The Washington Times
February 28, 2004

Washington Times Op-ed – Over-Regulation Threatens Freedom

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Most people are concerned about the nation's education system. How is America going to compete in the 21st century if it doesn't have a highly educated work force? Will a new generation have an accurate picture of the Christian influence on the founding of the nation?

Even if someone does not endorse homeschooling, most people recognize that the average homeschooler succeeds academically. In addition, as more people meet and work with homeschool graduates, the greater the understanding of the benefits of homeschool socialization.

Homeschoolers mix with a greater number of age groups and avoid the negative peer pressure of most institutional schools. It was no surprise that a study from the National Home Education Research Institute found that homeschoolers were more satisfied with their lives and more involved in the community than the average public school student.

Homeschool success is not a new phenomenon. The vast majority of the Founding Fathers were homeschooled or received private one-on-one tutoring. The advantages of one-on-one tutoring are clear: no distractions and an environment where a child can learn at his or her own pace. So much more learning can take place in the home, which is the main reason homeschoolers score an average of 20 to 30 percentile points higher on standardized tests than public school students.

Despite this track record, several states are trying to regulate homeschooling. Lawmakers from Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota, New Mexico and Oregon have introduced legislation that would severely curtail homeschooling. The main component of these legislative efforts is state testing requirements. Forcing homeschoolers to take state tests means parents would have to follow the state curriculum.

Once a child is following the state curriculum, the only real difference between a home school and a public school is that the parent is providing the labor, rather than a public school teacher. Few parents choose homeschooling to re-create the public school. Rather, parents want to find curriculum materials that are best suited for their child.

Generally, opponents of homeschooling accept the goal of a public school in the home. But there is a significant cost to this type of government regulation. Many homeschool parents may be tempted to choose the public system if they can't homeschool freely. Just the financial costs of educating the estimated 2 million homeschool children in the public system, at an average of $7,000 per child per year, should give most legislators pause. Why would state lawmakers even consider this course of action?

The latest claim of homeschool opponents is that some recent situations suggest that homeschoolers are potential child abusers. It's a spurious accusation that has no basis in fact. This charge has resurfaced because one Florida family claiming to homeschool is being accused of child abuse. John and Linda Dollar of Beverly Hills are accused of abusing five of their seven adopted children.

If the charges are proven true, it is believed by many opponents of homeschooling, a government bureaucracy tasked with investigating and visiting homeschool families would prevent these types of tragedies. Unfortunately, this type of excessive government regulation would do more harm than good. Evil people will go to extreme lengths to hide their crimes.

We've seen the newspaper stories about female teachers who have relationships with their students. An Alabama mother was charged with murder this month after her three children starved to death. The children had attended public school.

Most people recognize that abuse can occur in all types of families, and most agree that the government has a responsibility to find and prosecute child abusers. Regrettably, it is impossible to guarantee everyone's safety. Even if the government hired an army of bureaucrats and put a camera in everyone's home, there still would be abuse.

Our Founding Fathers knew that if government authorities could invade your home for no reason, then freedom would be dead. A free country cannot survive if people are not secure in the privacy of their own homes.

Fortunately, in several cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld parents' rights. Protectors of a free society must be ready to defend the right of parents to home-educate free from excessive government regulation. There is too much at stake to allow overzealous regulators to ruin the gains that have been made for homeschool freedom.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600, or send e-mail to media@hslda.org.