Every author has a bias. Rob Reich, assistant professor of political science at Stanford University, is no different. His bias is the continued development and encroachment of the liberal state upon parental authority to homeschool children without undue interference and regulation of the government. For example, he believes the liberal state should have greater authority to regulate homeschooled children, and thus reducing the freedom and authority of parents to homeschool unencumbered. He writes that “finding ways to draw homeschooling families back to the public school system seems to me a necessary complement to the passage of effective regulations” (Reich, 2001).
He sincerely believes that all three entities—parents, state, and children—have interests with regard to education and that all three entities’ interests can at least to a certain degree coexist, but that the liberal state’s interest in overseeing and regulating home education is necessary in order that certain social goals be achieved. The reader gets the impression that the “wandering” homeschooled child is better off when he/she returns to the public school classroom, under the auspices of the liberal state.
I, too, have a bias, and it is rooted primarily in my interpretation and application of the Judeo-Christian ethic or worldview as it applies to education, and specifically to homeschooling. Second, even though I am professionally trained in political science—a discipline predominantly dominated by academicians who largely identify with theories and policy applications ranging from modern liberalism to Marxism—I am conservative both ideologically and theologically; and thus differ with Reich on several points. Third, I am personally familiar with homeschooling, because my wife and I homeschool our two children. We firmly believe, based primarily upon our religious and pedagogical convictions, as well as our educational philosophy, that the public school system fails to produce quality education for a variety of reasons, including increased professionalization and bureaucratization (Lyman, 1998).
With these personal and professional differences in mind, and for the remainder of this response, I critique Reich’s position, his various points, and conclusion and recommendations, while offering a more positive view of homeschooling, and defending the responsibility of parental authority in determining their children’s educational delivery system.
Testing the Boundaries of Parental Authority
The Crux of the Argument
The family unit, as a mediating structure in society, is critical to the sound development of children’s education and learning experience. Parental authority to determine the right of a child’s education supersedes the “right” of the child’s self-determination—an argument that is further discussed in greater detail below—to govern his own educational experience. This claim is based primarily upon the use and application of the Judeo-Christian worldview and/or projection of biblical principles. Reich’s claim to the contrary is that the family unit, specifically parents and their authority to exercise control over their child’s education, is subservient to the interests and authority of the state–a position that when examined over the last 50 years or so is dangerous to the de-emphasis, even destruction, of the intermediate structures in society, including the family unit (Nisbet, 1990), to the overshadowing of the liberal state.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, professor of philosophical theology at Yale Divinity School, also contends that parental authority is preeminent. He writes, “For I am profoundly persuaded that the right of parents to determine the character of their child’s education is one of the most fundamental of all human rights, more fundamental than the right to free speech” (Wolterstorff cited in Stronks & Joldersma, 2002, p. 213). However, Wolterstorff offers a word of warning to parents: “If parents do not exercise this responsibility…then the control of education will inevitably drift to the state and federal bureaucracies and to the powerful teachers’ lobbies and unions. Where else could it go? Parents will be left helpless” (p. 224). Helpless indeed. Without the sphere of parental sovereignty governing the jurisdiction of education, the liberal state’s overarching power to control and direct a child’s learning impedes the natural process imparted to the parents by divine authority.
Reich’s core argument is that there are indeed limits to parental authority and oversight of their children’s education (2001, p. 4). He does not completely disavow or dismiss the responsibility of parents to exercise authority (i.e., limited authority) over their children’s education, including the use of homeschooling, but he does argue that too little attention from the liberal state over homeschooling results in basic goals not being met, including educational, social, and civic. The crux of his argument is what Robert P. George of Princeton University calls “the clash of orthodoxies” (George, 2001) In this case, the right to promote individual authority, choice, and freedom clash with state control and regulatory oversight within the context of education. In essence, the argument narrows to the often-asked political theory question: What roles and functions do people desire for the state to possess and use? Reich believes that education is paramount among the roles and functions that the state should govern and regulate, while others contend that less governmental authority and regulatory oversight is needed in education, and higher priority must be placed on both parental authority and control. One way to test the boundaries is through examination of two opposing orthodoxies or worldviews– the Judeo-Christian worldview and secular humanism (Colson, 1987; Colson & Pearcey, 1999; King, 2002).
