by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
My mama sure knew how to get things done in groups.
Military wife, Sunday School teacher, public employee. Duty. Scheduling. Rules.
Everything by the book, and what big books they were. I grew up in a society so enamored of group control that private behavior often seemed more regulated than public employment!
So many examples, so little time! I’ll use the first one that comes to mind. The Junior League’s written requirements for delivering, marking, hanging, and tagging thrift shop donations rivaled the IRS administrative code – and every member in good standing was required to log a minimum dollar value of donations and work a certain number of hours in the shop every month, no exceptions, even with a doctor’s note. Officers and committee chairs sat in constant judgment of member compliance, no less harsh for being sweetly perfumed.
In that voluntary service society as in schools and society at large, detailed standards were set in stone; to fail and risk one’s “good standing” in the group was unthinkable.
But I think about it now, almost smugly, in fact. Through no particular cleverness of my own, I’ve discovered a better way to make my personal contribution to society – what I like to call the “affiliated independence” of home education and its support network NHEN. It has become my family’s chosen lifestyle.
I wonder what Mama would think of this notion of affiliated independence. Would she fret that allowing individuals to choose freedom from group controls is dangerous to the fabric of society? Could she believe that so much good results even though no one is training us, stabling us, riding us, feeding us, breeding us, pulling back on the reins one minute and spurring us into pounding bursts of effort the next?
Perhaps I’d explain that my favorite thing about the National Home Education Network is the same thing I like best about homeschooling itself: its design reflects, and its function respects, its purpose.
NHEN is exactly what it claims to be. Better yet, the way it works actually works!
There is nothing compulsory or controlling about affiliated independence. NHEN defends self-determination without undermining self-determination to do so. It is home education for grown-ups, organized connections without loss of control, a free public resource not subject to use restrictions or taxes or fees. Its influence is all the greater for never telling its members or clients or public what to say (or not), what to do (or not), what to believe (or not).
NHEN is loosely coupled so it can stay tightly focused.
Just like home education, NHEN is a new kind of “place,” existing in the life of the mind and offering a safe meeting spot to foster the life of the mind. NHEN belongs to each individual without any money or obligation exchanged for its purchase. It belongs to its community with no need for borders or ethnocentrism or definitions of who belongs and who cannot. It even belongs to those who haven’t yet joined or who will never join.
Just like home education, NHEN encourages each individual to learn, grow, believe and contribute as he or she sees fit. NHEN models what I dearly wish the public schools could someday become.
No quotas, no required training, no handbook, no dress code. No dues to be paid, in blood or money or self-respect, no litmus test required, to achieve and maintain one’s good standing as provider, supporter, user or appreciater of NHEN’s services.
If every generation wants something better for its children, then I think the affiliated independence of NHEN — and of home education itself — would qualify. I think it represents real progress beyond the stifling organizational pressures that squeezed the joy out of so many group endeavors, including school, in the world of my youth.
And it pleases me to believe my mama – after a good look around this new world– might think so, too.