The State Versus Parents: Homeschoolers, Beware!

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"Ruling sends chills through home-schooling community," says last Friday’s Los Angeles Times headline. If there’s any reason to subscribe to the propaganda piece called the Los Angeles Times, it’s for headlines such as these. The brouhaha, and it is a big one, is all about a recent California Appellate Court case, about which Steven Greenhut has so eloquently written. "If the ruling stands," according to the Los Angeles Times, "home-schooling supporters say California will have the most regressive law in the nation."

That seems to be reason enough to leave this crazy state, for my family and for many others.

Communist as its reputation is in other parts of the country, California is currently a land of freedom in some respects: Homeschooling has been one of those. The Times describes current law correctly:

"The California Department of Education currently allows homeschooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as small private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent study programs run by charter or private schools or public school districts while still teaching at home."

California’s allowance for homeschooling, which demands only that parents take a few minutes each year to fill out a form that registers a homeschool as a private school with the state, is one of the most lenient in the United States. Heretofore, the state has mostly left homeschoolers alone, which is the way we like it. As degrading as public schools are becoming across the country, and one need only read a bit of John Taylor Gatto to figure out that particular fact, parents should have to write permission notes for their children to attend government schools. Not so, however, in a culture of Oprah worshippers. Ask your neighbor what he thinks of compulsory, i.e., forced, government education; chances are good that the neighbor will place it right up there with the convenience of sliced bread as being one of the many things that keep America happy and free.

Tricia and the Boys with John Taylor Gatto in Santa Barbara, September 2005

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, who, not surprisingly, agrees with the California judges’ ruling, states what we’d expect for someone whose job depends on governmental approval: "What’s best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher," saith the U.S. Department of Education’s faithful lackey.

For those of us who believe in freedom, Mr. Duffy’s words are chilling indeed. What’s usually best for a child, and has been so for millennia, is to be taught by the folks who helped to create said child, i.e., the child’s parents. Over the decades of forced government education, public schooling has dumbed us down so much that many parents have forgotten this noble responsibility of parenthood. In other words, many of our brainwashed society will wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Duffy. After all, he is an educator.

When you read the official court document, it’s easy to see that the whole case seems to be some sort of strange non sequitur. Abuse of children, which seemed to start the court case, and homeschooling are conflated in the ruling; in reality, the two are quite separate.

The ruling purports to solve a problem that started with supposed abuse and ended with a ruling against homeschooling with the lack of a state-credentialed mother, as if mere credentialing by the state can solve any truly abusive situation. I’m quite confused about how a family who was initially charged with abuse has ultimately been charged with the failure to be taught by a credentialed teacher, as if that in and of itself is some sort of abuse. I don’t know if the judges even care about this lack of logic. Evidently, the judges haven’t read about all the credentialed teachers that have been convicted in the past few years of sexually abusing their students. Then again, I suppose the judges have better things to do than read about reality.

So, why the emphasis on homeschooling in this ruling? Many public-schoolers are abused by parents and teachers and yet, to my knowledge, there has been no ruling that vilifies the government schools for any atrocities. Whatever the reason for the verdict, or the story behind the case, the judges’ ruling has opened a Pandora’s box on homeschooling and Oprah watchers, judges, and homeschoolers across the country are waiting to see just what California does as a result.

Here are a few key passages from this monumental 18-page treatise. This particular ruling cites other rulings regarding homeschooling:

Nor was the Turner court persuaded by the parents’ contention that the education being provided to their children in their home was as good or better than the children would have obtained in a public or private school or through a credentialed tutor, and therefore the purpose of the statutes was satisfied. The court stated California’s legislative scheme makes no such exemption to attendance in a public school. (Turner, supra, 121 Cal.App.2d Supp. at p. 868—869; accord Shinn, supra, 195 Cal.App.2d, at p. 694, where the court stated that "[h]ome education, regardless of its worth, is not the legal equivalent of attendance in school in the absence of instruction by qualified private tutors.")

