Holding the Center of Homeschooling

As I check my feedreaders for information and news about homeschooling, I’m surprised by the number of articles and blog essays which appear these days; it seem as though the annual back-to-school parade now necessitates an almost parallel reporting on the cutely-tagged ‘not-back-to-school’ crowd. As a result, homeschooling seems to have become a media buzzword, and I ponder that development for a moment…

Searching the term buzzword, I find an interesting definition at Wikipedia:

A buzzword… is a term of art or technical jargon that has begun to see use in the wider society outside of its originally narrow technical context by nonspecialists who use the term vaguely or imprecisely. Labelling a term a “buzzword” pejoratively implies that it is now used pretentiously and inappropriately by individuals with little understanding of its actual meaning who are most interested in impressing others by making their discourse sound more esoteric, obscure, and technical than it otherwise would be.

I do believe that definition fits the description of what we’re seeing. The term homeschooling is being utilized to describe everything from the tutoring of Hollywood starchildren to public-school-in-the-home. Bona fide homeschooling is slip-sliding away.

Somewhere along the line in this country families were sold a bill of goods by the powers that be. Parents were led to believe that children couldn’t be trusted to learn; they needed to be tricked, coerced, or forced into it. Families certainly couldn’t be trusted to see that their kids were learning, therefore, schools would do it. For anyone interested in learning more, John Taylor Gatto, Larry and Susan Kaseman, Patrick Farenga, Grace Llewellyn, Ron Miller and many others have all written extensively about how and why it all works. This pervasive and wrongheaded approach didn’t leave room for children to dawdle, to daydream, to explore options and chase dead ends until they were satisfied with the results. This system demanded that children choose, on its timetable, what they would be and what they would do with their lives, or it would be chosen for them.

Then, more or less beginning in the mid-1970′s, parents started saying “Enough! No More! We can trust our children to learn, and we can be trusted to help them determine what’s worth learning.” Homeschooling blossomed and grew into a dynamic national movement which is still growing rapidly over 35 years later.

But there’s been change in the air for a long time now. With homeschooling more of a comfortable option, no longer such a fringe element, the parents coming to homeschooling now are keying on very different factors than their pioneering predecessors, and are focusing on simply using whatever form of education works in preparing their kids for the economic merry-go-round, the proverbial rat race. One can’t help wondering how these parents will deal with increasing standardization through national education goals, school-to-work programs, and a renewed emphasis on testing and assessment. The parental reaction today seems to be toward buying back into the system – changing the face of homeschooling in the process.

A look at the educational reforms of the 1980′s shows that homeschoolers were clearly at cross-purposes to the vision policy-makers had for the lives of our youth. While the experts and professionals were scrambling to convince the public that they had the answers to all of our social problems, we stood fast, loudly and clearly proclaiming “No thanks, homeschooling works for us.”

In stark contrast, many of today’s homeschoolers want to be part of the public education reform movement. In the past few years they have worked to help the public schools embrace homeschoolers, to lure them back into the fold with their own language, with a smoothly orchestrated series of steps. First offer access to the educational resources, then create the hybrid public school/homeschool programs, then simply segue back into business as usual.

When parents start asking questions about homeschooling, among the first concerns we hear are “How will my homeschooled children get into college, or how will my unschooled kids find a good job?” These are the overriding concerns today. We rarely hear people ask “Will homeschooling make my kids nice people?”

Nice people. What a concept. But isn’t that what this tired old world really needs more than anything else? Nice people? We live with a mind-numbing combination of social confusion and cynicism. Movies and television, mirrors of our society, reinforce all the mindless stereotypes. Generations poke fun at each other, each insisting that the other just doesn’t understand. But how can they understand? The underlying basis for mutual understanding – simply spending time with each other – has been schooled right out of this society.

Homeschooling offers a way to hold the center, by encouraging families to simply spend time together. Agemates, social peers, fellow workers and just plain friends are important, of course, but central to everything we do is our family, the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas who love us, no matter what we do, no matter where we go, no matter how long between visits or phone calls. If we can’t hold our families together, what makes us think we can hold a viable society together?

As homeschoolers we need to defend and protect the right to nurture and educate our children as we see fit, and not as social engineers dictate. We need to resist increasing overtures from the experts and professionals who would assure us that they can do it all much more effectively, much more efficiently. We need to hold the center for the homeschooling families who follow.

© 2010 Helen Hegener

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One Response to Holding the Center of Homeschooling

  1. Helen on August 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    There’s an interesting discussion of this editorial at our Facebook page, beginning August 29: http://www.facebook.com/HomeEducationMagazine

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