GeoCitiesRank My SiteTake A TourMy GuestbookChat
Pages Like MineSearchSend This PageForums
Email Me
GeoCities, your home on the Web.
GeoCities, your home on the Web.

The Evolution Of A Support Group

by N.S. Gill

Copyright © 1994 by N. S. Gill

In our American system of raising children, the sooner the child is independent of the family, the better. Family beds and prolonged nursing are the exception; instead, newborns, removed at birth from the mother, are sent off to infant school a few days later. Because we cherish our legends about rugged individualists we seem to fear that if we do not immediately sever emotional bonds with our children, they will be unable to achieve the cultural ideal. Despite a love of independence, our society has many problems based almost entirely on the fact that adults are too dependent. We have welfare systems that make it difficult for families to forego the paternal largesse of Uncle Sam, an educational system that tells young adults that a high school diploma is no longer enough to allow them to become self-supporting, and a vast web of victim's and support groups to deal with problems that people have because they lack the family or self-reliance to deal with issues on their own.
As homeschoolers we have support groups, too. However, we are, largely, the independent members of our communities, the new pioneers. For many of us, support groups are an overwhelming need at first, but this need is ephemeral as we quickly realize how competent we are to homeschool our own. This is not to say that a network of fellow homeschoolers, a play group, or a task-oriented group can not endure. However, rather than longevity as the measure of a support group's success our standard should be the group's ability to evolve.
When I first decided to homeschool my infant I read all I could find on homeschooling. There was not much: I read the Moores and eventually found some of the works by John Holt. I hungered for a support group that did not require a statement of faith. It took me four long years to find a possible group. Once I found Alternatives In Education, however, my quest was simplified. It was a short road to the homeschooling directory in GWS from which I called the people in my area code until I found a support group. West Metro Homeschoolers met at a library about an hour's drive away where children were permitted, but not encouraged.
It was an exhilarating experience for me to meet this group. There were 15 or 20 families in the meeting room all dedicated to homeschooling their children--and all in different ways. I tried to remember who some of the people were, but at the next meeting those people whom I had remembered were not there. There were others, of course, because it was a viable support group.
The leader of the group told us that although she had been sending out a newsletter gratis for the last couple of years, it was becoming too expensive. The group had grown from its original five families to twenty the second year, to considerably more this year. Some months later, as she became more involved in setting up a statewide organization, Minnesota Homeschoolers Alliance, she ran out of time to run the West Metro group.
A member who had hosted our West Metro Halloween party was appointed new leader. For the next few meetings she would select a focus for discussion, bring topical books, call the first people on the telephone tree and arrange library space. The telephone tree broke down almost immediately and meetings were sparsely attended.

Sparse Attendance

One reason they were sparsely attended probably has to do with the tension at the meetings. First, there were those of us with children who, playing outside the meeting room, ran afoul of the library staff. Our meetings were repeatedly interrupted by the librarians. Second, there were strident arguments among the members.
Another reason for the sparse attendance has to do with the development of alternative support groups. The West Metro group meetings were remote. Local areas, having learned from West Metro that there were several homeschooling families in the vicinity, developed their own groups. Also, at this time there arose groups dedicated to specific tasks. One ambitious group met every week to work on American history projects. Other groups developed to arrange field trips.
A third reason has to do with the loss of the charismatic original leader--not that the new leader was not engaging, profusely generous, and an altogether good person, but membership in the original group had reflected loyalty to the first leader. The new leader tried her best to keep the group going, but grew frustrated by what she conceived as the defection of members.
The final blow to the leader was an irate phone call she received from a member who was offended that the leader had scheduled a meeting on Rosh Hashanah. Rescheduled, the meeting was attended by the observant Jew (my friend, Jane), a family with older children in the southern suburbs, a new person who was interested in creating a charter school, the leader, and me. Fathers and children were in the main library where the fathers, enjoying a rare opportunity for leisured reading, pretended they had nothing to do with the children. At the end of this meeting, the leader handed me the information packet, telling me that she was through, that it was in my hands, that I could do with West Metro as I liked. I was not crazy about being in charge, but accepted the responsibility. There were two things about West Metro I had been eager to change, anyway. If we could keep it going the group would thenceforth meet in South Minneapolis (close to my house) and it would be at least as much an opportunity for our children to play together as a support group.
Jane and I decided either to find a homeschooling support group to join or to recruit our own members. I called most of the people from the West Metro list who lived close to South Minneapolis. Although there were few people interested in joining our support group--and no support group willing to extend membership to both Jane and me--we had, nonetheless, between the people I knew from West Metro and the people new to homeschooling whom Vivienne Edwards (one of the founders of Minnesota Homeschoolers Alliance) referred to me, an ever-changing and stimulating group of families. When three or more families showed up at the meetings we had lively discussions; often, however, the members simply "forgot."
Whereas the second leader of West Metro was offended by the fragmentation of the group, I realized that it was not necessarily a personal affront when those in our group who lived in the southern suburbs branched out. Our support group had become something of an outreach group with a mission to help people become committed to homeschooling. If they became so committed that they started their own groups, we had been a success.

Secular Eclectic Homeschoolers

Other goals of our group were reflected in our changed name, South Minneapolis Secular Eclectic Homeschooling Group. Calling ourselves secular did not mean that we were atheists, nor did it mean that religion was taboo. We discussed our varied cultural and religious traditions along with our varied schooling methods. Since I was interested in unschooling, when the meetings were at my house, low structured methods dominated the part of our talk that dealt with curriculum. Any time there was a new member, however, we discussed the variety of curricula and teaching methods. The Minnesota homeschooling law, food, books, nursing, pregnancy, child care and methods of discipline were also common topics. Since some of the other members (who were less interested than I in finding playmates for their children--either because they felt that socializing is like chocolate and should be limited or because they had enough children that it was not a concern) wanted organized group activities, we arranged a third Halloween party and trips to cultural events.
During the meetings at my house, the children played upstairs in a large open room or on the stairs leading back down to the dining room where we mothers sat. When the play became too loud (or too quiet) someone would go upstairs to check on the children. Even so, since my house is not child-proof I was often very anxious--mostly about their safety. My nice oak floor suffered some serious gouges from the last of these meetings.


