I am an Anthropology doctoral candidate currently doing research in an unincorporated rural community in Washington State. In late June I will have been here a year. My primary interest focuses on creating an ethnography of one example of the “rural renaissance.” However, one aspect of this includes the look at homeschooling within the community and how rural alternative lifestyles affect the education of these students.
Several families are involved in the Family Centered Learning Alternative (FOLA) program. This program is under the supervision of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) and is a pilot study being conducted prior to legislative action regarding a legal homeschooling alternative in the state. Under the program students must meet with a supervisory teacher for a minimum of 8 hours per month, and they were tested in April of 1984 and April 1985. Results of these tests will be compared with a Christian homeschool program and a public school and are supposed to be published some time this summer. For those of you acquainted with Linda Anderson’s research, featured in vol.1, no.1 of this newsletter, I am involved with the secular half of the pilot study to which she refers.
As an anthropologist, rather than taking the participatory research role of a homeschooling parent or supervisory teacher, I am looking at homeschooling from an “outsider’s” perspective. I am concerned with discovering the society, community, and family context of homeschooling away from the supervisory teacher as well as during the teacher meetings. By taking a contextual, holistic approach, I hope to balance and supplement the quantitative testing measures with qualitative data. My main methods of research are paticipant observation and informal interviewing of the parents, students, and teacher as well as examining the activity logs and materials used to teach and learn.
As an alternative to public schooling, my observations of homeschooling seem to indicate a synthesis of public school and family small group society teaching and learning modes. This includes a great deal of diversity and experimentation on the part of parents, students, and teacher to find what things work best on an individual basis. Consequently, there is a wide range in approaches used to teach, from spontaneous projects to scheduled book learning. Parents seek information and ideas from others in their situation, public schools, and from media sources. Furthermore, the experimentation extends to the content of the education. Namely, there appears to be a general stress on how to learn, as opposed to what to learn; the latter normally associated with public school approaches to teaching and learning.
As a result, most lessons revolve around methods of accessing information. In addition, emphasis is put on seeking more than one way to see and solve problems in order to encourage flexibility, adaptability, experimentation, and innovation. These tentative generalizations seem to indicate a new approach and content of socialization and enculturation, which I am hoping to relate to the possibility that American society and culture is changing to a new “paradigm.” This new paradigm is often referred to in the literature as “post-industrialism” or a “New Age.” To explain the connections I see between the resurgence of homeschooling and the New Age goes beyond the scope of this short sketch but if one assumes that there are fundamental socio-cultural changes afoot, it necessitates a re-examination of the educational system that serves as a basic form of cultural transmission. The “problem” of cultural transmission is what binds the disciplines of Anthropology and Education together.
The results of my research will be presented in my dissertation that I hope to begin writing this fall and will defend in Spring 1986. My training is in Anthropology, probably inspired by my overseas experiences as a child. My B.A. in Anthropology was from Reed College in Portland, Oregon and my M.A. from the University of Oregon in Eugene (through which I am also receiving my Ph.D.). Although my own education and interests are eclectic and generalist, my comprehensive exam areas were in (1) Education and Anthropology (a small, new subdiscipline of both larger fields), (2) Theories of Socio-cultural Change, and (3) Native Americans; the last not directly relevant to my current research. My main interest and research leading up to my current fieldwork centered around theoretical and research-oriented New Age or Post-Industrial literature. As far as I am aware, I will be making the first connection between homeschooling and post-industrialism within the academic community.
(Margaret) Ellen Moeller
Department of Anthropology
University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403
Note from Ellen Moeller: After I wrote the above I found out about the latest Washington legislative action on the Homeschooling Bill. It passed both legislative houses and was very recently signed by Governor Gardener. This was despite the State Board of Education’s recommendation not to sign the bill until the test results were in. What this bill does for other homeschooling efforts not affiliated with the state-approved programs is still up to question. The bill also changes certain aspects of this program, many of which have to still be decided by Barbara Mertens at SPI.
Also, as of June 25, 1984 there were 34 Washington-based FCLA chapters and Debra Stewart (FCLA administrator, 26611 S.R. 530 N.E., Arlington WA 98223) announced at a December conference that there were 44 chapters, though some of these are out of state. One thing is for sure, the enrollment in the program continues to increase dramatically.