by Zan Tyler
|State organizations serve the homeschooling community tremendously by providing instruction, encouragement, and training through symposiums, conferences, and conventions. By providing speakers that teach the principles of liberty and the importance of advancing homeschool freedoms, state organizations offer an invaluable service to parents.|
|- J. Michael Smith|
Every day, hundreds of thousands of committed mothers and fathers selflessly devote themselves to the task of teaching their children at home. Free from the strictures of government bureaucracy and standardization, these parents create positive learning environments that engage their children's learning styles and respect their individuality. For Christian parents, the most appealing benefit of homeschooling is the ability to incorporate their faith and convictions into the educational process. At the end of the day, their children's faith in God has been affirmed, their worldview strengthened, and their family life enriched. Like a diamond, the beauty of homeschooling is truly multi-faceted.
Homeschooling parents are, by definition and necessity, an independent lot. They are pioneers in the frontiers of parent-directed education. And, yet, during the course of the last 20 years, these same parents have astutely perceived the need to band together to form extremely successful state homeschooling organizations. State organizations have played essential roles in the amazing political, legal, and PR successes of the modern homeschooling movement.
Christopher Klicka, senior counsel for HSLDA observes:
After working in the homeschooling movement for 18 years, I've found that the state homeschool associations are crucial for maintaining the freedom to homeschool in each state. It is important for individual families to be involved with their state organizations so that homeschoolers have solidarity throughout the state. As Benjamin Franklin said, "If we do not hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately!"
Susan Beatty, co-founder, board member, and Communications Director for Christian Home Education Association of California, says, "State organizations promote camaraderie. When we are part of a bigger group, we realize that we are not alone. When we band together, we can make our voices heard."
According to tradition, when the eighteenth century composer Franz Joseph Haydn attended the Westminster Abbey performance of the Hallelujah Chorus, he "stood with the crowd, wept and exclaimed, 'He is the Master of us all.'" (Oxford Companion, 5th Ed.) One or two voices could not have evoked this type of response from Haydn. Sometimes, it takes a choir.
State organizations have, in many respects, become choirs for the homeschooling movement. When we join our voices together, we create a quality musical performance that cannot be duplicated by one or two voices singing alone. By joining the choir, homeschooling parents don't surrender their individuality or personal convictions and responsibilities. On the contrary, we reaffirm them as we commit to work together in the public square. As in all good choirs, participants sing different parts. We all have unique talents and gifts to contribute. When we, as Christian home educators, join our voices together, we should desire for our communities to be so moved by the power and emotion of the music that they exclaim with Haydn, "He is the Master of us all."
|For many years I have viewed HSLDA as the Air Force and state homeschooling organizations as the Army. The Air Force can take out particular targets and can support the ground attack. State organizations are the forces that 'occupy the land' allowing freedom to be sustained.|
|- Michael P. Farris|
In spite of the important role state homeschooling organizations play in the continued growth and well-being of the homeschooling movement, "Serving Homeschoolers at the State Level: Current Perceptions," a recent survey conducted by Thomas W. Washburne, Esq., Director of HSLDA's National Center for Home Education, concludes the following:
Overall, slightly less than one-half (48%) of homeschoolers consider themselves to be involved in some way with a state homeschooling organization . . . Those homeschoolers not involved with a state organization, 52% of the total, indicated that they were not involved for a number of reasons.1 When asked directly, about half (52%) said they were not involved with a state organization because they "just never thought about getting involved with it or didn't know about it."2
Homeschooling organizations are involved in a wide array of essential activities. As you read through the following information, pray for the state leaders, board members, and volunteers involved in these organizations. Today would be a good day for you to become involved in your state's organization if you are not already! Make a note of those areas that are appealing to you and in which you are gifted, and call your state organization today. (Contact information is provided on page 29.)
Lobbying and legislative activities
"State homeschool organizations are vitally important to maintaining a favorable legal climate for home instruction. The stronger the state organization, the safer it is for home educators. Legislators and other government officials know that state organizations represent the voices of thousands of homeschooling families when they speak," says Dewitt Black, Senior Counsel for HSLDA.
In "Serving Homeschoolers at the State Level," HSLDA asked members the following question: "What activity of state organizations is the most important?" Eighty-five percent of the respondents answered, "Working with the state legislatures."3
In fact, many state homeschooling organizations were organized in the 1980s and early 1990s to fight bad homeschooling laws and to help draft and implement favorable legislation. These years were marked with intense legal and legislative battles. Today, state organizations continue to serve as watchdogs in their respective state legislatures.
