National Public Education
20Jan/180

Homeschooling Problems

Recently it has been reported that a number of children in California have been abused at home, and that the parents hid this from authorities by keeping them home and home-schooling them.  In California one needs only to inform the state that you are keeping the kids home in order to qualify for homeschooling.  There are no required tests, curricula, or visits by a teacher.  Officials commented that this was by no means an isolated incident.

How have we let this happen?   Is it now possible to keep children out for no reason at all?  Thirteen states, like California, have no restrictions on homeschooling.  All you need to do is inform the state that you are doing it.  What ever happened to the idea, not so long ago, that a truant officer would round up any child not in school and take them to class, or fine the parents?  What was the point of that?  Wasn't it that there was a value, for all of us, for every child to be in school?  That this would make our society stronger and better?

It is argued that this is an issue of "freedom" and "liberty."  Parents should have the freedom to send their child wherever they want.  But why does this only apply to education?  Should we also give parents the right to live in a certain area, or have a certain doctor, or a a certain job?  Would that work?  We do have a "choice" in education -- it's called private school.  You can go to any one of these you want.  But, when the schooling is being paid for by other people, as in a public program, you have to meet the requirements that those people have put in place.

But can't I opt out of this program?  No, you can't, any more than you can opt out of shoveling your walk when it snows, or driving at the speed limit.  A public program has to be the same for everyone.  As I have often noted, the whole point of a public program is to solve a public problem; that is to say, a problem that deals with other people, not just your own needs.  We have a police department to change the behavior of other people, not ourselves.  Of course we could also do this privately, and just hire body-guards, but this works much less well than a public police department.  Then, if the point is to change other's behavior, you can't very well just let them opt out.  We have public education because there are societal benefits from a well-educated populace.  Letting people opt out of the program weakens that benefit.

Why, then, do the states do this?  Because they benefit from it.  It costs them money to educate each child, so letting them be homeschooled helps their bottom line.  This is true, as well, for the districts.  Fifteen fewer students could well mean one less teacher, and a significant savings in salaries and benefits.  But does it make sense that we are paying for a program, with our taxes, that is trying to get smaller and smaller?  Is that the outcome we want?

When you look at the entire homeschooling concept, you can see that it has grown out of the idea that the public schools only benefit the parents, not the general public.  From that point of view, of course it makes sense to let the parents choose how they will use this program that has been set up to service them.  It's "theirs" to do with as they will.  But this view is wrong.  Public schools are not run by the parents, they are run by the entire population, the people who pay for them.  It belongs to that group, not just the people who have children in the schools.  A private school is run by the parents, but a public school is owned, and run, by the general population.  As such, solving just the parents' problems, as in their need for "freedom," will never work.  The program was set up to achieve higher goals.

In all of this the media is absolutely clueless.  They always view the situation as if it were a matter of a private purchase of a service; as if these were private schools.  This is because the media, themselves, are private organizations.  We don't have a BBC in this country, paid for by the government.  Everyone, including Public TV and radio, rely on private businesses for their funding.  That puts them on the side of the consumer, the individual parent trying to find the best school for their kid.  That this whole school program is being paid for by taxpayers, who have their own needs, is ignored.  Consequently, they misunderstand the situation.

I have many friends who homeschool their children, and know many wonderful people who have been homeschooled.  That doesn't mean that it is the right thing to do.  Public education has more important goals; ones we need to pay attention to if we ever want to achieve them.

 

Peter Dodington

January 20, 2018