of insisting on the distinctiveness of homeschooling as a concept different from that of public school students studying in their homes is increasing as the general public's acceptance of homeschooling grows. Increased acceptance is based in part on the idea that what homeschools are doing is just like (or at least very similar to) what conventional schools do. We need to help both the general public and homeschoolers realize the amazing possibilities of homeschooling, including the fact that homeschoolers can choose values other than the values promoted by public schools. To do this, it is important to keep people aware that while some homeschools may adopt the curriculums, values, standards, and approaches to learning that conventional schools use, most homeschools don't. Instead, they include learner-led learning, one-on-one study, hands on activities, learning in the community and the world, etc. To keep homeschooling alive and well as an educational alternative, we homeschoolers must prevent it from becoming conventional public schooling that happens to take place in students' home.
Since the 1970s, many homeschoolers in this country have worked courageously as families and thorough grassroots organizations to ensure that their rights to homeschool were recognized and respected. The concept of homeschooling as separate from and independent of public schools is a radical idea primarily because the growing consensus by the educational establishment, big business, and the media has been that attendance at a conventional public or private school was essential to a child's education. It needed to be ensured through compulsory school attendance laws. However, homeschooling challenges this consensus.
What We Can Do
• We can choose and consistently use the one-word spelling because it reflects the distinctiveness and strength of homeschooling as an approach to education in which parents take responsibility for their children's educations.
• We can explain to others why it's important to spell homeschool as one word. We can bring up the topic in informal conversation and at support group meetings. If our support group does not already use the one-word spelling in newsletters, emails, and other communications, we can ask that it do so.
• When we are interviewed about homeschooling, we can ask the person interviewing us to make sure that the resulting article, media coverage, etc. use the one-word spelling of "homeschooling."
• When we see homeschooling spelled as two words or hyphenated in articles and other media reports, we can send emails or letters to the editor explaining why it should be spelled as one word and pointing out that it has been spelled as one word in major dictionaries since the early 1990s.
• Most important, we can work to prevent the term "homeschool" or even "home school" from being used by or applied to public school programs that happen to be located in students' homes, including virtual charter schools. We can do this by letting school administrators, legislators, and the media know that what is being presented as homeschooling is in fact not homeschooling at all.
Many homeschoolers have worked long and hard to reclaim the idea that parents are responsible for their children's educations and have the right to choose for their children an education consistent with their principles and beliefs. We have worked hard to have the concept of homeschooling recognized legally and in practice. We have encouraged the change in spelling from "home schooling" to "homeschooling" in part as a way of demonstrating that parents taking responsibility for their children's educations is the essential factor in homeschooling. Encouraging the use of the one word spelling is also one way of maintaining the distinctiveness of homeschooling. It is especially important that we make sure that homeschoolers, legislators, and the general public understand that homeschooling is very different from public virtual charter schools and other programs in which students enroll in a public school and then study at home. If we don't maintain this distinction, public school regulations will undoubtedly be applied to us homeschoolers, and we will lose our homeschooling freedoms.
© 2010, Larry and Susan Kaseman