Should We Believe Everything We Read?
© Beverley Paine, 2005
It was pointed out to me today that a problem with promoting something like homsechooling is that it is then open to inaccurate promotion. Some people, burned by experiences of 'untrue' homeschoolng stories, where the writer, safe "behind the comfort of the computer screen with no one to see how their life really happens, can write whatever they like, including things that are not true or accurate representations of their homeschooling life. The adage that we need to take what we read or view with "a large helping of salt" is always wise advice, and it's true that"pretty and perfect pictures of home ed" portrayed in homeschooling magazines and newsletters may lead "an inexperienced person to believe something that may well not be true, and that they therefore cannot live up to".
I began writing to share my homeschooling experiences with other like-minded parents in 1989. It's never been my intention to misrepresent the joys, successes, trials and tribulations of homeschooling. I often felt the victim of bright and glossy stories of child progidies and wonderfully warm and fuzzy tales of homeschooling family life... One day it occured to me that in sharing my joy at my children's learning experiences I was doing exactly what those authors of articles I read in Growing Without Schooling had done. My joyful tales no doubt undermined others' confidence, but I know they also inspired, because of the feedback I received. Encouraged, I continued to write for a homeschooling audience.
Writing is an inaccurate art form. In that it is no different from any other art form. The adult viewer or reader should be aware that what they are seeing or reading is a representation of life - nothing retold can be an exact accurate portrayal. Once written or captured on film what is read or viewed is simply an interpretation.
I am pleased that the publications that I have written for - including those I mentioned in my post yesterday - also include portrayals that demonstrate the not-so-rosy side of homeschooling life. Topics I've written on, and read articles and letters by others, include how to cope with "burn out", homeschooling and depression, worrying about unmotivated learners, coping with educating children at home with support, coping with prejudice and discrimination, making ends meet when money or illness becomes a problem. I may be naive and I have a tendency to trust, but I've been impressed by the honesty and desire to share personal experiences. Writing isn't something that anyone feels comfortable doing and not everyone feels okay about revealing their personal lives to total strangers, words that can now travel around the world and turn up anywhere. It takes guts to send those words out to that unknown audience. One only has to look at the membership of lists like this to see that the bulk of members are readers, not writers...
Twenty years ago few people felt comfortable writing on the disadvantages of homeschooling, except in guarded terms and then we stuck to the issues like the effects on home life caused by the lack of that second income. A decade ago I noticed a trend to begin to write about our fears more, and how we were managing and coping. I find that when I talk about my 'mistakes' at seminars people come up to me afterwards and share their relief at finding that they're normal and that mucking up and not getting it right or perfect is part of the learning process and that its okay.
I don't feel the need to promote the happy rosy picture of homeschooling life and never have. I began my 'crusade' to find like-minded people I can share the good and the bad times of homeschooling with, so that I may be reassured I'm not a freak and that I'm not damaging my children by being different from my school-going neighbours. I know and have met and count among my friends many, many homeschooling writers who are completely genuine and give their time, often during the small hours of the morning or when the children are tucked in bed at night, to share their experiences so that we may all feel part of a community, supporting each other.
I write guidebooks for homeschoolers - not for money because writing simply doesn't pay for 95% of writers - because it's less time consuming that spending the hours on the phone that I used to... I became tired of sore throats and my children resented the time the phone took away from being with them. I wrote Getting Started with Homeschooling because telling people how we got exemption several times a week - information that was directly asked for - became tedious and disrupting. It's not the definitive guide to homeschooling but I'm proud of it. It tells it exactly as it was - sums up ten years of my homeschooling life, together with Learning in the Absence of Education . The responses I have had to both books convinces me that us homeschooling writers have an audience that appreciates our efforts - an audience that realises that homeschooling isn't the answer to all their parenting and educating problems, and that life is, foremost, a personal learning journey.
We're all trying to do the best we can for our children. I find that homeschooling authors are motivated to share - share what works and doesn't work for them. If we're imperfect in our craft, then that's because we're human. If we err occasionally, then that's because we're human. It's a learning journey.
It is true there are writers who deliberately set out to 'sell' to their audience, be it an idea or lifestyle or product. Remember, it's not a captive audience - the reader or viewer can always stop reading or watching. I've heard stories about homeschooling writers who don't live what they write. But in getting hung up on the honesty of the content and questioning the integrity of the writer might I be missing the essential message? Were all the parables and stories told by Jesus, or the myths, legends and fables told by people throughout history to their children 'true' accounts of real happenings? Did they need to be? I don't believe so. All stories are told from a point of view and that view is always subjective. Truth is something we experience for ourselves. We can pick the truth we need from what we read and view. That approach has always led to learning experiences for me.
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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