n the early 1980s, home school parents had to possess bold courage, a rugged pioneering spirit, and sacrificial commitment to providing the best education possible for their children. They also lived with a realistic fear that at any moment authorities might appear at the front door challenging their right to home school.
Back then, most school officials would tell you that home schooling was simply not legal, said Michael P. Farris, HSLDAs president and founder. But an avalanche of legislation and litigation has changed the landscape forever. From 1985 on, home school freedoms steadily gained ground across the country as three to four states each year changed their laws. Every state in the union now recognizes home education as legal. Some local school authorities disagree, but this number continues to decline. Consequently, most court battles have shifted from defending the basic constitutional right to home school to proactively protecting hardwon freedoms.
The last fifteen years of the home education movement testify that God has been our ultimate advocate and protector. As Farris described the experiences of HSLDA members, No parent has ever been convicted and sent to jail. No parent has ever been effectively stopped from home schooling. No children have ever been removed from their home. A few (mostly in North Dakota) have been convicted, paid fines, and then continued to home school. That is a record for which no lawyer can take credit. We have to give the glory where it belongsto God.
Preparing for the Battles of the 21st Century
The right to home school is based on two fundamental principles of liberty: religious freedom and parental rights. Whenever one of these two freedoms is threatened, our right to home school is in jeopardy. Here are the battles we think home educators will be facing as we enter the next century:
Defending the Front Door
Some mechanisms designed to protect children from abuse and help hurting families actually end up traumatizing the very group they are intended to defend. One of these mechanisms is the child abuse system. All it takes is an unsubstantiated anonymous tip to start an investigation which could end up tearing an innocent family apart. Although in 1997 two federal judges in two separate cases ruled that the Fourth Amendment, which protects every citizens right to be secure in his own home, applies just as much to child abuse investigators as to any other government official, HSLDA expects to see thousands of confrontations between home schoolers and child abuse investigators in the years ahead.
If you spank your kids, if you have a different philosophy on immunization, basically if you do alternative anything to what the politically correct mainstream child-rearing experts have declared as best for your kids, youre asking for an investigator at the door, said Mike Farris. The ability of the public to make anonymous tips combined with enforcement agencies that regard home schooling and religion as risk factors to children is a mix that seriously threatens family privacy and parental rights.
While HSLDA believes that true child abusers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, we stand behind the constitutional right of loving parents to be secure in their homes. Because of inconsistent application of the child protective services (CPS) laws, added HSLDA Vice President J. Michael Smith, we expect continuing litigation in an attempt to clarify and establish Fourth Amendment protection for families who are under investigation for child abuse and neglect allegations. HSLDA will continue to take the offensive and file suit against social workers and police officers who have entered homes without the consent of parents and without probable cause, on a case-by-case basis.
True family advocates need to work to outlaw the use of anonymous tips. People should be able to make reports on a confidential basis, but the social worker, police officer, or judge involved should know who their informant is. If a person really cares enough about children to make a report, he or she should be willing to give his or her name on a confidential basis to the authorities, Farris concluded.
Fighting State Regulation
As society continues to demand public school accountability and expanded government services for the family, home educators can expect more efforts to regulate rather than to blatantly repeal our rights. Home visits, written reports, day and hour requirements, curriculum reviews, and other tools will be employed by regulators in this struggle to determine who is really in charge of the children.
For the first time in almost ten years, a number of states are considering stricter home school monitoring. The home school movement has grown big enough to be on every school board members and every state legislators radar screen. And some of these officials, responding to fears or rumors about parents who may be neglecting their childrens education, are tempted to overreact by placing more severe regulations on the 99 percent of home schoolers who are doing a great job without any help from the government.
In Parham v. J.R., the U.S. Supreme Court said that parents are presumed to act in the best interests of their children. The state should not pass laws against those who are acting in the best interests of their children just because a small minority may be abusing those freedoms.
Protecting Parental Rights
Home schoolers have helped usher in a new era of awareness of parental rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has always upheld traditional parental rights in cases such as Pierce v. Society of Sisters. Trampled on by lower courts for the last twenty years, parental rights are crying out for protection. And Americans are listeningMichigan, Kansas, and Texas have already passed Parental Rights Acts (PRAs), and a number of other states are considering similar measures to codify parents God-given rights to direct the education and care of their children.
HSLDA believes that home schoolers need to be on the offensive legislatively. We expect to see PRAs sweep across the country in the next few years.
Clashes over Curfews
Historically a tool of martial law, curfews are now being wielded by some local governments as truancy prevention ordinances, not merely affecting the small percentage of truly truant students, but trampling on the freedoms of all school age children. These intrusive ordinances essentially make it a crime to be a child in a public place during public school hours. They violate the fundamental right of every American citizen to travel freely without fear of unreasonable search and seizure. And home school students face particular discrimination under these regulations because their school schedules and locations are not limited to traditional school classrooms.
With HSLDAs help, home schoolers have successfully opposed daytime curfew proposals in several municipalities, but other cities have enacted curfews in spite of citizens objections. HSLDA filed a court case in 1997 on behalf of four families in Monrovia, California. Under Monrovias daytime curfew, children from these home school and private school families were stopped and detained for questioning on more than 20 occasions while on legitimate errands. The outcome of this case will have a material impact on this long-term battle.
