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March-April 2000 - Columns

Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman

The Military-HSLDA Complex and Our Freedoms

Our homeschooling freedoms are being threatened by a 5-year pilot program designed to make it easier for homeschoolers to enter the military. Not surprisingly, recruiters want assurance that people who claim to be homeschooling graduates actually are. However, their attempts to gain this assurance will increase regulation of homeschooling by the federal government. To work to prevent this loss of our homeschooling freedoms, we can do three things.

(1) We can refuse to participate in the "Survey of Home School Associations" that was recently mailed to many homeschooling organizations by the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA). Although the survey claims to be designed to "get information to support the pilot program," it actually changes the law that was passed and would increase government regulation of homeschooling.

(2) We can write letters and send emails to share our concerns with people conducting the pilot program, military officials, and federal legislators. (See below for addresses.) We can explain that the CNA survey is not representative of homeschoolers' thinking and is not in keeping with the language of the law that created the pilot program. We can ask that the pilot program be conducted in accordance with the law. A sample letter is included as a side bar. The more people who write, the better chance we have of preventing an increase in regulations now, which is easier than trying to undo new regulations once they have been put in place. Also, regulations adopted by the military would set a precedent. They might then be adopted by other parts of the federal government (such as offices that handle financial aid for higher education) and be used as models by state governments.

(3) We can learn from this experience and renew our commitment not to use legislation to try to solve problems except in rare situations when it is absolutely necessary. This problem has developed as a result of an attempt to use federal legislation to make it easier for homeschoolers to enter the military. It is a perfect example of a general principle we homeschoolers need to understand: homeschooling legislation carries serious risks because it provides many opportunities for increased regulation of homeschooling. One set of risks comes from the fact that amendments that increase regulation of homeschooling can be added during the legislative process. But even if a bill gets through the legislature without harmful amendments, regulation can easily be increased as the law is being implemented, as is the case with this law. We need to continue to find non-legislative ways to solve problems, as we have been doing. Consider how many of us homeschoolers have figured out how to get learning resources, become active in our communities, get jobs, attend college, etc., etc. without legislation to clear the way.

This column will explore the background of the military's pilot program, problems the CNA survey creates for homeschoolers, and what we can do.

How and Why the Pilot Program and the CNA Survey Were Created

In the past, homeschoolers who wanted to enlist in the military but did not have a "third party diploma" from a correspondence school or other recognized institution were treated the same as dropouts from conventional schools. This misunderstanding could have been resolved in any one of a variety of ways, especially since the military is currently eager to find recruits because enlistments have declined. Unfortunately, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) decided to use federal legislation. As Christopher J. Klicka from HSLDA put it in a letter that was sent with the CNA survey, "This situation changed when the HSLDA persuaded Congress to create a five-year pilot program giving home school graduates the same enlistment status as those with a traditional high school diploma (Conference Report of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999, Section 571)."

Not surprisingly, the government now claims it needs to define homeschooling and identify "genuine home school graduates." The CNA survey is designed to involve homeschoolers in the process of increasing government regulation of homeschooling!

A principal researcher working on the survey also told us in a phone conversation that he had attended an HSLDA leadership conference which included a panel of armed forces representatives discussing recruitment and the homeschooling survey. The researcher answered questions from the floor. The researcher also explained that Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute was a consultant for the survey and that HSLDA provided names and addresses of "home school associations" to whom the survey was mailed. The cover letter from Klicka on HSLDA stationery was included with the survey, the researcher said, to ensure a higher response rate.

Unfortunately, both parts of the survey have serious consequences for our homeschooling freedoms, including the following.

What the Survey Will Do-Part I: Problems Created by Homeschoolers' Helping the Military Recruit Homeschoolers

The first part of the survey asks heads of "home school associations" how the military can reach homeschoolers. Among the problems this causes:

* The survey will lead to the creation of a federal data base on homeschooling. To help the military recruit homeschoolers, the survey asks homeschooling organizations to provide specific information about their publications, conventions, radio programs, and web pages. The data from this survey belong to the federal government. In compiling the survey results, the government will develop a more extensive data base about the homeschooling movement than currently exists in a government agency.

We cannot afford to be lulled into thinking that this is not a big deal since the survey only consists of data from homeschooling organizations who respond voluntarily, and hopefully not many will. Data bases like this tend to take on a life of their own. Forgetting why they were begun in the first place, someone assumes they need to continue to be maintained and, ideally, expanded, especially if someone's job depends in part on the need for the data base.

