Sunday, March 27, 2011

Community

Change is inevitable, it seems, and personally, I find it important to not become too attached to things looking a certain way or I become perpetually frustrated. Because change can be good, right? It's important to adjust accordingly, right? To be flexible? Open? Optimistic?

Right! But change can also alter the quality of a thing to the point where it no longer resembles what it once was.

In many communities throughout BC, Distributed Learning (DL) has changed the way connection between home learning families happens. Grass-roots support groups are folding in some communities as they are no longer needed. In some rural areas of BC, the only support available is through the local DL. There simply are no community support groups because the local DL is the "it" place to go for activities and connection. If people don't belong to that DL, then they don't get to join in with organized home learning activities in their community: all activities are organized, facilitated and paid for by the DL school. Support has become "institutionalized".

Sandy Keane writes:
"When our kids were young in the mid 90s, if someone was interested in a certain activity, we would poll the members of our support group to find out if anyone had any knowledge to share and went ahead and arranged it for ourselves and made it happen. We shared information and skills and only rarely hired anybody. Shakespeare workshops were a notable exception, but the space, choosing of the mentor, and other arrangements were all done by the parents of the kids who wanted the classes. Now the majority of group activities are arranged by paid staff through the DLs. Parents look through a list of things to do and choose from what is offered. I'm not saying that I think this is wrong, but I do feel there is something lost when kids don't grow up being part of, or at least witness to the process of making things happen."
And the effect of DL on community doesn't even have to be that dramatic. I have personally witnessed the slow decline of community field trips as posted on a local "hotline" since I first joined in 2003. People used to take advantage of group rates and set up field trips more often when they didn't have the money. Now, they can use school funds to pay for their field trips, so they aren't as reliant on the group to help stretch their budgets. Personally, I'm not a fan of organized field trips so that's never bothered me, but it does mean that people new to a group have a more difficult time finding activities where they can jump in and become involved and find their tribe. They used to be able to join. Now they have to initiate.

Diana Sandburg writes:
"As a very long time participant and observer of the local homeschooling scene, the one thing I've noticed above all over the last few years is the fragmentation of the community. With very few exceptions (I'm pretty sure I could find one or two if I looked hard), we all began this journey with trepidation, with an awareness of our ignorance (always, btw, an excellent way to begin an enterprise), and frightened of messing up something so important as our children's future. For me, and for many others in the past, we got support from those who were already on the journey; we saw what ordinary homeschoolers were like, what their kids were like, and how they managed to do this thing. And our courage and independence were bolstered. What I see now is new families approaching homeschooling with the same fears, but instead of finding independence, they are immediately engulfed in The System and told what to do, when and how. I can see how that feels like support when you're new and afraid, but it's only support in the way that a girdle is support, when what you need is situps to build your own internal support."

Not that every parent will continue in that dynamic (if they even engage in it in the first place!). I know many parents who were unsure at first, participated in a DL, and became home learning dynamos in their communities. But I also wonder if DL sometimes foster a sense of dependency that would not be there otherwise.

Marty Layne writes:
"I started homeschooling in 1982. There was no support group in Victoria at that time for secular homeschoolers. We knew each other and just did our thing. Within 3-5 years there was a huge increase in the number of families who were homeschooling in the Victoria area.

"Over the years I watched as more and more families became homeschooling families. I wrote my book about my experiences of homeschooling (Learning At Home: A Mother's Guide To Homeschooling) in part to answer the many questions I'd get asked about what I was doing and how it worked.

"In the last 10 years, I have found that the nature of the questions have changed - So tell me, how do I homeschool? Tell me what curriculum I should buy and tell me what I should do next.

"A DL program answers those questions. As more and more programs have sprung up and more and more people sign up, then DL programs begin to define what homeschooling is to those enrolled and others who are thinking about the kind of education they want to provide for their children."
It's easy to slip into nostalgia when reading the reminiscences of these veteran homeschoolers. But we can take heart. There are local support groups that continue to thrive and to provide opportunity for real connection between community members. And there is nothing stopping other support groups from taking stock and stepping up connection within their geographical community, outside of any DL affiliation.

So, perhaps being aware of the trend and taking small actions, like putting energy into our local groups and finding time to reach out to new home learning parents, will be enough to continue to build a strong home learning community in BC outside of the "girdle" support inherent in many DL programs.
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A big thank you to Diana, Marty, and Sandy for letting me share their words in this post.