Lindy sent me this great link to Alan Keyes’ blog, specifically to an article where a North Carolina judge (apparently in divorce proceedings) decreed that a mom had to send her three kids to public school next fall so that her teaching could be “challenged” and the kids could be prepared for reality… apparently, testing two grade levels ahead of their age group wasn’t enough preparation for adult life, they particularly needed to be disabused of their mother’s moral teachings and/or worldview.
Lindy ended her comment with, “Between Connecticut trying to govern the Catholic Church, and now this- well, words don’t suffice.” (If you missed it, legislation was introduced in Connecticut to negate Catholic bishops’ authority over parishes in their diocese, to be replaced by some sort of lay board. Huh? Since when does the state have any business telling churches how to run themselves? As one commentator noted, what’s next? Are they going to require diocese-like oversight boards for denominations that don’t believe in that kind of hierarchy? It got squashed fairly quickly, thankfully, but not as fast as it should have been.)
Well, as the Gospel reading for last Sunday (Mark 9:2-10, the Transfiguration) said, “He hardly knew what to say…” Since we’re talking about Peter here, that line comes immediately after Peter has finished speaking. Trust Peter to be so amazed and terrified that he doesn’t know what to say, so he opens his mouth and says something anyways.
So, following the example of our first pope, I will try to make words suffice, even when my initial instinct is to sit here, aghast, and wonder how we got here.
Simply put, this story is the latest in a long line of atrocious interference by the government in families. Somewhere along the line, public education went from being a help for parents who couldn’t pay for private education or educate their children themselves, to a fiefdom that feels it has more right to your children than you do.
Yes, before you ask, I attended public schools for most of my life. I went to a private preschool (no other kind available at that time), to public kindergarden (where the teacher told my mom it was “cute” how I “pretended to read” books I had never seen before… because I learned to read in preschool and the kindergarden was learning the alphabet. Mom was less than impressed with the teacher and that particular school), then to three years of Catholic school. After we moved, partially to get to a better school system, I was in public education from fifth grade on. My school system was excellent, honored by national awards. Nevertheless, it had both wondeful, inspiring teachers who I still remember fondly… and those who were an utter waste of the students’ time. And you just can’t get away from the realities of throwing children into an almost completely unsupervised situation. The fact that most kids were neutral didn’t negate the fact that way too many of my fellow students were nasty and vindictive to anyone perceived as too smart, too unattractive, too nerdy, too poorly dressed, too moral, too whatever.
I could get into the arguments for homeschooling (the Catholic Church specifically says that parents have a duty as the “primary educators of their children,” I want my children to have a reasonably solid ethical foundation before throwing them into the shark tank of a sex-obsessed and arguably post-Christian society, I can tailor my lessons and teaching to fit my children better, etc.), but we’ll skip all that for now. This discussion is not about why homeschooling may be right for you, but about why the government should not interfere in parents’ choices about how best to raise their children.
The primary question for any law or judgement should be, “Does the government have an overriding interest to interfere?”
If the answer is, “No,” then the situation should be allowed. Not begrudgingly, but as a free and legitimate option.
As a parent, I am allowed to choose to take my child to church or not. I am allowed to decide if my child should participate in soccer, kung fu, gymnastics, etc. I am the primary decision maker in what they eat. I control where and when they sleep, how much time they spend outside, whether they wear sunscreen, how they are dressed, etc., etc. I can even decide whether or not they grow up in a two-parent home. Many of these things have direct bearing on the kind of person they are likely to be as adults, yet the government is not poised to arrest me or harrass me for any of these decisions. There is no overriding interest for the government to interfere with my rights and duties as a parent unless I am putting my child into immediate danger.
Enter public education. The government decided that it had an interest in making sure that all children were in school, learning, instead of, say, working in a factory or hawking newspapers on the streetcorner to earn a few pennies to take home to their families. Unfortunately, those beginnings were also conflated with nativist and anti-Catholic tendencies, so that public education was specifically touted and envisioned as a remedy to “fix” the influx of poor, uneducated papist immigrants. This is why the Catholic school system came into being: to provide an alternative to the distinctly Protestant teaching in the public school system. Ironically, a century later, that anti-Catholic tendency has transformed not-so-quietly into an anti-Christian tendency in the public schools.
As I’ve said before, the government has a duty to defend the defenseless. If a child is being “homeschooled” because his/her parents were tired of being called in for parent-teacher conferences, but aren’t actually doing any schooling, then that child is not being properly cared for. The mall shooter last year apparently fell into this category; he’d had continual problems and taunting in school, so his parents took him out of his public high school… and let him just do whatever. There didn’t seem to be any actual homeschooling happening, in spite of what the parents told the school system. The papers, of course, headlined the story, “Homeschooler shoots twelve at mall.”
