The Home School Court Report
Vol. XXII
No. 3
Cover
May/June
2006

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Pre-portfolio Syndrome

We used to have a magnet on our refrigerator that said, “When Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” In my experience, both as a physician caring for homeschooling families and as a father, there are several weeks at the end of each school year when levity is in short supply.

What should be the joyous ending of a long and arduous journey is soured as unhappy mothers struggle to fulfill the state-mandated reporting requirements regarding their children’s educational progress. These requirements are particularly onerous in Pennsylvania where, among other things, the director of a homeschool program is required to provide the school district with a portfolio of schoolwork for each child in the program.

Now my wife is as constitutionally strong as any woman I have ever known. Despite having given birth to our 11 children, then shouldering the responsibility for their care over the last 21 years, she still looks more like my daughter than my wife. She goes about her daily chores with a song and a smile. She cooks, cleans, counsels, disciplines, changes diapers, and oversees the education of our children. She can run a 5K faster than most teens and can pitch bales of hay for hours. She is active in church, writes letters to the editor, volunteers for political campaigns, and fields phone calls from those who wonder how she does it all. But when the end of the school year comes and she must once again justify before the state that we have our educational act together, she suffers from what I have dubbed “pre-portfolio syndrome” (PPS).

Toward the end of each school year, Mary&rsquuo;s normally placid expression is transformed. The ready smiles and easygoing affect give way to a look of determination and stress. She begins to grind her teeth at night. (Throughout our married life, I have observed this to be an accurate barometer of her daily stressors.) Interpersonal relationships suffer. She is sometimes short with the children and with me.

She suffers
from what
I have dubbed
‘pre-portfolio
syndrome.’

Our children’s education also suffers during portfolio season. In the fulfillment of a requirement ostensibly designed to ensure that adequate education is occurring, portfolio paperwork has to trump some aspect of an already fully-committed schedule. Unfortunately, it is often the time-intensive, one-on-one attention Mary devotes to the youngest of our students that gets sacrificed.

How can the furtherance of these burdensome requirements be defended? In truth, nothing can justify state-mandated reporting and its demand on homeschooling parents’ time and energy. The toll on a mother’s mental state, her interpersonal relationships, and the homeschool experience in general far outweighs any potential justification.

Supporters of reporting mandates claim that state review of educational progress is needed in order to ensure that adequate education is occurring. But studies have shown that homeschooled students in states without reporting requirements are just as academically superior to their public school counterparts as homeschoolers in highly regulated states like Pennsylvania.

At the root of state-mandated reporting requirements is the premise that the state and not the parent is ultimately responsible for the education of children. While people claim to accept the principle that parents are ultimately responsible for directing the upbringing of their children, in reality this principle is violated all the time. Hasn’t the state assumed ultimate authority in the realm of education in our country?

It surely has in the realm of health care! If parents dare to disagree with the state in either of these arenas, the legal ramifications can be profound. I am obviously not in favor of parental neglect, educationally or medically. But when loving parents choose to homeschool their children, or choose not to have certain immunizations given to their children, they should not be subjected to incarceration or the loss of their children to the state.

The Constitution is uncomfortably silent regarding parental rights. This is simply because, at the time of the Constitution’s writing, there was a cultural consensus that parents possessed ultimate authority over their children. Now, that consensus is gradually giving way to an “it takes a village&rduo; mentality. The proof of this drift is demonstrated by invasive homeschool laws such as Pennsylvania’s, with its burdensome reporting requirements. Our country needs a constitutional amendment protecting parental rights!

Home School Legal Defense Association has won many battles for parental rights. But the war can only be won when the Constitution explicitly guarantees our right to direct the upbringing and education of our children.


About the author

An HSLDA board member since 1997, Dr. Rodger Sayre is a family physician, and his wife Mary is a registered nurse. They live in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, and teach their 11 children at home. Dr. Sayre received his medical degree from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and maintains board certification in family practice. A Geisinger Medical Group associate with a busy practice in Nicholson, Pennsylvania, he is a member of the Christian Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Sports Medicine.