HSLDA provides assistance in this continuous vigil on several different levels. They employ a legislative monitoring service that alerts state leaders to legislation that should be examined and observed-complimenting the state organization's own monitoring procedures. Secondly, HSLDA attorneys are available to state leaders to aid in the process of defeating harmful legislation, while helping with the implementation of positive legislative change.
During the 2002 legislative session, homeschoolers in South Carolina were blindsided by a bill that threatened to nullify the diplomas earned by homeschooled graduates. This bill had the potential to prohibit homeschool graduates from attending state colleges, holding state jobs, or running for state office. Dewitt Black worked alongside state leaders to help defeat this threatening legislation by activating HSLDA e-lerts and by traveling to South Carolina to testify before the Senate Education Committee.
To strengthen their overall legislative presence, many state organizations host legislative days at their state capitols for both homeschooling parents and children. Claiborne and Lana Thornton, board members for the Tennessee Home Education Association, have been organizing the annual Capitol Hill Rally and Legislative Reception Day for years. The day features a luncheon, outstanding student presentations, instructions for effective lobbying, and opportunities for homeschooling families to meet with their legislators.
Regarding the legislative work of state organizations, Chris Klicka issues this clarion call: "State organizations cannot effectively lobby on behalf of and serve homeschoolers unless individuals support them."
If you have not done so already, it is time to join the choir!
Helping new homeschoolers
Kevin Swanson, Executive Director of Christian Educators of Colorado (CHEC), believes that "helping new homeschoolers get started is the heart and soul of CHEC's ministry." CHEC sends out over 2,000 introductory packets to interested parents annually. Additionally, the CHEC office receives five to ten calls per day from people who want help in getting started.
CHEC's major emphasis, however, is on encouraging prospective homeschoolers to attend one of their introductory seminars. Kevin says,
These seminars meet people at a very important time in their homeschooling journey, and that's at the beginning. The probability of somebody sticking with homeschooling will rely, to a great extent, upon the equipping they received at the beginning. In our Intro Seminars, we start with the homeschooling vision. We go straight to the heart of homeschooling, which includes individualized, parent-directed programs, freedom from government control, and Christ-centeredness.
CHEC began hosting the Intro Seminars about six years ago, at the rate of one or two a year. Today CHEC conducts these six-hour seminars 16 times per year, in all corners of the state.
Susan Beatty observes that parents enjoy the community aspect of their state convention, which traditionally attracts an annual attendance of 5,000-6,500. "When homeschooling parents come face-to-face with that many other homeschoolers, suddenly they realize they are not alone. There are others going through the same struggle; there are others to share information with; and they immediately share a common bond."
CHEA is also firmly committed to a convention that incorporates a great deal of instruction for parents in the form of workshops and keynote sessions. The convention is much more than just a curriculum fair. Susan explains, "Parents must continue to grow and learn if they want their children to do the same. The teaching is an important aspect of our convention. We bring in top speakers and curriculum vendors as a service to our parents."
For the past two years, attendance at the Pennsylvania homeschooling convention has exceeded 8,000 people. Kim Huber, board member for the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP), focuses constantly on the need for CHAP to serve homeschoolers in Pennsylvania. Kim said that each year the Pennsylvania convention attracts a large number of new homeschoolers. Convention attendees can register for the convention online or through the CHAP telephone service.
Kim believes that state organizations should host annual conventions for three reasons: to provide information, encouragement, and rejuvenation. "Often," she explains, "it is not easy for homeschooling parents to find the time to reflect and refuel. Because state organizations have been blessed with the finances and resources, we have the opportunity to bring national speakers and curriculum experts together for the support and encouragement of homeschooling families."
Kim agrees with Susan Beatty on the importance of providing an opportunity for fellowship through state conventions: "By being able to listen to speakers and talk to other homeschooling families (even after 20 years of homeschooling), I come back rejuvenated with a new vision for what God has for our family and what God has for homeschooling in general."
Newsletters are an important vehicle for disseminating information and providing encouragement. Almost all state organizations have them in one form or another. Some states like California and Indiana produce slick full-color magazines. Other states stick to a much simpler format. Regardless of the layout, newsletters contain a wide spectrum of informative and inspirational articles, from teaching tips to coping strategies to field trip information.
Newsletters remain a viable way for organizations to maintain vital connections with their members. While homeschooling mothers cannot always clear their paths and schedules to attend a meeting or a convention, they can carve out the time it takes to stay in touch by reading the newsletter. Not surprisingly, 88% of the respondents in the recent National Center survey indicated that a statewide newsletter is important to their family.
In addition to printed newsletters, many state organizations have added e-newsletters to the publications they provide. E-newsletters have two decided advantages over print newsletters-they are quick and cheap. A quarterly newsletter or magazine can be in the production process for as long as a month. By the time the newsletter lands in the members' boxes, much of the information may already be outdated.
