November-December 2008 Selected Content
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Keeping Homeschooling Nonpartisan
Our quality of life as homeschoolers and the things we must do, can do, and cannot do on a daily basis are strongly influenced by our state's homeschooling statutes and regulations. The more we can convince legislators to work with us regardless of their political party, the more likely we will be to have reasonable regulation that allows us to homeschool our children according to our principles and beliefs rather than state values and requirements. To keep homeschooling nonpartisan (that is, not associated with any one political party), we need to make sure that homeschoolers as a group do not provide legislators, the media, and the general public with a basis for thinking that homeschoolers are aligned primarily with either the Republican or Democratic party.
This column discusses why we should keep homeschooling nonpartisan, talking points we can use to gain support of both Democrats and Republicans (regardless of whether we ourselves are Democrats or Republicans), and what we can do to keep homeschooling nonpartisan.
Why Homeschooling Should Not Be a Partisan Issue
Keeping homeschooling nonpartisan is consistent with reality. Homeschoolers are a very diverse group in terms of politics. Look among homeschoolers and you'll find Democrats, Republicans, conservatives (and Conservatives), liberals, libertarians, independents, anarchists, and people who do not want to be involved in politics at all. This variety in homeschoolers' politics is not surprising. In the first place, homeschoolers come in all shapes and sizes. The only thing we all agree on is the decision to take responsibility for our children's education ourselves rather than sending them to a conventional school. That said, we differ on everything else, starting with education. We choose different curriculums, approaches to learning, methods of education, ways of evaluating learning, and more. Then we have differing perspectives on and beliefs about religion, live a wide range of different lifestyles, come from many different cultural backgrounds and economic circumstances.
Second, there isn't a logical reason why the decision to homeschool would influence a family's political allegiance. Homeschooling as a choice that families make is not linked to any one political party.
As we homeschoolers work to develop an effective strategy for minimizing state regulation of homeschooling, there are a number of reasons why it is important to be nonpartisan.
•As a small minority, we need support from both Republicans and Democrats. It may be tempting to think that if we could gain the support of a major party, we would be in a stronger, more secure position, just as it's tempting to want the party that we ourselves have chosen to support homeschooling. But politics in the US today has become so divided along party lines that winning the support of one party inevitably means losing the support of the other or, even worse, being opposed by the other party.
•In addition, political parties and/or party leaders in state legislatures may say they support a certain group and then, under pressure from larger and stronger interest groups, vote against that group. Groups that have put most of their eggs in one basket are really lost if or when that basket gets turned upside down.
•In many states, the party that controls the legislature and the governor's office changes relatively frequently. If homeschooling were a partisan issue, it would be on the list of things to consider taking action on each time the party in control of the legislature or the governor's office changed. It would clearly be a big problem to have the question of new homeschooling legislation raised each time there was a change. This point is especially important these days as a number of governorships and state legislatures are shifting from the Republicans to the Democrats.
•If homeschooling were identified with either the Republicans or the Democrats, homeschoolers who are committed to the other party might decide not to get involved in a legislative battle to protect homeschooling freedoms.
•Action taken or not taken by state legislatures is influenced by the general public's opinion. The more we succeed at winning the hearts and minds of the people, or at least convincing them not to oppose homeschooling, the more secure our homeschooling freedoms are. The general public is more likely not to oppose homeschooling if they view homeschoolers as a varied group of families, some of whom are a lot like their families. Homeschoolers are more likely to generate opposition if we are seen as a uniform group allied with a particular political party or political agenda.
•Not mixing causes is a sensible strategy. When an organization adds other causes to its primary mission, it risks splitting its membership, reducing its effectiveness, and lessening the chances that it will meet its goals. Homeschoolers as individuals tend to make strong commitments and stick with them, so it's not surprising to find homeschoolers who are deeply involved in other causes that they feel are in some way related to homeschooling itself. However, many other homeschoolers hold a different position. So although it may sometimes be tempting for a homeschooling organization to take on one (or more) additional issues, doing so inevitably weakens our ability to maintain our homeschooling freedoms.
Why Homeschoolers Have to Work to Prevent Homeschooling from Becoming a Partisan Issue
For several reasons, it is difficult to prevent the media from portraying homeschoolers as affiliated with one specific political party.
•The media often oversimplifies the information it presents, supposedly so readers and listeners can grasp it more easily. Stereotyping groups like homeschoolers makes it easier to shorten and oversimplify reports about them.
•The media often portrays homeschoolers as conservative Christians and, as a corollary, as Republicans. Further, it is widely assumed that teachers unions support Democrats and that Democrats support public education while Republicans favor choice in education, vouchers, etc. Democrats are also associated with state regulation of various aspects of life, while Republicans supposedly favor as little government as possible. Of course, these generalizations are oversimplified and inaccurate, but they are nevertheless widespread.
•Many homeschoolers are active in their communities and in local, state, and national politics. It's not surprising that families who take responsibility for their children's education are likely to also take responsibility for their community, state, and nation. In addition, homeschoolers are more likely to have time to be involved in community activities, especially those in which the whole family can participate. Homeschoolers' political activity supports the assumption that we are probably allied with a political party.
