The Bryant family of Waltham, Massachusetts has run afoul of the law. Their crime is so heinous that the state’s Department of Social Services, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has been given legal custody of the children. They have not, however, been removed from the Bryant home. The crime: the Bryant children, homeschoolers, have refused to take an exam the Waltham Schools Department has told them they must take.
Homeschooling in Massachusetts has always been a risky business. Each school district in that birthplace of the American Revolution creates it’s own home education policy. School districts often threaten homeschooling families with stringent requirements, and outright rejection of homeschooling plans. Ordinarily, however, a few calls from a knowledgeable attorney will straighten out the overanxious educrat.
This has not been the case with the Bryants, who have been battling with the City of Waltham for six years over their right and responsibility to exert control over the education of their own children. I like to air just a few thoughts on the Bryant case which can be applied to the general case for homeschooling.
According to the landmark legal case referred to in Massachusetts as the Charles case, school systems and homeschooling families must agree on a method of evaluation. Evidently this is not the case in the Bryant situation. The Bryant children, George (15) and Nyssa (13), are refusing to take the tests. According to published reports, the Bryant children told their father, “They can't order me to think; that's my intellectual property.” So the city decided to impose their own method of evaluation.
Another thought to be considered is the fact that homeschooling children have demonstrated an ability to shine on standardized tests. Numerous studies show these students doing considerably better on all standardized tests than their government-schooled counterparts.
Not only that, but the stakes would evidently be much higher for homeschooled students who did poorly on standardized tests. When government educated children do poorly on such examinations there are, effectively, no consequences. No teachers lose their jobs; no students are expelled. That would be the ultimate irony — sending them home. In the case of the homeschool families, however, there is always the threat that if they don’t do well they’ll be sent to school.
Rousas J. Rushdoony addressed this issue well when testifying in a Texas court in 1987. Asked, “Do you have any objection to testing to determine the results of home education,” he responded with an answer which would serve us well today. He said, “I would be very much in favor of it if the same tests were applied to public school students and the schools shut down if they determine that the schools were inadequate.”
Another factor to be considered in this debate is the fact that high schools in Massachusetts do not confer diplomas on homeschooled students. They wish to control the curriculum and the method of evaluation, but even if those hurdles are nimbly cleared, the expectation of a credential at the end of the course of studies is too much to ask. It’s not like the homeschoolers need the state-sponsored diploma. Home-educated students manage to get accepted to just about every college and university to which they apply.
Radio talk shows in Boston were buzzing about this topic last week. Interestingly, several people called and described themselves as being associated with Catholic schools or “independent” schools. Firmly establishing the fact that their own students aren’t required to take standardized tests — and shouldn’t have to — each went on to claim that homeschoolers should be forced to take such examinations. “It’s a matter of qualifications,” each stated.
This brings us to the most important factor in the entire debate. The state has no right to decide who is qualified to teach our children. Children, contrary to 40 or 50 years of socialist propaganda from the teachers’ unions, do not belong to the state. Children are a gift of God.
Ephesians 6:4 teaches, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” This verse is specifically addressed to fathers, Christian heads of covenant households. They (we) are responsible to see to it that children are brought up in an atmosphere of godly learning. They are to receive training and instruction in the Lord. This is a parental responsibility.
Historically, this instruction has been carried on in the home, although in some families tutors may have been employed. Society and government have changed so much that today we are made to feel that we must delegate this responsibility to others. The big yellow school bus has become a vehicle of more import than simply transportation. It has become a symbol of an American rite of passage. To some, however, it has become a symbol of state-sponsored tyranny.
No matter how we choose to carry out the mandate to educate our children Biblically, it remains our responsibility, not the state’s nor the school’s, nor the church’s. In this day in which we, more often than not, send our Christian children to schools outside our homes, the Biblical mandate remains. What this calls for is cooperation between the sending parents and the authority to which they have chosen to entrust a portion their responsibility.
The Bryant family has chosen the hard road. They have stood their ground and let it be known that they will follow the Lord. May their tribe increase.
- Curt Lovelace
Curt Lovelace is a small town pastor and a student of history. He has finally moved to Maine where, when asked if he would like to declare a political affiliation on his voter registration card, he politely declined.