Community Building and Networking among Homeschoolers in Delaware County, Indiana, 1980–2010

Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom D (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Rachel E. Coleman, Indiana University
How does networking take place at a local level? How are communities built, and what causes them to change over time? Using surveys, interviews, newsletters, email lists, and newspaper articles as sources, I seek to answer these questions as I examine networking and community building among homeschoolers in Delaware County, Indiana, from 1980 to 2010.

While the majority of homeschoolers in Delaware County have long been conservative Christians, there has always been tension between them and the few homeschoolers who have been Mormon, Jewish, or atheist. This tension is reflected in the networking that has taken place, which until the 2000s tended to marginalize those whose beliefs were not considered acceptable. Yet in spite of this tension, homeschoolers were extremely successful in their networking and built a community with a plethora of resources.

As I examine this process of networking and community building, I look at local sites—churches, libraries, and homes—where homeschoolers gathered and shared information, and trace the influence of state and national homeschool leaders and organizations. I argue that the homeschool community in Delaware County passed through three stages: first, homeschoolers collaborated and networked informally and were fairly egalitarian and tolerant; next, a large Christian homeschool group dominated the homeschool community; and finally, the Internet democratized networking and resource gathering and co-ops became smaller and based on friend groups rather than ideology. I suggest that this pattern—informal networking, Christian control, and decentralized networking via the Internet and the mainstreaming of homeschooling—played out on a national level as well.

This study of local networking and community building among Christian homeschoolers has broader implications regarding how local networks form and operate, the ability of groups to act as “gatekeepers,” restricting and censoring information, and the revolutionary and democratizing impact of the Internet.

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