On the other hand, if a child is being homeschooled because the parents have decided that it is better for them (for whatever reasons, or even no particular reason besides the desire to do it), then that decision should be respected. In the past, homeschoolers have been threatened with arrest for child abuse. They have been harrassed by school system inspectors insisting that the homeschool was a private school, and therefore subject to random inspections. In any case, our property taxes are taken to pay for a system that our children are denied access to; school systems have even tried to deny homeschoolers access to PSAT testing on the “logic” that they don’t belong to a school… although the schools are the only ones allowed to administer the test. In Germany, homeschool parents have been arrested and jailed for refusing to send their children to state schools.
The arguments against homeschoolers actually boil down to what that North Carolina judge said: “We have to get these kids away from their parents and indoctrinate them in our ideology, removing what the parents have taught them wherever it conflicts.”
At least he was being honest; the objections are usually hidden under other flimsy arguments about “socialization” and “dealing with the real world” (as if age-segregated classrooms where people sit for hours a day listening to the person at the front of the room is “real”) and “if you leave, nobody will be left to improve the public schools” (I’d love to help… but I’m not going to wait for the system to grind out a solution in ten years or even five; that is too late to help my kids, who are the ones I am primarily responsible for).
At first glance, it sounds ok to say we’ll force homeschoolers into public school to counteract bad parental influences if what we’re talking about is abuse, racism, etc. … but people have said the Catholic Church (or any Christian, for that matter) is discriminatory because they say that only Christians are assured of salvation. When Catholics say things like, “Jews need to be perfected by becoming Christians,” people scream, “Racism!” (If we believe what we say we believe, why would we exclude God’s Chosen People, the first recipients of the Gospel, from the path to salvation? Isn’t it racist to say, “Don’t bother offering them salvation”?) Homeschooling itself has been called “child abuse,” on the “reasoning” that parents are depriving their children of the benefits of “socialization” (I will try to refrain from getting into a fuming diatribe on the lie of “socialization”). In to talk about ADHD, I had one psychiatrist claim that homeschooling could cause schizophrenia and another psychiatrist insist that all my daughter’s issues would end if I just put her in “real school.” According to them, I was apparently under suspicion of causing my child mental problems, and now I was going against professional advice to boot.
So, we need to be very careful what arguments we accept as reasons to remove homeschoolers from their parents and force them into public schools; seemingly self-explanatory categories can be abused.
Frankly, I am blessed to be in a school district that feels like playing nice. Each year, I send them my letter of intent, telling them which kids I am homeschooling, which subjects I’m covering, and what books I’m using (easier than going into a detailed listing of topics). Hey, I need to plan those things anyways; it’s hardly an onerous requirement, and I understand the government’s interest in ensuring that I am actually providing some kind of education. The school district sends me a nice letter back saying that they understand I am homeschooling children A and B, they need to have the end-of-year nationally normed test by early August for all students over six by such-and-such a date (If the students don’t do reasonably well on the test, they can be forced into the public school system. As if kids don’t fail national tests in the public schools. I understand why they do it, but that caveat makes me a bit nervous.), and if I need anything, please feel free to call the school district office.
Although there is some oversight, the school district does not bug me more than they need to. Now, this is partially due to some very active and vocal home educator organizations in the state, for which I am thankful, but I think they’ve reached a mostly workable agreement. From time to time, issues in new bills come up, but nobody is threatening to arrest homeschoolers in Virginia anymore.
The problem is, we need a better attitude than just not arresting homeschoolers. “Well, we didn’t arrest you, aren’t you happy?” just isn’t sufficient. Homeschool students are a tiny percentage of all the students in this country, yet they keep winning spelling bees, geography bees, national essay contests, speaking contests, and even athletic events. Homeschoolers generally score significantly above average on national tests like the SAT’s and do very well in college. (This is not entirely explained by the fact that they have involved parents, which is an important indicator of school success.)
Homeschooling has proved itself. It is long past time for society, and especially family judges, psychiatrists, and legislators, to realize that. And even if it hadn’t proved itself by being so much more successful than the public school system in general, homeschooling is at least a legitimate alternative to public or private schools. The government has no overriding interest to legitimize inserting itself into a family decision.
Maybe you don’t homeschool. But if the government or a judge can go after someone for homeschooling, it can go after you for some other parenting choice you’ve made.
We need to be supportive of each other every time the government oversteps, or else the government will think it knows better than us about everything, including how to raise our kids.
(although, come to think of it, the government is busily charging towards that level of hubris already, if it hasn’t already exceeded it.)