This has been a difficult article for me to write and one I have put off repeatedly. I was asked again today about Charter Schools and I decided it was time I address the issue.
First, and most importantly, I fervently believe parents should be able to determine how best to educate their children. We (not the government) will answer to God for the choices that we make regarding our kids, and, therefore, we should be free to make the one that best fits our family, convictions, and beliefs. That choice can legitimately be public, private, charter, or homeschool. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these options, and it’s up to you to decide where your family fits. In this article I am not looking to argue for one over the other, or to make anyone uncomfortable, but to address my concerns regarding the confusion between homeschooling and Charter Schools.
The survival of the homeschooling movement, from a legal perspective, may come from making a clear distinction between homeschooling and Charter Schools. Choosing to use a Charter is a viable alternative, but it is not homeschooling. This line is becoming very blurred, and I believe this is intentional. It is one way to reclaim lost revenue and undermine the homeschooling system that has developed over the past 20 years and to regulate and control what is taught in our homes. If parents do not recognize the dangers, we may lose our current freedoms.
Like many of you, Charter Schools were one of our options. In my case, I wasn’t just contacted by Charter Schools that wanted me to enroll my sons, but I was also contacted by schools that wanted me to combine Grace Prep with them or who wanted me to teach there. Obviously, there are many financial incentives that would make that very appealing…and believe me, we could have used the money…but we chose to remain independent for a variety of reasons.
At a cursory glance it appears that the government has recognized the advantages of homeschooling and has jumped on the bandwagon by establishing independent study programs and charter schools. These options allow parents to ‘homeschool’ while having the government pick up the tab. It can appear to be a win/win situation. I want to point out some of the ways we, as parents, can lose in this scenario.
Before we go any further, let me clarify my definitions to avoid confusion. Charter Schools are public schools that are funded by the government with tax dollars. When you join a Charter school, you become part of the public school system. While a student in a Charter may be doing the bulk of his/her work at home, he is a public school student. School authorities have the final say and oversight. I am not questioning the value of Charter, Online Schools, or other public school options that allow students to do their work at home; I am simply stating they are not the same as homeschooling and they should not be called homeschools.
Homeschooling, as I’m defining it, means you and your children pick the resources and curriculum you will use. Parents are in charge and have authority and the ability to change the curriculum and schedule at any time, and they pay for their own materials. Homeschools are free and separate from the state system. Homeschoolers have freedom to integrate their Christian worldview into their teaching and to use curriculum that expresses a Christian viewpoint. Traditionally, homeschooling has been defended in the courts under the First Amendment. It is part of our freedom of religion to educate our children in accordance with our religious convictions. Secular homeschooling has it’s place, but it is harder to defend from a legal perspective.
Once a third party starts paying the bills, it’s their schooling not homeschooling. They now have the right and the responsibility to regulate, restrict, and monitor what happens in the homes of those who are enrolled. Tax dollars are being used, and with that many conditions come into play. Now, many of these state-funded educational options are billing themselves as ‘homeschooling’. This has the potential to create a serious legal problem for those homeschooling outside of government programs. We have already seen more of these types of cases popping up.
According to the “We Stand for Homeschooling” website,
The very nature, language and essence of homeschooling are being challenged and even co-opted by a vast array of emerging educational programs which may be based in the home, but are funded by government tax dollars, bringing inevitable government controls….There is the profound possibility that homeschooling is not only on the brink of losing its distinctiveness, but also is in grave danger of losing its independence.
We can see this happening with school board members who refer to these programs as ‘bringing home schooling under the state’s umbrella’. Many leaders within the homeschool movement have worked hard to obtain and maintain our freedoms and are now warning of the danger. As Charter schools become the norm, homeschoolers who resist state regulation will be considered a fringe group. Since public schools have provided the ‘homeschool’ option, many will not see the need to preserve the rights of parents to homeschool independently. Already we see homeschooling undergoing an ‘institutionalization’ and losing much of what made it distinctive and attractive in the first place.
As HSLDA has warned, programs receiving government funding can be (must be) directly regulated by government standards. To date, most Charter schools and all public school independent study programs have been enacted with restrictions regarding religious education. That means it is unethical and possibly illegal for any religious instruction to occur during the process of teaching an academic subject–even in the home.
