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Citizenship or Lawyership
Choosing Political Strategies for Homeschoolers
This article, by Larry and Susan Kaseman, was originally published in the September-October 1993 issue of Home Education Magazine.
If you knew that in states throughout the land, homeschooling cases involving people like you were being taken to court in a misguided attempt to protect the rights of homeschoolers and that most of these cases were being decided against homeschoolers, wouldn't you be concerned? If you knew that these cases were resulting in precedents and a body of case law that support the idea that the government has the right to unreasonably regulate homeschooling and that will make it very difficult for homeschoolers like you to win or even maintain homeschooling freedoms, wouldn't you want to do something about it? If you knew that there are effective ways in which homeschoolers can act to protect our rights to homeschool without unreasonable government regulation, wouldn't you want to take action?
Recent court decisions in Michigan and Massachusetts remind us that as homeschoolers we are in a challenging situation. We need to be aware of the ever-present possibility that increased government regulation will restrict our ability to choose for our children an education consistent with our principles and beliefs. We need to understand what kind of political strategies are likely to protect our parental rights and responsibilities and what kind are likely to make the situation worse. As individuals and as a group we need to act in ways that will protect our freedom and avoid actions being proposed and carried out by some individuals and organizations that would result in serious limitations of our freedom to homeschool.
This column will show that given the realities of the situation facing homeschoolers, we are unlikely to be able to meet the challenges we face by adopting black and white solutions like introducing new homeschooling legislation and/or taking test cases to court in an attempt to preserve or regain homeschooling freedoms, in other words, by using what we call "lawyership" rather than working through citizenship. Even more serious, these black and white solutions are likely to reduce the very freedoms they were supposedly designed to protect. Rather than grasping at dangerous cure-alls offered by some organizations and "experts," we homeschoolers need to learn to work on a grassroots level to protect ourselves and to build an enduring base of support for homeschooling. We also need to learn to live with some ambiguity, simply because homeschoolers are a small and often misunderstood minority and as such we will not be able to gain ironclad guarantees that will protect our rights and prevent attempts at unreasonable state regulation of homeschooling. In choosing this approach, we will be learning a great deal, setting a very valuable example for our children, and providing a solid foundation for our grandchildren's freedom.
This column will first consider the political realities facing homeschoolers so we have a clearer understanding of what we are up against, where our strengths lie, and in what ways we are vulnerable. Then we will look at reasons why introducing legislation and/or becoming involved in court cases usually do not work. After considering ways to evaluate homeschooling leaders and organizations, we will consider positive things that homeschoolers can do and ways homeschoolers can learn to live with ambiguity.
THE SITUATION HOMESCHOOLERS FACE
To be able to make wise decisions about how to act, we homeschoolers need to understand the realities of the situation in which we find ourselves. Basically this situation is not of our making, and generally there is very little we can do to change it. Among the realities that we need to accept and deal with are the following.
*Homeschoolers are a very small minority of the school age population and an even tinier minority of the general population. In the United States the most reasonable estimates are that homeschoolers represent less than one percent of school-age children. Since only 25% of the adult population in the U. S. has school-age children, a very, very small proportion of the general public is directly involved in homeschooling, perhaps only one adult out of every 400. Although homeschooling is gaining recognition and support throughout the country, the number of people who are strongly committed to homeschooling is quite small, even when friends, relatives, and other supporters of homeschooling are included.
By contrast, consider that one out of every five adults works in a field directly related to education, that over one billion dollars are spent on education every day. Not only are homeschoolers a relatively small group; conventional education is gigantic.
To be sure, homeschooling is important and is growing steadily. But starting from such a small base, even with phenomenal growth, homeschoolers will continue to be a small minority for the foreseeable future. Homeschoolers need to choose their political strategies based on this reality.
