Dana Hanley is a homeschool Mom and activist who lives in Nebraska with her husband and her four children. She is also the owner and creator of the Principled Discovery blog where she writes about homeschooling, education, children and many other issues affecting families. Recently, she also started a weekly online talk show. You can listen to it here- Home School Talk Radio.
I began the interview by asking Dana to tell us a little bit more about herself and her family.
Dana: We began homeschooling because my husband wanted to and I agreed to try it out, planning all the while to enroll my daughter in first grade. I was actually rather against the whole idea, thinking homeschoolers were a bit weird and over-concerned with academic success and spelling bees. I remind myself of that occasionally when I run into people or articles who clearly are judging homeschooling based on stereotypes. We know have four children, ages 9, 5, 3, and one. My eldest unfortunately bore the brunt of my early dictatorial methods and hence is not quite as enthusiastic about homeschooling as my younger ones who have never known anything but wanting to be involved as much as possible. Homeschooling is a lot more natural now, because I am no longer trying to replicate other systems in my home. And I no longer have plans of dropping the children off at school in the near future.
Mary: What is it like to homeschool in Nebraska?
Dana: I enjoy it. I remember the first year I was so nervous that I wasn’t going to do everything just right and I sent in a stack of paperwork. I was sure that the Department of Education was just waiting for some reason to reject my paperwork. Turns out I did do something wrong, and I received my packet back with an extension because I had forgotten to include a copy of my daughter’s birth certificate.
Mary: Can you describe your law in a nutshell?
Dana: As it is applied, we turn in a calendar, a scope and sequence and a list of children to be home educated to the state at the beginning of each school year. The calendar must document 1,032 hours of instruction for elementary students and 1,080 for high school. The law includes provisions for testing and house visits, however back in 1987, Attorney General Robert Spire issued an opinion stating that all visitations must be applied uniformly for all private schools and with the consent of parents. Therefore, the Department of Education never adopted rules to begin either testing or home visits.
Mary: Nebraska LB 1141, the anti-homeschool legislation was introduced this year. Can you tell us what the bill proposed and how Nebraska
Dana: Basically, the proposed law only changed one word in the current law. Rather than stating that the Board of Education “may” include provisions for testing and home visits, it would read “shall.” There were some other minor changes, but that was the heart of the proposed legislation. As soon as the legislation was introduced, information passed pretty quickly among homeschoolers. The Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association updated their members and that information was forwarded. On one forum I am on, we shared the letters we were planning on sending to our senators for feedback and help with proofreading. NCHEA’s annual legislative day also happened to be shortly after the legislation was introduced and they naturally had record attendance. Despite blizzard-like conditions and area schools being closed for the day. Homeschoolers also were able to speak with their senator during a 15-minute meeting, and naturally the bill was the main topic of conversation.
Through the feedback from phone calls and letters, NCHEA already knew that the bill had a good chance of being passed out of the education committee, but would not pass the legislature in its original form. There was some uneasiness about how many senators would remain supportive of homeschoolers once the amendment process began. When the bill was finally discussed in committee, over 1,000 homeschoolers showed up, representing almost every county in the state. Several people presented oral testimony and Chairman Raikes was very generous in allotting extra time so that all who had signed up to speak were given their three minutes.
Due to the shortened legislative session, however, the bill was not advanced. Only those which received priority status were being debated on the floor of the senate, and this one did not have that status so it never got out of committee. Fortunately, it cannot carryover to the next session.
Ironically, right after our bill was discussed, a bill requiring a statewide test of all public schools was heard. The Commissioner of Education and the Nebraska Teachers Association were opposed and had fought this bill since it was first introduced. They were the only ones who spoke, however, and the bill cleared the committee and passed the senate this spring. It really demonstrated to me that the power the homeschooling community is not in any single organization (the NEA is much more powerful than any of our organizations) but in the willingness of so many homeschoolers to make the effort to become personally involved in the process.
Mary: Early in April you wrote that Senator Schimek, the same individual who introduced LB 1141 introduced a resolution concerning homeschooling. Can you tell us more about that resolution and how it might effect? Nebraska homeschoolers?
Dana: Essentially what Senator Schimek is trying to do is investigate ways the oversight can be increased of Nebraska homeschools. It will not have any direct effect, and I do not think this resolution really served as anything other than a model for what she hopes the legislature will take on next session. She is being term limited out of office, and I do not think anything ever happened with the resolution.
Mary: When did you create your blog, Principled Discovery?
Dana: I started my blog almost three years ago, when my daughter started first grade. Originally, I just shared outlines of our day and occasional lesson plans. I got bored of that as I began feeling more comfortable homeschooling and began talking more and more about issues which effect homeschooling rather than directly what was happening in our home.
Mary: What do you feel was the best homeschool advice you were ever given?
Dana: Remember you are not running a home school. You are running a home.
Mary: What do you feel is the most valuable information you share with
new folks? With veterans?
Dana: I am just finishing my fourth year so anything I say about how to homeschool should be taken with a grain of salt. My views are still somewhat idealized. In fact, maybe that is the one thing that I’ve told people that could be valuable…take everything you hear from other homeschoolers (particularly those you do not really know) with a grain of salt. Everyone really needs to decide for themselves their reason and goals for home education. The most stress I have seen in the homeschoolers I know has to do with people who feel like they need to be someone they are not in order to be a “good homeschooler.” I get that way, too, but I really do believe that knowing why you are doing what you are doing helps with a lot of that kind of stress.
Mary: Thank you for taking the time to share with us!