Monday, August 11, 2008

To Comply Or Not?

On my recent post "Not Back To School Paperwork," I received a couple of comments that got me thinking about our decision to comply with Georgia homeschool laws.

Adam said:

Just out of curiosity, what's to stop you from just making up everything you have to report, and if there's nothing to stop you from fabricating it, what's the point (if you buy into the argument that the State must check to make sure you're actually educating your own kids in the first place)?

Elisheva said:

. . . they [the State Board of Education] have no money or personnel to enforce the rule. That's a good thing, but I feel just a bit the coward when I comply anyway. It's none of their 'beeswax' . . . .

Adam has a point. There really is nothing to stop me from making up the information we send in to the state, excepting our original Declaration of Intent to Homeschool (DOI). Then I suppose it would be fairly easy for a state official to verify that the name of the parent matches our address, and possibly verify that the name(s) of the child(ren) match tax records. But as far as I know, it's not a common practice, to verify the information on the form. It probably does happen here and there--wouldn't surprise me.

As for our monthly "attendance" forms, this part of the law is really kind of silly. State 'yay' or 'nay' on a particular date as to whether your kid attended homeschool. At the end of the calendar year, the 'yays' need to equal 180. There is nobody looking over your shoulder to ensure that you are "doing" school. (And I'd like to keep it that way.)

Part of the reason for this, I think, is twofold. First, there is nothing in the law that stipulates exactly what constitutes Official School--which is the beauty of homeschooling. If you want to spend the day at the zoo and call it a field trip, then you can. If you want to have your kids sit at a desk and do worksheets and call it school, then you can do that, too.

The second reason is that Georgia, like every other state in the union (to my knowledge), compels attendance in school, but does not compel education. An important distinction, because if education were actually mandatory, the state itself would have lots of 'splainin' to do.

Now if the law is kind of silly, then why am I going to comply? Well, that speaks to what Elisheva wrote. Why am I going to comply with this nuisance paperwork? Why do I plan to comply with the testing requirements, which don't kick in until 3rd grade, even though I don't need to report the test results to anyone in the state? After all my noise about the American Community Survey, why am I going to follow these rules, when, as you must know if you read my blog regularly, I don't recognize them as legitimate functions of the government and which ideally should be repealed entirely?

Well, I comply with a whole bunch of laws that I don't agree with or recognize as legitimate--taxes, for example. The consequences for not doing so are too high. However, I do always try to comply on my own terms as much as possible. To take the tax example, because we are self-employed, we don't have taxes withheld on a regular basis. We don't pay ahead of time like I think we're supposed to do. Basically, we settle up at tax time and write the governments their checks then. It's ugly, but at least they don't get to use our money all year long and they don't get more of our money than (they say) they are due, to use interest-free until the refund check is cut.

So I'm going to comply with the homeschooling laws--again, on my own terms, as much as possible. Although I really considered not complying, and know of many families who prefer to fly under the radar. Unlike the American Community Survey though, there are actual consequences to non-compliance, and I'm not willing to risk those consequences. There is a difference, I think, in blindly following a law since "It's the LAW" and carefully weighing out the risks and benefits of compliance and making your decision accordingly, even if you do end up complying. So that's what we've done here.

"On my own terms" applies to the monthly attendance forms. Ryan seems to learn something just about every day of the week, and I'm not about to try to account for each moment of "education" simply to mark my kid as "present" on a form. So I'm filling all of the forms out ahead of time for the whole year and will send them in monthly as they are due. The way the law is written allows me to do that. More efficient use of my time anyway.

Also, I have recently joined the Board for one of our statewide homeschooling organizations, HEIR. One of HEIR's primary functions is to monitor our state legislators, to prevent them from "helping" us homeschoolers by passing more laws (and most times, the proposed laws are actually well-intended, even though they are fraught with dire consequences). I'm getting involved in HEIR now because I want to ensure that the level of homeschooling freedom I enjoy in Georgia does not shrink. Anything the legislators do now will most certainly impact my life. So I'm joining up, and for that reason, I think I should be in compliance. And joining the Board allows me to work for changes toward more freedom--I can advocate for the end of the attendance forms, for example--and in this way effect changes in a law that I dislike quite a bit.

Also, also--truancy. There haven't been too many truancy crackdowns (in my county at least), but our governor (Oh-He-Of-The-Rain-Dance) has made truancy a priority for his henchmen administration. My DOI--sigh, my paper--provides me with protection against overzealous government officials. And, happily, it also gets me education discounts at Barnes & Noble, so that's something!

Wow--I've been working on this post for a couple of days now, so I think I'll stop for now. Interesting to think about though.


Kelly said...

Very thoughtful entry, Jenn. I'm really looking forward to hearing your thoughts as you move forward with homeschooling. You're forging a path I hope to follow in the future!

C. August said...

I agree completely with the strategy of complying with the laws in the most reasoned manner necessary. We're stuck with having to make this calculation in the horrendously mixed world we live in, so we need to make a choice about what laws are easy to and worth ignoring, and what objectionable laws are necessary to grudgingly comply with.

We have families to worry about, so we do what we can, and prioritize when we're dealing with the big guns of intrusive govt.

Kelly Elmore said...

I understand the dilemma. When we had to decide whether to get a birth certificate and SS number for Livy, it was a hard decision (made easy by our transport to the hospital, where they just do it without asking). We hated that the government would be able to start tracking her and getting in her business from about 2 days old, but in the end, there is just too much punishment associated with not getting the documents. Legal trouble for us and bureaucratic red tape for her later. We'll be making the same decision you guys have on the DOI and attendance, though I am still thinking about the testing. Can't wait to hear what you find out about HEIR and how we can get involved in that.

Jessica Lee, Adam Ross, and Evan Ross Cooke said...

"Reason ends at the point of a gun." Or something like that. Don't you just love being thrown into the animalistic survival mode of "fight or flight" when you're just trying to maintain your integrity?

I spent six long years in the military engaged in that fight. For the first three, I didn't even know what I was fighting. Then, a friend gave me a copy of "The Virtue of Selfishness" which set me on a whole different track. That's right, no namby-pamby "Anthem" to start me off.


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

First, congratulations on your first days of homeschooling.
We are experiencing our last days of it--see my latest post--as the Boychick (aka N.) has decided to go to high school. It's good---it really is--but it's hard for me.

I think your post says very clearly why we decided to go ahead and comply with New Mexico's very minimal Notification of Intent to Home School. First, it does not require the children's names--only their ages and the adult homeschooler's name. Secondly, because N. had already attended school, flying under the radar would not have "flown" for us.

Nevertheless, I have always felt vaguely unheroic when submitting my form. And yet, both C. August and Adam reminded me--"reason ends at the point of a gun." The thought of losing my kids to the system was more than I could bear, and the trauma of trying to fight it would have disrupted their peace and tranquility.

Thanks! I feel better now, remembering that even John Galt did not resist the point of the gun. He did what he was told to do, though, and nothing more. And we did the same thing with this intrusive law.

Kelly, the Chem Geek Princess was born at home in 1985, and we, too, pondered the question of registering her birth with the state. But we reasoned that keeping birth records was a legitimate function for the county in order to maintain population data. In 1985, we did not have to apply for a SS number for her. On tax forms Uncle Sam still trusted us not to lie. Those were simpler days. By the time Boychick arrived after transport to the hospital in 1993, it was different. But then we had no choice, either.