First, the Judeo-Christian worldview argues that all of mankind is created in the image and likeness of God himself (Gen. 1:26a KJV). Therefore, each person is important and worthy in the sight of God. Man’s created essence reflects God’s righteousness and holiness. It was only after the advent of original sin entered into the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve was God’s redemptive mandate set in motion (Gen. 3:15). The reason: to bring man, who is his greatest creation, back into right relationship and fellowship with himself. For this to happen, however, the need for a redeemer is evident. This was the man and God, Christ Jesus. For sinful man to live in harmony with each other in a fallen world, God created the institution of government (Rom. 13:1-2). It was established to provide justice (Amos 5:24), order and security (Gen. 9:16), and freedom (1 Tim. 2:1-4). It was not established, however, to be the sole or primary provider, overseer, or regulator of man’s existence and behavior, including oversight and overt regulatory control of children’s education. This was designed to be the primary responsibility of parents (Deut. 6).
Righteous and trustworthy men (Pro. 16:2; 29:2, 4) are to hold positions of authority in government — men who recognize the sovereignty and divine providence of God’s handiwork in nature and society (Rom. 2:14-15). When individuals who are in government do not hold to such beliefs, the society in general (including institutions such as education, and individuals in particular, including parents and children) suffers consequences. Of course, since all men who hold such offices are not righteous according to the biblical definition, adherence to the fundamental principles of the rule of law apply.
An opposite orthodoxy or worldview is secular humanism. It holds that (a) man is independent of a sovereign creator, (b) man and his ideas evolved over time, and (c) institutions such as government are founded solely upon the doctrines of rationalism and social engineering (Noebel, 1991). The liberal state, for example, exists for the primary purpose of exerting control, directing and redirecting resources (private or otherwise), and making and applying laws and regulations in order to elevate the status and position of the liberal state (Heineman, 1984; von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, 1990; von Mises, 1985). This orthodoxy or worldview de-emphasizes and in some cases negates the role and influence of religious values (Neuhaus, 1986; Whitehead, 1994). Instead, it relies upon evolutionary beliefs and values as they apply to law and society (Alschuler, 2001). Although this sounds somewhat Orwellian, complete with autocratic rule and severely restricted personal freedom and rights, I contend that it applies to the liberal and multicultural state favored by Reich, and not to the basic principles of good government generally (King, 2002). With little to no acknowledgment of nor gravitation toward belief in and reliance upon the tenets of the Judeo-Christian worldview, the secular liberal state promotes man’s reasoning over his faith, contending that the Judeo-Christian worldview if thus non-scientific and non-rational.
Returning to the specific issue at hand (i.e., parental authority and education of children), the question becomes how is it explained via these two worldviews. From a Judeo-Christian worldview perspective, the parent’s authority and right to oversee the education of their children is paramount. Why? The child is the responsibility of the parent (Deut. 6; Eph. 6:1), not of the liberal state. They are the stewards, or caretakers (Psalm 24:1) of the child, because it was God who created the child–not the liberal state. God granted this power of authority to the parent, and not the liberal state. Therefore, the parent is not accountable to the state for their children’s educational well being, but to God. Where and when the parents abdicate their responsibility to care for and educate their children, then the liberal state can assume among other competing institutions (such as extended family members or even local church members — thus reaffirming the role of mediating structures) the authority and right to regulate children’s educational welfare. Obviously, in today’s society, as opposed to the 18th and 19th century America (Olasky, 1992), the state assumes a much larger role.
From a secular humanist perspective, God, religious values, or even Providence, is of little consequence in the authority and administration of the liberal state. According to the crux of secular humanist philosophy, the liberal state’s authority to operate does not come from God, but from man himself. (This, of course, may take any number of political forms depending upon one’s political theory and philosophy, ranging from totalitarianism to modern liberalism.) Because the liberal state is perceived not accountable to God but to man, and because education is one aspect that the state governs and has authority over, it follows that greater latitude to oversee the educational well being of children falls to the state and not to the parent.
In Reich’s interpretation of the liberal state, the freedom of the individual is certainly important and is key to various political decisions revolving around the individuals’ freedom, such as the freedom to control the development and direction of children’s education. However, unlike the Judeo-Christian worldview perspective, where the individual’s freedom is linked to the creative functions of God himself (John 8:32), the individual’s freedom under secular humanism is inextricably linked to the latitude (or lack thereof) granted to it by the liberal state.
