Defining unschooling is a little like describing a color, and every bit as elusive. You can rely on commonly-held descriptions; for example, we generally all agree what blue looks like, but what about cobalt, aqua, navy, cyan, sapphire, azure, indigo, cerulean, turquoise or cornflower? It’s the same with unschooling. There’s a generally accepted definition, but then there are all these wonderful variations…

Unschooling embraces a broad spectrum of learning, and trying to describe and define it has resulted in some of the most colorful and interesting writings on the web. With this feature we’re sharing highlights from some of our favorite articles, resources, websites and more on unschooling!

Articles About Unschooling

Revelations of a Homeschooling Mom by Carol Wanagel - “You can’t give them knowledge or force it on them; they have to reach out and take it. They’ll only do that when their own nature and interests command them to, and then only if they don’t feel coerced.”

The Things I Really Want My Kids to Learn by Sue Smith Heavenrich - “I think I’d put ‘making your own lunch’ at the top of the list.” Knowing how to make a tuna sandwich or whip up a pot of macaroni is as important as knowing how to divide fractions. Maybe even more important.”

On Unschooling and Life by Ruthe Matilsky - “How unsettling it is sometimes when I think that we have scoffed at the script and now we have to take responsibility for how it all turns out. If we’d done what was expected of us, nothing would ever be our fault. Right?”

Becoming Unschoolers by Janet Keip - “Fear kept the artificial vision alive. Fear made me think Jaime would be “left behind” like some hopelessly out-of-date little coal engine on the railroad tracks of life. Fear made me reject my heart vision and follow the common path.”

Compulsory Education vs. Unschooling by Shay Seaborne - “Human beings are hardwired for learning; we have proportionally huge brains, and are born with the desire to explore and learn about our world.”

Peaceful Unschooling by Charlotte Monte - “I simply couldn’t go on. I felt like picking up the phone and calling the local school district to throw him in the nearest school, public or not! I had to save myself.”

My Kids Won’t Let Me Teach by Ann Leadbetter - “I worry about my lack of discipline, my laziness. Am I justifying our lackadaisical approach to homeschooling just because I don’t feel like doing it any other way?”

Compulsory Unschooling? by Janet Lowry - “Well, here is a quandary I hadn’t anticipated. What is freedom, if the individual given it doesn’t want it?”

Waiting for Unschooling to Work by Shay Seaborne - “Am I doing the right thing? How can I tell if my children are learning? And where are those interests unschooled children are supposed to follow with excitement?”

A Gift of Time by Sue Smith Heavenrich - “‘Do you read books together?’ I ask. ‘Play games, go on walks, ice skate? Do you rake the lawn and look at bugs and see who can blow dandelion parachutes the farthest?’”

What My Children Taught Me by Helen Hegener - “I’m pretty certain that I’ve learned much more from my kids than they ever learned from me.”

How’s School Going? by Mary Kenyon - “I, too, plan each summer, order workbooks, hunt down bargains on used curriculum, and start out each year with the good intentions of buckling down and having daily schoolwork.”

Interview with Sandra Dodd by Emily Subler - “Gradually (or just all of a sudden, if you have that ability) stop speaking and thinking in terms of grades, semesters, school-days, education, scores, tests, introductions, reviews, and performance, and replace those artificial strictures and measures with ideas like morning, hungry, happy, new, learning, interesting, playing, exploring and living.”

Five Steps to Unschooling by Joyce Kurtak Fetteroll - “Maybe a few, well-defined steps in the unschooling direction could lead out of at least the very pea-soupiest part of the fog.”

One of Those Days by Deb Baker - “I look at the children and announce, “This is One of Those Days.” They stop and look up expectantly; ready to hear what crazy cure Mom has in mind this time.”

Questions and Answers

Unschooling FAQ Frequently Asked Questions about Unschooling

Questions and Answers from HEM Laura Weldon’s Reader Response Q and A columns

Networking with Unschoolers

HEM Unschooling Discussion list for unschooling readers of HEM

Unschooling-dotcom Discussion list for the website

Resources for Unschooling

Unschooling resources Collected reviews of learning materials for unschooling Articles, news, blogs, resources and more!

John Holt’s Bookstore Books, writings, back issues of GWS

FUN Books Helpful resource catalog for unschooling families

For further reading about unschooling, check out these great web sites:

Best Homeschooling The best advice from seasoned unschoolers

A to Z Homeschooling: Unschooling Ann Zeise’s Home’s Cool

Life Without School An online publication and blogging community

Sandra Dodd on Unschooling Practical and philosophical support for unschooling

Unschoolers Unlimited How to access the real world

The Natural Child Project Articles on Learning, many on unschooling

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In the late 1980′s we started seeing incidents, at first seemingly unrelated but then increasingly fitting a pattern, until by March of 1991 we had become concerned enough to admit a growing sense of alarm to our colleagues, associates, and fellow homeschooling activists. In those days before email and the Internet were commonplace tools, we mailed a letter to a number of people whose counsel we trusted, advising them that we were recognizing patterns of behavior which caused us great concern, and we outlined why. We wrote that our efforts to communicate about and address these issues with the perpetrators had been fruitless, and we felt the point had been reached when a strong stand for homeschool freedoms needed to be taken. We were relieved and gratified when almost everyone we contacted responded in agreement and supported our publication of this now-historic document, titled Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk.

The passing of nearly two decades has taught us much, and from this vantage point we can better understand what we were seeing in 1991. The same dynamics which worked to divide the diverse homeschool networks twenty years ago are now more clearly visible. Individual responsibility and diverse, effective grassroots action was hijacked by the pursuit of political power. The history of the homeschool movement is instructive, in its details and its broader lessons, for the national politics of today.

Unfortunately, our most important lessons, the understanding families have gained about children and learning, remains mostly hidden outside of homeschool circles. Homeschoolers have been sidetracked from the task of gaining deserved respect and trust for children and the empowering dynamics of families. In fact, that effort has been made much harder by unreasonable and perceived ‘fanatic’ behavior, and today homeschooling families are facing renewed calls for greater regulation.

In spite of this, homeschooling is still an influential grassroots movement, and homeschooling families are making a strong social and political statement. This series of articles is offered with the hope that readers will better understand the lessons of homeschooling’s history, and thereby find a way to come together once again to shape homeschooling’s future.

© 1991, Home Education Magazine

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Homeschooling Freedoms At Risk - Mark and Helen Hegener

The breaking down of the homeschool community is heralding more restrictive laws and regulations for all homeschoolers.

Long established support and political networks have been damaged, and in many cases replaced with new exclusive groups. Legal actions have been taken which have resulted in the strengthening of states’ rights over the education of our children. A view of homeschooling has been actively promoted which advances the notion that there is only one way to homeschool, and which ties that one way to an extremely narrow range of social and political support. A sense of community has been lost and our homeschooling freedoms are being threatened.

With this special section we hope to demonstrate how this loss of community affects us all, and to show how some homeschoolers have begun to respond to the alarming events we are seeing.

For the past three years hundreds of letters, conversations, phone calls, and other communications have been telling the same stories, asking the same questions, communicating feelings of confusion and bewilderment, and alerting us to an increasingly serious problem within the homeschool community. We have repeatedly attempted to address the underlying issues, and to alert people to problematic actions and directions. Now it has become obvious to us that people need to hear, clearly and unambiguously, what we and many others perceive as a serious threat to the homeschooling community.

That threat is the undermining of individual responsibility, with an increasing push toward a reliance on experts and professionals, and an ever-tightening monopoly on the tools and resources that homeschooling families need.

Centralizing Power and Control

The problem is a small group of individuals, their organizations, and their associates, whose actions have resulted in dividing the homeschool community, breaking down networks of support and communication, and artificially imposing an exclusive hierarchical order.

Actions initiated by these individuals and their organizations have increasingly resulted in the control of homeschooling being placed into the hands of a very few. Our ability to speak for and to represent ourselves is threatened. Our individual and collective political strength is greatly weakened. Our homeschooling freedoms are at risk.

We are talking about the actions taken by Michael Farris, Gregg Harris, Sue Welch, and Brian Ray, the group which has come to be referred to as the "four pillars of homeschooling." Whatever their individual or collective titles, their actions are inflicting hurt, anguish, pain, and sorrow on thousands of homeschooling families, and yet we have been lead to believe that their leadership is above question or comment, not subject to criticism, and beyond reproach.

Individuals who have become increasingly associated with these activities include Chris Klicka, J. Richard Fugate, Mary Pride, Sharon Grimes, and several others. In addition, there are dozens of local and state leaders who directly and indirectly provide support for the centralization of power and control.

Exclusive Hierarchies

For many years homeschooling families have worked to build local, state and national networks that have assisted homeschoolers in maintaining their educational freedoms. The homeschool support group became an effective and powerful tool in building these networks.

At the same time, this idea of support groups for homeschooling families has provided a convenient model for those who would misuse the potential. In his book, The Christian Home School (Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1988), Gregg Harris writes that he has used his Home Schooling Workshop to "successfully kick off the establishment of state Christian Home Education Associations and metropolitan support groups. Once established, these groups serve as our annual workshop hosts." Along with Sue Welch and her Teaching Home magazine, Harris has actively promoted a climate of exclusivism among homeschoolers, has supported the splitting of long-established coalitions, and has encouraged and assisted in the formation of new exclusivist homeschooling groups.

Many new exclusive groups are being encouraged to "hide" their exclusivity, with the goal of appearing to have a much broader base of support. Many members of such groups are not even aware that their group is exclusive, or that they must sign a statement of faith to hold office within the group. Most of these groups promote themselves to education officials, legislators, the media, and others outside of the homeschool community as open to all homeschoolers, when in fact their leadership adheres to a very narrow educational or ideological point of view. Groups are exhorted not to work with, sometimes not even to talk to, those homeschooling groups which are not "approved."

