Volume 5 Issue 2
Letters to the Editor
Re: Grey Matters
I feel obliged to respond to Ms. Orsi's article in The Link, (Vol. 5, Issue 1) entitled "Homeschooling and Socialism, the Worst Possible Mix." She refers to a fictitious "Mrs. Brown" a homeschool resource teacher, whom she claims is a stranger to homeschooling families. I beg Ms. Orsi to consider the possibility that if she was to gain more information about these "strangers" she might change her opinion, for I am one of those teachers: I am a "Mrs. Brown."
Ms. Orsi writes that "Mrs. Brown has a "thin 'love for humanity' veneer that all human service professionals are expected to cloak themselves in" Oh? Does this extends to the families that I bring food to when they have babies, the families I send checks to when their house burns down or their children are involved in horrible car crashes? Is my "thin veneer" showing when I wake up at 3 a.m., unable to sleep because I am worried that this or the other kid is having problems with this or that? No, Ms. Orsi, no one EVER trained me to "think compartmentally about people."
Ms. Orsi also feels that "She (the resource teacher) understands that you are her inferior, not worthy of love among equals." Ms. Orsi, I get uncomfortable when someone introduces me as "so-and-so's homeschool teacher." I quickly point out that so-and-so also teaches me. I am open to learn, and will continue learning until the day I take my last breath. There's NO WAY I know it all!
I DO agree with Ms. Orsi about State Auditors. My plea to these people is this: Come bring your warm body into my classroom, then we can have a nurturing environment where all children can succeed. I feel the ideal learning group (ratio) is about 6 to 1, so we have plenty more room for more teachers. The only people who really have the luxury of working one-on-one are moms with only one child, or families that can afford private lessons for their kids. AND, as far as testing goes, 99% of my families opt out of State Mandated Tests, and it's been that way for the 10 years I've been doing my job!
I may ask you, dear reader, "Who is the State?" There is really no such creature. Even laws that are made are continually being modified or broken. The State can be lenient or harsh, depending upon what individual you happen to be dealing with at the moment, and depending on how that individual happens to interpret State Guidelines. The key word here is "interpret." When I began my job, I used to call it "bending" the rules. Now, I have learned to "interpret" them. The State says I am the teacher and give assignments to my students? Fine. I just ask the family what assignments they want me to give them. I am at their service.
I have a reputation for being "easy" and "dynamic." Many of my families become close personal friends, and I have worked with these families for up to seven years in a row! This year, 32 kids signed up to work with me, and I am grateful for their faith in me to assist them as I work many, many long hours to enrich their homeschooling experiences.
Maybe I'm an exception, but I don't believe I am. My colleagues at school are all dedicated humanitarians. One of my friends told me she even worries about kids she had in her class years ago! Why would teachers choose a field where we barely make enough money to pay our bills, and have all those people as our bosses? We are beholden to, first of all, the children we serve, their families, our administration, and the State. With 20 kids and 40 parents and who knows how many State phantoms in our midst, that's quite a few people we strive to please!
Teachers are humans. We laugh, we cry, we get frustrated just like everybody else, but we keep doing what we do, even when criticized by people, who in their ignorance don't know any better, because we believe in learning, we believe and hope in the human spirit, and we believe and hope we can help contribute in a positive way to the future of our human race.========
Jackie Orsi Responds:
I find it remarkable that Ms. Kealoha's teacher training did not cover the need for boundaries, professional distance, and objectivity. Most human service professions insist on them in their code of ethics.
Nevertheless, Ms. Kealoha clearly loves being deeply involved in the lives of her students and their families. It is also clear that she believes that she performs a needed service for them. I ask, "Do they really need her?" Ms. Kealoha recognizes the ability of her families to make good educational choices on their own behalf. She tells us, "I just ask the family what assignments they want me to give them." (No wonder they call her "easy.") But why do they need her? To rubber-stamp their choices?
