In this third installment I will review chapters 5 and 6 of the anthology AT ISSUE: HOMESCHOOLING
5. Isabel Lyman is a freelance journalist and author of a very good book titled The Homeschooling Revolution, published in 2000. Her entry here was originally published in 2003 in The New American under the title “Keeping Homeschooling Private.” Her basic claim is a couterpoint to that of Rob Reich discussed in my previous post. Lyman believes that homeschooling need not be regulated by government. She doesn’t really offer here any arguments for this position other than the observation that government has more important things to do and that homeschooling isn’t really causing any harm, so why mess with something that works?
Most of her article is a description of what happens when aggressive state legislators try to introduce new regulations. As soon as watchdog homeschooling groups get wind of a new bill, they quickly spring to action with an overwhelming show of force as they lobby, demonstrate, and fill legislative halls to voice opposition to the proposed regulations. Typically, public school people send one or two people to voice support. In nearly every case such bills die in committee.
What Lyman described in 2003 is still happening today. Every year in one or more states there are efforts to increase regulation of homeschoolers. Given the huge emphasis on accountability that has characterized most educational policymaking in the past several decades (and especially since the passage of No Child Left Behind), it is understandable that when legislators become aware of just how unregluated homeschooling is in many places they are shocked and alarmed. It is equally understandable that homeschoolers who enjoy their freedoms rally to fight any infringement upon them. This conflict is one of the classic American political standoffs. Should people be free to do as they please, or are there certain communal standards that must be upheld and enforced by government? Homeschoolers trend heavily libertarian on this issue at least (though many of them are perfectly happy for government to limit personal choices on other matters, especially matters of sexual ethics, mood-enhancing chemicals, and media content). State legislators and public school people trend toward oversight. In my view it is the glory of the American experiment that we all live with these tensions and manage to avoid violent confrontation for the most part.
6. The next chapter is an engaging piece by long-time Arizona school superintendent Bradley K. Barrett, originally published in School Administrator in 2003 as “Why We Welcome Homeschoolers.” Barrett recounts his slow conversion from an opponent to homeschooling to a public school official who tries to build bridges and create partnerships with homeschoolers however he can. He describes how Arizona’s very liberal homeschooling and charter school laws have led to a tremendous exodus of families from traditional public schools. When these families did not return, Barrett began to look for ways to win them back by helping them on their own terms. His school district began to offer enrichment opportunities to homeschooling families–library resources, computer access, classes in such subjects as foreign languages, art, and music, free textbooks. Over time many homeschoolers have moderated their negative attitudes toward public education, and collaboration and good feelings are increasingly common.
What Barrett describes is a growing trend, as the antagonism between homeschoolers and public school people that dominated the 1980s and 1990s is increasingly being replaced by all sorts of hybrids. Resource centers like Barrett describes are increasingly common, especially in areas with such large percentages of homeschoolers that public school finances have suffered crippling blows. Other hybrids include the fast-growing “virtual charter school” phenomenon, the growing participation of homeschoolers in extracurricular activities like school sports, and the opening of “dual enrollment” programs (where high school juniors and seniors take college courses for free) to homeschoolers.
What Barrett doesn’t say is that such programs as these are seen by many in the homeschooling community, especially conservative Christians, as a Trojan horse, as the biggest threat the movement has yet faced. If one takes it as a presupposition that any government involvement with a child’s education is by definition unbiblical, then this reaction is understandable. And it has not helped that the thousands of homeschoolers who have been attracted by government accomodations are now receiving free secular curriculum and resources rather than paying for Christian stuff. But be that as it may, my prediction is that the future will see even more of this cooperative attitude Barrett illustrates here.