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Understanding Homeschooling

History of Homeschooling in Wisconsin

Booklet on the history of homeschooling in Wisconsin: Kitchen Tables and Marble Halls: WPA and Homeschooling In Wisconsin

Homeschooling in Wisconsin has a fascinating history. Homeschoolers joined together through WPA and overcame powerful opponents to secure Wisconsin's homeschooling law in 1984. Since then, we have continued to counter numerous challenges and successfully maintained our homeschooling freedoms, work that is still going on today. Read this exciting story in Kitchen Tables and Marble Halls.

You can download this 40-page booklet in PDF format here (if you do not have high speed Internet access, allow time for it to download).

WPA Milestones

Read a quick overview of what WPA has done since 1984.

WPA Resolutions

The resolutions adopted at WPA's annual membership meetings provide vital guidance for WPA's actions. For added perspective on the history of homeschooling in Wisconsin, you can review these resolutions here. They also provide good shorthand reviews of important topics, making them useful both for understanding issues and for organizing and communicating your positions to other homeschoolers, legislators, the media, and others.

Wisdom from Experienced Homeschoolers

Since 1999, very experienced homeschoolers have been sharing some of their wisdom in moving statements during the general session at WPA's annual conferences. We recommend them to you highly and thank the speakers for what they have given us all.

Read remarks from general sessions at conferences.

Telling Our Stories

Sometimes the essence of homeschooling is best captured in stories from homeschooling families. Every family is unique; every story is different. Below are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories that have been lived by homeschooling families in Wisconsin.

Share your story! Stories are published anonymously with names and identifying details changed to protect families' privacy. E-mail us at wpa@homeschooling-wpa.org or send a hard copy to WPA at Post Office Box 2502, Madison, Wisconsin 53701-2502.

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Parents who began homeschooling their 15-year-old son after 10 years of conventional schooling wrote:

“What did you consider the most serious problem your child was having in school?”

He was receiving straight A's with very little effort, while really not knowing how to study. Because he was a good student, treated his teachers with respect, and was not an athletic “star,” he experienced rejection and ridicule by peers.

“What changes did you notice in your child after you began homeschooling?”

In his years in public school, he went from a talkative, outgoing child to a shy, withdrawn teenager. Upon homeschooling, he gradually began to come out of his shell. He has assumed leadership in our local support group and has been praised by parents as a good role model for the younger ones. His communication, writing, and studying skills have vastly improved. He is happier!!

“What have you done while homeschooling that seemed most helpful to your child?”

Removal from negative peers has been the most positive thing for him. We have encouraged him to develop leadership and many outside interests to replace those he had in school. He is learning self-discipline in scheduling his own time.

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A few weeks ago, my 10-year-old daughter read a short chapter book.

That may not be too impressive to you. But for me, it was an exciting breakthrough that brought tears to my eyes. It was another proof that homeschooling works, as well as proof that our current Wisconsin law gives us the freedom necessary to achieve great things.

You see, we'd already been homeschooling for many years when my youngest child came along. Her first years were full of doctor visits and surgeries. Her next hurdle was learning to talk. When Liesl was five, a specialist diagnosed a particular genetic abnormality that manifests itself in physical defects, speech difficulties, and learning disabilities. We were told that Liesl would need special education classes and would probably never live independently. Although many doctors and nurses were supportive of our intentions to homeschool Liesl, some “experts” were vehement in their opposition. Some said we just didn't have the expertise needed to provide specialized education.

One of the many sad prognoses was that Liesl would not be able to read. Yes, they said, she could learn phonics and be able to decipher a job application at McDonald's. But her comprehension would be minimal, and she would never enjoy the pleasures of curling up with a story book. Even worse, this wasn't just a doctor's worst-case-scenario prediction; it was commonly acknowledged by other parents of kids with this syndrome.

Because we were “lacking in expertise,” we proceeded to educate her in a way that was NOT in accord with standard operating procedure. Had we lived in a state that required standardized testing or portfolio review or curriculum oversight by the local superintendent, it's very unlikely that we would've been allowed to continue homeschooling the way we did in Wisconsin.

A year or so ago, we rejoiced when Liesl began to read easy chapter books. She was not capable of reading a book unless she had previously heard it read aloud more than once. Still, it was progress. And most importantly, she was enjoying these books. I wished she would be able to read new material, too, but it seemed that was not to be. She would try and then give up because the words were senseless. Maybe the experts were right. Maybe her reading comprehension would always be seriously limited.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I read aloud a “Russell” book. It wasn't long, only 1.5 hours for the whole story. She wanted more. But I had work to do, and my voice box was wearing out. An hour later, I discovered that Liesl was two-thirds of the way through a different ”Russell” book. She read it. With no bribes from me. She read it. And understood it. She read it. And enjoyed the funny parts. Not only that, but on our next library trip she also wanted to find the series so that she could continue reading these chapter books. Books that the experts said she could never read. What joy that brings to a mommy's heart!