*Homeschoolers are perceived as an economic threat to conventional schools. Here is a somewhat distorted "reality." Homeschoolers actually save taxpayers an enormous amount of tax money that would have to be spent on homeschooled children if they were attending public schools. (The average cost to educate one child in a public school for a year is about $6,000.) However, because in virtually all states, school districts get money from the state budget based on the number of children enrolled in their schools, and because school districts want their budgets to be as large as possible, many school officials argue that each child who is homeschooled costs the school district money.
*Homeschooling is different from conventional schooling. It shows that children can learn well in their own homes with their own families. It shows that children do not have to be in special institutional settings or have professionally trained teachers in order to learn. This point is further strengthened by the experiences we have all heard about or participated in ourselves involving children who had trouble learning in conventional schools but did very well at home. For reasons such as these, homeschooling is perceived as a methodological and philosophical threat to conventional schools.
*Homeschooling is not well understood by most of the general public. It causes concern among some adults and many professional educators, for a variety of reasons. Some well-meaning people, who are concerned about children, fail to understand homeschooling and view it as too limiting and risky for children.
*Homeschoolers are a wonderfully convenient and easy target for beleaguered school officials who need a way to divert public attention away from their schools with their overwhelming and many-faceted failings and problems.
*Some members of the general public are concerned about the connection they see between homeschooling and fundamentalist Christianity. Because these people fear a fundamentalist revival, they oppose homeschooling entirely or favor strong state regulation of homeschooling.
*Homeschooling is by its very nature a somewhat ambiguous subject. There is no one right way to homeschool. Children learn in many different ways and according to their own timetables. Parents relate to their children in different ways. There is no way to determine what each child needs to learn and when, and there is no way to find out and record what each child has learned. Therefore, there are not clear-cut black and white ways to approach the legal questions surrounding state regulation of homeschooling. Homeschooling works because parents who choose to undertake the work and responsibility of homeschooling care deeply about their children and want what is best for them. Homeschooling works because children are eager to learn and are good at learning when they have the materials, support, and flexibility they need. Homeschooling does not work because laws require that parents who are homeschooling do a good job or because states require that children take tests or turn in portfolios. States cannot legislate good homeschooling, and they do not need to, because parents and children want homeschooling to work and make it work.
*It seems very unlikely at this point that any state legislature would attempt to simply outlaw homeschooling. However, in order to be an effective educational alternative that protects the right of parents to choose for their children an education consistent with their principles and beliefs, homeschools need to be kept free of unreasonable and unnecessary government regulations, administrative rules, and actions by local school officials.
For example, non-homeschoolers often argue that homeschooled children should be required to take state-mandated standardized tests so the state can be assured that they are learning as they should. To some homeschooling parents, especially those who are already having their children tested anyway, this may seem reasonable. However, further thought reveals that state-mandated testing is very different from parents deciding voluntarily when their children will takes tests, which tests they will take, and who will find out the results of the tests. Tests determine curriculum, since children must study what will be covered by the tests in order to be prepared for them. Therefore state-mandated testing of homeschoolers means state-control of homeschooling. It is very misleading to argue that homeschooling is "protected" by laws that make homeschooling legal but also require that homeschoolers take state-mandated tests. If we want to protect our right to homeschool, we must strongly and actively oppose increased and unnecessary government regulation of homeschooling.
The question of what constitutes necessary or reasonable government regulation of homeschooling can perhaps best be approached by understanding the distinction between compulsory school attendance and compulsory education. At this point in our country, compulsory school attendance is a requirement that all the state legislatures have agreed to (in other words, every state has a compulsory school attendance law) and which the courts have upheld. However, compulsory attendance simply requires that children attend an educational program; it does not dictate what they shall study or learn while they are attending this program. [Note: It is very important to realize that this fundamental distinction between compulsory attendance and compulsory education is being seriously threatened by attempts to institute outcome-based education. See our previous column, "Is Outcome-Based Education Out of the Question?" HEM, March-April, 1993, pp. 14-19.]
