Not long after the August 27th TIME magazine hit the stands, we began receiving calls asking if we would be responding to the cover story on home schooling. The callers were responding to what they perceived as a negative slant. My thought, before I even read the article, was that any cover story about home schooling, no matter how negative, is a plus because of the recognition of how far home schooling has come.
It reminded me of the time I conducted my first media interview regarding home schooling with the Los Angeles Times in 1981. Many California school districts were threatening criminal prosecution of parents who were teaching their children at home. I thought long and hard before I agreed to do the interview. After the article came out, I was bitterly disappointed at its negative tone, especially the writer's rejection of my analysis of the law and conclusion that home schooling was illegal. I felt the article had set home schooling back 20 years in California.
Shortly after the article appeared, my wife and I began receiving phone calls from strangers asking how they could get started home schooling. Where did they get our name, and why were they inquiring? They had read the article in the LA Times. At that point, I concluded that even a bad article about home schooling is good for the movement because of the increased exposure. Since that 1981 piece, the media's coverage of home schooling has progressively improved.
To TIME's credit, they admitted home schoolers make better students, but questioned whether they make better citizens. The implication was that home schoolers do not support democracy because we have forsaken community schools. To support its position, the article argued that public education sustains a democracy by bringing everyone together to share values and learn a common history. This is a socialist view of education--subjugating the best educational option for the individual to the good of the national system.
Quotes from the public school establishment supported TIME's position: "It [home schooling] is taking some of the most affluent and articulate parents out of the system." The authors warn that as the most committed parents leave, the schools may falter more, giving the schools another reason to fret over their condition.
The article's implication that responsible parents are obligated to keep their children in public schools to save the public education system is dangerously flawed. Our country's historical, legal, and philosophical understanding of parents' responsibility related to education demonstrates that this presupposition is wrong. In America, parents, not the government, are responsible to ensure their child's education. The Supreme Court, in the case of Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), defined the proper goal for education: literacy and self-sufficiency. This goal is especially appropriate for America's participatory form of government. An educated (not a properly socialized) voting constituency is essential for the preservation of our democratic republic.
The Court recognized that parents have a fundamental right to choose the educational method by which to achieve literacy and self-sufficiency for their child. This case paved the way for the modern home school movement.
This fundamental principle--that parents, not the state, are responsible for their child's education--is spelled out in a series of cases (in both state and federal jurisdictions) that failed to recognize educational malpractice as a legitimate claim. In these cases, where parents sued school districts for advancing and graduating their still illiterate children from high school, the courts unanimously ruled that parents could not shift the responsibility for education of their children to the state.
Our law recognizes that democracy is sustained by educated citizens regardless of where or how they become literate and self-sufficient. Unfortunately, our common schools are turning out too many children who are neither literate nor self-sufficient. They've certainly "supported the community" by spending 12 years in the community school, but unfortunately they are not educated. For parents to sacrifice quality education for their children for the sake of the "community" is not only damaging to the child but to our nation as well.
Rather than complain that home schooling is eroding public confidence in public education, and creating loss of revenue, public school officials should ask why home schoolers produce quality students. And on the issue of lost revenue, public schools do not lose revenue because of home schooling. Home schoolers continue to pay taxes to support the public school system. True, a large portion of state and/or federal funding for the local schools is based on the number of students attending the school; however, there are fewer students to educate.
TIME took another swipe at the home school community with their statement, "The new home schoolers are not hermits. They are diverse parents who are getting results..." This is a not-so-subtle assertion that unless home schoolers spend lots of time with children of their own age in some kind of group setting, they are being deprived educationally and emotionally. Portraying early home school pioneers as hermits is a fallacy. These courageous parents raised children who have produced high test results and impressed adults with their maturity. Rather than being belittled, such dedicated educators should be praised. I am convinced that the answer to better citizens can be found in parents taking full responsibility for the education of their children.
The article goes on to lament that home schooled children are growing up too quickly, therefore missing those fabulous adolescent years. I always thought that maturity was a good thing. Self-sufficiency is one of the goals of education. Home schooled children mature quickly because they spend more time with adults. Surely we don't believe that spending many hours at a time with the average 4th-grader is going to encourage other children to act like mature adults. The critics seem to really believe that a school teacher with 30 other children can do a better job of training a child to be a model citizen than mom and dad at home. This is a dangerous myth.
Finally, TIME wrongly concluded that home schoolers should come under the oversight of public schools. In encouraging home school parents to depend on public schools for enrichment courses and special charter schools, TIME erred. The authors should have recognized that the individual responsibility and conviction of the home school pioneers who produced well-educated children without government assistance is the example to emulate. Community schools will continue to be doomed to mediocrity until they reject political correctness in education, refuse programs like outcome-based-education, and return to the basics of education (stressed by home schoolers), which lead to literacy and self-sufficiency.
This emphasis will produce good students--and good students make good citizens.