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Online Support for
Where would I be without my online homeschooling e-lists? I rely on them for a daily dose of comfort, a place to find answers and a chance to voice my opinions freely. I belong to a few local homeschool support groups; however, a large portion of my connection to the homeschooling community comes from online friends.
Having always been fond of computers and online connections, it was natural for me to head to the Web to find information about homeschooling during those first years when our kids were so young. And, ever since those early days of inquiry, the Web has been here for me.
At the first park day I attended in my home town, I remember telling the woman who so kindly listened to my confused newbie ramblings that I was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information available for me and that deciding how to homeschool was just as hard as deciding whether to homeschool or not in the first place. She nodded her head in encouragement, but refused to instruct me on how to be a homeschooler. At the time, I was annoyed that attending a live park day had not been more enlightening. Now, I realize that it gave me even more reason to retreat back to my search on the Internet. And for that, I wish I could go and thank the woman at the park. She had unwittingly helped me find my place of homeschool comfort in online e-lists.
Online e-lists taught me about the multitude of possibilities, and also taught me that I didn’t have to pick even a single one of them. When I started out, I thought that I had to find something and follow it. The incredible wisdom and stubbornness of my online friends showed me that I only had to follow my own soul and listen to my family’s needs. They stood by me, virtually, while our family cleared the muck away, and now our path is clear in front of us, although we happily have no idea where it will lead.
For several years, my friends (and my not-so-friends) would hash out even the most difficult questions with me (and each other) on the homeschooling and unschooling e-lists. We have questioned everything from the effect of grades, to political awareness, to whether or not kids need teachers. And, in the end, we all have walked away from our conversations with our own unique perspectives.
That’s how it is with my beloved e-lists. We talk about hard issues. We joke around and share our lives. We stand up for one another (even when we disagree). And, we keep each other on our toes. I have chosen e-lists that have a variety of opinions, yet are open to anyone who has a question about homeschooling. I like lists that debate and discuss, but don’t allow people to disrespect, and lists that focus on empowering parents by making sure that members are aware that they have a choice. I also like homeschool lists that challenge assumptions while being understanding and compassionate.
The flexibility of using online support reveals itself in the vast number of groups from which to choose. No matter what kind of support I need or want at any given time, I can find a group that will fit. It might take a little persistence and patience to find it, but the group is there.
During my first year of exploring and questioning homeschooling and not-schooling, I subscribed myself to just about any list that crossed my path. As my understanding and confidence grew, I found myself leaving and joining lists to fit my family’s needs. And finally, about a year ago, I settled down into a handful of lists in which I participate regularly. These dozen or so e-lists feed my need for support and keep my desire to stay in touch with local legislation and national trends well nourished. I’ve made friends online that I have never met in person, but I’ve come to know their families well. I have other friends who live only a few minutes from me, and I never knew it until I found them online. I also have friends who meet me at a yearly conference where we recount the joys and absurdities of our online chats. And finally, I’ve had a chance to speak with several very well-known homeschooling activists whom I would otherwise never have had a reason to contact. I feel incredibly thrilled to be in the company of such wonderful people and to be able to call them my friends.
Not everyone online agrees with me that e-lists are the modern day homeschooler’s support heaven. I have had many lively debates over the benefits and drawbacks of e-lists. E-lists feel safe to me. To others, they are scary and unpredictable. I feel that if I say something in front of the thousand people on an e-list, at least a small percentage of people will support my opinion. And, even if nobody agrees with me, the list will absolutely support my right to have an opinion and not be bullied by someone who thinks my opinion is wrong. I also feel that even if my opinion is crazy, and everyone absolutely disagrees with me, that on an e-list, the consequences would be negligible.
E-lists are considered by some to be impersonal or cliquish. A few times, I have found this to be the case. I avoid lists that have a tight core group where it is hard to break in without knowing someone first. However, every e-list has its own culture. And even if there are close friends on the list, only a handful of them shun new members. Most e-lists are driven by a core group of posters, while the rest of the group will post occasionally or just “lurk.” The core members who post regularly are the ones who set the tone for a group. On the lists to which I post regularly, I feel close to the other people who also post often. On the lists to which I post occasionally, I have a few friends. On the lurker lists, I do not usually know the people on the list very well. As in real life, I get back what I put in. I have seen a direct correlation between how much time I spend talking on an e-list and how many friends I have on the list. (There also seems to be a strong correlation between how I treat people on a list and how friendly they are toward me.)
It is possible that e-lists suffice as a main source of support because of my preference for communicating with the written word. Most of my online friends also like to communicate this way. Perhaps, it’s a matter of learning styles that dictates how connected we feel on the Internet. In school I was the girl who passed notes to her friends in class. And, if those friends wrote notes back, they were true buddies. Perhaps, that note-passing was a low-tech version of Internet e-lists. With passing notes and participating in e-lists, I can form friendly relationships without the social stresses of having my mouth take control when I least expect it.
I realize, though, that as homeschooling support for our family goes, this online support is just for me. My kids and hubby need support, too, and for that, we have many other resources available to us. We have attended both of our state conferences for the past two years and will attend again this year. We also get together once in a while with friends who support our choice, to remind us that not everyone thinks we’re crazy. And the kids…. Well, it seems that they are perfectly fine and dandy with who they are, and don’t need support as much as they need a way to hang out. They don’t seem to notice that they are doing anything out of the ordinary. I’m sure that day will come, and we’ll find a support group for them, too: the Homeschooling Kids Who Don’t Seem To Think There is Anything Wrong With Them support group.
My veteran friends reminiscence about how a small amount of community support made a huge difference for them. My friends with late elementary school kids tell me of how the local support group brought everyone in our area together. And, those of us brand new to homeschooling are experiencing something completely different that, in some ways, is replacing a lot of the function of local groups: a strong feeling of kinship online with thousands and thousands of homeschoolers worldwide. I don’t think that online groups will ever completely replace local groups, but online groups do offer something different from any other kind of support group; they offer instant networking, instant information and a smorgasbord of social groups to join to find that perfect match that fits our own personality and perspectives.
In today’s techno culture, homeschoolers don’t have the challenge of finding support – it’s everywhere. The challenge is choosing the kind of support that works for us within the inundation of possibilities.