Home Education Magazine
July-August 2002 - Articles and Columns
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Let's Stop Aiding and Abetting Academicians' Folly
Another piece has appeared in the growing pile of what passes for academic anti-homeschooling papers. Homeschoolers will recognize its obvious flaws. In fact, it would be laughable were it not for the fact that its conclusions may be used to support demands for increased state regulation of homeschooling.
It is not clear how (or even if) we could prevent inaccurate academic papers from being written. However, we can be prepared to discredit and counter them when they are cited. In addition, this paper is another example of the ways that misleading studies and reports being produced or generated by some homeschoolers are being used against us. We can work to convince homeschoolers not to produce, participate in, or cite such works.
The paper is "Testing the Boundaries of Parental Authority Over Education: The Case of Homeschooling" by Rob Reich, an assistant professor at Stanford University. It was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in 2001. Portions are scheduled to be included in the author's book, Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in Education, University of Chicago Press, 2002. The paper can be found at http://pro.harvard.edu/abstracts/002/002021ReichRob00.htm.
It is not surprising that the upper echelons of the educational establishment share the biases against and misunderstandings of homeschooling common in the lower levels. Their self-definition, prestige, and job security depend on their conviction that ordinary people can't learn without being taught by trained and knowledgeable professionals. Some see homeschoolers as a threat to the conventional academic system.
And yet those of us who grew up expecting universities to be repositories of Truth can't help being a little sad and disappointed by this commentary on the bankruptcy of supposedly highly respected institutions like Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and American Political Science Association. One more reason to appreciate homeschooling!
What We Can Say To Legislators and Others
Critics of homeschooling are likely to cite Reich's paper simply because it supports increased regulation of homeschooling. Many will not have read it. We can emphasize the strengths of homeschooling and make general points that are most likely to convince the specific person or group we are addressing. Here are some suggestions.
? Consider the source. Many members of the educational establishment see homeschooling as a threat, so its not surprising that a paper from the educational establishment calls for increased control of homeschooling through state regulation.
? Reich acknowledges that homeschooling works, sometimes even better than conventional schools. ("In fact, some evidence suggests that in some circumstances, parents who homeschool their children may be better at achieving the state's and the child's educational interests than public or private schools." Page 27) His main argument for increased regulation of homeschooling is the theoretical possibility that homeschoolers could isolate their children, fail to allow them appropriate autonomy, and fail to prepare them to participate in civic affairs. Reich does not present substantial evidence that such possibilities are realities; he presents only a few unusual individual cases. Perhaps most importantly, he fails to realize that current homeschools could not be doing the good work that even he acknowledges under the regulations he proposes. His focus on theoretical constructs would lead to regulations that would undermine an existing reality even he appreciates.
? One of Reich's key questions is how the state can ensure that citizens are able to participate in civic affairs, if they choose to do so. He overlooks the fact that many homeschoolers are among the most politically active citizens, partly because we have been forced to work hard to ensure that the state acknowledges our right to homeschool. Both parents and children know a lot about law from personal experience.
? Reich accepts as normative the de facto isolation faced by children from non-homeschooling families and conventional schools. They happen to share Reich's values. Middle and upper middle class parents and schools do not present being lower class as a viable alternative. Religious schools do not bend over backwards to encourage children to seriously consider other religions.
? Regulations proposed by Reich would undermine basic legal principles and civil liberties.
-- Strict regulation of homeschooling as a way of guaranteeing that no homeschooled children are isolated violates the old legal maxim "Hard cases make bad laws." A law designed to prevent a few extreme cases is almost certain to be long, difficult to enforce, and more likely to prevent good people from doing good than bad people from doing bad.
-- Reich states, "The burden of proof that homeschools will satisfy the state's and the child's interest in education must rest with the parents." (Page 36) This violates the principle of "innocent until proven guilty."
-- By giving public schools the power and authority to require that homeschools meet state standards, Reich's regulations would deny families the right to choose an education consistent with their principles and beliefs.
-- Reich puts the state's interests ahead of parents' or children's interests by giving the state the power and authority to decide whether families are doing a satisfactory job of homeschooling.
? Reich tries to identify a clash bet parents' interests and state's interests, but actually the state and the general public have accepted homeschooling. The real conflict arises from the educational establishment's inability and unwillingness to accept homeschooling as a viable educational alternative, despite all the evidence that it is.
? Reich's paper lacks substantial evidence. Instead he relies on strange anecdotal evidence. For example, except for an article from The New York Times which focuses on a few individuals, he does not present evidence of isolation among homeschoolers.
? Reich fails to acknowledge the extent to which "campus-based schools" work against the interests of parents, children, and the state.
-- Although Reich stresses young people's need for autonomy, he gives only one brief example of the enormous pressure that conventional schools put on them to conform.
