THE GIDEON EFFECT: The Political Clout of Home Educators
By Barry Peters
The perception in the Legislature is that any legislator that puts their name on a bill to legislate home schooling is going to be an ex-legislator at the next election.Senator Gary C. Schroeder, Chairman of
Idaho Senate Education Committee (2003)
What a remarkable statement to make about a numerically-insignificant element of Idaho's citizens. It is impossible to think of any other group in Idaho that comprises only one or two percent of the total population and about whom such a statement could be made.
Politicians are fond of observing that "perception is reality." In their world of sound-bites, the herd mentality holds sway. When the herd perceives a danger, even if the perception is erroneous, the herd stampedes. The politicians know better than to try to convince the stampeding hordes that the threat is unreal. It is safer for them to simply treat the perception as reality and get out of the way.
So how did home educators come to carry such clout? Is their reputation for political muscle deserved? Consider the following statistics:
- Are politics and government too complicated to understand? While 35% of the general population believes they are, less than 5% of home school graduates hold that opinion.
- Who actually voted in the past five years? While only 50% of the adult population votes in a typical national or state election, among home educators, over 90% usually participate.
- Who contributed money to political parties and candidates? Homeschoolers were two to three times more likely to make such a contribution.
- Who campaigned for the causes and candidates in which they believe? Home educators were on average three times more likely to actively campaign than were members of the general public.
Now put yourself in the shoes of your elected representatives. One of your well-respected colleagues has introduced a seemingly-innocuous and insignificant bill that would make any parent who educationally neglects his or her child guilty of a misdemeanor crime. In this age of "No Child Left Behind" in which any law that may be said to be "for the children" is embraced higgledy-piggledy, this should generate little opposition. In fact, in the "perception is reality" mindset, it would be political suicide to oppose such a bill.
Then the emails and faxes start. First a trickle. Then a torrent. Before you know it, a growing mountain of messages appears on your desk. Everywhere you turn, someone is lobbying against this bill. Hundreds upon hundreds of messages accumulate. It eventually seems that the whole world must be focused on this bill. What originally seemed like a "pro-child" proposal suddenly resembles an "anti-parent" or "anti-family" crusade. In the final analysis, the bill is unceremoniously withdrawn by its sponsor. If this sounds suspiciously like the experience of our senators on Senate Bill 1233 during this last session, that is not a coincidence.
In an ironic turn of events, the undeniable reality in the end creates the new perception. The reality of legislators receiving more messages on this one issue than they ever received on any other issue cements the perception that there is widespread opposition in this state to the regulation of home education.
Who created that perception? Just one or two percent of the population, those home education "zealots." But like the 300 soldiers with Gideon who frightened and then destroyed the army of Midian, it is our willingness to be both heard on issues and actively involved in the legislative process that gives us our clout.
Senator Schroeder's comments quoted at the beginning of this article were uttered before this last session began. After having witnessed the relentless onslaught of the home educators against his colleague's bill, the perception of Senator Schroeder and the others of his ilk that home educators are not to be trifled with has been reinforced. Senator Schroeder's perception is now an even more concrete reality, a more firmly held conviction.
So what are we to do with this perception? Put feet to it!
This is an election year. Your candidates want to hear from their constituents. So why not oblige them? Check out the candidate statements on home education that are included on the ICHE website. Pick up the telephone and call all candidates running in your district, even those who are unopposed. Let those who support home education know that you support them because of their support for our freedom to teach our own children. Offer your favored candidates a day of your family's precious time to distribute campaign literature for him or her. And politely let those who are not clear in their support for our freedoms know that you will vote against them, and you will encourage others to vote against them, because they are not unequivocal in their support for home education. Encourage them to reconsider their views. Supply them with convincing data from the ICHE, HSLDA, and CHOIS websites. They will get the message. And then vote on November 2nd.
Even if they initially may have paid you little regard, those who come to Boise to represent you will come with a healthy respect for the political clout of home educators. And once those men and women arrive, don't be shy about letting them know how you feel when proposals are brought forward that will impact your home education freedoms. If you have contacted them during the campaign, they will remember and they will listen when you contact them later. When most citizens are complacent and uninvolved, the words spoken by those who are politically active are amplified. Your legislators will hear when you speak. That's the Gideon Effect.