Last week an appellate court in Los Angeles County handed down a ruling that may criminalize homeschooling in California. As a homeschooling father of six, this troubles me. My main opposition, though, comes from my experience as a public high school teacher.
Last week an appellate court in Los Angeles County handed down a 3-0 ruling that may criminalize homeschooling in California. As a homeschooling father of six, this ruling greatly troubles me. My main opposition, though, comes from my experience as a public high school teacher.
Let me explain. One of the main reasons we homeschool is socialization. When I was a student in public school, I was talking to my peers about sex by sixth grade, and that was several decades ago. Now, I teach in an inside-the-D.C.-beltway high school. When I walk through those hallways, I hear cursing and insults; I see teenagers flagrantly violating rules about cell phones, iPods, and hats; I observe boys using physical threats and intimidation against others — especially against girls.
This is where children get "socialized"? In what other period of their lives will they interact near-exclusively with people whose birthdates fall within 364 days of their own? In homeschool, they interface with brothers and sisters of different ages, with grandparents, with guests — all while still playing with friends their own ages in co-op, cub scouts, CCD, and play dates. When we go out, strangers sometimes observe that our children are especially polite and friendly. To me, that’s proper socialization, and hope for the future.
Here’s another reason why the California ruling is so egregious. The school where I teach, until recently, missed the government’s "Adequate Yearly Progress" goals several years in a row. We, as the teachers, were partly to blame. (Of course the fault can also go to students’ home lives, the media, the budget, and so on; but the fact is, some of our teachers are doing poor jobs. I’ve seen it at my school in numerous classrooms, and some days I’m even guilty of it myself.) What California’s courts just did is ensure that those parents who are trying to get their students out of a poorly performing school can’t do so unless they can either pay private or parochial school tuition or qualify for a scholarship.
So what strategies are administrators directing teachers to implement to help students improve? There are several:
- Differentiated Instruction, or adjusting one’s instruction to the level of individual students of different performance levels within a classroom.
- Schools-within-a-School, or keeping a specific group of students together throughout different classes in order to build a sense of community and shared purpose.
- Mentoring, where teachers are encouraged to form personal relationships with specific students so that they have an adult at the school who cares about more than just their academic performance.
- Smaller Class Sizes, as students simply don’t learn as effectively when they’re surrounded by 30 peers.
My children at home already receive all of these benefits — personalized instruction, a solid community, a caring adult, a low student-to-teacher ratio — simply by being homeschooled. This California ruling moves students away from homeschooling, just as the latest educational reforms are endorsing the unique strengths of home education.
If the court’s decision holds, the possibilities are grave. Germany has already outlawed homeschooling, a ruling the European Court of Human Rights has upheld. It’s not impossible that other states will follow Germany and California’s lead; quite often, all it takes is one judge to "pass a law" in these times.
Especially dangerous is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is a treaty approved by every UN member except the United States and Somalia. This Convention was cited by the German high court in their decision to ban homeschooling. If this treaty were to be approved in the United States, the results could be wide-ranging. According to the U.S. Constitution, a treaty trumps every other kind of law, short of the Constitution itself and its amendments.
In other words, even if every state had in its constitution language expressly permitting homeschooling, and the United States further had a national law protecting it, a court’s interpretation of the UN Convention, simply because it’s a treaty, could ban homeschooling nationwide. It’s imperative, therefore, that we must never ratify this Convention. (The Convention on the Rights of the Child, I should note, is a particular favorite of presidential candidate Sen. Hilary Clinton, and we would be in particular danger if she were elected).
Our family homeschools as a response to God, and the Church teaches that parents have the primary right to homeschool their children (found in Canon Law and Familiaris Consortio). We know that not all families are called to do so, but we prayerfully believe that we are. Were homeschooling to be banned, we’d be prohibited from carrying out God’s will for our family, and that is a violation of our rights ("the freedom to do as we ought").
The legal fallout from the California case is still to come, but we can make a few predictions. Court decisions always embolden activists. Just as the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s 2003 decision on gay marriage led to additional lawsuits and "civil union" laws, the decision in California could cause other groups to initiate lawsuits and create new laws to "regulate" homeschooling. The politically shrewd California Teacher’s Association has already announced its support for the ruling, with one board member saying simply, "We’re happy."
There is some cause for hope: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has come out on the side of parents, saying, "This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights then, as elected officials, we will." Is he right? Time will tell.