Homeschool Civics Lessons

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California
homeschoolers took an emotional roller coaster ride this spring
and summer when Berkeley Unified School District officials made
a bid to
outlaw homeschooling in our state
. The Berkeley bureaucrats’
attempt to have the courts declare independent homeschooling illegal
was stopped when an open minded District Attorney, willing to educate
himself about the Education Code and listen to the rock solid legal
reasoning of Attorney William Rogers, declined to prosecute “The
Berkeley Four” for truancy.

This
was, of course, a victory for homeschoolers, with the Education
Establishment again being turned back in their endless assault on
educational liberty. More importantly, however, it was a victory
for all parents because without the growing homeschool movement
and its clearly superior pedagogy, public schools would not be under
such great pressure to address their worst failings.

We
homeschoolers, being life-long students and natural teachers, look
for lessons in everything. It is therefore not surprising that we
would look for lessons in The Berkeley Four case. An obvious one
I’ve heard is that if California homeschoolers follow the law –
that is, file our annual affidavit with the state notifying them
that we are operating our own private schools and maintain the required
records-we have nothing to fear. The Berkeley Four, who filed their
affidavits, were exonerated and so will we.

But
if a student in my homeschool made that argument, I would have to
hand out a failing grade for naïveté and superficial
analysis. For one thing, the long-standing debate among homeschoolers
on whether or not to obey the immoral compulsory attendance laws
is passed over. For another, the ordeal that someone must endure
to defend himself against the unlimited power of the state is ignored.
Be that as it may, in surveying the current homeschooling scene
here in California, I come away with very different lessons from
the sanguine one above.

Bear
in mind that there are tens of thousands of homeschoolers in California,
probably over 100,000. A sizable percentage has declared their homes
private schools. As mentioned, we file an affidavit with the state
every year that includes our names, addresses and phone numbers.
Clearly, the state knows who we are, where we are and how to contact
us.

Yet,
in any given year, only a small fraction of homeschoolers is investigated
for truancy by local school districts. In the majority of these
cases, a letter from a homeschool organization or a lawyer explaining
that the family in question has enrolled their children in private
school in full compliance with the California Education Code is
all that is necessary to close the investigation. Occasionally,
such a letter does not deter school officials, the family is required
to make the same case in front of a Student Attendance Review Board
and that closes the investigation. In other words, in almost all
cases, public school harassment of homeschoolers ends rather quickly
and harmlessly.

This
begs the question: Why do local school districts continue to harass
homeschoolers? I offer my homeschool civics lessons in answer.

Homeschool
Civics Lesson #1. Government officials don’t know the law. Occasionally,
there are education bureaucrats who don’t know the law and probably
have never bothered to read the Education Code or their manuals.
They simply don’t know that independent homeschooling is legal.
Their colleagues say it’s illegal and they accept the statement
without verification. If they receive a complaint about a child
who may be truant, until The California Homeschool Network explains
the law to them they proceed accordingly. Two priceless quotations
from Alameda County bureaucrats during the late unpleasantness illustrate
this point.

“To
declare yourself a private school is not illegal, but it’s not legal
either – it resides in this very murky legal area.”

“We
all have different feelings about whether homeschooling is legal
in California.”

However,
I suspect this type of bureaucrat is in the minority.

Homeschool
Civics Lesson #2. Government officials exercise their authority
as a club against people they simply don’t like. There are odious
bureaucrats-some in Berkeley, in fact – to whom homeschoolers
have explained the law time and time again. They know full well
that homeschoolers are not truant, their past challenges have gone
nowhere, yet they continue to pursue truancy investigations to harass
and punish. And punishment their investigations truly are, since
fending off a government attack is time consuming, expensive and
nerve-racking, with the possibility of a CPS kidnapping always a
threat. The Berkeley Four found out first hand that punishment doesn’t
begin with a guilty verdict, but with an accusation.

The
majority ascribes government malfeasance to lesson number one and
recoils from any other likely explanation for the many tyrannies
we suffer, petty and grand. They want to believe that the bureaucrat
is a nice guy, maybe misguided, but just trying to do his job. As
a result, when a family is victimized by a school district, homeschoolers
often blame the victim by asking what the family did to deserve
harassment. They don’t want to believe that the family under attack
was picked out arbitrarily. Actually, families are generally not
picked out arbitrarily. The reality is far worse.

Homeschool
Civics Lesson #3. State power is wielded where success is perceived
as likely. Most of the families over the years who are investigated
are vulnerable ones-single parent households, welfare recipients,
families embroiled in custody disputes, people who could be portrayed
as religious fanatics. The state perceives them as easy targets
and they are. “The Berkeley Four” investigation began in a custody
dispute and the families are members of a non-traditional church.
Two other California homeschool cases pending also prove this point.
In both, the mothers are single and on welfare. Yet, in all three
situations, the families are in complete compliance with the Education
Code and the government officials know it. In fact, when one of
these beleaguered mothers asked why among all the 200 homeschool
families in her county she was singled out, the answer was swift:
“Because you don’t have a job.”