Sue Welch, using her position as editor of The Teaching Home, has repeatedly worked to entice state groups to co-publish as an insert in this national magazine. This co-publishing arrangement weakens the existing networks in favor of an imposed exclusive hierarchy. The Teaching Home then uses these groups to lend an air of credibility to its position atop this exclusive hierarchy.

This relationship has very far reaching implications. Given the editorial and advertising policies of The Teaching Home magazine, the true diversity of the homeschool community can never be recognized via the co-published inserts. Control of this vital link in the communication process is straining local and state relationships and further lessening the ability of these groups to work cohesively. This also, in turn, increases the dependency on outside "expert help" in the face of adversity.

In states where there was no group whose leaders chose to sign a statement of faith necessary for co-publication, Sue and others have designated support groups, sometimes small and very localized support groups, to be the new state Christian organization. Or they have simply implanted new organizations altogether, often by orchestrating the takeover of an existing open support group.

In the September/October 1990 issue of Florida’s FPEA Almanac, a letter to the editor asked, "Just when things are beginning to get really organized and are running well for the F.P.E.A., why is someone stirring things up by talking about a Christian organization? They tried this about six years ago, and it fell flat on its face. I am, of course, referring to the article in Florida at Home in The Teaching Home, where it stated that ‘they’ (whoever they are) are ‘calling Christians to action.’ I would like to go on record stating that the Christians are already in action… in F.P.E.A.! I’d also like to know where Sue Welch gets off suggesting that the ‘Christians in Florida need to come forth and organize.’ The Teaching Home is supposed to be a magazine that ministers to the needs of Christian homeschoolers (and to many others who subscribe and are not Christian), NOT to be an instigator of ‘exclusively Christian groups,’ especially in a state where it is not needed."

Alabama’s The Voice newsletter, Summer, 1990, reported, "It has been proposed that a doctrinal statement be signed by all AHE Directors and Officers. The irony of the situation is that the very people in Alabama wanting to require a signed statement of faith from all present and future AHE leaders received free ‘non-sectarian’ brochures and pamphlets upon request to help them begin homeschooling!"

In a letter to our September/October, 1989 issue Joyce Spurgin wrote, "Oklahoma Central Home Educators Consociation sent us and other ‘leaders’ a leadership agreement that we are required to sign in order to be ‘leaders.’ Perhaps we are the only homeschooling family in the state who refuses to sign statements of faith. However, I can’t keep from thinking that there must be others out there like us, or why would there be such a big effort to make sure we are excluded."

The proponents of exclusivism are wreaking havoc in state after state by breaking down lines of communication, circumventing effective network building, weakening existing networks, imposing artificial organizational structures, co-opting individual responsibility and fostering a dependency on outside groups and individuals. There’s a definite pattern, a self-perpetuating cycle that supports exclusive groups, locking many homeschoolers out of new networks and driving others from existing networks.

The formation of this exclusive hierarchy brings the complex underlying issues of religious intolerance and domination into the homeschool community. Our founding fathers grappled with this issue, and the world faces this same problem today in country after country. There can be no freedom of any sort when one group dominates another.

The rationale that urges an exclusive hierarchy is the rationale for religious domination, which serves to encourage a climate of religious intolerance within the hierarchy itself. It is often advantageous to skirt the issue of religious domination, those who draw their political power from exclusive hierarchies demonstrate that there can be very tangible rewards in fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Neither domination nor intolerance will lead in any way to a greater degree of freedom for any of us. The freedom of each and every homeschooling family depends on the homeschooling community’s ability to come to grips with this issue.

Shaping Society’s Perceptions

The imposition of exclusive hierarchies makes it much harder for the rest of the homeschooling community to be heard on matters that directly affect their families and thereby they are often rendered politically silent. This paves the way for those in leadership positions within the exclusive hierarchies to represent only their particular brand of homeschooling to legislators, the national media, education officials, and others who are interested in homeschooling.

In the process of destroying networks and centralizing control, only the "right kind of Christian" can be elevated to a position of leadership. Yet by claiming to represent all homeschoolers, these selected leaders are fostering society’s view that the majority of homeschooling families are "religious fanatics." This results in a narrowing of political support for homeschooling, so that instead of becoming broader and stronger, the movement as a whole is contracting and weakening. The controversy that surrounded Senate Bill 695 last year provided a good example of this kind of political damage. In an article addressing that subject we wrote, "Because this was not considered a homeschooling issue by Congressional staffers, homeschoolers have now been labelled as an uninformed, inarticulate group which merely reacts to phone tree calls to legislative action. It will take careful rebuilding to undo the harm that has been done to the homeschool movement." And yet Michael Farris used the entire event as a grandstanding opportunity to launch his latest project, boldly announcing, "This episode with S. 695 serves as absolute confirmation of the immediate need for the National Center for Home Education (NCHE). We are glad that our plans were well underway so that we have a plan for the future that can be implemented right away."

It is a sad irony that it can be much more difficult today to find an accurate portrayal of homeschooling than it was ten years ago. In 1981 it may have taken some serious digging to find information on the option, but the information was there, and it had broad appeal to those who were ready for it. In 1991 one certainly doesn’t have to look very far to find newsletters, conferences, books, and much more on the subject of homeschooling, but those sources are more than likely to be so one-sided and misleading as to be utterly discouraging.

This pool of one-sided information on homeschooling is gaining new legitimacy. Brian Ray, as the research arm of the four pillars, has repeatedly allowed the use of his research results to support the goals of isolationism, portraying and advancing an extremely narrow definition of homeschooling. The Christmas, 1990 edition of The Home School Court Report featured initial results from a nationwide survey commissioned by NCHE and directed by Brian Ray. The survey’s target population for the study was home education families who are members of HSLDA. 1,516 families responded to the survey, which was touted by Michael Farris as "the most extensive of its kind in terms of national scope, the subjects covered, and the number of homeschooling families participating." Michael goes on to say, "The public policy implications of these numbers are obvious."

Can he be serious in suggesting that there are public policy implications in a survey purchased by NCHE and targeting only members of HSLDA? Given the small percentage of the total homeschool population that HSLDA represents, shouldn’t the narrow scope of such a survey be obvious to anyone? Apparently not. The population for this survey was limited to a very narrow segment of the homeschool community: those few homeschoolers who currently support the idea that the best legal protection is a central agency, and who fit HSLDA’s membership criteria. And yet, in an article for Education Week, February 13, 1991, reporter Mark Walsh wrote favorably of this "new national study" of homeschooled students, conducted by The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). In an article for the March, 1991 issue of US Air, writer Greg Monfils also relies on statistics from this research. The perceptions fostered by this "national" research project, done under the auspices of a "national" research institute, and funded by a "national" center, are misleading. The narrow scope of this research project, coupled with the overriding legitimacy its use is giving it, is a betrayal of the entire homeschooling community.

Our Wanna-be Spokesman

Michael Farris has repeatedly tried to position himself as the preeminent spokesperson for the homeschool community. In an article announcing the establishment of the National Center for Home Education in The Teaching Home, April/May, 1990, Farris wrote, "The National Center will seek to provide an active presence in Washington, D. C., representing homeschooling interests." In the same article Farris talked about promoting "aggressive media relations and placement of public service announcements as required for national issues," and stated that "HSLDA is already involved in many of these activities. We are strategically located in the Washington, D. C., metropolitan area and have already established many contacts to assist us in the function of a ‘watch dog’ for homeschooling in our nation’s capital, but we see a need to expand these services."

In a letter to California Congressman William E. Dannemeyer, dated October 26, 1990, Farris wrote, "Home School Legal Defense Association officially represents 18,500 families from all fifty states who are homeschooling their children; this figure represents approximately 50,000 children. Nearly 5,000 of our members live in California. Through our subsidiary, The National Center for Home Education, we also work cooperatively with state homeschooling organizations in every state who represent the bulk of all homeschooling families." (Although sometimes referred to as a subsidiary or division, Michael Farris has told us that there is no difference between the two organizations, NCHE is a dba - doing business as - of HSLDA.)

This type of brazen misrepresentation has prompted homeschoolers in state after state to protest the actions of HSLDA/NCHE. In our Nov/Dec, 1990 issue a homeschooling mother wrote, "I joined HSLDA for legal protection only. I did not ask to join NCHE. I do not want to be part of a discriminatory organization and I do not want them to claim they represent my views." And in our May/June, 1990 issue we published an Open Letter to The National Center for Home Education from two homeschooling leaders in Pennsylvania, Diana Baseman and Claire Whitmire, in which they questioned "the presumed representation of all homeschoolers." They told HSLDA and NCHE that "Because you have failed to distinguish or define your constituency, you have wrongly presumed the interest and support of us all and denied individuals the freedom not to be a part of your organization."

The most blatant slap in the face of our freedoms appeared in an article that was first published in HSLDA’s Home School Court Report and later reprinted in The Teaching Home. Farris wrote,"Who gets to speak for the homeschooling movement? The majority speaks for the movement. Why should it rattle anyone’s cage for the majority of homeschoolers to define the position of the movement? I would hope that non-Christian homeschoolers would endorse the rights of Christian homeschoolers — including the right to vote our convictions and the right to majority rule."

This seemingly clever argument conceals a couple of important points. It would be extremely presumptuous of anyone to represent all the convictions of every Christian. And it would be even more foolish to argue for majority rule. Given the attitude toward homeschooling in America today, the right to majority rule would result in all of our children being put back into public schools. To maintain our freedoms, each and every one of us has to be able to define our own positions, assume our own responsibilities, and make our own decisions based on our personal beliefs. We can accept no less.

HSLDA: Legal and Legislative Experts?

