|| ALONG THE WAY
ALONG THE WAY
The National Center for Home Education
by Zan Tyler
|© PETER CURTIS PHOTOGRAPHY, INC.|
|One of the National Center's biggest events was the 1999 Proclaim Liberty Conference, held at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, and attended by 2000 homeschoolers from 40 states.|
As the 1980s drew to a close, and homeschooling became more settled, the idea of parents choosing to teach their children at home began to intrigue the general public. Journalists, researchers, congressmen, and teachers began asking questions about this "new" educational phenomenon: Does homeschooling work? Is it legal? What about socialization? Can these kids go to college? What about the prom? Does federal law impact homeschooling?
In 1990, Home School Legal Defense Association founded the National Center for Home Education, with Mike Farris as president. The National Center's purpose was to provide a defense of homeschooling "to everyone who asks" and was focused on more than the legal sphere. Mike recalls:
We realized there were certain times when we were talking about homeschooling that legalities were not central to the issue. There were more policy questions, there were more educational questions, there were more academic questions. We felt like having a division that gave us the ability to address those other components of homeschooling would strengthen our ability to serve the whole homeschooling community.
It gave us the ability to talk about educational policy and not just strictly legalities, because, frankly, we knew a fair amount about home education itself-as an educational phenomenon, and people wouldn't hear us if we just had our legal defense hats on.
"When HSLDA founded the National Center, the primary purpose was to give home education credibility nationwide," says Mike Smith, current president of HSLDA and the National Center. "Many state leaders saw a need for this type of organization, but it was too difficult to organize."
Smith and Farris envisioned the National Center being a clearinghouse for the media and a national presence in the nation's Capitol to lobby Congress on behalf of home school freedoms and parental rights. "Since we were already in Washington, DC, it seemed like the natural thing to do," Smith reminisces.
The history of the National Center for Home Education
Inge Pohl Cannon became the first executive director of the National Center in 1990. She remembers: "Mike Farris's vision was to make available to the state organizations services they couldn't afford to do on their own. Our goal was to be a legislative watchdog, provide fellowship opportunities for state leaders, provide the annual conference, and deal with the media. That's how it evolved-the goal was to be a blessing to state homeschooling leaders and state organizations."
Over the years, the National Center leadership has changed. Each individual has brought unique gifts and talents that have enhanced the effectiveness of NCHE.
Doug Phillips helped launch the Congressional Action Program (CAP)-an organized grassroots lobbying force-and was a catalyst in the development of the internship program. He spearheaded research on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the underreported risks of mandatory vaccinations, and a number of other issues.
Thomas Jacobson's passion for scholarly research and his strong administrative skills complemented the National Center's ability to accomplish its mission.
Christopher Klicka worked closely with Capitol Hill staffers and congressmen to draft key language to win the fight against Clinton's national testing plan, kill Goals 2000, and defeat school-to-work legislation. He also devoted much time to solving college admissions and financial aid problems for homeschoolers, and worked for significant child welfare reform through the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).
Doug Domenech's terrific networking ability brought the National Center's relationships with other pro-family groups in Washington, DC, to a new level of effectiveness. He and his staff worked to protect homeschool families from federal initiatives threatening the right to privacy. Along with continuing the battle against national testing, they promoted legislation benefiting homeschooling families including the Marriage Penalty Tax Relief Act and the A+ Education Accounts. And, as the White House crafted President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation, the National Center team was there to make sure it did not infringe on homeschooling rights.
In August 2001, Tom Washburne became the Executive Director of the National Center. A homeschooling father of five, Tom had been serving as chief of staff for Congressman John Hostettler on Capitol Hill. Tom recounts, "I was also an HSLDA member and I'd known the HSLDA folks for years. When the vacancy opened up, they asked me if I might be interested. I had worked with them for years and knew their reputation. My wife and I had just had our fifth child and desired a change of pace. It was perfect timing."
The National Center today
Today, the goals of the National Center remain the same as they did at its inception. Still fully funded by HSLDA, the National Center continues to serve the homeschooling community and state homeschool leaders by networking the statewide organizations for rapid response to federal issues, serving as a "watchdog" on federal bills and lobbying for pro-homeschool and parents' rights bills, commissioning and serving as a clearinghouse of major homeschool research, holding regional and national leadership symposiums for local and statewide homeschool leaders, and communicating with the media.