*Strong pressure is being applied in many states to establish outcome-based education (OBE) in public schools. Under such programs, students would be required to demonstrate that they had acquired certain "knowledge, skills, and attitudes." OBE would give the state enormous control over education; it would add compulsory education to current compulsory attendance requirements. Homeschoolers could also be forced into OBE by plans that would require anyone who wants to attend college and/or earn a certificate of employability (required for some jobs) to pass specific state-mandated exams. These exams would dictate the curriculum homeschoolers had to use, so they would be prepared for the exams. In this way, state control of homeschools would be greatly increased. Homeschoolers would not be able to educate their children according to their principles and beliefs. Also, homeschoolers would not have the flexibility they need to learn in their own ways, study what interests them most, etc.
As homeschoolers we can reduce the chances of being drawn into OBE by refusing to be measured by conventional schools standards. We can refuse to allow the state to review and approve our curriculums and refuse to take state-mandated standardized tests or assessments. Doing this maintains the principles that parents have the right to choose for their children an education consistent with their principles and beliefs.
When individual homeschoolers or homeschooling organizations publicize and/or share with legislators and school officials the scores homeschoolers have gotten on standardized tests (even tests they have voluntarily selected and taken), they are giving legislators the clear impression that homeschoolers feel that their children can and should be evaluated by conventional schools standards. This clearly works against the struggle many homeschoolers are making to maintain their independence of OBE and of unreasonable state regulation of homeschooling.
STRENGTHS HOMESCHOOLERS HAVE TO DRAW ON
Before we start feeling overwhelmed by the situation we face, let us consider some of the important and valuable strengths we have as homeschoolers:
*As people who have willingly (and often gladly) strongly affirmed the responsibility parents have for their children's educations and who have decided to exercise that responsibility ourselves rather than turning part of it over to conventional schools, we have had important experience in exercising responsibility and doing things ourselves, for ourselves, the way we feel they should be done. Therefore, we are in a good position to take on the responsibility for our own homeschool and our right to homeschool. We understand the major advantages that come from working to protect our own rights that are so essential to us, rather than turning this responsibility over to someone else, someone less directly involved and therefore inevitably less committed to our homeschool.
*As homeschoolers who believe that parents have the right to choose for their children an education consistent with their principles and beliefs, we have had experience working with others who share this commitment. We can work together to maintain parents' rights, realizing that we may not agree on specific religious beliefs or specific approaches to education. We realize that it is more important to protect the rights of parents than it is for parents to agree on all the details. In fact, many homeschoolers feel that because each individual family is unique and knows best its own strengths and needs, each family needs to make its own decisions about the approach to education it will choose, its religious beliefs, and other such matters.
*There are logical, legal, historical, practical, moral, and religious arguments against unnecessary and restrictive government regulation of homeschooling. (For one listing, see our book, Taking Charge Through Home Schooling: Personal and Political Empowerment, pp. 219-240.) Many people who do not necessarily understand or support homeschooling will nevertheless support principles such as: parents (and not the state) should have the basic responsibility for their own children, minorities in America should be protected, freedom of education is essential to a free society, unreasonable and unnecessary government regulation will prevent homeschools from being the alternatives they need to be.
*Many examples, personal stories, and case studies can be presented to show others how well homeschooling works. Many skeptics and critics of homeschooling have become supporters once they became acquainted with a "real live" homeschooling family and saw how confident, resourceful, knowledgeable, capable, and enthusiastic they were and how well they could relate to a wide variety of people of varying ages. (So much for all those concerns about "socialization!") Among the most impressive examples are the children who have had difficulty learning in a conventional school setting but who learn very well at home.
*Homeschooling represents a broad spectrum of the population, people with different perspectives and affiliations. Therefore, we can reach and speak to non-homeschoolers from both major political parties and with a variety of philosophies and beliefs.
