Aggressive campaigning by homeschooling advocates, plus public reaction to controversial court rulings, against the background of a high-stakes political showdown, may add up to make 2006 a crucial year for the homeschooling movement.
“By now we may have as many as 800,000 families nationwide with homeschooling experience,” said attorney Bruce Shortt, who last summer helped lead a successful drive that resulted in the country’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, proclaiming the need for “an exit strategy” from the public schools. “If we can get these families to evangelize for homeschooling, who knows how many new families they might win over?” Shortt said.
Two court cases in 2005 have some commentators saying that the time has come for Christian parents to remove their children from the public schools.
Finally, the politically powerful teachers’ unions see homeschooling as a threat and are trying to counter it.
“We’re safe for the time being,” Shortt said, “but it always seems we’re one election away from disaster.”
Nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas responded to a decision by a federal judge that public schools in Dover, Pennsylvania, could not present Intelligent Design as a scientific alternative to the theory of evolution — a faith statement that claims life on earth arose and developed by undirected natural processes acting at random.
In a December 27 column entitled “Unintelligent designs” (http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/calthoas/2005/12/27/180389.html), Thomas said the ruling “should awaken religious conservatives to the futility of trying to make a secular state reflect their beliefs …
“Rulings such as this should persuade parents who’ve been waffling to take their kids and join the growing exodus from the state schools into educational environments more conducive to their beliefs.” Specifically, Christian schools and homeschooling.
On December 28 another national columnist, Bill Murchison, also reacted to the Dover ruling (“For the science room, no free speech,” http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/billmurchison/2005/12/28/180478.html). Murchison said:
“As many religious folk see it, witch-hunts for Christian influences are an engrained part of present public-school curricula. Is this where they want the kids? Might private schools — not necessarily religious ones — offer a better alternative? Might home schooling?”
Robert Knight, head of the Culture and Family Institute for Concerned Women for America, also weighed in: “The Dover debacle, like the teaching [of] Islam and the joys of homosexuality in some California schools, and the smacking down of Christmas, should wake up some parents who have been on the fence regarding the need to ensure that their kids get a Christian education,” he said.
The Dover ruling wasn’t the only one to set off alarm bells. J. Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), wrote about Fields v. Palmdale [CA] School District (http://www.hslda.org/hs/state/ca/200511140.asp). In this case, the U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, San Francisco, declared:
“[We] hold that there is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children, either independent of their right to direct the upbringing and education of their children or encompassed by it.”
“Rulings like this one, and Dover, are nothing new,” Smith told Chalcedon. “This problem’s been around for 30 years, and people are just waking up.
“Common schools were created to foster common beliefs. It’s never been about education, but indoctrination.”
Smith wrote, “The moral of the story is there is no place like home when it comes to education.”
Role of the Teachers’ Unions
The National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest teachers’ union, has long been formally opposed to homeschooling. As yet, the NEA’s public strategy is to try to convince parents not to homeschool. See one example from the NEA website, “Home Schools Run By Well-Meaning Amateurs” (http://www.nea.org/espcolumns/dv040220.html). In this piece, homeschooling parents are likened to persons who try to do their own carpentry, plumbing, or electrical work — without knowing how.
“Well-meaning amateurs” should leave their children’s education to “experienced pros,” wrote the NEA author, Dave Arnold. He wrote that homeschooled children will be warped by their experience: “[T]hese parents are creating social misfits” (emphasis added).
Last year, the state teachers’ union spent $56.6 million in California to help defeat four voter initiatives backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/11/02/MNG0DFHNRB1.DTL). That kind of political muscle is bought with teachers’ union dues — public school teachers who are paid by taxpayers.
Beyond a certain point, homeschooling and the teachers’ unions cannot co-exist, Bruce Shortt said.
“The public schools will collapse financially if they lose, rapidly, 10 to 15% of their enrollment,” he said.
The teachers’ unions know that. Their political power depends on collecting dues from millions of members. If declining enrollment forces public schools to close, teaching jobs will be lost and the unions’ political war chest will be depleted.
With Congress up for grabs in this year’s national elections, and the presidency in 2008, the teachers’ unions will heavily support politicians pledged to defend the educational status quo — the public schools.
“That’s the good thing about all the plans out there for school vouchers and charter schools,” Shortt said. “For our purposes, those ideas aren’t going anywhere — but they have the virtue of tying down the resources of the NEA. And that makes us safer.”
National elections are important to the future of homeschooling, J. Michael Smith said.
“There is little doubt that [the Palmdale ruling] usurping the right of parents to control information being provided to their children will be picked up by those that assert that homeschools and private schools have too much autonomy — especially homeschools,” he wrote. “… Legislation could be introduced to require certain content to be taught. That content might include material that is objectionable to parents, including the teaching of evolution for science, sex education for health, and homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle for social studies, all in the name of education.”
Firmly committed to all of the above, the NEA will back candidates who would enact such legislation and appoint federal judges who would uphold it.
A Year for “Evangelism”?
Within the Southern Baptist Conference, Shortt and others have committed themselves to “evangelize for homeschooling” in 2006.
“We’re going to be promoting more homeschool evangelism,” he said. “There are so many families sitting on the fence, wanting to homeschool but afraid to get started. We need to close the deal on those families and bring them in. Within the churches and the various church groups and organizations, we have to socialize with those families, encourage them, and actually help them get started by linking them in support groups with experienced homeschooling families.
“We’ve learned that the easiest demographic to reach is the young married couple soon to have children, or whose children aren’t yet old enough to go to school. It can be hard to convince people to pull their kids out of public school. It’s easier to persuade them not to put their kids in public school in the first place.”
More and more, courts are getting involved in the day-to-day business of public education, suppressing some points of view and promoting others: ruling that Intelligent Design may not be taught, but the homosexual “lifestyle choice” may.
The NEA says Christian parents should leave their children in the public schools. “I admire anyone who has the strength to stand up against the majority,” NEA’s Dave Arnold wrote — quietly assuming that the NEA’s radically secularist worldview represents “the majority.” “But … pulling children out of a school is not the best way to fight the laws that govern our education system. No battle has ever been won by retreating!”
But this battle can be won by retreating, and the NEA knows it.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates 1 million children in homeschooling; HSLDA says the figure is closer to 2 million, and growing. What is certain is that if home education keeps growing, it will someday reach a tipping point where public schools will have to close and the teachers’ unions’ cash cow will run dry.
Will “homeschooling evangelism” make big gains in 2006?
Will the unions’ political allies win enough seats in Congress to put the brakes on homeschooling?
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.