“Every movement attracts some people who are motivated by a need for power, and when such people manage to work their way into positions of leadership they typically confuse their personal needs with the needs of the movement. Frequently, the result is that the original goals of the organization are subverted, and its original reasons for being are forgotten. We should be suspicious of anybody who claims to be a homeschooling ‘expert’ – there are none – or who puts him or herself forward to speak for homeschoolers in general. We need to be as wary of self-promoting, coercive forces in the homeschooling movement as we are of experts, professional educators and politicians in general.
This piece is part of the series
Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk
May-June 1991 • Home Education Magazine
Index – Homeschooling Freedoms At Risk
“Homeschooling organizations shouldn’t be allowed to become our shadow versions, so to speak, of state offices of education.
” It’s important that homeschooling parents reassert their independence and let others–in education, government, and the media–know that they are homeschooling for educational reasons and not in order to help a few narrowminded empire builders promote their political agendas.”
– David and Micki Colfax, California, March/April, 1991
“The National Center for Home Education has made it clear that its political agenda includes much more than homeschooling. It actively involves itself in politically right-wing issues that are not related to homeschooling, and we can’t in good conscience support an organization that seeks to identify homeschooling with one particular political group.”
– Patrick Farenga, Growing Without Schooling #76, August, 1990
“In Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich notes that our society is plagued by pedagogical hubris — our belief that men can do what God cannot: namely, manipulate others for their own salvation. As educators, we need to recognize this pedagogical hubris in ourselves and within the homeschooling movement as well. We must remind anyone who claims to know or represent what is best for the education of our children that there can never be concensus on what is the best way to educate our children, that is why there are public, private, and home schools throughout the country. It will be a sore irony if these special interests create a de facto national board of home teaching standards by loudly proclaiming the correctness of their teaching practices and strictly denouncing what they perceive as false educational philosophies. I am not criticising or objecting to people promulgating their religion through their own organization, and I fully support religious freedom. These groups should, and always do, or nearly always do, put their religious affiliations up front. What I am objecting to are national groups claiming, in words, to serve all homeschoolers, yet by deeds, denegrate and isolate homeschoolers from different religions and educational philosophies. Surely, after years of school experts telling us about how our children will suffer if we don’t do it their way, there is no need for us to cannibalize one another with this same argument.”
– Patrick Farenga, address at Washington Homeschool Organization Conference, Tacoma, Washington, June, 1990
“A few national organizations and leaders have been creating policies, involving statements of faith, which have put pressure on Alabama Home Educators (AHE) and other non-sectarian groups to split into two separate associations.
“Not everyone realizes that AHE could not sponsor Gregg’s Christian Life Workshop due to the fact that AHE is not ‘an exclusively Christian organization.’ …This policy has encouraged the formation of strictly Christian organizations…
“AHE does not qualify [to publish a state news insert for The Teaching Home] because The Teaching Home insists that each statewide organization provide documentation which ‘ensures perpetual Christian leadership.’ …This policy has encouraged the formation of strictly Christian organizations…
“AHE, as a non-sectarian organization, is precluded from membership on the advisory council [of NCHE]. This national policy has the potential to encourage the formation of strictly Christian organizations…
“What disturbs me is the insistence, of these very people I care so much about, that they are serving the needs of all home schoolers and/or helping to provide assistance and support to state organizations, when in reality they are dividing these organizations, discouraging Christian homeschoolers from helping others outside their faith, and causing disunity among Christ’s body. When general policies encourage the formation of exclusively Christian groups, then the policy-makers should advertise the truth — that they exist to primarily support Christian associations, even to the point of causing division. Why be ashamed to admit this stand, if it is an honorable one?”
– Lee Gonet in The Voice, Alabama,
Dear Mark and Helen,
It is with a great deal of trepidation that I address this letter to you, dealing with the issue of the formation of various splinter groups each with a narrow xenophobic view of homeschooling. Since this has been a very real and personal issue to Lee and I here in Alabama, and one we have finally laid to rest, I am not terribly eager to re-open those wounds.
We are in a rather unique position, having one of us on either side of the Christian/non-Christian demarcation. That being so, we are nonetheless both on the same side when it comes to the issue of unity among homeschoolers. Because, after all, the issue is homeschooling (or so it would seem).
Wiser men than I have coined the phrase “United we stand, divided we fall,” but it would seem that not all people see the wisdom in these words. These are the people who are convinced that they do not need anyone else as long as “God is on our side.” The only problem is there is no unilateral agreement whose God it is. The general assumption is that it is the Christian God, but then the problem lies with which brand of Christian you choose to supply the God. Is it the evangelical ‘born again’ God, the Catholic God, the Mormon God, the Seventh Day Adventist God, the Jehovah’s Witness God, the Presbyterian God, Methodist, Unitarian, Episcopal… or what? Among any of these groups the understanding is that they have a lock on the truth when it comes to any other subject as well. It is therefore their benevolent duty to lead the other people who would otherwise flounder about in a state of blindness, like sightless cave fish blundering here and there.
