I have written on home schooling before, see “Is home schooling just one more form of child abuse?” (August 21, 2008) and “No standards, no tests, no ranking, no problem!” (March 12, 2012). As dire as the situation exists in this state, where the home school industry operates absent a whit of regulation or oversight, it seems to be getting as bad in other states as well. Just recently, the Pennsylvania legislature, bowing under intense lobbying from an outfit called the Home School Legal Defense Association, has approved a package of amendments to its education code which essentially exempts this dangerous movement from any accountability to the state at all. I’ll get to some of these changes in a moment but consider these statistics as a warm-up to the topic.
- 11 states do not require families to register with any school district or state agency that they intend to “teach” their children at home;
- 14 states do not specify any subjects that the family “teacher’ must provide instruction thereon;
- only 9 states actually require the “teacher” (usually a parent) to have, at the very least, a high school diploma or the equivalent before they instruct their children;
- over one-half of the state do not require children who are taught at home to undergo a standardized test in order to judge minimal competency in core subjects or to be subject to any form of formal outside assessment.
The depressing news is that this cultish movement is growing in numbers. Researchers have known for some time that home schooling was utilized by many who were motivated by their fundamentalist religious convictions. But now, the increased numbers seem to suggest that many misguided parents are opting for home schooling so to escape what they see as the tyranny of Common Core, new academic standards adopted by some 40 states. In fact, according to the most recent federal statistics available, the number of school-age children who were home schooled in the United States in the academic year of 2011-2012 was close to 1.8 million, up from the estimated 1.5 million just five years ago. And the highest concentration of home-schooled children can be found - you guessed it - in the South and Southwest. Nevertheless, that 1.8 million is nothing more than a figure reached by extrapolation since a number of states, Texas among them, that do not even require that families register with a school district or a state education agency.
So, what exactly did the Pennsylvania legislature do in response to the massive lobbying effort of the Home School Legal Defense Association? Essentially, it removed the requirement that families submit a “portfolio,” as well as results of standardized testing in the third, fifth and eighth grades, to the state education agency in order to determine if minimum goals were being reached among these unfortunate children. The new laws allow the parents to “certify” that their children have completed high school graduation requirements and issue homegrown high school diplomas without any outside assessment, endorsement or scrutiny. And the Home School Legal Defense Association, like any fanatical organization, isn’t satisfied with that. As succinctly stated by Dewitt T. Black III, senior counsel: “What we would like is for there to be a total hands-off policy.” This organization raised close to $10 million in the twelve months leading up to March of 2013 so you can get an idea of the muscle and lung power it can marshal in various state legislatures across the country. For the record, Utah, Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota have either eliminated requirements that parents file any kind of documentation of having complied with minimal requirements or are considering legislation which will eliminate same.
I emphasize that I refer to these unfortunate children because they are truly innocent victims here. These kids have no choice in the matter and certainly no choice over the kind of education they receive at the whim of their misguided parents. Just as no one gets to choose their parents or the circumstances of their upbringing, these kids have no option when it comes to the methods of education. What’s disturbing about the recent growth in this social phenomenon is its seeming proliferation outside the social strata to which is has been traditionally confined for so many years. Home schooling in its early days evolved from the rejection of established scientific theory as taught in public schools, a rejection founded on Christian fundamentalism. It seemed to have a few set characteristics - children of white lower middle class compelled to “attend” home schools run by disaffected parents who, on the whole, lacked college or graduate school educational experience or degrees. The curriculum consisted of vague, non-specific courses blandly labeled “math,” “science” or “history” with a heavy emphasis on fundamental Christian dogma. There was a strong aversion to periodic testing and peer ranking. But now this profile includes parents from upper middle class strata motivated not so much by religious conviction as by an innate suspicion of state oversight and insistence that students demonstrate minimal skills in reading comprehension, science, math and English. The movement has also reaped the rewards from more benign coverage in the media which has de-emphasized its connections to the sovereign citizen subculture.
None of this is good news because it perpetuates what can only be deemed child abuse. Secondly, anyone who believes in this hooey is in effect pilfering a child’s natural-born curiosity by exposing him or her to this toxic, home-brewed amalgamation of religious bigotry, irrational distrust of mainstream educational principles and inferior instruction. If you actually buy into someone like Rick Santorum who has actually said that sending off your son or daughter to college is a bad decision because it exposes them to such dangerous, radical ideas like evolution, tolerance, gravity, etc. - well, then I guess home schooling is for you and your child. But I’ll tell you this: if you are home schooling your kid, deep down, he or she wants to go to public school for all the obvious reasons which I need not point out to the discriminating reader.
What strikes me as most ironic is the fact that an irrelevant gasbag like Santorum stands out as the ultimate hypocrite. You know, he made it through Penn State and law school without the process having made a dent into his quaint, backward notions of how his world ought to operate. And don’t think for a single moment that professionals, like Dewitt T. Black III, senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Fund, would condemn his children to home schooling with a non-accredited teacher subject to zero accountability. Nor would the well-heeled hacks in the various state legislatures stoop to such. It’s enough to start a man drinking late at night.