Home Education Magazine
March-April 2001 - Articles and Columns
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Your Homeschooling Decisions Affect My Homeschooling Freedoms
Here are basic ideas about homeschooling freedoms: Why we need to be free from unnecessary state regulation, why it is difficult to do this, and what we can do to reclaim and maintain homeschooling freedoms, including situations when this means giving up something our family wants.
Why is freedom from unnecessary state regulation essential to maintain homeschooling as we know it?
Since public school officials are considered the "experts" on education, regulation of homeschoolers is assumed to be their responsibility. (Of course, we homeschoolers know that we would have a better chance of being understood by, say, the Fire Department, since fire fighters have learned important life skills through hands-on activities, books, and real life experience.)
However, since most school officials do not understand homeschooling, they inevitably insist that homeschools imitate conventional schools. (Even those rare school officials who understand homeschooling could not develop a different set of standards for homeschoolers because it would be too threatening to the school system.)
Being forced to be more like conventional schools affects our daily lives and what we are able to do as homeschoolers. Needing to help our kids prepare for state-mandated standardized tests or feeling we have to stick to a curriculum we had to put a lot of time and energy into preparing to submit to school officials can easily limit and compromise our ability to meet our children's needs and encourage them to learn what they most need to know in ways that work best for them.
Then couldn't we just argue that the state has no right to regulate homeschools? This won't work for several reasons, including:
* U.S. courts have established the principle that the state has the right to prevent people from becoming a burden on the state, so there seems to be a legal basis for the state having some minimal oversight of homeschools.
* Compulsory attendance laws, which most people do not oppose, are much more difficult to enforce without a way to identify "real" homeschoolers. Otherwise, alleged truants accused of breaking compulsory attendance laws could simply claim to be homeschooling.
* Perhaps most important, the majority of the population is not yet convinced that homeschoolers can be trusted. Hopefully the day will come when homeschools are trusted as much as other (that is, conventional) private schools, when people ask parents, "Do your kids go to school or are you homeschooling?" But we're not there yet.
But in every state, even those with unnecessary regulations, families are homeschooling freely. Some comply with the bare minimum of the law so it interferes with their homeschooling as little as possible. Others ignore the homeschooling law and don't get in trouble because it is seldom enforced In light of what these families are doing, aren't the above concerns about homeschooling laws overdramatized?
To be sure, such independent homeschoolers do exist; you may be Them. They deserve credit for their courage, fortitude, and creativity. But there are still compelling reasons why unnecessary homeschooling regulation should not exist, including:
* Homeschooling is available to fewer families if it's limited to those who figure out how to get around the law or are willing to break it.
* Laws that are seldom enforced are often selectively enforced against people such as single parents, poor people, people of color, or people already under investigation for other reasons. Such laws are unjust and dangerous.
* Homeschoolers are better able to focus on the real task of helping our children learn and we sleep better at night when we don't have to worry about laws that are annoying at best.
Why is it so difficult to reclaim and maintain homeschooling freedoms?
A major reality we face as homeschoolers is continuing pressure to increase state regulation of homeschooling. Among the reasons for this pressure:
* Homeschoolers are perceived as a threat by The most powerful interest groups in our society, the educational establishment, which includes school officials and their professional organizations, teachers, teachers unions, textbook publishers, and colleges and universities. Since outlawing homeschooling is not really a possibility, the educational establishment is trying to force homeschools to become more like conventional schools. One increasingly popular approach is to offer special programs and resources to entice homeschoolers into using the public schools, which also increases the funding schools receive.
For most school officials, this is not a well thought out campaign but rather an unconscious move toward self-protection (although a few officials have a determined plan and actively seek out evidence they can use against homeschoolers). However, the lack of planning does not make the pressure for increased regulation of homeschooling any less real.
* Increasing reliance on so-called experts and exploitation by the media of a few tragic cases of child abuse have undermined the general public's confidence in parents. (A question that should be asked is, "If we can't trust parents, who can we trust? Strangers in a large bureaucracy who do not know a child or the family?" A society that provides little support for families is likely to have a few examples of children who are better off outside their families, but as an old legal maxim states, "Hard cases make bad law." )
* Most people assume that children will not learn unless "motivated" by trained teachers in conventional schools. Homeschoolers who know how eager children are to learn may forget that most people don't know this.
* Most people accept the idea that it's okay and in fact even a good idea for the government and the educational establishment to decide what children should learn and when they should learn it.
* Unfortunately, a few individuals (including some homeschoolers) benefit financially and in other ways from unnecessary regulation of homeschooling. For example, attorneys who defend homeschoolers in court think it's a good idea to have laws that clearly define acceptable homeschooling (such as requirements that children achieve certain scores on standardized tests) because families who meet the definition are easier to defend in court. In fact, a whole organization of such attorneys played a role in the passage of some of the unnecessarily restrictive homeschooling laws that states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and New Hampshire still have.
