Homeschooling Advocacy – Step 4: Know How to Write an Effective Letter or Email
Advocacy is for everyone. Any concerned parent can become an advocate for homeschooling freedoms. And so can you. This article is the fourth in a series of steps you can take to become an effective advocate for homeschooling in your community.
Step 4: Know How to Write an Effective Letter or Email
- Your school district sends out a semi-annual form letter which contains inaccurate information about Virginia homeschooling law.
- The local newspaper reports that the school board has rejected a homeschooled teen’s request to take a class part-time at the local high school.
- A friend emails you a nationally syndicated column which portrays homeschooling in an unfavorable light.
- Your delegate is scheduled to vote on an important homeschooling bill in the General Assembly this week.
You can take positive action in each of these cases by writing a letter or email to the parties involved, explaining your concerns and providing accurate information about homeschooling. Letters or emails are especially appropriate in response to a form letter, a survey, an email, or a newspaper article or editorial. Letters and emails are also an effective way to express your views to lawmakers or policymakers on a particular homeschooling issue.
There are many advantages to letter writing. It’s a time-honored, effective, inexpensive way to get your message across to lawmakers, policymakers, school officials, reporters, columnists, other parents, etc. Faxes and electronic communications can make printed communications exceptionally fast and easy, even for frazzled, overcommitted homeschooling parents. Perhaps this is why so many successful homeschooling activists say they got started by writing letters or emails.
Unfortunately, putting your thoughts and concerns on paper can also be risky. Your words may come back to haunt you or be taken out of context. Written work sent in haste or anger can do far more harm than good. Printed words may create the wrong emotional impression, which can lead to hurt feelings or misunderstandings.
Here are some tips for writing effective homeschooling advocacy letters:
- Do your homework before you write. Make sure you have your facts straight about the issue in question. In many cases, you can learn more about the issue by visiting the VaHomeschoolers website or by talking with other homeschoolers in your community or online.
- Keep your letter short and straightforward. Short, concise letters and emails are far more likely to be read, published, or taken seriously than long, rambling tirades. Focus on developing and communicating a few “talking points,” the main reasons for your support, opposition, or concern. Explain how and why this issue affects you and your family. Never underestimate how much useful information can be conveyed in 100-200 words!
- Begin your letter with a strong opening. Your opening sentence should introduce the reader to the issue at hand and explain why you are writing in the first place. Advocacy letters usually begin with opening sentences like “I’d like to express my support for Delegate Soenso’s proposal…” or “John Smith’s recent article on homeschooling contained some inaccurate information about…” or “As a homeschooling parent, I was surprised to hear that the school board plans to…” or “Your letter of February 31 says that homeschooling parents can only use the XYZ exam. However….”
- Don’t mix causes. Stick to talking about homeschooling and the issue at hand. Avoid bringing up political, religious, or philosophical issues which might draw attention away from your argument.
- Consider your audience. Tailor your letter to suit your imagined reader. Is your reader likely to be impressed or influenced by facts, figures, and research studies? Citations from the law? Weblinks? Heartfelt, personal anecdotes about you and your family? Information about homeschoolers in your community? Information about homeschoolers in faraway places? In some cases, you’ll be “speaking from the head,” while in other cases, you’ll want to “speak from the heart.” Use your best judgment as to which is most appropriate.
- Provide constructive criticism whenever possible. Many letterwriters find it helpful to use the “praise sandwich” approach, consisting of two slices of praise with the criticism sandwiched in between them. This approach can be effective because it catches the reader doing some things right, while providing feedback on how to improve in the future. Resist the temptation to threaten or yell at your reader, even if he deserves it.
- Always review your written work before sending or mailing. Try reading your letter with fresh eyes, pretending you’ve never seen it before. How does it read? Does it make sense? Did your message get across? Don’t forget to check for grammar and spelling, just in case your friendly word processor missed something important. Seek constructive feedback from friends, family members, or other homeschoolers. A good editor is a writer’s best friend!
And last, but definitely not least…
- Think twice before mailing an angry or emotional letter. Avoid hitting that “Send” button when tired or upset. Store your document safely, walk away from your desk or computer, and let the letter sit for a few hours or even overnight. Reread and reconsider your letter as needed. It may be helpful to share your letter with a friend who can provide some objective perspective on your concerns and feelings.
Your Mission: Write a short letter about a homeschooling issue in your community, using some of the tips and strategies mentioned in this article. The letter could be addressed to your local newspaper, school district, legislator, or school board member. After putting your thoughts on paper, share what you’ve written with a friend and get feedback for how the letter could be improved. (Actually mailing or emailing your letter is optional!).
Next Step: Know How To Write Effective Talking Points.
Article by Celeste Land. Originally published in the May-June 2006 VaHomeschoolers Newsletter. For more information on Virginia homeschooling legal and political issues, please contact VaHomeschoolers Government Affairs.