Monday, February 1, 2010

Home school regulations

I wrote earlier how important the book Family Matters by Dave Guterson was to me in formulating my desire to home school. The appeal of the freedom inherent in home schooling, the opportunity, the hope that a good balance could be struck between building a strong sense of security in family and offering a platform for launching creative and productive citizens out into the world- it's all in there.

So just to renew my memory, I bought a used copy off of for a pittance, and re-immersed myself in this man's thoughts. He is a clear thinker. He soundly goes over both the pros and cons, the certain and the merely potential, with home schooling.

One point that the opponents of home schooling have made from the beginning, is that it gives crazies the opportunity to isolate and indoctrinate their children. Mr. Guterson wisely points out that there have always been people who abuse their freedom, and yet freedom is so precious that we can't choose to surrender freedom, not even for a guarantee of perfect safety.

Of course there is no way to guarantee perfect safety in any society. Totalitarian regimes provide no more safety than a liberty-loving democracy. I think, in my American Midwestern way, that power loosely scattered over the whole populace is a better way to guarantee the safety of the individual.

And so, I am quite at ease with the current system of regulating/monitoring home schooling on a state by state basis. The Supreme Court has decreed that the state's obligation to provide safety and education to their citizens be balanced with parental rights by the "least restrictive means" test. I propose, however, that some states do a better job than others, and in ways that can't be measured on a standardized test.

I have home schooled in two states now, one with practically no oversight or interaction between home school and public school and another with more local interaction and more accountability. First I confess that I have strong libertarian leanings politically. In most cases, the fewer the laws the better.

But(you knew it was coming, didn't you?) where minors are concerned, because they have no political voice of their own, I think some restrictions are the mark of good government.

For example, I think it's a good thing that daycare centers have licensing requirements. I think it's a good thing that community organizations that work with children run criminal background checks. I am glad we have child protective service organizations, though it seems in many of the interventions that I am familiar with personally, their involvement is carried out in a less than ideal manner. ( I concede though that life itself is mostly messy and many times less than ideal, so it is only realistic to expect child protective services to work this way too.)

So it might not be surprising at all that I favor the state with more restrictive home school statutes, which also has accountability to the local school board rather than the state. I think it is good for home schooling.

The more restrictive requirements for record keeping are good for home schooling because they allow for the outside community to see what we are truly accomplishing. For those who think we sit in our jammies all day eating pop-tarts, our daily record of activities is available to our school board for inspection. And since the home school mom is keeping it in compliance with state law, she also has it available to share with skeptical neighbors and relatives.

(Disclaimer: I am writing this in my jammies, but it's a snow day! Hmmph. :p)

The fact that individual home schools are engaging an any kind of correspondence with the local school board breaks down the wall of misunderstanding and mistrust on both sides. In my former state, representatives of our local home school support group met with the appropriate local school board official every year. Some officials were hostile and skeptical, but with others we established good rapport.

In that state, there is much more interaction between the home school and public school world, with dual-enrollment allowed and encouraged. Public school sports teams are open to home schooled students who can pass the try-outs. People have an easier time of enrolling formerly home schooled students at the appropriate grade level in public schools, mostly because they can show what a student has actually been doing all those years. :)

In my former state/county, the established home school support group and the public school officials have such good rapport that the school board includes contact information for state and local support groups on their flier explaining how to comply with state home school laws. They don't have to do that, but a little good will goes a long way.

In my current state of residence, many home schooling moms would scoff and wonder why anyone would want or need a good rapport with public school officials. They don't plan to ever allow any of their children to attend a public school. They believe they are happy in their little home school bubble and that the less contact with people outside their little world the better.

Which is the third reason I believe that more accountability and more local accountability make for better home school citizens. Isolation is never good for anyone. Any mom doing her due diligence as a social studies teacher has pointed out that trade between peoples and cultures always results in a better way of life for those citizens. The more isolated the people group, they less healthy, happy, and technologically advanced that people group will be.

It holds true for individuals as well as civilizations: the more isolated, the worse off. Stone Age tribes in the jungle may have been cut off from the hippie drug culture of the crazy seventies, but they also don't have the wheel, antibiotics, or even shoes. Isolation has not been good for them.