Year after year, hundreds of thousands of homeschooling families succeed without the intervention and validation of public school teachers. As an independent family evolves to homeschooling maturity-say, two, three or four years along the journey-it comes to recognize that the adventure is richer because the family has complete ownership of it. Families grow stronger and students grow stronger when they are left to figure out for themselves what an education is and how to make it happen. They try, they fail, they triumph, they experiment, they analyze, they storm, they resolve, and ultimately they create themselves. In contrast, a public independent study program dis-empowers families. It creates unnecessary dependency. To use Ms. Kealoha's own choice phrase, a "phantom of the State" comes on the scene and, by her very presence, prevents family members from taking full ownership of their lives.
If it's not about education, then what is this "need" relationship between public ISP teachers and the families who enroll? As the saying goes, "Follow the money." Public ISP teachers get paid and public ISP families get goodies, all furnished by taxpayers like you and me. Public ISPs are a public works project, paying teachers and family recipients to promote the fiction that homeschoolers need state intervention.
Actually it's the other way around. The state needs public ISPs so it can continue to embed a "friendly" phantom in every American family to keep them from learning how much they can accomplish on their own. Ms. Kealoha says, "I feel the ideal learning group is about 6 to 1." Ideal for whom? For a learner, five other personalities, with their varying potentials, paces, learning styles, and interests, are a complete hindrance to individual achievement. From the point of view of the state, making kids do everything in groups serves to keep that dangerous commodity, individuality, at bay. Group "learning" effectively teaches children to subordinate their own needs to the needs of the group.
Did I say, "The state?" Ms. Kealoha asserts, "There really is no such creature." Then who is it that takes part of my paycheck, tells me what I may do and when, and does it all with the power to deprive me of my liberty by throwing me in prison and to forcibly remove my children from me forever? The state, Ms. Kealoha, is no phantom.
She writes, 'The State can be lenient or harsh, depending upon what individual you happen to be dealing with at the moment, and depending on how that individual happens to interpret State Guidelines. The key word here is "interpret." When I began my job, I used to call it "bending" the rules. Now, I have learned to "interpret" them.' Ms. Kealoha confesses the truth about herself. And let me tell you, she is not the only government employee out there arbitrarily "interpreting" law. For three years I served as Legal Chair for the California Homeschool Network. I saw first-hand the harm can be done to families by power-happy government employees making up their own rules. I've even witnessed some of them inventing new laws on the spot when it served their purposes. Many of these bureaucrats aren't as nice as Ms. Kealoha. Some of them have vindictive minds and even sicker spirits. And all of them command the authority of the state, the very same state that can take away children and throw people into prison cells. In light of that, I prefer to keep all the phantoms of the state out of my home, and I recommend that my readers do the same.========
Who Stole Homeschooling?
After reading Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff's article in The Link (Vol. 5, Issue 1) my mind and heart were not at rest and I felt compelled to write.
Ms. Seelhoff makes some very good points in the article, and there is much she says that I agree with. Furthermore, she has been in the homeschooling movement much longer than I, and has more insight into its beginnings.
However, I wish to point out that in the years when homeschooling numbers swelled and grew in large percentages, a vast number of those joining the ranks were Christians. They were some of the key organizers in a lot of states. They were not "stealing" homeschooling groups in these areas, but were only wanting to organize a group where there was no group before. I realize this was obviously not the case everywhere, but it was in several states that we have lived in.
To these Christians, their faith was the very impetus and essence of their decision to homeschool. They met with other Christian families, and eventually organized both state and local groups. These are people who want the right to pray at the beginning of a meeting, and to close with prayer. These are parents who have strong views on the origin of the universe, the direction of mankind and the role Christ plays in the decisions they make as they homeschool their children. They want these truths, their worldview, to be intact, and to be a hedge around their children.
I feel strongly they should have a right to have their groups closed to those who do not hold their beliefs, as should Islamic or Jewish homeschoolers, or any other religious group within the homeschooling community.
