Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Constitution, Family Rights and Homeschooling

Well, if you haven't already heard, recently a court ruled that parents do not have a Constitutional right to educate their own children, to "homeschool." What does the ruling mean to homeschooling families? Only the future will tell. But for now, it's quite disconcerting as we've greatly enjoyed and benefited from the private schooling we provide our children.

I've delayed writing about this due to fear that we'd be "caught" homeschooling. But it's not as if we keep our homeschooling practices a secret, and we're already on the state's list since we filed all the appropriate paperwork as prescribed by the Education Code. With so much misinformation out there in Medialand, I just can't let the matter slip any more.

First of all, I didn't really start out as a strong homeschooling advocate. In fact, when I met my first family of homeschoolers I told myself I would NEVER "do that to my children." But then I met lots of other homeschooling families, and saw the myriad options for educational choice provided by a program tailored for so few students in a "class." As education reporter for the local paper, I had PLENTY of opportunity to witness the great things, and the weak spots, in local education, both public and private. In the end, it was our joy in raising our own children that led us to keep them "home." (We aren't really locked in the house, as so many people envision of homeschoolers. The girls and I volunteer at the local natural history museum where we run storytime, we take regular field trips to take advantage of experiential learning opportunities, and both girls are involved in dance, gymnastics and swimming.)

With our way of life threatened, I find myself becoming quite an outspoken advocate for homeschooling, and sharing our stories where ever possible. How do we homeschool? What amazing things have our children been able to do that, without a doubt, they would not have been able to do otherwise? Why do we homeschool? How do we organize our days? These are all questions I've been answering as people aware of the latest news pull me aside in the grocery store, at the girls' gym or on the pool deck.

For clarification, the state does provide for private schooling which does NOT require credentialed teachers. (Ed. Code 48222. Children who are being instructed in a private full-time day school by persons capable of teaching shall be exempted.) Our children attend one such school, and while we aren't required to take the state standardized testing, we do base our studies on the state's standards. We typically complete the prescribed work within the first 4-6 weeks of school, then move forward, filling our hours with work well into the next grades, or going into depth on subjects of particular interest to our girls.

It's too bad this case has gone so far. It stemmed from YEARS of alleged abuse, a bad argument by the family's lawyer, and the resulting sweeping decision. (Since when does a broad brush really cover all the nooks n' crannies?) The judge makes some specious arguments, not the least of which is that by sending children to public school they'll be safe. (Go ahead, click THIS link to today's latest news headlines regarding safety in our schools.)

As for the history of education in America, I found a great website with some really interesting information. It seems the Puritans started organized education in America in an effort to ensure everyone could read the Bible, thereby protecting the masses from Evil. In 1642, the Massachusetts Education Law required that children be educated in basic literacy (reading and writing). It did NOT state that a SCHOOL must be used.

According to Amy L. Matzat's article on the site: "The idea behind this, once again, was that if all citizens could understand the written language on some basic level, all citizens would be able to understand and therefore, abide by the governing laws of the land. At this point in time there was no concept of a formal school as we know it today; it was understood that each person would be educated enough to meet the individual needs of their station in life and social harmony would be that much closer. Who better to educate their children than their parents? The law did state, however, that should the above mentioned parents and masters grow lax in their responsibility and their children not be able to meet basic criteria it would be the government's right to remove the child from the home and place him or her in a place where he or she could receive adequate instruction."

I do believe we're doing a good job with our children. They are more that sufficiently literate for their tender years. Not only do they read and write, but they're beginning to THINK for themselves. They're social, they're active, they're involved in their community, and they love learning. What more can we ask?

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