Home Education Magazine
January-February 2000 - Columns
Working for Homeschooling Freedoms: Chore or Opportunity?
- Larry and Susan Kaseman
How tempting it is for us homeschoolers to think, "We'll take care of our own family and figure out how we're going to homeschool. Then when we have everything going smoothly, we can use some of our extra time, energy and money to work for homeschooling freedoms." Unfortunately, the world just doesn't work that way. It is much easier to figure out how to homeschool our own children if we live in a state that has reasonable homeschooling laws and policies. It is much easier to decide how much emphasis we need to put on conventional academic subjects and when we need to work harder to help our children learn to read, to spell, or do algebra if we can focus on our family's goals and priorities and on the needs of each individual child, without also having to worry about how well they will do on state-mandated tests, or what we will write on our quarterly or annual reports to public school officials. Therefore, figuring out how we'll homeschool and working to maintain our homeschooling freedoms have to go hand in hand.
Many homeschoolers (including readers of this column) are actively working to maintain homeschooling freedoms, which benefits all homeschoolers. But many other homeschoolers are not. Some seem to feel that they don't have time, especially since homeschooling itself takes time. Some (especially new homeschoolers) seem to feel that there is no need to worry about our freedoms, especially since many states have fairly reasonable homeschooling laws. Still others feel that there is nothing they as individuals can do.
However, if we are going to maintain our homeschooling freedoms, we need to convince more homeschoolers to become involved in this on-going process. This column will remind readers who are already involved of the reasons and importance of our work. It will also provide ideas and perspectives that can be shared with other homeschoolers to help them understand why they need to become involved. Fortunately, if we each do our share, we can be effective without having to commit a great deal of time, energy, or money.
Why Do We Have to Keep Working to Maintain our Freedoms?
* If we don't work to maintain our freedoms, we will certainly lose them. Why is this loss inevitable? Because, despite the fact that families choose to homeschool for personal reasons and not to undermine the educational establishment, the educational establishment nevertheless sees homeschooling as a threat. Think about it. Simply by deciding, for whatever reasons, not to send our children to a conventional school, we have become a scapegoat for The largest and most powerful interest groups in our society. As a result, this interest group is using some of its power and resources to gain control over homeschooling by requiring that our children take state-mandated standardized tests, that we submit our curriculums for review and approval, etc. By requiring that homeschools become substantially equivalent to conventional schools, the educational establishment will reduce the threat we represent. It will also give us less reason to bother to homeschool. That is, if our children have to do essentially the same things at home as they would have to do at school, why not simply let the schools educate them and force government standards on them. (Of course, there are many other reasons to homeschool and many of us would homeschool even under these dire circumstances. But just think how different our lives would be!)
To make matters even worse, many members of the general public are willing to surrender the primary responsibility for learning to conventional schools. Therefore, it seems reasonable to them to have public schools controlling homeschooling. In order to get the support that we need from non-homeschoolers so we can have reasonable homeschooling laws, we need to keep explaining to legislators and the general public what is wrong with having public schools control homeschools. In other words, there is no one but us to resist the efforts of the educational establishment to control homeschools.
In short, we cannot simply stay where we are. If we don't work actively to maintain our homeschooling freedoms, we will lose them.
* Another reason we need to keep working to maintain our freedoms is that the powerful interest groups that dominate our society are undermining freedoms in non-homeschooling areas. Consider recent increases in laws aimed at juveniles, including truancy laws and daytime curfews. Consider increasing government regulations in many areas of our lives. Consider the increasing use of state-mandated standardized tests and standardized curriculums in conventional schools. It is not surprising that homeschooling sometimes simply gets swept along with the tide.
* The specifics of state homeschooling laws do make a difference. Meeting our children's needs, encouraging their learning, allowing them to follow their interests and develop their passions, and building strong families are not easy, especially in our society today. But they are much easier in a state that has a reasonable homeschooling law or one that simply treats homeschools as it does other private schools and respects our independence. It is more difficult to homeschool our children in the way that will work best for our family when we have to worry about their taking standardized tests (even if the scores don't have to be reported to the state), submitting our curriculum for review and approval, filing quarterly or annual reports with the state or local school district, or other such unnecessary and invasive requirements.
Those of us who live in a state with reasonable homeschooling policies may find it helpful to talk with homeschoolers in states which have restrictive requirements or to read their accounts in this magazine and other places. We may also find it helpful to talk with old-timers in our own state who were homeschooling before the current reasonable homeschooling laws or policies were established. It is easier to stay motivated when we are reminded of how much more difficult things could be. And those of us in states with more restrictive laws and policies may find we are more inspired and motivated to work for homeschooling freedoms if we talk with homeschoolers or read about homeschooling in states with reasonable regulations.