Homeschool
Civics Lesson #4. The state “makes an example” of a small number
of people to deter dissent. Even though the Department of Education
has the names and addresses of homeschoolers all across California,
they have not and will not initiate a statewide round up. They know
that the backlash would be a public relations disaster. The Lucia
Mar School District in San Luis Obispo County tried to do just this
a few years ago and the calls and faxes of protest shut down the
district office until the bureaucrats cried uncle and called off
their assault.

No,
a mass, nazi-style sweep of moms and dads is simply out of the question,
especially in this era of friendly fascism. Even most low-level
government functionaries know full well the Misean dictum that all
governments, no matter how tyrannical, require public support. Instead,
the state uses the cheaper, easier and elegant strategy of attrition.
It acts as all predators do, surveying the herd, looking for the
young, the sick, the injured, biding its time to strike when the
weak is not protected by the others. We California Homeschoolers
are a nervous herd of gazelle with a cheetah roaming in our midst.
We go about grazing, drinking from the watering hole, minding our
young, but always with an eye on the cheetah and wondering who will
be his next meal. Some of us find playing the role of prey too much
and quit or flee to what is perceived as relative safety, the government
run homeschooling programs. California Homeschool Network looses
a significant percentage of our membership each year due to families
sending their children back to public school. How many give up because
they are tired of being afraid we may never know. How many more
families never try homeschooling because they are afraid?

Homeschool
Civics Lesson #5. The state can threaten you, fine you and indeed
take your children for lawful activity. Information from the Homeschool
Legal Defense Fund,
Pacific
Justice Institute
and CPSWatch
indicates that a small but growing number of families find themselves
entangled with Child Protective Services for either being Christian,
homeschoolers or worse, both. Apparently, Christian parents are
automatically suspected of being child beaters because they spank
and indoctrinate their children with – horrors – religion.
Likewise, homeschoolers are suspected of being abusers because we
isolate our children and neglect their education. In the Kafkaesque
world of family court where common sense – forget about the
Bill of Rights – does not apply, lawful activity can have grave
consequences. The child protection racket has made the inconvenient
and messy process of passing laws against subversive behavior obsolete.
Remember, the accusation, not the guilty verdict, begins the punishment.

In
general, homeschool advocates don’t like to call attention to these
civics lessons. We much prefer to spread our positive message of
how natural, loving and rewarding homeschooling is and that all
families can benefit from the homeschooling life. My colleagues
and I in the California Homeschool Network devote most of our energy
to addressing the issue of how we can make homeschooling easier,
particularly for new families. Our webpage sports the statement,
which is quite true, that a homeschooler is more likely to be hit
by lightning than meet official harassment in California.

Nevertheless,
the fact remains, though deafeningly unspoken in homeschooling circles,
that we are enemies of the state. Whether we admit it or not, whether
we want it to be or not, homeschooling is a profoundly political
act. It is the rejection of the state’s all-important first step
in instilling the habit of obedience in its subjects. Our children
are not captive in government schools where they can be prevented
from learning to read, inculcated with a loathing of all things
intellectual, force fed a constant diet of propaganda or psychologically
manipulated and drugged into obedience. Without public school attendance,
the state cannot break the family bond to wrest control of our children’s
minds and is thereby thwarted in its regimen of voluntary servitude.
That is why homeschooling is so hated not only by the Education
Establishment which sees its jobs threatened by us, but more importantly
by the political class – and their managers, whomever you believe
is at the locus of power – which sees its power endangered
by us.

Homeschoolers
will never be left alone. Even if the Education Establishment woke
up tomorrow to the glaringly obvious realization that homeschooling
can’t put a significant dent in their machine – present day
economics and the brainwashing of the current generation of adults
stand forcibly in the way – the political class cannot allow
our escape hatch from compulsory schooling to remain open. Only
a tiny minority of intellectuals devoted to liberty could cause
a revolution, as has happened in every revolution throughout history.
How better to develop these intellectuals than in the quintessence
of educational freedom that is homeschooling? Our government, like
every government since before Plato conceived of his Republic, knows
full well the danger that homeschooling represents. My final Homeschool
Civics Lesson is therefore the most important to learn: homeschoolers
must be eternally vigilant.

September
21, 2000

Cathy
Cuthbert is a wife, homeschooling mother and volunteer with the
California Homeschool Network. CHN has established a Legal Defense
Fund for the Berkeley families and other California families facing
serious challenges to their right to homeschool. For more information
go to http://www.cahomeschoolnet.org
or call 800/327-5339 (760/431-1027 outside California).

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