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It Was Twenty (Nope) Twenty-Five Years Ago Today

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By Linda Dobson

It Was Twenty Twenty-Five Years Ago Today

SgtPeppersLonelyHeartsClubLogoI wish I could say that the topics for each issue’s Road Less Traveled column appear by osmosis when needed. The truth is that they arrive more as a result of a process that begins when I realize that the next column deadline is, oh, about a month away. At that time I place the need for a topic squarely on the subconscious back-burner where it becomes a gentle awareness to be on the look-out for something good, interesting, important, or otherwise worthy of your reading time. There is news to watch, of course, not to mention homeschooling trends hanging on the horizon. The time of year at which you will be reading (as opposed to my writing) is also taken into account.

This time, deadline grew closer than usual, and still no one single good idea moved from the back to a front burner. In other words, I had to move from reliance on subconscious inspiration to conscious thought about this issue’s topic.

How fortuitous! Not that I necessarily appreciate the reminder of the rapid passage of time but, had it not been for conscious thought, a pending anniversary might have passed by unnoticed. You see, I realized it was (similar to what the Beatles sang so long ago) twenty years ago today that with great trepidation my family plunged into the unknown world of homeschooling.

My mind raced through the years, and the changes they have brought. Back then, news of homeschooling was scarce, and often included word of yet another family battling for the right to homeschool in court or, in some instances, standing up for their right by sitting in jail. Indeed, as if to punctuate the thought even as I write this, I just received an Internet link to a June 26, 2005 St. Petersburg Times article titled “Homeschooling: It’s Not What You Think.” The lengthy article begins: “Twenty years ago, homeschooling was a crime in Florida. Parents who wanted to teach their kids at home did so in secrecy. With blinds drawn.”

In my own state of residence at the time, homeschooling’s legality resided in a gray cloud, “permissible” in one town, verboten in another, dependent largely on the school district superintendent’s personal feelings on the matter (or, perhaps, on whether or not he had an argument with his wife on the morning of a home educator’s request for permission). For several years the cloud remained large and threatening enough for me to conclude it was safer to take cover underground, complete with drawn blinds, than to risk losing the opportunity to educate my children in the manner that just felt so right. I know that the freedom to homeschool in relative peace twenty years later is a result of the persistence, dedication, and courage of the few, long before there were many.

Back then, the homeschooling community was small and far flung. On checking for existing support groups, it wasn’t unusual to find that the closest one was one hundred – or more – miles away. No Internet, no e-mail, no unlimited long distance phone call plans. Getting and staying in touch with like-minded souls could be expensive (long distance calls), time consuming (snail mail), or both. For many if not most, communication and camaraderie required a sacrificial investment of time and money.

Perhaps this helped bond the small, scattered community. Perhaps we were just so glad to find others who wanted to play (and learn) in the same way we did that, like small children in a park on a sunny day, our differences could be tossed to the wind, so focused on the pleasure and promise of our similarities we were. Certain that there will be those who accuse me of viewing these past twenty years through rose-colored glasses, let me make it clear that I realize everything wasn’t all peachy. Even then people were working hard to make distinctions between families who homeschooled for religious reasons and those who did not. Still, I doubt that back then anyone could have imagined today’s plethora of homeschooling subdivisions, let alone perceive a need for such.

It was twenty years ago today, and so much remains the same. That St. Petersburg Times coverage of homeschooling I mentioned earlier? It includes an extra section called “Can They Learn Everything at Home?” that begins: “Homeschool parents know the question before it’s asked: What about socialization?” Another current article on my desk, courtesy of the New York Times, states in its headline, “Taught at Home, but Seeking to Join Activities at Public Schools.” And in my former state of residence, the e-mail “alert” list is discussing more restrictive changes to the homeschooling regulations – yet again.

It was twenty years ago today. How fortuitous, for all of us. Both then and now.

This article originally appeared in Home Education Magazine, well,  five years ago.

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