(Adapted from an article written by Johanna Ireland, and used with permission.)
As you may know, Maine homeschoolers have enjoyed a much more comfortable homeschool environment since the passage of our homeschool statute in 2003. The law has provided clarity, security and freedom. But will we always have the same level of freedom to homeschool in our state? To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: You have homeschool freedom, if you can keep it! Keeping or losing homeschool freedom takes intent. Here are 5 ways to lose it.
1. Ignore Elections
Maine’s 152 representatives and 35 senators are up for election every two years. Every new and returning candidate has opinions about homeschooling – some based on stereotypes, some based on genuine interactions with homeschoolers. One thing they know for sure is that they want your vote! Families who homeschool are politically active, and candidates will often look for opportunities to win your vote.
In election years, be sure to speak with candidates and ask them to share their views on homeschooling. Would they defend the level of freedom that we currently have if need be, or would they favor stronger oversight and regulation? Most candidates are eager to answer. Their opinions on these matters will clearly influence any legislation they oppose or support. One sure way to lose your homeschool freedom is to ignore the candidates' positions on homeschooling, or even ignore the election all together. Let the Maine voters who participate determine your freedom.
2. Don’t Keep Your Legislators' Contact Info Handy
Once elected, legislators want to tinker. They come in to the marble halls of the statehouse with ideas from their life experience, letters from constituents, or visits from lobbyists for “improvements” to existing laws or even suggesting new ones. Many times lawmakers have not interacted with homeschool families enough to fully understand the ramifications of their attempts to “help” homeschoolers. For example, a bill allowing tax credits to parents who choose to homeschool would end up decreasing freedom due to the accountability and record keeping required for compliance with tax code.
Homeschoolers of Maine tracks bills during each legislative session, and sends email alerts when bills threaten our homeschool freedom.1 A good way to see your homeschool freedom diminished is to avoid contacting legislators with your concerns when threats arise. Don’t provide them with valuable opportunities to interact with homeschool families. Bills infringing on your parental freedom to home educate will then pass unchallenged.
3. Make Room in Your Budget...for State Funding
In many states, public schools are alarmed at the exodus to private homeschooling. Virtual charter school programs have the self-proclaimed agenda of bringing students back into the public school system under state oversight.2 Checking in with teachers, seeking approval for purchases, submitting lesson plans or learning goals, required progress reports, and mandated testing are some of the requirements the state imposes when you use their funding. An effective way to lose your homeschool freedom is to make room in your budget for funding from virtual public schools or programs. You will integrate your students into the public school system, and place yourself under state regulations and scrutiny.
4. Rely on News Media to Tell the Story of Homeschooling
The schizophrenic telling of the story of homeschooling by the news media could give a reader whiplash. They either revere homeschooled families as an exclusive Mensa society, or cast us as villains that would happily have tea with Mommie Dearest. You will see your freedom diminish when you rely on these caricatures to tell the story. Let the story be told by teachers' unions, chanting demonstrators, and social media rants. Encourage selfies over self-sacrifice, Instagram stories over initiative, and Facebook fame over steadfastness. Don't mention in your circles of friends and family that homeschooled graduates are among the most well adjusted, self-motivated, gainfully employed citizens they will have the pleasure of meeting.3 Don't write to newspaper editors or comment on news posts.
Lawmakers read the same news you read every day. They listen to the same voices you hear. You will allow them to base their decisions forming Maine law on exaggerated extremes when you rely on the news media to tell the story of homeschooling.
5. Believe the Myth that Parents Aren't Qualified to Homeschool
Parents not only have the responsibility, they have the ability to teach their own children at home. Public education “experts” deliver dire warnings that parents are not qualified to teach. You are surrounded by people who believe that myth. They may be current and former teachers, education policy lobbyists, family members, neighbors, the cashier at Walmart, or the random dog-walking-lady-at-the-park. In some cases, they believe you are not qualified because they are misinformed. In other cases, it is because private homeschooling challenges the assumptions behind the entire education infrastructure. Others choose to belittle parents because their own bottom line suffers when kids aren't filling seats in a classroom.
You might believe the myth, too. You might sign up for a virtual public school program for “accountability.” You might enroll your high school student in your local brick-and-mortar school so he can get a “real” diploma. You might fret that you aren't following state curriculum requirements. Maybe you haven't seen the compelling evidence that parents of average education can successfully educate their children.3 Maybe you still believe that the title “educator” imparts a mystical charm necessary to teach children.4 Maybe you don't trust your instinct that parents have insight into their kids' needs that professional educators can never replace. When you begin to believe the myth that parents aren't qualified to homeschool, you erode one of the foundational pillars of homeschool freedom: the presumption that fit parents act in the best interest of their children.5
You have homeschool freedom. Are you going to keep it or lose it? It’s up to you!
It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government. --Thomas Paine
1. Sign up for emails from Homeschoolers of Maine at https://www.homeschoolersofmaine.org/
2. Bowers, Larry C. 'Polk County Schools review new virtual learning proposal'. Cleveland Daily Banner. Accessed July 12, 2018.
3. Ray, Dr. Brian. 'Homeschooling Across America: Academic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics'. Website: www.nheri.org. Accessed July 12, 2018.
4. Klicka, Christopher J. 'The Myth of Teacher Qualifications'. Website: www.hslda.org. Accessed July 13, 2018.
Johanna Ireland and her husband Wes started homeschooling their first child in Idaho fourteen years ago, and will graduate their youngest of 9 sixteen years from now. They follow elections, know their legislators' email addresses, and believe parents are fully qualified to teach their own children without government funding or oversight. They endeavor to keep homeschooling free by serving on the board of Homeschool Idaho.