Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category


February 13, 2009 @ 6:02 pm | Filed under:

I have been wanting to blog about the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act for weeks, and especially this week when the law went into effect, but I have very little handsfree time for typing right now (and you know I’m not complaining about that).

But this is a very important and disturbing issue, and if it isn’t on your radar yet, I urge you to read up on the matter. Many used book stores and thrift shops are now throwing out—as in, putting in the trash—children’s books published before 1985 because to sell them would be breaking the law, as of this past Tuesday. Books in the trash is such a horrifying thought I can scarcely type it.

Goodwill stores have pulled all children’s clothing and any other children’s product from their shelves.

Here’s some links to folks who are on top of the issue. I highly recommend exploring their recent archives (especially their posts of the past week) and follow their links to yet more information.


The Common Room


American Library Association

Snopes, I’m sorry to say, is wrong on this one.

A friend just sent me a link to an HSLDA statement from earlier this week which pitches the CPCA’s recently added exemptions to the testing regulations as good news:

Last Friday, the CPSC declared numerous changes in their regulations, including the following exemptions that correspond with requests made by HSLDA in our meeting with Commissioner Moore:

  • An exemption for certain natural materials such as wood, cotton, wool, and certain metals and alloys that rarely contain lead;
  • An exemption for ordinary children’s books printed after 1985;*
  • An exemption for textiles, dyed or undyed (not including leather, vinyl, or PVC) and non-metallic thread and trim used in children’s apparel and other fabric products, such as baby blankets.
  • The exemptions may be a step in the right direction, but that second bullet point makes it clear that children’s books published BEFORE 1985 are not exempt from the new lead testing requirements. Used bookstores, thrift shops, and eBay or other online sellers of books are unlikely to be able to afford to have all their pre-1985 inventory tested. It is, therefore, now illegal to sell children’s books published before 1985—even in your own yard sale.

    This is seriously wrong.

    (Thanks for that link, S.!)

    Updated to add: Here, at The Bookroom, is a thoughtful post responding to HSLDA’s memo.

    California Schools Superintendent Tells Homeschoolers Not to Worry

    March 11, 2008 @ 4:49 pm | Filed under: , ,

    This just in:


    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.”

    Why I’m Glad to Be Homeschooling in California Right Now

    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

    New York Set to Deny Special Services to Homeschoolers

    I meant to blog about this last week but need more time to do some research. I haven’t lived in New York for six years and am not totally up to date on the education regulations there any more. But this recent development shocked me and it most definitely needs to be talked about.

    So I was glad to see that my college classmate Andrea has posted a letter to Governor Spitzer addressing her concerns about the NY Board of Regents and Department of Education’s reinterpretation of the federal IDEA law. Their recent ruling, if you haven’t heard, will deny free, public-school-provided special services like speech therapy and OT to homeschooled children in New York State. These services will continue to be available to children enrolled in public and private schools.

    These special services are paid for by the taxpayers. In other states, the public schools are required to provide the same special services to homeschooled and private-schooled children as they do to public-school students. Federal law mandates this. It is under this law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, that Wonderboy is able to receive necessary speech therapy and audiology services through our local school district, even though we are officially registered as a private school under California education regulation.

    Andrea speaks eloquently to the importance of such services:

    I am not a zealot. I am a concerned parent who, at great personal and
    financial sacrifice, is trying to provide her two, exceptional children
    with the tools needed to become life-long learners and independent,
    creative problem-solvers capable of living their lives to the fullest
    their capabilities allow…This
    act by the NYS Ed. Dept. (revoking services to home schooled IEP kids)
    feels like a slap in the face for families whose financial and emotional resources are already spread thin to breaking.

    Andrea suspects that the policy change has more to do with funding problems than anything else. No matter what the cause, it is hard to believe that the state would choose to interpret the federal law in a manner that excludes homeschoolers but includes privately schooled children. This is stunningly inconsistent.

    Why the Internet Was Created

    July 6, 2007 @ 7:46 am | Filed under:

    So that people like William Kamkwamba could inspire the entire rest of the world.

    This is awesome both in the "too totally cool" sense of the word I absorbed into my pores as a teenager in the 80s and in the old, non-slang sense of inspiring awe. William is a 19-year-old in Malawi, and this is his windmill blog. He grew up in a village with no electricity, in a house lit by pungent paraffin candles. He had to drop out of school for five years because his family couldn’t pay the fees. But just because William couldn’t take classes didn’t mean he stopped learning:

    During that time I decided to try to get as much education as possible
    by reading as many books as I could find. An organization called the
    Malawian Teacher Training Activity (MTTA), a project of USAID
    contributed a large quantity of books to the primary school library
    near my home. I read many of them.  One of the books I read was called Using Energy,
    a primary school textbook about how energy is made. Inside the book
    there were plans for a windmill. I decided to build a windmill to
    provide power for my family.