Since 1983, Home School Legal Defense Association has worked hard to position itself atop the exclusive hierarchy as the preeminent legal and legislative organization for all homeschoolers. Their impact on our freedoms has become one of our primary concerns.

As presumed legal and legislative experts, they impose themselves on state networks and assume the individuals’ responsibility. When this happens, people on the state and local level are no longer building long-term relationships they can use, they are building relationships for HSLDA. When out-of-state attorneys fly in and start pulling tricks out of their hats they effectively circumvent the kind of networking and coalition building that can best serve the real needs of homeschooling families.

In addition, when HSLDA acts as the outside expert, they give themselves the highest level of visibility and assume primary decision-making roles. Too often, state homeschool leaders have been razzle-dazzled by HSLDA’s legalistic maneuverings, which makes homeschoolers more likely to turn to HSLDA for help with problems in the future, rather than trying to work things out on their own. This dependency inevitably leads to compromising the interests of those who either don’t see a need for HSLDA protection, don’t meet the membership requirements, or who would just rather assume their own responsibilities.

Further, HSLDA’s trend towards over-reliance on constitutional attacks to defend homeschooling has not been successful. In a 62-page report issued by the Wisconsin Legislative Council Staff, dated November 21, 1990 and based on reported case law (cases appealed at the state level) throughout the U. S., the evidence showed that since 1980 the constitutionality of state laws regulating home schools has not been upheld in the courts. According to an article in Phi Delta Kappan, January, 1991, "The only constitutional strategy that has sometimes yielded success in the courts for home-instruction advocates has been to allege that statutory provisions for home instruction are constitutionally vague." While some of these authors, or the institutiions that they work for, may or may not be entirely friendly toward homeschooling interests, they often have access to information that homeschoolers can examine and assess for themselves.

The legacy of these constitutional challenges has been volumes of unnecessary verbiage about how to home educate. After years of litigation homeschoolers are now living under laws and regulations that have increasingly emulated conventional schools: state mandated standardized testing, curriculum review, parental qualifications, and more. Interestingly enough, these are the kinds of services that NCHE is now moving to provide. In his letter announcing the National Center, dated February 13, 1990, Farris states, "The need for legal defense has never been a strong sales point for homeschooling. NCHE will be able to accentuate the positive side of homeschooling."

HSLDA/NCHE not only actively fosters a dependency on their services, which undermines individual action and responsibility, but they also promote a clear perception that there is an ‘approved homeschool method,’ defined in part by their membership application. This application requests information very similar to what we have come to expect from hostile school officials: test results, curriculum, academic background of the parent, notification of previous contact with officials. With its new NCHE services, HSLDA is, in effect, providing an administrative service for the school officials. When a family sends their $100 HSLDA membership they are actually supporting and strengthening this service, and the perception that there is "one approved method" of homeschooling, at the expense of all others.

For ease of legal defense, HSLDA carefully selects along the lines of conventional school criteria, rather than administering to the needs of individuals or breaking new ground for freedom. Pat Montgomery, in an article entitled, "Must I Buy Homeschool Insurance?" in The Learning Edge (March, 1991), brings up some interesting statistics regarding home schooling and legal defense. She states, "Of the thousands of families Clonlara has served, relatively few — twenty-eight to be exact — have ever had contact from local officials that could not be handled by a simple phone call or letter." Of those twenty-eight, eighteen Clonlara families were actually summoned to court between 1984 and 1990. Seventeen of them won, and sixteen of those did not hire a lawyer! Six families joined Clonlara between 1980 and 1990 while they were already involved in a court process, but only five of those were in court on home school issues. All five won their cases, and not one of them hired an attorney! As Pat sums up the issue, "The record shows that families who home educate, by and large, have little to fear from officials."

Attorney John Eidsmoe, speaking on the nationally televised Moore Teleconference on Homeschooling last April, stated, "Even in restricted states, the percentage of parents who actually get prosecuted is only a little higher than the percentage who get struck by lightning. They’re very selective about who they prosecute, and the vast majority of parents, even in these states, get left alone."

This is not to say that local school districts and superintendents don’t harass homeschoolers on a regular basis — they do. And special interest groups continually prompt the legislature to regulate homeschooling. But these kinds of contacts can be resolved without buying into the care and feeding of a national organization.

Using The Home School Court Report, from which information is reprinted widely, HSLDA has repeatedly portrayed situations in state after state to appear much more hostile than necessary. As just one example, in the Summer, 1990 issue of The Court Report a three-column heading announces "South Dakota Restricts Home Schooling With New Regulations," and the article goes on to paint a potentially grim picture of possible complications under the new regulations. However, the August, 1990 newsletter of the South Dakota Home School Association discussed the new regulations and reported that "Our relationship with the state department of education appears to be the best it has ever been," and goes on to explain that the president of SDHSA and other homeschooling leaders "met with the department earlier in the summer. We were received in a spirit of cooperation as they believe that most homeschoolers are doing a good job."

This misinformation also comes directly out of their home office. We frequently hear reports of entire support groups being told that they are in imminent danger, when in fact no such "danger" exists. A common approach is to tell homeschoolers at conferences and conventions that there have been more contacts in their state than at any other time, and that things are only getting worse in their state instead of better.

One of the most significant questions to consider is the actual competence of HSLDA’s attorneys. In a meeting with Michael Farris and several others in Spokane, Washington, held in June, 1990, we asked Michael about a phone call we had placed to HSLDA, inquiring about a supposed legal situation in our own state. Feeling that we had been given blatant misinformation by the attorney we talked with, we asked Michael about the incident. His reply was that this particular attorney was "not really a very good lawyer," and that they were not sure "whether or not he was going to work out." Yet this individual had been with HSLDA for a year at that time, is still an HSLDA attorney, and is still advising homeschooling families in several states.

In New York State, in 1988, in a U. S. District Court decision, Blackwelder v. Safnauer, the District Court Chief Judge issued a reprimand to Michael Farris that appears in the Federal Supplement (volume #689, page 106), "The progress of this case has been hindered by plaintiffs’ failure to adhere to the procedural framework of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this court’s Local Rules. The court has been indulgent — perhaps too indulgent — in forgiving a multitude of procedural errors, because it has not wanted to punish the individual plaintiffs for the shoddy motion practice of their attorneys. There comes a point, however, when forbearance of one party’s carelessness unfairly prejudices their adversaries. That point has been reached in this case." The Judge’s comment then goes on to discuss the problems caused by Farris.

We need to keep in mind that what HSLDA does is lawyer stuff. That is to say, what they know how to do best is to function within the judicial system, an institution that has become increasingly insensitive to the individual and his needs. This rarefied air that they keep themselves in precludes individual action and initiative. Legalistic arguments and professional hat tricks will not gain us any greater degree of homeschooling freedom. We need to rely instead on the kind of good old fashioned wisdom and sound judgement that we can gain from our own experience.

Responsibility and Freedom

With their national visibility, HSLDA/NCHE, Christian Life Workshops, The Teaching Home, and NHERI sit atop a hierarchy that not only perpetuates itself but which purposefully advances a notion that there is primarily one "approved" method for homeschooling. This leads us, as a homeschooling community, back into the same trap of "one size fits all" education that is the very essence of the educational institution. This hierarchy that has grown up within our midst has also promised us the illusion of easy and convenient protection of our freedoms, yet their actions have had a tremendously negative impact on an already effectively functioning homeschool community, and they are largely responsible for the homeschool community’s current state of disarray.

What can we, as individual homeschoolers, do about this situation? We have already assumed a responsibility that is directly translated into freedom, we are homeschooling. The impact of this freedom says we, as individuals, are capable of exercising sound judgment in the face of the challenges that shape our lives. This responsibility stands in direct opposition to any individual or group that would come between us and our decision making processes.

One of the primary keys is to take steps to bring each homeschooling family into the homeschool community. Communication is the most important step. We need unrestricted communication at all levels of this community. We need communication that doesn’t have to be approved by a hierarchical order but that directly serves the needs of all homeschooling families. Newsletters, phone trees, support group meetings, conferences, and conversations between friends and neighbors can be our most effective tools in working to put our communication networks - and the homeschooling community - back together.

The issues raised here are not going to disappear overnight. As homeschoolers we will always face very subtle and complex challenges to our freedoms, and we must be prepared to face what comes. The best opportunity we have to defend our freedoms is to assume the responsibility of maintaining them ourselves, by staying informed and taking action, and not relying on experts and professionals, whatever their professed accomplishments, to assume the responsibility for us. We all need to follow through on the many diverse responsibilities we assumed when we chose homeschooling for our children.

© 1991, Home Education Magazine

This piece is part of the series Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk Originally published
in the May-June 1991 issue of Home Education Magazine (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

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Freedoms Responsibilities And The "Four Pillars" - M. Larry Kaseman

If we as homeschoolers are going to safeguard our freedoms to homeschool, we must take seriously the responsibilities that we have for the health, direction, and future of homeschooling. Although it is often tempting simply to focus on our own family, as homeschoolers we are inevitably drawn into larger questions concerning homeschooling. This happens as we decide about curriculums, tests, periodicals, national organizations and their services, support groups, state organizations, and laws and regulations. Whether we like it or not, the daily decisions we make in our own homeschools affect the direction homeschooling is going, simply because it is a grassroots movement made up of the sum of the actions of many individuals. We do not have the luxury of deciding whether we want to work in isolation or be politically active-our daily decisions and actions or inactions have political consequences both inside and outside the homeschooling community.

Three aspects of this responsibility will be discussed in this article. First, it will present ideas and strategies that could be followed by homeschoolers who are acting responsibly to protect their freedoms. Second, recent developments in Wisconsin will be described to show the ways in which the actions of the "four pillars" have failed to support and have threatened to interfere with the actions of responsible homeschoolers. Third, it will explore actions that homeschoolers are taking to reclaim their responsibility for homeschooling and to counter the negative effects of the "four pillars."

