Home Education Magazine
July-August 2004 - Articles and Columns
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Why Legislation to Prevent "Unqualified" Families From Homeschooling Won't Work
Over the years, a few people have claimed that stricter regulation of homeschooling is needed to prevent "unqualified" families from homeschooling. Some public school officials, a few legislators, and others have occasionally expressed concern that some truants are "escaping to homeschooling." Some people, including a few supporters of homeschooling and even a few homeschoolers, fear that "unqualified" homeschoolers will spoil the good reputation homeschooling now has. Recent media reports of alleged child abuse by families claiming to be homeschooling have reopened the question.
This question of what (if anything) should be done about "unqualified" families 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 the claim that increased regulation of homeschooling is needed to prevent child abuse by families who claim to be homeschooling?
? 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 or increased regulation 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." It promotes the idea that the government should regulate homeschools. Whenever regulation is increased for one group of homeschoolers, there will be enormous pressure to apply it to all of us. 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 homeschooling should be done?
? 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 taxpayers. Therefore, 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, often effective, strategy. 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 be in a weaker position. 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: In addition, 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 into a conventional school will do any good, especially since often the schools don't want them anyway.
So where would you rather have these kids? What would be a better place for these kids? 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 into the public school mold.
? We don't need increased regulation to protect the reputation of homeschooling, which has a positive reputation that will not be easily overturned. Unfortunately, the media will publicize 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. Very restrictive truancy legislation has already been passed and 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 homeschoolers into the problem.
? Across the nation, about 25% of high school students do not graduate from high school. If very many of them wanted to "escape to homeschooling," there would be many more homeschoolers. But 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 Claims That Increased Regulation of Homeschooling Is Needed to Prevent Child Abuse by Homeschooling Families
? Child abuse cases are not a homeschooling issue. In most if not all of the cases reported, the problems had preceded homeschooling, and the families had not been homeschooling for long. In some cases, it is not clear whether they were officially homeschooling or whether they or someone else merely claimed they were homeschooling. Some of the families may have been pushed into homeschooling by public school officials or others. We do not need new statutes. We already have statutes that can be used to prosecute people accused of child abuse, although sometimes these statutes are not enforced. Why make homeschoolers the scapegoat for the failure to enforce existing laws well?
? Increased regulation of homeschooling would not prevent child abuse, but it would undermine the effectiveness of many homeschools. Homeschooling families benefit from having flexibility so they can encourage their children to learn in ways that work best for them. Increased state regulation would force homeschools to become more like conventional schools, especially when homeschoolers are required to take the state-mandated tests required of public school students. Such tests drive the curriculum because children must study the material on the tests to be prepared to do well on them.
? The claim is sometimes made that children who do not attend conventional schools are at greater risk of abuse because they are not regularly seen by school personnel. However, in most if not all of the cases reported, the families had already been reported to social service workers, who had responded in various ways. There are many ways for child abuse to be discovered besides reports by school personnel, including observations by family members, neighbors, members of the community, health care workers, etc.
? Any group is likely to have a very few members with serious problems. Consider the scandals that have rocked the government, churches, and corporations. It is not surprising that some families that have serious problems are also called homeschoolers or claim to be homeschoolers, despite the fact that their problems were not caused or worsened by their homeschooling. Again, a legal maxim states, "Hard cases make bad law." In other words, statutes designed to take care of the worst case are almost certain to be long, difficult to enforce, and more likely to prevent good people from doing good than bad people from doing bad. It is unfair and solves nothing to punish conscientious homeschoolers by passing statutes that do not solve the problems faced by high-risk children anyway.
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.
? 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.
? 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. Find families who began homeschooling under less-than-ideal circumstances and whose children have done better as a result, so their stories can be shared with legislators (again assuming we have the family's permission).
? We can explain to families who feel that they are being forced into homeschooling that they have other options.
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.
© 2004 Larry and Susan Kaseman
July-August 2004 - Articles and Columns
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