Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Homeschooling in Danger?

There's a great article in First Things entitled "The Freedom to Homeschool." (I highly encourage a read; it's actually short.) What I found most egregious about this article was not anything in its writing, but the comments. Many of the commenters seem to believe that because they have met inept homeschooling families, that the State should step in - y'know, save us all from awkward social interaction! 

Nothing like a Gosling meme to get things started...

I thought I would post some of my thoughts on homeschooling as well as some of my concerns with State regulation of home education. State-run education has become something of a joke in my mind, to be honest; as a graduate of a public high school (albeit some 10 years ago) and with my mom a public high school teacher, I feel my interaction with the system is adequate to form an opinion. Public schools here in Florida function as babysitters. Once in a while, there is a match made in heaven when a competent teacher is given students who are interested in the material and have a good support network; most of the time, it is the less fun match of a competent teacher with completely unengaged students, or the abysmal pairing of an apathetic teacher and a buzzed-out student body. I see public schools as largely a last resort, whose harmful effects can be partially mitigated by highly involved and motivated families. 

As a gal who was homeschooled myself and plans to homeschool my own children, I have to say that homeschooling is indeed a precarious right. Homeschoolers often face nosy neighbors that call DCF because they notice the children aren't attending public school; they are the subject of suspicion by many in government authority. Many are threatened with the loss of their children for perceived "negligence" that really functions as mere pretext for government punishment of their education choices. We certainly experienced this.

And my parents weren't religious. They were secular hippies, who wanted their children to develop their imaginations - not exactly the incompetent zealots of leftist nightmares.

I would say "my poor parents!" but they were always pretty much loners among parents...I don't think the years have really changed much. 

All these anecdotes concerning homeschooled children are besides the point. At issue is not whether anyone thinks homeschooled children are weird or "poorly socialized"; I am sure everyone can agree that there are odd ducks in every educational institution. The question is, do parents have the right to educate their children and if so, how much that right is subject to regulation by the state?

In theory, I agree with state regulation of home education. In practice, there are many potential problems. The government has its own interests; I am not entirely sure we can trust it to be looking out for the best interests of children. Governments, by their nature, want to increase their power, and that means their control over its citizens and their pocket books. This applies to all levels of government, but the federal government is truly out of control in its mad grab for power. Now, through its overbearing and unnecessary Department of Education, the fed frequently coerces state action and standards in regards to education - actions and standards that may not work in all states at all times. States must be free to set their own regulations for education because few things are as personal; states have varying educational needs due to huge differences in population size, demographics, and taxing structures, to say nothing of the actual desires of their citizens. I really wish former President Reagan, RIP, could have completely dismantled the DOE; as it stands now, it's a pointless drain on our stressed out federal budget. With any luck, candidates Ryan and Romney will have the stones to do it. 

Furthermore, the state (by this I refer to nation-states, meaning any level of government in a sovereign nation) is by its very nature slow moving, and its regulations overly-broad. It is not an entity given to narrowly tailored regulations with appropriate exceptions and expediency of process. We all know this; we know this because of our experiences with any number of government entities - the DMV, the Dept. of Children and Families, the court system, applications for state/federal aid, student loans, or public services such as utilities. When a violation of a regulation is charged, getting it resolved often costs great time and money, and in the case of parents and children, it doesn't matter if the parents are found to be in the right in the end. Government workers are famously devoid of compassion, common sense, and any level of efficiency - which prolongs an already arduous process. Vindication then comes only after the total desecration of any normal family life for an indeterminate period of time, possibly even years.

It is for these reasons I am in favor of home education that is entirely unregulated by the federal government and regulated only very narrowly by the State, with narrow powers of punishment at their disposal. State regulation is a tool citizens should be very careful in using in matters that require delicacy and discretion, such as this; it is a that is tool is blunt and inexact, and once invited in, is most assuredly there to stay, long after it has outlived its usefulness.

1 comment:

Comments make me feel like I'm not just talking to myself or the government (because I know the government secretly reads my blog). Help me feel less crazy - comment away!