"The first duty of society is to give each of its members the possibility of fulfilling his destiny. When it becomes incapable of performing this duty it must be transformed" Alexis Carrel
What got me thinking about homeschooling was a recent encounter through The Education Carnival for Week 26 with a blog in last week's Education Carnival, Cross Blogging that discussed legislation proposed in Rockford, IL that would require homeschooled students to meet the same truancy criteria that every other school age child is expected to meet. There were a few commenters at the blog very much against this legislation, and there was impassioned talk of governmental intrusion into parental freedom. This got me thinking about education and our responsibility to society at large, and to what extent we are expected to abrogate our freedom to accommodate what is for the better good of our society's ability to function. As near as I can determine it the responsibility for education isn't equally distributed, with homeschoolers and parents in general not expected to hold the bag much at all, though their taxes do help; alas, that's not where the responsibility should end.
I didn't see the truancy legislation as a problem, first because I don't think parents should have the freedom to be unaccountable for what their children are doing, especially when the kids are supposed to be absorbing an education, and second because a kid out shopping or hanging out in a mall during school hours is a legitimate issue, a societal issue, and I believe that they should be accounted for in some way. We as concerned citizens should be asking why a child is hanging out at the local video gallery during school hours and expect the authorities to get involved to pin down what's going on. I'm also sure that Rockford, IL truant officers, if the program ever gets itself off the floor, will be able to work out something with the local homeschooled parents to make sure that kids found in the park (unsupervised? Hmmmmm ...) doing science experiments won't be picked up for truancy.
I found this concern with impinging on parental freedom a curious one. Indeed, a lot of freedom comes with homeschooling. Last year I tutored two girls in science who were homeschooled. I wasn't expected to meet any state education standard and the girls were pretty much allowed to choose what they wanted to learn in science. While I have no question that we covered more than we would have in a standard classroom for the time we spent together, the fact is that we only met once a week for an hour. Their mom, a very conscientious and capable woman, only had to report that they did the following courses to meet the state requirement for graduation. I imagine if I had the freedom to teach my kids anything they, or I (let's remember that a large percentage of homeschoolers are fundamentalist Christians many of whom have a hard time with the science and much of the secular curriculums in our schools) were interested in, and let them learn anytime we wanted to, then the need to be accountable to state truancy laws would indeed be an obnoxious intrusion into one's daily routine. But then in my mind we can would hope, fruitlessly it seems, that truancy requirements aren't the only requirement homeschoolers should be striving to meet.
Before I get too far into this let me make it clear that I'm not against homeschooling. My experience with it, to include the girls I tutored and children who I've run into who were back in the mainstream after being homeschooled, has been positive. There's also evidence to show that kids who come from homeschooling environments often perform as well, or better, than their traditionally educated peers. So on the whole I have personal and anecdotal evidence that homeschooling can indeed work, but I also know that I'm only seeing a segment of this population and I really have no clue how representative that segment is of the entire population of homeschoolers, and as near as I can tell nor does anyone else.
This issue of education and freedom also got me thinking about what our responsibility as a society is for educating our children. As I see it there's at least two clear cut responsibilities that come into play here. First there's passive responsibility, the strongest example that I can point to for this is that we take money out of your pocket to enable education to occur. Whether you want to or not you're likely contributing something to the local school system. Then there's active responsibility, but we seem to be a bit more ambiguous about the role of the players here. We should be expected to call truancy authorities if we see kids in places they shouldn't be expected to be found during normal school hours, though I'd guess that this doesn't often happen unless the kids in question are committing crimes or otherwise presenting a problem. And of course parents are expected to be actively involved in their children's education, going to the school to confer with teachers, reacting to problems as they may occur, and overseeing that their kids are doing their assignments - alas, we as a society don't hold parents very accountable for missing the educational mark of their children, instead dumping much of the blame on schools and teachers.
We as a society expect children to be able to do some very basic things after they're through a K-12 experience. What the local school system considers important may not be what a parent does, which is where homeschooling tends to come in. But some basic things, like reading, writing, and how to do math, the basic things assessed in the initial implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we expect kids to have a minimal level of proficiency with and I don't think there'd be much disagreement about this. But homeschoolers aren't expected to show that their kids have been left behind, or are far ahead, or anything at all (this may differ from state to state, but when the state of Massachusetts, which ranks fifth amongst all states in educational expenditures, doesn't expect much that's specific from homeschooled kids my guess is that this is a general national trend), which is another example of the government not expecting parents to be accountable for their children to society as a whole. School and teachers are expected to be held accountable for the educational failure of students, but not homeschooling parents.
I can buy into the philosophy that parents should be allowed the freedom to educate their children as they see fit, but I don't see why they shouldn't be expected to meet the same standard of accomplishment, at least with regard to some very basic areas of education, that everyone else involved in this endeavor is expected to meet. At a minimum we as a society should expect all of our children to read, write, and do basic math, and in the case of the standard state public school, through NCLB we've made these expectations a national requirement, yet homeschoolers are not expected to meet them. Of course I'm not even touching on the fact that homeschooling teachers are not expected to meet the qualification standards established by NCLB.
Homeschoolers who get into a frenzy over having to account for why their children are in a mall during school hours are likely bristling at this, but then maybe there'd be something in this for them. If we expected homeschooled students to attain similar levels of basic skill mastery as regularly educated children then the state should also be responsible for ensuring that the parents in question have the resources to do this (and yes, a slight bur pertinent tangent, this would apply to private schools and likely constitute something akin to vouchers, though only for basic education requirements which are deemed essential by society.) That's not to say that the state should pay for homeschooling, I don't advocate that at all, but rather some parts of homeschooling would be appropriately paid for as we as a society feel it's important that children meet basic levels of educational proficiency, and moreover that schools, or in the case of homeschoolers parents, are held accountable for this.
Being free to educate your children as you see fit is fine, but you should also be prepared and society should expect homeschoolers to be accountable for how well their children are doing. Other than intruding on some measure of "freedom" I should otherwise think that this would be welcome by the homeschooling advocates inasmuch as they're sure they're doing a better job of educating their children than the local school system. Surely this would give homeschooling advocates the opportunity to prove that very point, and moreover that they, as by and large unqualified teachers per NCLB, don't need to be qualified; it could open a whole new debate regarding parental responsibility and what the federal government, or any oversight entity, should be expecting of students, teachers, and school systems.
We don't give parents the freedom to do with their children what they want, which is why child abuse is finally getting the attention it deserve from all professionals who work with children. In the same vein parents shouldn't have the unrestricted freedom to not be accountable for the
educational proficiency of their children. Some would clearly see this as governmental intrusion into the lives of families, I see it as looking out for children and ensuring that they are obtaining the necessary tools to function productively in our collective society. Certain things, and education is one of them, should stretch beyond just parental responsibility.