Additionally, the National Center's current projects include the following:
|>>||leading international efforts to legalize homeschooling in other countries;|
|>>||working with all four branches of the military to help homeschoolers with enlistment problems;|
|>>||preparing special reports on various issues of concern to homeschoolers;|
|>>||sponsoring the John and Abigail Adams Fellowship for graduate-level research;|
|>>||operating the Congressional Action Program; and|
|>>||providing training for Capitol Hill staff on homeschooling and parental rights issues.|
The greatest accomplishment of the National Center
When asked about the National Center's greatest accomplishments, Mike Farris responds with this story:
Right after Bill Clinton was elected, the day after the election, we started getting phone calls from people asking, "Should I move to Switzerland?" and "What's Australia like?" They were worried that with Bill Clinton as president, there was going to be a frontal assault on homeschooling. We were trying to calm people down by saying, "He's just the president, not the king." The particulars of their question may have been an overreaction, but the concern-that there might be an assault on homeschool freedoms-was not.
Within a week, I launched, through the National Center, the Congressional Action Program to build the infrastructure to have a lobbying team in place-where we had people in each of the 435 congressional districts trained to lobby and ready to activate phone trees (today we use email) in their districts. Additionally, we had people in the DC area trained and ready to lobby on Capitol Hill.
We started building that infrastructure in 1992. So when we got the call from Dick Armey's office in February of 1994, that led to the big H.R. 6 battle (H.R. 6 contained a provision that would have required all homeschool teachers to be state certified), one of the key factors in our ability to respond the way we did was the infrastructure that we had put in place.
We didn't have to go build it; if we had tried to build that infrastructure in a week, we would not have responded in anywhere near the organized fashion that we did. We had Capitol Hill-area people to deliver information. We had people in the districts to organize phone banks. It was ready to roll, and it rolled.
We had lots of help from lots of other people, but that infrastructure was the biggest success. It wasn't just for H.R. 6; that infrastructure has worked time and time again. Building that network of volunteer activists is, I believe, the biggest thing the National Center has ever done.
Mike Smith agrees:
When the threat of teacher certification for all homeschoolers in America hit, the "CAPpers" were mobilized and the plan worked. Before the dust had settled over a 10-day period, one million phone calls had been made to the House of Representatives and when the vote was taken, the certification provision went down 415 to 1.
We understood then why God had given us the vision for the National Center for Home Education.
The future significance of the National Center
|On February 15, 1994, HSLDA staff, National Center staff, and local homeschool volunteers gathered in HSLDA's law office to assemble an emergency mailing addressed to our then 36,000 members regarding H.R. 6.|
According to Chris Klicka, "The National Center is vital to protecting the freedom of homeschoolers everywhere. What Congress does affects everyone.
By developing these relationships [with congressmen and their staff] and by maintaining strong lines of communication between Congress and homeschoolers, the National Center enables homeschoolers to be an effective voice on the federal level."
An example of this effectiveness is exemplified in a statement made by Congressman Bill Goodling, former chairman of the powerful Education and Workforce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, in a 1998 address at the National Christian Home School Leadership Summit in Washington, DC:
The homeschoolers are the most effective lobbyists. You have heard the saying, "When E. F. Hutton speaks, people listen." I have changed that saying around a little bit. I say, "When the homeschoolers speak, you better listen!" (Homeschooling: The Right Choice, page 415)
Anticipating future challenges to homeschool freedoms, Tom Washburne encourages us to remember that there is still work to be done:
I think that as homeschooling grows, some will see the movement as a threat to the public school establishment. We would be načve to think that there is not going to be a backlash.
Our work today, therefore, is crucial. We must continue to do all we can to make the law as good as it can be and to clean it up where necessary; we must continue to work with the Congress to pass exemptions for homeschoolers from federal education laws and to keep us out of federal bills; and we must continue to build the network of activists who are ready to call and become involved governmentally at the drop of a hat. When we do those things, we are being wise in our activities and good stewards of the liberty which God has entrusted to us.
About the author
Zan Tyler is the Home School Resource and Media Consultant for Broadman & Holman Publishers and the Editor of the Homeschool Channel for LifeWay's Web Network (www.lifeway.com/homeschool). She is the founder and past president of the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools. She and her husband Joe have three children and have homeschooled since 1984.