Points We Can Make With Politicians
Here are some general points that we homeschoolers can use to gain support from legislators and others.
•Addressing people from any political party:
--Parents have a right to homeschool their children that comes from nature or from God.
--Several key US Supreme Court decisions have upheld the right of parents to choose for their children an education consistent with their principles and beliefs and have ruled that the state may not have a monopoly in education.
--Homeschoolers save taxpayers a great deal of money. If all the current homeschoolers enrolled in public schools, the cost of public education would increase.
--Homeschoolers do not want money from the government in the form of tax credits, tax deductions, or outright grants. We do not want other special favors. We realize that there's no such thing as a free lunch and we do not want the increased state regulation that would accompany such favors.
•Especially for (but not limited to) Republicans and conservatives:
--Homeschooling represents true choice in education. Far more families are homeschooling than have enrolled their children in charter schools and voucher programs.
--Homeschoolers have worked hard to limit government regulation of homeschooling.
•Especially for (but not limited to) Democrats and liberals:
--The Democratic party has a long history of supporting the rights of minorities. Homeschoolers are a minority worthy of such support.
--Democrats support education, and homeschooling has a proven record as a successful approach to education.
--Homeschooling has liberal roots. It emerged as an identifiable movement in the 1970's based on the thinking and writing of liberal education reformers such as Ivan Illich and John Holt.
--Homeschoolers vary a lot in the reasons they homeschool and how they do it.
--Growth of homeschooling has leveled off and in some areas is declining. Homeschooling is not undermining the public schools as some feared it would when homeschooling was growing more rapidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
What We Can Do
•We can tell legislators, the media, and the general public that homeschoolers are a varied group and are not allied with any one political party.
--When we talk to reporters, we can make it clear that homeschoolers have many different political perspectives and are not allied with one political party. An example of a good descriptive phrase was the one used in 1984 when a Wisconsin newspaper reporter wrote that homeschoolers ranged from "Bible-thumping Baptists to back-to-the-land granola crunchers."
--If homeschoolers are identified with one party in the media, we can write letters to the editor or the manager of the radio or television station explaining that homeschooling is nonpartisan.
--We can mention in casual conversation, letters to the editor, talk radio programs, etc. that homeschooling is nonpartisan.
•We can reach out to state legislators of all political persuasions. It is especially important not to look for or accept a volunteer legislator to be the homeschooling spokesperson in the legislature, especially if that person has strong political views at either end of the political spectrum. It may be tempting to have a champion for homeschooling in the legislature, especially if one or more legislators happen to be homeschooling themselves. However, one person cannot represent the many different approaches to homeschooling, but some people will assume they do and the legislator may think he or she does. Also, some homeschoolers may become less active politically because they assume this legislator will take care of homeschooling issues in a satisfactory way, a very risky assumption.
•We can be careful to avoid introducing legislative resolutions supporting homeschooling and try to convince others not to. Such resolutions are not a good way to get an accurate reading about how legislators will vote when facing legislation rather than a resolution. Resolutions are usually worded in a way that most legislators can agree with. (Many legislators welcome the opportunity to vote in favor of as many resolutions as possible so they can claim that they voted in support of many issues and causes.) In addition, resolutions can commit a group to certain measures or mainstream practices that may come back to haunt them. For example, a resolution in support of homeschooling that mentions how well homeschoolers score on standardized tests may be used later to support legislation requiring that homeschoolers take state-mandated standardized tests. Resolutions can establish a sponsoring legislator as THE homeschooling spokesperson in the legislature, leading to disadvantages outlined above.
•We can work to develop statewide, grassroots organizations that include all homeschoolers, regardless of their approach to curriculum and learning, economic circumstances, lifestyle, religious beliefs, or politics. The most effective way for us to maintain our homeschooling freedoms is by working together to maintain parents' rights to choose for their children an education consistent with their principles and beliefs and respect the right of each family to make their own decisions. Working together in this way assures us of the largest numbers of homeschoolers and the greatest support from outside the homeschooling movement. We need to work for the rights of families who make choices that are different from ours or we will all lose our freedoms.
It is also important for homeschooling organizations to resist the temptation to endorse a political candidate on the federal, state, or local level, even one who is expressing strong support for homeschooling or is homeschooling their own children, or to oppose one who supports increased state regulation of homeschooling.
•As mentioned above, we can avoid mixing causes, an action that weakens organizations.
To minimize state regulation of homeschooling as much as possible, we homeschoolers need to work to keep homeschooling nonpartisan. This means resisting the temptation to think that aligning homeschooling with a political party or having a champion or spokesperson in the legislature will make us stronger or more secure. It also means countering the media's tendency to oversimplify and focus on controversy by presenting homeschoolers as associated with one particular political party. Instead, we need to focus on the strengths that come from being a varied, grassroots movement that works together to maintain the basic freedom each family needs.
© 2008, Larry and Susan Kaseman