Thursday, September 15, 2011

Home Schooling - Is it Legal?

With what is for most the beginning of a new school year, we get lots of questions.

We get our groceries mid-day.  We book appointments for just after lunch - when there tends to be the shortest wait.  We run errands in the early afternoon.

"Why are you not in school?"
is the question that is asked of my boys numerous times each week.

When my children reply that they're home schooled, the next questions are directed toward me. "Is that legal?", followed by "Does the school give you books?" and often, "how do they check up on you?".

Sometimes the questions continue, "Do you have a teaching degree?  Are you certified?  Do your kids have to take the same standardized tests?"  And then there's my favorite, "How do you compare your kids to others?"

Sadly, the conversation most typically ends with "I could never do that!  My kids would never listen to me!"

Our answers look a bit like this:

  • Yes, it's legal.   
  • No, the school does not give us books, we choose and purchase our own curriculum.  
  • In our state, we are required to send an annual letter of intent informing the local superintendent of our plan to home school our children who are of compulsory school age.  In the spring we either send in standardized test scores or a portfolio of our child's work.  {We find it easiest to send the test scores, from a standardized test we administer ourselves and send out for scoring}.  
  • No, I do not have a degree.  I am not certified.  
  • No, our kids do not have to take the same tests, and frankly, we try hard not to compare our kids to others.  
  • Lastly- in most cases, yes!  You could home school!  If your children won't listen to you, there are greater issues that first need addressing.

In the next weeks, I hope to break these questions down to provide a better understanding of home education.

When looking at education through a biblical lens, a lens we should look through always, why is the assumption that the government has full authority and responsibility to educate our children?

Teachers, though many do their very best, will never have the same concern for my children's education and well being as do I, their mother.  None of them would ever come to know my children, or their unique learning styles as I do.  School officials and administrators will likely never know my children as anything other than a number and perhaps a name on paper, and that only if they either excel or are a problem.

So the question here is simply this:
Who gives authority over children and to whom is it given?

Biblically speaking, God is the giver of authority and authority over children is given to parents.  Parents can accept that responsibility or delegate it to others, but ultimately the parent is the responsible party before God with regard to all things relating to their child's training.  It's not the teacher, the youth pastor, the principal, the church, the school board, or the government.

As a nation, we now collectively believe the schools should teach good behavior, good morals, and manners.  They should teach responsibility and self-control in addition to the 3 R's.  They should teach the value of hard work.

We believe it's the church's job to teach the gospel to our children, to disciple them and also to entertain them so to keep them out of trouble.  Many feel it's the youth pastor's job, or perhaps the health instructors job, to teach sex education.

Truthfully, I have had people ask me how my kids will learn to do simple things like get in line if they don't go to school!  I laugh, thinking of standing at the deli each week, holding our little pink number and waiting at the RMV on occasion.  Waiting in line to purchase our groceries, make a deposit at the bank, or to ride the ponies at the fair.
My kids know nothing about indian cuts.  Do kids still do that?  Are our kids strange because they know nothing of the sort- they just know to stand in line and wait their turn?  Who cares!?
I digress...

I ask, "What then is our job as parents?  Is our job to simply taxi our kids and shuffle them from here to there and everywhere?  Why do we believe that everyone else can do our job better than we can?  Ultimately, what are our priorities?  What do we most want our children to learn?  Is there continuity between the direction we are leading them and what they are being taught outside the home?  Who should dictate what children need to know, what is most important for them to learn?

Do our children belong to the government, or to God?

If you would like further information on the legality of homeschooling, I would suggest checking out The Homeschool Legal Defense Association,  a nonprofit advocacy organization established to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedoms.

For a very candid look at compulsory schooling, I recommend John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down.  Please be aware, however, that what Gatto, a 30 year teacher in NYC's public schools and recipient of the NYC Teacher of the Year and NY State Teacher of the Year awards, reports may be shocking to most and perhaps offensive to some. 

Lastly, R.C. Sproul Jr.'s book titled When You Rise Up is also worth a read if you are interested in learning more about homeschooling from a Biblical perspective.  While many do not appreciate the author's tone, he speaks plainly on Deuteronomy chapter 6 and outlines how those scriptural directives to teach the things of God to our children daily can be carried out.

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