    Read the rest to find out what happened—and how it came to pass that William is now writing a blog.

    PaperBack Swap Says “Stop the Fires”

    May 30, 2007 @ 6:48 am | Filed under:

    The Missouri bookburning has become even more of a dog-and-pony show. Now the good folks at PaperBack Swap have gotten involved, mounting an effort to douse the fires:

    Of course we were unhappy at the thought of all those books being
    burned! So we contacted Tom to see if he would consider donating them
    to our PBS [Note: that’s Paperback Swap, not Public Broadcasting Service] family. He said that he has had several contacts from
    different groups asking for his books so that they don’t get burned and
    has vowed to select one of the groups to receive them–he hasn’t
    decided yet which one. Of course, we think that he should give all of
    them to PBS!

    To show Club support for the idea, we have started a
    petition from our members asking Tom to let PBS find new readers and
    new homes for these books, instead of destroying them.

    Here is the proposed plan:

    Robert and/or Richard fly
    to Kansas City and rent a big truck. Then we drive it back, heading
    towards PBS headquarters in Atlanta, with numerous stops along the way.
    At each city we visit, we would invite our members to come meet us and
    take as many books as you want. All for FREE!

    It’ll be interesting to see Tom Wayne’s response to this. Is his primary objective to inspire people to read more books, to boost sales, or to garner media attention? And I wonder what other organizations will jump into the ring?

    Burning Books to Make a Point

    May 29, 2007 @ 8:01 am | Filed under:

    A bookstore owner in Missouri is burning his book collection to "protest what he sees as society’s diminishing support for the printed word."

    "This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne told
    spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.

    Strikes me as a little like cutting off your nose to spite your face, but I suppose I see his point.

    Kansas City has seen the number of used bookstores decline in recent
    years and there are few independent bookstores left in town, said Will
    Leathem, a co-owner of Prospero’s Books.

    "There are segments of this city where you go to an estate sale and find five TVs and three books," Leathem said.

    of customers took advantage of the Sunday’s book-burning, searching
    through those waiting to go into the fire for last-minute bargains.

    Bechtel paid $10 for a stack of books, including an antique collection
    of children’s literature, which he said he’d save for his 4-year-old

    "I think given the fact it is a protest of people not
    reading books, it’s the best way to do it," Bechtel said. "(Wayne has)
    made the point that not reading a book is as good as burning it."

    Ah, so it’s not just a protest, it’s a fire sale.

    Do you think Tom Wayne’s bookburning will make people think about how much (or little) time they spend reading actual books? Will any passersby be moved to go home and curl up with a classic instead of reaching for the remote control? Or will they all be looking to see if they made the evening news?

    The Real Cocoa Commotion

    April 26, 2007 @ 7:12 am | Filed under:

    This time they’ve gone too far.

    The FDA is thinking about messing with my chocolate.

    Certain movers and shakers in the U.S. chocolate industry want to

    change the basic formula of chocolate in order to use
    vegetable fat substitutes in place of cocoa butter, and to use milk

    instead of milk.

    The FDA is considering relaxing the current rules that require chocolate manufacturers to use a certain percentage of cocoa butter in chocolate in order to call it chocolate on the package. (Under currect regulations, even white chocolate must contain a certain percentage of cocoa butter in order to be labeled by that name.) This FDA is considering this because Big Chocolate is asking it to. It seems the Grocery Manufacturers Association has petitioned the FDA to change the chocolate standard, and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association is on board. They’re calling the move "thinking outside the chocolate box," according to an LA Times article.

    Hershey Co., which supports the Grocery Manufacturers’ petition, said
    the standards were created decades ago and should be modernized.

    By adopting the proposal, the FDA would be providing "flexibility
    to make changes based on consumer taste preferences, ingredient costs
    and availability and shelf life," said Kirk Saville, spokesman for the
    Hershey, Pa.-based company.

    It’s worth noting that not all chocolatiers are in favor of the move. Some of the smaller manufacturers, such as good old See’s Candies, oppose the change, and they are encouraging consumers to add a voice to the conversation.

    The FDA has been holding an open-comment period this month, and they just extended the period to May 25th. So if you have an opinion, now’s the time to speak up. Personally, I don’t care what they put in their candy as long as the package explains that the brown stuff isn’t real chocolate. I want to know that when I buy something labeled "chocolate," it’s real chocolate, full of cocoa buttery goodness. Do you know—I learned this when I was doing research for The Cocoa Commotion ten-odd years ago—that the fats in cocoa butter are of a sort that causes chocolate to slide over your teeth rather than cling to teeth and cause tooth decay?

    Candyblog, my favorite source of confectionary news, is holding a raffle to encourage people to talk to the FDA. Since the public-comment period was extended by a whole month, I’m guessing that means the FDA is hearing from a lot of consumers on the issue, and that’s great. If you love chocolate, real chocolate, speak now or forever hold your piece of mockolate.