Regaining and Restoring Religious Freedom
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court struck religious liberty a stunning blow. The Court ruled in Employment Division v. Smith that religious
liberty was no longer a fundamental right. Religious liberty could be used as a defense in combination with another right, such as parental rights or freedom of speech, but no longer were American citizens guaranteed freedom of religious conscience. In response to this devastation of First Amen-dment freedoms, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and President Clinton signed the act, better known as RFRA, in late 1993.
Defying the balance of power set up by Americas Founding Fathers, the Supreme Courts 1997 majority decision in City of Boerne v. Flores declared RFRA unconstitutional. The Court said that our elected officials cannot guarantee our rights at a higher level than the Court defines as the constitutional minimum, so the constitutional minimum for our rights has become the maximum as well. The Boerne decision dealt a tremendous blow not just to religious freedom, but also to our system of self government.
HSLDA believes that the best strategy to restore religious liberty and self government would include passing a constitutional amendment, limiting the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and even advancing state-level Religious Freedom Acts (RFAs). Home schoolers need to watch this battle carefully since religious liberty is one of the pillars of our right to home school our children according to our God-given convictions. The fight has only begun.
Defeating National Test Development
Achievement testing is in essence the back door to curriculum control. Testing laws often unfairly require home educated students to take standardized tests which do not match their curriculum and which are increasingly laden with politically correct questions. Although the testing regulation battle has been waging for years at the state level, now the issue is advancing to the federal level.
Responding to public demands for accountability from the nations deeply flawed public school system, President Clinton has determined that existing private tests, such as the Iowa and California Basic Skills tests, which are available and administered across the nation, are not good enough for Americas children. Instead, the chief executive believes that all students need federally developed and funded national tests in reading and arithmetic for fourth and eighth grade students. Although these new tests are purported to be voluntary, what will keep this federal experiment from following in the footsteps of Social Security, highway speed limits, and other
federal programs now permanently connected to funding mandates? And even government education officials have observed that national testing will inevitably lead to a national curriculum. Home educators will need to resist this invasion tooth-and-nail.
Exposing a Trojan Horse
In the past, groups serving public education, such as the National Education Association and Parent-Teacher Association have openly opposed unqualified and unregulated parents teaching their children at home. Now, theyve found that public schools can gain thousands of dollars in funding plus control over home educators by convincing families to enroll their children in part- or full-time public school services. Already, some home educators have found that, once enrolled with the public school system, they are considered part of the public school and restricted from purchasing religious curriculum, even with their own money. Home schoolers need to be alert and aware.
Averting International Threats
So-called child advocacy groups, such as Childrens Defense Fundpart of the it takes a village to raise a child establishmenthave begun to use international bodies, like the United Nations, to gain more control over the worlds families. Intrusive international domestic policy agreements such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child would undermine American family freedoms and our system of self-government. A mix of nationssome headed by elected officials and others headed by tyrantswould set U.S. family policies.
To prevent these international forces from controlling our nation through the back door, its imperative that in the next five to seven years we pass the American Sovereignty Amendment. This legislation will prevent international law from trumping U.S. domestic law and limit international law to its legitimate sphere: areas like trade, high seas, piracy, and international air space.
Victories Ahead: Hope for a Bright Future
In spite of regulatory threats, the future of the home education movement is bright! The ranks of home schoolers appear to be increasing by 15-20% annually. A growing body of research provides evidence that home schoolers across the board are doing an excellent job of educating their children. Home educated children, on average, score 20 or more points above the national average on standardized tests. In fact two statesArizona and Nevadarecently eliminated their testing requirements for home schoolers based on such track records.
State organizationsmany of whom are also celebrating their fifteenth anni-versaries this yearare becoming broader in their scope of service. In addition to providing a network of basic information and sponsoring conventions and curriculum fairs, the state groups are organized to act legislatively and to offer extensive educational and extracurricular opportunities.
A flourishing home school curriculum market reveals a wealth of talent and creativity. New curricular packages and supplemental materials abound, expanding the possibilities for targeting specific learning needs and enriching the overall learning environment.
Special needs or handicapped children benefit greatly from home schoolings one-on-one tutorial method. New research is supporting HSLDAs experience that parents occasionally coached by an expert achieve much better results for many special needs children than institutionalized education, but we foresee ongoing political and legal battles in this arena.
God has blessed the home school movement with favor in the political sphere. As home educators have become more organized, they have been able to exert significant influence in legislative battles from local to federal levels. Elected officials are impressed by the great sacrifices ordinary parents are making to teach their children, and they listen to our concerns.
Rapidly advancing technology has literally opened the door to the world to studentsfrom government town hall meetings via satellite to research at university libraries across the globe to actual college degree courses, a home schooler with a computer has practically limitless resources just keystrokes away. Of course, families can just use a computer for teaching aids, learning games, and to keep the encyclopedia and dictionary on CD-ROM.
As home educated students multiply, the public is realizing that such young people are far from isolated or academically deprived. Whether winning the Scripps Howard spelling bee national championship, playing in the National Football League, or simply making solid contributions to their own communities, home schoolers are proving the value of their education and the investment their parents made. Gradually, the media has also traded their suspicions for fair, and often positive, coverage of home schoolers.
Most importantly, the time, energy, and loving sacrifice that we are investing in our children is reaping rewards which cannot be measured. We are witnessing the beginning of a second generation of home educators as our students graduate and establish their own families. Unencumbered by many of the educational traditions that bound their parents, the potential for achievement for the next generation is unlimited. We are only beginning to see the tremendous impact that our children will have on the world, and we confidently believe that they will be the leaders of tomorrow.
Yes, there will be battles, but the future is bright!