This just in:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SACRAMENTO – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced today that the California Department of Education has completed a legal review of the February 28 California Court of Appeal ruling regarding home schooling. O’Connell issued the following statement:
“I have reviewed this case, and I want to assure parents that chose to home school that California Department of Education policy will not change in any way as a result of this ruling. Parents still have the right to home school in our state.
“Every child in our state has a legal right to get an education, and I want every child to get an education that will prepare them for success in college and the world of work in the challenging global economy.
“As the head of California’s public school system, I hope that every parent would want to send their children to public school. However, traditional public schools may not be the best fit for every student. Within the public school system there are a range of options available. Students can take independent study classes, attend a charter school, or participate in non-classroom-based programs. But some parents choose to send their children to private schools or to home school, and I respect that right.
“I admire the dedication of parents who commit to oversee their children’s education through home schooling. But, no matter what educational program a student participates in, it is critical that the program prepares them for future success in the global economy. I urge any parent who is considering or involved in home schooling their
children to take advantage of resources and support available through their county or district offices of education.”
I kept wanting to write a real post about this topic, but I got busy. I’ve been fielding a lot of questions offline, though, from concerned friends.By now I think most people have heard the background of the appellate court ruling that addresses the legality of homeschooling in California, but there is a lot of hyperbole and misinformation swirling around out there. There is cause for concern, but not panic. No laws have been changed. This court’s interpretation of state education statutes is dramatically different from the interpretation applied by thousands of homeschooling families for many years, in cooperation with the state Department of Education.
The case involves a family in which the father is accused of abusing the children. In the lower court, the children’s representatives sought a ruling that would require the family to put the children in school. The lower court ruled against this because of, according to the appellate court’s published ruling (link opens a PDF), “its belief that parents have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home.”
The children’s representatives appealed the case. The appellate court disagreed with the trial court’s interpretation of the law.
California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children….It is clear to us that enrollment and attendance in a public full-time day school is required by California law for minor children unless (1) the child is enrolled in a private full-time day school and actually attends that school, (2) the child is tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught, or (3) one of the other few statutory exemptions to compulsory public school attendance (Ed. Code 48220 et seq) applies to the child.
Let’s come back in a minute and look in more depth at those “other few statutory exemptions” and the private-school option. But first some general words about the issue. It is the opinion of the appeals court that this family did not meet any of the conditions quoted above. As this court interprets the law (and it is important to note that the court based much of its opinion upon a 1953 court case, which is to say a case that predated the movement for freedom to homeschool by decades), no parents currently homeschooling under the “register as a private school” option are in compliance with state law unless the parent holds a “valid teaching credential for the grade being taught.”
The court’s interpretation of how families can work with Independent Study Programs (ISPs) also differs dramatically from the common understanding held and applied by hundreds (thousands? I don’t know the stats) of families across the state.
That’s why this case has caused such a furor. The appellate court’s ruling speaks not just to the situation of this particular family (and by all accounts it is a bad situation), but it makes a broad statement which would seem to apply to a huge number of families across the state who have been happily homeschooling with a good-faith understanding that we are in compliance with state law.
But there is no need to panic. The HomeSchool Association of California and the other state homeschooling associations (I’ll add links later) are working together with excellent legal representation to make sure the rights of parents to educate their children as they see fit are protected.
The best option appears to be petitioning the court to have the ruling “depublished” so that it is binding only for the family in the specific case but would be removed from public record.
The California Homeschool Network blog reports:
CHN and HSC are in contact with law firms who are interested in helping defend our freedoms in California. Because HSLDA has members in CA, they are also doing the same. Individual briefs will likely be written, and requests to “depublish” the report will be submitted. If the depublish requests are successful, it would be removed from public record, and would not be cited against homeschoolers. We think there’s an excellent chance that it will be successful, but if not, we’ll continue to defend homeschooling in other ways. All groups are opposed to legislation, unless there is no other option.
You may have heard that HSLDA is circulating a petition for people to sign in support of depublishing the ruling. While I hope the depublish request is successful, I do not encourage the signing of this petition, for reasons well articulated by homeschooling advocate and watchdog Larry Kaseman in his letter to Wisconsin parents:
HSLDA has gotten involved and is circulating and strongly urging people to sign a petition addressed to the California Supreme Court. WPA suggests that homeschoolers NOT sign the petition for several reasons, including the following:
– The major California homeschooling organizations, including those that are religiously based, have not called for signing the petition. In fact, there is concern about possible backlash if lots of people contact the court. WPA has consistently argued that homeschooling issues in a given state should be addressed by homeschoolers in that state and has opposed intervention by “outside experts.”