After all, we all have a worldview, and we all feel strongly about how we are raising our children. We naturally want our children to be passionate about the things we are passionate about; whether it be ecology, animal rights, human rights, childbirth, breastfeeding or religion.
I must say as well that I do understand and agree with several of Ms. Seelhoff's questions and concerns. Obviously, some Christians have reacted to non-Christian homeschoolers in a negative and un-Christlike way. However, it is equally disconcerting to me to read an article which "comes against" or "exposes" any one group, be it Christian, pagan, Jewish, or not religious at all. It only serves to feed the "us vs. them" fire.
Although I am in an inclusive, non-religious support group now, I have been in other states where the only support groups I knew of were Christian. Some of these groups were quite large, and while I would meet one or two people who were more militant or political than most, as a whole the individual families involved do not have religious or political "agendas". I feel Ms. Seelhoff's insinuations resembled a "con-spiracy theory" of sorts. To take the actions of a small number of Christians and then label Christian homeschoolers as a whole is unfair, and as negative and accusatory as Ms. Seelhoff claims the Christians to have been.
Ms. Seelhoff implies that she wishes we could all find common ground as homeschoolers. Part of finding common ground is to accept that some home-schoolers, for religious reasons, will want support groups that reflect their religious beliefs.
We all have the freedom to find or start, in inclusive support group. Part of the strength of the homeschooling movement is our diversity. We are all from so many different backgrounds, cultures and worldviews. Let us give each other a little elbow room, stop arguing about who has the right or better way of child-rearing or homeschooling, and let us have our differences. Let us stop "exposing" each other's mistakes and shortcomings and just gon on living our lives and continuing the wonderful journey of educating our children at home.
Jane Turner, Masonville, IA=========
Cheryl Lindsey-Seelhoff Responds
I find it interesting that you assume that a vast number of those who swelled the homeschooling ranks in the early years were Christians, and a particular type of Christian, i.e., holding particular views relating to the origin of the universe, the direction of mankind, wanting to open and close support group meetings with prayer, and desiring that their particular worldview form a "hedge" around their children . . . These are beliefs common to a specific subset of conservative Christians. I don't think there is any way to know what the actual demographics or composition of the homeschooling movement might have been back when the homeschooling movement began to grow, or what it is now, when it has come of age, for that matter. In the beginning, as now, homeschoolers have come from every conceivable background and out of all faith traditions and no faith tradition. I think early on, many of those who would have identified themselves as Christians did not hold all or even some of the views you enumerate, and I think the same is true today. I don't think there is any way to know the numbers or percent- ages of conservative Christians versus non-Christians who entered the movement early on, and I don't think we know that today. There is not any way to know.
So how is it, do you think, that you have come to hold the belief that in the early years, the vast number of those joining the ranks of homeschoolers were conservative Christians? Where did you come by that particular understanding? Isn't it what you've heard from conservative Christian homeschooling leaders themselves? I've heard this too, and I understand that there are many who honestly believe it to be so - I'm not accusing anybody of deliberately distorting the facts -- but I don't think there is, in fact, any way to know whether this was so. The truth is, it has been repeated so often and so forcefully and with such certitude that most homeschoolers have accepted it on faith, whether or not it was ever true.
My own theory, based on 18 years in the homeschooling movement, is that while many Christians did join the movement in the early '80s, most of those Christians were not exclusivists in their beliefs or at heart. I believe most wanted to homeschool because they loved the idea, thought it would be the best thing for their children, and wanted to give their children every advantage. I think that it was only after they entered the homeschooling movement and began to hear and read certain teachings that many of these previously inclusivist, nonjudgmental Christians, for the first time in their Christian lives, began to be persuaded that their children's welfare might be endangered by their exposure to "the ungodly", and that it was their duty as Christians to separate themselves from such ungodly influences. This was certainly true in my case. I had been a Christian for 20 years when I began homeschooling, but I had never heard teachings related to being "separate" until I began homeschooling and listening to homeschooling leaders. These were powerful and sometimes scary teachings, and sincere and decent parents who were already nervous about homeschooling took them to heart. It is my belief that an entire generation of Christians across denominational boundaries, Christians who had previously not been exclusivist either by nature or belief, became fearful and judgmental in short order due in large part to these many teachings related to shielding and hedging and protecting children and separating themselves from the ungodly. And I think this set the stage for the stealing of a movement.
