Helen on December 27th, 2010

There are 14 years of archived articles from Home Education Magazine available to read here at the HEM website. From the Jan/Feb, 1997 issue through the current Nov/Dec 2010 issue, the HEM archives offer a wonderful assortment of writing from the oldest homeschooling magazine still being continuously published.

The feature article writers and regularly scheduled columnists who’ve written for HEM over the years provide a very broad perspective on homeschooling issues, and they’ve tackled some tough subjects for our readers, such as the openly questioning article by Ruthe Matilsky titled On Unschooling and Life from our March/April, 2001 issue:

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? Of course my husband and I don’t believe that, but I can’t help worrying. The standard good-parent line is, “All I want is for my child to be happy.” That’s easy to say when the kids are little, but what about a twenty-one-year-old daughter who is not on the college track?

Then there was Dropping the Bombshell by LauraJean Downs in March-April, 1998:

Those of us who homeschool are the experts in in-law relationships, right? We simply get on the phone and say something like,”Hi Mom! I just wanted to let you know that we are going to homeschool all of the kids next year. Have a great day!” The relationship just continues as smoothly as it always did, right? Wrong!

Another complicated subject was tackled by M. S. Beltran in Homeschooled Teens Can Rest Easier from March/April, 2004:

My daughter’s late rising has brought about a great deal of eye rolling and gaping disbelief from those who cannot imagine life outside the pre-set hours of institutionalized education, even though they are aware our child is not a part of that institution. Is it stubborn adherence to tradition that keeps people holding the early bird in such high regard, while the night owl is chastised for being lazy?

And there was the delightful Reflections of a Homeschooled Homeschooler by Rebecca Bangs Amos, Nov/Dec, 1999:

When my parents shared their plans of moving to a 500-acre farm in Northern Vermont where they would educate their children themselves, their friends responded with, “Are you crazy?” My friends wondered how I could even consider having my mother and father for teachers.

Issue after issue, year after year, Home Education Magazine’s feature article writers captured the essence and the excitement of homeschooling, the concerns and the questions of homeschooling families. Visit the HEM archives - it’s all free - and learn why HEM is “More than just a magazine…”

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Helen on November 15th, 2010

In December, 1983 - 27 years ago - we collated twenty pages of typing paper into the first issue of Home Education Magazine. We were very proud of our little fledgling publication with typewritten pages and hand-drawn illustrations, and over the years we’ve been honored to publish hundreds of outstanding writers and the best articles, interviews, and reporting on homeschooling to be found anywhere. We’re proud that HEM has contributed to the understanding and encouragement of countless homeschooling parents, and those wanting to know more about homeschooling, be they parents, teachers, legislators, researchers, or the media. It’s a good feeling to have co-founded a magazine which has touched so many people’s lives in a positive and informative way.

We’ve witnessed, and to a large degree chronicled, the growth and development of the homeschooling movement. What started as a handful of parents resisting the state mandate of compulsory school attendance for their children has grown and matured into an increasingly complex multitude of reasons, methods and approaches to learning, and that is how it should be. Any idea whose time has come - home birthing, organic gardening, computers - will change and grow as more and more people see the wisdom and sense of it and make it a part of their lives.

But education in this country, both public and private, has also been undergoing many changes in the last few years, and the repercussions of those changes are finding their way into our homes. Our ever-increasing supply of technological marvels, from multitasking super cellphones to computer and video programs which defy imagination, have affected education in ways that are only beginning to become apparent. Online reference tools, homework assistance web sites, online college courses, cyber-schools, and even video games all contribute to a sense of education as an ongoing, never-ending pursuit, and that’s good; most homeschoolers already know that to be true. But as the changes take place, as computers and the Internet move the building blocks of learning out of brick and mortar schools and into our homes, education policymakers wrestle with increasingly tough challenges. Former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett, co-founder of the technology-based education company K12, commented, “…parents are the greatest resource possible; they are like unpaid adjunct faculty whose engagement is crucial to future success.” Unfortunately, as the mandates of a public school education filter into the home, so too will the attendant assessment, accountability, testing and tracking measures, that’s just how it works.

