Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Art of Judging Words - Voting on Homeschool Issues

by Amy Cortez, Editor Eclectic Telegraph

I am on a number of homeschool email lists and with a presidential election coming up you'd think they'd be buzzing with discussion of issues. They're not - not really. At least the ones I am on.

One of the lists run by one I consider to be the "Yoda" of homeschooling remarked:
In fact, with only a few short weeks until the Presidential election, I think the political discussion here is probably even slower than it should be, and I'm wondering where on earth homeschoolers ARE talking about the many issues and concerns...
I have been meaning to reply, but haven't been able to craft the right words.

On another list, and "all inclusive" statewide list, a spirited discussion regarding the legitimacy (and that's a big word if you research it) of the endorsements for the candidates running for the the State Board of Education (SBE) posted at a Christian Homeschooling PAC website. The endorsements came from a set of questions interviewers asked SBE Candidates. As list members we were invited to review the endorsements and we were also invited to use these "developed set of questions" were we to interview SBE Candidates.

Some of us on this particular list are not Christian as it is a statewide list, and sometimes in our responses we are perceived as attacking a whole group of people when we frame our responses from our point of reference.

I posted what I thought was a pretty mild commentary as a response to what I thought of the information posted at the PAC website. Generally when I go to one of these kinds of sites, I am totally bewildered at the assumptions that gets made about what a homeschooler looks like and it is really hard to use words that are not angry and "judging" in a response. But this site was like many others was dynamite in invoking those kinds of sentiments in me. To me, it wasn't the endorsements per se, it was the instrument used to get the endorsements that elicited my emotion. The 10 questions were designed to extract opinions and not knowledge of facts, and they certainly weren't directly related to homeschooling, though one could in a long reach twist them that way. These questions were also positioned as being designed to "sway the candidate to support home education".
If the candidate has no questionnaire results, or is not where you want them on the position of home education, you may use our developed set of questions and interview the candidate yourself; the goal would be to move the candidate to support home education.
They were not questions I would ask for sure, especially in my district regarding homeschool issues, especially in light of the fact that our State regulations are up for review by this board. In fact they were pretty benign questions as it came to homeschooling issues. Some were questions designed to extract answers one could use to make a morality judgment if they were so inclined. I commented on question numbers 8 & 9:
8. About Sex education in the public schools: How explicit should any curriculum content get?

A: Drill down: Should students be instructed on application of a condom?

9. How do you feel about Darwinian Evolution/Intelligent Design/Creationism?

Sway the candidate to support home education? What?

How were these questions, in particular, going to sway the candidates towards home education? Of all the words I could have written as a response, I chose the following:
I think, in reading the interviewers "developed set of questions", 8 & 9 are the most revealing in the "agenda" behind why the information is being collected. If we were voting in my district, I'd have a different set of questions to ask, and it wouldn't involve condoms on bananas.
And then I followed up with some mildly "judging" words of my own:
I recognize that a lot of work went into the XXX PAC site, I've developed many websites over the years, including a non-denominational statewide website for the state of Utah. I also try and keep political and religious affiliations in mind when I review information that's intended "for all". It's hard not to see the bias in the information at the XXX PAC site. It still astounds me that many assume because you're homeschooling your stand is "Right". Many of us who homeschool these days are well read, don't depend on "organizations" to keep us "informed" and are not religious or "Right".
It was actually that last sentence that I received many off list emails and one on list email all with the theme of thanking me for "succinctly summarizing thoughts" of homeschoolers "proudly educating our children for reasons other than religious".

But as the original request was for review of the endorsements, I went on to offer my opinion of endorsements. More judging words, from me:
As much as I don't want to say it. I think it's time that conservatives are out of public offices - all of them. They may protect our homeschooling freedoms to a point, but at some point, like now, there are bigger issues to grapple with. I don't think it matters what questions you ask, political animals all have their own agendas and I don't really think they will reveal it unless the interviewer matters in a bigger way than "just a vote" - these days.
To answer the question "Did I really mean that?" in a word. Yes. I think the conservative side of politics spends far too much energy on generating enemies and dictating their version of morality and I think it is chipping away at what democracy is in this country.

I must have really pushed some buttons with my response - or hit the nail on the head directly with my post. But I received a dilly of a response, one that illustrates just what this blog is intended to be about. Though there were several ideas present in my remarks that one could respond to I received the following remark as the first in a list of remarks:

Amy said: I think, in reading the interviewers "developed set of questions", 8 & 9 are the most revealing in the "agenda" behind why the information is being collected. If we were voting in my district, I'd have a different set of questions to ask, and it wouldn't involve condoms on bananas

List Response: While some of the interviewers asked these questions, others did not. There is quite a variety. Some people are interested in this topic - people on both sides of the issue and it does give some insight into the ideological persuasion of the individual. Let's face it, you revealed a lot about yourself in the snip above, Amy. I'm not judging you, I'm just saying it tells a lot about what's important to you and tells about how you might vote on certain issues. However, I don't see how it colors or slants the information in the interview about homeschooling or other forms of school choice.

