Homeschoolers often divide themselves into categories by making people sign statements of faith or affirm other qualifiers before they can join certain groups, and this self-selection makes some sense for groups that want to maintain uniformity among their ranks. However, researchers also love to categorize homeschoolers. One of the first distinctions I encountered in 1981 was “secular” versus “religious” homeschoolers, but these labels do not begin to cover the range of people and reasons for homeschoolers. Dr. Paula Rothermel, a British researcher who also homeschooled her children, has a brilliant paper in the latest issue of The Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning that examines the use of these labels and “how viewing home educators as ‘types’ is useful only to those local authorities aiming to integrate children into school.”
I couldn’t agree more with Rothermel; after all, when homeschoolers are divided into just two camps, such as ideologues and pedagogues as one researcher did, how do you identify yourself? Isn’t any believer in compulsory education a type of ideologue as well as a pedagogue? Then you get even more types of homeschoolers as researchers try to fit us into other neat little boxes of needs and motivations:
The reality of the situation, as I’ve encountered it in my own family and with the thousands of families I’ve met and worked with over the years, is that all these labels can fit any homeschooler at a particular time. Rothermel suggests that instead of using categories that researchers use strata to define homeschoolers: “ . . . first, as a superficially homogenous group, second, as diverse groups, third, as families, and fourth, as individuals. This stratum approach provides insight into the increasing numbers of families who are choosing to home-educate and their growing appearance as a movement. Further, it allows for the way families adapt, both over time and concurrently, as they learn, produce more children and tailor their different approaches to different children within the family.”
Families adapt their homeschooling practices over time to adjust to all sorts of new inputs and variables; this is borne-out by Rothermel’s research of 100 home educators in the United Kingdom. She found this group to be “ . . . fluid and transient at all levels of process. Families begin home education for a reason that very quickly changes, even that initial rationale is likely to be a response to many unconnected and innocuous events; they continually alter their approach according to the philosophical and physical changes within the family, the changing needs of the children, and the changing ages of the children. Physical changes can relate to changes in family size, divorce, changes in partners, partner gender, location and parental age. Schools do not have to continually adapt to the level of change that is integral to the home educator and his family. Home education is an unavoidably dynamic process, unique in UK education. A school teaches the same curriculum day after day, regardless of the families whose children they enroll.”
Another great reason to read the latest issue of JUAL are the articles about the inappropriateness of comparing A.S. Neill to Rousseau (it brought back memories of an article I wrote about the inappropriateness of comparing John Holt to Rousseau), and Canadian research on how students view their success in school and what factors keep them engaged or hinder their success in high school.