History of Homeschooling
There is little doubt that homeschooling has exploded (Basham, 2001; Klicka, 2000). Is it a fad? Or is it here to stay? As Reich suggests the answers are numerous, but among other viable reasons include (a) greater scholastic achievement among homeschoolers over public educated children, (b) greater parental authority and control of the entire education process than in public schools, and (c) the fact that public education is much more expensive and cost ineffective than is homeschool education. For the purposes of this section, I confine my comments to the second point.
Parental authority and support are two important keys to a successful educational delivery system. Parents in the mid to late 1980s and certainly into the 1990s desired greater freedom from public school systems that restricted their rights to educate their children as they chose. This was particularly true with regard to explicit religious instruction. Reich is correct in asserting that the reason for homeschooling in the last 20 years is far different than homeschooling in the early 1970s (Reich, 2001, p. 7). Religious beliefs, particularly among religious conservatives, are largely in conflict with the secular humanist worldview. The latter is particularly intimidating and damaging toward younger children, given that they have not reached an age where they can adequately defend, promote, and support their Judeo-Christian worldview. Among older students the movement is one toward chastisement and degradation of the Judeo-Christian worldview, labeling it narrow, restrictive, and regressive. For students, then, to receive a strong and well-grounded education not based upon secular humanist philosophy and application, it is essential that homeschooling be a genuine alternative to the public education system (Pro. 27:6)
In summary, Reich’s assessment of the history for the reason (s) of homeschooling is adequate. What is troubling, though, is his questioning of the strength and extent of parental authority versus liberal state authority for education, suggesting that the latter usurps the former. If anything, diversity should strengthen the pluralist state. Pluralism by definition means a “representation of diverse interests” that are genuinely and at least semi-equally represented and protected by the liberal state (Lowi, 1979). The true liberal state, therefore, should not only accept but also encourage parents’ interest, right, and authority to homeschool their children without incurring government oversight and regulation.
Comments on Reich’s “A Trilogy of Interests: Parents, the State, and the Child”
Reich opens this section with the question: “From the perspective of the liberal state, is it a problem for parents to have exclusive or nearly exclusive control and authority” (Reich, 2001, p.10)? His basic answer is “Yes,” particularly from a standpoint of the lack of regulatory control. My basic answer is “No,” there should not be a problem. If it is a problem, it is because the proponents of the liberal state define its role in education as more overarching and intrusive than is necessary or that is jurisdictionally appropriate.
Parents are created and empowered to have exclusive stewardship over their children. This includes authority over education of their children (Washburne, 2002). Whether or not this authority is “exclusive or nearly exclusive” depends upon the rate that parents uphold their responsibility and do not forfeit it to the liberal state. Homeschooling parents — as compared to public school parents — believe that it is their (i.e., the parents) primary responsibility to control their children’s education and not the liberal state’s. Why? Reich, for example, writes, “Children are not mere extensions of their parents; they are not their parents’ property” (Reich, 2001, p. 11). This is a thought-provoking question. If they are not the property of parents, whose property are they? Are children “property” at all? Do children “own” themselves? Or are they the “property” of another? The answer: They are God’s property, or better they are His creation (Gen. 1; Psalm 139). Reich is therefore both right and wrong. He is technically correct that children are not the property of their parents—that is parents do not “own” their children in the same way they own their house or automobile. The children, however, are under their parents’ stewardship or guardian trust. Professor Lynne Marie Kohm, the John Brown McCarty Professor Family Law at Regent University, elaborates on this point:
Children deserve the privilege of being certain of the protection of their lives (i.e., safety, growth, education, character development, fun, and their future) by their parents. This is different from “children’s rights” in that the protection rationale places the burden on parental responsibilities rather than on rights (of anyone, including the parent, the child, or the state). To require that all citizens (parents and children) submit to the state for education is to assume it is the duty or responsibility of the state to educate its citizens. This would be true if the power, rights and responsibilities of the people came from the state. However, the exact inverse is true in the United States. The power the state has is from the people…To think inversely is flawed, unconstitutional, and lacking in understanding of the nature of government (Kohm, personal communication, October 1, 2003).
Reich is incorrect to suggest that children have some type or level of separate interest aside from their parents, particularly with regard to education. It is the parent’s God-granted responsibility to provide not only basic living needs, but also an education or the means to acquire education for their children. The parents are—contrary to Reich’s assertion—designed to be the best agents for formulating, developing, and implementing their children’s education, not the liberal state.
