Home Education Magazine
July-August 2000 - Articles
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Problems with Legislation to Prevent "Unqualified" Families From Homeschooling
We've all heard the question. It's the same question, really, although it is asked by different people in different ways. Here are some made-up people asking their versions of the question.
* State Senator Get-um interrupts our report on how well homeschooling is going to say, "We gotta pass a law to stop parents from signing up for homeschooling just so the truant officer won't get their kids." (In real life, recently a Wisconsin legislator talking about truancy before a homeschooling support group said: "Homeschoolers have existed below the radar and that can't continue.")
* George, our brother-in-law who's an attorney, says in confidential tones, "I really care about you, so let me give you a little free advice. You and the other conscientious homeschoolers ought to work for stricter homeschooling laws to prevent unqualified parents from giving homeschooling a bad name. If you don't, it's going to be mighty hard for your kids to get into the University."
* Mary Jo, who's been a friend since high school and whose kids go to public school, observes, "I know you're doing a great job with your kids, but I really worry about children in families where parents claim they're homeschooling but they really aren't qualified to homeschool and aren't doing anything."
* Doris, who's taught all our kids in Sunday school comments, "Your kids are so smart. But how do you know other homeschooled kids are learning what they need to know to get into college or get a job? I really think Superintendent Jones should check up on that family who lives down the street from us."
* Lynn confides during the social hour after a homeschooling support group meeting, "I really wish our homeschooling law were stricter. I know a family who claims to be homeschooling, and it's obvious that their kids aren't learning anything. I hate to say it, but I'm afraid people like that are going to ruin the reputation of homeschooling for the rest of us."
This question of what (if anything) should be done about "unqualified" families who don't seem to be doing anything can be divided into several parts:
* How can we convince other homeschoolers (and be sure ourselves) that it would be a mistake to have stricter homeschooling laws to prevent "unqualified" families from homeschooling?
* How can we convince legislators, non-homeschoolers we know, and the general public that such laws would be a mistake?
* How can we respond to families who contact us saying they want to homeschool, but who may not have the commitment, confidence, resources, or desire?
* Should we do anything if we know or hear about families who seem to be "escaping to homeschooling?"
* What can we do to prevent legislation designed to keep "unqualified" families from homeschooling?
Ideas We Can Share With Other Homeschoolers
* Increased regulation of any homeschoolers would affect all of us, not just those who are "unqualified." Legislation that increases regulation for any homeschooler inevitably increases regulation for all homeschoolers. Such legislation promotes the idea that the government should regulate homeschools.
In addition, pressure is constantly being applied by some school officials, legislators, and members of the general public to increase the regulation of homeschoolers. Any time regulation is increased for one group of homeschoolers, there will be enormous pressure to apply it to all of us. This is true whether the group is habitual truants or young people enlisting in the armed forces or athletes who want to play on high school sports teams or anyone else. Increased regulation would set up the state to judge all homeschoolers in an attempt to prevent a very few from homeschooling.
Do we really want the government to have the authority to decide who's qualified to homeschool and how we should homeschool?
* Increased government regulation of homeschooling inevitably means that we would have to adopt the curriculums, standards, and values of government schools. In our society today, people assume that the public schools are the experts when it comes to learning, so school officials would be given the job of judging homeschools. This is a bad idea for several reasons.
First, many of us have chosen to homeschool because we are opposed to public school values and standards.
Second, homeschools are very different from conventional schools. (Homeschooling "teachers" have very few students and know them all well. Homeschoolers do not have to fit their students into a large system with a strict daily schedule and yearly timetable for when students are supposed to learn. We do not have to be accountable to the principal, school board, or tax payers.) It does not make sense and is unfair to judge homeschools by public school standards.
* As homeschoolers we need to unite to counter attempts to increase state regulation of homeschooling rather than spending time and energy trying to judge other homeschoolers. When one group (such as the educational establishment) is trying to gain control over another group (such as homeschoolers), "divide and conquer" is a common strategy that can be very effective. However, this strategy counts on people thinking that they are vulnerable and that they can deal with their weakness by judging others as a threat to them. Once we homeschoolers start doing this, we will have made the job of the educational establishment very easy. And when we turn on each other, we end up undermining the strength we have-that is, the knowledge that the vast majority of homeschoolers are doing very well and can only be weakened by judging the very few who may not be.
* When children have serious problems in school, some of which may be caused by the school itself, shouldn't their families have the opportunity to homeschool?
Note: Many of the reasons listed below can also be shared with other homeschoolers.
Points We Can Make With Legislators and the General Public
* It does not make sense to regulate and judge all homeschools in order to prevent a few people from homeschooling, especially since restrictive legislation interferes with homeschools that are working well. An old legal maxim states, "Hard cases make bad law."
