Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hostility to Homeschooling; Parents respond!

In the States there has been a controversy going on for a few weeks, because a Californian appeals court ruled that parents have "no constitutional right" to homeschool. Thousands of homeschooling parents and friends of homeschooling have written letters, blogged, phoned and in some cases harassed those who can do something to overturn this bad decision.

I have not experienced any overt hostility to homeschooling in my nearly 25 years of teaching my own children here in Canada. Most of the time, when people discover I homeschool, there is grudging admiration, with the typical questions. "Don't they have to be tested?" "Who checks up on you to make sure you're doing an adequate job?" "Is it legal?" - that one is not as popular as it once was, back in the day that I had to phone the Ministry of Education in Toronto to find out if indeed, homeschooling was legal.

I read an interesting short article today by Albert Mohler:
Overt Hostility to Homeschooling
—Albert Mohler

Parents in California have been on a rollercoaster of sorts in the wake of a state appeals court ruling that parents in that state have "no constitutional right" to homeschool their own children.

The decision is a direct threat to the rights of all California parents--and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state's school superintendent pledged to find ways to protect homeschooling families. At the same time, an overt hostility to homeschooling has been unleashed, starting with a pair of retired professors who, in an op-ed published in The Los Angeles Times, called homeschooling parents "elitist" and "illiberal."

They wrote with venom and condescension about evangelical Christian parents who do not want their children indoctrinated with evolutionary theory and support for abortion rights.

Well, at least now we know who the real elitists are--and what their real agenda is. The threat in California is not just to the rights of homeschoolers, but of all parents. This decision must be overturned or remedied--and fast.
Then I read the article in the Los Angeles Times:,0,5787994.story

Regulating home schoolers

A court ruling is right to examine the seemingly elitist and illiberal practice.
By Walter P. Coombs and Ralph E. Shaffer
March 13, 2008
A California appellate court has struck terror in the ranks of home schooling advocates by ruling that their children can't be taught at home without at least some oversight. Public education foes see this as an all-out attack on the concept of home schooling. That is not the case. And members of The Times editorial board didn't get it right either.

In the decision in question, the parents did not meet even the meager requirements for home schooling that California has established. While enrollment in a public school is required by state law, the Education Code permits an exception for those attending private schools or those taught at home by a credentialed teacher.

Though the parents had technically enrolled their eight children in an existing private school, the court found that the children were not attending it. In fact, they were schooled at home by parents not qualified to teach the kids in subjects appropriate to their age and grade level.

The decision has caused anguish among families who fear that they may now be required to demonstrate that home schooling is an adequate replacement for their children's attendance at a public institution. The court's decision means that home schoolers must be given some substantive instruction in social studies and not simply spend their time watching Fox with its strange assortment of oddballs pontificating on current events.

It's time Californians realized that there are few regulations regarding home schooling and virtually no safeguards to make certain that subjects appropriate to the age group are taught. On the other hand, there is a formidable cottage industry run by conservative evangelicals that provides "suitable" materials for home schoolers. For-profit charter schools specializing in "home schooling" -- and collecting your tax dollars while doing it -- have not only cast a cloud over the concept of home schooling but have rankled teachers who see the state's limited education dollars being diverted from traditional schools.

If home schooling forums on the Web are indicative of the views held by parents of learn-at-home kids, their offspring are getting an extremely warped lesson in civics. Typical of the shrill screed now running on the Internet are these comments: "This [ruling] is a good example of bureaucratic tyranny! Kiss liberty good-bye, people." Another wrote: "Perhaps the judge could be impeached for incompetence. Else Christian families need to flee California." And: "This is another example of how socialist mentality destroys our God-given rights as parents."

It's evident that the vast majority who teach their offspring in front of the television do so because they don't want their children to be subjected to such dangerous doctrines as evolution, abortion, global warming, equal rights and other ideas abhorrent to the evangelical mantra. Weighing in on the side of home schoolers and their fundamentalist spokesman, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that self-proclaimed expert on education whose latest action has been to recommend steep cuts for K-12 schools. The governor denounced the ruling as outrageous and vowed to overturn it. He must believe that the state's policy of providing no control over home schooling is just fine.

