When we think of someone who is an “advocate,” we tend to think of a person whose job is to provide advice regarding legal rights or someone who is ready to assist a client in filing a lawsuit for some cause or another. But the definition of “advocate” also includes any person who “actively supports or favors a cause” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary). When it comes to homeschooling, the definition includes anyone who positively and energetically supports the idea of educating school-age children in any venue that is not a public school.
You, too, are an advocate if you are interested or involved in issues that may affect your homeschool. Homeschool bloggers are advocates in that they consistently provide homeschool information to families and students. Anyone who works on behalf of homeschooling in the legislature, in their community, in their church or in their neighborhood is a homeschool advocate. Anyone who writes a homeschooling newsletter or an article about homeschooling for a newspaper is a homeschool advocate. The most consistently important homeschool advocates are parents who have had the courage and taken the initiative to start homeschooling their children despite sometimes very “public” pressure to keep their children enrolled in public schools.
How to Conduct Yourself as a Homeschool Advocate
It’s important to remember that the beginning of becoming a homeschool advocate is to take a “reality check” of your own attitude. How you represent yourself when advocating for homeschooling is important. Always be positive about homeschooling. Never compare homeschooling to other education venues. Always frame your conversations about homeschooling in the most cooperative terms. Talk about “why” you’ve chosen to homeschool, not what you’re trying to get away from in public schools. The best homeschool advocates are encouraging and never waiver from their positive mission. Remember – public schools are not in existence to make life difficult for homeschoolers. Public school boards and administrators have many more important missions to pursue and will most likely be more than helpful to you when you present your advocacy case for homeschooling.
If you are interested in being a homeschooling advocate, there are certain elements of advocacy that will be important to your success:
- Be well informed – take the time to study and understand your state’s homeschooling laws. A great source for homeschooling laws for all 50 states can be found at http://www.homeschoolfacts.com/state-laws.html.
- Make a point of knowing your local school district’s regulations about homeschooling. Some important questions to ask might include: (1) what is the district’s rule about religious exemption claims? (2) Does your school district offer services for homeschooled children with special needs? (3) Can your homeschooled student participate in extracurricular activities at the nearest public school? Make a list of the important questions you need to be answered and then discover the answers.
- Know who the “powers that be” in your community are – your elected state representatives and members of Congress, local school board members and the superintendent of your local school district are all important contacts to keep in mind when you are advocating for homeschool issues. These “players” in your community can be your supporters and friends if you cultivate a positive relationship.
- Present yourself in an effective manner – Take the time to learn how to write effective emails and letters. Writing to someone about your questions and needs can sometimes be an important introduction for a possible face-to-face meeting. When you do have the opportunity for that important “first meeting,” be sure your thoughts are well organized. Write down some talking points and stick to them…… you might have just fifteen minutes to get your point across, so stay focused!
- Always remain professional in your approach and demeanor – A good approach might be to emphasize the fact that homeschooling can be good for both homeschooling parents AND the public schools. Remain neutral and never stray from the known facts.
- Be a positive ambassador for homeschooling – When you advocate for homeschooling, you are representing the entire “world” of homeschooling. Most people don’t know about or understand the benefits of homeschooling. Your job as an ambassador and an advocate is to help build bridges to a positive relationship between homeschoolers and the public school system.
Remember – any concerned parent can be a homeschooling advocate. It’s an important role to play but does require some serious self-evaluation, thought, and preparation. The single most empowering thing you as a homeschooling parent can do is to become fully informed about the local, state and federal homeschooling laws and regulations and then use that power to be a strong, friendly, and cooperative advocate for your homeschool.