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Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling - Robert Kunzman This book is cool 'n' stuff. I don't know what to tell you about it. It's about a teacher. He goes to people's houses and talks to them about homeschooling. The structure of the book follows Kunzman's interviews with various homeschooling families that live in states following all of the different regulating schemes available in the U.S., from zero regulation to required standardized testing and reporting. Some parents are good teachers; some parents are bad teachers. Some teachers are good teachers; some teachers are bad teachers.

I had an eclectic education. I went (in chronological order) to a private school owned by a cult, a Montessori school, a Seventh Day Adventist school, and a public high school. Before and between all of those, I was homeschooled. Probably, the public school was my best experience in terms of education. Above all, though, I learned almost everything I know from TV. I can sing O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin, so homeschool was good for that; I read The Catcher in the Rye in public school, so that made everything worth it; but, mostly my educational masters were Darkwing Duck and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I'm doing some research on homeschooling regulations in Oregon, and I came across this article that talks about the traditional parens patriae obligations of the State. Basically, parents have rights over children, and the State has rights over children (called parens patriae) because children have almost no rights of their own. So, that's the theory under which the State can take kids out of the home in situations of physical abuse. But what about educational abuse? Is there such a thing? Most people agree that it exists, but almost no one agrees about what it looks like. It strikes me that any educational system, no matter how public or private, could be guilty of educational abuse.

The largest subset of homeschoolers is made up of conservative Christians. According to Kunzman, the documentary Jesus Camp puts the figure at 75%, but that is likely an exaggeration promoted by the Home School Legal Defense Association (p. 2). I have seen statistics in other articles that range from 72% to 86%, but it is undoubtedly a large number. All of the families Kunzman interviewed in this book were conservative Christians, but they each had different strategies for schooling and seemed to be in different economic classes.

Homeschooling gained popularity after the 1972 Supreme Court Case Wisconsin v. Yoder, where the Court held that members of the Old Amish community could take their children out of school earlier than a state statute allowed. It became the interpretation of Yoder that parents have the sole right to direct the education of their children, though that right can be regulated by the state if it shows a sufficiently compelling interest.

Apparently, according to the parens patriae article (which I believe was written by a Canadian, so take it with a grain of salt), the attorney who defended the Amish in the Yoder case (and who got the Court to significantly limit the State's parens patriae rights), William B. Ball, was buddies with Michael Farris, who co-founded the HSLDA in 1983. So, the conspiracy theory, as I understand it, is that they're part of that Falwell/Reagan/Schaeffer group that turned American politics into the fundamentalist Christian slumber party it is today. It's an interesting theory at least. That's not really part of this book, though the book vaguely hints at conspiracy theory in more of an, "OMFG, how did this happen?" way.

What Kunzman does talk about, and I think it's absolutely fascinating, is the relationship between support for the homeschooling movement and racial integration of public schools. Although right now, African Americans are said to be the fastest growing subset of homeschoolers, "[t]he 2003 NCES data suggest that 77 percent of U.S. homeschoolers are 'white, non-Hispanic,' compared with 62 percent of the rest of the K-12 population" (p. 160). So, the idea is that not only is homeschooling a conspiracy theory, but it's also a racist way to avoid desegregation of schools.

Probably, almost no one now would say that they were homeschooling in order to be racist. But it is interesting to me that the roots of homeschooling sound as dramatic and plotting as an episode of The Real Housewives of D.C.. Okay, maybe not that dramatic. Actually, Kunzman is not very critical of the choice to homeschool. It's obvious that he comes to the issue with skepticism, but he's very generous to the families, and it seems to me that he manages a great deal of objectivity in reporting their methods of education and contrasting them with his experiences as a public school teacher. The book ultimately has that ambivalent feel that I see whenever I read studies of socially stigmatized political minorities. He doesn't really advocate a solution in the end but more asks whether the social stigma is based in an overreaction of stranger danger, or actually based in bad education choices of homeschooling parents.

It strikes me that a good solution would be for states to develop a definition of educational abuse that could be attributed to any type of educational system. It could have definitions of literacy, numeracy, and other vital educational goals, and ages by which children should achieve those goals or be tested for learning disabilities. A lot of the home v. public schooling debate involves playground finger pointing that basically comes down to, "No YOU'RE worse!" I think that the focus of regulation should be on actually educating TEH CHILDREN, not where the kids are sitting when they get educated.