The Times editorial board misunderstood the ruling too. To start, we find no place in the ruling where the court "noted that the state Education Code appears to express distaste for home schooling." Then, the editorial goes on to say, "Private school teachers do not need a credential to instruct a class of 20 or 30 students. Why should parents need one to teach a few children at home?" That's a good question. But the court offered an equally good answer: In an earlier case, the court held that it is "unreasonably difficult and expensive for a state to supervise parents who instruct children in their homes" but that oversight of teachers in organized private schools is less difficult and expensive. Furthermore, the court noted that teachers in private schools would be supervised by the people who run the schools, and those administrators would want to make sure that their instructors were competent so that their private schools would qualify under the state Education Code.

The board also claims that the courts "tossed out" the option of public and private school independent study programs to help home schoolers. Not so! What the court said was that the Education Code provides for independent study through a school district or a county office of education, but the purpose is to provide students with educational opportunities during travel or in subjects not offered in the school curriculum. The court said this clause clearly did not apply to a mother's home schooling of her kids.

The Times' editorial refers to the wonderful accomplishments of home schooling: "There are rare cases of parents who use home schooling to hide abuse or neglect. Far more common are the stories of responsible parents providing a good education." One anecdotal case of a home schooled teen writing a bestselling novel is cited, with the implication that such a remarkable achievement could not possibly have been attained because of the demanding homework assignments given by our public schools. Sounds like the board believes our traditional schools are overworking the kids -- which is not what most critics say. Isn't a major argument for home schooling based on the belief that the public schools aren't demanding enough?

Finally, in its call for the Legislature to enact laws providing for home schooling, apparently without credentialed teachers, the editorial wants "reasonable regulations," citing as examples required lesson plans or a student portfolio of work. Those regulations might be acceptable to some of the learn-at-home parents, but the Internet will be full of angry letters from home schoolers saying all that bureaucratic regulation is what they wanted to escape by teaching their children at home.

There has always been something decidedly elitist and anti-democratic in home schooling. It smacks of a belief that privileged children should not have to associate with the other kids in the neighborhood and that by staying home, they would not be subjected to the leavening effect of democracy.

Moreover, it is apparent from the cries of the far right that there has been a specific policy in home schooling -- to teach only the ideas acceptable to ideologues who fear the contaminating influence of what is commonly known as a liberal education.

Walter P. Coombs and Ralph E. Shaffer are professors emeriti at Cal Poly Pomona.

I was incensed when I finished reading the above, so I began to go through the TWENTY PAGES of comments. After only a few minutes it became apparent that homeschoolers are, for the most part, articulate and well-educated. They are able to soundly refute the arguments made by the "professors emeriti" and they make a good case for homeschooling children.

The comments will only be available for two weeks, so I will copy a few of my favourites here.

~Coombs and Shaffer have made it very clear that to them a good education is one in which students are indoctrinated with their liberal values.The authors' desire is a totalitarian state in which every child is force-fed liberal dogma and our freedom of speech is circumvented by labeling conservative ideas "hate speech." The fact that they consider abortion an inalienable right is proof that what they really want is not to educate our children but to euthanize them.

~As a teacher & mom, I teach my students to "check the facts" & "consider the source." Seems these professors need to either become one of my middle school students or my own child, because they did none of those things. I would suggest these professors educate themselves on both the history of public education, and the realities of homeschooling today. Every day I read about the horrors in the schools--molestation by administrators & coaches, school violence, low test scores, budget cuts, & more--perhaps we need to focus on fixing the educational system for those who cannot homeschool and leave those high performing self educators alone.

~Last time I checked, mandatory state funded public schooling could easily fit into the term, "anti-democratic." Just because the education that home schoolers receive is not "state-approved," does not make it elitist. Everyone is welcome to home school, so what's so elitist about that? The authors are clearly threatened by homeschooling and their arguments do not hold water and are extremely biased. Yikes...

