Homeschooling – Illegal in California?

Homeschoolers in California and across the United States are reeling from the ruling of a California appeals court declaring that state law requires parents to send their children to full-time public or private schools or to have them taught by credentialed tutors at home. This ruling has the potential to affect more than 150,000 children. Their parents can now be prosecuted for truancy violations.

What began as a child welfare dispute over an allegation that two children’s education was being neglected by their parents has now turned into a battle over all homeschooling. The appeals court’s decision was based on a California law which has not been ruled on since the 1950’s and, unless the law can be changed, it has the power to ban homeschooling in the state.

You will find good coverage of the issue in this San Francisco Chronicle article, and I have no doubt that eyebrows are being raised everywhere over the following statement, made by the ruling judge, Justice H. Walter Croskey:

“A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare.”

To those who regard themselves as free people in a free country, sentiments like the above have an unpleasant and invasive sound. The Chronicle article received an astonishing 1,396 comments from the public at last count, and rather than suggest you read them all, I’ve selected a handful that span a wide range of reactions:

From Gleeful and Insulting…

“What these podunk schools and home-teachers are doing to their kids amounts to
child abuse. So I am ECSTATIC over this ruling. Excellent. And way overdue. I know some kids who are being CHEATED by their parents, and it bugs me. They finally have to comply with a law. I am extremely pleased.”

“It’s a slippery slope to let parents, even with the best of intentions, make such
long-ranging decisions that are ultimately not beneficial to the child.”

To Frightened, Suspicious and Outraged…

“So if I’m a poor person in Compton who can’t afford private school, I can’t home school my kid. Instead, I must send him to the violence-plagued, gang-infested local school or be thrown in prison. So much for individual liberty and freedom.”

“Children must be indoctrinated in government run schools which is why anyone should’ve seen this coming. Homeschooling is a direct threat to the propaganda factory which is the public school system. They’re fascists and they’re coming for your kids.”

“The “State” is one step closer to obliterating freedom in California. How dare these
intellectual snobs presume that parents can’t raise their kids without the intervention of the state! This country was based on personal freedom, and the assumption that you were innocent until proven guilty. California has flipped both of those principles, and we are one step closer to totalitarianism.”

To Exasperated…

“My wife, a Mensa member, and I have a combined 4 college degrees, ranging from English to Engineering, and yet according to California we are less qualified to teach our children than some mediocre public school teacher because we don’t have a certification? Arnold Toynbee said, ‘Civilizations die from suicide, not murder’, and he was so right.”

To Hands-On and Action-Oriented…

“My grandson is home schooled, his test scores have gone from average to the highest level the federal government gives for his grade. All of this has been done WITHOUT a teaching certificate, and was a decision we were forced into because our local school system refused to curb the violence on our playgrounds. After the 5th week of my grandson coming home with marks on his body from the same student, we said enough is enough. It was the best decision we could have made.”

“While it is interesting to read the different points of view, the fact is that it is the law. If you want to home school your child, get a credential, or hire a credentialed tutor. If you don’t like the law, work to change it.”

“Ok, all you public school advocates, here is your reading assignment for the weekend: John Taylor Gatto – Dumbing Us Down. It’s a short paperback, will cost you only $12, and unless you’re a Teachers Union official it should open your eyes just a wee bit so you can see the evil forces behind compulsory school education.”

California’s Public Schools are Ranked Among the Lowest in the Nation

In the 2005-2006 period, California was given a Smartest Schools rank of 46th. Despite being one of the wealthiest states, both funding and test scores are lower than those of nearly all other states in the nation. For a California judge to rule that a smart and caring parent isn’t going to be able to offer their child more than the public school system strikes me as either an act of ignorance or one of madness.

This case revolving around potential neglect of two children should never have been broadened to pass judgment on the quality of all homeschooling efforts. The old law that has made this possible clearly needs to be changed. I know that many homeschoolers in California are working diligently to change the law, and Governor schwarzenegger has pledged his support for overturning the ruling. However, while this law remains in place, it is easy to discern that there are two motives for keeping it intact. The first has some merit, but the second represents a serious disservice to children.

1) Some parents do keep their children out of school out of intentional neglect. In dysfunctional homes, a child may suffer greatly if the parent is able to hide behind a pretense of homeschooling. Adults and educators who fear that children may become the victims of abuse and deprivation if the system does not enforce mandatory public or private school attendance for all Californian children do have their hearts in the right place. Unfortunately, there are many parents in our society who are not mentally or emotionally equipped to care for their children in even the most basic ways, let alone being able to provide for their intellectual needs.

However, I see this unfortunate situation in the light of a lack of powerful child welfare programs rather than as an educational dilemma. Comparing a child from an abusive home to a loved child who is being homeschooled is an insult to the thousands of parents who have arranged their lives so that they can be their children’s primary educators. It is grossly unfair to tar all non-public-school families with the same

2) The less praiseworthy motivation for keeping children in public schools is monetary. Public school funding depends largely on keeping kids in those desks, so attendance becomes a crucial focus rather than the well-being of children. This is an offense against the worth of children, many of whom will be far better served in the care of their parents rather than in that of a system that equates minors with money earned.

What Does it Mean to be Free in America These Days?

Many parents homeschool their children for religious reasons. Is it right for the state to strong-arm the church in this way? Other parents view the epidemic of public school violence with horror and keep their children at home because they fear physical harm will come to them. Is it right for the state to take away parental rights to protect their own progeny? Still other parents disagree strongly with comments like those of Justice Croskey. Like Dr. Montessori, they believe that the purpose of education is to produce a happy, healthy child who loves learning. Not loyalty to the state. Not patriotism.

Maria Montessori was exiled by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini because she refused to mold her children into Italian patriots and good soldiers. She discerned that doing so would be evil because it equated children with a commodity destined to be at the disposal of an unethical government. If the homeschool parents of the state of California believe that their basic rights are being violated by this ruling, the time to fight it is now. They will be in good company.

Did any of you feel alarm when you read about this case? If so, are you going to do anything about it? Please share!