The Washington Times
July 14, 2000

Political success breeds danger of complacency

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
July 14, 1998

Thirty-seven home-schooling parents are elected members of state legislatures. One of these, Daniel Webster, is the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Additionally two U.S. representatives and one U.S. senator are home-schooling parents.

This degree of political involvement is, in part, the result of the years of legal threats and prosecution home-schooling families have faced in the past. The legal rights of home-schoolers are considerably safer than in those uncertain days in the 1980s, but the memories are still sufficiently fresh for home-schoolers to be especially vigilant in the protection of their freedoms. There is nothing like persecution by those wielding the power of the majority to launch a minority into focused political activism.

Perhaps it was the most serious political blunder in the history of the education establishment to have attacked the rights of home-schoolers. As a consequence of establishment harassment, we have obtained a considerable political presence as is attested to by numerous elected officials in high office who wear the proud title of “home-schooling parent.”

The question I wish to pose to my fellow home-schoolers is this: Will these times of relative freedom cause us to lose our motivation to intense political activity?

We face three dangers in this situation.

First, there is the danger of assuming that relative freedom is the same as complete safety. These are only days of relative freedom. The Lynn, Mass., school district believes that home-schooling is only legal if families are willing to subject themselves to unannounced “home visits” — a euphemism for warrantless searches.

Many social-service agencies investigate home-schooling families with a special vengeance. In two federal lawsuits the Home School Legal Defense Association has filed on behalf of families in California, both home schooling and Christianity have been listed as “risk factors” in the internal documents of child protective services investigators who assessed our clients.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit just ruled that a home-schooling mother who heard a police officer say, “If you don’t let us in, we will take your children,” consented to a search of her home on a free, voluntary and untainted basis when she walked out of her front door and threw up her hands less than two minutes later.

The second danger of today’s relative freedom can be a political lethargy on the part of home-schooling families. Both parents and children have been cutting-edge political activists, not just in home schooling matters, but in general politics for the past five to seven years. Our current situation is enviable. Most other interest groups would jump at the chance to acquire our degree of political participation and effectiveness.

If home-schoolers do not remain active, we will not remain free. It’s that simple. Our mere numbers do not warrant our current level of political clout unless we bring general political activism with it.

The third danger that can come from our days of relative freedom is a tendency toward political cannibalism. When home schooling families in North Dakota were being prosecuted in the 1980s, with home-schoolers in Iowa and Michigan also threatened, we were focused and united.

Now, political gadflies qualified by little power other than ownership of a laser printer or a modem have sprung up in the home-schooling movement and have begun the irresponsible practice of attacking state and national home-school leaders along with some of the few true friends that home-schoolers have in Congress.

I wish I had a dollar for every time one of these “educational researchers” attacked our position on a bill without carefully reading either the current law or the law being amended. It is impossible to make a good legislative analysis without knowing both.

Home-schoolers understand that our freedom can be impacted disproportionately by just one family that abuses the academic training of their children. We also need to understand that one “researcher” on the Internet who behaves in a politically irresponsible manner can also make trouble for tens of thousands who behave responsibly.

We need to exercise our political prerogatives with excellence and level-headed responsibility.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

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