The Washington Times
February 12, 2001

Republic Protects Freedoms of Minority

By Thomas Washburne
The Washington Times
December 10, 2001

"[To] allow for the inclusion of homeschooling as a legally-permitted option would depend on the expression of the democratic will of Brazilian families through the mechanisms of democracy... The way in which Brazilian democracy works is quite similar, in many respects, to the way in which other Western democracies work."

-Roberto Goidanich, Head of the Human Rights and Social Affairs Section of the Brazilian Embassy, October 2001

Mr. Goidanich wrote these remarks in response to letters from home-schoolers in the United States in support of a family in Brazil which is facing court action for choosing to home-school. His remarks are apparently an accurate statement of Brazilian law, though they make many of us who home-school uncomfortable, as they should. Do they have the same effect on freedom-loving Americans in general? I hope so.

What is it in these remarks that makes us nervous? I'm concerned that many Americans, regrettably, cannot put their finger on the issue. The problem, I believe, is that we have so dumbed-down our discourse on the nature of government that we are becoming ignorant of the basic structure of governments, our own in particular.

The pioneers of home-schooling in America experienced many of the problems the home-schoolers in Brazil face today. In the U.S. home-schooling revival of late 1970s and early '80s, many school officials told home-schoolers it was illegal to home-school in their state. They based their statement on the fact that there was no law specifically allowing home-schooling. In other words, the state legislature had not recognized the legality of home education. School officials were so certain of their position that home-schooling fathers were jailed and children were removed from families simply because they were being home-schooled.

The Home School Legal Defense Association and other home schooling advocates pointed out that state laws that did not recognize home-schooling as legal were unconstitutional. Home-schoolers were defended by the fundamental God-given right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children. Two key U.S. Supreme Court cases had already recognized this right as fundamental. The Constitution, and these two cases, Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), formed the legal foundation for the modern home-schooling movement.

If home-schoolers had had to wait for the will of the people through the legislature to recognize the legality of home-schooling, it would still be "illegal" in many states. The latest Gallop poll indicates that 41 percent of Americans believe that home education is good for the nation. That's still not a majority.

Fortunately for American home-schoolers, America is not, at least in form, a direct democracy. In America, the majority can be wrong. This is not the case in a direct democracy. In a democracy, principles thrive only in the moment of decision. There are no permanent values. In other words, a democracy can only tell us how power is obtained, not dictate how it ought to be applied, for it can be applied in any manner the majority desires.

Such a majority may, as it has in Brazil, declare that children are in reality wards of the state and parents may not educate their children at home. Don't agree? Tough. The majority has spoken. Thankfully, the ability to direct our children's education is not based upon the democratic will of the people, but rather on the fundamental right guaranteed by the founders of a nation through a Constitution.

The rejection of direct democracy was not an accident. The founders understood, indeed feared, where human nature could take a nation through the means of unbridled democracy. Nowhere in the Constitution is a direct democracy set forth, and nowhere is it encouraged. Yes, we elect our representatives by popular vote, and that is a good thing, but that does not make us a democracy. Our elected leaders, at least in theory, are not free to act in any manner they choose. Our form of government places limits on majority rule, on democracy, that are to be inviolate.

The founders believed that without enduring principles of good to restrain and inform, tyranny and a disregard for human rights would be inevitable. They knew the tyranny of a majority can be just as oppressive as the tyranny of a petty dictator. To guard against the unchecked power of the common vote, the founders thus set forth the inalienable principles of their nation in the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The founders then ratified the Constitution to carry these principles into effect. In contrast to the current pro-democracy mantra that we hear in nearly every political speech, these documents declare that the United States is a constitutional republic, not a democracy.

Unfortunately, America appears to be drifting toward direct democracy. Our politicians have become obsessed with polls, the pseudo-democracy of our time. If the majority, through polls, suggest support for X, then X is OK. Indeed, one can trace many of our nation's current ills to the rise of democracy at the expense of principles laid down in our Constitution. The near-abandonment of Congress' limited governing powers in Article 1, Section 8; the misconstructions of the First, Second, and Fourteenth Amendments; and the usurpations of legislative power by the executive branch all are evidence of an abandonment of the constitutional nature of our government in favor of a poll-driven democracy.

We live in a time when most of our citizens and many of our politicians are ignorant of the true nature of our government. The ultimate preservation of our freedoms as envisioned by our founders will depend upon whether we can educate our citizenry to the fact that we are not a democracy but a republic with a brilliant constitution. Home-schoolers learned this lesson very early, and we will continue to fight to preserve our constitutional right to direct the education of our children. If we fail? We go the way of Brazil.

Thomas Washburne is an attorney and the director of the Home School Legal Defense Association's National Center for Home Education

Copyright 2001 News World Communications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times.
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