Friday, March 07, 2008

California Homeschooling Controversy

As many of you are aware, there is a major controversy brewing in California concerning an appellate court decision earlier this week on the legality of homeschooling in this state.

This follows on the heels of another disturbing ruling, by the 9th Circuit Court, that parents do not have the right to guide their children's education. Elsewhere in the country, a federal court ruled that parents don't have the right to control what their children are taught in public school.

I have not commented on the new ruling to date as, frankly, the entire situation is very confusing. Much of the analysis I've read about the potential impact of the court's opinion conflicts; and the court opinion itself seems to be at odds with existing state laws.

Californians have always had a number of ways to legally homeschool, including via public school (often a charter school), using a credentialed teacher, or by forming a private school (typically called the "R-4" method). The R-4 is used by most families which homeschool independently, free of government oversight.

The ruling insists that students must physically attend an "accredited private school" if they are not attending public school or using a credentialed teacher. Well, many private schools are not "accredited." This ruling also conflicts with the public school programs in California which utilize homeschooling. California Virtual Academy, which serves thousands of homeschooling students, is just one example.

Some of the language in the ruling -- such as saying that children must go to school so others can check on their welfare -- seems to be un-Constitutional and have no basis in law: "keeping the children at home deprived them of situations where (1) they could interact with people outside the family, (2) there are people who could provide help if something is amiss in the children's lives, and (3) they could develop emotionally in a broader world than the parents' 'cloistered' setting."

Why don't we have school year-round in that case? And where is it legislated that children must interact with people outside their family? What other parental decisions does the government have the right to make, following the court's so-called logic? What a bizarre idea, that school exists not to educate, but to forcibly separate and protect children from their own parents.

Some of the other wording in the ruling also seems, not to be hyperbolic, fascist -- the same kind of thinking used to outlaw homeschooling in Germany since the '30s and continuing till today. It says, in part, "A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation..." The court also found compulsory government-approved education does not in any way violate parents' First Amendment rights.

The court's view seems to be that children are wards of the state, rather than that we are free people whose taxes have paid for a public school system we may -- or may not -- use.

One comment circulating on the Internet noted the irony that courts will uphold a parent's right to murder her unborn child, yet once that child is born the courts will not trust parents to do what's best for that child and keep it safe!

Another irony is that many public schools are operating with unaccredited teachers who use "emergency credentials," so technically even public schools would fall short of complying with the court's ruling.

And of course, it must be noted that despite the court placing such value on "in person" attendance at school and credentialed teachers, the track records of many schools are terrible. Homeschoolers, on the other hand, as a general group perform higher on standardized testing and are increasingly sought by prestigious universities. My daughter's university, USC, as just one example, has someone in the admissions office whose job it is to recruit and screen homeschoolers.

The California Homeschool Network and other organizations are working to have the State Supreme Court depublish the opinion, which means the ruling would apply only to the family in that specific court case and not have the weight of law. This might be the best outcome, rather than running the risk of having a higher court uphold the appellate ruling.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, to his credit, today called the court's ruling "outrageous" and said "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don't protect parents' rights then, as elected officials, we will."

The bottom line is that California homeschoolers are a hardy, independent-minded group, and if any judges or lawmakers think that homeschoolers will meekly be returning to bricks and mortar public schools, they have a big surprise coming.

Homeschooling in California is here to stay.

Further links: Desert Dispatch, San Diego Union Tribune, Modesto Bee, Voice of San Diego. Also, there are some knowledgeable, interesting comments following a post at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Late evening update: The latest from the L.A. Times.

Most of the article is good news, focusing on Governor Schwarzenegger's support of homeschoolers. However, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction saying he wants all homeschoolers to have "partnerships" with school districts or charter schools, to make sure they have "the right curriculum," is troubling. It's simply not the Superintendent's business what homeschoolers are doing to educate their children, just as it's not his business if parents enroll their child at a parochial school, a Montessori school, or any other private school. Nor is it his business what curriculum parents use; for instance, would the state approve a Christian curriculum? Charter schools and access to curriculum materials are fabulous ideas, but there should be complete freedom of choice.

It's a definite concern that legislation meant to "protect" homeschooling in California could instead end up restricting parents' freedom, which is why simply depublishing the opinion and maintaining the status quo -- continuing to follow state codes which have worked well for decades -- would be the ideal outcome.

More from The Washington Times.

Sunday Update: An editorial from the Orange County Register: "This is a fundamental freedom issue – not just a debate over education – that cannot be left unaddressed." Elsewhere on the website, the paper called the court's decision "shockingly totalitarian."


Blogger AmPowerBlog said...

Nice post!

You've got some skills on homeschooling!!

6:54 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Laura, thank you for an excellent overview of the homeschooling events taking place.

I am simultaneously amazed and horrified whenever I read about our courts assuming they know best for children who have loving and actively particpating parents. But it does beg the question: what has occurred to diminish the power and authority of the 'family'? I don't believe it can be entirely blamed on a nanny court mentality or the usual suspects that currently permeate our culture because for anyone to take a inch, someone somewhere freely gave much more than a mile and that very abdication of mothers and fathers has reaped a dreadful consequence -one being that those who are fully devoted to their children and firmly believe that they can indeed do a better job than the public schools (whether religion is or isn't involved) are now suspect.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

"...for anyone to take a inch, someone somewhere freely gave much more than a mile and that very abdication of mothers and fathers has reaped a dreadful consequence."

