Commentary

M.D. Harmon: Right To Home-educate Assailed From U.S. To Germany

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Maine is an easy state in which to exercise your right as a parent to teach your kids at home.

Nevertheless, there are threats on the federal level that, while not impinging on people’s rights at present, pose the possibility of doing so in a potentially very short period of time.

The Homeschoolers of Maine website says, “In May 2003, Gov. John Baldacci signed into law a complete overhaul of Maine’s homeschool law. Since then, the law has provided great relief to homeschooling families throughout Maine. The process has been so easy that many of you have been wondering if you were neglecting something!”

According to state law, “Maine parents may choose to educate their children at home. Parents take full responsibility for the child while the child is being home schooled — they legally direct the child’s education by choosing the curriculum, facilitating the process and determining academic needs. Homeschooling is funded exclusively by the parent. During the 2011-12 academic year, 4,730 Maine students were registered with their local superintendent of schools and the Maine DOE for home schooling.”

WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT? There are many reasons why parents may choose to teach their kids at home, but the popular image of making that choice for religious reasons is, at best, only partially true.

While many parents do homeschool their children because they consider public schools insufficiently respectful of the truths of their faith, which they regard as permeating all of life and thus properly a part of education as much as anything else, other parents cite different reasons.

Some say that public-school offerings are insufficient to meet their child’s specific needs, talents or interests in a variety of areas; others say that public schools fail to offer the personalized attention that parents can offer; while still others say that public education wastes too much time on nonacademic areas, sacrificing their children’s chances to master subjects in depth.

And some simply consider that educating one’s own children is a matter of basic personal freedom.

Whatever the reason, home schooling is growing nationally and around the world, though not always without significant opposition. The Home School Legal Defense Association, which describes itself as “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,” says that about 2.1 million children grades K-12 were home schooled in 2010.

And, “Home education has constantly grown over the last two decades. The growth rate is 7 percent to 15 percent per year,” according to Dr. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I teach part-time and on a volunteer basis at a private school my church operates as a ministry outreach. The school offers K-12 classes, but it also will accept homeschooled students on an enrichment basis, teaching subjects that individual parents may not feel qualified to offer their children. So even though I attended public schools and sent my own children to them, I have both an interest in this topic and some acquaintance with it.)

AS NOTED ABOVE, Maine is a relatively easy state to offer your kids a homeschooled experience. The state Department of Education website says that new homeschooling parents must file “a Notice of Intent with both the Maine Department of Education and the local school superintendent by Sept. 1 in order to start at the beginning of the school year. If starting homeschooling in the middle of a school year, a Notice of Intent must be filed within 10 days of withdrawal from school. Each year thereafter, a Subsequent Year Letter (along with assessment results) must be filed with both your local school superintendent and the Maine DOE by Sept. 1.”

The “assessment results” must be filed along with renewal letters and can come from one of three sources: “Results of a standardized achievement test; results of a test developed by local school officials (must be arranged with school system before school year starts); or review and acceptance of progress by a Maine-certified teacher.”

Other states aren’t as accommodating, and some people may be surprised to know that homeschooling only became legal in all 50 states in 1996.

STILL, MOST PEOPLE KNOW by now that homeschooled kids don’t have any trouble keeping up with their public school counterparts, both in academic subjects and in some critics’ pet topic, “socialization.”

Academically, the NHERI says, homeschooled kids “score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests; score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income; whether homeschool parents were ever certified teachers is not related to their children’s academic achievement; the degree of state control and regulation of homeschooling is not related to academic achievement; home-educated students typically score above average on the SAT and ACT tests that colleges consider for admissions; and homeschool students are increasingly being actively recruited by colleges.”

What about learning to get along with peers? As the NHERI says, “The home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development. Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem.”

In addition, “Homeschool students are regularly engaged in social and educational activities outside their homes and with people other than their nuclear-family members. They are commonly involved in activities such as field trips, scouting, 4-H, political drives, church ministry, sports teams, and community volunteer work.”

THIS IS IMPORTANT to understand as the federal government reaches out to drag even very young children into the public-school system.

As reported by Robert Knight, a Cape Elizabeth native who now is a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union (a conservative alternative to the left-wing American Civil Liberties Union) and a columnist for the Washington Times, President Obama’s call during his State of the Union address for taxpayer-funded “universal” preschool simply means that “the government wants to get its hands on our children even younger.”

Knight says he is “fully aware that there are many dedicated teachers trying their best to convey knowledge and even morality in an increasingly failing (public) system.”

But, he says, current preschool programs, primarily Head Start, have been vastly oversold. Even though the program costs taxpayers $8 billion, a Health and Human Services report issued in December 2012 says that “by third grade, (Head Start) had little or no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health or parenting practices of participants.”

Why should parents want to turn their precious children over to a program like that — or agree to its expansion to even younger ages?

MEANWHILE, WE CAN LOOK ABROAD to see what happens when government claims the exclusive right to educate children – and not tyrannical or authoritarian nations, either. Germany isn’t North Korea or Cuba, but is instead a free democracy (albeit of the “social democratic” stripe), but homeschooling is entirely illegal there.

One German couple has been in the news lately because they fled to the United States after German authorities threatened to take their children away because they were homeschooled.

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike came here in 2008, seeking asylum on religious freedom grounds because of that threat. They considered it their obligation as Christians to educate their own kids, something our government generally recognizes.

But, says Jillian Kay Melchoir, a fellow of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity writing for National Review Online on March 19, “the Obama administration is trying to send them back, even though they might lose their children if they’re deported to Germany.”

In 2010, an administrative law judge had ruled in their favor, but last year, after a government appeal of that decision, the Board of Immigration overturned it.

AS MICHAEL FARRIS, head of the HSLDA, said, “In the very same time frame that we’re talking about amnesty for 11 million illegal aliens, why [the Obama administration] can’t find it in their hearts to grant sanctuary to this one German homeschool family is baffling to me.”

The Romeikes have appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, with arguments set for April 23.

The problem, Farris says, is wider than just this one family’s liberty, although that is very important. What the government’s stand is saying is that the administration “thinks that home schooling is a privilege and not a (human) right, and that’s a very disturbing development for American homeschoolers.”

That’s because, he concludes, “I don’t see the government [winning this case] without saying that homeschooling is not a right.”

So, despite homeschooling’s current popularity, the Obama administration could adopt the German outlook on it without notice and at any time, based on the view that public schooling not only should be extended to younger and younger kids, but that no one has a right to reject it.

And that would be a major threat to every American’s liberty that should not be ignored.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com

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About M.D. Harmon

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com

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