By Kevin Swanson
Every great social movement in the annals of history will see its great moments of decision. I believe that moment of decision has come for home education in America.
After the first 20 years of healthy growth in home education in America, a new threat is developing on the horizon. Over the last several years many schools and school districts across the country have launched a plethora of programs specifically targeting homeschoolers. One school district provides a web-based program for homeschoolers. Another school district offers free curriculum, a home computer, and other benefits, as well as regular home visits from public school teachers… and all of this is free! Another school district opens up any and all classes for homeschool participation.
Whether the government-funded schools offer these programs to the homeschoolers out of pure altruism, a desire for more control over the education of our children, or merely for the state money that they would receive is sometimes difficult to tell. Nevertheless, the pressure is growing. The public schools will continue to pursue homeschoolers, advertising their programs to those families who have filed their notice of intents with the school districts. Then the carrots of computers, curriculum, and cash undoubtedly will be placed in front of us. Now this may appear like good news to many home educators who resent paying twice for their children’s education. But, before accepting the whole carrot, I would urge my fellow home educators to consider the following important principles.
First, let us remember the reasons why we homeschooled in the first place. Many of us homeschool in order to change the content of education. As our society drifted away from a Christian basis for education and more into a humanist system, the content of education changed. As the ideas changed, the consequences did too. There is a reason for the 550% increase in the rate of illegitimate births, the 200% increase in teenage suicides, and the 500% increase in violent crime rates just over the last 30 years. Many Christian parents have concluded that the ideas generated by our major cultural institutions (the schools and the media), are creating consequences that would be unacceptable for their families. So they have turned back to a biblically-based education. In general, the government-funded schools will not provide a Christian education because they have adopted a self-consciously, secular-humanist worldview, and most certainly do not endorse a Christian value system in their moral instruction.
Furthermore, the homeschool can provide a purely individualized instructional program, in which we fit a curriculum, teaching methods, and courses to each child’s individual giftings. Inevitably, government schools will be constrained by regulations that will inhibit flexibility which is essential if we are going to maximize academic effectiveness for each individual child. Government systems are (by definition) built for centralized control and therefore, standardization of process and content.
We also homeschool because we, as parents, recognize our obligation to administer and control the education of our children. The government-funded schools operate on the presupposition that professionals ought to be educating, testing, training, and counseling children. Fundamentally, government education systems challenge parental responsibility and violate the rights and obligations that lie in the sphere of the family. When a parent volunteers to assume responsibility for the education of their children, a major part of this responsibility is the funding of it. Using an oft-stated truism, “freedom is not free!”
These are some of the basic principles at stake as we consider government involvement in home education.
Secondly, may we never forget the inimitable principle that what the government funds, the government controls. A number of private colleges have had to turn down all government grants and loans for their students for the very reason that the federal government moved to control the policies of the schools.Many of the government-funded homeschools will include visits from a friendly public school teacher or administrator. Let us say for example that the government funds the homeschool program.
After a while, an administrator for the program finds that the environment of the homeschool is negatively impacting the education of the student. Why then wouldn’t the government remove the ten commandments from the wall of the homeschool or dictate the kind of discipline the parents should use in the homeschool? This may not happen at the outset of the program, but inevitably the controls will come. There have been so many legal precedents authorizing this trend, one can hardly argue the inevitability. I think of the Pell Grant vs. Grove City College Supreme Court decision and the more recent West Virginia State Court decision, concluding that the public school has the right to put “conditions” such as enrollment upon homeschoolers if they wish to participate in extra-curricular sports or take supplemental classes.
Thirdly, remember that government-funded schools are a relatively new historical invention. The public schools are funded by a system of “wealth redistribution,” an inherently socialist political principle. Until the mid-to-late 1800’s most of education was private, local, and based in the home. “Free” government-controlled education came on the 10th plank of the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. The Bible, on the other hand (published well before that date), put the control of education (and therefore the funding of it) squarely in the lap of parents (Eph. 6:4, Deut. 6:7).
Finally, there is the principle of the camel’s nose. This comes from the Arabian fable of the camel who felt awfully cold one night outside of the tent. He asks his master if he might bring the tip of his nose into the tent. His master acquiesces. Then he asks if he might just slip his head into the tent, and, before you know it the entire camel is in the tent, and his master is sleeping out in the desert sand. In my brief 35 years of experience with government, one thing I have learned is that big government tends to grow incrementally into our homes, businesses, churches, and personal lives.
This is indeed a moment of decision for every homeschooling family in this state. Will we allow the camel’s nose into the tent? Will the reasons why we chose to homeschool in the first place be blurred and will we gradually merge back into the government school system? Will we lose the distinction between a fundamentally humanist education and a godly education based on the principles of God’s Word? The future of homeschooling, to a great extent, will be determined by what the homeschoolers in this state will do with the carrot of government money. Homeschooling has brought a great blessing to many families, and, I believe, it is the brightest light in America’s future. This is because it represents a radical shift in how we teach children, what we teach children, and who is in control of it. Undoubtedly the government has the power to destroy it, but only if we acquiesce.
In closing, I would simply caution each homeschool family that would consider participation with the government school to ask a few questions first. Is there any part of this program which could oppose my basic spiritual and moral values, and undermine my homeschooling program? Since I will strengthen the programs that I support, is there any way that I can supply an equally effective program through support groups, enrichment programs, or other community or church groups? Is my participating in this program going to lead to participation in more programs? Is there any way that new regulations and controls may be placed on the program that could either curtail my freedom to homeschool or otherwise compromise my basic spiritual and moral values? Could involvement in government-funded programs lead to interference from the government in other parts of my family’s life, or an invasion of the privacy of the family and homeschool? In other words, is this just the camel’s nose under the tent? May God give each of us the courage and the wisdom to make the right decisions for our families and for our country.
Kevin Swanson is Executive Director of Christian Home Educators of Colorado and author of “Upgrade – the Ten Secrets to the Best Education for Your Child.” He hosts a daily networked radio program for home educators heard all over the world at http://www.kevinswanson.com . Government funding is producing profound effects on our movement. What will this do to the movement? Will it erode our will to survive? Kevin Swanson encourages caution and wisdom on what could be the hottest issue in homeschooling today.