Looking Forward

By

I could never imagine the future without an understanding of the past.

Home Education Magazine’s recent past is complex and confusing. It will take time before that story can be told. But for our lapse in service, for issues missed and for the confusion that was caused, I apologize. It will take weeks, maybe months, to sort out all of our readers’ specifics, but it will be done. Your understanding and patience are sincerely appreciated.

This is Volume 29, number

Before we had published Volume 1, Number 3 we were told that our magazine would do more harm than good, and that the only chance for families to live such a life with their kids as we were promoting would be to slide under the radar, and thus avoid the scrutiny of authorities. We were told that a magazine would have a vested interest, would develop a following, would draw money and power, would promote one right way to homeschool and thereby drive events, push an agenda, and in the end could not be trusted to truly help families homeschool.

What was this critic saying about our passion? Looking back, I see that the criticism was to protect how this person’s family homeschooled: underground and out of sight. Knowing a little about his family, I will say they did have a wonderfully rich and interesting life, but thirty years ago many families also had wonderful, rich and interesting lives – underground and out of sight of the authorities.

By the time we heard this critique of our passion for what Home Education Magazine could be, the numbers were already against an ideal of homeschooling being out of sight of the authorities. The other part of the critique I took as something worth pondering – could Home Education Magazine truly be trusted to help families.

Beyond the fact that money and power can warp perspective, there was something else, something deeper to the truth of homeschooling.

“…the right way to homeschool, drive events, push an agenda… could not be trusted to truly help families homeschool”

This statement had its impact; it put me on notice then and affects my decisions now. I came to believe the essence of support for homeschooling would be respect for families – all families. And I came to believe that homeschooling was best served by remaining as grassroots, bottom-up as it possibly could. As it turned out, this statement was prophetic to the homeschooling movement and the forces that did, in the end, push it around.

As our little publication grew and we met more and more homeschoolers, what was striking was the diversity among the groups of families who were drawn to homeschooling. As the numbers grew and the authorities took notice, families in state after state banded together to work with legislators and school authorities to craft relationships.

Looking back is planning for the future.

What still amazes me is that within a few short years, with nothing more than a passion for our kids, collectively we took on an entrenched, pervasive, well-funded institution with a mandate by law, and carved out space for families to live their lives together. It did not take many legislative action days to convince me that the diversity of homeschooling families, working together, won this victory. What state legislator looking at their constituents, a group who defied pigeon-holing yet showed a unified front, could deny their request to assume responsibility?

The laws and regulations which resulted are not perfect; far from it. But the necessary space was created, and the bigger conversation – about trusting parents – was started.

Then came the politicians. The constituency chasing, evangelical politicians denying diversity, pushing an ideological agenda, driving events, fomenting religious divisions, portraying a ‘one right way to homeschool’ and claiming the victories of a grassroots movement as their own. Over the years Home Education Magazine has documented their actions and published warnings that following this path will weaken homeschooling freedoms in the end.

The unity of purpose which had won homeschooling freedoms in the face of conventional educational practice came under threat and was severely weakened in some areas, totally lost in others. But in my mind the biggest loss was the momentum which had been gained on the greater, often unspoken question: Can parents be trusted?

Homeschoolers – citizens – are ahead of the government in addressing this question and it is very sad that the effective leadership which homeschoolers were collectively providing was sidetracked.

The devisive political forces which pushed homeschooling around in the late 80’s and early 90’s appear to be losing their grip on homeschooling. At the same time a new generation of parents are looking at homeschooling as a way forward for their families, even while conventional education institutions, both public and private, have adopted the trappings of a homeschool model.

Looking forward

The challenge going forward is to support families’ individual choices while continuing to work for the kind of independence that homeschooling can offer.

If you enroll in a public charter or virtual school are you a homeschooler? If you enroll part time, for sports, or science, or band, are you a homeschooler? Much virtual blood has been spilled on this issue over the years. The answers can seem simple. If you enroll in a public school program you are enrolled in public school. If you teach your kids at home regardless of the program you are a homeschooler. But the questions are too simple and these answers don’t reflect the reality which is much more complex.

Some state organizations have wrestled with this issue. In Virginia, homeschool activists, while supporting all choices, were able to draw an early distinction between public virtual schools and homeschooling. In Washington state, homeschool activists were able to work effectively with their legislators and it is now illegal for public school programs to advertise to legally declared homeschoolers.

The lesson which will take us forward is that the same state-level grassroots activism we saw in the past still exists, and it is what has best maintained homeschooling freedoms.

Remember, these school programs, whether public or private, are actually following a path that modern day homeschoolers rediscovered. And while I still have concerns about keeping homeschooling distinct from schooling, I trust families and I believe homeschoolers can continue to lead the way forward.

Looking ahead, Home Education Magazine’s renewed mission is once again simply to foster networking and understanding between the diverse groups of families who homeschool or teach their kids at home. To these families I would say “You are the parents who will lead the way for the next generation, just as it has always been”.

Home Education Magazine’s bottom line is a belief in families, all families, and support for how you decide to assume your responsibility. Regardless whether you are a homeschooler, an unschooler, buy a canned curriculum, enroll in a public or private charter or virtual school, or hide underground, you have only one shot at raising your kids, and you can find support for that in every issue of Home Education Magazine.”

Mark Hegener
once again Publisher
Home Education Magazine

Published in the Volume 29 Number 3, May-June 2012 issue of Home Education Magazine.
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