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Why California turned from most homeschool friendly to most unfriendly

By Howard Richman
web posted March 17, 2008

Seventy years ago, persecuted homeschoolers would flee from the East Coast to California, the state that left you alone.

Back in 1988, when I co-led the battle that legalized homeschooling in Pennsylvania, we had the same two options under our compulsory education law that California still has today: (1) instruction by a qualified private tutor or (2) instruction by a private school. The difference was that Pennsylvania wouldn't let homeschoolers come under the private school option, while California would.

We had to get a statute passed in Pennsylvania to specifically legalize homeschooling to end the persecution of homeschoolers. But in California homeschoolers would either homeschool under the supervision of an existing private school, or they would start their own private umbrella school simply to oversee homeschooling, or the individual family would start a private school.

California used to believe in freedom of all sorts. They were not only the haven for educational freedom; they were also the haven for sexual freedom. But recently, leaders of the sexual freedom revolution decided that they no longer just wanted freedom from the government, they now wanted the government to endorse their lifestyle.

A few months ago, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 777, a bill that banned any discriminatory bias in public school textbooks against those who had chosen alternative sexual lifestyles. Bill opponents predicted that school textbooks will be considered discriminatory if "Mom" and "Dad" are presented without "two mom" or "two dad" families also being presented. In response, Pastor Paul Gleeson started California Exodus and expected 600,000 children to leave California public schools next year for homeschooling and Christian school education.

The California courts have also been supporting the new stance of the sexual freedom leadership. In 2000, California voters passed a referendum defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but in March 2005 a San Francisco judge struck down that referendum, declaring it to be unconstitutional. The California Supreme Court will likely rule soon on whether to uphold the referendum or the San Francisco judge's decision.

The homeschool court case began as a child-dependency prosecution involving a 14-year-old girl. The homeschooling father saw his 14-year-old daughter getting into the "punk" scene, wearing revealing clothing, and engaging in self-mutilation. He reportedly spanked her with a sandal. The father had had similar problems with the girl's older sisters, problems that involved physical punishments and resulted in child-dependency proceedings.

In response to his harsh treatment and strict rules, the 14-year-old daughter ran away from home and eventually went to the police. According to the social workers who got involved, he should have gotten her counseling for her signs of depression, instead of physically punishing her.
 
The 14-year-old was placed in a foster home where she still had trouble dealing with limits, but reported that she can't return to her real home because "she would never be all right with father now because she has been sexually active."

While living in the foster home, the 14-year-old began attending school, and the social workers discovered that she was way behind in math. The court soon appointed an attorney to represent her younger siblings and that attorney pushed for a court order to force the younger children into school.

This family had been homeschooling under the supervision of an existing Christian school. The school had been giving the children periodic tests to measure their progress and had been sending a visitor to their home periodically. But the child-dependency judge was not interested in finding out the children's test scores or in hearing what the Christian school had to say about the children's progress. The court documents show uncertainty about how often the children were tested and how often the Christian school interacted with the family. The judge was more interested in the children's lack of socialization than their possible lack of an academic education: Here is the key paragraph regarding the dependency court judge's findings:

Keeping the children at home deprived them of situations where (1) they could interact with people outside the family, (2) there are people who could provide help if something is amiss in the children´s lives, and (3) they could develop emotionally in a broader world than the parents "cloistered" setting.

Despite this finding, the dependency court judge declined to force the younger siblings into school since the family had been homeschooling legally under California law. The court-appointed attorney for the younger siblings disagreed and appealed the decision to a California appeals court.

The appeals court judges looked more closely at the California statutes and decided that it was illegal for a family to homeschool under the supervision of a private school. In order to be attending the school, the children would have to be "in" the school for the required hours per day. The only alternative that they left open to homeschooling parents was instruction by a credentialed tutor, an option that simply would not be possible for most homeschooling families.

It used to be that California supported freedom of all kinds, but that was before the new aggressive stance taken by the proponents of sexual freedom. Leaders of the sexual freedom revolution want to use the government to spread their values, and parents who want to raise their children in their own values are standing in the way.

Americans are pretty universally agreed that the government should stay out of the bedroom. Nobody wants to criminalize sexual practices between consenting adults. But the proponents of the sexual freedom revolution are not so tolerant. They want the government to endorse their practices. Parents who want to give their children an unambiguous expectation that they will marry someone of the opposite sex are standing in their way. ESR

The author Howard Richman is co-editor of the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers newsletter and executive director of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency.


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