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Feature Article: Lessons of H.R. 6

Updated March 17, 2007

or eight days in February, 1994, the home schoolers of this nation gave Congress a lesson on the power of grassroots politics it is not likely to forget.
     It began when an amendment was introduced to H.R. 6, an enormous education reappropriations bill, which would have required all teachers in America to be certified in each and every course they teach. (See article on “The Battle of H.R. 6.”) This provision would have encumbered public schools—especially small public high schools. It would have seriously interfered with America’s private schools. But for home schools, the provision was the political equivalent of a nuclear attack. America’s home schoolers astonished Congress with a political counterstrike that was quick, effective, massive, and decisive. There are three central reasons why the home schooling community was able to respond in this manner.

1. Home schoolers were organized.
     The day after Bill Clinton was elected we started getting an enormous number of calls from people who were panicked that Clinton would work to revoke home schooling freedoms. Our response was: “This is not a time for panic but for preparation.”
     Frankly, the greatest danger is posed not by a liberal president’s actions but by liberal congressmen who will be emboldened to attempt legislative maneuvers unthinkable with another in the White House.
     To prepare for any attack by the education establishment and their friends in government, we created the Congressional Action Program (CAP) to assist “just in case” a federal legislative emergency arose. But the real preparation and organizational work had already been done over the past 10 years by state and local home school groups who worked to advance the cause of home schooling freedom. Home School Legal Defense Association and the National Center for Home Education simply built a “federal response network” to network with existing state and local home school groups. The decade of preparation which proceeded this alert was essential in our collective ability to respond quickly and effectively.

2. Home schoolers were educated.
     If we had been required to spend a long time explaining to the home schooling community why teacher certification was a bad idea, we all would have been dead in the water. The first major threat ever to endanger the home school movement came from the laws in a number of states which required all teachers (including home school parents) to be certified.
     One by one, states removed these laws. The last three states to relinquish certification laws created home schooling legends. North Dakota, Iowa, and Michigan were the famous triumvirate of evil for their steadfast insistence on teacher certification laws. Home schoolers around the nation closely followed the Bismarck Tea Party, the DeJonge case in Michigan, and the multiple tribulations faced by parents in Iowa.
     Fighting these battles not only served to educate home schoolers on the substance of the teacher certification issue, it also gave them valuable experience in the intricacies of the political process. For example, home schoolers were well-schooled in the principle that all calls and letters must be polite. The overwhelming feedback we have received from Congress is that home schoolers were incredibly polite, yet very firm. Many congressional offices tried to convince callers that the threat to home schooling was non-existent.
     The reality is that Congress had conducted no hearings on the Miller provision. There was no evidence that a federal teacher certification rule was a good idea for public schools. It is probable that many congressmen never thought about how their language would affect home schools and private schools. But the absence of subjective sinister intentions is wholly irrelevant. What mattered was the legal meaning of the words employed in the act. In all of the cases challenging teacher certification laws which we have handled, there has never been a law which was originally written to apply to home schooling. In every case, a law written to apply generally to all teachers ended up forcing home schoolers into compliance. There are often unintended consequences to legislation. And most home schoolers were smart enough to not be misled by condescending assurances. Moreover, many of the Congressmen making these assertions had not read the relevant provisions, nor had they read the corresponding definitional sections, nor did they have any understanding of the home school law in their states. Indeed, in his speech on the floor of the House, one congressman claimed that home schoolers in Michigan were violating the compulsory attendance law. Most home schoolers knew better than to be led astray by the assurances of “intent” made by people who publicly decry home schooling as nothing more than truancy.

3. Home schoolers acted on their beliefs
     Tens of millions of Americans were concerned about homosexuals in the military. Similar numbers held strong views about NAFTA. Every citizen was directly affected by the Clinton budget and tax increases. Yet, according to some congressmen, many congressional offices received more calls on H.R. 6 than on these other three issues combined. Many others besides home schoolers called on H.R. 6. But everyone recognized that the lion’s share of activity came from home schoolers. Most Americans complain about various proposals in Congress. However, until those complaints are directed into meaningful political action, very little will be accomplished. On Capitol Hill there is now a standing joke: “If you want to defeat a bill on providing foreign aid, call it ‘The Foreign Aid and Home Schooling Regulation Act.’” I have received a number of requests to “crank up” the home school network to pass or defeat many pieces of legislation. As deeply concerned as I am about a broad range of political issues, the HSLDA network is reserved for issues that involve one of three things: (1) bills which directly or indirectly involve home schooling; (2) parental rights; or (3) religious freedom. Home schooling rights are built upon the twin foundations of parental rights and religious freedom, so we must be very vigilant in these areas as well.
     But I must confess that I long for the day in which freedom-loving Americans, affronted by the continual erosion of their liberties in other arenas, will demonstrate the same degree of seriousness displayed by home schoolers protecting their educational liberty. It is my belief that those of us who believe in traditional moral principles have not because we ask not. You all are doing a tremendous job. Just teach your children and neighbors to be organized, educated, and to vigilantly take action on their beliefs and our country will be much improved.


published by Home School Legal Defense Association
Excerpted from the March/April 1994 Court Report

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