I. Freedoms and Responsibilities

For us as homeschoolers to assume responsibility means several things. Among them are:

-We should inform ourselves about what opponents of homeschooling (such as large educational bureaucracies and teachers unions) are doing or may be likely to do, and about what is happening within the homeschooling community. We can get this information by reading periodicals, talking with other homeschoolers, and attending local support group meetings and state-wide conferences.

-We need to be realistic about the difficulties we face. When only 25% of the adult population has school-aged children and less than 1% of these children are homeschooling, we are clearly a very small minority. We also face strong opposition from the educational establishment, teachers unions, and people involved in the huge educational industry that spends $1 billion each day-talk about vested economic interests!

-We should have a clear understanding of what our goals and priorities are concerning homeschooling and our involvement in the homeschooling community.

Homeschooling rights and freedoms are being challenged both by opponents of homeschooling and by the general trend in our society to take away individual liberties, rights, and freedoms. Therefore, in order to maximize our strength, we must work for unity (but not uniformity) among homeschoolers. To be the most effective we can be in protecting our freedoms, we must focus on the one thing that homeschoolers agree about: the freedom of a parent to choose an education for his child consistent with his principles and beliefs. If we agree that each family should make its own decisions about approach to education, religion, and lifestyle, we can all work together without compromising our own personal principles, beliefs, and commitments.

One of our primary goals as homeschoolers should be to unite in inclusive grassroots organizations to fight political battles to ensure our freedoms to decide about our approaches to education, religion, and lifestyle. We would seriously weaken our ability to protect our freedoms if, instead, we began by forming competing organizations based on educational approaches or religion or lifestyle, or if we divided into smaller groups of homeschoolers who all agree about education or religion or lifestyle. We would have to spend some of our limited resources of time, energy, and money in efforts that duplicate or compete with the efforts of others. Division among homeschoolers would give opponents of homeschooling a powerful weapon to use against us and a golden opportunity to increase the regulation of homeschools. We would not be in as strong a position to protect our freedom, and we might end up losing it and then having no real choice in these important areas.

In a way this seems backwards. It seems like we are giving first priority to political and legal concerns which in the long run are less important than decisions we must make about education, religion, and lifestyle. But it is only by putting these secondary political questions first in time, by setting aside personal differences and working together with other homeschoolers, that we can ensure that we will have the freedom we need to be able to make choices in the most important areas, such as education, religion, and lifestyle.

Working for political freedom with homeschoolers whose approaches to education, religion, or lifestyle differ from ours does not diminish us as individuals nor does it mean that we must adopt other people’s beliefs. Instead, working together to protect our freedoms makes us more than we would be otherwise, because we have a much better chance of safeguarding our freedoms and thereby ensuring that we can make our own decisions about education, religion, and lifestyle.

-We must work on the grassroots level, everyone doing his share, and not rely on outside experts, regardless of their approach to education, religion, or lifestyle. Use of such experts is inappropriate, unwise, and possibly very harmful for several reasons, including the following:

(1) Outside experts decrease the commitment and energy that members feel they need to put into the work of a grassroots organization. This weakens the organization.

(2) Homeschoolers (or anybody else) who turn their battles over to an outside expert lose a very important opportunity and often their freedoms. The challenges homeschoolers face from opponents gives us a chance to develop a deeper understanding of our freedoms and how to protect them. Fighting our own battles may also enable us to avoid the seemingly inevitable compromises that are often made by an outside expert trying to do, as an individual, the work that really should be done by hundreds of people working on the grassroots level.

(3) No outsider can do what residents of a state can do for themselves in terms of understanding the specifics and complexity of their unique situation and forming and maintaining personal contacts and relationships.

(4) An outside expert cannot care as much about the outcome as the people who live in a given state-the expert goes home and the residents have to live with the results.

(5) Legislators view outside experts differently than they view constituents. Once an outside expert becomes involved in a legislative debate, legislators have to start judging the conflicting claims of competing experts. It is more helpful for homeschoolers to have legislators focused on meeting the needs and requirements of their constituents than to have them concentrating on statements made by experts.

If we as homeschoolers are going to protect our rights and freedoms, we need to be prepared to act responsibly by working with other homeschoolers through grassroots organizations and not relying on outside experts.

II. Freedom and the "Four Pillars"

It would help us fairly and accurately assess what the four pillars are doing if we examine the specifics of what has happened in one state. This article will discuss events in Wisconsin. This requires examining some potentially confusing details which amplify and support general points, but it is important to understand the subtle and often confusing ways in which the "four pillars" sometimes act.

Two pieces of background information are necessary at this point. First, the "four pillars" have been identified as Michael Farris of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) for legal and legislative matters; Gregg Harris of Christian Life Workshops for workshops, seminars, and conferences; Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (funded in large part by HSLDA) for research; and Sue Welch of The Teaching Home for communications. Gregg Harris has been said to have identified himself with the others by use of the term "four pillars." The point, however, is not whether these four persons and their organizations call themselves the "four pillars." Rather, it is important to understand what these "four pillars" do and how that impacts on the ability of homeschoolers to secure and maintain their freedoms.

The second piece of background information concerns the homeschooling situation in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has had a very reasonable homeschooling law since 1984. Numerous challenges to this law by opponents of homeschooling have been successfully countered by homeschoolers working on the grassroots level primarily through Wisconsin Parents Association (WPA), a state-wide inclusive organization which was formed in 1984 to help shape the homeschooling law and now has a membership of over a thousand families with diverse backgrounds.

The most serious challenge to Wisconsin’s homeschooling law was formalized in June, 1990, when the leadership of the Legislative Council used power politics to force a questionable vote that authorized the formation of a Special Committee to study homeschooling. Wisconsin homeschoolers realized action was required since all but three of the Legislative Council studies done in the last 20 years had ended in new legislation, which then had a much greater chance of passing than legislation introduced in other ways. Working on a grassroots level through WPA, homeschoolers refused to focus their efforts on the Committee and thus give it credibility. Instead they met with legislators throughout the state, building on work previously done, and collected over 5,000 signatures on a petition that opposed further regulation of homeschooling.

Actions by the "four pillars" have failed to support work being done by responsible homeschoolers and have threatened to interfere with it. Among recent examples are the following:

-HSLDA and others associated with the "four pillars" have consistently recommended action to Wisconsin homeschoolers that could have caused them great difficulty, and we cannot think of an example of advice from HSLDA which has proven valuable. For example, in March, 1990, one legislator introduced a bill to require that homeschoolers take standardized tests. WPA found that there was very little support for the bill (it had no co-sponsors), that the chairperson of the Assembly Education Committee did not plan to hold hearings on the bill, and that it would be best not to give this bill any further visibility, but to let it die instead. WPA informed its members of the bill and settled on the strategy of not giving the bill visibility. However, in May, after the legislative floor session had in fact ended and the bill had died, HSLDA sent a memo to Wisconsin homeschooling leaders from its newly formed National Center for Home Education. The memo recommended that Wisconsin homeschoolers write to the Assembly Education Committee to protest this bill. The memo went only to WPA, then the only state-wide homeschooling organization in Wisconsin, which obviously did not follow its advice.

Had homeschoolers followed HSLDA’s advice, they would have been complaining to a committee chairperson who since 1984 had treated homeschoolers fairly by insisting that evidence of problems with homeschooling be presented before homeschooling bills were introduced. Letters would also have given visibility and quite probably media attention to a dead bill whose only sponsor was retiring from the legislature. Also, by this time homeschoolers in Wisconsin were facing a much larger problem in the proposed Legislative Council study of homeschooling. HSLDA/NCHE’s advice would have focused homeschoolers’ energy on the wrong people and in the wrong direction.

This shows the disadvantages and limitations of relying on outside experts. It does not help to know only that a bill about homeschooling has been introduced and what it says. It is essential to have information concerning how much support the bill has, who is opposing it and how strongly, how likely it is to move from committee to the floor of the legislature, how soon the legislature will be adjourning, and many other such details. It takes the grassroots efforts of many homeschoolers working with their legislators and with informal networks within the state to gather and assess this information. It must be done by homeschoolers who live within the state and cannot be done effectively by outside experts.

In another example, HSLDA strongly contradicted a strategy that was clearly working well for Wisconsin homeschoolers. HSLDA’s advice could have had disastrous results if WPA had not acted quickly to warn homeschoolers against following it. During its Nov. 29th meeting, the Legislative Council’s Special Committee was clearly moving away from the idea of stronger regulations for homeschoolers. WPA members were continuing their strategy (presented in newsletters published in June and September) of downplaying the committee and refusing to give it credibility or attention. Instead homeschoolers were collecting signatures on petitions in support of homeschooling and working with individual legislators across the state to show both the legislators and the committee that there was significant public support for homeschooling and no need to change a homeschooling law that was working well.

However, a letter from the president of Wisconsin Christian Home Education Association (WCHEA), a new organization supported by the "four pillars," dated December 4, 1990, called on homeschoolers to attend the December 20th meeting of the Special Committee to "present a solid unified front." It also said, "At the time of this printing, we are expecting Chris Klicka [an HSLDA attorney] to appear before the committee to present a testimony on behalf of all homeschoolers." and…"LET’S HAVE A STANDING-ROOM ONLY SITUATION."

Many Wisconsin homeschoolers were offended by the idea that Klicka presumed to speak (or the President of WCHEA presumed he would speak) for all homeschoolers. Homeschoolers were also upset because bringing in an outside "expert" violated the commitment of WPA members to grassroots action and their resolution on unity. In addition, the strategy presented was very unsound. A large crowd could have increased the pressure committee members felt to do something to increase regulation of homeschooling. It could also have given the committee credibility and drawn media attention to its decisions.

