In a previous post I reviewed Perry Glanzer’s robust critique of Rob Reich’s argument for increased government regulation of homeschooling. This post reviews Reich’s response to Glanzer titled “On Regulating Homeschooling: A Reply to Glanzer” published in Educational Theory 58, no. 1 (2008): 17-23.
Reich begins by thanking Glanzer for his accurate summary of Reich’s position and makes note of the many matters of principle the two share, especially that Glanzer seems different from some homeschooling advocates in that he does acknowledge that the State and child have legitimate educational interests just as parents do.
In my previous post I noted that Glanzer made two basic arguments against Reich. First, he argued that the burden of proof ought to be on the State to prove that parents aren’t doing their job rather than on parents to prove that they are. Second, he critiqued Reich’s notion of childhood autonomy as fuzzy, developmentally inappropriate, and incapable of evaluation (he also noted that public schools don’t necessarily foster autonomy any better than homeschooling).
Reich here takes on Glanzer’s burden of proof argument, leaving aside (conceding?) the autonomy issue. First, however, he makes the overarching point that all of his policy recommendations were and are “tentative and provisional” and thus he welcomes Glanzer’s critiques and is even willing to admit that he might be wrong on some details. Reich is more than willing to entertain alternative proposals that, for example, help ensure that children are being exposed to a wide range of ideas, but Glanzer provides nothing of the kind. All Glanzer does is critique Reich. Reich is willing to be critiqued, but he’d like some alternatives as well.
That said, Reich proceeds to defend himself against Glanzer’s burden of proof argument. Glanzer had claimed that homeschooling should be treated like child welfare–parents are left alone unless clear evidence of neglect of abuse arises. Reich, in contrast, thinks homeschooling and parenting are not the same thing and should not be evaluated by the same rules. He recites the language of the famous Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) and Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) Supreme Court decisions, both usually taken as clear statements of parental rights to keep kids out of public schools, but both of which also clearly state that Government has a right and responsibilty to regulate all schools. Unlike parenting, “in the case of schooling, reasonable regulations are constitutional and do not demand any proof of educational misconduct.” For Reich the role of providing formal education for children, unlike parenting, is “a privilege, subject to regulation, rather than a right.”
Reich concludes with material that will be familiar to readers of the anthology Homeschooling in Full View or the collection At Issue: Homeschooling, which I reviewed here. He repeats his claim that we don’t really have any reliable evidence about how well homeschooled kids are doing, or, indeed, even about how many kids are actually being homeschooled. Homeschooling parents need to be held accountable at least to minimal academic standards. This was not an argument to which Glanzer had originally replied, but it has become Reich’s favorite. Here it leads him to offer a more modest set of policy proposals where he is less concerned with using regulation to make sure homeschoolers learn about cultural diversity than with using it to ensure basic literacy and numeracy.
Two things strike me as worthy of note in this piece. First, it showcases again Reich’s admirable openness to dialogue. As I mentioned in a previous post, readers of Reich will note a gradual softening of his position on homeschooling regulation over time, a softening that has come from sincerly listening to his critics. This piece, in its willingness to forego the autonomy debate and to narrow his regulatory concerns to the minimally academic, is a further evolution.
Second, this piece clarifies in my mind where the real debate lies. Most homeschooling parents would be shocked and outraged by the claim that the education of their children is not a fundamental right but a privilege granted them by the U.S. government. Christian homeschoolers especially hold it as foundational that the education of children is a responsibility given to parents by God Himself in the Bible. That there are precious few verses in the Bible about this theme hasn’t stopped homeschoolers from repeating those there are over and over, making them the foundation of their educational philosophy.
Is Reich correct in his assertion that American law and jurisprudence make a clear distinction between teaching and parenting? I don’t think so. His distinction makes sense logically and could eventually become the basis upon which a future Supreme Court decision is based, but it is not a distinction you can find clearly articulated already in case law. So we have two real issues to resolve here. First, does the U.S. government make a distinction between parenting and teaching such that parenting is fundamentally part of the “right to privacy” but teaching is a power granted by the State and hence subject to State regulation? And secondly, if the answer to the first question is yes (which I’m not sure it is), what does this do for arguments that teaching is a responsibiltiy given by God to parents in the Bible? Worst case scenario is that Reich is correct and Christian homeschoolers are correct in their Biblical exegesis so we have a clear contradiction between American law and the Bible. When that happens things often get very ugly. The current political situation has nothing like the clarity we have reached in this discussion. But if there were to be, say, a Supreme Court decision that upheld some state’s regulation of homeschooling on grounds similar to those Reich employs, I can imagine a reaction from many conservative Protestants every bit as aggressive as that created by the famous prayer and bible reading decisions of the early 1960s.