Granted there are many instances where parents today do not act in the best interests of their children, and therefore cannot or are not capable of providing for their education per the Judeo-Christian worldview. Instances such as child abuse, abandonment, neglect, or other forms of mistreatment certainly warrant the interjection of some other adult involvement into the lives of these children, possibly including the liberal state. Other and less obvious examples include the large number of single parent homes and dual working parents—two scenarios, for example, which do not easily avail themselves to the intensive parental involvement and authority needed for homeschooling to work effectively. Whose interests are foremost in situations such as these? Who should determine what these interests are? Who will fulfill them? And how and when will these interests be fulfilled? Reich argues in this order: The state, parents, and children. Conversely, the order is: Parents, children, and state (with appointed caregivers in place of the parents during instances of mistreatment or abuse, particularly). In other words, the liberal state should be the last resort for determining the educational well being of children, not the first.
Liberal State’s Interests
The role of surrogates, such as other immediate or extended family members, trusted friends, church members and others who are qualified and who will lovingly and caringly treat children as their own are far better, at least in the short-term, replacement educational caregivers than agents of the liberal state. The liberal state takes little to no personal interest in the children’s care and educational development. Children are too often viewed as a number, and particularly a financial number (e.g., the more students in the public school system the more funding allocated to school districts). In many public school systems, especially in poor rural areas or cramped urban environments, children are crowded into run-down building facilities, and often taught by poorly trained and underpaid teachers. In the instances where (a) public school teachers do care, (b) facilities are adequate, (c) funding is above average, and (d) classrooms not overcrowded, the scholastic statistics, generally speaking, still weigh in favor of home-schooled children (Rudner, 1999). Despite the overwhelming evidence favoring the superiority of homeschooling over public education (Basham, 2001; Bielick, Chandler, & Broughman, 1999; Ray, 1999), Reich still argues that the state has two primary interests regarding education: (a) providing civic education, and (b) performing a “backstop role” to parents. Let’s examine each point separately.
First, does the liberal state have an interest in “providing children a civic education” (Reich, 2001, p. 14)? Yes, to a limited degree. The democratic state—even from a liberal predisposition—represents at the fundamental level authority, order, freedom, justice, and civil rights. In this manner alone children are provided a civic education. It is not so much a question of whether the state has an interest in providing children with a civic education, but how well it does so. Reich and others he quotes, including some members of the U.S. Supreme Court (Reich, 2001, pp 14 -15), contend that the public school system is the primary means to do so. I argue that it is not.
What is civic education? Reich argues it is at the basic level the means to teach citizenship or the “capacity to become able citizens” (2001, p.16) On one end of the citizenship spectrum learning to become able citizens means
knowledge of public policy issues, conclusions of contemporary science, a foundation in world and national history, the structure and operation of federal, state, and local government, and a broad palette of critical thinking and empathy skills necessary to facilitate democratic deliberation amidst a multiplicity of competing interests and among diverse races, religions, and worldviews. (2001, p. 15).
Toward the opposite end of the spectrum of civic education, learning to become an able citizen only requires children to “have the opportunity and capacity to participate in public institutions and will come to possess a number of political virtues, such as tolerance, civility, and a sense of fairness” (2001, p. 15). Should public school systems, for example, perform one or both of the two preceding descriptions of acquiring able citizenships skills? Are we to further assume that public schools should or can do this function better than parents or children on their own? Unlike Reich, I am unconvinced that the U.S. public education system does provide better civic education than individuals or families. He says he “cannot settle the debate,” (i.e., the debate over how broad the authority of the state should be with regard to civic education), except that the liberal state does have certain interests. His response is nebulous at best, and confusing and perhaps even contradictory at worst. It is not just a matter of whether or not it is the interest of the state to provide civic education, but what is the outcome of doing so?
In Minersville School District v. Gobitis (310 U.S. 586, 1940) the Supreme Court required all public schools to provide and teach civic courses. Just 3 years later, the Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (319 U.S. 624, 1943) denied the power of the state to require children to salute the American flag as a measure or form of facilitating civic education, primarily due to religious freedom. Justice Robert H. Jackson challenged the authority of the state to prescribe “what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion…” (Barnette, 1943). Clearly, the question is not whether students in public, private, or homeschool settings should be educated in civics and history—they should. The question is whether or not the state by its very nature and position in society should (a) assume the dominant role in doing so, and (b) contend that it and it alone can do a better job. The first point dictates state supremacy in educational development, and the second assumes empirical superiority. Both points are in error. Let me address the second.