Being anxious about the children's play was nothing compared to the anxiety I went through prior to some of the meetings. There was a feud among three of the families. One of the mothers came "as a favor to me." If her family came, two of the other families would not come. I could not tell her that I did not want her, because I did enjoy her company, and it was not that simple, anyway. If she did not come, but one of the other families came, the third family would not come. What made matters worse was that the mothers expected me to let them know if the other families would be coming. Nothing I did felt right.
At the end of the first school year I called many of the people who had been involved in West Metro Homeschoolers to invite them to join the Secular Eclectic Group at a June picnic. We had a pretty good turn out. In retrospect, I would say that was the climax of the South Minneapolis Secular Eclectic Homeschoolers group.
The group went on hiatus for the summer and by the following fall I was not at all sure that I wanted to continue. My son had his playmates and I had no particular need either for or to support. However, urged by some of the others in the group I arranged a library meeting. The allotted room was too small for both parents and children, but to avoid some of the problems we had had in other libraries we kept the children with us, anyway. Some of the people at the meeting were new to homeschooling; others, new to our group. It was very noisy, very formal and it went terribly.
Since then, there have been three families (friends, really) loosely involved in the South Minneapolis Secular Eclectic Homeschooling Group. We occasionally arrange meetings, but for the past year no more than two families have been able to meet together. Even the word meeting is but a polite fiction to give external value to the time we spend enjoying each other's company. Of the other support groups that branched out of our group, one has already collapsed. This is not a failure of either of the groups but a tribute to the adjustment of the members. No longer needing support, they do not waste their time attending support group meetings.

Growth and Moving On

West Metro Homeschoolers did not fail as a support group. As the number of families grew, the earlier members passed the stage where they needed regular contact with mere acquaintances to help them feel secure about their homeschooling. The large group that I first met included both older and newer members who eventually split along those lines. Thus, in the final days, those of us who attended the meetings were only those who were still unsure of ourselves. The process of making all the phone calls to resurrect the group as the South Minneapolis Secular Eclectic Homeschooling Group was an experience that gave us confidence; therefore, by the time the group had completed its transformation, it is doubtful that either Jane or I still needed support. For a while, though, it was rewarding for us to reinforce our newly acquired skills and knowledge about homeschooling by disseminating information. Then our group split apart into even newer support groups serving the needs of still newer homeschoolers. When the South Minneapolis Secular Eclectic group had outlived its usefulness its meetings stopped. Today a general statewide network and telephone provide all the support we and many other entrenched homeschoolers need.
Partly because the 12-step support groups have a reliably fixed agenda and procedures, they endure for long periods despite a changing membership. A more important reason they last is that in the steps themselves is the admission that members are powerless against alcohol or some other debilitating force; in other words, members need the group. Since recovery is not an option, the recovering 12-stepper will always feel more secure attending meetings. As homeschoolers we are not powerless against the education of our young, even if we may be a little ignorant or insecure at first.
What we homeschoolers may be powerless against is the changing composition of our support groups. They grow from small ones with a few intimate families to large ones with an impersonal membership, and then, sometimes, back and forth again. It is relatively easy to quit a group when it is in its impersonal stages, but harder when we are one of only a handful of families relied on to have a decent meeting. It is hard to let go of a group in which we have invested time and emotion, but by the time we are asking such questions as: Will we still be able to see the friends we have made without the group structure? Will others continue to fare well without our encouragement? What will we do with the extra time? we are already beyond the point at which we really need support. It may be time for other newer homeschoolers to make use of the structures we have set in motion. Like parents letting go of our grown children, we should trust our support groups to grow, change, and branch into ever expanding (or shrinking) new forms. It must be human nature that many of us merge our self-images with the success of groups to which we belong, but as long as we measure success in terms of the ability of a group to persist intact, we castigate ourselves needlessly. Instead, our joint success can be seen in the swelling ranks of homeschoolers.
To Do's Not to Do's
  • Reach a consensus on objectives
  • Provide crafts materials appropriate to the age of the children
  • Develop a policy on children and clean up
  • Notify host as soon as possisble if you will not be coming
  • Bring a snack for your children
  • Cover an interesting variety of topics at each meeting
  • Suggest an alternative time if the selected one is inconvenient
  • Serve refreshments
  • Keep the meetings going as long as it is fun
  • Expect the host to call to remind you
  • Assume everyone's goals are the same
  • Assume someone else will take charge of your children
  • Call during the meeting
  • Bring anyone extra without prior approval
  • Make a fuss about the time or place
  • Expect the host to handle personality conflicts
  • Lose your cool
  • Devote the entire meeting to deciding what to do at the meetings
  • Keep the meetings going because someone else wants them
Some things to do when you leave the support group but still want to feel connected and useful
  1. Join a task-oriented support group or play group
  2. Join a statewide network with annual conferences, picnics, etc.
  3. Continue to make arrangements to meet with the friends you have made in the support group
  4. Do workshops on homeschooling
  5. Write articles/letters-to-the-editor on homeschooling for mainstream or homeschooling magazines and newspapers
  6. Make phonecalls
  7. Read the newest homeschooling magazines and books

Copyright © 1996 & 1997 N. S. Gill.

This page hosted by Get your own Free Home Page