When I moved to this state, I quickly discovered that the home school community here was weird. Even though I moved to a much bigger city, the support groups were smaller and stricter. Every single one had a list of rules you must agree to, some of them quite ridiculous. Many, if not most, of them are by invitation only, so as to keep out the undesirables. Each group demanded conformity on all kinds of issues, from home schooling style to religion all the way down to the style of clothing you could wear. The atheist as well as the fundies all share this totalitarian demand of group-think. I found it very bizarre, and other home school moms moving here from out-of-state have noticed the same pattern.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I think the difference is the lack of accountability to local government officials. There is only one requirement- turn in a standardized test for each student. These test scores are mailed to the state. You are required to keep on hand a birth certificate, vaccine records, old test scores and proof that you registered your home school with the state. That's all folks.

I don't think this is good for home schooling. I think the lack of daily record keeping makes it look to outsiders like we're doing nothing even though we may be working hard every day. I think the lack of local accountability breeds suspicion and mistrust between public school officials and the home school community. But worse, I think the complete lack of interaction with our local officials encourages isolation and the weirdness that follows.

It is the weirdness and social isolation that is most disconcerting, both to me as a home school advocate and to society at large. If we as a group do not start distancing ourselves from the truly out of touch, we will share the shame with them when the day of accountability comes. And make no mistake, the backlash against isolationist home schooling is here. I believe it has only just begun. I would much rather have greater accountability on a local level than lose the right to home school altogether. And that is what some are calling for in response to home school isolationists- the end of home school as an option at all.

Well, that's my opinion for anyone who cares to know. I would not, at this point, freak out if people began calling for more (and especially more local) accountability from the home school parent in my current state. I think it would be a good thing. In fact, with all the crazy patriocentric weirdness in full bloom in my area, I would not even mind a home visit every now and then. The more open home school families are, the less suspicious people will be.

And if, in your home school, you are so busy with so many children that you are not providing an adequate education for your children, people will find out. Maybe that pressure will be a good thing. And if your home school philosophy sounds good on paper but is not preparing your child to be self-sufficient as an adult, people will find out. Maybe that pressure will be a good thing. And if your home is not a haven but a living hell, then people will find out. That surely is a good thing!

And finally, if you are doing an excellent job, though possibly messy and many times less than ideal like the rest of life, then people will find out. And that would also be a very good thing.


  1. Shadow,

    Were you a shunned daughter?
    Have you spoken to hillary (who follows your blog) about this?
    She's asking for daughters to talk to for her book over on NLQ, the member's thread.
    She said she was aware of you but never spoke with you.

  2. I couldn't agree more! Excellent entry, and a wonderful blog overall! Thank you for writing (for the rest of us who have had similar experiences but aren't great at writing).

  3. It's also much better for everyone involved to have good experiences with the world out there. I was exposed to so much FEAR in the home school community I was raised within. I remember one home schooled pen friend mailing me pamphlets claiming that Proctor & Gamble were Satanists and their products had to be boycotted, and that 2/4 time in music was a voodoo method for inviting demon possession.

    My family knew better than this (heck, we watched tv and went to the public library and had public school friends!), but I think it's easy for families to drift towards the fringe when they're isolated. Home school groups can't think ahead to ban everything, so you're left with the weird stuff.

    In home school circles, I heard every kind of conspiracy theory, from political, to technological, to medical -- all hinging on the assumption that these industries could be entirely populated by bad, dishonest people. If any social worker wrongly broke-up what was or appeared to be a good Christian family, anywhere in the nation, it was absolutely assumed that social workers were ALL trained ideologues bent on destroying godly families everywhere. (This also means that home schoolers were quick to take the family's side in cases where real, serious abuse was occurring.) Same thing with secular therapists: since sometimes women who received therapy ended up divorcing their husbands, clearly (a) this decision was the therapist's doing, and (b) ruining marriages is the goal of the entire profession.

    No one "in the world" could be imagined as kind or benevolent, let alone actually decent or helpful, except maybe the police. The news and Focus & the Family provided constant reminder of the crime and degradation lurking everywhere (with no solution except to fear and avoid). Then there was Y2K... I needn't go on. Parents don't realize what they're teaching their kids. Literally any friendly interaction with one of the isolationist narrative's "villains" (say, a superintendent of the local high school) makes a really big difference in giving the kids a more realistic perspective!