It is common knowledge that nearly half of public high school students, particularly at the freshmen and sophomore levels, are woefully unprepared to answer even simple geography, political history, government, and basic economic questions. A large percentage does not know the name of the vice president, their own state’s two national senators, or their particular congressmen (Wilson & DiIulio, 2004, pp. 104-105). Most are unable to grasp elementary constitutional questions, such as “What branch of government is the object of Article I”? Further, this data does not even address public schooled students lack of understanding of the intricacies and complexities of various public policy issues, and their impact and consequences upon themselves, their families, neighbors, communities, state, and nation. What passes in public schools for a definition of “tolerance, civility, and a sense of fairness”—using Reich’s language—is wrapped in the cloth of postmodernism, cultural relativism, and extreme multicultural and political correctness (Sowell, 1993). Many homeschooled students are better versed in civics’ basics, which is accomplished through an integrated learning process of one-on-one interaction, field trips, internship opportunities, work environment, and hands-on experiences.
A second argument is that the liberal state should act or perform a “backstop role” to parents. He contends that parents have the primary role of educating their children, but in the event they stop doing so, then it is in the state’s, parents, and children’s interests to somehow certify that children receive an education where they are “independent functioning” units in society, capable of acquiring basic reading and writing skills (Reich, 2001, pp. 17 -18). Unfortunately, today, public schools so not simply teach the basics; they indoctrinate children with the liberal state’s ideology and philosophy toward such controversial issues and topics as sexuality, sexual orientation, political correctness, and other secular humanist doctrines (Sowell, 1993). These views are often times anti-Christian, such as in Hayward, CA public school system’s overt display of promoting homosexuality as an acceptable “lifestyle,” even to children in elementary grades. Couple this with the fact that scholastically public school children on average are not as strong as homeschooled children in math, reading, and language skills (Rudner, 1999), and the liberal state fails to fulfill its “backstop responsibility.”
What are the dual roles Reich envisions for the child’s interest? First, children desire to be functionally literate, with the intention to be what Reich refers to as “independent functioning” (2001, p. 20) The second interest, which according to Reich is more controversial than the first, is that children have an interest in “self-autonomy” (2001, p. 20).
Even though Reich admits that there is overlap with regard to the parents’ and the liberal state’s interests on both of these points, he nonetheless argues there is and should be independent interests. Reich’s underlying motivation for describing children’s interest is promulgation of the liberal state’s status for determining specific guidelines and highlighting the independence of children from traditional recognizable authority figures, such as their parents.
Both Reich and I agree that no child who is not mentally or emotionally handicapped in some way, or who is not abused in some way by their adult caregivers who may include their parents, would refuse education in order to avoid functioning independently. As Reich summarizes “…all three parties…would seem to share this interest” (2001, p. 20).
The second point is more controversial. What is “autonomy” for a child, especially one who is below the age of accountability? Let’s assume the age of accountability is seven or eight; in many children it is even higher. What is the right of autonomy for a child of seven? Reich defines “autonomy” in the most minimal sense: “self-governance” (2001, p. 20). He argues that, “minimally autonomous persons possess the capacity to develop and pursue their own interests and are able, if they so choose, to participate ably as equal citizens in democratic deliberation about the exercise of political power” (2001m p. 21). What is Reich’s expectation of children reaching the state of minimal autonomy? Perhaps his expectation for children’s legitimate interest in autonomy is not really greater than my own. Perhaps it is simply his way of legitimizing the increased capacity and oversight of the liberal state over the child (and ultimately the parent). For what better institution than the liberal state, particularly through public education, can help to develop the children’s self-governance, and protect them from becoming what Eamann Callan terms “ethically servile” (as cited in Reich, 2001, p. 21)?
Somehow Reich believes that unless a child—he does not provide age distinctions—can make decisions or judgments on his own he is unduly bound to the whims of the overbearing parent. The child becomes servile. Yes, a child is servile or “dependent” upon his parents. The child requires the service, care, and oversight of his parents or adult overseer or caregiver until as such time he reaches the fullness of the age of accountability and separation. Therefore, the child is subject to his/her parents until such time they are legally free from their parents’ oversight and care (Sugarman & Kemerer, 1999.
