Monday, October 10, 2005

Should the government govern what we learn?

In every state in the union (and in Washington, D.C.), parents are “allowed” to homeschool their children, provided they follow the rules set forth by the state. Some states are more stringent in their requirements, and some don’t even require notification of the homeschooling. Some states make homeschoolers jump through a lot of hoops to “prove” their worthiness, and others just let the homeschoolers be. I think it’s worth questioning why or whether the government has a legitimate right to supervise the education of homeschoolers at all.

Let me first state that I am enrolled in state-approved “umbrella” school (umbrella schools act as the middleman between parents and the state). However, it seems to me that I shouldn’t have to demonstrate my worthiness to the state, in order to educate my children in the way I feel they should be educated. The government can’t tell us what church to go to (or not go to), or what philosophies to hold, and can‘t demand our acceptance of any government-sponsored ideas or ideals…so why do we consider it legitimate for government to dictate what our children learn in the schools? Particularly when you consider that public schools can often be hostile to conservatives (ok, and sometimes to liberals) and people of faith…and just watch out if you’re both! How can the government demand a captive audience to promote a specific agenda (oops…abolishment of the public school system is a different topic altogether!) ?

The argument against the supervision stands on its own, but is made even stronger given the current state of the public schools. Homeschoolers routinely outperform their public school peers, and the school system as a whole is not a model of educational standards or ideals by any stretch of the imagination.

Homeschooling is an opportunity for a parent to play an incomparable role in a child’s education (yes, you can play an active role in the education if the child is at school but it‘s a completely different kind of active role). It can be tailor-made for the child, having the freedom to go into depth on any subject of interest to the child. You can work with your student’s strengths and around his weaknesses, abandoning programs in favor of others if they don’t suit your needs. In schools, for the most part, the education is intended to be “one-size-fits-all.” Of course…that’s impossible, unless you have a group of children all on the exact same level, all with the same primary learning style, etc. Since that‘s all but never going to be the case, you’ve got Bobby who is a little bit above “grade-level” having to fill in worksheets and do busy work while the teacher can get Suzie (who is just a little bit below) caught up to the point of where the rest of the class is. It’s a hurry-up and wait situation. If you’re the wrong shaped peg for the hole, you lose. You lose time, if you’re ahead and ready to move on, but can’t because you’re being held back by one of the 20-odd (if you’re lucky, and the number’s not 30-something) other students in the class. If you’re behind, you cause everyone else to lose time. And then there’s the consideration of being teased for being behind or “stupid.” And all of that’s not even including how much of the academic day is given over to correction and discipline

The vast majority of parents who choose to home school do it because in *their* eyes…it‘s in the best interest of the child(ren). Whether their reasons are religious, academic, or otherwise…where does the government feel it has the authority to make the parents report in on progress…particularly when the onus is solely on those homeschooling parents? There’s just about no other school environment where a student is under the same academic scrutiny as one might be in some of the more restrictive homeschooling states. In a school, as long as you’re posting passing grades, you can continue to be passed along, grade to grade, until graduation. Sure, the teachers may mutter under their breath about the lack of parental involvement or participation, but if you’re getting passing grades, you pass. Not so for some homeschoolers where the government has the authority to compel a family to send/return a poorly-achieving student to the public school. Yet nothing more happens if that same child continues to perform at the *same* level once in the public school. So, what good was done by making the child be returned to school, except that the government was able to stretch its “authority” muscle and make the parents kowtow to the law?

The government does not have a compelling interest in supervising homeschooling. I think it’s worth reconsidering our acceptance of government involvement in homeschooling.

If you’re looking for more information on homeschooling: a good site to start with is the Homeschooling Legal Defense Association web site: