Regulating Homeschoolers

I made the following post believing it was from a publication by Robert B. Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under the Clinton administration. It looks like there is another Rob Reich who is a professor at Stanford and I believe the actual author of the proposed regulations I quoted.

I sincerely apologize to Robert Reich for the mix-up. Although I really wish that I hadn’t made the mistake to begin with, I am glad to find out that these comments were not made by him.

The Rob Reich in this post does not refer to Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Clinton and currently professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

Geeze, I hate having to stand up for the right of religious conservatives to homeschool their kids since I know a lot of them wouldn’t stand up for me, a liberal homeschooler, but the situation isn’t as black and white as some would believe.

Talk To Action | Reclaiming Citizenship, History, and Faith

The homeschooling movement is one of the most disturbing developments associated with the rise of the Christian Right. Even though there is an increasing amount of criticism directed at the Christian Right, there have not been many energetic critics taking on the homeschooling movement.

Let me start by saying that there are lots of people who homeschool and teach a specific ideology. Regulating homeschooling won’t do a damn thing to stop it.

The post has a comment that links to Robert Reich’s chapter on why homeschools should be regulated. I happen to like Robert Reich and generally agree with him but his provisional regulatory framework for homeschooling is for the birds. Or at least it isn’t going to address the problem he sees with homeschooling, it being an illiberal education.

He proposes three basic regulations. The first:

1. All parents who home school must register with a public official. The state needs to be able to distinguish between truants and home-schooled students, and it needs a record that specific children are being home schooled so that its other regulations can be enforced.

Giving Reich the benefit of the doubt, I will take him at his word and interpret this to mean that he thinks homeschoolers should be registered to distinguish them from truant students. Truant students are already registered, that’s what makes them truant. You can just as easily, more so if you think about it, identify what school the kid is supposed to be attending as figuring out is he is a homeschooler.

Don’t they have to contact the parent anyway? Wouldn’t they find out from the parent if the child is supposed to be in school or not? If you can’t trust the parent to state whether or not the child is actually homeschooled, the following two proposed regulations are just as worthless.

Furthermore, I hate to tell you this Robert, a lot of these homeschoolers that you are concerned about have absolutely no qualms about registering with the state. In fact, quite a few of them would think you’re doing them a favor if you implement attendance rules and such to get those pesky unschoolers out of their hair.

2. Parents must demonstrate to educational officials that their homeschool curriculum meets some minimal standard. The minimal standard will include academic benchmarks as well as an assurance that children are exposed to and engaged with ideas, values, and beliefs that are different from those of the parents. For instance, every home-school curriculum should include information about a variety of religious traditions (I believe this should be the case, as well, for public and private schools.) Parents are free to teach their children that their own religious faith is the truth, but they cannot shield children from the knowledge that other people have different convictions and that these people are, from the standpoint of citizenship, their equals.

Well, I live in Texas and I don’t believe that the public schools are required to teach anything about different religion traditions. They may be taught to respect those differences but no one around here really wants to discuss them, that would be going too far.

But that’s not really the point of this regulation, is it? The point is that he thinks someone from the government should certify that a curriculum meets a minimum standard. Again, this is something that liberal homeschoolers would be more upset about than the ones Reich is worried about. Trust me, as soon as there was some sort of “standard,” all the companies that publish homeschool curriculums would ensure that their materials meet those standards.

Big deal.

Because the state will never actually test a student’s knowledge of “pluralism,” it’s happy just to have graduates that can read and write and complete their own tax forms. Can you imagine the state testing public school students knowledge of different religions?

No, what the state will do is test basic academic skills and I assure you that these illiberal homeschoolers will score of the scale. Think about it, they are experts at teaching to the test.

3. Parents must permit their children to be tested periodically on some kind of basic skills exam. Should home-schooled children repeatedly fail to make progress on this exam, relative to their public or private school peers, then a case could be made to compel school attendance. Label this educational harm. (The same kind of educational harm surely exists in some public schools, of course. And this is one reason that I believe parents should have the authority to hold the state accountable for public schools by pulling their children from failing schools and enrolling them elsewhere.)

I love this argument. You will trust parents to make a rational decision to pull the child out of a failing school and enroll them in another school because it is in the best interest of the child. But if the parent chooses not to, the child remains in a poor performing school until society gets around to improving the school. Currently, they get four years. I have a feeling that Reich wouldn’t allow parents four years to show improvement for their children. If they do allow four years, I’m sure even the latest reader or most unschooled unschooler would meet minimal standards.

The only thing regulating homeschooling will do is drive out the growing number of “non-conservative” homeschoolers who keep the homeschool movement from becoming the illiberal monolithic movement Reich and others are worried about. As groups like HSDLA and their “minions” try to keep homescholing pure, they show themselves for the intolerant, totalitarian organizations that they are. And believe it or not, as more “run of the mill” Christians are exposed to their true beliefs of such groups, they are rejecting them. Yes, they are Christians and their beliefs guide their teaching decisions but they do recognize “that other people have different convictions and that these people are, from the standpoint of citizenship, their equals.”

So unless you plan on outlawing homeschooling all together, all your regulations will do is to play to the strengths of those that want to keep homeschooling “pure” for their brand of Christian ideology.

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Comments

I have to wonder what exactly would satisfy Robert Reich’s requirement for exposure to different ideas, values, and beliefs. Would teaching that other religions exist but are wrong count? Most fundamentalists spend a lot of time teaching about why other worldviews are (in their view) wrong. Rather than shielding their children from knowing that other people hold different convictions, they are specifically teaching how to go out and evangelize.

Somehow, I suspect that what Reich really wants is to impose the moral relativism of public schools onto homeschools and private schools too. That would be an infringement upon the First Amendment freedom to worship.

As adults, my offspring will be free to convert to a different religion or to be atheists/agnostics if that’s what they decide. While they are under our roof, however, we are going to raise them in our family’s faith.

Robert Reich should go back to his ivory tower and worry about something useful like how Americans can effectively compete in the world economy!

Thanks for posting. Reich’s suggestions are “interesting” at best. I’m just wondering what sort of regulations he would impose on the private schools that are religious based. To impose teaching different beliefs and values compromises the entire foundation of the school. If someone wants to send their child to a Christian school or a Catholic school or a Jewish school, then that is their choice and that is fine. Why can’t he accept that? And I feel that is entire attitude towards homeschool regulation is based on the fact that he doesn’t like Christians. His has an agenda, like many people, but his suggestions are laughable. If homeschooling was increasing based in another religion, I don’t think he would be writing these types of books.

[...] of political science and ethics in society at Stanford University, has been a long-time critic of homeschooling education. He has written a number of books, essays, and articles arguing against homeschooling and calling [...]

I happen to be Professor Robert Reich. I never made the remarks you are attributing to me. What’s your source?

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