Why? It is certainly not because the liberal state deems it so, but because the Christian God commands it. As mentioned above, children are the primary responsibility of the parents, not the liberal state. Exposing the child who is not at the age of accountability (or older) to “diverse values and beliefs” that are contrary to those of the child’s parents or caregivers only confuses and ultimately harms the child. It does little if anything to boost the child’s morale and confidence. Thus, the child is unstable and tossed between waves of uncertainty and indecisiveness. Early studies even suggested that children who are institutionalized in the public school system at too early an age suffer a number of problems, including “hyperactivity, nearsightedness, and dyslexia [and] were often the result of prematurely taxing a child’s nervous system and mind with continuous academic tasks, like reading and writing” (Lyman, 1998).
How does a child of seven or nine, for example, participate in “shared civic political decision making” (Lyman, 1998). The child is not even old enough to vote, much less to form an intelligent opinion on public issues and policies. Even if Professor Reich interprets the phrase “shared civic political decision making” to refer to knowledge acquisition (i.e., Who is the president of the United States?) or other factual civic-related questions, then the parents or caregivers can provide that information. If, however, it is to tap into the child’s emotional IQ, and explore their “inner feelings” about what they think concerning a political question or policy issue, then this, too—as legitimately as it can be—is in the interests of the parent and not the liberal state.
Reich concludes “that children have a civic interest in receiving education that fosters minimal autonomy” (2001, p. 23). Two points. First, what is the defined age level before there is discussion of “minimal autonomy” (2001, p. 30)? Two, homeschooling on average can and does a far better job of “developing critical thinking and reflective skills” (2001, p. 23). So, what is the purpose and/or need of the liberal state in promoting civic education, if in fact the parents or designated caregivers in a homeschool environment can achieve as high or higher level of “minimal autonomy” and “critical thinking and reflective skills” as can public education? This should not be done in order to achieve the liberal state’s political agenda of independent civic autonomy, but for the child to grow and develop as a student first, and a citizen second—all at a pace deemed appropriate for the child’s age and capacity.
In conclusion, the liberal state’s minimal interests and thus restrictive oversight and authority of a child’s education are not warranted. This assessment is determined in large part by the philosophical and theological premise that the Judeo-Christian worldview, as opposed to the tenets of secular humanism, is better in framing and assessing the needs and wants of children’s interests than is the liberal state. Second, the state’s claim to foster greater civic education and autonomy for the child is not upheld. It is shown that the homeschool environment can and does just as good or better job than does public education. Professor Reich does admit that homeschooled children are good students (2001, p. 26), but at the same time he is unwilling to restrict liberal state regulations from homeschooling. He believes that homeschooling should not be abolished, but at the same time advocates oversight. What does this suggest? It suggests in reality he does not trust the self-governing nature of homeschool parents or children. Rather, he regresses to the age-old philosophical nemesis of defining individual interests and self-governance only in accordance with and in context of the liberal state interests.
Conclusion: Recommendations for Change?
Reich concludes his essay by advocating several types of regulation, all directed toward formalization and liberal state oversight and control of homeschooling. Without stating the obvious, this position is directly counter to the two major reasons (s) why approximately 1.5 to 2.0 million children are homeschooled. First, it is to escape the burdensome and stifling bureaucracy, rules, and regulations as well as the incapacity of most public school systems to produce, on average, as highly qualified a student as in a homeschool environment. Second, it is to indoctrinate their children in a value system, usually religious, that conforms to their own rather than the liberal state. However, Reich is adamant. He notes that
the fact that regulations have diminished and in some cases disappeared, and the increasing prevalence of wholly unregulated homeschools, is cause for concern. The state must indeed regulate homeschools in order to assure that its and the child’s interests in education are met. (2001, p. 35)
This is simply my point: The parents or other designated caregivers are, in the vast majority of cases, far more competent to meet the child’s interests than is the liberal state. So, what regulations are appropriate from Reich’s position?
First, he argues that “the state must require that any homeschooling parents register their homeschools with local educational authorities, who in turn should be required to collect this information and report it to the state” (2001, p. 35) Why is this necessary? It’s not, because (a) most homeschoolers already do this, either voluntarily or as required by local school districts; (b) unbiased researchers, such as Lawrence Rudner (1999) and others, do provide fairly accurate aggregate data on the academic results of homeschoolers; and (c) through the work of organizations such as the national Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and many similar state homeschool organizations (such as North Carolinian’s for Home Education), homeschoolers are kept abreast of legal and political changes regarding home education nationally and statewide.
Second, why would the liberal state want to “distribute resources to homeschoolers” beyond, for example, simply renting gym facilities and loaning textbooks? Is not this counter to their interests? This suggests that the liberal state and homeschoolers can not only coexist but also support each other. Coexistence is certainly possible and desirable; that is, if by coexistence Reich means to operate in the same political, social, and economic environments without being made to feel obligated to adhere to the same set of values, or even tolerating the same set of values as the liberal state. However, the liberal state’s definition of coexistence does not mean this; it implies that all other entities, including political, social, religious, and economic, succumb to the wishes and demands of the liberal state, accepting—not just understanding and gaining knowledge of—the opposite position of their own, whether or not they agree or disagree with the stated position. This is not coexistence. This is servitude.
Third, communication is already available between homeschool parents and school officials. For example, some state laws require homeschool parents to notify school officials of their intention and determination to homeschool (North Carolina and Virginia, for example). This notification takes one of several options, one of which is for homeschool parents to inform the school officials that the parents will not enroll their children based upon “religious exemption.” This simply requires a letter of notification, three letters of reference, and one or two affidavits. Beyond this, no further connection or interaction with public school officials is necessary nor, in my opinion, warranted.
Another recommendation for change and subsequent regulatory action is that Reich believes that “the burden of proof that homeschools will satisfy the state’s and the child’s interest in education must rest with the parents who express the desire to homeschool” (2001, p. 35). If the homeschool parents cannot satisfy the state’s demand, then, presumably, some other type of intrusive regulatory means is employed to require conformity. Using a legal maxim in reverse, Reich assumes that the “accused are guilty until proven innocent.” This may be true in an autocratic state, but not in a democratic-republic such as the U.S. Therefore, if anything it is the state’s responsibility to dispel the notion that homeschooling is incapable of meeting the child’s educational interest. Reich argues that this reversal is for the benefit of the parents, for if not “the state would have to resort to difficult and intrusive means to make such a case” (2001, p. 36). Homeschooling has already proven itself to be scholastically superior to public education. It is up to the public education system to rectify its own situation and correct its own problems before it directs others.
Yet another recommendation for change and thus imposition of some form of regulation is for the liberal state to ensure “that the school environment provides exposure to and engagement with values and beliefs other than those of a child’s parents, the state should require parents to use curricula that provide such exposure and engagement” (2001, p. 35). In other words, homeschoolers are to be tolerant of others’ diversity as long as that tolerance and diversity is what the liberal state defines them to be. Homeschoolers, for example, should teach that homosexuality is a “coequal living arrangement,” that euthanasia and abortion are acceptable means of “life values,” and that civil unions between “consenting homosexual partners” is the same as and should be treated the same as marriage between a man and woman. This is not true toleration and diversity; it is forcing acceptance of a value system upon those who disagree with this value system (the very argument that secular liberals make toward evangelical conservatives). Further, he contends this goal can be met by submission to school officials of curricula that meets these expectations. The selection of homeschool curricula is the choice of the parents and not the liberal state, because it is the parents and not the liberal state that have the best interest of the children in mind.
Finally, Reich argues for “home schooled children to take annual standardized tests to measure academic progress” (2001, p. 35). Many homeschool children do take standardized tests, and the average aggregate results are far and away much better than public school students (Rudner, 1999). Reich’s assumption is that homeschoolers cannot possibly be as prepared as public schooled children. Therefore to determine how well (or poor) they are doing in comparison with public schooled children, he wants homeschoolers to take similar or same tests as public schooled children, presumably to be sure that all children in a given school district or even state, whether public or home educated, are at the same level of competency.
Standardized testing is not the only answer to higher academic achievement, but it is the politically popular one now. The State of Virginia, for example, has implemented Standards of Learning (SOLs) throughout the elementary and secondary public school system, often to mixed results. In 1999 the George Mason University Graduate School of Education faculty issued a strong statement against Virginia’s SOLs as they were currently structured and administered. The graduate faculty noted “current State-led education reform movement centering on Standards of Learning (SOLs) actualized through a sole reliance on high-stakes standardized testing is seriously flawed. (“Position Paper,” 1999).
Standardized testing has a myriad of problems associated with it. But even if the standardized testing mechanisms were completely fair, unbiased, and encouraged true learning to take place (rather than forcing behavior exhibited by administrators, teachers, and students to simply “teach toward the exams”), the right of autonomy enjoyed by homeschoolers is circumvented by the far reaching tentacles of the liberal state. The determinative nature of the liberal state expands beyond where it should with regard to allowing parents the “choice” to home educate.