WPA responded by including information in its December newsletter about the direction the committee was moving and why a large crowd at the meeting would probably increase chances that the committee would vote to recommend increased regulation of homeschooling. WPA asked that homeschoolers not attend the meeting. Fewer than 10 homeschoolers came, and the committee voted down most regulatory proposals by votes of 8 to 7. Once again, the strategy of Wisconsin homeschoolers worked, but only after they had countered advice from someone within the "four pillars" group. It is very difficult for homeschoolers to have people from outside taking actions that will cause serious problems for them and will undo things that they are doing that are working well.

(To finish this chapter of the story: It turned out that Wisconsin homeschoolers’ strategy played an important role in the Committee’s decision to adjourn without recommending new legislation. Over 2,000 homeschoolers gathered on February 6, 1991, at the state capitol in Madison to demonstrate their commitment to homeschooling and to reasonable homeschooling laws and to emphasize the significance of the Special Committee’s decision.)

Another example is the "testimony" Klicka prepared for the Special Committee. It included the following paragraph (as reported in a memo to "Home School Leaders" from NCHE dated January 31, 1991; the memo referred to Klicka’s "testimony" although the document itself is titled "SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON HOME-BASED PRIVATE EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS [Summary Analysis by Attorney Christopher J. Klicka, 12/20/90])":

Third, the present home school law is enforceable. Any truant officers or law enforcement officials who gather evidence from witnesses, etc. that the family is not educating their children at home, do [sic] not have books to cover the required topics, or are [sic] operating their program in order "to circumvent the compulsory attendance law," can bring truancy charges [?118.15(5)] or educational neglect charges against these fraudulent families. [Klicka's emphasis]

This testimony could cause serious trouble for Wisconsin homeschoolers because it provides a basis by which officials could demand more of homeschoolers than the law allows. First, the Wisconsin law requires attendance, not the education to which Klicka refers. This distinction is crucial. The law can and does require that children attend an educational program, but it cannot and does not prescribe the outcome of that program. It would be difficult if not impossible to enforce a law requiring "education," and an attempt to do this would be disastrous for the idea of free education in a free society. Second, Wisconsin law requires a sequentially progressive curriculum in basic subjects but does not require the "books to cover" them Klicka mentions. A curriculum is an educational plan, a course of study. It is much broader than a collection of books. Homeschoolers have much more freedom under a law that requires a curriculum which they choose than under one which requires specific "books."

Third, "educational neglect" is a vague term which does not appear in Wisconsin statutes covering truancy or compulsory school attendance or homeschooling. In December, 1989, Wisconsin homeschoolers successfully argued against inclusion of this term in proposed legislation. It would allow the state to confuse compulsory attendance laws and truancy laws with child abuse and neglect laws, a frightening prospect for homeschoolers. It is appalling to have this term introduced, much less offered as a basis for prosecution, by someone who appears to be working with and for homeschoolers.

Fourth, Klicka’s referring to people who may be charged with truancy as "fraudulent families" prejudges them, violates the principle of "innocent until proven guilty," and disregards the idea commonly accepted among Wisconsin homeschoolers that homeschoolers do not judge each other’s educational programs.

-HSLDA has used tactics that worked against what the majority of homeschoolers were trying to do in Wisconsin. For example, Wisconsin has never required homeschoolers to take standardized tests, and HSLDA has stated that state-mandated standardized testing should not be required in Wisconsin. However, the information HSLDA presented through a homeschooler to the Legislative Council’s Special Committee relied heavily on standardized test scores. This said, in effect, that standardized tests are a valid way to evaluate homeschoolers. It kept the issue of standardized testing open and alive before the committee. It was an inappropriate tactic to use in a state in which homeschoolers were fighting hard against proposals by the chairperson of the Special Committee and by the Department of Public Instruction that standardized testing be required.

-HSLDA has presented highly inaccurate and misleading information on what has happened in Wisconsin in both a memo to home school leaders from NCHE dated January 31, 1991, and in The Home School Court Report, Volume 7, No. 1, January-February, 1991, pp. 10-11.

(1) HSLDA claimed that, "The ‘grassroots’ efforts of home schoolers throughout Wisconsin have finally paid off. . . . HSLDA also mobilized a grassroots campaign of letters directed especially to the legislators on the committee in order to let them know that the public did not see any need for additional legislation pertaining to home schooling. . . The chairman stated that he and many of the members of the Committee had received hundreds of letters." However, a Senior Staff Attorney for the Legislative Council checked the official Special Committee files and reported to me that throughout the study, the committee received "about 20 letters in total from homeschoolers." She said that it was the practice of the chairperson and other legislators to make copies of such letters available to the general committee and interested parties through the committee staff. In addition, the chairperson told me in a phone conversation on April 6, 1991, that he did not receive hundreds of letters and in fact was surprised at how few letters from homeschoolers he had received.

(2) At the same time HSLDA did not mention the real grassroots efforts made by Wisconsin homeschoolers. Many of them met individually or in groups with their legislators. (One meeting in rural northwestern Wisconsin was attended by 160 homeschoolers.) Homeschoolers also collected over 5,000 signatures on petitions asking the legislature "not to legislate further regulation of private education, including home schooling." HSLDA also did not point out that these meetings with legislators and petitions were consistent with Wisconsin homeschoolers’ strategy of not focusing on, supporting, working with, or giving credibility to the Special Committee but instead working with the whole legislature to educate legislators about homeschooling and to demonstrate support for homeschooling.

(3) The Court Report also stated, "Meanwhile, Chris Klicka was requested to testify at the Committee and tentatively scheduled for the December meeting." The committee chairperson told me on April 6, 1991, that both Klicka and a member of the Special Committee pressured him to invite Klicka to testify but that he, the chairperson, did not invite him. Also, a Senior Staff Attorney for the Legislative Council told me that Klicka was not invited by the staff attorneys responsible for invitations. Therefore, there is no evidence of any request for Klicka to testify that came through official channels. It was also misleading for HSLDA to say, "Due to the Chairman’s change in plans, Klicka was not able to testify," since he had never officially been invited.

-On top of everything else, many homeschoolers felt that HSLDA should not have become involved in the political situation in

Wisconsin at all. HSLDA developed what they refer to as a "strategy" for dealing with the Special Committee despite the fact that many Wisconsin homeschoolers had made it clear that they did not want "outside experts" of any kind involved in this or other political activities. Wisconsin already had a strong inclusive grassroots organization (WPA). At a WPA membership meeting on April 28, 1990, members passed a resolution which stated in part, "…WPA is a grassroots organization which relies on the strength of its own local members rather than ‘experts,’ especially out-of-state experts who become involved in state legislative matters;" and "WPA opposes any state or national efforts that would split home schoolers into factions and thus weaken the ability of home schoolers to ensure reasonable home schooling laws." It was published in the June, 1990, WPA newsletter. Also in June, 1990, the executive director of WPA informed Klicka of WPA’s position and said to him in a public meeting, "We don’t want your help."

-The "four pillars" have initiated or supported the formation of an exclusive, divisive organization in Wisconsin. Among the ways they have done this are:

* Gregg Harris’ Home School Workshops in April, 1987 and November, 1990, provided a platform and base in the state for HSLDA and The Teaching Home to become inappropriately involved in the political battles of Wisconsin homeschoolers and for The Teaching Home to help establish an exclusive and divisive organization.

* The Teaching Home publishes the WCHEA newsletter, advertises its conferences, promotes the speakers who speak at these conferences and workshops, and remains silent as to the real story of what recently happened in Wisconsin. The Teaching Home also serves as a resource to exclusivist organizations and has a "State Organization Representative’s Office" (headed by Sharon Grimes of Syracuse, NY) which makes special requests for new state leaders and organizations and helps them get organized. (Such a request was made in an attachment to a memo from Sharon Grimes dated March 27, 1990, for the following states: Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, and Wisconsin.)

* According to a letter from the president of WCHEA to WPA , The Teaching Home listed WCHEA as the Wisconsin contact without a final agreement from WCHEA’s president to do this.

Our purpose here is not to raise questions like, "Do the "four pillars" have a right to become involved in a state in this way? Does WPA have a right to keep them out?" We do not want to get into a long, legalistic debate. We merely want to report the way in which the "four pillars," especially HSLDA, have acted in Wisconsin, so readers will be in a better position to decide whether to support them or counter them. Readers have to decide whether the "four pillars" are acting in a responsible manner, in a way that encourages cooperation among homeschoolers, etc.

Actions by the "four pillars" in Wisconsin are dangerous to the freedom of homeschoolers and to their attempts to maintain their homeschooling laws for several reasons. Among these reasons: (1) For the first time since 1983, Wisconsin homeschoolers have followed two different strategies in dealing with the legislature. The fact that these strategies contradict and undermine each other means that the existence of two of them seriously weakens the ability of homeschoolers to fight their opponents.

(2) Homeschoolers’ ability to counter opponents is seriously weakened when they have to spend time, energy, and some of their very limited resources countering the inappropriate strategies of other homeschoolers who are following the advice of "outside experts."

(3) The Court Report’s misleading and exaggerated claims about HSLDA’s action in Wisconsin could cause individual homeschoolers to question whether their own grassroots work was really necessary or important. It also gives status and power to people who do not deserve it. This causes division which threatens homeschoolers’ freedoms.

(4) Klicka’s testimony provides an opportunity for opponents of homeschooling to argue their case for regulation using the language of a "homeschooling expert" against homeschoolers.