The major problem with this entire scenario is that there will always be those in the organization who will profit from the willingness of others to be led by the nose. This may be a financial profit, an emotional profit, or one of power and prestige. The motivation remains the same, that of gain for a particular individual, group, or philosophy, generally at the expense of the central strength of the homeschooling movement. That strength is the diversity and individual freedom that it presents to the disparate participants, for homeschooling is the penultimate source of personal power, second only to the concept of individual choice and self determination.
Until there is a serious threat to the homeschooling community as a whole there will continue to be forces arrayed to divide the ranks of the movement. This is natural, and in fact evident in most all causes. There is nothing like a “bogey-man” to galvanize a group of people towards a cohesive union designed for self-preservation. Until such a specter rears its head, we will continue to fight this same battle, trying to counter the propaganda and religio-political machinations of the ones who would take homeschooling and mold it to their own design.
– Phil Gonet, Alabama
Dear Mark and Helen,
After many years of homeschooling we are coming to understand more fully the importance of self-reliance among home educators to protect our educational and family rights. While it is tempting, especially in the first year or two of homeschooling, to focus exclusively on the education of our children, it is critical to remain attuned to and involved in the preservation of our legal right to educate our children at home and of a positive atmosphere in which to do that. If homeschoolers don’t take responsibility for protecting their rights in these areas, somebody else surely will. We believe the situation in New York State is in many ways typical of what has happened and is happening in many other states.
Prior to the 1988-89 school year New York was one of those states which had a fairly vague homeschooling law (“substantially equivalent” to public school education) and no state regulations. Many home educators had a very easy time dealing with their school districts, and some were treated unfairly. During the 1987-88 school year a loose group of home educators began to meet on a more-or-less monthly basis to address a decision by the State Department of Education to require home educators to take certain tests which were required of public and private school students at the third and fifth grade levels. These meetings were open to all and inclusive of many different approaches to home education. Progress was slow as many individuals and representatives of different groups tried to reconcile their differences and to agree on questions of both substance and procedure.
At approximately the same time, three other groups were becoming increasingly active in New York State homeschooling. One was the New York State Education Department which temporarily held off requiring students who were learning at home to take the state tests; the Department was considering imposing a more uniform statewide system on home educators (addressing more than simply the testing issue). The second group was the Home School Legal Defense Association; on behalf of several families being represented by HSLDA in Family Court educational neglect proceedings, HSLDA began a sweeping challenge in Federal Court to the way in which homeschooling was administered in New York State. The third group was the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA); that group sought increased state regulation of home education and became involved, on behalf of the school districts, in the Federal litigation commenced by HSLDA.
After sending representatives to speak with home educators throughout the state, the State Education Department appeared to ignore much of what those home educators said to those representatives and proposed regulations which would require standardized testing every year. Home educators protested loudly. Soon thereafter Mike Farris of HSLDA and a representative of Loving Education at Home (LEAH – a statewide fundamentalist Christian homeschooling organization) met with representatives of the New York State School Boards Association and drafted regulations on which the three groups represented at that meeting (HSLDA, LEAH, and NYSSBA) could agree. Mike then met with a group of independent home educators and support group leaders to discuss the alternative regulation he had helped to draft. In many respects that draft was preferable to the State Education Department proposal, and many of the independent homeschoolers decided to go along with it.
There was a great deal of concern among the independents about their exclusion from the actual negotiations at the time the alternative regulation was drafted. That concern grew even deeper when they were excluded from meetings at which the draft regulation was presented to the Commissioner of Education and his Counsel. The regulation was supported by the upper levels of State Education Department staff and approved by the State Board of Regents.
Within weeks of the adoption of the regulation, a small group of home educators began meeting with many of the members of the Board of Regents seeking an amendment to the new regulation which would allow for alternatives to testing at all grade levels (the new regulation required standardized testing at the fifth, seventh, and all high school grade levels). Those individual “lobbying” efforts came very close to succeeding, but the Regents put off the decision at the last minute and then proved to be a lot cooler to the idea when it came back to them.
Part of the reason the Regents cooled to the testing amendment was that a new deputy commissioner in the Department indicated that he would work with home educators, on an inclusive basis, to identify the problems with the new regulations and that he would report to the Regents on home education issues at the end of that school year. A series of meetings were held between Education Department staff and home educators from around the state, and the framework for a more flexible regulation was negotiated by those participating in the meetings. Unfortunately, the deputy commissioner was unable to convince the commissioner to proceed with the regulation.