As an aside: Credit should certainly be given to those of us homeschoolers in states with restrictive regulations who have worked hard to homeschool in our own way despite the regulations. However, such maneuvering has come at some cost, and it is still better, whenever possible, not to have such regulations.
* A fourth reason to work for homeschooling freedoms is that a few people can make a difference. Even one person can make a difference. Many, many times, a school official has asked a homeschooler for something that was not legally required in their state. Perhaps the official insisted on reviewing their curriculum, even though this was not required by law, or demanded that homeschooling children come in for an evaluation. Many, many parents have known what the law required and have refused to comply with requests that exceeded the law. Each of these parents has helped maintain our homeschooling freedoms and has refused to allow the educational establishment to increase its control over homeschoolers.
Relatively small groups of people can also make a difference. For example, hearings held by legislative committees in most states are attended by very few people. When, in addition to regular lobbyists, a group of more than five or ten people attend, legislators take note.
* What about times that seem nearly hopeless, especially when we have worked hard and have still been treated unfairly by the power centers of our society? Usually it is more important than ever that we continue to work to maintain our freedoms in such situations. One question we can ask is, "How much worse would things be if we weren't working as hard as we are to maintain our freedoms?"
* Perhaps most importantly, there are more personal reasons to work for homeschooling freedoms. When we do, we realize we are more in control of our own lives. We forge connections with other homeschoolers and increase the support we give each other. We increase our awareness of the importance of maintaining freedoms in other areas of our lives and our society. We learn how to work effectively for these freedoms, even against seemingly overwhelming obstacles. We set a good example for our children and help them learn the importance of working to maintain freedoms. And we sleep better at night.
What We Can Do
* We can keep ourselves informed of developments that affect homeschooling families, especially those on the state and local level.
It is important to remember that freedoms are often lost in very small increments. At this point in time, no state or local school district is likely to outlaw homeschooling. But many are attempting to increase their regulation of homeschooling in small bits. We may sometimes feel paranoid or foolish protesting against something that seems so minor, especially when it's so tempting to just give officials what they are asking for and avoid all the hassle. But if we don't stand firm on small points, we will gradually lose a great deal.
We also need to be alert for developments that may seem at first glance to offer something important or worthwhile to homeschoolers but that will inevitably lead to increased regulation of homeschooling. Examples are tax credits for homeschooling expenses, vouchers, programs designed to allow families to homeschool through public schools, etc. (These have been discussed in recent "Taking Charge" columns.)
* We can make sure that we are complying only with the minimum that the law requires and are not voluntarily doing more than necessary, even when school officials ask us to do so. For more information on this point, see our column "'Doing the Minimum to Comply With Homeschooling Laws and Other Good Ideas," Home Education Magazine, Sept./Oct., 1999.
* If our state has an inclusive grassroots organization that is working to maintain homeschooling freedoms, we can support it. (If such an organization does not already exist, we can consider organizing one.) Our membership, donations, attendance at conferences, and other participation are vitally important to the continued existence of such organizations. Even if there are no serious issues looming on the horizon at the moment, it is important that such organizations be in place and ready when challenges to our freedoms come, as they inevitably will.
It is important to realize that it takes an independent grassroots organization based in our state to respond to challenges on the state and local level. A national organization cannot do an effective job. Its leaders do not have the inside information and "feel" for the homeschooling situation, the political climate and "quirks" of our state that one can gain only by living in a place. They have less incentive to work for homeschooling freedoms because they do not have to live under the resulting laws and regulations.
It is also important to realize that turning the work that must be done to maintain our freedoms over to lawyers does not work//Also, it does not work to rely on lawyers to maintain our freedoms. Their orientation is toward the technicalities of the law. They prefer laws that are clear-cut, black and white, and easy to defend in court. For this reason, they tend to favor laws that require standardized tests or review and approval of curriculum by public school officials or oversight by a homeschooling organization. However, such laws require the sacrifice of our homeschooling freedoms. Lawyers also tend to resist situations that are ambiguous or simply treat homeschools like other private schools, even though such fluid situations often work best for homeschoolers because they give us the flexibility to maneuver and institute creative solutions to problems we may encounter.
* Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we can share our information with others and encourage them to become involved. The more homeschoolers who are involved in working constructively to maintain our freedoms, the more likely we are to succeed.
Working for homeschooling freedoms is definitely an opportunity, although it may sometimes also seem like a chore. Through such work, we learn a great deal. We strengthen ourselves, our families, and our society. We prevent the inevitable erosion of our freedoms that will happen if we do not work to maintain them. And we increase the opportunities that we have to decide how best to homeschool our own children. Then homeschooling can be a joyful way of life!
© 2000, Larry and Susan Kaseman
HEM General Information
Subscribe to HEM