III. How Homeschoolers Are Countering the Actions of the "Four Pillars"

The activities of the "four pillars" are possible because of the actions of homeschoolers which, intentionally or unintentionally, support the "four pillars." Without this support from homeschoolers, the "four pillars" could not continue. Homeschoolers who want to reclaim their responsibility for homeschooling and to counter the "four pillars" are doing a number of things. Among them are:

First and most basically, homeschoolers who make their own decisions about how they will homeschool, who decide based on what is best for their families and do not blindly follow the advice of the "four pillars" simply because they are "experts," are countering the "four pillars," intentionally or unintentionally. Homeschoolers who forge their own definitions of homeschooling, who select their own approach to learning, are countering the "four pillars." Even homeschoolers who end up selecting an approach very close to what the "four pillars" would recommend, are countering the "four pillars" because they are making their own independent decisions and not blindly following the "four pillars." Homeschoolers who rely on their own work as individuals and as members of inclusive grassroots organizations to prevent and solve problems, rather than relying on "outside experts," are countering the "four pillars." The action of many individual homeschoolers, each educating their children according to their principles and beliefs, is essential to protecting homeschoolers’ freedoms. As long as homeschoolers insist on exercising their right to speak for themselves, the "four pillars" cannot "speak for all homeschoolers."

Homeschoolers are sharing, with other homeschoolers, information such as that contained in this article, and their concerns about it. It is being discussed in support groups and at other homeschooling gatherings.

It is important to keep the action of the "four pillars" in perspective. They are more uniform than any other segment within the homeschooling community, they have used their abundant financial resources to make a big splash, they have made extravagant claims, so they appear much larger than they really are. The number of homeschoolers actually supporting the actions of the "four pillars" is a small percentage of the total of homeschoolers. And as current supporters receive more accurate information about the "four pillars" and their actions, these homeschoolers are reconsidering their support.

Homeschoolers have formed strong inclusive grassroots organizations that enable all homeschoolers to work together to gain and maintain reasonable homeschooling laws in their state.

Local support groups have been organized to encourage homeschoolers to get together frequently with others who share their approach to education, their religious beliefs, and/or their lifestyle; share their experiences, joys, and concerns; and become acquainted in a meaningful way so they can support each other. Such groups can meet the needs that exclusive state-wide organizations claim to meet, but without causing division among homeschoolers who are also members of state-wide inclusive grassroots organizations.

Homeschoolers have learned how to act so as to minimize the chances of getting into difficulty with school officials. They also know how to effectively handle contacts with officials that do occur and how to be continually alert so small infringements on their freedoms can be challenged and resolved before they grow.

Many contacts from school officials can be handled well by a homeschooler who has a clear understanding of what his state’s homeschooling law requires and what his rights and freedoms are. It is generally a good idea for the homeschooler to discuss the official’s charge or request with other homeschoolers, some of whom may have had similar encounters with officials. Then he can often resolve the situation by simply explaining that he understands what the law requires and that he is complying with it. Officials are not accustomed to dealing with people who have a clear idea of what is required of them and what their rights are. Simply realizing how capable the homeschooler actually is may be enough to convince the official that he has more important things to do than harassing homeschoolers. It is generally more effective when homeschoolers resolve their own problems instead of calling in attorneys or outside experts to do it. It impresses on the school officials the abilities and strengths of homeschoolers and makes them much less likely to challenge homeschoolers again soon. It also allows conflicts be be resolved on a person-to-person basis within a local community.

Homeschoolers are making careful decisions about how they spend their homeschooling dollars, about what homeschooling materials and services they purchase, which workshops and conferences they attend, etc. so that their money goes to parts of the homeschooling community that they want to support and that will ensure their freedoms rather than put them at risk.

Homeschoolers are refusing to lend stature or expand the influence of the "four pillars" by not lending their names or that of their organizations to the "four pillars." This includes not being listed as a state contact by NCHE, not inviting the "four pillars" or their associates to speak, and not rallying to their calls for legislative action.

Homeschoolers are networking with people in other states, while being careful not to call in any outside experts in the process. Contacts are made through national homeschooling organizations not associated with the "four pillars," homeschooling publications, state conferences, etc.

Let us realize and be grateful for all the potential that homeschoolers have, individually and as a community. Let us recognize and appreciate all the positive things that are happening within homeschooling, in the homes of individual families and throughout the homeschooling community. And let us act responsibly so that the questionable activities of a few are not allowed to spoil homeschooling for the rest of us.

© 1991, Wisconsin Parents Association, Inc.

This piece is part of the series Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk Originally published
in the May-June 1991 issue of Home Education Magazine (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

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Homeschooling Rights and Responsibilities: Are We Losing Them? - Becky Olson

Many of us, in our complacency, have come to believe we have the right to homeschool our children. That is true. We do have that right. Along with that privilege is the responsibility involved in home education. And many of us have dealt with that, too. We know we have taken upon ourselves the privilege and obligation to educate our children in the best possible way. Amen. So simple, right?

Wrong. It isn’t that simple. Among homeschoolers, who I have always believed were the new freedom fighters, a great schism has occurred. Many people have failed to understand the connection between privilege and responsibility. They are freedom fighters in name only. Instead of letting the school superintendent tell them how to educate their children, they are letting the homeschool leadership of a neighborhood, city, state, or national assembly tell them how to educate their children.

I see many people falling into the trap of believing they are educating their children when, in fact, they have turned over their liberty to some other authority figurehead. People who have shown great spirit and have worked through much difficulty to regain custody of their children from the school system are being convinced to again allow some other bureaucracy make the decisions concerning the who, when, and why of their family life and education.

Many of these organizations are encouraging people to turn over their own personal power. They are encouraging their constituency to let the alliance make decisions, let the group design the system of education best suited for their children. Membership is encouraged to "trust" the leadership to "know" what is best for the collective associates. Member input and options are kept to a minimum. The leadership makes all decisions and passes these decisions down to the membership.

I see two different bands: those that wish to maintain control over the decisions that affect their families, and those opting to give that control to their local, state, or national homeschooling association. The people, the individual, has the power, the right, the responsibility to make decisions for themselves. No matter how hard an association tries to convince the individual s/he doesn’t have that freedom, or the information to make a choice, the individual does have the power. In our complacency, we have allowed the government, in its many forms, to convince us we are not capable of making certain decisions.

We have been happy to give up the opportunity to make some choices because we don’t want the responsibility that goes along with it. "If I send my child to school, and the child doesn’t learn, I am not responsible for his/her illiteracy. It is the school’s fault s/he hasn’t learned." The parent gives up the power, the particulars of the child’s education and also the responsibility for the education. It’s a nice safe package. "They" can be blamed — and given the credit — for the child’s education. The parent is absolved of the responsibility. Or so the bureaucracy would have us believe. That’s not the truth. Deep down inside, each of us knows this. The parent is always ultimately responsible for the child. And the parent knows what is best for his or her own child.

We have worked hard in many states to keep from answering to a state bureaucracy about the curriculum we use, or don’t use. Many have worked to have testing abolished or at least minimized. All of these efforts were done to expand the parameters of the homeschooling family’s personal options. Again, so many individuals are giving up those hard fought for freedoms by turning over those same personal choices to an organized group. They are allowing an association to decide which curriculums, which books, which tests, which support networks have their approval, and can be used. Without questioning this, families are accepting these arbitrary decisions. Without meeting any of the members of this or that support network, the state or national group’s endorsement tells me if I do or don’t want to meet these individuals.

Homeschoolers are leaders, not followers. Homeschoolers have chosen to take the responsibility for their own lives. They do not defy authority, they question it. We must recognize that these privileges we have worked so hard to establish concerning education are individual and personal. These liberties are part of the freedoms included in the framework of our founding fathers (and mothers) declaration of independence. Freedoms so important that thousands have, and continue to, risk their lives to establish and preserve them. When any sect sets itself up to define these rights, sets itself up to choose these rights, sets itself up to take the responsibility of the outcome of the enactment of those rights for us, we have lost everything we have struggled so long and hard for.

Homeschoolers! Recognize the "organization" of homeschooling for what it is — an attempt to control and manipulate our choices for the greater glory of the organization’s leadership. The power of these groups is not drawn from the combined freedom of the membership. It is created by diminishing the individual members’ autonomy. All that is accomplished by these highly organized contingents is not done to provide independence for the membership, it is done to bring tighter control over the membership, to diminish even further the freedoms of the members, and to ultimately escalate the power of the leadership.

Accept the responsibility for your freedom. Examine what is given to you. Question decisions made for you. Take the leap of faith — trust your own instincts. Only you can make the best decisions for yourself and your family. Stand up and be counted as an individual supporting your own and others’ privileges and responsibilities. History has shown us repeatedly that when we allow the autonomy of any society to be diminished, more and more is taken from that group. When we contribute to the schism of the national homeschooling community, we contribute to the erosion of the independence of the homeschooling community at large. If the highly structured organizations allow the freedoms of the unstructured coalitions to be taken away, soon the freedoms of the structured alliance will be attacked.

The time has come for homeschoolers to stop arguing among themselves and join together to protect the freedom of all people. We must protect the opportunity to choose public education, private education, structured homeschooling, unstructured homeschooling, religiously based homeschooling and secular based homeschooling. If we allow anyone’s choices to be diminished, we allow our own choices to be compromised.

"In Germany they first came for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me-and by that time no one was left to speak up."Pastor Martin Niemoller

© 1991, Home Education Magazine

This piece is part of the series Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk Originally published
in the May-June 1991 issue of Home Education Magazine (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

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An Essay About Service, Ethics, and Personal Empowerment - Linda Winkelreid-Dobson

You’d like Doc Preston, too. Short in stature, a giant in heart, he’s a pediatrician par excellence. No white jackets here; his casual sweater and shoes remind you he’s a person first and foremost, yet still as professional as the next guy.

Welfare kids and the sons and daughters of rich businessmen - black, white, yellow and brown - are greeted with the same smile, respect, and sense of awe all children deserve.

