Wednesday, July 11, 2007

SCOTUS Acknowledges Homeschooling

The Washington Times ran an interesting piece the other day by Michael Smith of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)*. Smith points out that for the very first time ever, the Supreme Court mentions homeschooling as a valid alternative to public and private schools.
In Morse v. Frederick, however, Justice Clarence Thomas said, "If parents do not like the rules imposed by those schools, they can seek redress in school boards or legislatures; they can send their children to private schools or home school them; or they can simply move."
Can I get an "amen?" I have sincere doubts about this particular Supreme Court ruling, but Justice Thomas is completely correct here.

Smith rightly points out that parents give up a lot when packing their kids off to the local government school, that the courts have already decided that schools have "in loco parentis" authority over children. Once you sign your kid up for school, you cede much authority to the school officials.
The clearest explanation of this view was expressed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Fields v. Palmdale, when it said, "While parents may have a fundamental right to decide whether to send their child to a public school, they do not have a fundamental right generally to direct how a public school teaches their child." (emphasis added)
Let's consider the implications of that last quotation for a moment. When you send your kid to government school, you "do not have a fundamental right" to question the government-approved curriculum, the hours the school keeps, the amount of break time (if any) your kid gets, the government-approved teacher your child has. Of course, you can challenge the schools and many parents do so successfully, but it's important to remember that you "do not have a fundamental right" to do so. If you want to reserve that right, then send your kid to private school or homeschool them.

A concern I've had is the blurring of that "in loco parentis" line in the realm of discipline, where the schools are disciplining kids for infractions off school property and sometimes not even during school hours. ("Bong Hits 4 Jesus" kid was not actually on school property when he unfurled his banner.) Do the schools have "in loco parentis" over parents? Some (and I would say most) schools are certainly aiming for that kind of power, such as the school in Illinois who tried to have graduating seniors denied their diplomas as a punishment for their unruly families. Other schools will punish the parents for skipping meetings or (in the UK, but don't worry, I'm sure it's coming here) for the child's poor behavior in the classroom. Makes sense, given that government programs never shrink, they grow ever bigger and more expensive as those that run them become more convinced that they know what's better for us than we do.

So, even as the government schools expropriate more authority from parents and secure more power for themselves, it's reassuring to see that SCOTUS has explicitly acknowledged the homeschooling alternative.

*I do not support HSLDA in any way, shape, or form. 15-20 years ago, this organization was dedicated to ensuring the rights of parents to homeschool and was instrumental in securing legislation protecting those rights in many states. They did a phenomenal job. Today, HSLDA is primarily concerned with protecting the rights of evangelical Christian homeschoolers and promotes its agenda by sponsoring unnecessary legislation in the name of all homeschoolers. It is strongly affiliated with a Christian college. Unfortunately, many people, including our lawmakers, seem to be under the impression that HSLDA is a legitimate voice for the entire homeschooling community, and I believe that HSLDA has done its best not to disabuse them of that notion. HSLDA has morphed from an organization that promoted individual rights into an organization that promotes its own best interests, which are diametrically opposed to my own, of course. Still, they get it right occasionally.

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