It's a cold and drizzly autumn day in Washington D.C. The patter of rain on the steps of the Senate office building is accented by the constant swish of umbrellas opening and closing as staffers and politicians scurry to their destinations. Inside the massive marble structures that house America's most prestigious legislators, decisions will be made that affect our entire nation. But that is nothing new. Today is a day like all other days in our nation's Capital. Today, Congress will pass laws. Today, men will make speeches, and special interests will court the favor of Hill staffers. And there will be meetings—thousands of them.
Hundreds of yards away, a very different gathering is taking place. In the newly renovated conference room of the Holiday Inn, 60 home educators gather. Many have traveled hours to be here. They come in all ages, heights, and colors, but are absolutely unified in their theme: They have come to ask Congress to leave them alone.
As the meeting commences a speaker takes the podium. In his lapel he is wearing a bright red pin with an embossed design of the Capitol dome—the insignia of the Congressional Action Program. His name is Doug Phillips. For three years Phillips has been preparing home educators for face-to-face meetings with Congressional leaders. And for three years these moms and dads have been traveling the corridors of Capitol Hill in pursuit of a dream—a dream that the blessings of liberty they have enjoyed will pass to their posterity.
These families are the minutemen of the home school movement. They are a specially trained group that meets for one purpose-the defense of the home schooling family. Sometimes their visits to Washington are carefully planned weeks in advance, other times they are emergency responses to late-breaking legislation.
Today's mission: Stop a Congressional attempt to build a nationwide computer-driven registry and tracking system. As home schoolers, these families are painfully aware of the fact that these registries can be used against parents who home educate their children, who employ corporal discipline, or who hold to religious beliefs that are unacceptable to the social workers who surf the database. Complicating matters, some leaders have called for the government to mandate a national I.D. card with a unique biometric identifier. This would mean that every time an American wanted to get a job he would have his retina scanned or his hand geometry analyzed.
Phillips begins the debriefing. He walks the group through the key provisions of the bill. Next, he addresses the primary arguments against the tracking program. There is an opportunity for questions and answers followed by a brief time of role playing which gives the Capitol Coordinators a chance to test their familiarity with the issues.
Last minute details are covered. Each of the teams has been given a specific assignment and handed information packets. Headquarters is established in the foyer of the Hart Senate Building. Throughout the day, volunteers can check in there, get additional information packets, and report about their meetings.
"Remember," Phillips reminds them, "We will meet by that giant, ugly sculpture that hangs from the ceiling. What is that thing called anyway?"
He can never remember what the sculpture is called, but everyone knows what he's talking about. It is hard to miss.
The meeting comes to a close. Across the room heads are bowed. Children are praying. Fathers have their arms around their wives and children. God's blessing is invoked. Forty-five minutes after the meeting began, these teams of home school families are off and running. Many will be on their feet for more than six hours before they can return to their cars and begin the long journey back to the warmth and comfort of home.
Within a ten mile circumference of this hotel room are the headquarters of more than 200 education-related organizations and special interest groups. Many of them exist on taxpayer subsidies. They have set up camp in D.C. to deliver a message: "More money + more power (for them) = better education." Their jobs and their salaries depend on Congress getting this message. Like the home educators assembled in the quiet Holiday Inn meeting room, these lobbyists will be traveling today to the halls of Congress, but on the quest of a very different agenda.
The largest of these groups, the National Education Association, would like to see home schooling banned for the average family. Their lobbyists are well-paid professionals with clout. After being routed in February of 1994 when one million parents said "no" to an NEA-inspired teacher certification provision in the H.R. 6 bill, they are on their guard.
The contrast between these two groups is stark. One group is comprised of professional lobbyists in search of more government hand-outs for the special interests they represent. The other consists of volunteer parents who are sacrificing time and money to appeal to legislators to make wise decisions on issues which impact the home school family.
One chief-of-staff for a well known Democratic Senator told a CAP mom: "Every day I get calls from lobbyists who want to wine me and dine me. Everybody wants a hand-out. I'm tired of it. You are the real thing. A mom who just wants to look out for her family. I'll meet with you any time!" (Paraphrase)
These families are making a difference. Often, they are the first, and sometimes even the only, people to hand-deliver outside analysis to the Representatives and Senators on key issues.
Of course, sometimes the Congressmen just want to talk about home education. And the results are often surprising. After one visit by home schoolers, a California Congressman called the National Center and announced that he was so impressed by the meeting that he was persuaded to home school his own children. "How do I get started?" he asked.
"Even if they don't agree with us on every point," Phillips mused to the Capitol Coordinators, "perhaps we'll get them by attrition if we keep having visits like that."
Most of these home schoolers were nervous the first time they entered a Congressional office. The thought of bringing an appeal directly to a United States Senator can make a first-timer quiver in his Rockports. But these home school foot soldiers quickly earn their "Hill-legs." By the third or fourth visit of the day they are raring to go.
Before these families are released as official Capitol Coordinators they must go through an intensive, one-day training program. Since January of 1993 more than 250 home educators have gone through CAP Basic Training. Many of these individuals and families have gone on to be Capitol Coordinators. For three years these stalwarts have been the marine corps of the home school movement—the first to hit the beaches, clearing the way for the calls and letters of thousands of concerned parents whenever legislative threats arise.
The last CAP Basic Training brought about one hundred home educators together for an intensive day of preparation. Those assembled learned about the key federal battlefronts which threaten to undermine home school freedoms and were given Scriptural insights and practical suggestions on how to present home education in the best possible light when meeting with leaders. Emphasis was placed on attitude as well as methodology. And whether the issue was the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, or "how to set up a meeting with a Congressman," parents were urged to approach their mission with Christian charity and respectfulness.
Joe Adams, chaplain of the Kentucky State Legislature, described the way he has seen the Lord work in various legislators' lives. His story is a powerful illustration how one man with faith and vision can make a difference. HSLDA President Michael Farris shared war stories from his experience as a home school litigator which illustrated God's sovereign hand of protection over the home school movement. Veteran "Cappers" shared their experience with the prospective lobbyists about their first visit to Capitol Hill.
After sharing the history of the children's rights movement and its assault on the family, CAP Director Doug Phillips discussed the most common pitfalls of Christians entering the political arena. "Christians enter politics to change the world for Jesus, but they end up employing the strategies of compromise and adopting the world's attitudes," Phillips told the families. "We must act wisely, but all of our activities must be predicated on the understanding that God and God alone is responsible for our success. Our responsibility is simply to be obedient."
The importance of the basic training can not be underestimated. Even so, the heart of CAP is not the training, but the people: fathers and mothers who are willing to sacrifice their time, and lead their children to "stand in the gates of the nation," families who believe in an America where the sanctity of the home is inviolable, and parents who are free to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord without interference from Big Brother.
Some might be surprised to learn that the most effective members of the CAP team are the children. Over the years CAP volunteers have learned that the greatest asset during these visits are the sweet spirits and simple honesty of the students. Frequently, skeptical staffers are uninterested in what Mom and Dad have to say—they want to confront the children. But when confronted with hostile questions, these young people just speak from the heart about why they like being taught at home. Out of the mouths of these babes, the truth is often confirmed.
And here is the interesting thing. When a family visiting a Congressional office demonstrates a unity and strength which comes from the togetherness fostered by home education, the barriers of party affiliation, race, and gender cease to be impediments to a successful meeting. Why?
In the words of one Congressman, "I will listen to you because I wish my kids loved each other the way yours seem to."