Monday, June 02, 2008

Here We Go Again

Friend-of-blogger "Sophia" below gives a link to the little Parade Magazine tidbit flying around the internet right now, which is short enough to give here in its entirety:
Should Home-Schooling Be Illegal?

In February, a California state appeals court ruled that unless parents have recognized teaching credentials, they must send their children to school. The judge, citing a state education law, said that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home-school their children.” Parents and politicians were outraged, and the court will rehear the case this month.

At stake is the education of the 166,000 California children who currently are home-schooled. But the court decision also could influence laws across the country. Nationwide, up to 2 million children are taught at home. Experts estimate that the number is increasing 7% to 12% a year.

“If upheld, the California ruling will send shock waves nationwide,” says Richard Kahlenberg, the author of a number of books on education. He says the case “pits those who believe parental rights are paramount against those who place a premium on well-educated citizens.”

Right now, only six states have strict regulations for home-schooling, usually requiring parents to have their curriculum approved, to show test scores and, in some places, to submit to home visits. Fourteen states, including California, mandate only that parents notify the state of their decision to home-school.

There's an accompanying meaningless poll, already reflecting the widespread dissemination of the URL to homeschool groups across the country.

The article itself is difficult to muster outrage over, as it's obviously just meant to boost traffic to the website. There's a ridiculous little quote implying that homeschooled children won't be well-educated citizens, meant to push buttons, clearly a successful strategy judging by the stratospheric number of comments. As has been observed before, there's no longer a judgment to be upheld; that train left the station when the court decided to re-hear the case, so either this Kahlenberg guy doesn't understand what "uphold" means, or the article writer got an out-of-date quote. And of course there's no reason to think that the court decision would "influence laws across the country," which is presumably why the article writer failed to offer any. (The writer appears to think that "constitutional" in the vacated judgment refers to the U.S. Constitution, which it does not.)

There are some interesting points, though. The mini-article is all over the place, asking in the title if homeschooling should be illegal (no state is going to make it illegal; even the Governator figured out that he better hop right into the fray on the side of the homeschoolers). But the poll only asks if parents should have to be credentialed teachers; and the text itself only seems to appeal to some sort of toughening-up of laws regarding homeschooling in various states deemed too lax. The whole thing has the air of "tell us if you love or hate the idea of homeschooling."

The sweeping question of the title makes me, yet again, despair. Non-homeschoolers worry endlessly about the tiny fraction of homeschooling families: yet the frequency with which it's suggested that the entire enterprise should simply be criminalized is exactly what keeps the HSLDA in business, keeps homeschoolers paranoid, and ensures that no real problems among homeschoolers will ever, ever be talked about openly. And articles like this, even though they're clearly just meant to increase traffic, contribute to the idea that if you don't like what someone else does with their freedom, by golly you should make sure it's taken away from them.

The comments boxes contain the usual silly comments and generalized arguments from anecdote on all sides. It's interesting to see how often "they're hiding child abuse" and "they should be made to have teaching credentials" rear themselves. There's a good discussion of them both at Principled Discovery, including the impact of credentialing on the likelihood of abuse. Well worth reading.

After a few hundred (thousand?) outraged comments, the whole thing will blow over. Until the next opinion column. My friends, I think our time is better spent preparing lessons.


Blogger mrsdarwin said...

pits those who believe parental rights are paramount against those who place a premium on well-educated citizens

A false distinction, if there ever was one. As if parents who want a say in their kids' education were determined that the education should be a poor one!

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the majority of home-schooled children get better educations than their public school counterparts. But it is also a fact that many people who homeschool their kids should not do so. A few years ago I was peripherally connected (via a girlfriend) to a little independent fundamentalist church that had a high number of homeschooling families, motivated far more strongly by fear and paranoia of "godless secular schools" than any real concern about their kids' learning. I saw some real horror stories among those poor, miseducated kids, and wide-eyed acceptance of six-day creationism was far from the worst problem. Kids who after three years of homeschooling were now reading three years behind their grade level were typical.

If government has any responsibility to ensure that its citizens are educated, then legislatures need to provide some level of accountability to homeschoolers. What should that accountability look like?

10:26 AM  
Blogger Sophia said...

Thanks for writing a blog entry about this. I knew I could count on you for your objective analysis of the situation. In the back of my mind, I instinctively knew that this was nonsense to bring traffic to the website. And even though I know the right to homeschooling is not truly threatened by articles like this, it is still upsetting to me that this is in a national "magazine" that is read by millions. It is sad.

Well, I hope you and yours are having a great summer!

3:52 PM  

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