WHY HOMESCHOOLERS GENERALLY SHOULD NOT INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO PROTECT HOMESCHOOLING
Given the pressures from opponents of homeschooling, some homeschoolers argue that the best way for homeschoolers to be secure is by trying to get legislation passed that would guarantee the right to homeschool without restrictive regulation. However, this over-simplified approach is not a good strategy for several reasons, including:
*As discussed above, many members of the general public are eagerly waiting for an opportunity to increase government regulation of homeschooling. No matter how strongly the initial legislation that is introduced supports homeschooling, it presents a good opportunity for opponents of homeschooling to add amendments that can easily increase government regulation of homeschooling. This is a risk we homeschoolers cannot afford to take, because we cannot easily marshall enough support from legislators or the general public to defeat such amendments. Therefore, many homeschoolers oppose the introduction of any legislation that directly affects homeschooling, even if the original legislation is favorable to homeschooling or proposes a minor change such as the date by which homeschoolers must register with the state department of education. Any legislation related to homeschooling simply presents too good an opportunity to opponents of homeschooling.
*Because the general public often does not understand or support homeschooling, it is very difficult to get most legislators to support legislation that has been introduced by homeschoolers that is favorable to homeschooling. It is somewhat easier to get legislators to vote against legislation that has been introduced by opponents of homeschooling that would unnecessarily and unreasonably increase government regulation of homeschooling. Therefore, if a state really needs new legislation because of a court decision, we homeschoolers are in a much better position if non-homeschoolers (most likely our opponents) introduce the legislation. Then we can appeal for support as a threatened minority and sometimes get a much better law by having amendments favorable to homeschooling introduced.
*The best way to deal with government regulation of homeschooling needs to be worked out by homeschoolers in each state on the basis of the unique history and current situation within that state.
WHY HOMESCHOOLERS SHOULD STAY OUT OF COURT WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Another strategy sometimes suggested by individuals and/or organizations claiming to work to support and protect home schoolers is to deliberately have homeschoolers become involved in test cases in local and state courts. Problems with this strategy include:
*Some people have an exaggerated idea of what can be accomplished through the courts. They think courts can make clear-cut, black and white, once-and-for-all decisions that will resolve complicated issues and be fair to everyone involved. To be sure, there are times when the courts can be helpful in protecting innocent people and resolving conflicts without bloodshed. However, some homeschoolers think we can protect homeschooling from unnecessary and unreasonable government regulation by working through the courts (and the legislatures when the courts fail us). This leads to what we are calling "lawyership," the idea that lawyers and other professional "experts" can solve our problems and protect our rights.
A much better approach than lawyership is citizenship, the idea that citizens can and should take responsibility for solving their own problems, in ways other than by taking cases to court, because they are understand clearly what is at stake, are strongly committed to getting the best possible outcome, and will be in a position to do the necessary work to follow up and maintain the gains that have been made and the positive agreements that have been worked out. In other words, informed citizens can do a much better job of protecting their rights and freedoms than can lawyers working for pay.
Lawyers and courts have one approach to solving problems, one adversarial way of resolving conflicts. Sometimes it works well, but we need to realize that the vast majority of conflicts that arise in our lives are resolved outside of courts. People get to know and understand each other better. They explain their positions to each other and come to a consensus or work out a compromise. Or sometimes they agree to disagree. We need to move homeschooling issues out of the courts and work harder on dealing with them in other ways, through grassroots organizations, educating the general public about homeschooling, etc. Ways in which citizens can work effectively are outlined below under "What Homeschoolers Can Do."
*Courts reflect the prevailing opinion in the community, which, as was shown above, is often not supportive of homeschooling. Because the idea of homeschooling is new to many people and homeschooling is not well known or well understood in many communities, homeschoolers often encounter serious prejudice and misunderstanding when their case is heard.
Because courts reflect public opinion, homeschoolers will only be really secure when we have won the hearts and minds of the people, when we have convinced the general public that homeschooling works and that parents can be trusted to educate their own children in their own homes. This is why some of the most important work homeschoolers can do is trying to educate the general public about homeschooling.
*In addition to reflecting public opinion, the courts also operate to protect the status quo and the power structure in our country, as well as the innocent. Since homeschoolers are not part of the current power structure and in fact in many ways are seen as a threat to the power structure, we cannot expect to have many court cases be decided in our favor.