The lines between homeschooling and public schooling are becoming blurred, and even deliberately erased, to the benefit of a variety of organizations, individuals and business interests. Some say that schools moving out of the classroom and into the home is a good thing. We’re told what we’re seeing is just the natural evolution of education, and homeschoolers should reintegrate with the schools for the long-term benefits to all children. But public money cannot be spent on services, however well-intentioned, without some form of accountability, which means some form of oversight and assessment. And if parents can not be trusted to mold and shape their children’s learning, thinking, and values without state oversight and the inevitable interference, where will that leave us?

Adapted from an editorial © 2003 by Helen Hegener

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Helen on October 11th, 2010

How does a person learn to think clearly and effectively and to make reasoned decisions? How do you learn - or teach someone else - to gather enough information about a situation to become familiar with the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages, and then, being informed, make a decision about the best course of action to take?

As we go through life we make decisions, and those decisions, in turn, make us. Large decisions, small decisions. Matters of great importance and the details of daily life. What to wear today, what to have for dinner, which friends to see, which road to take. Who to build relationships with, where to live, which job offer to accept, when to make a change in how things are going.

The decision to homeschool your children is on the more important end of the scale, and inevitably your decisions relating to homeschooling will affect your child’s decisions later in life. But there’s no way to tell how your decisions now might affect your child’s decisions later. If you decide to chart a course of serious and demanding study it might inspire your child to become a scholar and pursue an advanced degree, or it might sour his attitude toward structured learning environments and encourage him to seek other approaches to educating himself, which might be less expensive and more productive than the college education you originally thought would be best. By the same token your decision to provide a more relaxed unschooling atmosphere might spur your child to seek out a more formal learning environment and higher levels of education when she’s older, or it might result in a laid-back attitude and a preference for finding her own way through life.

As parents, part of our challenge is making decisions about the best living environment for our children. We might decide to raise our kids in the city, with multifacted cultural and social opportunities, or we might decide a rural or suburban environment would be more agreeable, and there are advantages - and disadvantages - to both. Sometimes the decisions have already been made for us, as when a home is passed down through the generations. Sometimes one decision takes precedence over others, as when a job offer dictates the place of residence.

Our decisions as parents, and later our childrens’ decisions for themselves, shape and form our lives in large and small ways, and the ability to make decisions effectively is a valuable skill, worth developing and sharpening. A letter submitted to our HEM Letters email discussion list brought the truth of this into focus for me recently:

I have been musing. My grandmother was born in 1897 and was 101 when she died. She was born in the Ukraine and came to the US when she was 14. Who would have, could have, imagined the changes in her lifetime? In our lifetimes?

I can only imagine what she would have said had she been told about being prepared for her future. For my grandmother: a new country, a new language, a new culture, electicity, cars, telephones, man on the moon, computers, Mars exploration-the list is endless.

For us, the list continues to grow. Who knows what the future will be for our children?

It seems to me that when we are asked about preparing our kids for their futures, we and they truly can only be prepared to be active participants in the present-and if we know how to find out what we need to know, we’ll do just fine. We don’t need to know all the answers, we need to be able to ask the questions, and to try to find out what we need to know.

The 21st century certainly doesn’t need standardized thinkers.

Just some thoughts
Debra Bures, buresfam@surfree.com

Who can imagine the future our children will face? Beyond the unfathomable changes in society, technology, medicine, and other variables, what personal changes will affect their decisions, shape their lives? How can we best help them prepare for whatever curve balls life might decide to pitch their way?

I’ve always thought the most valuable and underrated aspect of homeschooling was the opportunity to makes one’s own choices and decisions, to step away from the mainstream group-think. And yet this singular advantage is in grave danger of disappearing as more and more parents seek not something different from schools and schooling, but simply to teach school in a different manner.

If the school model worked best there would be no such thing as homeschooling. When parents decide that school is not working for their children, or when they decide to forego schooling altogether and approach homeschooling as a continuum of living, they’re seeking something different than the mainstream educational offering. They’re deciding to change things for the better, and that decision will result in learning - not just about homeschooling, but about a whole new world of ideas, experiences, opportunities, challenges and more, for themselves and for their children.

