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September-October 2005 Selected Content

Perspectives - Judy Aaron

Interview with Deborah Stevenson - Part 2 (part one)

In our July/August 2005 issue we ran the first half of this interview with Deborah Stevenson, Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense (NHELD), by homeschooling activist Judy Aron. Deborah is an attorney with a private practice in Southbury, Connecticut, handling cases in all aspects of education and appellate law. In addition to her legal practice and her duties as Ex. Director of NHELD, Attorney Stevenson is also a veteran homeschool mom and founder of Connecticut's Citizens to Uphold the Right to Educate (CT's CURE), which has operated continuously since 1989 as a grassroots citizen's group dedicated to assisting parents who wish to maintain the freedoms they currently have to educate their children in the best manner possible.

Judy:
Why do state Departments of Education and government want to encroach on homeschooling issues?

Deborah:
Follow the money, to borrow a phrase. Look at the budget in each town and compare how much of the total budget is allocated for public education. It can be as high as 70 or 80 percent of the entire town budget. Look at the budget for each state. How much of the total state budget is allocated for public education? Public education is big business. It employs hundreds of thousands of people across the nation. Now, look at the statistics for the rate of increase in homeschooling in the past decade. It is increasing dramatically. In addition, with the increase in technology, there are increasing numbers of ways for children to learn, lessening the need for teachers to lecture in the classroom. If the current trend toward leaving the public school system is not halted or controlled, the public school system will tend to break down. There is an even more insidious reason why government wants to encroach on homeschooling issues, however. That is for the sake of control in and of itself. There is a battle going on for the control of the minds of our children. This is evident by the establishment of mental health screenings in the public school system and of parents giving birth. It is evident by the psychological community and its fixation on the so-called negative aspects of "enmeshment" of parents and children. There is no need to separate parents and children unless those seeking to separate them also seek to control the children. Parents instill moral values. Parents encourage the individuality of children. Government today seeks to denigrate morality. Government instills "group think" and decries individual freedom. Which kind of child is it easier for government to control - the child who is enmeshed with his parents, retains the values of his parents, and retains his individuality, or the child who is told not to share problems with parents but to share them with government officials, the child who has learned that the standard is moral relativism and that individuality is to be placed second to the needs of the group? Government officials see homeschooling parents who encourage individuality and freedom as an element that must be controlled or eliminated if government values and goals are to succeed.

Judy:
Should homeschoolers be accountable to anyone?

Deborah:
If "homeschoolers" are being considered as a new entity, then some may consider they should be accountable to ruling overseers. I have a different view, however. "Homeschooler" is just a new name placed on a very old concept. The concept of parents teaching their children is as old as mankind. Parents teaching their children led civilization all over the world into the modern era with no small success. "Public school" is the new entity. "Public school", paid for by taxpayer dollars, is deserving of regulation and accountability. Accountability for parents is only reasonable if and when parents accept taxpayer dollars or benefits. This is why NHELD believes that parents should not accept any taxpayer dollars or benefits.

Judy:
If homeschooling were regulated, would problems disappear?

Deborah:
Is there a codified understanding of what children in public school should do? One could say, yes, in the form of statutes mandating that certain subjects be taught in certain timeframes by certain certified teachers. In reality, however, does a fifth grade teacher in one classroom teach in the same way a fifth grade teacher in another class does? Does a fifth grade teacher in a public school in the inner city teach in the same way a fifth grade teacher in an affluent rural community? Does the teaching that occurs in a regular public school occur in the same way the teacher occurs in a publicly funded charter school? Within each public school, are there disputes between teachers and parents? Within each public school, are there disputes between teachers and administration? Within each public school, are there disputes between the administration and local boards of education? Regulation does not eliminate human nature. Regulation of homeschoolers only inhibits individuality and freedom. Has compelled compliance with the will of regulators ever eliminated dispute?

Judy:
In Connecticut there has been an issue regarding withdrawal from public school - is this a signal for other states?

Deborah:
Parents in some states have been able to retain their freedom to instruct their children. Connecticut is one of those states. Parents have been able to become a viable political force such that legislatures are loathe to enact any regulation. Still, there are those who seek to control parents. Because a direct attack via the legislature is not viable, those who seek to control are doing so by indirect means. One of those means is to simply usurp authority where none exists and claim that only the public school administration has the power to determine when a child is withdrawn from school enrollment. Once a child is enrolled in the public school system, the student and the parents must abide by the rules of the school. Administrators know this. They can only retain control if the child remains enrolled. In order to withdraw a child, and eliminate any claim of truancy, parents are then forced to comply with whatever other demands that are made by school administrators just to enable them to withdraw their children from enrollment. So far, parents in Connecticut have succeeded in fighting this battle. There is nothing to stop the battle from beginning in other states.

Judy:
Many states' statutes require homeschoolers to provide an equivalent education to public schools; why is equivalent education a myth?

Deborah:
In order for education to be "equivalent" to that provided in the public school, one must first establish the standard to which the education must be "equivalent". What is that standard? Has anyone ever specified it? Are parents to show "equivalency" to the education provided in the public school in the inner city or to the public school in the affluent suburbs? Are they to show "equivalency" to the education provided by the best teacher in the school or to an average teacher in the school? Are public schools all across one particular state providing instruction "equivalent" to each other? Only when a specific standard has been defined could homeschoolers or anyone be held to reach "equivalency" with that standard. Furthermore, why should parents, who have designed an individualized educational program to meet the specific needs of each child, want to implement an educational program that is not so specifically designed? What would be the educational benefit to that? The educational program in many public schools has failed many students. Why would parents want to emulate a failing system? Why should parents be compelled to provide education that is "equivalent" with failure? An individualized flexible tutorial system designed to meet the specific needs of the student and provided with the guidance of a parent wholly invested in seeing the child succeed is far superior to a generalized curriculum that is designed to meet the needs of the masses. "Homeschooling" is superior to public school. Why should parents be duped into thinking they have to strive for "equivalency" with mediocrity?

Judy:
What is the harm in public school/homeschool partnerships?

Deborah:
The harm is that "homeschool" parents who are in partnership with public schools are partaking of government funded, taxpayer funded benefits. Again, when parents receive taxpayer dollars in any form, the government entity that bestows those dollars on the parent will want "accountability", i.e. "regulation", in return.

Judy:
How are private schools going to be affected by homeschool legislation?

Deborah:
Private schools are going to be affected by homeschool legislation because in many states homeschools are considered "private schools" already. Any legislation that affects homeschoolers in that state necessarily will affect the private schools. Private schools are already regulated, at least to a certain extent, although not quite as regulated as public schools. Private schools are subject to building codes, zoning regulations, and health codes. In addition, certain federal legislation already affects private schools. For example, federal special education law requires private schools to provide special education to students whether they want to or not.

For more information on NHELD visit www.nheld.com. To read Part 1 of this interview see: homeedmag.com/HEM/224/stevenson.html or to purchase the Jul-Aug/05 issue call 800-236-3278.

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