*The consistency with which homeschooling court cases have been lost during the past 13 years should serve as a strong indicator that the courts are not the place to win or maintain basic homeschooling freedoms. (Note: Some lawyers have claimed "victory" in cases which we the authors feel have clearly been lost. Some lawyers claim victory in nearly any case in which the court does not jail the parents and/or strictly forbid the family's homeschooling, while we consider a case lost if it upholds unreasonable and unnecessary state regulation of homeschooling.) In fact, it can be easily argued that lawyership in the courts has cost homeschoolers much more freedom than it has gained them.
Except for a few state Supreme Court cases around 1980-86 that ruled that state laws were too vague, federal district courts, federal courts of appeals, and state courts of appeals (including state Supreme Courts) have all upheld the constitutionality of state laws regulating homeschooling. Arguments concerning the right to free exercise of religion, the right to equal protection and due process, and against self-incrimination and unreasonable searches were all unsuccessful in convincing the courts to rule against state laws regulating homeschools.
As a result, we now have a body of precedent-setting case law that says that it is constitutional for the state to review and approve homeschooling programs or to require instructor qualifications and/or standardized testing. This collection of cases does not help the cause of homeschooling in the courts, legislatures, the media, or the general public.
(Note: More information about court cases involving homeschooling is available in the 62 page document Recent Court Cases Examining the Constitutionality of Other States' Laws Regulating Home Schools, written by Jane R. Henkel, Senior Staff Attorney for the Wisconsin Legislative Council, dated November 21, 1990. Copies are available at no charge from the Wisconsin Legislative Council, One East Main Street, Suite 401, Madison, WI - 608-266-1304.) This report states that: "Special care was taken to attempt to find reported cases striking down state regulations. With the limited exception of cases which found regulations to be unconstitutionally vague, that effort was unsuccessful, which tends to indicate that there are few, if any, such cases." [p. 2].)
Recent cases in Michigan and Massachusetts continue this trend. For example, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld Michigan's requirement that homeschoolers work with certified teachers. (To be sure, the court granted an exemption to families whose religious beliefs prohibit the use of a certified teacher. However, some homeschoolers may have difficulty proving that they qualify for the exemption. In any case, it is very unhelpful to have the certified teacher requirement upheld.)
A federal district court in Massachusetts ruled that public school officials have the right to enter a home to review and approve a homeschool. This case threatens homeschooling freedoms in at least three ways. First, it strengthens the state's claim that it has the right to review and approve homeschools. Second, it allows this review and approval to take place in the home. Third, since the case was argued in a federal district court, it may more easily be cited as a precedent in other states.
In addition, it generally does not work to try to overcome the negative effects of unfavorable court decisions by introducing new legislation. In states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and New Hampshire, this strategy backfired, resulting in very demanding state laws that regulate homeschooling unreasonably. This strategy seldom advances homeschooling freedoms and often leads to further restrictions, more court cases, and more business for lawyers.
This legacy of lawyership in the courts has cost homeschoolers in more ways than one. Isn't it time to reconsider using the lawyership strategy to win or maintain basic homeschooling freedoms?
*States that have unfavorable homeschooling laws are those that also tend to have more court cases and so the vicious circle continues. The way to stop this circle is to work at the grassroots level, avoid the courts at virtually all costs, avoid introducing legislation, learn to live with ambiguity, and find quiet and effective ways of maximizing freedom by interpreting the laws ourselves and helping other homeschoolers do the same.
*Homeschoolers cannot afford to assume we will be able to win more court cases once the U.S. Congress passes "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act," which is currently making its way through Congress and which President Clinton promises to sign. The bill does contain important provisions. (It states that the government may only restrict a religious practice if the restriction "furthers a compelling government interest" [in other words, the government must have a strong reason for the restriction] and if the restriction is "the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest." In addition, the restriction would have to be carried out in the least burdensome way possible. For more information, request a copy of H.R. 1308 from your U.S. Representative in Washington, D.C.) However, because this law simply restores liberties we had before 1990, it does not give us a basis for thinking that we can effectively protect our rights and responsibilities as parents by working through lawyers and the courts.