© 2002 Helen Hegener

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Helen on August 29th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Helen Hegener

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Helen on June 23rd, 2010

Homeschooling. The word brings to mind images of colorful books piled on a table, a well-used collection of pencils and paper and scissors and glue, the waxy-sweet smell of a freshly-opened box of crayons, an assortment of kitchen-science ingredients in boxes and bottles of different shapes and sizes. Fall days collecting leaves, spring mornings examining pond life, long lazy summer days at the beach learning about everything - and nothing at all. Homeschooling is a warm and cozy word, evoking images of parent and child engaged in sharing, exploring, learning about life.

Homeschooling is not often associated with prescription drugs and hypodermic needles. We don’t often equate it with learning medical terminology and care-giving procedures, or learning how to administer life-saving techniques or determining when to call 911. We don’t often think of hospital visits or figuring out the intricacies of insurance paperwork as educational. But if homeschooling is about learning what we need to know to get along in life, then the lessons awaiting us at the other end of the spectrum, when our parents grow old and we who were once children become learners all over again, are as important as those we teach and learn at the beginning.

Somehow, somewhere in the development of our present-day social structure, it was decided that separating and specializing the stages and phases of life would be beneficial. And to a certain extent, I suppose it is. Young children often have a kind of energy and sheer unbridled enthusiasm that would tax the patience of an elderly person, and the mellow interests of an octogenarian would scarcely keep a toddler entertained for long. There are obvious benefits to having particular spaces and special times for each, and yet so much is lost in the process of keeping them separate, distinct, apart. As homeschooling families have relearned how to live with various ages of development, and so too have many of us relearned how to live with various stages of ability and disability.

There was a popular saying many years ago, which advised something along the lines of: “If you institutionalize your children when they’re young, they’ll institutionalize you when they’re your age.” An entire generation turned away from institutionalizing their children, and now that generation is facing the “other end” of homeschooling, and some of life’s most difficult lessons. What we learned by homeschooling our children - patience, acceptance, how to learn what we needed to know - is being brought into play as we face the challenges of our aging parents.

In Internet chat rooms and on email discussion lists the conversation often turns from helping our toddlers learn to helping our parents survive. One typical exchange highlights the similarities: A long-time list member explained that she hadn’t been active on the list for several weeks because she’d been helping her parents after her father suffered a debilitating stroke: “I never imagined that there would be so much to learn about how to deal with this situation; I feel like I’m a little kid again trying to understand confusing concepts that are just beyond my grasp. Is this what it was like when my eight-year-old was trying to learn to read? Just a jumble of nonsensical words and strange symbols and even when someone patiently explained what they all meant I’d just stare at the papers in my hand and nothing would come together for me and make sense? That’s such a helpless feeling!”

A message board member described her mother’s passing away: “Even while we were getting her things ready for the funeral home I kept thinking this couldn’t be happening, this wasn’t true, there’s been some kind of mistake, because it wasn’t long enough ago that she and I were snuggled on the couch reading Each Peach Pear Plum and Where the Wild Things Are. And now I feel like a wild thing myself, and I want to stomp off to my room and have an imaginary adventure and when I get back I want to find a nice warm plate of something she’s fixed just for me. I want to be a little kid again, and I want her to be my mom again.”

It’s so much easier dealing with the younger generation. The snuggly babies, the cute toddlers, the inquisitive youngsters and even the teenagers who are blossoming into young men and women and struggling to figure out their place in the world. Their perspective is endless, unbounded, unencumbered by the finite realities of life. It’s joyous and inspiring to be in their company, to share in their plans and dreams and schemes and limitless expectations.

It’s harder when we come up against the realization that there are indeed limits, that there are plans which won’t be achieved, dreams which won’t be fulfilled. We learn to deal with disappointment, frustration, heartache and heartbreak. And yet what we’re really seeing, what we’re becoming a part of, is just the full circle of life. This is how it’s meant to be. If we can hold onto perspective, if we can accept the bad as just part of the larger good, these difficult lessons can do for us what the less complex lessons in reading and writing can do for our children: make us stronger, wiser, more capable, and more prepared for whatever lies ahead.

© 2004 Helen Hegener

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