Saturday, August 06, 2005

Cross-pollination or cross-pollution?

I read somewhere that there are seven kinds of homeschoolers. Though I'm not sure about that, I do know that reasons for homeschooling are as diverse as the families who practice it. Therefore, it is no wonder that there are conflicting views in the movement. Some are better defined than others and a few overlap. Sort of like opposing teams within different divisions, some I watch because it's Sunday afternoon and there's nothing else on while others are rivals whose heated match-ups attract a lot of attention no matter whose side you're on.

As long as it remains civil, this is a healthy, necessary exercise. I welcome it, because profound discussion happens in those debates. Ideas are exchanged that force people--even those not directly involved-- to look beyond what they know (or think they know) to consider something else. For those new to homeschooling, these debates serve as an introduction to homeschool history, crash courses in (internal and external) homeschool politics; for others, a guide to legislative activism. For all of us, these conversations create better homeschoolers.

However, there are online forums out there that seem bent on shutting people up. I don't know how long this has been going on, but I felt it within days of joining HSWatch about two months ago and witnessed it first hand this week on the NHEN boards. Both groups give deference to the same members, express the same views and employ the same tactics. I don't speak for the entire membership of those groups, but I will spell out what disturbs me:

This harkens back to the issue of withholding support from those who unknowingly violate ambiguous rules or don't adhere to purposefully vague descriptions. Granted, private list owners can make their own rules. However, unevenly enforcing the rules, exhibiting blatant favoritism toward those in agreement, enacting an unofficial policy counter to the group's description to ban dissenters at will and allowing key members to strong-arm others into silence by tossing around words like "libel" is --in my opinion--intimidating, unethical, controlling and vindictive. Contrary to their descriptions, groups engaging in these practices are not interested in information and diversity.

Just this week on NHEN, I was following a thread on Protecting Homeschool Freedoms & Clarity (something near and dear to my homeschooling heart) in which the moderator quickly took a belligerent tone with the author. I thought it was uncalled for but guessed that perhaps there was some personal history that I was unaware of. Thinking that this might be one of those "Sunday afternoon, nothing's on" confrontations, I revisited the thread later. It had been significantly altered. Whole posts, which were civil and relevant, are missing, thus changing the context and cohesiveness of the entire exchange. Given the "inclusive" nature of NHEN, I wondered if it should change its motto to "Controlling the way the world sees homeschooling."

In the course of the debate (Page 3), the moderator chastised the author for quoting directly from HSWatch (which is against the elist's rules) and predicted dire consequences for her "given the readership of these [NHEN] boards." The author of that thread is now on heavy moderation at NHEN and was, as predicted, banned from HSWatch. Shortly thereafter, the moderator became confrontational with yet another poster who dared to disagree. This moderator, whoever the hell she is, NHEN and HSWatch certainly don't seem interested in a dialogue with diversity or presenting a whole picture of that diversity. That's fine. Just change your description and don't forget to include your mutual affiliations or common punitive policies.

The latest development stems from a post from an HSLDA lawyer to NHEN which has been cross-posted to HSWatch by the NHEN moderator. In it, he defines libel at the request of two members who are at odds (the two at odds in the above paragraph, that is). An HSWatch member, who obviously didn't know better, objected to the cooling effect such a veiled threat would have on members of HSWatch, to which the list owner responded (and, for crying out loud, I'm not quoting her) that she didn't mind having a lawyer on the list defining libel if it made people think about the consequences of their words...not exactly a raging endorsement for the practical discussion outlined on her group's homepage. In other words, shut the hell up. Or else.

These two groups seem to have formed an alliance befitting a dysfunctional episode of Survivor: Homeschool Island. Why? Good grief, I don't know. Control? Self-preservation? I don't think there is a grand scheme in place, but I don't think it's a coincidence, either. Again, just my opinion.

I will say this: By giving the floor to one side of a multi-faceted debate and deliberately silencing others, both serve only themselves, risk sacrificing their credibility and are of no use to me.

No comments: