A college diploma. Passing scores on a state mandated test. A teaching license. What do these three things have in common? Each one is required for employment as a teacher in an American public school classroom. Frequently, teaching candidates must also pass a series of job interviews and an examination of a professional portfolio showing best practices in the classroom. It appears to be a daunting task to become a public school teacher.
Even with all of this required education and testing, school systems nationwide have problems. In fact, some have severe problems, problems that homeschooling families wish to avoid and problems that homeschooling critics wish to ignore. These problems are well documented in print and visual media, on-line, and over the air waves. No matter how many times we hear that US schools are dropping in the rankings of schools world-wide, we hear homeschooling critics insist that all children should attend public school.1 No matter how many stories we hear about middle school and high school students distributing nude photos of girls via cell phones and school laptop computers, we also hear public educators raise concerns that home schooled children are not properly socialized.2 It does not matter how many teachers make the list of sexual predators who have raped students,3 opponents of homeschooling seem more concerned about what happens within the walls of a home school than what happens within the walls of our nation’s public schools. Inherent in the desire to shine light into the houses where homeschoolers reside is the belief that there is something evil that must be exposed. In short, no matter how poorly public schools perform, supporters continue to believe that those public schools are head and shoulders above any other choice.
While problems exist, the vast majority of our public schools are safe. The majority of our public school teachers are dedicated professionals who truly believe in helping children. A student who attends classes each day, works attentively, completes her homework, and studies hard can receive a good education. The difference between students who fail and students who excel is often their parents. It is true more often than it is not that parents who are actively involved in their children’s lives - who instill the value of a good education and force their children to work hard at their studies - are the parents of successful students. Strong, effective parenting can mean the difference between students who do drugs and those who do not. An involved parent can make the difference between a student who distributes pornographic pictures of herself to her friends and a student who does not. Homeschooling is an excellent example of active parenting, and the results of study after study reveal that homeschooled children outperform their peers on academic tests at all levels. Homeschoolers typically give up a second income and many luxuries in life in order to provide a high quality education and sound instruction in morals, values, and faith. Homeschoolers choose to do this while paying taxes to the public school system and asking for nothing in return, except to be left alone to pursue their academic freedom.
A question remains in the great debate between those who would abolish home education and those who support academic freedom. Why would citizens who support public education deny the freedom of home education to their fellow citizens, when the home educators do not harm them in any manner? Sonny Scott, writing in a Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal article titled, “Home-schoolers Threaten Our Cultural Comfort,” offered one good reason why homeschooling is disliked.
Why do we hate (or at least distrust) these people so much?
Their very existence represents a rejection of our values, and an indictment of our lifestyles. Those families are willing to render unto Caesar the things that Caesar’s be, but they draw the line at their children. Those of us who have put our trust in the secular state (and effectively surrendered our children to it) recognize this act of defiance as a rejection of our values, and we reject them in return.
Sometimes reality is difficult to accept. Parents who see the failing state of public education yet place their children in that system anyway see a homeschooler’s rejection of public education as a judgment of their values. Parents who see instances of sexual abuse in their schools and still choose to send their children to those schools see a homeschooler’s rejection of that option as a judgment of their parenting. The public school teacher who hears home educators say, “No thank you, we can do it better at home,” hears a rejection of his or her professional competence. And what makes that rejection even more offensive to the teacher is that it comes from individuals whom they consider grossly unqualified—parents who are not tested, not certified, and not licensed by the state. The success of homeschooling is a mirror which reflects the state of public education to the greater community. It is no wonder that so many people want to break the mirror. It is easier to ignore a problem than to turn an introspective eye and correct what needs to be corrected.
More than ever, homeschoolers need to stand firm in the defense of academic freedom. We need to fight to protect homeschooling as an option for all Americans. While doing so, we must meet our detractors with grace. We must listen to their arguments with love. Our communities are hurting. We must assure them that while we may not agree, we respect their right to educate their children as they choose. All that we ask is the same in return. We should be allowed the freedom to educate our children at home.
(Permission to reprint Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo, Miss.)