Monday, March 10, 2008

There's No Place Like Home(school), at Least In California

(Completion delayed by a Blogger outage Monday night.)

I'm not sure if I've ever really covered the subject on this blog, but I've never been a staunch defender of homeschooling (I'll explain why in a moment). But still, this L.A. Timesstory was a bit troubling to me:
Parents who lack teaching credentials cannot educate their children at home, according to a state appellate court ruling that is sending waves of fear through California's home schooling families.

Advocates for the families vowed to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Enforcement until then appears unlikely, but if the ruling stands, home-schooling supporters say California will have the most regressive law in the nation.

"This decision is a direct hit against every home schooler in California," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represents the Sunland Christian School, which specializes in religious home schooling. "If the state Supreme Court does not reverse this . . . there will be nothing to prevent home-school witch hunts from being implemented in every corner of the state of California."

[...]The California Department of Education currently allows home schooling 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 does little to enforce those provisions and insists it is the local school districts' responsibility. In addition, state education officials say some parents home school their children without the knowledge of any entity.

Home schoolers and government officials have largely accepted this murky arrangement.

"This works so well, I don't see any reason to change it," said J. Michael Smith, president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Assn.
The suit came out of other legal actions against a set of parents who were accused of abusing their eight children. Here's the key quote:
"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court. "Parents who fail to [comply with school enrollment laws] 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."
Read the whole thing.

Now, as for the reason I'm not a huge homeschooling fan: It's always seemed a bit arrogant to me on the part of the parents if they really think that they have the specialized knowledge to sufficiently replace five or six teachers all by themselves. I just can't get past the "jack of all trades, master of none" idea, and it seems as though some area of the kids' education would suffer in this manner. (And if someone really is that good at teaching multiple subjects like that, why didn't they become teachers in the first place? Share the wealth!) It also strikes me that the parents who often decide to homeschool are the conscientious, driven, involved types--exactly the ones that the public schools need to have around (as classroom volunteers, trip chaperones, arts and athletic boosters, and PTA officers) in order to improve.

Also, having taught, worked with, and even dated former homeschooled kids, one thing stands out: Many of these people have both an extremely narrow and sheltered worldview, and they're also highly opinionated about same. And how do they expect to work with all kinds of people in the so-called real world if they've only experienced a small snippet of it?

But all this being said, I think the California judge is overreacting a bit. If homeschooled kids are spending an appropriate amount of time learning, if they're scoring highly enough on the SAT to get into college, and if they're allowed ample time for social interaction with other kids, the government has no reason to make a blanket ruling like this. Judge each case on its own merits (especially if abuse is suspected), but let's not be in a hurry to paint everyone with the same broad brush.

What is your take on homeschooling? Do you know any homeschooled kids? Were you one yourself? And do you think the California judge went way too far in this case?

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