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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8 COMMENTS

  1. And, yes, parents should be told how to raise their families too, right? That’s what every nanny state wants to do. It’s all about government control by political leaders. I tell folks who want to live in a government controlled state to immigrate to that state and leave the rest of us freedom loving people in this country alone. As a veteran I served to preserve our cherished freedoms only to find out many citizens would rather spit on me rather than join me in keeping our freedoms.

  2. Although I’d do it in a second if necessary, it would be good policy to have NECAP, NAEP, MEA, SAT scores on home-schooled kids. Too many anecdotes on how wonderful it is with little evidence.

  3. “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.” Milton Friedman, Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2005

    So quotes Naomi Klein in the introduction to her book, The Shock Doctrine. Her argument states that historically, while people were reeling from natural disasters, wars, and financial downturn; unscrupulous politicians and industry leaders quickly implemented policies to their economic advantage.

    “At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that will allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves… Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly outsources the running of the ‘War on Terror’ to Halliburton and Blackwater… After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts… New Orleans residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be re-opened.”

    Ms. Klein pulls no punches indicting Milton Friedman and his followers for perfecting a strategy that waits for a major crisis, sells off pieces of the state to private players while citizens remain in shock, and quickly implemented “reforms” become permanent. This thinking which began with Milton Friedman in the 1950’s at the University of Chicago continues alive and well today in Washington and contemporary society.

    Some may recall on July 31, 2012 the Governor proclaimed “Milton Friedman Day” in the state of Maine. From the Governor’s press release:

    “Maine’s educational goals align with Friedman’s vision: all children should have the right to the highest-quality schools possible. Research suggests that providing children with multiple schooling options improves academic performance. […] We are striving to put students first and help them gain access to the best educational opportunities possible. […] Today’s commemoration is a reminder of one more strong voice in support of solutions that support families and students when it comes to education.”

    Fortunately Maine has not been hit by a natural disaster the magnitude of Katrina, but it has been hit by a man-made disaster, Governor LePage.

    The storm began when “the governor received an anonymous fax saying it (mural) was reminiscent of communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses”. The storm steadily increased in strength; union busting of day-care workers; stating “middle management of the state is about as corrupt as can be”; misogynistic remarks about “little beards”; stating IRS officials are comparable to Nazis, in part because both are responsible for “killing a lot of people”; and continuing its relentless bellowing until the present with the holding up of bonds until hospitals are paid using funds from Mainer’s future alcoholic consumption. A brief bit o’ relief did come with the signing of the St Patrick’s Day drinking bill.

    As Mainers reeled from the continuous, relentless onslaught of the storm’s fury, the Governor threatened to impoverish our school districts so that school boards are compelled to cut programs and lay off teachers; and throughout we heard the methodical chants (rants?) of educational reform.
    • “In fact, our school systems are failing,”
    • “I don’t care where you go in this country, if you come from Maine, you’re looked down upon.”
    • “If you want a good education in Maine … go to an academy. If you want a good education go to private schools. If you can’t afford it, tough luck. You can go to the public school.”
    • “We must fund schools that best fit the student’s needs’.”
    • “By the time I’m done, education in Maine is going to be great.”

    The stage is now set; the Governor’s “Shock Doctrine” is now positioned for the first step in selling off the state’s educational system.

    On March 22 at Cony High School in Augusta the Governor’s Conference on Education took place. Conference attendees heard opening remarks by Governor LePage, with keynote speaker Dr. Tony Bennett, the commissioner of education in Florida and formerly in Indiana; followed by three panel discussions on various school reform issues. One of the panel members was Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

    Lee Fang reports in his essay “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools” that at a October 2010 retreat, “Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a union busting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”

    Sound familiar?

    Closer to home, Colin Woodward’s “Special Report: The profit motive behind virtual schools in Maine” exposed how Maine’s digital education agenda is being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to profit on the changes; interestingly those identified included were Patricia Levesque, Jeb Bush and the organization ALEC.

    The Governor’s gathering of “experts” was profit-minded; a “dog and pony show”, which will not benefit students, parents, teachers, or Maine taxpayers. Once again the Governor insults the intellect of all Mainers through this barely veiled charade called a conference.

    [1] http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine

    [1] http://www.thenation.com/article/164651/how-online-learning-companies-bought-americas-schools#

    [1] http://www.pressherald.com/news/virtual-schools-in-maine_2012-09-02.html

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