Dana, I couldn't agree more. One of the things that has amazed me when I have had children in public school (I have one who started public high school this year, while I am homeschooling two more) is how many parents seemed to be completely uninformed and uninvolved in what was happening on the campus, whether it was things which happened in the classroom, the absence of doors on bathroom stalls, or the presumption of schools to conduct medical exams without parental notification. Those are just a couple examples.

I got so tired of being a lone "squeaky wheel" advocating for my children. Deciding that I needed to shift my energies from the negative (constantly dealing with school issues) to the positive (teaching my children) is one of several things that led to my being a homeschooling parent going on half a decade ago.

Far too many parents are, sadly, happy to send their children off to school and turn the responsibility over to someone else, without giving it any more thought. I think this kind of mentality is now permeating society in general, which encourages "nanny statism."

Best wishes,

9:17 PM  
Blogger mel said...

So what you are saying, Laura, is that most teachers in the public school system are incompetent, indifferent, and basically uninvolved with the children's welfare and/or well-being while at school, etc. etc.? If so, I take issue with your stand - I know a lot of teachers (I am married to one) who are quite the opposite.

And how can homeschooling teach the children the values of teamwork and competition which would stand them in better stead in later life?

By the way, I love your taste in movies and your insightly reviews, which is how I came to be reading your blog in the first place.

5:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

"So what you are saying, Laura, is that most teachers in the public school system are incompetent, indifferent, and basically uninvolved with the children's welfare and/or well-being while at school, etc. etc.?"

Hi Mel!

If you reread my post and comment, I don't believe I said that at all. The main thrust of my post was freedom of choice -- one of the hallmarks of being an American -- and that school is not a place that we should be legally required to send our children so they can be "checked on" and protected from parents.

I also acknowledged that there are many schools with problems and commented above that I have had to deal with a number of problems at schools over the years. This is simply the truth which I have encountered parenting four children, three of whom have been enrolled in public school for varying amounts of time. I also commented above on uninvolved *parents* who weren't interested in what happens on the school campus (I would suspect your wife has had to deal with these parents herself) and my frustration that other parents weren't interested in addressing problems on campus. Being a "lone voice" over the years advocating regarding everything from private bathroom facilities to parental notification before giving medical exams to replacing an inadequate curriculum (maybe your wife is familiar with Mathland?) to a bullying teacher (who left the school shortly after we did) to abortion being discussed in a 3rd grade was frustrating. Those are just a few of the situations I encountered.

However, that is a far different thing from saying "most" teachers are "incompetent, indifferent, and basically uninvolved with the children's welfare and/or well-being while at school." Like you I also personally know teachers who work very hard. My children have had some excellent teachers, and I always made it a point to write thank you letters to the teacher and principal and to let the teachers know in other ways that they were appreciated. One teacher I know is the husband of a close friend who is now in a "second career" as a teacher -- and his family homeschools! -- perhaps he will stop by and join the conversaton (he has his own stories to tell!). Kudos to your wife and any other teachers who are working hard at their profession and striving to be excellent teachers. A good teacher is gold.

One reality, however, which I have heard myself from teachers, is that no matter how good the teacher, it is difficult if not near impossible to meet the individual needs of as many as 36 children (our school district's classroom max) who all come from different backgrounds, are learning at different paces, have different abilities, speak multiple languages, etc.

Your comment about teamwork and competition is (with respect) one of the old standbys criticizing homeschooling, the "socialization" issue. Let's flip it around -- at what other time in children's lives are they artificially segregated with as many as 35 other children who are all the same age, who all need the care and attention of just one person? How is it that we as a nation have come to believe that teamwork and competition can only be experienced inside a classroom? Are members of a family not a team? Is the value of teamwork or competition not learned in soccer, Little League, Scouting, church, homeschool groups, or the neighborhood? Homeschooled children are not closeted away from society. In fact, being outside the classroom they generally are mixing with a broader range of ages and people -- which I would suggest is more reflective of what they will meet as adults than what they experience with their peers in the classroom. I'd also suggest that being in the supportive family environment when they are young stands them in great stead to be confident adults who "play well with others." Children, particularly from the 4th-8th grade age, can be quite brutal toward one another; I don't think having to withstand that necessarily has better results than being taught in a positive family situation. In fact there are some interesting studies/surveys, if you'd like to search on the web, showing that current adults who were homeschooled are significantly more involved in their communities, more likely to vote and be civic-minded, etc.

The academic success of homeschoolers, which I referred to in my original post, is also validated by numerous studies which are available on the Web.

Swinging back to the main thrust of my post, having to attend a school in person is a parent's *choice* -- not the government's, and the role of a school is to educate. How do you think the Founding Fathers would react to a judicial decision in which the government forces children out of their families' homes with the justification that they must be "seen" by other people to make sure they're safe?

I hope perhaps this clarifies things a bit, although I understand that we may still be in disagreement. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and very much appreciate that you enjoy the movie reviews! I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of the movies which you have also watched. Hope you will continue to enjoy those things we agree on and visit again. :)

Best wishes,

9:02 AM  
Blogger Historical Ken said...

Hear! Hear!
What scary times we live in.

5:15 AM  

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