E-newsletters, on the other hand, can be written and sent to members in an extremely short time period. This becomes especially vital during the legislative session when information needs to be disseminated as quickly as possible.
The South Carolina Association of Independent Homeschools (SCAIHS) devotes large amounts of time to collecting information on available resources and field trips for homeschooling families. Kathy Carper, the president of SCAIHS, has always made the newsletter a top priority. Kathy knows that, in light of the many responsibilities the typical homeschooling mother must shoulder, she simply does not have the time to assimilate that kind of information on her own. The SCAIHS staff counts it a privilege to serve both the parent and the child by putting outstanding resources and opportunities in the hands of homeschooling families.
The technological revolution has been a blessing for the homeschooling community. Many state organizations have developed sophisticated websites that provide invaluable information on getting started, timely updates on legislative issues, and helpful information on general homeschooling topics.
Kevin Swanson says that 25 to 30 percent of new homeschoolers now visit their website as their first point of contact. This type of technology is especially helpful to state organizations who do not have paid staff members to handle large volumes of phone calls. Websites provide a vehicle for immediately putting necessary information into the hands of their members and new homeschoolers, without having to invest large chunks of volunteers' time in phone calls.
Providing encouragement and support
State homeschooling organizations exist to serve the homeschooling community. These organizations are always on the lookout for ways to encourage their fellow pilgrims. As we have already discussed, these organizations help new homeschoolers get started; they host inspirational and informative workshops and conventions; they invest countless hours in creating beneficial newsletters and publications; and they guard our liberties through legislative monitoring and effective lobbying.
As the homeschooling movement matures, many older women are working through their state organizations as a way to fulfill the Titus 2 mandate to "encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, … and to be workers at home" (Titus 2:4-5).
Training new leaders
State organizations are vital to a healthy homeschool movement. Whether the task at hand is putting on a state conference or stopping bad legislation, these servant-leaders have given of themselves to help families teach their own children in their own homes.
- Scott W. Somerville
State leaders understand the constant need to locate and train new leadership. To this end, state organizations provide formal training and informal mentoring opportunities for state board members and local support group leaders.
Rich Stauter is the president of Loving Education at Home (LEAH), New York's state homeschooling organization. His wife Pam is also a LEAH board member and works diligently with Rich in the effort to encourage and train homeschool leaders. According to Pam,
We have tried to center a lot of our work on individual chapter leaders across the state. It's a huge geographical challenge for our state. We try to pull these leaders aside twice a year. In the fall we have a big meeting, and that's really for full-day work. And then at the convention we have our other semi-annual meeting, which involves just a few hours. Rich and I try to do a monthly mailing to the chapter leaders to keep them up-to-date. We want to focus on mentoring new leaders, as well being mindful of the whole realm of other church and family responsibilities these leaders have. We want to help them keep things in perspective.
HSLDA also partners with state leaders in this training venture by hosting and providing the manpower for regional and state leadership symposiums. For more information on how to bring a symposium to your state, contact Dana Henry at 540-338-5600.
Helping local support groups
State organizations and local support groups usually work hand-in-hand. They help each other network and they support each other's activities. Support groups provide a fertile soil for lending a helping hand to new homeschoolers, for providing love and support to veteran homeschoolers, and for providing social events and field-trip opportunities for homeschooled students.
I see the effort to promote homeschooling and to keep it safe as a team effort between HSLDA and the state organizations.
- J. Michael Smith
State organizations often help new homeschoolers plug into local support groups. Most of the time, it is simply a matter of posting contact information for support groups on the state website, and including this information in "intro packets" sent out to new homeschoolers in the state.
If you are looking for a local support group in your area, call your state homeschooling association or visit their website.
1 Washburne, Tom, "Serving Homeschoolers at the State Level: Current Perceptions. A Survey of Members of the Home School Legal Defense Association" (paper presented at the National Christian Home Educators Leadership Conference, Rapid City, SD, October 2002). Direct response to question NT6. "Do you belong to a local support group?
"a. Yes." 443 respondents (52%)
2 Ibid. Direct response to question NT1. "What is your primary reason for not being involved with the statewide organization?
"c. I've just never thought about getting involved with it/didn't know about it." 444 respondents (52%)
3 Ibid. Direct responses to questions YT3 and NT2, overall percentages derived from combining like responses.
About the author
Zan Tyler is the Home School Resource and Media Consultant for Broadman & Holman Publishers and the Editor of the Homeschool Channel for LifeWay's Web Network (www.lifeway.com/homeschool). She is the founder and past president of the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools. She and her husband Joe have three children and have homeschooled since 1984.