Here’s an article about Mississippi’s state superintendent of education being concerned about those homeschoolers who are just “using homeschooling as an excuse to be truant”.
The article points out that Mississippi has some of the least intrusive homeschooling laws in the country. Then, it lists Hawaii, Tennessee and New Mexico as examples of states with stringent homeschooling laws, requiring testing and mandated curriculum submissions.
What the article fails to mention, is that these regulations have very little effect, if any, on the number of parents who “use homeschooling just to be truant.” Even in the states where there is a lot of regulation, and maybe even more-so in those states, the families who are withdrawing their children from school only to sit them in front of the TV all day while they work, are rarely being “caught”.
But here’s the rub – who gets to decide what a good enough education is? There are a lot of kids who are going to school, who are barely get by, and then spend the rest of their day in front of the TV or on the street corner anyway. How is that any different than sitting in front of the TV to begin with. In neither case is that child getting a good education.
Homeschooling legislation to catch non-educating families is a feel-good idea. It makes people who are worried about “those parents” feel like they have some modicum on control. But as always, making legislation that effects how thousands of people live their lives in order to catch those select few who don’t want to be caught, is just bad law-making. It’s bad policy.
Another important thing to consider is the role of the state. In this article, the superintendent says that it’s their role to “make sure that every child is receiving a proper education.”
That is a misleading statement. If that were true, they’d be getting sued left and right. The state is not making sure every child is receiving a proper education.
The state’s responsibility is to make sure that they OFFER every child and every family a place that they can receive an education. If a family chooses not to use those services, that’s their choice. The state is not a parent to the parents. The state is a system that is available for use. If the state had any power to oversee the education of every child, we would see every private school being assessed by state standards. Just as the state can’t tell a private school how to educate its children, neither can it mandate what a family has to do in order to be considered “correctly educating” their children.
It’s a matter of who has control of our children – the state, or the children themselves (and by extension their family). The state’s responsibility is to offer educational opportunities to everyone, regardless of race, gender, and ability. Their job is to offer proper opportunities, (which, BTW, they often do not even to the children who are in school). Then, it’s also their job to handle situations where children are being abused or mistreated. It is NOT their job to make sure that every child is being educated in the way that they deem fit. It is not the state’s job to mandate what learning is and it is not their job to decide if a child is receiving a proper education. That’s the parents’ and child’s job. Just like it’s not the state’s job to decide if a parent is properly parenting their child.
Only in extreme circumstances, where there is abuse, should the state step in. But how to know when to step in? Well, it seems there is some disagreement on the effectiveness of when the state steps in to protect children from child abuse, but there are certainly no mandates that the state check every family and require families to submit a parenting plan in order to weed out those who are abusing their children. If the state doesn’t feel it needs to monitor every family to avoid child abuse (which, in my opinion is far worse than not educating children in a standard school-way), then what makes it OK for the state to mandate screening for education?
And on the flip-side, if the argument that “education abuse” in homeschooling is when a child doesn’t pass a state test, or if a child can’t read, then what happens to the SCHOOLS when a child can’t read or can’t pass a test? This double standard doesn’t exist in the parenting realm. If a school even comes close to abusing a child, there’s hell to pay. But why is it the other way around then for education?
All the legislation for homeschoolers is to 1) make people feel good, 2) make it look like the schools are doing something to help the children who left their system (and those who aren’t even there) when they actually aren’t 3) to control those who are not going along with the system and 4) to direct attention away from the fact that they are punishing parents for the very thing that they are doing to too many children who are in their own system (i.e. failing to offer what those children need to learn).
Homeschoolers are a small group of dissenters. They are easy to try and control. They are easy to point at and say, “These guys are different, let’s keep a close eye on them.” We are barely on the radar, why are the school officials so concerned with us? We are less than 1% of the school-able population. Do they love us so much, that they can’t keep their eyes off of us?
Ok, so let’s assume they really care for us and our children. Policy makers need to think in a non-linear fashion. Don’t make policy based on the bad homeschooling eggs. Make policy based on those who are doing the right thing. Focus on flexibility, on providing services for families, on encouraging parents to do better. Rather than trying to “catch” homeschoolers who aren’t educating in a school-way, understand the various ways to educate at home and then send information to families to help them.
Policy makers, make it clear that the point is to give kids the absolute best opportunities, not to try and make every kid go to public school. If the point is to make every kid to go public school, immediately we know that the point of catching bad homeschoolers is NOT to help them, it’s not to help the kids, it’s not even to ensure education is happening – it’s to get kids back into the public school system.
If the point of “catching” bad homeschoolers is to make sure the kids have an opportunity to learn, then the goal would be to help the parents by offering parents tools to homeschool their children effectively. Or to point to organizations that can, if the schools are not able to help (or have, ahem, a difference of opinion about what education is supposed to be in the first place.)
When schools start giving out up to date information on homeschooling support groups, programs, community offerings and other things that really help homeschoolers (without trying to control them), then maybe we can make laws and policies to actually help families, not “catch” them. If schools and policy makers change the focus to helping families adjust to their freedom, instead of aiming at controlling dissonance, maybe homeschoolers will start taking school officials’ concerns seriously.