Still trying to determine what I revealed by saying I wouldn't have asked about condom application - Perhaps that I must be one of those people who only votes for candidates who think demonstrating correct condom application is key to National economic prosperity and National security?

It was the "I'm not judging you" portion of the remark and the idea that this poster did not see how questions 8&9 "colors or slants the information in the interview about homeschooling issues" that spawned this Blog. The second item, I think is self explanatory - to a degree, but I'll ask it anyway - What does condom application have to do with homeschooling?

The remainder of the response directed at me was a barrage of what I thought were some pretty judging sentiments, most likely unbeknownst to the author as the words chosen basically made a morality judgment of me all under the pretense of not judging me.

To point out the idea that you think you are being judged to an individual pronouncing that they are not judging you is generally an unfruitful activity as a response, so instead, I turned to Google and the search phrase "judging words" and netted the perfect response to include in this blog instead:
Judging words show na'veté
9/29/08. Marina Yakhnis
The Times Delphic - Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa)

Our words and our intentions often exhibit a strange disconnect. Any given word frames what we mean even as we struggle to mold those words into an accurate representation of our thoughts. On Friday, both McCain and Obama revealed an entrenched "na'veté" about the nature of the world (to use McCain's words). It wasn't the substance of their arguments. It was the words they employed.


To lead America in this day and age and have meaningful relations with nations whose political systems differ from ours, America's next president has to understand that sometimes people are not their government. Obama's and McCain's failure to do so underscores a complete lack of understanding about how the world works. That's a bold statement for a 21-year-old Kansas bumpkin to be making. At the same time, neither Obama nor McCain have had the benefit of meeting my grandparents.
Awesome writing for a person embarking on her journey out into the world.

I did respond to the person who publicly labeled me as an inflexible "liberal" who thinks that only other liberals "who agree with YOU should have a voice" in government. I told this person that comment they reacted to, #8 was:
an irrelevant issue and a dumb question to ask a candidate.
Here's why. It has nothing to do with homeschooling regulations in our state. It is a judging question designed to illicit an answer where morality can be openly assessed. In my opinion, that is what has become so wrong with the way we vote. We judge our candidates by what we perceive their morality to be. Morality comes in a lot of flavors and as with religion, groups tend to label their version as the "correct" version for everyone.

Since I began voting in 1978, I have seen the political scene be reduced to a spectacle of pure emotion, morality judgments, glitz, glamor and did I mention corruption? I've seen the definition of patriotism changed to mean that a person must be wrapped in the flag AND religion to be a patriot. What happened to choosing those in public office based on ability, knowledge base and willingness to serve? Why are so many in in a place where they "have to choose between the lesser of two evils"? What happened to using some sort of straightforward logic to choose the best candidate? If you have ever read any Aristotle you recognize that the study of logic in ancient times was about learning to distinguish good from bad arguments, and in doing so become more effective in argument and oratory, with the hope of becoming a better person.

Another person on this same list posed this question:
If a homeschooler interviewed a professed homosexual candidate and they said they supported homeschoolers and would never support any further regulations, but supported sex education, how would you list them?
An awesome attempt to demonstrate that though there are several emotional issues here, as a homeschooler who supposedly would only be voting for a candidate who supports homeschooling, what would logic dictate?

So in getting back to Yoda, people aren't discussing issues on homeschool lists because I think we as a community have become too polarized. Those of us who homeschool for reasons other than religion are tired of being labled as "flaming" liberals or are tired of being of clumped into the category of religious zealots. Many of us are not either and find that though homeschooling has become mainstream, there are members of our community who continue to fail to recognize that just like mainstream America, homeschoolers come in many flavors with many very different frames of referenece.

As for this list I am on. Generally, I don't submit to political discussion unless I feel it is something is so extreme to my frame of reference as a homeschooler. And I have other places where there are "like minded" people: Secular Homeschoolers.

© 2005-2008. Amy Cortez. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

happy-hsr said...

You have written here what so many of us feel on some of these supposedly "all inclusive" homeschooling lists. I haven't been homeschooling long, but what I have seen makes me feel like everbody thinks that all of us are religious nuts. I homeschool my gifted kid because the schools can't do a good job. I have enjoyed all of your posts and felt like this was one I should make a comment on. Thank you for saying outloud what a lot of us feel.

Youngstown OH