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Keep the home-school fires burning: despite legislative problems, regulatory hurdles, media attacks, and other affronts to the home-schooling movement, home schooling continues to gain in popularity and strength.

Thomas Jefferson once said that the "price of freedom is eternal vigilance." That has never been more true than in the case of the freedom to home-school in the U.S. In the '80s and '90s, a battle was fought in the courtrooms and legislatures of this country, and by 1993, it was legal to home-school in all 50 states. It was a hard-won battle, and there continues to be guerrilla warfare at work to reverse the victory. Home-school proponents must eternally watch for laws and regulations seeking to restrict and control home schooling, must constantly rebut media attacks on home schooling, and continually educate home-schoolers about issues that can undermine the home-schooling movement.

Opponents of home schooling use several methods when trying to weaken or eradicate home schooling: legislative and regulatory actions, media smears, and subtle attempts to blur the line between public schooling and home schooling to exert more control over home-schoolers. This admittedly clever three-pronged approach is thorough--enact anti-homeschooling laws where possible, discredit home-schoolers with the general public, and confuse home-schoolers themselves.

But a well-educated citizenry can see through these various charades and work to stop them before they do any harm. A few examples of each kind of attack illustrate the basic form the homeschooling conflict takes.

Direct Legislation and Regulation

When anti-homeschooling bills or regulations are proposed in a state legislature or an education department, they often center around three popular issues: compulsory attendance age, approval or control of the curriculum, and standardized testing.

For example, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), at least seven states introduced one or more bills in 2005 attempting to expand the compulsory attendance age in the state. On the surface, it may erroneously appear that compulsory attendance laws do not affect home-schoolers. But in states that require parents to submit paperwork to the public school district "proving" they are educating their children, these types of laws would add one or more years of compelled attendance (even in the home) and additional paperwork. According to the HSLDA, in some states, home-schoolers who file their initial paperwork for a first (or even second) grade program have been told that they must file a kindergarten program instead--an obvious absurdity.

Other states choose to focus on curriculum control. For instance, Rhode Island's House Bill 5354, introduced in February, originally called for home-school and private-school programs to teach sex education from kindergarten through grade 12 and required that sex-ed be taught in a manner that "does not teach or promote religion."

In Oregon, Senate Bill 1013 calls for anyone who is paid to provide instruction to a child (K-12) to have a teaching license. In effect, this would force parents to subject their children to education from publicly licensed teachers only, severely curtailing their choice of instruction (this would apply to music and karate teachers, not just academic subjects.)

With concerted effort, home-schoolers can meet and defeat these challenges to their educational freedom. For example, this year Montana introduced what HSLDA called the "worst bill of the decade." Senate Bill 291 would have required home schools to be supervised by a certified teacher and monitored biannually by the school district, prohibited the home schooling of any child with developmental disabilities (despite the existence of many studies proving that special needs students learn better in a home-school setting), and prohibited home schooling by stepparents and legal guardians.

Outraged by the bill, Montana home-schoolers and the HSLDA lobbied extensively against the bill. Some 1,200 Montanans showed up for the Senate Education Committee hearing on the bill, at which the bill was permanently tabled. Senator Don Ryan (D-Great Falls), who sponsored the bill, said his bill was designed to prevent abusive and neglectful parents from hiding their children from authorities. But Montana Senate Minority Leader Bob Keenan (R-Bigfork) called S.B. 291 "a legislative assault on families and freedom."

Sometimes victories can be won with little effort by individuals who are knowledgeable. On May 27, the Attendance Officer for the Gilroy, Calif. Unified School District, Frank Valadez, stated in a letter to the editor in the Gilroy Dispatch that home educators must seek approval from the district attendance officer before they school their children at home--and if approval is not granted, the family will be referred to the School Attendance Review Board (SARB). And if SARB determines the child's education is not "adequate," the child will be considered truant.

However, Michael Smith, president of the HSLDA, responded to Valadez' letter, stating that in California, home educators are "small private schools in the home" and therefore home education in California is not subject to approval or evaluation by the local school district. "There is no authority for public school officials to evaluate, approve, or verify that the private school is providing an adequate education to the children enrolled in it."

The government also persecutes home-schoolers via social workers. Social workers violate the Fourth Amendment by claiming parents rights don't apply during a child-abuse investigation. In the 1999 case Calabretta v. Floyd, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that social workers, or policemen in support of social workers, are not exempt from the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. But social workers continue to ignore home-schoolers' rights.

In 2003, a social worker showed up at the door of an Enid, Oklahoma, home-schooling residence, citing a report that the children were not fed properly and there was no food in the house--and demanded entry into the house. The mother called HSLDA, and, following their advice, refused the social worker entry. She then brought armloads of food out and laid them on the front porch at the social worker's feet. Before the pile got very big, the social worker conceded that there appeared to be food, and left.

Media Smears

In the mid-'90s, journalists used to cry, "Oh, the poor home-schooled child--he'll get no socialization!" The socialization theory has been proven wrong, however. For example, a 2004 study, funded by the National Home Education Research Institute and called "Home Educated and Now Adults," concluded that "Based on the findings of this study, the concerns ... that homeschooling would somehow interfere with home-educated adults participating in essential societal activities or that homeschooling inhibits public debate, have no foundation." A book by Susan McDowell, But What About Socialization ? Answering the Perpetual Home Schooling Question: A Review of the Literature, presents an exhaustive analysis of 24 studies on the socialization of home-schoolers, concluding: "It's a non-issue today." McDowell is the founder and president of Philodeus Press and is editor of the academic, refereed journal, Home School Researcher.

Undeterred, the media have recently chosen alternative ways to discredit home schooling. The most common theme is child safety--equating home schooling with child abuse in the minds of uncritical readers. For example, a 2002 article "Flaws in Home Schooling Exposed" in the Independent Journal portrayed an especially awful situation of child abuse, polygamy and murder, and then cited freedom to home educate as a major contributing factor in the case. More recently, based on accusations against a homeschooling Florida family, many newspapers across the nation have published articles calling for increased regulation of home schooling because it "facilitates child abuse."

Major television shows have also jumped on the homeschooling/child-abuse bandwagon. In 2003, CBS news aired a series about the "dark side" of home schooling, and in 2004, Law and Order--Special Victims Unit featured a home-school child abuse story.

But when parents of publicly schooled children commit child abuse, the same media sources do not insinuate that there is a causal relationship between public schooling and the crime (which of course, there isn't--any more than there is a causal relationship between home schooling and child abuse). Regrettably, child abuse occurs in all types of families, both home-schooled and public-schooled.

Critics of home schooling say that abuse is easier to hide in the home-school environment, but there are no statistics to prove that home-schooled children are more likely than public-schooled children to suffer unobserved abuse. As Sarah A. McUmber-House, a veteran home-schooler, points out, it would make as much sense to blame the mail-order industry, or the clothing industry, or the makeup industry for child abuse--each of these industries could support an "isolationist" lifestyle and make products that could cover up signs of abuse.

"I suggest we all learn to recognize the difference between a related detail, and a causal detail. Yes, homeschooling is a related detail in these stories, but it is not a causal detail," said McUmber-House.

Lack of logic, however, rarely bothers mainstream media sources. As a prime example, the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal published in November 2004 a series of seven articles that cast home schooling in a negative light. The authors conceded that home schooling had some good points, but also implied that increased government oversight was required to fix some of home schooling's dangerous flaws.

However, as pointed out by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn (home-schooled authors of a logic textbook, The Fallacy Detective), the Beacon articles use flawed logic and statistics. The Bluedorns point out errors of logic occurring in the Beacon articles, including appealing to unspecified, uncertified, unverified sources; using a lack of evidence as proof; and using manipulative language.

The Beacon's use of statistics was poor, as well. For example, the authors stated that despite the fact that about two percent of the U.S. student population is home-schooled, less than 0.2 percent of college applicants are home-schooled. The authors fail to mention that, because of the rapid growth of the homeschooling movement in the last decade, the vast majority of home-schooled children are less than 14 years old--and are therefore hardly ready to apply to college. An article called "Let the Facts Speak," by the HSLDA, further elaborates on this fallacy: some states consider home schools to be "private schools"; therefore, those states' colleges would bunch home-schooled applicants in with "privately schooled applicants."

Blurring the Lines

More subtle--therefore more dangerous--than obvious laws or smear campaigns is the attempt to blur the line between public schooling and home schooling, leading to government regulation. Home-school opponents have begun using the maxims "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," and "what you fund, you control" to insinuate government control into homeschooling.

To snare parents who wish to home-school their children and trick the parents into enrolling their children into public education, "alternative education programs" are being designed to mimic home schooling. According to the Washington Homeschool Organization (WHO), "evidence suggests that some school districts are deliberately misinforming parents interested in homeschooling as to their legal homeschooling option[s] ... then misdirecting them to public alternative programs as their only 'homeschooling' choice...." "These alternative education programs present a professionally supervised and government-regulated form of 'homeschooling' [that] causes confusion among the general public, the press, and government representatives about the true nature of independent homeschooling."

Parents who enter such a program thinking that they are home-schooling often receive a nasty shock when their children are treated like publicly schooled students. For example, in April, the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard reported that "students who take classes from publicly funded home-schooling centers ... soon will be expected to complete the same reading, math and writing tests given to their public-school counterparts each spring." Although parents do have the choice to opt out of the testing, many don't know that, or are unwilling to do so. For example, one parent said she was reluctant to have her son opt out because the school district would get "dinged" financially if the school didn't show enough test participation to meet the No Child Left Behind Act's requirements.

Parents should consider carefully when choosing to participate in an alternative ed program and realize that they are not truly home schooling, but opening the door for government control over their children's education.

Keep Up the Good Work

The fact that home schooling is under siege actually has a silver lining: if home schooling weren't working; if it weren't growing; if it weren't turning out a brand new generation of leaders who have sound minds, good values, a strong work ethic, and a commitment to independence, then the Establishment wouldn't be working so hard to derail the home-schooling movement. And the Establishment is finding that derailment hard to accomplish, thanks to the momentum gained by the homeschooling movement on all fronts.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:EDUCATION
Author:Gilmore, Jodie
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 22, 2005
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