When first he became my new pediatrician when I was thirteen, I thought him an old coot, asking all those personal questions instead of just taking my blood pressure and temperature. I’m still amazed at how much he learned between then and the birth of my first child twelve years later. Though many years and many more miles separate us, Doc Preston shines as a beacon by which I measure the light of the heart and soul of all professionals. Today it takes just one visit to discover whether a practice is Hippocratical - or hypocritical. Men and women as selfless and dedicated as he in homeschooling are the first I’d bestow the title of "pillar" on. Funny, isn’t it though, but folks like Doc Preston would shun the title, anyway.

And what of self-appointed pill-ars? It’s a title that feeds the ego; Doc Preston’s ego faded long ago. It’s a title that begs respect; Doc Preston earns his. It’s a title that serves its bearer as a shield; Doc Preston has nothing to hide.

What bothers me most about hiding behind words like pill-ar and Christian is not the terms, but that which I discover is being hid - lies, fraud, slander, and a divide-and-conquer methodology reminiscent of the most evil, hostile takeovers in recent history.

Normally, I’d say any group who needs to stoop to such duplicity to gain power doesn’t warrant attention - they usually die by their own hand. But this group preys on the most powerful emotions and vulnerabilities of humanity; ignorance (that of the new homeschooler seeking service), greed (I want my child to have/be the best), and most viciously, fear (don’t mingle with the heathens!).

Think about it. You’re a new homeschooler and you hear of a workshop within travelling distance. You gladly dig into your pocket and plop down money to hear what the "expert" has to say. He says you must spend thousands of dollars for a proper home education. You believe him. And he just happens to have thousands of dollars worth of material to sell you.

Or how about the attorney, well-versed in state regulations, who has raised fear mongering to an art form? He tells you your state regulations are fine today, but "we’ve got trouble brewing right here in River City." He just happens to sell insurance to "protect" you. Do you buy?

I’ve got nothing against people making a buck. But any pill-ar forced down my throat is a bitter pill-ar, indeed. Particularly at a time when humankind’s very survival depends heavily on unity, cooperation, and our ability to raise ethics and service above profit. Those of us who oppose separatism and exclusivism must speak out to protect the service, ethics, and personal empowerment in which we place our trust.

It seems the moment we put our faith in experts in any profession, the fees increase in direct proportion. Personal energy, and thus, ability, dissipate. Our own energy mingles with theirs, and theirs grows beyond energy to explode in power. Are not the queer politics of power merely representative of the price for relieving ourselves of the obligation, responsibility, and constant vigilance personal power requires?

Perhaps the most bitter pill-ar to swallow is the justification offered by taking scripture passages out of context, further distorting the beautiful truths Christ taught 2000 years ago. My patience wears thin with folks who don’t know me or my family, who don’t comprehend me or my homeschooling purpose, and who don’t care to do either, yet they profess to validate my political beliefs through absurd public statements, create regulations that have me contemplating moving out of my state, and hold on their shoulders the weight of a burden I long ago chose to bear myself. I don’t want justification - I want truth.

When a publication refuses to consider my writing because I will not sign a statement of faith, I choke on that pill-ar. There is nothing Christ-like about closed minds, closed doors, closed policies, or closed hearts. Indeed, these states are anti-Christ and go against the very fiber of His message of understanding, compassion, acceptance, and love. Bitter pill-ars gag, separating us from the life-sustaining joy of free thought, feelings, and deeds accomplished in love.

I see quacks prescribing miracle "pill-ars" for every homeschool growing pain, searching for a way to capitalize on any suffering it may be causing, getting so lost in the opportunities for power they represent that, at best, the good of the movement is lost in both mind and heart. At worst, the good of the movement as a whole is never even considered.

For if it were, what would be their Christ-like response? Would it not embody truth instead of lies, guidance instead of dictatorship, giving instead of receiving, unity instead of divisiveness?

I remember Doc Preston getting us through 3 cases of chicken pox, 10 bouts of the flu, and at least a dozen ear infections via Ma Bell, because he shared his wisdom via the 6:30-7:30 AM call-in hour, saving patients countless time and expense if an office visit wasn’t really necessary. He taught me how to mix a batch of home-made cough syrup which worked just as well as store bought, yet was healthier and safer to administer. When I called him not long after we moved away because the kids were sick and I had yet to find competent medical care, he spent half an hour reminding and assuring me that I, too, possess the knowledge and love necessary to see them through.

This, my friends, is the kind of person the homeschooling movement needs, and in fact, already has. I, along with folks all across the country, field innumerable phone calls every day, sharing information and a warm, loving approach with anyone who asks. Just yesterday a woman returned a stack of books and magazines I loaned her because she intends to begin homeschooling her oldest in the fall. Just in time, too, because a teacher’s college student in Rochester is scheduled to call this evening for information he needs for a paper he’s preparing on the subject. Is there fame? Profit? A title? No, there’s a greater reward - the joy of Christ-like service, not in name, but in deed.

Thanks, pill-ars, but you’re too hard to swallow. I’ll continue seeking out the Doc Prestons of the world. And we’ll continue building the solid foundation that makes pillars not only unnecessary, but tastelessly ostentatious. Personal empowerment -sharing what we have and know freely with others, and turning to true friends who do the same in our time of need - is working just dandy. Maybe you should try it.

© 1991, Home Education Magazine

This piece is part of the series Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk Originally published
in the May-June 1991 issue of Home Education Magazine (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

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"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.

"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, Summer, 1990

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


New York

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 he 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?

DATE: 03/09/1991

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, Home Education Magazine

This piece is part of the series Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk Originally published
in the May-June 1991 issue of Home Education Magazine (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

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Deschooling is the word that describes the transition from school to a life of educating ourselves. It is usually the parents who need a helping hand in trusting their own children. That is because we have all been told that children need to be forced to learn, that school is the only place it happens, and many more lies. Ned Vare and Luz Shosie, July/August 2008, HEM Interview

My children were born natural learners, constantly exploring, questioning with a curiosity that gave me sheer joy to be a part of. Trouble was, as they progressed from being toddlers and ventured toward compulsory attendance and school age, instead of being a joyous participant, I began to lose some of that joy as I began to pay more attention to societal educational standards. Eventually those standards and the drive to test children younger and younger led my family to the homeschool choice. Still, it took many years for me to deschool and I’d like to share some past articles and deschooling resources for anyone looking to reach that deschooled spot sooner rather than later. If you have any questions or need help.

HEM Deschooling Articles

Decompression - Frequently Asked Questions by Cafi Cohen

Go light on the teacher aspect of home education. Don’t be the nightmare homeschooling parent, the one who insists on researching the country of origin of every piece of produce in the grocery store. Yes, it can make you - the parent - feel good to point out the educational aspects of everyday life. Your teenagers will probably find such antics more boring than the school they just left behind.

Instead consider spending time on activities both you and your kids enjoy. You have very few years remaining to share the same household. Learning occurs as a by-product of fun events - like travel and playing games and cooking together and outdoor sports. Enjoy - and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Luz and Ned

Interview with Luz Shosie and Ned Vare by Mary Nix

Whatever you do, be flexible. Kids’ needs and desires change. Be ready to let go of your ideas and go with theirs. They will always love you for the trust you give them.

Live with your children as though school did not exist. If your kids have been in school, take time off before starting any homeschooling routine. Children may appear to be “doing nothing,” but they are actually healing or detoxing. Parents may need an activity during this process. Find something you enjoy doing, learn something new. Your kids need to see that you have a life. You will probably be surprised at how much they are doing and learning. Do not hover.

I Am An Unschooled Adult by Susanna Wesley

Knowing what I know now, it is clear that those years were a time when I was “de-schooling.” I was growing up. I was figuring out that I had always lived from the outside-in instead of the inside-out. I had never heard of the disadvantages, much less the detriments, of formal schooling, so I had no logical explanation for why I was feeling completely lost in a great big world which was supposed to be full of opportunities. I felt stuck in time, as if I had no past and no future.

Dealing With Doubts by Janet Keip
Dealing with doubts
When we first began homeschooling six years ago, I felt a raw defensiveness when someone challenged or questioned my choice to homeschool. Now I feel that same surge of defensiveness when someone questions unschooling. In the beginning, my conviction of the rightness of homeschooling for us and our daughter was firm. However, homeschooling was still too new and too fresh for me to easily articulate our philosophy.

Gaining Confidence In Our Homeschooling by Larry and Susan Kaseman

Homeschooling works because children learn well with the help and guidance of parents who know them well and care deeply about them. They can learn at their own pace, when they are ready and eager, so learning is easier. They can spend extra time on things that especially interest them, which motivates them. They often discover interests that lead to their life’s work. They do not have to deal with disruptive schedules that interrupt their learning, peer pressure, humiliation or failing grades if they make a mistake or haven’t learned something yet, teachers who do not understand or appreciate their strengths, a curriculum that does not suit their needs, approaches to learning that do not work for them, and other inevitable parts of standardized schools run by the government and designed to try to educate many children at once, regardless of their individual differences.

Dear New Homeschooler by Mary McCarthy

Notice how many ordinary people have written books about their successful homeschooling program. They’re just like you, having once stood in those same shaky shoes. that’s what you should be getting out of all those books: That ordinary parents, just like you, can achieve success in homeschooling. Each one found little tricks and experiences that helped them, and may help you too. But the basic message is that they all succeeded.

From Homeschooled to Homeschooling by Dawn Colclasure

If anything, the experience of being homeschooled gives these parents a source to turn to in times of distress-their parents. “I know from watching my mom and others that all homeschoolers go through the same doubts and if they just persevere, they figure out a comfortable and effective way of doing it for their family,” Humphries says. She adds, “That gives me courage on those doubting days.”