I think the only way you can steal a movement is to co-opt it from the inside, and I think that's what happened with homeschooling. Imagine being a pioneer homeschooler back in the 70s or 80s, perhaps an unschooler, maybe a Mormon, a Roman Catholic, a Quaker, a Hindu, an agnostic, an atheist. I knew pioneer homeschoolers out of all of these traditions, each one committed to seeing homeschooling made legal, each one a committed parent. Imagine working alongside conservative Christian homeschooling parents, testifying for homeschoolers in courts across the country and in state legislatures, working for the passage of legislation, talking to homeschoolers one on one, answering their questions, pointing them toward resources, sharing the names of other pioneers with whom you are working, sharing information, building networks and phone trees, getting together for conferences, getting to know one another well sometimes, talking by phone and by fax (for there was no internet then). Consider that in 1986 there was a national homeschooling conference sponsored by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore and attended by state and national leaders. Speakers were the Moores (Seventh Day Adventists), John Eidsmoe (a conservative Christian attorney), Michael Farris (President of Homeschool Legal Defense Association), Donna Richoux (of Growing Without Schooling, John Holt's secular home-schooling organization), and Phyllis Shlafly (of Eagle Forum, a conservative Christian women's group). This is the kind of cooperation which built a movement. Those who built the movement were as diverse, as gifted, as intelligent a group of people as can be imagined. They needed one another and depended upon one another.
Then imagine that almost overnight, some of these folks with whom you had worked for years to build this movement, folks to whom you had referred many others, whose writings you had published, whose services and products you had vigorously promoted and advertised, with whom you had shared the platform as speakers, with whom you had shared mailing lists, quietly, without explanation or apology, formed state and national homeschooling organizations and networks which excluded you completely -- which shut you out. Imagine that your writings and advertisements and tables and workshops are suddenly no longer welcome or sought. Imagine asking why and receiving no explanation except that Christian homeschoolers have a right to have their own organizations.
How would you feel about this, do you think? Imagine doing what you can to pick up the pieces, trying to understand what happened, not wanting to raise a ruckus out of not wanting to damage the movement you helped build, trying to gather bits and pieces of information wherever you could, wondering what went wrong. Imagine being completely excluded from important information loops - learning at the ninth hour of pending legislation in your state with which you heartily disagree, learning that homeschoolers have bombarded Congress with phone calls when you completely disagree with the position those homeschoolers have taken, without having received so much as a phone call, without having been consulted or even asked for your thoughts or opinions. Imagine leaders in the groups who have shut you out, speaking on behalf of the nation's homeschoolers in ways which you could never approve, with which you do not agree, and when you object, being told you should be willing to submit to the will of the majority. Imagine the years passing and learning that you have been described by former homeschooling friends and allies as "humanistic," or "ungodly", or "worldly" or "member of a cult". Imagine the years passing and thousands and thousands of new homeschoolers not even knowing you ever existed, although you poured your heart and soul and very life into a movement for decades, long before many of those homeschoolers were even born. Imagine multiplied local, state, and national organizations and publications refusing to acknowledge your existence. Imagine good, intelligent, people with excellent resources and years of experience effectively silenced, made persona non grata, forgotten.
Does this matter, would you think? Should this matter? It matters to me. And I think it should matter to all homeschoolers. We are still a proportionately small movement, and we need one another. I believe we are all so much the poorer for these many offenses and divisions and slights which have never been addressed or resolved, in some cases not even acknowledged, and this by Christian people whose mission it is, at least in part, to bring healing, reconciliation, and peace to a broken world. Don't we owe people a little more than, "Christians have a right to have their exclusive organizations, go build your own."?