While many people seem unconcerned by these developments, they should be. Charters have gotten into trouble in the past few years for not abiding by these rules and for misusing funds (eg. allowing parents to purchase Christian curriculum with school monies.) These irregularities could lead to new calls to regulate homeschooling more closely. If the line between homeschool and Charters becomes blurred, it will be difficult to fight those regulating efforts for those of us who wish to remain independent.
At it’s core, homeschooling is about freedom. It is about the right of the parent to be free to make decisions without the interference, oversight, or regulation of the government. Organizations like the Home School Legal Defense Association have fought diligently on behalf of homeschoolers, and because of them we are not required to submit to invasive home visits, standardized testing, or limited curriculum choices. Both in court and in studies, parents have proved they are competent to teach their own children and do not require the oversight of credentialed teachers or government agencies. Our reputation as a viable alternative to government schools has solidified. Homeschooling has not just survived; it has grown and flourished.
As this has occurred, government schools have looked for ways to control what happens within homeschools. HSLDA has, thus far, been successful in their defense of homeschooling. In recent years the attack on homeschooling has switched from a head-on attack, to an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach. By offering financial incentives through Charter schools, the government has made significant inroads into the homeschooling community. Parents are being seduced back into the government system.
Note: Before I continue let me again be clear, I strongly support our public school system. Homeschooling is not for everyone. I know, love, and am related to many dedicated, wonderful public school teachers. The work they do should be applauded and supported. That is not what I am taking issue with. Nor am I taking issue with the Charter Schools: they bring in fresh ideas and approaches that our educational system needs.
I am taking issue with the confusion between homeschooling and Charter schools. They are not the same. Besides the legal issues this confusion potentially raises for those of us who wish to remain independent, I see several other issues. One of the more disturbing ones is the undermining of parents and parental authority I have witnessed.
Over the past few generations, the boundaries and responsibilities of our public schools have expanded. As parents we have relinquished our position in our children’s lives and have accepted the propaganda that we cannot be trusted to raise, educate, or socialize our children–that we need professionals. Too many of us have become unhealthily dependent on the opinions of ‘experts’ and decisions made by committees of professionals.
If you think I’m overstating the case, consider this: many parents I talk to panic at the thought of teaching their children kindergarten. They have so bought into the message that they honestly feel they are incapable of teaching early elementary skills. Parents believe it takes a graduate degree to teach counting and the sounds of the alphabet. The ramifications of this are staggering.
The control and power this hands over to the government cannot be overstated. Stalin once said, give me your children and within one generation I will control the nation. I am not looking to explore nefarious conspiracy theories, but we have to stop and ask ourselves some serious questions: what is the role of parents in child raising and what is the role of government? To what degree are we ‘handing over our children’ and in what ways is the government sending a message to families that is destructive?
I have found that the marketing for charter schools (beyond the financial incentives) often uses fear to convince insecure parents that the government can provide a ‘safe’ way to homeschool. They will provide a ‘real’ teacher to meet with your child every week, and they will provide a curriculum that meets ‘state standards’. Parents are subtly sent the message that they are not competent and that the overseeing charter will protect their children from them.
Another concern I have is that the homeschooling movement has provided a much needed revolution in curriculum and teaching methods. Some of the most creative and successful options out there have been created by homeschooling families looking for a better way. The movement has been led by passionate, pioneering individuals who have had to fight for the rights we now enjoy. Our passion, vision, and progress have become diluted as the homeschooling movement has grown and expanded. As homeschooling has become more commonplace, many families are entering the ranks without a real commitment to the lifestyle. They are merely recreating school at home–not a bad thing, but not really what homeschooling is about. Complacency has crept into the homeschooling movement.
I am very concerned that we are being seduced into an alliance with government schools that we will regret in the future. I want my children and grandchildren free to homeschool if that is what they want. I want them to be able to incorporate a Christian worldview into their teaching. I want them to be free from the tyranny of standardized testing. I want them to be able to make free choices without government interference. If the current trend continues, the homeschooling ground we have gained over the past decades will quickly erode. We are selling our freedoms for a free computer and some curriculum.