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KEEPING IT: The Battle to Protect our Home School Freedoms

By Res Peters

Threats of jail. Loss of custody. Fleeing the state. 2004...Germany? 1992...Idaho?

Yes, and yes.

Few families in Germany home educate today. They do so in secret, with conviction and courage. Pornography taught in the public school curriculum violates the conscience of those parents. The German court ruling? This pornography, acceptable to the mainstream, is therefore within the boundaries of the "conscience" of all parents. Those parents are required to send their children to school or face prison, fines, and loss of custody. To keep their children, some families flee the country.

Few families in Idaho home educated prior to 1992. They did so in secret with conviction and courage. Curriculum taught in the public school violated the conscience of those parents. The Idaho court ruling? The parents were contributing to the delinquency of minors. Those parents were required to send their children to school or face jail, fines, and loss of custody. To keep their children, some families fled the state.

In 1992, to enact unrestricted home education in Idaho, a few courageous parents came forward to testify. Thrust into the public eye, had their bill been defeated, their lives could have changed forever. But the legislators listened. Compelled by the parents' pleas, they granted home educators their freedom. And home education was placed on an equal footing with public education, no longer under the supervision of the school districts.

This clash in world views in both Germany and Idaho centers on the issue of to whom the children belong, the state or the parents. And the answer to that inquiry determines the extent of government control versus personal freedom.

In Germany, the courts have declared that the convictions of the mainstream populace are the convictions of both the state and of the individual. Deviation from the collective conscience by an individual or a family has now been criminalized. The state is in. Personal freedom is out.

In Idaho, the legislature has vested parents with the responsibility of causing the child to be instructed in the manner that the parents choose. And those parents have been granted the presumption of innocence unless credible evidence of educational neglect exists. The state is out. Personal freedom is in.

However, the opponents of personal freedom remain. The Idaho Education Association's 2005 IEA Legislative Program includes support for legislation that will require that home schooled students meet all standards set by the State Board of Education. Further, the 2004 IEA Resolutions reflect their belief that:

Home schooling programs cannot provide the child with a comprehensive education experience... Instruction should be held in a facility meeting state accreditation requirements... provided by persons who are licensed by the state. The curriculum should be approved by the State Department of Education.

For the IEA, the state is in. Personal freedom is out.

Last legislative session, the IEA, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Senate Assistant Majority Leader, along with an array of "expert" witnesses pursued legislation to regulate home educators. This included a mandatory criminal conviction for educational deficiency, even if only a minor modification were needed.

This same senator has drafted legislation for the upcoming session which adds to his last session's failed bill, registration of home educators with local public school districts. His rationale for this return to the pre-1992 days:

We've got no record right now anywhere in the state and we're attracting radicals from around the nation because Idaho's got one of the least restrictive home school laws in the nation." Lewiston Tribune, September 26, 2004

"Radicals." Those whose conscience persuades them to home educate. Those whose convictions run counter to the mainstream. Those who are attracted to the freedom enjoyed in Idaho. And those whose values appear to be unwelcome in Idaho to at least one lawmaker. For that legislator, the state is in. Personal freedom is out.

Labeling those home educating constituents who expressed their concern over the proposed legislation "irrational" and "the home-schooling industry," the senator has for the moment withdrawn home educators from the bill, but has vowed to "fight that fight another day."

What does this mean for home educators in Idaho? The clash of world views continues and even escalates between the "radicals" and those who would replace our freedom to home educate this legislative session with the oversight of a failing state system.

"You have a republic if you can keep it," declared Benjamin Franklin. While conviction and courage gained America her freedom, vigilance and responsiveness have maintained it.

Will our personal freedom remain in tact? That will depend entirely upon the vigilance and responsiveness of each home educator. You have your freedom if you can keep it. Together, we can.

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