I am all for as much diversity and as many options in the homeschooling community as can be developed. I am not against exclusive, statement of faith groups or organizations, state, local, or national, and I never have been, as long as they are straight and up front about their goals, agendas, activities and requirements. I hope they prosper, I hope they grow, I hope their members and leaders are successful and their children happy. At the same time, I think the cause of homeschooling can only be well served when all homeschooling groups, whatever their philosophical or religious bent, at a bare minimum, begin to acknowledge one another's existence, begin to point those new to homeschooling to the kind of support they want and need, whether inclusive or exclusive, and when all homeschoolers give honor where honor is due, regardless of their religious or philosophical perspectives.
I agree with you that most homeschoolers are interested only in finding support as they homeschool their kids. Those who have religious and political agendas, I agree, are in the minority. And I agree that many, possibly most, homeschoolers, particularly those in exclusive groups, remain blissfully oblivious to the realities of homeschooling history which I have elucidated. Many are not even aware that there are homeschoolers who do not homeschool for religious reasons, that such homeschoolers were instrumental in beginning the homeschooling movement, and especially, that those homeschoolers have been deliberately marginalized, harmed and offended by exclusivity and division. Again, shouldn't this matter? Looking back over the past 18 years, I see a movement once inspiring in its unity, enthusiasm and camaraderie now in disarray and disunity, polarized, its members alienated one from another. As much as I can appreciate the distaste for negativity, I believe that unless we begin to face up to and come to terms with how we have failed one another and hurt one another in the past, we will continue to fail and hurt one another in the future, with homeschooling families now and in the future ultimately the losers.
I don't think there was ever any conspiracy, and I don't think there are heroes and villains here, only people who were doing what they believed at the time was right. It's always much easier to evaluate history with the benefit of hindsight, while clarity in the moment is much more difficult, I realize that. I think it's always good and wise to be merciful, and to extend the benefit of the doubt wherever and whenever we can to everybody involved in an offense or dispute. At the same time, denying the painful realities of our community's history, refusing to discuss them, pretending they never happened, sweeping them under the rug as though they were or are not important or should be forgotten, aggravates those offenses and keeps us from evaluating together how it was that we failed one another, with an eye towards avoiding making similar mistakes in the future. Most important of all, it robs us of any hope for the day when the hurts are healed and once again we can walk alongside one another, encouraging, supporting, and trusting one another, treating one another with respect. Unhealthy communities refuse to face up to their problems and difficulties, and unhealthy communities do not want their messengers to bring bad news. Healthy communities face up to their problems, talk about them, analyze them, beat them into the ground sometimes, then forgive one another, even laugh together, remembering, and move into the future with greater wisdom, greater compassion, greater humility. That is my dearest hope for the home-schooling community I have loved for nearly two decades now, and this is why I wrote, "Who Stole Homeschooling."
Dear Mrs. Leppert:
As a longtime reading instruction specialist, I naturally followed with interest your interview with Dr. Renee Fuller, creator of the "Ball-Stick-Bird" reading program. (The Link, Vol. 5, Issue 1). I came away from reading her comments with mixed feelings of satisfaction and disappointment.
As for the former sensation, she is correct in emphasizing the fact that homeschoolers should be wary of the terms dyslexic or dyslexia, as they currently are bandied about by public school people. In truth, there are so many different contradictory, and/or experimentally invalidated definitions of these terms, as they are posed by the public school establishment, that they have become nonfunctional.
Unfortunately, Dr. Fuller unnecessarily persists in the use of the terms in several parts of her interview commentary (e.g., she refers to "severely dyslexic kids") without offering her readers definitions of them that she feels are supportable. Homeschoolers should know that it is far more legitimate and practical to discontinue use of the terms, and to replace them with accounts of specific reading disabilities a given child exhibits.
In addition, Dr. Fuller mentions some experimental research findings of the 1970s that she claims proves that if children who have not learned to read "come from homes with a lot of books and where there is a tremendous emphasis on reading," they readily "figure out how to teach themselves to read when they get into adolescence." That is a dangerous message to send to homeschoolers, however, since it is an experimentally invalid one at present.
Today, it is well-established empirically that a "Matthew effect" takes place in this regard. As the Bible says, people who make gains early on in life tend to prosper at later times. In like fashion, children who from school entry onward make satisfactory progress in learning to read, tend to be able readers during their future years in school. Children who do not , do not, it almost always is found.
On the other hand, to her credit, Dr. Fuller is well aware of the degree to which the popular but experimentally unconfirmed Whole Language (WL) approach to teaching reading in public schools systematically denies children full opportunity to read. As the aptly observes, WL instruction is "a disaster" in that regard. Why, then, do public educators persist in conducting ineffectual WL reading lessons?
As the astutely notes, the fact is these educators make up "an entrenched monopoly" that does not have to be accountable for the ineffectiveness of its teaching of reading, doubtless is a factor at work in this respect. And, it is apparent that the monopoly "makes a lot of money off these [reading disability] diseases" with which it claims children failing to learn to read are afflicted. Dr. Fuller's observation that children's nonsuccess in gaining reading skills also creates more "job security" for public school teachers is true, although the situation is tragically ironical.
Homeschoolers also can be assured that the early emphasis that Dr. Fuller's program puts on developing children's conscious awareness of the alphabet and speech sounds is experimentally corroborated for developing both reading and spelling skills. The two best predictors (in the following order) of how well beginning readers will progress are (1) their phonemic awareness (conscious awareness of the speech sounds in spoken words, and (2) their knowledge of letters. The fact her reading program recommends direct, intensive, systematic, early, and comprehensive (DISEC) instruction of a prearranged sequence of discrete reading skills puts it into conformity with the relevant scientific evidence on how children best learn to read.
Therefore, Dr. Fuller's reference to beginning readers' "I.Q." as a predictor of their progress in learning to read is superfluous. Homeschoolers are better advised to detect children's phonemic and letter awareness for that purpose. I thus was disconcerted that Dr. Fuller used the final part of her interview time to discuss whether or not learning to read competently improves a child's I.Q. To engage rationally in consideration of that issue, one first must describe which of the many, varied descriptions of intelligence now extant, that one favors, and why. As noted above, there is no imperative reason that homeschoolers must get involved in this highly controversial debate in order to teach their children to read proficiently.
I am nonplussed further with Dr. Fuller's statement that she aims to "teach the simplest letters first." I gather that she means by this, the letter-speech sound combinations that occur the most regularly, i.e., the phonics rules that, when applied, result in the most predictable sounding-out of letters in words.
"The simplest letter is obviously the i," she claims. That assertion patently is inaccurate. The letter i in written words can be sounded-out five different ways. The letters h, j, r and v, by contrast, are sounded-out in a single way. On average, the vowel letters (a, e, i, o, u) are sounded-out in more different ways than are the consonant letters.
I also believe that to be credible, Dr. Fuller must offer her readers citations to the published evidence on which she bases her claim that her reading program "within a year" will change "a normal four- or five-year-old" into "an adult reader." These then five- and six-year-olds supposedly will be able to successfully comprehend the content of the Encyclopedia Britannica, she avers. I know of no published data that confirms any reading program has such a positive effect. I also fear that unless such remarkable claims for DISEC phonics teaching are aptly documented, the making of them raises unwarranted suspicions as to its effectiveness. The advocates of WL reading teaching, ever alert to refer to exaggerations about the effectiveness of DISEC teaching as a means to disparage it in the minds of teachers, must not be provided ammunition to do so. I trust that Dr. Fuller would agree.
Patrick Groff, Professor Emeritus