Revelations of a Homeschooling Mom by Carol Wanagel

It seemed like I wasn’t teaching them anything anymore, and yet they were learning at a furious pace. It became very clear that every time I started up with my assignments and lectures I was interfering with their education. Whatever I told them they had to learn, they slowly and painfully memorized, then quickly forgot. Whatever they wanted to learn, they learned instantly and for life.

On Self-Doubt - Lenita Harsch

Albert Einstein, The greatest minds of our century, felt held back in school and was considered a poor student. (I wonder if his teachers ever doubted their abilities when trying to teach him?) He later spoke of the need for freedom in education - the freedom to be curious and inquisitive, and to explore independently. His own education blossomed only after he took charge of K himself. No longer held back, his curiosity led him to new and wonderful discoveries about the universe.

Peaceful Unschooling - Charlotte C. Monte

Yes, I definitely have an opinion that unschooling, or child-led learning, or whatever similar term parents choose, is best for children. And I’m sure that for every person you ask, you’ll get a different definition of what unschooling means, and it may look vastly different from house to house, and even child to child. What I really think unschooling boils down to, in whatever form, is this: A peace, a harmony and a love of learning that does not get squelched over time.

Other Deschooling Resources

Deschooling for Parents by Sandra Dodd

Deschooling Society - Ivan Illach

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At our house, the difference between summer and other seasons was the fact that summer brought more children to play with. Sure, the kids might have focused a bit more on some subjects in the cooler months, but they were learning all the time no matter what page the calendar was open to. Having gone to school myself, I always loved summers more than anything. I loved being able to read, draw, hike or participate in whatever activity I chose on any given day. My children had that freedom every season of their life.

Homeschooling Seasons

I recall others asking if I was spoiling my children by homeschooling them, or damaging them somehow by not forcing them to follow the norm of leaving our home and following a rigid schedule. I don’t know what our interrogators thought our life was like, but we did have a schedule, chores and our own list of what we thought was important in an education and what we would do to help our children achieve their goals and desires. Still, having gone to school, I will admit that when public school let out I sometimes felt a bit less responsibility to make sure I was doing all I could to help my children ‘learn’. However, as the seasons passed, I learned to relax as if it were summer all year and I enjoyed seeing what the freedom to learn, live and explore offers a child and it was delightful. Below are some articles and resources that look at learning.

Playtime - A Time for Children and Parents to Share and to Grow - Amber P. Keefer

Studies show that some of the most creative children are those whose parents have played with them. From my own experiences as the parent of a highly active and resourceful child, I know how important it is for children to channel their creative energies into constructive and rewarding outlets. Child development experts remind us that parents are among a child’s first and best playmates, and for this reason, we must actually involve ourselves in our children’s play.

Learning from My Kids - Helen Hegener

I learned the value of learning, and I think it’s a lesson my kids will need to learn for themselves. Like so many things in life, it’s not something you can just tell someone else and expect to have any meaning , it really needs to be experienced, to have a context all its own.

Early Years Child’s Learning Assets - Linda Dobson

Homeschooling uses childhood energy instead of constantly trying to dam it. Now, curiosity creates interest, interest increases attention to the task at hand, and attention gives rise to learning.

Why Independence Is Essential To Homeschooling - Larry and Susan Kaseman

Homeschooling offers parents tremendous learning opportunities. Thanks to our children and our homeschooling experiences (both the stunning successes and the flops), many of us have developed a new understanding of learning, revisited and recovered from our own difficult school experiences, discovered or rediscovered the joy of learning, and done things that we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t been homeschooling.

A World of Learning by Barbara Theisen

I’ve never believed that the only way to get an education is to sit at a desk with four walls around you. The world is our classroom and our home - a 41 foot sailboat - takes us there. My husband Tom and I dreamed of sailing around the world before our daughters were even born. Their arrivals only increased our desire to live the “cruising lifestyle” - a way of life that has given us the opportunity for lots of quality and quantity of family time.

Educating our two daughters while living afloat on our sailboat, Out of Bounds, has added a wonderful new dimension to our lives. Kate is in sixth grade this year and our youngest daughter, Kenna, in third grade. Homeschooling hasn’t always been easy. But it has been fun.

Five Steps to Unschooling - Joyce Kurtak Fetteroll

And, finally, forget the linear approach to learning we grew up with. For instance, we learned that the way to learn is to read “all the important” stuff about a subject gathered and packaged for our convenience in a textbook and then move on in line to the next package of information.

Self-Inspired Learning - Karen Vogel

But, despite living an unremarkable existence in the depths of suburbia, my kids all manage, at one point or another, to develop an interest in a subject I never bothered to introduce. As most of my friends know, I regularly suffer paroxysms of guilt over my complete neglect of science as a school subject. Aside from having a birdfeeder outside our kitchen window, with a bird identification book handy (well, when we can find it) and a cheap pair of binoculars (which are often missing as well), my children’s parent-led science education is nothing short of woefully inadequate. But my oldest, at the age of nine, followed me around the house with a bird book, demanding that I read it to him. In fact, we ended up buying him the aforementioned birdfeeder for a birthday present. He has since developed an interest in gardening and botany, both subjects at which I am an abject failure.

The Many Faces of Home Education - Tamara Orr

During the summer of 2002 and 2003, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet dozens of homeschoolers across the country. I came home filled with their enthusiasm, their curiosity and their wonder. I also came home knowing that no matter how many families I met, not one of them homeschooled exactly the same way. Like snowflakes, they may have had many commonalities, but when it came down to how they actually homeschooled, from day to day, they were each wonderfully unique.

Other Resources

Teach your Own by John Holt
I Learn Better by Teaching Myself by Agnes Leistico

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He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it. ~Clarence Budington Kelland

This quote neatly sums up my view on education. We certainly can sit and be instructed, but watching others pursue life, especially those with a passion is a lesson that is embedded in our hearts. Who better to learn life’s lessons from than our dear old Dads. Although many view traditional homeschool familes as being overseen by Mom’s, many Dad’s are staying home with their family. Here are some past HEM Articles by or about Dads and other resources for you to enjoy.

HEM Articles

Interview with David Albert by Kim O’Hara

David - My perspective on schools is not that they’re failing, but that they work. They work precisely the way they are intended. The schools teach our children to become financially and emotionally dependent upon our current economy for both their work and for their self-esteem. The schools teach them to be emotionally and educationally dependent. And they are taught that they are to gain their self-image through material goods and services. They even rate schools according to how much “stuff” they’ve got in them, rather than the quality of the interchange that’s going on between teacher and child. The schools work precisely the way they’re intended, and the result is precisely what is intended. Our corporate society gains workers who are docile enough to do what they’re told, and it gains in social control.

Homeschooling and the Type A Dad - Brad Beckerman

We have been unschooling for some time-if you can believe that from someone who has a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. Certain elements of unschooling, as I interpret them, I have very much taken to heart, especially when it comes to the process of constructing a nourishing, stimulating environment. You see, even in the unschooling world there is room for a control freak. My children’s world is the one I make for them, and that is where they learn.

I am not really that uptight. But I do have my moments, and the pendulum keeps swinging. Type A guy. Type B guy. And back again. Recently I decided, without justification, that I had been too complacent and had failed to supply the social stimulus I felt my kids wanted. Spiraling into a stress-induced, walking, talking coma, I concluded I had utterly failed them and called a couple of local schools to bail me out. The moment passed. Finally calm, I still had my doubts. And then a few days later, I was visiting with a homeschooling friend, who said, in an unmistakable tone that combined encouragement and support with a healthy dose of reality, “Gee, Brad, it never really occurred to me to manage my children’s social lives.”

Homeschooling Fathers - Gary Wyatt

Children need more of their fathers and fathers need more of their children. Men have an extraordinary potential to realize in the lives of their kids, a potential that goes beyond narrowly defined gender roles that limit a father’s station in the family to that of “provider and disciplinarian.”As I consider my own life, and the lives of the homeschooling fathers that I know, many of us feel a yearning to be more involved with our children. Unfortunately, circumstance and our own socialization often positions us on the fringe of both family life and the homeschool experience. We bring home the paychecks, take out the trash, fix things that break, and leave homeschooling to our wives.

And What Does Your Husband Do? - Isabel Shaw

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of our “dad at home” adventure has been watching the whole family grow and learn together. For me, jumping into a writing career at almost fifty years old still seems a bit unreal. I think it’s healthy for my girls to see me struggling (successfully!) as I learn to use the computer with all of its bells and whistles. And Ray has rediscovered his guitar. Making music was always his first love, but the idea of a career in music was put on hold many years ago. Now that dream is alive again, and a list of homeschooled students requesting guitar lessons from Ray continues to grow.

When Dad Homeschools: from Breadwinning to Baking - Jim Dunn

As the primary homeschooling parent for my nine-year-old daughter, I am not your regular dad. Even among homeschoolers nationally, I am one of only .5% of primary caregivers who are fathers. Fathers as full-time care givers are pretty scarce, but far fewer are full-time homeschooling dads. This is not surprising, if we consider the father’s place in our culture. Dad has a fairly ambiguous position in the family, on the one hand the breadwinner, the one whose income is counted on, the one with the most earning power. But on the other hand, this role outside the family removes him from much of the family’s daily growth processes. His integrity in the family depends upon his absence.

Fear of Failure - Perry Venson

I recently saw this quote: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” This from Albert Einstein, the epitome of a genius.

Now if that is not a battle cry for homeschooling I don’t know what is! Yet tonight, that cry has been reduced to a whimper, and I am in doubt about the future of my children. In reflecting, looking at what I am feeling, I see my fears are revolving around worries about what kind of work my children will get after homeschooling, of whether or not they may be at risk as adults in a world that looks increasingly scary.

Other Resources

  • Why Homeschool
  • Homeschool Dad Podcast
  • What Dads Can Do In Homeschooling By Marsha Ransom
  • Linkedin: Homeschool Dads
  • Homeschool Dad

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