If Reich’s ultimate goal is to ensure that all students receive a solid educational experience then homeschool education meets his demands. In addition to the merits of homeschool education, most private secular and/or sectarian education far surpasses public education in a variety of ways already discussed. Therefore, it seems that proponents of public education should stop chastising and belittling non-public education learning systems and methods, such as homeschooling, and turn their time, money, and effort toward systematically laying the groundwork for completely overhauling the public school system, including philosophy, ideology, goals, strategies, logistics, and methods.
Problems With Regulations
Reich points out several problems with his recommendations for regulation. One problem—and I believe the one that does not have a compromise solution—
is that religiously motivated homeschooling parents may simply reject the very notion of submitting to a secular authority over matters concerning the upbringing of their children…Rather, the problem arises when secular state authority is exercised over the rearing of children. (2001, p.36)
He further notes that “conflict between the state and religious parents on this score may be endemic and inevitable” (2001, p. 36). Reich is correct; it is “endemic and inevitable.” This is why the liberal state should have limited interests in regulating homeschooling.
Second, Reich trumpets the “children’s interest” theme once again. It is obvious to him, but not to myself, why the parents are not the best judge of what is in the best interests of the child, even for a child who is at or above the age of accountability. Somehow, Reich thinks the pro-statist and ultra-liberal Children’s Defense Fund, or other such organizations, for example, have the better interests of the children in mind than will the parents themselves (2001, p. 37). This is at best an erroneous assumption with little to no substantive evidence, or at worst a further attempt by the liberal state to usurp the freedom and authority parents currently have over their children.
A third problem is what Professor Reich defines the “overregulation-underregulation paradox” (2001, pp. 37-38). Public school educators and administrators are already too busy to spend additional time and resources hunting down and corralling (or overseeing) wayward homeschoolers who have opted out of the public school system. Again, how does Reich solve this problem? He places the burden of proof on the homeschool parents to demonstrate to local public school officials that they (i.e., homeschool parents) will meet the educational needs and interests of the children. This point has already been dispensed with above.
I suggest the following counter recommendations:
1. First, the burden of proof should be on the public school system, not homeschool parents and children. The public school system is the one under attack, not homeschooling.
2. Second, education policy advocates from all sides of the issue—public, private, entrepreneurial, and homeschool—should sit down and discuss the variety of educational options, including means, goals, and outcomes of education. Charter schools, magnet schools, private sectarian schools, private non-sectarian schools, homeschools, for-profit schools, and perhaps others are all various ways of trying to achieve a similar goal of education: to be sure that children are able to meet above average learning expectations.
3. Third, recognize that all types of educational means can and must truly coexist in the same liberal state. Further, it is necessary for the liberal state to reexamine what role it should play in the daily lives of its citizens. The liberal state should not simply be a means to command and coerce its inhabitants to conform to its meaning of life, liberty, and equality but it should provide the necessary levels of freedom, security, and justice in order that all citizens, including parents and children who engage in the home educational process, might enjoy peace and prosperity.
Clearly, advocates of the liberal state, such as Reich, and proponents of a limited liberal state, such as myself, are at odds over how to educate our (by “our” I mean the parents’, not the state’s) children. Unless we wish to continue witnessing the unraveling of America due to a poor educational system, it behooves us to sit down and discuss our differences and try to arrive at a solution. There is no “compromise” solution agreeable to both parties involved. However, additional conferences, symposiums, articles, and other means of intercommunication between the factions are certainly helpful to understanding the opposition’s perspective, without necessarily agreeing to it.
What is disconcerting, though, is contemplation of the U.S. Supreme Court making a decision supporting in part or in whole Reich’s liberal state thesis. Much of the work invested by homeschoolers and homeschooling advocacy organizations would be challenged. Worse, however, the right to govern the education of our children would be severely jeopardized. The consequences of the latter would far outweigh the inconveniences of the former.
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 “Liberal state” is not Professor Reich’s term; it is mine. As contrasted with the Judeo-Christian ethic, or worldview, of man and the state; Professor Reich’s conception of the role and function of the state is largely if not entirely framed under what is commonly understood to be the “liberal state.” I therefore use this phrase throughout my essay. See the references for Heinemen (1984), von Mises (1985), and von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1990).