– Because HSLDA is not a party to the case, it does not have the authority to submit the petition and signatures to the California Supreme Court.
– HSLDA has a history of inserting itself into highly visible court cases. When the cases have been decided in favor of homeschoolers, HSLDA has tended to take undue credit. Many more of the cases have led either to a decision that limits or undermines homeschooling freedoms or one that leads to legislation that regulates homeschooling strongly and unnecessarily.
I heartily second the concerns about HSLDA’s involvement. As I said on Maureen Wittman’s blog, I would advise anyone to do a great deal of digging and research about the things HSLDA lobbies for before making a decision whether to give them money and support. This organization’s push for writing homeschooling into federal legislation could, many people believe, wind up having negative ramifications for all homeschoolers down the road.
As for all of us California homeschoolers, life is going on as usual for now. There was a flurry of panic last week, much of it fueled by the alarmist rhetoric of a WorldNetDaily article.
There is no reason to panic, but it is important to stay informed. Read the court documents and follow the updates at CHN.
One thing this case ought to do for all of us in this country, homeschooling parents or not, is provoke serious thought about exactly what compulsory education is and why we, as a nation, have written it into our laws. Do you know the history behind compulsory education? Do you know what your state laws are, and how they are enforced?
I’m glad to be a California homeschooler right now. I don’t think there’s going to be a fight, but if there is—if citizens are faced with defending their rights to make decisions about their children’s education—I want to do my part. For nearly a decade now I have been enjoying the freedom secured by parents who came before me, parents who fought hard to protect their right to educate their children at home.
I have lots more to add here, including links to other coverage and a look at the California Education Code, but my time is up for now. More later.
Good info at HSC.org.
I always appreciate it when someone who isn’t familiar with the real whys and hows of homeschooling takes the time to try to get a handle on the subject. That’s what Elizabeth of Table for Five has attempted to do, after encountering a few of us wacky homeschooling folks here in the ClubMom blogroll. Since Amalah linked to Elizabeth’s post and mine in her roundup today, I thought I’d further the discourse by responding here.
I don’t know why this topic gets me so worked up. Whether or not someone Homeschools their kids has no bearing on me, or my family at all. I just know that whenever I read a description that starts with “So and so is Homeschooling her four children…”, I wonder, why?
I could write a book in answer to that question, but for now, I’ll restrain myself and just give the short answer: Why not?
It’s a great way to live. We’re just like other parents: we want our kids to be happy and informed and decent and pleasant to be around. We want them to grow up to be good people who can take care of themselves and others, fulfill their obligations, love and be loved, and enjoy the work they do to earn a living or care for a family. And, having pondered and researched, we’ve come to the conclusion that home education is the right way for our family to pursue those goals.
Sometimes it strikes me as funny that in many fields (business, technology, medicine, to name a few), the ability to think outside the box is seen as an admirable quality, an asset; but people who think outside the box when it comes to educating their children are often viewed with some suspicion.
Amalah jokes about skeptics assuming homeschoolers “are turning their children into anti-social, overly-sheltered hermits,” and joking aside, I think that’s actually quite an accurate characterization of the skeptics. A lot of people do think that. It’s a misconception that makes some of us chuckle as we watch our children run around with a passel of (not necessarily homeschooled) kids at the pool, the playground, the dance class, the karate class, the soccer team, the…you get my drift. I’ve talked about this before. Most homeschooling bloggers have, at one time or another.
But I appreciate Elizabeth’s openminded attitude. She acknowledges that she “didn’t realize how many different alternatives there are to traditional schooling” and seems to be making an honest effort to educate herself about the possibilities. I think the huge range of options often comes as a surprise to people. A lot of folks hear “homeschooling” and envision dining rooms converted to mini-schoolrooms, with a cursive alphabet poster above the chalkboard on the wall, two or three little desks in a row, and a big round clock ticking off the minutes as Mom (that’s Mrs. Mom to you, kid) gives a spelling test. And that scenario does exist, in some homes—but it is just one of myriad possibilities, and probably not a common one, truth be told. An awful lot of homeschooling happens on the couch, in the garden, in the car, at the concert, in the kitchen, at the museum, in the library, across the dinner table, at the beach. We are out and about; we’re busy in the world; we’re learning from doing and digging and smelling and reading and encountering. We are mix and match; we are taste and see; we are get your hands dirty; we are amble and dash; we are show and tell; we are watch and listen.
