The Washington Times
January 28, 2001

Home Is Where The Accountability Is, By Thomas Washburne

By Thomas Washburne
The Washington Times*, B4
January 21, 2002
*Attorney Thomas Washburne is the director of the Home School Legal Defense Association's National Center for Home Education

A myth, at least as old as the era of big-government itself, is that more government means more accountability, better service and greater security. "Government knows best" is the unspoken theme of this myth, and no matter how much evidence the rank-and-file citizen sees to the contrary, this myth is continually spread by those who can profit from it, be it monetarily or politically.

Recently, the myth has cropped up again in the public debate over the value and wisdom of parents educating their children at home. This despite the fact that home-schooling has found increasing favor in the eyes of the public. A recent Gallup survey found that nearly half of Americans view home education positively, a much higher percentage than previously recorded. Even national media outlets such as Time magazine have been willing to say some good things about the results of home education.

The proof of home-schooling's academic value is evident to the public in the form of college entrance statistics and standardized achievement test scores. The social viability of the home-school movement, despite myths to the contrary, is being proven one family at a time as our young people interact in community settings and the labor force. Yes, home-schooling has never been so accepted since its revival in the 1960s.

But a recent New York Times article by Richard Rothstein reflects a mantra still sung by big-government proponents and the education establishment. The article implies that home-schooling is lacking in accountability because the government is not there to run it. The argument is that home-schooling families provide an inferior brand of education because they don't have government oversight the way public schools do. Let me put it another way, critics say parents cannot be trusted unless the government is monitoring them.

It challenges the mind to determine which of many obvious shortcomings in this argument one should rebut, given the state of the government-monitored education system. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), however, is not in the business of using its resources to trash public education. While a concern about certain aspects of public schooling is implicit in most parents' decision to begin home-schooling, and we question the constitutionality of the federal government's role in education, we recognize there is little to be gained by beating up on the public education system. The fact is, most children are educated in public schools, and we want the best for all children.

In answering this accountability myth, it is right to point out that the so-called accountability provided by the government must not be particularly effective, given the low performance ratings of so many of so many of our public schools today. This low performance is reflected in test scores, literacy rates and overall preparedness for the labor force as stated by employers and universities. Politicians know they have a resonating issue to talk about inadequacies in school facilities, teacher-to-student ratio and safety. They know this because they know parents know this. All of this has taken place under the rather dogged oversight of the government.

The myth that only the government can hold one accountable strikes at the very heart of the American republic. Our founders set up the American form of government to depend upon self-governing individuals, not a "big-brother" government. Put simply, the founders knew that if liberty was to flourish, there must exist a system of self-government, might we say individual accountability, that would uphold society's basic social structures. Without such reliance, the liberty in our American system could not exist. The replication of basic self-government would require a massive government involved in the most basic decisions of everyday life. In regard to families and education, the founders knew that responsible parenting would be the key accountability agent in producing the next generation of Americans.

They knew this because since the foundation of the world parents have been charged by their Creator with raising their children with the highest possible standards. Indeed, the faithful nurturing of children is a foundational aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The liberty to exercise these religious beliefs is a foundation of our society and government.

A casual examination of the home-school community will indicate that home-school families by and large take accountability and self-evaluation very seriously. Home-schooling parents are dedicated to seeing that their children learn. Even as HSLDA fights to protect home-schools from the dangers of compulsory federal testing, home-school families are very apt to be testing their children with any number of standardized tests available to the public. It is important to remember, the families are doing this because they want to educate their children better, not worse. Children educated at home are held directly accountable by their parents each and every day.

The opponents of home-schooling may not consciously be opposed to our American heritage of self-government and liberty. For much of the opposition, the issues are really money and jobs. The government's reach into the education universe has brought thousands of jobs to the bureaucratic realm. Similarly, teachers unions are determined to preserve funding and positions sustained by the concept that government-controlled, public schooling is the norm. This is the real fuel that feeds the impugning fire of questioning home-schooling's effectiveness, and the issue of accountability.

Taking away their government mandate threatens their political-economic arrangement, and for their hierarchy, that is unacceptable. And that is no myth.

Copyright 2002 News World Communications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times.
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