Guest Editorial

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

A measure of success for homeschool?

Did you know that it is considered illegal in some places for a parent without a teaching credential to homeschool his or her child?

I didn't either. But I've been reading about the brouhaha set off by a recent memo from the California Department of Education to all counties, districts and schools. It reiterated the position that parents who personally homeschool their children without supervision from their local school districts are breaking the law: "Homeschooling is not an authorized exemption from mandatory public school attendance."

I know this doesn't affect most parents. We're only too happy to send our children off in the morning to let the professionals take their best crack. But the hard-line stance raises some questions about parental rights:

How does a society balance its own needs against the right of parents to decide what is best for their children? When should the principles of the society take precedence over the principles of the parent?

We accept that the government already usurps parents in certain areas: It dictates at what age a child can work, drink and drive. Yet homeschoolers, to a great extent, argue that the government has no standing when it comes to how and what they teach their children. They say they are best qualified to create a curriculum that suits their child's interests and learning styles and that, in many cases, embraces the parents' moral code. In other words, they alone will define what "education" means.

The government, on the other hand, knows that a democracy survives on the strength of an educated citizenry. This is why the United States, like most civilized countries, has compulsory education. The nation can't leave it to chance that all parents will provide their children with the knowledge and skills needed to become contributing members of society.

The blunt truth is that if children don't have enough education to land decent-paying jobs as adults, the rest of us are likely to bear the cost of supporting or incarcerating them.

The majority of the estimated 850,000 homeschoolers in the United States are thriving, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. These high-achievers obviously are receiving a wonderful education at home.

I applaud parents who want to create a personalized curriculum at home. But what of the children whose parents believe the Bible or the Koran is the only acceptable source of knowledge? What of the children whose parents are too ignorant to understand the necessity of an adequate education? There must be some requirements and accountability. We pass regulations to protect kids from the parents who are irresponsible or indifferent.

Such laws often mean the rest of us have to put up with a little red tape, and so it is with the homeschoolers. It is a price worth paying.