HOMESCHOOLING: Prosecution is waged abroad; troubling trends abound in US
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--As the practice of homeschooling continues to grow, an expert has noticed a "marked increase" in the scrutiny that parents and students can face when they choose to pursue an education at home.
"I think what we're seeing is unfortunately a growing trend," Michael Farris, chancellor of Patrick Henry College, told Baptist Press.
Some of the most severe cases are happening overseas, in countries such as Germany and Sweden where families are being fined thousands of dollars for homeschooling their children and government authorities are removing children from homes.
Religion News Service reported that in Bavaria, police entered a home and seized a 15-year-old girl, placing her in a psychiatric facility because they believed the girl had been brainwashed by her conservative evangelical parents who homeschooled her.
In the same article, a woman missed a court date to answer charges of homeschooling her two sons, and the police tracked her down and took the boys from her custody. Last year, a German family received political asylum in Tennessee after they were persecuted by the German government for homeschooling their children.
"In Germany, home-schooling is a crime so serious that families who ignore the law have been fined into poverty, and parents have served jail time. Some families have staged stand-offs against the police, or hid their children with other families," RNS said.
Germany is one of a handful of nations that bans homeschooling, with a Hitler-era law giving German states the right to take custody of children who don't attend school, according to the article.
DANGEROUS TRENDS IN U.S.
"So there are trends there, but the more frightening trends for American homeschoolers are the trends in the United States," Farris said.
In New Hampshire, the state Supreme Court is expected to rule any day in a case where divorced parents could not agree on how to educate their daughter. The father said the mother's strict Christian homeschool teachings were isolating the child, and a lower court judge ordered the child to attend public schools, which the mother considered a violation of her parental rights.
The father's attorney argued before the New Hampshire Supreme Court in January that parents have no constitutional right to homeschool their children. New Hampshire state Rep. Jim Parison has introduced a Homeschool Freedom Act, which is intended to protect parents from needless interference by government agents when they choose homeschooling.
Farris, who also is chairman and general counsel of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said the New Hampshire case "is an incredibly dangerous development" because the judge who sent the girl to public school was opposed to the mother teaching a belief system that included absolute truth.
In the cover story for the November-December issue of The Home School Court Report magazine, Farris details a third wave of argument that seeks to curtail or crush the homeschooling movement. The first wave, years ago, he wrote, was to accuse the movement of being unable to provide an adequate education. The second wave was to criticize its students for being socially inept. Both were proven wrong, Farris wrote.
"But there is a third wave coming. And I doubt that many of you have any idea of the intensity and breadth of the elitist movement that is taking dead aim at our movement," Farris wrote. "... Here is their assertion. Christian homeschooling parents are effectively transmitting values to their children that the elitists believe are dangerous to the well-being of both these very children and society as a whole.
"What are those values? Homosexuality is a sin. Men should be the leaders of their families. Jesus is the only way to God. All other religions are false."
Farris quoted law professors from Northwestern University, George Washington University and Emory University who have called for a ban on religious education in both private and homeschooling contexts.
"The people who are preaching tolerance are actually opponents of liberty," Farris told Baptist Press. "Historically, tolerance and liberty were competing ideas. The Toleration Acts of William and Mary in 1688 were radically different than the religious liberty ideas that came from James Madison and Patrick Henry initially in 1776 in the Virginia Bill of Rights. Toleration means there is an official position and you're allowed to differ from it a little bit. 'If you differ too much, we won't tolerate you.'
"That's exactly what's happening with this judge in New Hampshire and with these law professors. Religious liberty means the government has no jurisdiction over what you believe and the soul is at liberty," Farris said. "No one can be punished for what they believe or don't believe. We have the historical battle coming back, and the forces of tolerance are opposing the forces of liberty."
HOMESCHOOL NUMBERS STILL RISING
Part of the reason for the uptick in scrutiny, Farris said, is the sheer number of homeschoolers, though he estimates they're still only about 20 percent of the private school population.
"So we're comparatively small, but homeschoolers are disproportionately representing the best and the brightest. That's what I think they don't like. They don't like seeing the next generation of top leaders being taught in a way that effectively transmits a Christian worldview," Farris said.
A study released in January by the National Home Education Research Institute said more than 2 million children in the United States are homeschooled. The NHERI studied census data to determine that homeschoolers account for nearly 4 percent of the school-age population, or 1 in 25 children, and the institute said homeschooling is rapidly becoming a mainstream education alternative.
The Old Schoolhouse magazine, a homeschooling publication, said in January that homeschoolers score an average of 37 percentile points above the national average on standardized achievement tests, and such statistics have caught the eye of college admissions personnel.
The magazine said colleges are employing a wide variety of strategies aimed at recruiting homeschoolers, including strong representation at homeschool conventions, direct mailing campaigns and promotions in publications. Some institutions have appointed "homeschool liaison and recruitment specialists."
"The proof is in the pudding," Farris said. "The executive editor of the Harvard Law Review right now was homeschooled. Homeschoolers that I've taught are now on full-ride scholarships at Pepperdine Law School, George Washington Law School, University of Virginia Law School and a number of others. Those are ones I personally taught.
"Students that I've personally taught have won five national championships in moot court, which is legal debate. You can't do that with kids who weren't well-educated when they walked in the door."
Farris noted that when Patrick Henry College faced Oxford University in the final round of a moot court competition, three of the four students in the round were American homeschoolers -- one from Oxford and two from Patrick Henry.
But the threat from legal circles is looming, Farris said, and homeschooling families must act.
"We need to stand up for a permanent protection for parental rights," he wrote. "In another 20 years, it will be too late.... Persecution is on its way. It is in the law reviews today. It will be in the courtrooms tomorrow."
A key way parents can stand up, he said, is to support state homeschooling organizations by attending the homeschool conventions they sponsor.
"Homeschool conventions are really important and have put together a good composite of services for homeschoolers over the years. One is that they encourage families with spiritual encouragement, helping them be more effective in homeschooling," Farris said. "But the historical role of homeschool conventions is over time the most important. That is communicating information about homeschooling freedom and organizing the homeschoolers in a way that helps."
Farris said he is disturbed by one of the trends he sees in homeschool conventions.
"They used to be run exclusively by state organizations and those state organizations used the conventions as a means of communication and it funded the state organizations so they could lobby the state legislatures," he said.
Now people are running homeschool conventions as a business.
"They don't follow up. They come into a state, run a big convention and they encourage homeschoolers, but they aren't helping organize the homeschooling movement in a way that helps the states. We see some state organizations struggling as a result of these businesses," he said.
"It's a free country and they can do the businesses if they want, but I would hope that homeschooling families would recognize the need for strong state organizations and continue to support them and the state conventions," Farris said. "I would encourage people to give priority to the conventions run by their state organizations so that they can get linked in."
Homeschool families need to stand together to respond to the increased scrutiny aimed at their form of education, he said.
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.