Here we see Duffy’s statement paraphrased in an official court document. What’s best for the child may be what’s not best for the child — if that statement seems illogical, it is. Many homeschooling moms, myself included, have multiple college degrees, although that particular feat is not necessary to be a good homeschooling parent. But the court has said that even if the child receives a better education at home, the child is not exempt from being forced to attend either public schools or a private school with a credentialed teacher. It’s not about the child’s best interest, but about the state’s best interest.

In another passage, the judges state that individual freedoms are not important. Therefore, we must raise or children the way that the educational program du jour wants us to. Therefore, if you want your child to avoid the rampant efforts of California to change the definition of family, for instance, or whatever other new theory comes down the proverbial pike, you cannot. You must be assimilated comes to mind:

We agree with the Shinn court’s statement that "the educational program of the State of California was designed to promote the general welfare of all the people and was not designed to accommodate the personal ideas of any individual in the field of education."

This quote from the ruling would be just fine and dandy in the former USSR, but in a country that is based on individual freedoms?

Although many homeschoolers are being optimistic, here’s what the ruling says regarding parents who fail to obey:

Because parents have a legal duty to see to their children’s schooling within the provisions of these laws, parents who fail to do so may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program . . . Additionally, the parents are subject to being ordered to enroll their children in an appropriate school or education program and provide proof of enrollment to the court, and willful failure to comply with such an order may be punished by a fine for civil contempt.

Another option for those who wish to homeschool legally in California seems to be to become Amish. According to the judges’ ruling, it’s okay to be an "Old Order Amish" and claim that your religious beliefs are the reason that you homeschool, as was decided when the Amish fought for their right to end compulsory education at eighth grade. The Amish decision was cited in this latest ruling. It’s okay to be Amish and claim religious freedom, saith the judges, but for other religions, not so much:

The parents in the instant case have asserted in a declaration that it is because of their "sincerely held religious beliefs" that they home school their children and those religious beliefs "are based on Biblical teachings and principles." Even if the parents’ declaration had been signed under penalty of perjury, which it was not, those assertions are not the quality of evidence that permits us to say that application of California’s compulsory public school education law to them violates their First Amendment rights. Their statements are conclusional, not factually specific.

This statement shows that I wouldn’t make a good judge: I would have never thought to divide statements regarding religious freedom into two factions: conclusional and factually specific, whatever those terms mean. Perhaps this is a kind of judges’ rhetoric that even those of us with a master’s degree in English find difficult to understand. But the sentence that follows this passage is even more chilling to those of us who believe in freedom:

Moreover, such sparse representations are too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to homeschool his or her child.

Evidently, in the land of the free, it’s far too easy to claim religious freedom and to claim educational control over the child that you helped to create. According to the three judges, having control over your child’s education is something that should be very difficult for parents, which explains why parents need the very educated educators that the government school system so easily provides. Perhaps the boys and I should be looking for our own Amish Paradise, preferably one that will appreciate our Honda Odyssey as much as we do.

What will become of this bizarre decision will be up to those of us who truly believe in freedom in California. Before you do anything, however, you should read a wonderful synopsis of the options for homeschoolers, written by lawyer and homeschooling mom, Debbie Schwarzer, on the Homeschool Association of California site. Most likely, legislation is not the answer to the problem that the three judges have started.

As Steven Greenhut has pointed out, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not otherwise been exactly friendly to the freedom movement in California, actually seems to support parental choice in education: "Every California child deserves a quality education and parents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children. 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." Despite perhaps the supposed best intentions of our governor, it frightens me when an elected official claims that he is going to protect me, especially when he plans to use other elected officials to help him.

Photo Credit: Mr. Comic Mom

Many homeschoolers are scared about this decision, as we rightly should be. What has happened to a country founded on individual freedoms when judges rule that parents should have no control over their children’s education?

Tricia Shore [send her mail], Comic Mom, is the breastfeeding, homeschooling, thinking mama of three sons and the wife of their dad, Mr. Comic Mom. Currently living in Los Angeles, where she has recently become hip enough to be on MySpace, she misses the sweet tea and barbecue of North Carolina. Tricia loves to present her informative seminar, What’s So Funny About Grammar? to corporations and other groups who care about the English language.

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