HOW HOMESCHOOLERS CAN INCREASE THE CHANCES OF STAYING OUT OF COURT
Test cases originate in several different ways. Some court cases originate when a family more or less volunteers to deliberately break a law in an obvious way so they will be charged with violation of the law and have their case prosecuted in the courts. The plan is that hopefully during the prosecution the judge and/or jury will rule that the law is unconstitutional for some reason or has some other inherent problem and therefore should not be enforced.
Test cases also originate when a family that had no intention of participating in a court case is contacted by public officials with a more or less routine request. If this family follows advice they are given, often by lawyers, that they should take their case to court, they can easily end up in court with a case that could easily have been settled out of court, costing the family much less time, energy, and stress, and mostly likely with a better outcome for homeschoolers.
Among the actions that we can take to avoid becoming involved in court cases concerning homeschooling:
*Know specifically and in detail what our state laws requires. If they are reasonable laws and we can in good conscience comply with them, we can make sure we comply carefully and fully by sending in forms on time, supplying all the required information. There is no point in getting into legal difficulty because we were sloppy or careless.
*We can appear as conventional as possible to people we do not know well or who may oppose homeschooling. Saying, "Our children are being educated at home" is accurate, clearly understandable, and much less likely to arouse suspicion or concern than saying "Our children do not go to school." Saying, "John is learning to read" is more helpful (especially to John!) than saying "John's 8 and cannot read." Because a curriculum is an educational plan, we do not need to have purchased a curriculum to be able to say, "Yes, we have a curriculum." We simply need to have thought about our children's educations and have a general plan for them.
*Some homeschoolers prevent difficulties by explaining to neighbors and acquaintances that their children are homeschooled, that they go outside during "school hours" for recess, physical education, nature study, and other such activities. Many people unfamiliar with homeschooling respond well to the idea that it is like a one-room school. Some parents meet with school officials and explain that they are homeschooling, that they know what state laws require and are complying with them, and that their children are doing well. (It is also important to make it clear that homeschoolers do not need the help, review, or approval of school officials, unless this is required by state law.) Then if school officials are contacted by citizens concerned about the family, they can assure the citizens that they are familiar with the family's homeschooling program and there is no cause for concern. Some families choose to limit their activities during school hours to things that are clearly recognized as "educational," such as trips to the library, museums, and state parks; field trips; etc.
We as homeschoolers are the ones who are doing something unusual, by our present society's standards. (Ironically, homeschooling is the way the vast majority throughout history have received their educations.) Therefore, many homeschoolers consider it our responsibility to help other people understand what we are doing by translating our activities into conventional terms. Working with money is part of math, listening to a parent read stories is one step in learning to read, talking with an elderly neighbor about the Depression is social studies, etc.
*Some homeschooling court cases arise as part of custody disputes. It would be much better if an alternative to the courts (such as mediation) were more readily available for parents who face custody issues.
*Homeschoolers who find that their principles and consciences will not allow them to comply with the homeschooling laws in their state and who therefore choose to practice civil disobedience can greatly reduce their chances of ending up in court. Among the options are:
-Getting other people to also practice civil disobedience, thereby showing that their action is not that of a single misguided individual and that if the state is going to prosecute, it will have to deal with more than one or two people.
-Developing strong, easily understood reasons to justify their action and sharing these reasons with the media and in their community.
-Ensuring that the act of civil disobedience draws public attention and is structured to win public support.