In addition, data bases at the federal level are interfaced with other data bases. Recall the survey HSLDA released in March, 1999, in which the researcher explained that he had deliberately worded questions in a certain way so that the data from his survey could be interfaced with other federal data. For more information, see "Taking Charge," in Home Education Magazine, July-August, 1999, page 12 ff. PDF copies are available online at: www.homeedmag.com/dangerous-study.pdf

Do we want the government to have such a data base on the homeschooling movement, especially given the potential such data bases have for expanding and merging?

What the Survey Will Do-Part II: Problems Created by the Military's Defining Homeschooling and Identifying "Genuine Home School Graduates"

The second part of the survey asks for help in defining homeschooling and identifying "genuine home school graduates." Among the problems it creates:

* If the government defines homeschooling, it will have much greater control over homeschoolers. We will be expected to live by whatever definition the government chooses and to change our homeschooling if the government changes the definition. Do we want history to show that those of us who homeschooled during the last quarter of the twentieth century were the only ones who could create their own definition of homeschooling, before the government created a definition homeschoolers had to follow, just as the government is creating standards that local schools have to follow? It has been and continues to be our responsibility to insist that the educational establishment, the government, and the general public accept us as homeschoolers on our terms rather than changing our homeschooling so that it conforms to the expectations and convenience of the institutions. We need to define homeschooling ourselves and not allow these large institutions to define it and then insist that we conform to their definition.

* Question 6 on the survey asks, "What are practical ways for military recruiters to identify genuine home school graduates? Check all that apply." The first possibility, the only one that mentions parents, reads "A notarized letter-issued by parents confirming completion of high school through home schooling." "A statement from parents" or "A diploma from the student's home school" are not listed as options. The only way that homeschoolers could vouch for themselves (remember we are talking about young adults legally old enough to enlist in the military) is "A portfolio of high school work" or "A written description of the curriculum," both of which imply that someone needs to review and approve them. All the other possibilities rely on some kind of outside expert: "a third party (such as the clergy or an elected official)," "a local support group," "a state home school association," "curriculum providers," "a correspondence program," "a home school service center or umbrella school," "a local public school district/state department of education." (Words in bold in this paragraph appeared that way in the survey.)

This list is not new. People have suggested or demanded review and approval of homeschools by outside experts or organizations in the past. How many times have we heard that homeschools should be approved by the state department of education? Many times we have countered these suggestions because they are unnecessary and unwanted, and we have remained free from them. At the same time, we have gained a great deal of credibility and acceptance from colleges and universities, employers, and the general public by presenting the documentation or credentials that are most appropriate for a given situation. Why would we want to go backwards now and participate in a survey that clearly expects us to accept review and approval of our homeschools?

In short, nThe options given in question 6 is acceptable to most homeschoolers. Some respondents might check the least objectionable options, but any of the options would represent a loss of freedom for the vast majority of homeschoolers. The options listed undermine the principles of parental rights and responsibilities that we have fought for during the past 25 years. The options also are inconsistent with the law on which the survey is based. The law requires only that "the person is a home school diploma recipient and provides a transcript demonstrating completion of high school to the military department involved under the pilot program." [Pub. L. 105-261, div. A, title V, Sec. 571, Oct. 17, 1998, 112 Stat. 2033, (b) (2)] Now the survey is asking homeschoolers to agree to do more than the law requires.

* Attempts to identify "genuine home schoolers" will inevitably cost us homeschooling freedoms. Requirements introduced to identify "genuine" homeschoolers will increase the regulation of homeschooling. In addition, we would be surrendering power and control to whoever judges homeschoolers, whether it is our local school board, the state board of education, educational experts, or even other homeschoolers or homeschooling organizations.

* The military does not need criteria for identifying "genuine home school graduates." Suppose a few high school dropouts did sneak into the military by posing as homeschoolers. Either they would successfully complete their term of enlistment (especially since they are obviously motivated to get in), in which case the military should be glad they enlisted, or they would not complete their enlistment. However, at present, 38% of everyone who enlists in the military do not complete their term for a variety of reasons. Surely the military has much more important things to worry about in seeking qualified recruits than whether people claiming to be homeschool graduates are "genuine."

* Question 9 on the survey says, "To help military recruiters define home schooling, check the statements that apply to homeschooling." People who complete the survey are indicating that they agree that the military should define homeschooling. If homeschoolers participate in the survey, the government will be able to claim that homeschoolers voluntarily participated in the development of the definition and therefore have implicitly agreed to it.

* At present, education (including homeschooling) is covered by state laws, regulations, and definitions. A definition of homeschooling by the federal government would be much more rigid and harder to change. It would be more rigid because generally speaking, the larger the bureaucracy or institution doing the defining, the greater the tendency for increased control and for the most demanding position. As an example, the military is demonstrating this tendency in question 6 above, in which it is taking the most demanding position and not being willing to accept parents' and/or students' words. In addition, over time the federal definition could become the definition that states use, especially since it would undoubtedly mean greater regulation in many states.

