“Expert” Advice

“Expert” Advice
by Helen Hegener, September/October, 2002

Every so often someone will ask Mark and I when we’re going to write our book on homeschooling, as though it were a given and the only question is a matter of when. When one works with the written word for a living, as we have for 20 years, and being so deeply involved with a movement as vibrant and exceptional as homeschooling, it naturally follows that we would eventually put our experiences between the covers of a book. Seeing the reasonableness of this assumption, we’ve usually answered the question with a vague “Oh, we dunno, maybe someday…”

Ann Lahrson-Fisher is a homeschooling mother turned book author who recognizes the stark realities of being an author. In response to my recent questions on this she wrote: “With my latest book, Fundamentals of Homeschooling: Notes on Successful Family Living, almost ready to greet the world, I get to enjoy one of my favorite things about writing: having written. The fun of having written balances the love/hate relationship I have with the early stages of my writing process when I know what I want to say, but I don’t know how to get there. Those are hard times for me and my poor family and friends; I quit almost daily, I whine and complain. In time, I push deeper and deeper into the problem until my point reveals itself.”

Jean Reed, author of the landmark Home School Source Book, shared the satisfaction she and her late husband Donn found in being authors: “Writing, revising, and updating The Home School Source Book is our way of sharing a lifestyle that has been immensely rewarding for us. The most rewarding things about writing about homeschooling is seeing someone’s face light up with the understanding that they really can do this.”

We glimpse that sense of having done a good job when HEM readers applaud the articles we publish. It’s rewarding to present the how’s and why to’s of homeschooling in a clear and understandable way. But there’s a flip side, the danger of setting oneself up as an authority, which is perhaps more a concern to book authors than to magazine publishers.

David Albert, author of And the Skylark Sings with Me, cautions in his new book: “Don’t take anything I write for granted. Test it against the light of your own experience, experimentally. We are all big kids here, and we’ve earned the right by shouldering the responsibility.”

David’s experiences at homeschooling conferences indicates that such advice often goes unheeded: “…Often, about 20 minutes into the question-and-answer period, someone will ask me which math curriculum she should use with her seven-year-old son.

“I am disappointed by the question, but I am no longer surprised by it. I am, for better or worse, a homeschooling ‘expert’ and should therefore be able, at least in an advisory capacity, to provide the same kind of answers to a homeschooling parent that a school board provides to a second grade schoolteacher.

“But I don’t know anything about her seven-year-old or the context of her homeschooling efforts. I don’t know if he even wants to be learning math just now, and, if so, why, or, really, if he should be.”

David’s words are echoed by another well-known homeschooling writer, Mary Griffith, author of The Homeschooling Handbook and The Unschooling Handbook. Mary wrote to me about her experiences as an author: “What startled me most–and still does–is the extent to which some people began to view me as some sort of reliable authority. I’d expected that from the general press, but not so much from homeschooling parents. Here I was writing books that essentially said (I thought) that we all get to figure out for ourselves what works best with our own families, and that that’s half the fun of the whole process, and still I get questions like, ‘How many math problems should I make my daughter do?’ and ‘Which TV programs should I forbid my son from watching?’ Maybe it’s just that having written books means that I’m always supposed to be sure about what we’re doing homeschooling, that Famous Homeschool Authors (that’s my daughter Kate’s official terminology for my author persona) never suffer doubts or panic attacks–that somehow I’m supposed to be able to make that supposed imperturbable self-assurance rub off on non-’expert’ homeschooling parents.”

Linda Dobson, author and editor of almost a dozen homeschooling books, recognized this trend toward wanting answers from experts and professionals, and she writes about her acclaimed Homeschooling Book of Answers: “I think I was very lucky that one of my first books was to be called a ‘book of answers.’ I was invited to write it myself, but with a title like that? As a homeschool insider, I knew I didn’t have all the answers! It seemed only right to get answers from others who also realized they didn’t personally have all the answers, either, just their own experiences to share to hopefully help families new to homeschooling. I worked hard to keep the word the publisher naturally wanted to use (‘experts’) out of the title. It was important that readers view these folks as simply other homeschooling families who experimented and found something that worked, rather than folks who were giving ‘the final word’ on how others should go about the act.”

David Albert explains how he resolves the dilemma of parents seeking answers from him: “…as would happen during the Q&A and happens again even as I write this, I realize how uncharitable I can be. For there was a time when my wife Ellen and I would have thought that what we had to be about was reproducing school at home, only better (and sans dodge ball!). Luckily for the kids, and for us, our children had drilled us well enough in the second curriculum (listening), we out grew our infantile fixations and turned into listeners! And since neither Aliyah nor Meera had experienced school, they trained us in a whole new repertoire, one that placed in the forefront their need for learning and for being, rather than ours for teaching. I would like to see this book do its part to short-circuit that process for others, or I wouldn’t be writing it.”

This – and Linda’s insight – makes sense to me, and it’s what we try to do in every issue of Home Education Magazine. We try to “short-circuit the learning process,” as we bring our readers articles from “other homeschooling families who experimented and found something that worked.”

We may someday put our experiences into a book, but it will be simply a book about the discoveries our family made through the years, what we found that worked, and how we dealt with the situations that didn’t work. When we write we’ll keep in mind David Albert’s sage advice to his readers: “I take full responsibility for everything that is written here, and none whatsoever for how you decide to use it.”

© 2002 Helen Hegener

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One Response to “Expert” Advice

  1. CM on June 3, 2011 at 11:32 am

    These look like lovely books. Thank you for the reviews!

    Now, in the quest for promoting lifelong learning, I will venture to say: “Mark and me.”

    “Every so often someone will ask ME when I’m going to write …”

    therefore:

    “Every so often someone will ask Mark and ME when we’re going to write …”

    (“Mark and I are going to write” would be correct, of course, just as “I am going to write” is correct.)

    Thank you!

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