Elizabeth mentions a few of the many educational methods—Charlotte Mason, classical ed, correspondence schools, Montessori—and there are of course many other options as well. I’ll return to this topic in a future post. For now I want to focus on some of the other questions Elizabeth raises.
…I do have to question whether or not the education a child receives as a result of some of the more alternative methods of homeschooling will translate into an ability to handle college, or life in the working world. Should a child really be allowed to decide for themselves how and when to study, or whether to study at all? What happens when they get to college? I know none of my professors ever wanted to “observe” me and then allow me to choose for myself what to study. Won’t these kids have a hard time transitioning into a set schedule of classes and subjects?
It sounds here as if Elizabeth is referring to unschooling, which is a hard word to define but generally boils down to allowing kids to follow their own interests rather than telling them what they must learn when. Unschooling generates a lot of controversy even among homeschoolers; many structured, scope-and-sequence-following homeschoolers express the same concerns as Elizabeth. Unschoolers have thoughtful, reasonable answers to these concerns, and they have practical evidence of success as well. Autodidacts do very well in college because they enjoy learning and are used to taking responsibility for their own education. Nowadays, many college admissions offices recognize that home-educated kids make exemplary college students: they are eager, articulate, and self-motivated. Also, one mustn’t assume that an unschooler never encounters a schedule or classroom until his first day of college: these kids are taking classes at community college during their teen years; they are doing internships or volunteering at the the animal shelter, the newspaper, the nursing home, the ballet studio. They are running their own landscaping businesses and home bakeries. A non-traditional schedule doesn’t mean they don’t keep any schedule at all. Giving a person freedom to choose how he will spend his time doesn’t automatically mean he will waste it—far from it.
And what happens when they get their first job? Are there employers who give their employees a choice of which report to write first, or whether they should return a client’s phone call or take a walk outdoors first?
Well, yes. Lots of them. All the employers I’ve ever known actually preferred their employees to be self-motivated, to be able to juggle a variety of tasks without being walked through every step. As a staffer at Random House and HarperCollins, I had a big ole pile of work—manuscripts to read, reports to write, cover copy to write, filing to do, writers to call, copies to make, galleys to proof—and my boss sure didn’t tell me what order to do them in. That was part of my job: knowing how to prioritize. And how about now? My job is to hit my deadlines. No editor is looking over my shoulder, tsk-tsking when I leave the computer to play Scrabble with my kids. Or how about my mother? She works out of her home office for a company in another state. She can decide when to call the client, and when to take a walk. As long as she meets her obligations, everyone’s happy. Self-motivation, like innovative thinking, is an asset.
What I find most interesting about concerns like those Elizabeth has shared is that the doubts about the wisdom of home education seem to contradict themselves. On the one hand, there is the worry that the parent is too controlling, sheltering the children from contact with different ideas; and on the other hand, there is a fear that the children are not controlled enough: they are given too much freedom to choose their activities or structure their own time. Perhaps the reason such self-negating concerns arise within a single mind is because there are so many ways to educate a person, so many ways to live. And most people’s concerns do seem to have more to do with social and cultural matters than educational issues. Almost everyone acknowledges the advantages of one-on-one or small-group learning experiences. No, most people’s misgivings are about social issues that really have more to do with parenting styles than instructional methods. In any event, I think open and rational discourse can lay such misgivings to rest, and so I appreciate it when people like Elizabeth ask questions and go looking for the answers. If there’s anything a homeschooler approves of, it’s autodidactism.
Updated: The discussion continues in the comments—some great stuff there, like this remark by Julie:
“What I think helps me understand educational choices the best is trying to get behind the criteria we use to make those choices. If we believe that we aren’t naturally inclined to learn, won’t be interested in science or math unless someone requires it, if we see foreign language as a college prep hoop to jump through rather than for the joy of speaking to natives of that language, or if we consider mythology and classic literature too difficult and boring for the average kid apart from requirements, we will think homeschooling a risky proposition.
“However, if we begin by examining all the things we eagerly learn as adults, how we teach ourselves about politics, religion, cooking, gardening, accounting, writing, painting, parenting, biology (sex and child bearing), and more due to our keen interest and time to learn unhurriedly, we might be able to trust or imagine that kids would flourish if given a similar opportunity with involved parents who invite the world into their homes and share it with their children.”