* A definition of homeschooling would have strong impact if it came from the military. Because of the position of respect held toward the military in our society and its close association with patriotism and the best interests of the nation in the minds of most people, there is a tendency for policies or standards established by the military to have widespread influence on society. Society also looks to the military to establish or reflect social values and standards. Witness the historic role of the military in beginning to break down barriers to African-Americans in society. The use of early forms of standardized tests by the military contributed to their spread and acceptance in schools. Thus it is wise for us to be especially concerned about anything which establishes a precedent in the military because of the likelihood that it will have far-reaching effects on society.

Additional Points to Consider

* In addition to its other problems, survey results will be inaccurate because the survey is not based on a representative sample of homeschooling organizations. In a phone conversation a principal researcher working on the survey claimed that surveys have been mailed to a "stratified random sample" of homeschool associations identified on the basis of size, geographical territory covered, religious affiliation, etc. However, this kind of stratification is not possible because no one knows how many homeschooling organizations exist of what size, etc. (fortunately-it would be harder to maintain our homeschooling freedoms if such a data base existed). Even if the responses to the survey appear to be varied, this does not mean that the sample is representative of the homeschooling community.

In addition, homeschooling laws and regulations vary from state to state, so responses from one state cannot be assumed to be representative of the thinking of homeschoolers in other states. Homeschoolers in states that have greater state regulation are more likely to accept increased regulation from the federal government than are homeschoolers from states with more reasonable homeschooling laws and policies.

* It was a mistake to use federal legislation to try to make it easier for homeschoolers to enlist in the military. There were many ways homeschoolers could and did enlist in the military before the 1998 law was passed. One option was to obtain a recognized high school diploma through a correspondence school, a private school with a homeschool program, etc. Homeschoolers without such "third party" diplomas could use their scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test plus their transcripts; scores on the SAT, ACT, or CLEP tests; personal interviews; letters of recommendation; portfolios; or resumes.

* Should homeschooling support groups and organizations help the military or anyone else target or market to homeschoolers? Information about enlisting in the military is already widely available through radio and television advertising, magazines, etc.

What We Can Do

* We can refuse to participate in this survey and subsequent surveys on the military. It may seem at first glance that we should respond so that our perspectives are included in the survey. However, the more people who respond, the higher the response rate and the more credibility the survey will have. Also, the survey is structured so that it would be very difficult if not impossible for people who think that only a diploma and a transcript should be required as an indication that a person is a "genuine home school graduate" to make their voices heard. Question 6 asks respondents to check as many ways of identifying "genuine home school graduates" as apply. Many people will check more than one. So responses from people who check only "Other" and write in "A homeschool diploma and a transcript" will be lost in the shuffle.

* We can share this information with other individuals and organizations.

* We can write to (1) Study Director for the Homeschool Survey, Center for Naval Analyses, 4401 Ford Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22302 or email: GARCIAF@cna.org (2) The military office that has contracted with the CNA: OASD (FMP) MPP/AP, Attention: Dr. Jane Arabian, Room 2B271, 400 Defense Pentagon, Washington, D C 20301-4000 or email: arabianj@pr.osd.mil (3) The Committee on Armed Services of the U. S. Senate, 228 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D. C. 20510 - 202-224-3871 or email the committe chair, Senator John Warner of Virginia at senator@warner.senate.gov (4) The Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives, 2120 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D. C. 20515; 202-225-4151. The committee chair, Floyd Davidson Spence of South Carolina, does not have a direct email address but might be reached through http://www.house.gov/writerep/ (5) Our U. S. Senators and Representatives (Addresses available from the public library and through the web at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html or through http://lcweb.loc.gov/global/legislative/congress.html which also provides information on all members of Congress and congressional committees.)

A sample letter is include. An original letter is more effective, but if we only have time to copy the sample letter, it is better to send it than to not write. Unfortunately, generally speaking, the number of letters is more important than their specific content. If you email your legislators, it is important to include your name and street address so they recognize you as a constituent.

* We can refuse to plan, request, or push for homeschooling legislation except possibly in some very rare situation when it is unavoidable.

Conclusion

Our homeschooling freedoms are being undermined by the implementation of a 5-year pilot program designed to make it easier for homeschoolers to enlist in the military. To minimize the damage, we can refuse to participate in a survey that will undoubtedly lead to increased regulation of homeschooling, share our concerns with military officials and our federal legislators, and refuse to initiate or promote any other homeschooling legislation unless it is absolutely necessary.

CNA Suvey Updates
For additional information, see:
http://www.homeschooling-wpa.org/issues/
http://www.n-h-a.org/NHA_Response_Page_1.htm

2000, Larry and Susan Kaseman

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