Home-Schoolers: Battling for Freedom

MIKE FARRIS

As a result of being required to fight for their rights in so many contexts, home-schoolers — both parents and children — have become some of the most active political participants in the nation. Those who have to fight for the freedom of their own families are the most convinced of the need to limit government power.

The origin of the modern home-schooling movement can best be dated to a "Focus on the Family" broadcast in the Spring of 1982 hosted by Dr. James Dobson.

There were a handful of people interested in home-schooling before that time, but that program gave the first wide exposure to the concept of parents taking on the entire responsibility for providing their children's academic education.

Parents concerned about declining academic quality in the public schools began to discover that they could do better — much better. And they instinctively knew that home-schooling would provide a safer atmosphere, both morally and physically, for their children.

The academic success of home-schooling has been repeatedly documented. Home-educated children regularly score between 20 to 30 percentile points higher than their public-school counterparts on nationally normed standardized achievement tests. A recent report of more than 16,000 home-schooled students yielded a national score of the 71st percentile — twenty one points higher than the national public-school average.

There are now 1.23 million children being home-schooled in America — about the same number as the public-school population of New Jersey. And there are both positive and negative reasons that this number is certain to continue to grow.

Parents look at home-schooled children and usually see good academic results and good behavior both morally and spiritually. They want those results for their own children.

And then parents look at the plans and attitudes of the reformers of public education. Outcome-Based Education is premised on the notion that all children should acquire the same knowledge, skills, and values that have been determined not by parents, but by centralized education planners. School-to-Work promises to channel children into government-selected career paths at early ages. Parental involvement is pushed farther and farther to the margins with each new reform. Every new effort for centralized public-school reform creates hundreds of new home-schooling families.

The growth of home-schooling has not been without conflict. Those who run the schools we are escaping have done their best to place legal roadblocks in the path of those who wish to assume a meaningful role in their own children's education.

For the first decade of the modern home-schooling movement, the basic fight was over whether it was legal at all to home-school. In 1982, only three states had statutes that specifically recognized home-schooling as a special category of private education. Now, thirty five states have such laws and the balance recognize home-schooling as a legitimate form of private education.

This is not to say that there are not some who still challenge the basic right of home-schoolers to exist. There are numerous individual public-school officials who believe that home-schooling is illegal in their state. California and Kansas laws are both sufficiently vague that many officials in those states are particularly quick to challenge the right to home-school.

For most of the country, however, the legal battles for parental rights in the home-schooling context have moved into a second phase.

One battle that found its way to the national stage in 1997 is over the question: Who decides how to test our children? President Clinton has sought to create unilaterally a program of national testing that he wants every child in America to take. Because he would institute this program without the benefit of legislation, it is impossible to determine who will actually be required to take this test. (Congress has at least temporarily blocked these tests.)

Home-schoolers have been a key part of the coalition fighting nationalized testing. And we are experienced troops, having been engaged for years in ongoing battles with state education officials who believe that they — not parents — should determine what test children will take.

It is easy to recognize that one of the evils of national testing is the inevitable necessity of a national curriculum. Children must be taught what they are going to be tested on.

This same evil is present whenever home-schooled children must take tests selected by public-school officials. He who picks the test also picks the curriculum. Home-schoolers want no part of the academically deficient, morally challenged curriculum of the public schools, and have no desire to be tested by a system that values a student's self-esteem about math more than his ability to compute without a calculator.

In yet another arena, home-schoolers have been unwillingly dragged to the forefront of a battle for parental rights. Because home-schoolers are different from the society at large, many look upon us with the suspicion that comes instinctively to those who act upon uninformed prejudice. As a result, home-schoolers have been disproportionately subject to child-abuse investigations by social workers.

But armed with the knowledge of their rights under the Fourth Amendment, home-schooling parents, together with the Home School Legal Defense Association, are teaching the social workers a national lesson on civics.

Parents do not have to let social workers into their home unless the social worker either has a warrant issued by a judge or bona fide evidence (as opposed to an anonymous hotline tip) that the children are in immediate danger. The same rule is true when a social worker is accompanied by a police officer.

Home-schooling parents are fighting a battle that will ultimately benefit all parents and children. Of the three million cases of reported child abuse each year, two million complaints are unfounded based on the total lack of credible evidence — even after social workers rummage through the homes and lives of most of these children. This means that two million children are unnecessarily traumatized by government officials who believe that parents cannot be trusted. There is no other reason that they would willingly invade homes without evidence of wrongdoing.

As a result of being required to fight for their rights in so many contexts, home-schoolers — both parents and children — have become some of the most active political participants in the nation. Those who have to fight for the freedom of their own families are the most convinced of the need to limit government power.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Farris, Mike. "Home-Schoolers: Battling for Freedom." Crisis (February 1998): 47-48.

Reprinted by permission of the Morley Institute a non-profit education organization. To subscribe to Crisis magazine call 1-800-852-9962.

THE AUTHOR

Mike Farris is president o f the Home School Legal Defense Association, based in Purcellville, VA.

Copyright © 1998 Crisis


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