~Many parents who home school have told me that they pulled their children from public schools because the children came home with stacks of papers and did not understand what they were to be doing. The parents wound up doing all the teaching and finally decided that if they were going to do the teaching anyway, they might as well have the time to do it right! They have also said that much of the work in public schools is busy work and does not help the children learn a thing.

~The internal logic of the ruling is this: 1. The protection of rights by a government-of-the-people requires that people to have knowledge. 2. The people are incapable of providing this knowlege to their children, without the oversight of a Nanny State. 3. Therefore, the Government must violate the rights of the people, forcing them to educate the State's children as the Nanny State pleases, in order to .... secure a protection of rights. Plato, Stalin, and Hitler would have been pleased. Hitler, too, outlawed homeschooling on the same basis in 1938. The law remains to this day.

~America began its first 200 years without public education. The Bill of Rights guarantees families the right to inculcate Christian religion -something that the "liberal educators" deplore. To say that "there has always been something decidedly elitist and anti-democratic in home schooling" betrays a totalatarian mindset akin the those within communist regimes which brainwash children into statist thinking. These "liberal educators" hate Christianity. Far from privileged, any parent can choose to homeschool. Most all of the "privleged" homeschool families I have known were middle income or less.

~I would recommend that they study Western traditions of liberalism and democracy before publishing an article on the subject. Liberalism in the western tradition generally infers that the individual has a right to abstain from social programs. Social good is second to insuring the rights of the individual, as Thomas Mann would say.

~How little the authors know about home schooling. We began home schooling when found our son wasn't being challenged. He is now in 5th grade, doing geometry, Latin, logic, and very advanced in reading. My 7 year old is reading at an 8th grade level. My 6 year old is in 2nd grade math. There is very little time for TV in our house. What a waste of time!!! Contrary to what the authors think, on average home schooled kids test above the 80th percentile in standardized tests. What I want to know is why we are so undersupported by educators and intellectuals when we are the ones having the highest rates of success.

~Weren't the two fine young men who went on a murderous rampage at Columbine High School a product of the public school system. Wasn't their defense that they were picked on in (public) school. I guess the "socialization" they received in school wasn't that great after all. I have to wonder how they would have turned out if they had been homeschooled.

~Last thought: is it any surprise that the people who feel most threatened by homeschooling are the unions and teachers who spent years getting degrees which may not be so necessary if homeschooling continues to grow in popularity? It couldn't be THAT. They must be concerned about the children.

~Nice op-ed. Can be summed up thus: "Free markets, bad. Statism, good." That these knuckleheads are professors is exhibit A in the "value" of 20th century formal education. When government education becomes better than what one can obtain for free via the internet or from your public library, then we can have the debate on the merits of government education.

~Homeschooling is neither elitist nor undemocratic. While it's easier to visit a few radical websites and draw hasty conclusions than to research an issue thoroughly and thoughtfully, I recommend that the authors read the U.S. Department of Education's study, "Homeschooling in the United States: 1999." Homeschooling parents are somewhat more likely to be white and to have a college or graduate degree than mainstream parents, but financially they are very similar to mainstream parents (some are poor, some are wealthy, most are middle-class). Less than half homeschool for religious reasons.

~The freedom for me to NOT be in a program or with oversight is very important to me. I don't want legislation, testing, or parental requirements. Before compulsory schooling, kids grew up to become statesmen, inventors, thinkers, discoverers, & leaders. How did they do that without compulsory schooling, testing, and oversight? Ever had your child bring out a book and have the neighbor "schooled" kid loudly complain, "Oh, no, not books!I It's the weekend"? My homeschooled child can be away from that attitude that permeates the schools. Please don't just meet a few homeschoolers and then form your opinion. Get a bigger sample size.

So, there you go. I feel better. NO need for me to post further...they said it all!

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