TAKING CARE IN CHOOSING HOMESCHOOLING LEADERS AND ORGANIZATIONS
As homeschoolers we need to be aware that the political strategies we choose will have strong effects on homeschooling. As has been shown in this column, some strategies, even some that seem logical and reasonable at first glance, can have negative effects on the freedoms and rights of homeschoolers. Therefore, we need to be careful which strategies we adopt personally and which are adopted by homeschooling organizations in which we participate. We can be careful not to join organizations or follow would-be leaders who are choosing strategies which may appear temptingly simple but which would in the long run do serious damage to our freedoms and rights to homeschool. Among the important points to keep in mind are:
*A small, not well understood minority like homeschoolers can maximize its strength through grassroots organizations. Such organizations involve a solid, broadly-based group of strongly committed individuals and contain much more personal power, initiative, creative thinking, than does a conventional organization that has only a few leaders at the top making decisions and directing a group of followers. Grassroots organizations are also more effective because individual members realize how important their actions are and tend to act more responsibly and sensibly than do people who are simply following orders for actions they had no part in selecting and the purpose of which they may not understand. Grassroots organizations are more secure and less vulnerable than those which depend on only one or a few leaders.
*Every organization working for homeschoolers has a more general, underlying background reason for existing. Some organizations are based on a strong commitment to protecting the rights of all parents to make their own decisions and secure for their families an education consistent with their principles and beliefs. However, some homeschooling organizations may try to use homeschoolers to move toward other goals they have such as securing political power for the organization and/or its leaders, or enriching themselves. These organizations may be willing to make compromises that are harmful to homeschoolers for the sake of achieving their other goals.
*It can be very helpful to exchange information with homeschoolers working on the grassroots level in their own states. However, it is usually destructive to have outside experts come into a state either to meet with legislators or state officials, or to offer "expert" testimony, or to direct the leaders within the state. Among the problems created by "outside experts" are:
-Homeschoolers within a state have strong connections to their legislators and state officials because they are and will continue to be residents of the state and also possibly because they have carefully built working relationships with them. Outside experts lack these past, present, and future connections. This may either make it more difficult for them to deal with state officials or make it more tempting for state officials to deal with them (at the expense of local homeschoolers whom they then ignore) because the outsiders will not be around in the future.
-Outside experts often make compromises that are unacceptable to residents of the state. The outsiders claim that compromise is necessary and "that was the best we could get." However, residents may have been able to do better, drawing on their history and commitment to the state and having more time to work through issues. Outside experts often feel that compromises which were made in other states should be acceptable in this state as well, that compromises which may be nearly inevitable in one state are okay to make in others as well, that compromises they have to live with in their own state should be acceptable to homeschoolers in other states. Sometimes outside experts may be willing to make compromises because they are eager to get home and will not have to live with the compromises themselves anyway.
-Often outside experts represent only one segment of the homeschooling population. They may agree to compromises (such as required standardized testing) that are acceptable to the group of homeschoolers they represent but not to other homeschoolers.
-A state-wide organization can be split by outside experts who accidentally or deliberately turn one group of homeschoolers against another. Homeschoolers are too small a minority to be able to withstand such a split, which is unnecessary anyway when homeschoolers work together to protect the right of parents to choose for their children an education consistent with their principles and beliefs.
-Outside experts do not grasp all the subtleties and complexities of the political situation within any state. Any political situation is strongly influenced by history, by the personalities of the people involved, by the way in which the state has handled other issues seemingly unrelated to homeschooling, etc.
-Outside experts undermine the confidence and initiative of people within the state. Inevitably many people stop thinking and working as hard as they were before the experts arrived and are robbed of the opportunity to discover how much they can do for themselves.
*One or more professional lobbyists can seriously undermine a grassroots organization, even if they are homeschoolers themselves and/or are volunteering their time. Legislators are often drawn to such lobbyists because they are accustomed to working with such individuals, so it becomes more difficult for "ordinary citizens" to reach their legislators. However, professional lobbyists are part of a system based on large numbers of people, large sums of money, and powerful interest groups (such as industries, teachers unions, etc.). Therefore, paid lobbyists tend to emphasize the weaknesses and overlook the strengths of homeschoolers. Homeschoolers are much better off if they do not try to play that game but instead present themselves as the solidly-based group of responsible citizens that they are.
