The word “homeschooling” has caused many misunderstandings and arguments over the course of the past decade (perhaps even longer). Some want to see it defined in laws in order to keep our freedoms. Some feel that this would do the exact opposite, and pull us all under an unwanted umbrella.
But one of the biggest issues with the word “homeschooling” is – what does it mean, exactly?
Does it mean “learn at home?” If so, then anyone and everyone who who does any kind of educating in their house falls under that definition. Having this very broad definition might not be a problem, except when it’s brought into law. A word with this broad of a meaning in law could be far too powerful and ambiguous to be useful. It can even be dangerous.
So, if homeschoolers aren’t “everyone who educates at home”, who are they? Are they people who use private school independent study programs? Are they families who use public charter schools and never (or rarely) report to a brick and mortar class? What about families who do not use a private or public program, but their children are in a million different independent classes all over town? Does it only mean people who don’t use any kind of program at all? Drawing a line in the sand is impossible.
So, what is a homeschooler exactly? Well, it depends why you are using it, and in which context. In some contexts, such as legislation and educational codes, the term might be very clearly defined according to the state or district’s own perspective (or not). And, its reason for needing a definition will depend on the other educational codes already in existance. On the other hand, in the context of park day or among family, the definition of a homeschooler is much different, and perhaps, irrelevant.
The one place that the term “homeschooling” does not belong is in federal laws. It already exists there in two places (one in the NCLB laws, and once in the military recruitement laws) and in both places, its meaning is ambiguous. Who are they exactly referring to when they say “homeschoolers” in the NCLB laws? And who are they referring to in the military recruitment? It depends on who you ask, and what kind of mood they are in that day. But really, ultimately it depends on which state you are in. The federal legislative mentions of homeschooling mean nothing until you go into an individual state and look at their laws and educational codes. And even then, the federal mention still might not have any weight. So, the big question is – why is the word there at all?
Everyone has their own idea of what “homeschooling” is, and what it should be. But at the end of the day, it ends up being the decision of the person or organization using the word on how to use it.
What does this mean for our future freedoms to educate our children without government intervention? It’s really hard to tell. I have confidence, however, that we won’t lose our freedom to be independent educators, no matter how the jury swings. What things are called, and the educational security measures in place may vary through time. But in the end, home educators are a smart bunch. We know our rights, and we’ll find a way to exercise them, whether that be by changing a name or by understanding the educational codes better than policy makers do.
That doesn’t mean, however that I want to fight that fight. If you ask me, the easiest way is to just leave homeschooling and family educational choices out of the law. Period.