-- Reich states that:
Children have a private interest in becoming minimally autonomous because the achievement of a minimal degree of autonomy precludes the possibility that they will be, in Eamonn Callan's words, "ethically servile." Servility is a condition that implies a dutiful slavishness or submissiveness to others, an unwillingness or incapacity to make decisions or judgments for oneself. It signals an unquestioning subordination of one's own will to the ethical ideals of another person or persons. Servility is likely to be rooted in one's disposition such that the availability of new information or alternate possibilities can fail to leave any impression or shake one's habit of deference. But because children are not the property of their parents or of the state, because they possess human dignity as independent beings, they ought not be educated so as to be made servile to their caretakers. Neither parents nor the state can justly attempt to imprint indelibly upon a child a set of values and beliefs, as if it were an inheritance one should never be able to question, as if the child must always defer and be obedient. To do so would in effect render the child servile. (Pp. 22-23)
Many people would respond by telling Reich he should appreciate homeschooling and turn his concerns to conventional schools, especially with their increasing emphasis on state and federal standards and testing. Increasing government control of schools also undermines the development of the ability to "participate, if he or she chooses, in political dialogue."
Other Problems With the Paper
(From a Homeschooling Perspective)
Although the following points are less likely to be understood by many legislators and other non-homeschoolers, it is important that we homeschoolers share them whenever possible. If homeschoolers do not correct inaccurate information, we will lose important foundations of our freedoms.
? Reich fails to understand that the United States through its constitution and laws did not "grant" parents the right to homeschool, did not make it illegal to homeschool, and does not have the authority to impose state-specific values and beliefs in education on its citizens. The right and freedom to homeschool comes from nature and/or God, not from the state.
? Reich's paper is factually inaccurate.
-- There is no evidence that vast majority of homeschoolers are conservative Christians. An accurate census or survey of homeschoolers has not been conducted, partly because an accurate list of homeschoolers, by state or nationally, is not available to researchers.
-- Reich states, "Several states explicitly forbade homeschooling. Only since 1993 has homeschooling been legal in all fifty states." (Page 6). Both statements are false. (See information on Somerville below.)
-- Reich claims, "The Yoder decision inspired many homeschool advocates to press their claims in state legislatures and courts, a strategy that has yielded significant victories." (Pages 8-9) First, homeschoolers recognize the uniqueness of the situation of the Amish in Yoder and generally have not claimed it as a precedent. Second, homeschooling freedoms have not been won in the courts. Except for a few cases in which statutes were ruled too vague, cases have undermined homeschooling freedoms. (See Jane Henkel's "Recent Court Cases Examining the Constitutionality of Other States' Laws Regulating Home Schools." Available at no charge from the Wisconsin Legislative Council, P. O. Box 2536, Madison, WI 53701-2536; 608-266-1304 or at www.homeedmag.com/HEM/185/henkel/info_memo90-23.html.)
-- There is no evidence that a significant number of families began homeschooling because of the shootings at Columbine High School. In fact, states like Washington and Wisconsin that report yearly state-wide figures showed significant decreases in normal rates of growth for that year.
What We Can Do
? We can counter Reich's paper whenever it is mentioned, using points above or others that are appropriate to the situation.
? We can share this information with other homeschoolers, especially those who are favorably impressed by the author's credentials, correcting key inaccuracies in the paper.
? We can work to encourage homeschoolers to stop contributing to the pool of inaccurate information about homeschooling that is available. We can refuse to participate in research on homeschooling such as the Rudner study since the study's design and implementation were fatally flawed and its findings are not representative of homeschoolers. We can also oppose and counter inaccurate writings such as Scott Somerville's so-called history of homeschooling.
Both the Rudner study and Somerville's "history" obviously influenced Reich's paper. (Rudner was cited; Somerville was not.) The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) was heavily involved in both: it commissioned the Rudner study and Somerville works for HSLDA. People like Reich would probably still write inaccurate and negative papers about homeschooling without materials such as these, but it would be more difficult. If homeschoolers stopped producing documents that can so easily be used against homeschooling, our homeschooling freedoms would be more secure and our work to maintain them would be easier. For more information, see our previous columns on Somerville's paper in HEM, Sept-Oct, 2001, pp. 23-31; www.homeedmag.com/HEM/185/sotch.html and on the Rudner study in HEM, July-Aug, 1999, pp. 12-20; www.homeedmag.com/HEM/164.99/ja_clmn_tch.html
? Whenever we see or hear references to work such as the Rudner study or Somerville's "history," we can counter them and correct their misinformation by writing a letter to the editor of the publication in which they are cited or doing whatever else is appropriate given the circumstances.
? We can use the media to present positive stories about how well homeschooling is working. Start planning now for a "back to homeschool" story or a story about what grown homeschoolers are doing for your local paper this fall.
? If we want or need to turn to a prestigious university to counter Reich's paper, we can cite the excellent article on homeschooling in the January-February, 2002 issue of the Brown University Alumni Magazine, available at www.brownalumnimagazine.com/storydetail.cfm?ID=672
We need to be prepared to counter academic papers about homeschooling (such as the recent one by Reich) to minimize the chances of their being used to support increased regulation of homeschooling. Since such papers use inaccurate studies and histories of homeschooling that have been produced by some homeschoolers themselves, it is more important than ever that we work to prevent more of these from being produced.
© Larry and Susan Kaseman
July-August 2002 - Articles and Columns
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