Here we are now, approximately two years after the framework for regulatory changes was negotiated, with the HSLDA-NYSSBA regulation still in effect and home educators throughout the state complaining of unequal treatment, too much paperwork, inappropriate testing, and an unduly adversarial dispute-resolution process. Reflecting on the past three years, we see the following mistakes. The first mistake was in not opposing strenuously the regulation developed by HSLDA and the NYSSBA. Sure it was better substantively than what the State Education Department proposed, but the price we paid was too high. We gave up our autonomy rather than continuing to build a strong coalition of New York State home educators. We accepted what was given to us from outside of the state’s homeschooling community rather than working for what we wanted from within that community. We accepted a short-term solution, rather than paying attention to more important questions of process which left us seriously disempowered in the long run.
We compounded our problems by then relying on the State Education Department to bring us together. While it was not necessarily a mistake to meet with the Department staff to discuss changes to the regulation and other issues affecting home educators, it was certainly a mistake to have no alternative forum for homeschoolers to meet and discuss issues of importance to them. When the Department staff members ran into a brick wall in trying to advance the negotiated framework, we were firmly strapped in next to them. Sounds like the same mistake all over again. Allowing someone else to do our work for us, we virtually assured it would not be done the way we wanted.
Where are we now? This past fall unaffiliated support groups and individual home educators from throughout New York State formed the Home Education Network of New York. Our personal resolve in joining this effort was that homeschoolers should work with other groups and agencies to ameliorate the situation for home educators in the state, but must no longer allow themselves to become dependent on any of those groups or agencies. Unifying home educators from around the state has proven to be more difficult than we would ever have imagined. This is a truly diverse and strong-willed group of individuals. But at some level, we all seem to realize that we have the capacity to accomplish much more working together than we will ever accomplish by our sporadic and uncoordinated efforts as individuals. And we also realize that we are the only ones on whom we can rely to do this job the way we want it done.
– Sincerely, Seth Rockmuller, Katharine Houk, New York
Dear Mark and Helen,
Even though I am personally a Christian who prays daily, attends my church regularly — sometimes more than once a week, and attends at least one Bible study a week; I do not consider that a prerequisite for homeschooling or belonging to a homeschool organization. Perhaps the primary cause of my resentment towards the “Christian Homeschool Mentality” is because I have watched “Christian” homeschool support groups become separatist–to the point of excluding those of us who welcomed all people into our homeschool support group from further activities.
In the past I have remained relatively quiet about this but now I must speak up. I have homeschooling friends throughout the United States who have had similar experiences and this saddens me. How can we present a united front whenever homeschooling itself is under fire?
A few years ago our family joined HSLDA, until we witnessed a support group become separatist because they believed HSLDA wanted them to exclude anyone not signing a document of religious beliefs. Incidentally, everything in that document coincided with my husband and my religious beliefs so that was not the problem–the problem was we felt it was unfair to exclude non-believers from a homeschool support group–after all we weren’t a church, we were supposed to be a homeschool support group!
My husband and I joined a newly formed support group in Santa Maria because Lompoc did not have a support group at the time. We participated in the brand new group’s organizational meetings. After several meetings it was announced that everyone had to sign a “Statement of Faith” because the newly elected officers had been informed that such a statement was necessary in case of possible court action (none was threatened then or now).
We objected because we knew several families homeschooling because they were convinced of educational benefits (as opposed to doing it for religious reasons). These families wanted to join support groups in order to share ideas, but these families were put off by strongly worded religious overtones.
Officers of the group were advised (by whom was never made clear) to keep the group aloof from people or groups homeschooling for non-religious reasons as this would negate the “Christian” commitment should group members be taken to court and it was shown they had non-Christian contacts in their homeschooling experiences. This incident caused my husband and I to question our association with HSLDA and made us wonder if we would be adequately represented by HSLDA should we run into problems.
We also read and heard other comments along the same line–that HSLDA is primarily interested in serving families claiming homeschooling for religious reasons only. At that time we wrote to Michael Farris of our concerns. His reply was that the strongest defense is one which is rooted in religion. This is not the only defense, but it is the strongest. He went on to add that HSLDA always uses all available defenses and if the Free Exercise clause in the First Amendment is not available they use all other defenses available.
Shortly afterwards a group was formed in Lompoc. Within two years a group of rather exclusive “Christians” decided to split off for a church oriented group (which has since disbanded because its members preferred our more welcoming group). Unfortunately we are once again headed for another “split” along the lines of “Christian” and “non-Christian.” Only this time I fear it will cause division among friends–it is already happening.
