Four academics are incredibly worried about many homeschoolers. Acker, Gray, Jalali, and Pascal write the following:
In the case of inferior education for girls, such enunciated [Christian] fundamentalist beliefs as “sexual equality denies God’s word” and failure of a wife to accept a subordinate, obedient role in the home means “the doors are wide open to Satan” may well exclude girls from the level of mathematics known to be a critical filter for many careers and confine them to low-paying, servile occupations if employed outside the home … [p. 519, note 1]
These four academics try to paint a picture of a slow and inexorable progression from parental authority over the education of children to total state authority. They are looking at colonial days in America to about 50 years ago. Despite the fact the authors beg the politically sensitive question, Who cares about this imperialistic and Eurocentric interpretation of the education of children and why do the authors ignore the culture of Native Americans?, they quickly try to move the reader to accept three basic premises and one proposed conclusion.
The first premise Acker, Gray, Jalali, and Pascal implicitly try to establish is that the history of humankind before the colonies in America is irrelevant to their thesis. That long history is, in fact, relevant.
Next, they mention two laws related to education passed in one colony, Massachusetts, in the mid-1600s. These laws required parents to teach their children to read and write, “… gave the state the authority to provide education if the need arose …,” and required some towns to establish schools (p. 513). The authors then write, “Massachusetts thus fostered literacy, …” Their article clearly implies there was little literacy before these laws and the State, that is, government, was the first primary entity to encourage or “foster” literacy. They offer no proof that there was widespread illiteracy before then.
Third, the authors claim, “As colonies and territories became states and drew up their own constitutions, each came to include a clause assuming for the state the responsibilities for education.” They lay this out as a building block for their full argument. The problem is that their wording is obfuscatory, if not clearly misleading. One must ask, What are “the responsibilities for education”? How about listing them? Does this mean all responsibility? The main responsibility? What happened to parents, or the church, in this strange and strained version of history?
More problematic with the authors’ rendition of history is the fact that the State (i.e., civil government) did not assume, in the sense of taking on at the exclusion of others (e.g., parents, church), responsibility for and authority over children’s education. Another part of the authors’ error is that the State, in some fashion in the 1600s and since, made education or schooling available to children but did not generally require attendance at State-controlled schools.
Kathleen Acker and her co-authors make a barely credible claim. They ultimately conclude that the State now has full authority over and responsibility for children’s education and allow parents, as the State sees fit, to oversee some of that education.
However, in the case of basic education for children, the state has taken on the responsibility for its provision but has delegated its authority to parents who home school their children, thus making the parents state actors and subject to the equal protection requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment. (p. 520)
That is, parents may do with their children only what the State allows them to do. It is no longer a free nation – with parents and families as free agents – regarding the education and upbringing of children, as these authors see it. Children are of, by, and for the State and parents are helpers to the State.
Acker and her colleagues proceed to argue that since the State is responsible for all children’s education and some homeschool children might not be getting the education the State – mixing the ever-changing objectives of individual U.S. state-level governments and the federal government – believes they should get, then the State should much more tightly control private home-based education in all 50 of the United States. They believe the State should mandate all home-educated children be registered with the State, be vaccinated, be given achievement tests, and be monitored by the State, and that the State should do mandatory background checks on all parents who ask the State for the privilege of homeschooling.
There are many problems in the logic and presentation of Acker and her colleagues. I will mention only three in this brief article. First, the authors provide no empirical evidence that a problem exists that needs to be solved. They cite no research that a percent of home-educated students are performing academically below where they should be based on their academic aptitude or other traits. They cite no research that the home educated are at any higher risk of child abuse than are public-school or private-school students. In fact, they fail to cite the research that shows there is not even a correlation between the level of state control over homeschooling and the academic achievement of the home educated. [notes 2 and 3]
Second, the authors do almost nothing to convince the reader that girls are at any special risk of not learning Algebra II or Geometry, let alone basic math or Algebra I, if they are home educated rather than taught in State-controlled schools. In fact, they provide no evidence that general society should be concerned about certain sub-populations of girls not learning as much math as other subpopulations. I wonder, What would Acker et al. recommend if research were to show that home-educated girls in conservative Christina homes were more mathematically literate than girls in State schools? Would they recommend that public school girls be forced by the government to be homeschooled?
Finally, let the reader assume, for a moment, that Acker, Gray, Jalali, and Pascal’s interpretation and summary of court case law is reasonable and accurate. Even if so, they provide absolutely no reason for the reader to believe that “case law,” the decisions of courts, of judges, should be the god of Americans. Why should case law govern the hearts and minds of these four authors? Why should case law govern the thinking of free Americans who are supposed to operate their country, first, by its Constitution and not the decisions of judges? If case law is the god of these authors with respect to the upbringing of children, should it be?
Those who put high value on freedom, the U.S. Constitution, and scriptural thinking and those who comprise the homeschool community must beware of who is God (or god), and it is certainly not “case law” or the thinking of academics with a statist worldview.
Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.
National Home Education Research Institute
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1. Ambruso Acker, Kathleen; Gray, Mary W.; Jalali, Behzad; & Pascal, Matthew. (2012, April). Mathematics and home schooling. Notices of the AMS [American Mathematical Society], 59(4), 513-521. Retrieved April 24, 2012 from http://www.ams.org/notices/201204/rtx120400513p.pdf
2. Ray, Brian D. (2010, February 3). Academic achievement and demographic traits of homeschool students: A nationwide study. Academic Leadership Journal, 8(1). Retrieved February 10, 2010 from http://www.academicleadership.org/392/academic_achievement_and_demographic_traits_of_homeschool_students_a_nationwide_study/
3. Ray, Brian D., & Eagleson, Bruce K. (2008, August 14). State regulation of homeschooling and homeschoolers’ SAT scores. Journal of Academic Leadership, 6(3). Retrieved February 27, 2012 from http://www.academicleadership.org/1511/state_regulation_of_homeschooling_and_homeschoolers_sat_scores/
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