By the 1990′s homeschooling had become an accepted alternative to public schooling and traditional private schools. Dozens of books touted homeschooling as a desirable approach to living and learning together as a family; newspaper articles and interviews showcased happy, smiling children and their proudly beaming parents. The movement had arrived, found its place in the sun. People who might never have considered the option were seeing homeschoolers portrayed on television and in movies, homeschooled kids were going to Ivy League colleges, becoming rock stars, winning spelling and geography bees, traveling the world. The cachet of homeschooling was solid marketing gold.
Around this same time a whole new class of public school programs, often delivered directly into the home, gained acceptance and began increasingly targeting homeschooling families. These programs came under many descriptive terms such as charter schools, cyber schools, cyber-charters, eschools, Independent Study Programs (ISPs), dual enrollment programs, Blended Schools Programs (BSPs), Programs for Non-Public Students (PNPS), Public School Alternative Programs (PSAPs), virtual schools, community schools and various other names. But these public school programs also came with public school regulations, which imposed testing and accountability requirements in alignment with national education goals and standards.
While the public school programs have effectively served the needs of some families, it is unwise to allow the perception to grow that they are equivalent to homeschooling. The very construct of these public school programs runs counter to the ability of families to handcraft an education for their children. Homeschoolers have more than thirty years of experience in living and learning with children outside the public school parameters, and the important lessons they’ve learned in the process are in danger of being lost.
We, as homeschoolers, also have over thirty years of history affirming our freedom to assume the responsibility to educate our children. Many diverse ad hoc and formal organizations collectively discussed and argued the issues and then interacted with local officials. Countless families took countless trips to state capitols fighting for and against legislation that directly and indirectly affected homeschooling families. These homeschool pioneers voluntarily put themselves on the line to ensure each other’s right to assume responsibility to educate their own children, and this is something worth hanging onto and celebrating; it is democracy in action. When the perception arises that these public school programs are equivalent to homeschooling, we lose this important history and the untold benefits it accords us all.
The functioning of our government is something that we all need to be concerned with, and, as noted above, homeschoolers have engaged with the process and have thereby earned the credibility to speak to this situation. When these public school programs use government funds, regulations are inevitable, and homeschool advocates, concerned about the danger of blurring definitions between homeschooling and these public school programs, have long sought ways to raise awareness about the situation. Larry and Susan Kaseman of the Wisconsin Parents Association have been at the forefront of this effort, authoring articles such as “Homeschooling in Public Schools: A Dangerous Oxymoron,” “Let’s Not Let Cyber Charters Do In Homeschooling“, “Homeschoolers, Is Our Good Name for Sale?“, and “Risks Virtual Schools Pose to Homeschools.”
The most common – and tragic – misunderstandings related to the questioning of these public school programs have always spiraled around the underlying intentions of those concerned about homeschooling freedoms. Accusations and attacks have derailed many discussions of the issue, and have repeatedly stymied attempts to hold meaningful conversations on the topic. As a result, this widely recognized and very legitimate threat to the nature, language, and definition of homeschooling is relegated to controversial issue status and summarily avoided.
The inability to discuss the situation, to build an understanding and an awareness of the problem, is exacerbated by the expectation that the threat will show itself in a headline-making manner, and does not recognize the slow grinding process of wearing away at freedoms and responsibilities. Unless we can find a way to talk about this situation, we will find ourselves helpless observers as the word ‘homeschooling’ continues to lose its historically important meaning.
Valerie Moon made an observation in her July, 2007 post at the HEM News and Commentary, “Programs Co-opting Homeschooling?“:
I wonder about the fading of the independence that was inherent in the word â€˜homeschoolingâ€™ when the choice first caught the national imagination. I hope that it wonâ€™t come to pass that the word â€˜homeschoolingâ€™ will change so much that it will be commonly understood as â€™school-at-home-with-oversight.â€™
By September, Valerie was sounding a little more resigned [edited for space]:
I often read articles that use any style of the word â€˜homeschoolingâ€™ to describe services offered by schools. When I look through the news alerts, I pause each time to think whether to blog these articles because of the gray area of â€˜what is homeschooling.â€™ I must weigh each one; is it, or is it not â€˜about homeschoolingâ€™ because this blogâ€™s purpose is homeschooling, not cyber-schooling, not blended schooling, not â€˜not more than 25-hours a week attendanceâ€™ at a school, (25 hrs. divided by 5 days = 5 hours per day), not a â€œhome-schooling centerâ€ with a campus and a lunchroom. Just homeschooling.
In most cases of general usage, the language shifts do not matter except maybe to people who have something invested in a word.
Politically correct insistence that â€˜homeschoolingâ€™ includes anything-goes â€˜cafeteria-schoolingâ€™ may feel inclusively warm and fuzzy, but it sure doesnâ€™t help the sense of the conversation.
posted by Valerie â€” sorting through longer and longer lists of â€˜homeschoolingâ€™ articles
So here we are, many years later, with an increasingly ambiguous word and a body of families whose hard-earned descriptive terminology is being effectively usurped.
In the comments section of my Nov. 24 post, Mary Nix noted:
In my state of Ohio, the cybercharter enrollment grew by leaps and bounds the first couple of years. When looking at the cost of public education that had sharply risen in a senate finance committee meeting, the senators blamed those growing costs on homeschoolers. OHEC and others have had to continually listen, watch and contact the media and the legislature to let them know many home educators remain independent and are not the ones causing the increase.
Senators blaming homeschoolers for the rising cost of public education. Anyone seeing the problem yet?