(Note: I did not coin the term "refugee" as it relates to the homeschool movement. Over the last couple of years I have heard this term used many times to describe an emerging group of homeschoolers and their significance to the homeschooling community. I do not know where the use of the term originated, so am unable to credit its originator.)
Around the world hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled for their lives from places such as Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Burma and Chechnya. Their motivation is very clear….leave or be swallowed up by the political and humanitarian chaos that exists in their homeland. Refugees, by definition, leave their homes out of necessity…often for their own safety. If they could return home safely, most would do so in a moment, but for most this will never happen. Since it is unlikely that they will ever return to their homeland, these exiles learn to exist as refugees…displaced and discontented. When groups of displaced peoples find themselves in a new city or country, they bring with them a host of political, economic and health issues that beg viable solutions.
Interestingly enough, the homeschooling community has become home to a group of refugees as well. Across America, government schools have become so bereft of redeeming qualities, that families are fleeing in droves–looking for alternatives to the academic and social shortcomings of a public school system in chaos. A quick history of the homeschooling movement will hopefully bring clarity to the problem created by the arrival of the homeschool refugees.
In the beginning, the homeschool movement was composed almost entirely of families whose foremost desire was simply to raise their children at home. They believed that there was immense value in allowing their children to spend the bulk of their time learning and growing within the family unit, away from the influence of a compulsory system of government education. So they forged a path which had not yet been tread. They were dedicated, tenacious and brave. They achieved incredible success. They were trailblazers.
A generation of homeschoolers have followed in the footsteps of these trailblazers, taking advantage of the paths they cleared, the lessons they learned, and the reputation they earned. I am a follower. As followers, we have reaped the benefits of the trailblazers’ experience and have learned from their example. Our motivation finds its basis in their values and convictions. We are dedicated and tenacious, but not nearly as brave. The trails they blazed have made our road much smoother. Despite the differences, over the years both the trailblazers and their followers have homeschooled with a passion and a fervor which inevitably produced measurable results in the academic and spiritual lives of their children.
Which brings us back to the homeschool refugee. Schools in chaos, families in upheaval, and children in trouble have all contributed to the emergence of this new class of homeschooler. The refugee homeschools not because he WANTS to, but because he feels forced to do so by influences outside of his control. I know some homeschool refugees. They feel scared and unprepared. They are uncomfortable in their new surroundings and are hesitant to make themselves at home in them. They don’t know the culture and they don’t speak the language. They often look for reasons to go back to the undesirable world they so recently left behind.
The refugee homeschooler is arguably the fastest growing segment of the homeschool population. This presents a very unique challenge to the homeschool community at large. Since its very beginnings, the homeschooling movement has produced excellent academic results which have helped to justify its existence to its skeptical onlookers. However, as more and more refugees join the homeschooling ranks, this strong academic record may take a hit. Because refugee homeschoolers often lack the passion and conviction to make the necessary sacrifices, many may struggle to succeed, bringing down with them the reputation of the entire homeschooling community.
Unfortunately, I don’t have answers. I do know that as veteran homeschoolers, we can work to be part of the solution. Refugees can be assimilated successfully into a society when help is available. We can stand beside struggling homeschoolers and help them to succeed. We can offer examples of conviction, sacrifice and success. We can be trailblazers.