A friend in San Luis Obispo has experienced something similar where she was one of the founding members of an “open” support group. Only her experience ended up with a strong “exclusive” group taking over and nothing left for homeschoolers without religious reasons for homeschooling. I keep hearing of similar instances and have friends (in Lompoc, Santa Maria, Santa Ynez, and Santa Barbara to name places in my immediate vicinity) who no longer try joining a support group just so they won’t become outsiders again even though they want to belong to a support group.
Seeing what is happening locally, I fear that by next year our support group will become “exclusivist” as many more people are turning to homeschooling locally and most of them are doing it under religious auspices. Because of financial difficulties a local Christian day school is having to close down in June and we already have many people inquiring about homeschooling. I put in my two cents worth whenever I have a chance, but often it is like trying to talk into the wind.
I worry about anything that promotes homeschool legislation when we don’t need it. Once we get a law on the books, we really will have a battle on our hands and will need even more constant vigilance. First of all we must put our own house in order–that is become united in our diversity–before we can effectively defend our rights to homeschool.
All homeschoolers are leaders (and should realize this) in their community. Otherwise they would not be homeschooling. Each of us contributes to the whole homeschooling community in some manner. Have you ever met a more independent bunch of people? I certainly haven’t! I do not consider myself a homeschool “expert or “Leader.”
I consider myself more as a resource person who enables others to take charge of their own homeschooling situation. Many of them homeschool in a manner I would not–but then I do my own thing, too! We get along fine when we respect each other’s differences.
– Agnes Leistico, California
Computer Bulletin Boards
The Prodigy computer bulletin board network includes an active home schooling network in the Homelife Club, Parenting bulletin board. Recent bulletins in the home schooling section have included a discussion of exclusivist groups.
POSTED: 03/01 4:47 pm
…The move toward exclusive home school parent organizations is coming from the top down. What we have found is that many parents do not know that the organizations they belong to have by-laws that restrict who can hold leadership positions. This information tends to be “hidden” until someone is willing to expose it. I suggest that we work from the bottom up. Once the “masses” find that most of them cannot hold leadership positions they tend to be upset. In many states new homeschooling parent organizations are springing up that are inclusive. I think the tide is turning, but there is still much work to be done by the average homeschooling parent.
POSTED: 03/07 10:59 am
The exclusive vs inclusive home school organization debate is not about support groups, but about state home school organizations. Our state home school organizations are our political arms or voices. one of the most important functions of our state organizations is representing home schoolers at the state capitol. A problem arises when a state organization promotes itself to the general public and home schoolers as being open to all (inclusive), when in fact the organization has written and unwritten policies that restrict leadership positions based on one ideological or theological point of view. In many cases the members do not even know that the policies exist or how restrictive the policies are. I know of one such state organization that claims to be open to all home schoolers, however the by-laws restrict leadership positions to people belonging to certain Protestant denominations. This leads one to question the motives of the leaders. Who do they represent, serve and work for, all home schoolers who belong to the organization or only those who share the same beliefs. (The members didn’t even get to vote on the by-laws, this was done “behind closed doors” by the leaders.)
Don’t misread me. I am not against exclusive home school organizations. I am against only those that do not openly promote themselves as such. I hope this clears up the misunderstanding. It is not about having support groups exclusively for home schoolers.
We seem to have quite a few home schoolers from across the nation here, I would like to know how you all feel about this issue. Is your state homeschool organization inclusive or exclusive? If it is exclusive, does it work with other state organizations in an alliance or coalition? Why, or why not? Many of you may be surprised to find out that your state organization is in fact exclusive. Do a little research, read the by-laws. Does your state home school organization get involved in issues not relating to home schooling or education? Are members welcome to attend all meetings?
There has been a lot of discussion lately about home school support groups… I hear rumblings of discontent among those who feel support groups are splintering along religious lines. I’m hearing (correctly?) some uncomfortable things about people running around announcing that they represent me (the home schooler) when they don’t. I also understand there are a certain amount of self-proclaimed leaders claiming to represent all home schoolers as subscribers to their viewpoint, causing those who hear them to think we are all of one mind, when anybody who knows us knows we could probably not agree on even the weather aside form home schooling. What’s happening? What’s the story behind what I am hearing? Is there any truth to it? Where is it coming from? Who is it coming from? Oh, and for the record: I represent myself. No individual or group speaks for me. Enough said!
© 1991 – 2012, Home Education Magazine
This piece is part of the series Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk (Top)
Freedoms At Risk – Twenty Years Later
Homeschooling Freedoms At Risk
Freedoms Responsibilities And The “Four Pillars”
Homeschooling Rights and Responsibilities
Bitter Pill-ars to Swallow
From Across the Nation