WRITE THESE LAWS ON YOUR CHILDREN: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling By Robert Kunzman
The book was released in August of 2009 and published by Beacon Press of Boston.
A Review by Susan Ryan, Illinois Homeschooler
In one of Robert Kunzman’s interviews with six “strongly conservative” Christian homeschooling families, a California homeschooling mom related her kids “get a lot of life, real life that goes on, that they don’t understand when they are separated for several hours a day.” She went on to explain that their family of nine children was able to spend valuable time lovingly caring for their grandparents as they reached the end of their lives. Whatever different views, philosophies and lifestyles any homeschooling family has, the incredibly diverse homeschool community can appreciate that, as Mr. Kunzman points out, “homeschooling is…woven into the fabric of everyday family life.”
Indiana University Associate Professor of Education Robert Kunzman’s name – and his quotes – have been floating into general homeschooling news over the last few months. Many homeschool advocates have been wondering what collective influence he has had, to be sought after so frequently in articles about homeschooling. (It is an odd feeling, as homeschoolers carry on with our busy lives and then discover that some unknown entity is talking about us in an authoritative fashion.)
Often, Mr. Kunzman’s feedback was requested regarding a perceived homeschool growth trend. The National Center for Education Statistics data is reported on his site with their supposed 74% homeschooling increase since 1999. He has developed an impressive Indiana University website called: Homeschooling Research and Scholarship. It gave a start to see that on a university link. (The University of Illinois has a homeschooling applicant section in order to study at the University, but not to be studied.)
Kunzman researched and analyzed the families who were located in California, Indiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont. Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) co-founders Michael Smith and Michael Farris, former Generation Joshua leader Ned Ryun, and a Teen Pact college student were also interviewed. The book offered observations and reflections on “four crucial questions that framed [his] homeschooling journeys“: “What do homeschoolers do, and why do they do it? Do children learn to think for themselves? What do they learn about the relationship between faith and citizenship? And how, if at all, should homeschooling be regulated?”
I found Mr. Kunzman’s attentive layout of each individual family’s qualities and schedule engaging, although he didn’t ever seem to take his professional evaluator’s hat off when stepping in the door. He asked the parents’ opinions of increased oversight of homeschoolers. The feedback seemed to be a resounding negative on more governmental authority. One California mom’s adamant rejection of more bureaucracy brought about his acceptance that some homeschoolers “who have learning difficulties would be having at least as much trouble in an institutional setting.” He maintained that “to assume outright that a parent-teacher is a failure because her child doesn’t meet a fixed standard at a particular age or grade level may be just as unfair as expecting a classroom teacher to have all students excelling in June, regardless of where they started in September.” That is a worthy concept.
Still, Kunzman proposes homeschoolers be subjected to those standards in his concluding chapter: “General consensus should exist on standards for meeting those interests.” (“Interests” are included as part of his first proposition that “vital interests of children or society must be at stake.”)
There is a societal disquiet across our communities concerning much of public school education and its standards. Naomi Wolf laments in a Washington Post article [‘Hey, Young Americans, Here’s a Text for You’] that the federal No Child Left Behind Act mandates tests which “assess chiefly math and reading comprehension,” while civics and history education has gone astray. However, Kunzman calls for “basic skills testing” (reading and math) of homeschoolers, along with his third homeschool oversight recommendation that “an effective way to measure whether standards are met” be fulfilled.
Professor Kunzman also expressed ambivalence about the Home School Legal Defense Association’s teen civic education program called Generation Joshua. Kunzman observed that Generation Joshua has “genuine civic engagement.” While noting a 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress civics assessment is distressing, in that “only 27% of high school seniors [were] scoring at or above proficient.”
Kunzman’s 2007 interview with former George Bush speech writer and founding Generation Joshua Director Ned Ryun occurred before Ryun unhappily exited from the HSLDA fold. The reason for that departure is one example that the conservative Christian homeschooling community is not in lockstep with HSLDA. Many draw the line when homeschooling rights are risked.
There was another case in point concerning the interviewed Tennessee homeschooling family who did not follow HSLDA advice. They were the only family in the book that had to deal with state social workers (“four or five different times”). The family determined they had “nothing to hide” and allowed the social worker into their home to chat. When asked if there was any follow-up to the visit, the reply was a negative, with the father’s comment that: “As a matter of fact, the last visit, the man opened up to me quite a bit about how he raises his children. He told me he smacks his children!”
The mother observed that was a touchy issue. This family had a “thin black rod about eight inches long” that rested on the table. They were also former neighbors of Michael Pearl, whose book “To Train Up A Child” is a deep source of dismay for many homeschoolers. Conversely, the Tennessee homeschooling father was inspired by the book:”I have never read anything more encouraging, more uplifting, more knowledgeable in homeschooling.”
When Kunzman returned home from Tennessee, he looked up Pearl’s book on Amazon and discovered there were nearly 700 [currently 859] reviews of the book. Many of the negative reviews were from dismayed homeschoolers not supportive of this type of discipline, and very active in the Stop the Rod movement.
Most homeschool advocates counsel to not let social workers or truant officers in the home without a court order. We recognize and agree with the author that “some public school officials and social workers do have a decidedly jaded view of homeschooling.” Abuse is unwanted in the homeschool community. That would include governmental bullying of law abiding families because they choose to homeschool.
That prudence should be understandable when homeschoolers’ educational base is located in the family’s private living space. The call for regulation by Mr. Kunzman and others thrashes the very opposition that these six families have to governmental interference. Ironic, isn’t it?
There seemed to be a definite agenda in this book that wasn’t favorable to homeschooling self-sufficiency. The last chapter is oddly named: Becoming A Public. The premise of Kunzman’s homeschooling concerns, framed in the first chapter’s last question regarding “Homeschool Regulation,” seemed to lead to this book’s foregone conclusion.
I’m also bewildered by Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews’ thought process in his recent Education column, 3 Smart Rules for Regulation of Homeschoolers, which focused on Kunzman’s book. Mathews’ position seems to be that unfavorable political winds could increase regulation and that we should do something about that by using the “sensible answer” of universal regulation as offered in “Write These Laws On Your Children.” Mathews also states, “Kunzman knows that many parents have chosen to homeschool for non-religious reasons, but focuses on serious Christians because they are the ones that public school professionals are most worried about.”
The concern about “serious Christians” is the theme throughout this book. Kunzman requested each of the six families fill out a General Social Survey to confirm their social, political and religious conservatism. There must be a survey or study sought out for almost every curiosity, while most homeschoolers seem to be holding out as the last bastion. Robert Kunzman reported that nearly a fourth of our homeschooled population don’t need to notify or verify educating their children. He asked HSLDA’s Michael Smith if their ultimate goal was to be a “place like Illinois where parents don’t have to report, register, anything.”
Kunzman’s propositions suggested that free homeschooling states (such as Illinois) “runs the greatest risk of neglecting the interests of children and the state.” His unease seems to be baseless and cynical, as he didn’t provide proof of such neglect. An imagined problem, that school bureaucrats need to oversee already established parental accountability, will kill what we live – and what we love about homeschooling. The former Social Studies and English high school teacher, coach and administrator describes a “triad of interests” (children, parents, society) as a concern of “advocates of regulation.” (‘Anti-homeschoolers’ is the term I use for homeschooling regulation advocates.) Even after hundreds of hours observing homeschoolers, Robert Kunzman either doesn’t understand the homeschooling way of life, or worse yet, he does.