Thursday, January 03, 2008

What She Said

Recently, there's been a friendly email debate among a group of local Objectivists about the merits and drawbacks of Ron Paul. First, a little bit of background: Ron Paul is the very first person I ever heard speak about the principles and values of freedom and liberty. It was way back in the mid-80s, when my family was living in Texas. We lived in Paul's district. Actually, we lived around the corner from him and his daughter, Joy, rode her bike to school with us (Go Panthers!) every once in a while (she is a year younger and so had a different group of usual kids to ride with).

Somehow (can't really recall just how), it came to my attention that Mr. Paul had a short weekly recorded message on different political topics. Intrigued, I dialed the number each week for weeks, sometimes with a paper and pencil in hand for note-taking. I was amazed at the things Mr. Paul advocated--limited government, sticking to The Constitution, individual decision-making and responsibility, the end of the welfare state. It was my first exposure to some of the values that I cherish today and I remember being very moved by his speeches. (He may have even mentioned Ayn Rand, although I wouldn't discover her until after we moved away from Texas.)

One day, I heard that Mr. Paul was going to be running for President--for the Libertarian Party. I learned a bunch about the Libertarians and watched whatever few media appearances that Paul had. I was too young to vote, though, and through a strange mixture of factors, ended up working for the Democrats as my new school up in Michigan mandated "community service." We all recall how that ended for Mr. Dukakis and Mr. Paul.

I've kind of watched Paul off and on over the years--politics as such isn't really my thang, but every once in a while I'd smile upon learning that Paul was one of the only Congressmen to vote against some absurd spending bill.

Ron Paul is a tempting candidate, and as much as I have in common with him, I have too many philosophical differences with him to consider voting for him.

Which brings me back around to our email debate of recent days. Someone made mention of Ron Paul's stance on homeschooling, which appears to be generally favorable. He's in favor of eliminating the Department of Education (yes), but is also in favor of tax credits for homeschooling families and recruitment parity for homeschoolers entering the military. He's against a federal involvement in homeschooling and a national curriculum (yes and yes). Yet he believes that as long as NCLB exists, there ought to be a proviso for the protection of homeschoolers' rights.

See, here's the thing. I appreciate Ron Paul's support of homeschooling families and the right to continue homeschooling. However, how does he imagine tax credits will be handled without federal involvement, though? And is he borrowing trouble (if it ain't broke, don't fix it) when assuming that legislation is necessary to ensure diploma parity for military entrance? Yes, I think he is. His stance on homeschooling, for all his rights-and-freedom language, is full of mixed premises. The resulting muddle will not only make things more difficult for homeschoolers, but it will confuse the rest of the country. We need less confusion about constitutional principles, not more. Paul is advocating two ideas that are impossible to uphold at the same time--tax credits and no federal involvement. Which makes me think he's not so different from his political opponents after all.

I am opposed to tax credits for homeschooling no matter who is advocating them. Why? Because, as it stands at the moment, homeschooling is relatively free of federal involvement. I must deal with the state of Georgia, but there are no forms for me to fill out to the Feds. I want to keep it that way. If I claim a credit on my taxes, sure I'll get some of my money back. But at what price? Somebody in the federal government will have a list somewhere, where I (or worse, my kids) will be registered as official homeschoolers. One day, somebody's going to think, but why should we let homeschoolers claim this credit if we don't really know that they are educating their kids? There will be more lists, and forms, and peopleguys to follow up on those forms. There will probably be a test or an affadavit that will provide some measure of assurance to the Feds that this homeschooling family is homeschooling according to the law. Once this door is open, our right to handle the education of our children will be whittled away slowly. I never want to be a party to the opening of this door.

That's kind of what I said to my group of friends in email--although I was way more ranty. Then, today, I read Valerie Bonham Moon's commentary on the exact same passage from Ron Paul's website. She brings up the very same concerns and questions I have--only much more succinctly. Here's a bit of what she writes (emphasis added):

  • ensuring home schooling remains a practical alternative
  • Is there a credible threat in any state? If so, what is it, and how will action from the federal level stop any state from changing its educational laws?

    The federal government doesn’t have direct educational control, and controls states through the states’ acceptance of federal funds for schools. Homeschooling families are not offered federal funds.

    • advance tax credits through the Family Education Freedom Act
    I assume families would have to qualify for any tax credit before they received it. For a federal tax credit, this would seem to mean conforming to federal guidelines for homeschooling. Perhaps the IRS would be the agency to develop the guidelines. In general, would homeschooling parents feel confident that the IRS would accept all forms of homeschooling as legitimate?

    There's more and I recommend reading it and thinking it over.

    Homeschoolers in favor of freedom should oppose any attempt to put any homeschooling laws on the federal books--even if they seem to be in our favor. Once the Feds start tracking homeschoolers, especially once money is involved, the "hands-off" freedom we currently enjoy will disappear forever. Sure, it might just start with an official form--but we all know that once the bureaucratic ball gets rolling, it almost never stops. So not worth it. They're dangling a carrot here; believe me, there's a stick, too. Don't bite.


    brendan said...

    Oh, Jenn. Now you've done it. I can already hear the furious clicking on keyboards of Ron Paul supporters everywhere...

    Shana said...

    No furious typing, I promise. But I do want to point out a couple of things. Ron is offering the tax credits because of the current system. A system he would work to get rid of once he becomes president. And if you look at the language of the Family Education Freedom Act, the tax cuts are for ALL parents, not just homeschooling parents. That means there is no proof needed to show you are a homeschooler to receive the tax credit. Any parent who has school aged children could receive it, no matter where their children are educated.

    Rational Jenn said...

    Shana--I appreciate your comments. I'll look at the Family Education Freedom Act a little closer.

    I fully support the elimination of the IRS--and I think Paul shouldn't even speak their language if he is really serious about getting rid of it.

    I think Valerie Moon did a much better job of pointing out some of the questions I had and I recommend reading her post.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Valerie said...

    Thanks for the link, and the plug, Jenn. :)

    I, too, will have to look at the Family Education Freedom language (I get to things as they come to my attention), but I'm still leery of federal strings. Once something starts, getting it stopped takes a long time. Also, the Empire Builders don't like letting go.