*Lawyers who are used to resolving non-homeschooling issues through the courts may automatically decide to take a case to court. This has many disadvantages and potential pitfalls, as discussed above.
WHAT HOMESCHOOLERS CAN DO
*We can do the best we can with our own homeschools and let our example speak for itself. Gradually we will win the hearts and minds of the people and support of our local communities as their understanding of homeschooling grows.
* We can be willing to work on the grassroots level, to form inclusive homeschooling organizations, to take the time required to listen to differing opinions and develop consensus, and gradually build solid organizations that will withstand challenges from opponents of homeschooling.
*If we are forced into the legislature, we can respond by working with other homeschoolers who are committed to protecting the rights of parents to homeschool, by making homeschooling a minority rights issue, and by trying to get a law with the least possible state regulation of homeschooling.
*Using actions like those suggested above, we can stay out of court if at all possible.
*Perhaps most importantly, we can realize and accept that we have to live with some ambiguity. There is no one right way to homeschool. Children and families vary greatly, and each need to make their own decisions. There is also no final, once and for all solution to the problem of protecting homeschooling from its opponents. People will always need to work to ensure freedom, whether it is the freedom to homeschool or any other freedom.
Learning to live with some ambiguity and uncertainty can be a real challenge, especially in an area as important as fundamental freedoms and our children's educations. Here are some suggestions:
- Keep clearly in mind why we are homeschooling and how we are going about it. Many homeschoolers find it helps to write down the reasons why they are homeschooling, their goals for their children (including goals that are not conventionally considered "academic" such as character development, acquiring moral and spiritual values, etc.). The more we are confident about what we are doing as individuals, the more we are able to accept and withstand the ambiguities of the external system and the doubts of others.
When the seemingly inevitable personal doubts do arise, many homeschoolers find it is very helpful to talk with other homeschooling parents they have met through support groups or in other ways, to share experiences and gain from each other's experiences. Watching our children grow and taking time to realize how much they are learning, in so many areas, gives many parents the conviction we need to continue homeschooling in the face of adversity.
- Trust the solid work we have done to prepare for possible problems. When we know exactly what our state law requires, when we have connected with other homeschoolers on a grassroots level within our state and are committed to working to secure our right to homeschool without undue government regulation, and when we have realized that we can stand up to unreasonable demands from public officials, we can feel prepared to deal with challenges to our freedom if they materialize.
- Have faith in a higher power. Homeschoolers have a variety of religious beliefs. It is important for us as a group to work for the fundamental right of parents to homeschool, without requiring that they adopt specific religious beliefs. (If our right to homeschool is linked to particular religious beliefs, we risk losing the fundamental and essential principle that parents, not the state, have responsibility for children except in rare cases in which the state can demonstrate a clear and compelling need to intervene in family life.)
- Accept the fact that for a small minority like homeschoolers, ambiguity is inevitable. The black and white outcome concerning homeschooling that would most likely be acceptable to the general public would be one in which the government strongly regulated homeschools that were clearly very much like conventional schools. This outcome is unacceptable to us as homeschools. Therefore, we are much better off in an ambiguous situation than in a black and white one. It is, in fact, our only real choice.
Homeschoolers are too small a minority and too often misunderstood to be able to gain the protection they need simply by introducing protective legislation and seeking court cases that will supposedly then be decided in homeschoolers' favor (generally they are not). Attempts to solve homeschooling problems simply and easily through legislation and court cases just will not work.
Instead, we homeschoolers must take responsibility for ourselves, on a local and state level, and decide what strategy is likely to work best in our local community and state. Although not many "ordinary citizens" do this sort of thing, we can as long as we have strong commitments to families, parents' rights, and homeschooling; a clear understanding of the realities of our situation; and a willingness to work with other parents who want to homeschool their children for a wide variety of reasons.
© 1993 Larry and Susan Kaseman
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