* Let's look at the realities of the situation. Suppose "unqualified" homeschoolers were prevented from homeschooling. Where would they go? What would they do? The vast majority of these supposedly "unqualified" families have already tried conventional schools. The system did not work for them. It is extremely unlikely that forcing them to go back to a conventional school will do any good, especially since often the schools don't want them anyway; some of them have even been expelled.
So where would you rather have these kids? In jail? If so, existing law provides for jailing truants and their parents.
In other words, "unqualified" homeschoolers are NOT missing out on some other wonderful opportunity that would work wonders for them.
* Legislators and others may say, "Families like yours that are doing a good job of homeschooling shouldn't have any trouble complying with regulations intended to prevent unqualified families from homeschooling." We can respond by explaining that homeschooling works well because it allows children to learn in ways that work best for them rather than forcing them to follow the public school mold.
* We don't need increased regulation to protect the reputation of homeschooling. Homeschooling now has a positive reputation that will not be easily overturned. The general public knows how well the vast majority of homeschoolers do. They have heard about the success of homeschool graduates in jobs, college, and adult life. Unfortunately, the media will publicize any stories they can find about homeschoolers in trouble. But even so, we can continue to work with the media to make sure that coverage of homeschooling accurately portrays how well homeschooling works for the vast majority of families and how few problems there actually are.
* We don't need more truancy laws. Passing very restrictive truancy legislation has not solved truancy problems. Public school truancy cases are very seldom prosecuted, for a number of reasons. People who want to "get" truants should use existing statutes to prosecute them instead of dragging us homeschoolers into the problem.
* Across the nation, about 25% of high school students do not graduate from high school. Very few of them decide to homeschool and a still smaller fraction do so simply to escape truancy charges. Those who do start homeschooling can still be prosecuted for truancy violations that occurred before they began.
* Increased regulation of homeschooling is not going to solve the problems facing conventional schools or our nation.
How We Can Respond to Families Who Contact Us Because They Feel They Are Being Forced to Homeschool As a Result of Problems with Conventional Schools
* We can begin by explaining that they do not have to homeschool, regardless of what school officials may have told them. In fact, in some states, a parent can request that their local school board provide an alternative program for any student for whom the conventional program is not working, and the school board must respond.
* We can point to the many homeschooling resources available and also suggest that they help their children pursue their interests, even if those interests are not academic in the conventional sense. Young people can learn a great deal from repairing motorcycles, trouble shooting computer problems, doing child care, etc. Kids can use books, magazines, videos, web sites, and other resources to pursue special interests and learn basic skills at the same time.
* Other possibilities include working with a tutor or a mentor, taking courses at a community college or technical school, doing volunteer work, etc. Basic entry level jobs give young people valuable experience in what it takes to get and keep a job.
What We Can Do If We Hear About Families That We Think May Not Be Doing So Well
* We can invite them to homeschooling support group meetings, workshops, and conferences.
* We can suggest basic resources such as this magazine, our favorite homeschooling books, and resources in our local area that we have found helpful.
* Sometimes, much as we would like to help, the difficulties facing a family are so great that there is little we can do except to remember that it would only make things worse to have homeschooling laws that were designed to prevent such families from homeschooling.
What We Can Do to Prevent Legislation
* We can make it clear to other homeschoolers that we are strongly opposed to any regulations or legislation that would try to prevent "unqualified" families from homeschooling or to separate "good" from "bad" homeschoolers.
* We can tell our legislators that we do not want and will oppose legislation to increase the regulation of homeschooling if it is introduced. (See our column "Convincing Others We Don't Want Homeschooling Legislation" in HEM, Nov/Dec, 1999, pp. 12-15 for ideas about how to keep legislators informed.)
* With the permission of the families involved, we can keep a list of the names of families who felt they had to begin homeschooling despite the fact that this was not their first choice and they did not feel qualified. Then if legislation is introduced, we can share with legislators some of the reasons that seemingly unqualified families begin homeschooling, such as children being bullied at school, children having serious health problems (including allergies) that prohibit regular school attendance, people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities, and children who want to learn but can't learn within the setting of their conventional school. If we can find any families who began homeschooling under less-than-ideal circumstances and whose children have done better since then, it is very important to share these stories with legislators (again assuming we have the family's permission). If hearings are held, we can ask these families to testify themselves.
* We can explain to families who feel that they are being forced into homeschooling that they have other options.
* We can keep track of people who have been told by school officials that they need to homeschool even though they do not want to. We could then bring these cases before the legislature, if necessary, to explain why it is that some "unqualified" families are homeschooling.
* When appropriate, we can offer the kind of support discussed above to families who seem to be having difficulty.
A central question facing homeschoolers today is: Are we willing to judge and be judged by the values, beliefs, and practices of conventional schools in an attempt to ensure that "unqualified" people don't taint homeschooling? Do we want to lose the distinctive elements of homeschooling? Do we want to destroy homeschooling in an attempt to save it? The way we answer these questions will have a strong impact on the future of homeschooling. © 2000, Larry and Susan Kaseman
July-August 2000 Issue
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