Another way to look at the reality homeschoolers face is to consider the stability of laws. Many laws are very stable. For example, current speed limits seem reasonable to most Americans, and no powerful interest groups are pushing for change. Even if citizens do not work to maintain highway speed limits, they are unlikely to be reduced to 35 mph or increased to 150 mph.
However, some laws are unstable. For example, because of pressure from real estate developers, people who want to maintain agricultural lands, wilderness areas, or small family businesses have to work to protect zoning and land use laws. Homeschooling laws are also unstable, for reasons discussed above.
Given these realities, what can we do to reclaim and maintain our homeschooling freedoms?
* By homeschooling, we add to the growing evidence that homeschooling works and parents can be trusted to homeschool their children.
* We can think not just in terms of what would be good for our family but in terms of how our actions will impact homeschooling in general. Sometimes we may even have to give up something we want for our family (like playing on a public school sports team) because the cost to the homeschooling community would be too high. (For specifics about the sports issue, see "Why the Question of Homeschoolers' Playing Public School Sports Affects All Homeschoolers," HEM, May-June, 2000, p. 10 ff. or http://www.homeedmag.com/HEM/173.00/mj_clmn_tch.html.)
What does it mean to think in terms of the larger homeschooling community rather than just doing what seems best for us as individuals? Here are some examples:
--It means working to protect the rights of families to choose an approach to homeschooling that works for them, even if it differs from ours, as long as it doesn't undermine homeschooling freedoms. For example, homeschoolers in Wisconsin have opposed legislation that would prevent former truants from homeschooling (because allowing the government to decide who is qualified to homeschool would seriously undermine our homeschooling freedoms). They have also opposed legislation that would require schools districts to allow homeschoolers to play on public school sports teams.
--It means not exceeding the minimum requirements of homeschooling laws and regulations. Bureaucracies increase their power and authority by asking citizens to file forms, submit information, and do other things that they are not required by law to do. When people willingly comply with such excessive demands by officials, the officials gain power without having to bother having laws passed for this purpose. It may be tempting to try to impress school officials by submitting materials that are not required. However, school officials are seldom favorably impressed and are likely to simply increase their demands, questions, and criticism of our homeschools. In addition, such submissions set a precedent that other homeschoolers and, in the future, our family will undoubtedly be expected to comply with.
--It means not asking for or accepting special favors. If homeschoolers accept special privileges or money in the form of vouchers, tax credits, etc. from school districts or the government, these institutions are likely to use the opportunity to increase their control and regulation of homeschoolers. "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
--It means avoiding homeschooling legislation that would require or provide an opportunity for the government to define homeschooling and thereby control it. A definition that does not put restrictions on homeschoolers, such as, "Homeschoolers are people who do not send their children to conventional schools," makes homeschoolers indistinguishable from truants. Any definition that begins, "Homeschoolers are people who do such and such..." gives the government the power and authority to decide who homeschoolers have to be. In addition, even if we could come up with a definition that is not too restrictive, once the precedent has been set and the government has the power to define homeschooling, it will not be difficult for the educational establishment to get a more restrictive definition.
Does this mean that homeschoolers simply should not participate in public school classes, programs, or activities? No. But it is much wiser either for the few homeschooling families who want to participate in public schools to make arrangements with their local public schools or for homeschoolers to be treated as other private school students, which we are, even in states that have a separate statutory term for homeschoolers.
* We can work to ensure that the term "homeschooling" is reserved for families who are not sending their children to or working under the auspices of public schools. For more information on this, see "Homeschoolers, Is Our Good Name For Sale?" HEM, Sept-Oct, 2000, p. 16 ff. or http://www.homeedmag.com/HEM/175/tch.html.
One final thought: Sometimes doing what at first appears more difficult pays greater rewards than doing what seems temptingly easy. To most people, it seems easier to send your children to school than to homeschool, but families find that the benefits of homeschooling are definitely worth the extra effort.
Similarly, homeschoolers in the past have worked for the good of the homeschooling community, even when it meant giving up something they wanted for their children because it would have undermined homeschooling freedoms. We have built a strong homeschooling community that gives great support to families. We have also kept open the possibility of homeschooling for other families and for our children and grandchildren. These are rich rewards indeed. Let's continue.
Because of most people's assumptions about education and because the powerful educational establishment sees homeschooling as a threat, we need to be constantly alert for challenges to our homeschooling freedoms. We need to minimize the potential for increased state regulation of homeschooling by thinking about how our actions as individuals will impact on the homeschooling community and on our basic freedom to homeschool. Sometimes we have to choose among several different freedoms, because one freedom or special privilege will undermine another. Clearly, the most important homeschooling freedom is freedom from unnecessary state regulation.
(c) 2001 Larry and Susan Kaseman
March-April 2001 Issue
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