Homeschooling and public policy

journal coverTheory and Research in Education, an “international peer reviewed journal that publishes theoretical, empirical and conjectural papers contributing to the development of educational theory, policy and practice,” is going to be turning a scholarly eye on us.  According to Homeschooling Research Notes, they have issued a call for papers for a special issue on homeschooling.  I can only guess what the results will look like, but coming from the education establishment as it undoubtedly will, I doubt I will agree with much of it.

Public policy, as it relates to homeschooling, is actually quite an interesting topic.  Valerie over at Home Education Magazine discussed “public policy” relating to “generic children” in specific families some time ago, pointing to the very real problem the state has in taking the best interests of individual children into account, bound as it is to generic policies that are supposed to work for everyone.  Even Rob Reich, however, recognizes that anecdotes, ie., specific cases, should not be used to set policy.

So what is “public policy?”  I, too, shall go to the amazingly convenient Wikipedia:

Public policy is the body of fundamental principles that underpin the operation of legal systems in each state.

Fundamental principles underpinning the operation of legal systems. I think I like that.  Perhaps I am a little old-fashioned, but what comes immediately to mind is something along the lines of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” “innocent until proven guilty,” that governments derive their powers by the “consent of the governed.”  Those are pretty fundamental principles here in America, anyway.  And their applications to homeschooling are immediately recognizable.

This addresses the social, moral and economic values that tie a society together: values that vary in different cultures and change over time.

Which perhaps lends itself to a particular criticism when related to this particular “international peer reviewed” journal.  Which is published in Slovenia, by the way.  Nothing against Slovenians, but the very nature of public policy resists being peer reviewed internationally.  America has very different social, moral and economic values than China, than Zimbabwe, than Peru, than Uzbekhistan, than France, etc.  We need to measure our laws and our policies against our own fundamental principles, not against the rest of the world.  Does Germany’s fixation on the development of “parallel societies” have meaning for what is supposed to be “the melting pot of the world?”  Is France’s commitment to secularism compatible with our rich history of religious diversity?

Law regulates behaviour either to reinforce existing social expectations or to encourage constructive change, and laws are most likely to be effective when they are consistent with the most generally accepted societal norms and reflect the collective morality of society.

And here we finally get to how all this relates to you and me in our own homes.  So what are the “most generally accepted societal norms?”  And what is the “collective morality of society?”

“School” is certainly a norm.  So much so that many confuse school attendance with education.  As such, I think perhaps this is why the public school system has become the model for laws related to homeschooling.  A teacher standing in front of a classroom teaching from a state-adopted textbook so that her students can take a state-developed and state-administered standardized test at the end of the year to ensure “accountability” is the model the rest of us are measured against.

We are so used to this model that we hardly stop to consider what fundamental principles coerced subjection to such a model violates.  The assumed conflict between parental and public interests which Dr. Gaither notes in his entry stems not so much from competing interests in the development of the child as it does from a basic conflict arising out of changing fundametal principles.  Concepts such as “life, liberty, property,” “innocent until proven guilty” and “consent of the governed” are principles which should prevent the state from intruding into our homes without some form of probable cause.  But such principles shift over time, to the point that they now seem almost archaic.

Hence we get from the Declaration of Independence’s purpose for government:

That to secure these [unalienable] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

To Mr. Sedivy’s purposes for government, as outlined for his high school history class:

Responsible for maintaining social order, services, and enforcement.

There is interdependence among the nations. We rely on each other. (For example, think about a simple pencil – the rubber eraser, graphite for the lead, wood for the pencil, metal to hold the eraser. Resources from many nations and locations are needed to manufacture a common pencil.)

Balance of power.

Real politics – events in one country affects others. Therefore, the United Nations or a similar international association is necessary.

To maintain social order…or to construct a new one…we have public education.  And if this has become America’s “body of fundamental principles that underpin the operations of [our] legal systems,” no, independent homeschooling probably does not have a place in education policy.