As homeschooling has become more mainstream, many people have become aware of its positive results with regard to academics. Many of us are proud to tout the academic record of homeschoolers. And that's okay. But we must never become so confident in our academic success that we're willing to request favors from the government (be it tax credits or sports in the public schools or something else) based on homeschoolers' ability to measure up academically. “Oh, we don't have to worry if the state checks up on homeschoolers because, after all, we're doing so well anyway!” Please remember that there are homeschoolers who cannot compete in the academic contests. Those children are very likely doing better academically in homeschool than they would in conventional school, but they still wouldn't measure up if the government increased its regulation of homeschoolers. All of us, because we are their parents, have the right and the authority to homeschool our children. It is not a privilege parceled out by the state only to those who measure up. It is critical for homeschoolers to recognize this and never to ask for “help” from the government which will come with strings attached. Those strings may be something you're willing to live with, but those just might be strings which strangle another family out of the homeschooling lifestyle, a family which may be desperate for an alternative to conventional schools.

Homeschool v. Home School: What’s In a Name?

How do you spell homeschooling? The question is puzzling to some who ask, “Isn’t it obvious?” Actually, three versions of the word appear frequently. “Homeschool” seems increasingly to be the most common. “Home school” is not unusual. And “home-school” pops up, especially since some people consider it the correct spelling when the noun “home school” is changed to an adjective (the same way that the noun “ten year old” is spelled “ten-year-old” when it becomes an adjective).

Historically ”home school” and “homeschool” are following a path similar to that of other nouns that begin as two separate words when they first appear in common usage as labels for a new idea and then change to one word (sometimes going through a hyphenated version along the way) as they become more widely accepted. For example, consider the way “wild life” has become “wildlife.” While most official sources still spell “web site” as two words, it’s not uncommon to see “website” as well as “web site.” Thus in the 1980s, “home school” was the common spelling, but by the 1990s “homeschool” was on the rise. (In case you want to know for your next homeschool trivia game, WPA switched from its original “home school” to “homeschool” with Newsletter #39, in March 1994.)

What difference does the spelling make? For some people, “home school” brings to mind the common meanings of both words, that is, a “home school” is assumed to be a school that is located in a family’s home. On the other hand, “homeschool” announces a new idea not limited to the meanings of its two root words. That is, “homeschool” is an approach to learning in which parents take direct responsibility for the education of their children with as little state involvement as possible. Homeschooling may or may not resemble a conventional school. Rather than being limited to their homes, homeschoolers are active in their communities and learn through work experience, volunteer service, field trips, travel, and other activities outside their homes. (It’s interesting to note that the increasing acceptance of homeschooling as evidenced by the shift from two words to one has made it possible for homeschoolers to feel more comfortable both being active in their communities during conventional school hours and letting people know that they are, in fact, homeschoolers.)

So why do the two word and hyphenated versions persist? In part because although most prominent dictionaries changed the spelling to “homeschool” during the 1990s, editing criteria used by mainstream media persist in using the two word and hyphenated spellings. In addition, many academic researchers, public school officials, and federal and state government agencies continue to refer to homeschools as “home schools.” This means when that most non-homeschoolers see a reference to the activity we’re discussing, it’s either “home school” or “home-school” rather than “homeschool.”

Okay, all this is interesting, but does it really matter? Yes, because it’s part of homeschoolers’ current efforts to prevent our good name from being taken over by public schoolers who happen to learn in their homes. To maintain our homeschooling freedoms, we need to make it clear that homeschools are private schools, not public schools, and therefore should not be subject to the same regulations as public schools, including compliance with state standards, state-mandated testing, etc. Virtual charter schools are public schools and should not be called “home schools” and, even more serious, should certainly not be called “homeschools.”

Since the 1970s, many homeschoolers in this country have worked courageously as families and thorough grassroots organizations to ensure that their rights to homeschool were recognized and respected. The concept of homeschooling as separate from and independent of public schools is a radical idea primarily because the growing consensus by the educational establishment, big business, and the media has been that attendance at conventional public or private schools was essential to a child’s education. It needed to be ensured through compulsory school attendance laws. However, homeschooling challenges this consensus.

Homeschooling is successful because parents take direct responsibility for their children’s educations. If public school programs that operate in their students’ homes were allowed to claim to be homeschools, the essential nature and practice of homeschooling would be seriously eroded.

Many homeschoolers have worked long and hard to have the concept of homeschooling recognized legally and in practice. They have come from all walks of like and have chosen homeschooling for a wide variety of reasons and are using different approaches to learning and different curriculums. We need to continue to call ourselves homeschoolers and to resist the attempts of public virtual charter schools and other non-homeschools to refer to themselves as homeschools. Our distinctiveness and our freedoms are at stake.

For more on the importance of keeping homeschooling distinct from public virtual charter schools and other public school programs that operate in students’ homes, see WPA's letter to the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau by clicking on Issues and Legislation and then Virtual Charter Schools.

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