by Hannah Washburn
14 Years ago, I sat on the couch with my mother, a reading book in her lap, both of us in tears. At seven years old, it was mandatory that I enroll in a school, public, private or homeschool. Thankfully, my mom is adventurous and was willing to homeschool her children for their benefit. But as we sat down day after day, she trying to explain how reading works and me not understanding, we both felt discouraged. I was frustrated that as much as I tried, I could not understand. After a month of trying, my mom laid it aside until the next year. Yet still, that next year I would slowly grasp some of the concepts of reading only to lose them again. But the year I turned 9 something clicked, and within 6 months I was reading up a storm and loving every minute of it! If my mother had just plowed through, forcing me to learn concepts I was not ready for, I do not believe that I would look at a good, informative book with anticipation like I do today, but rather with great dread. Thankfully, that is not so.
Driving down to the Augusta State House at 8:30am was not something I was expecting to be doing three days before. The morning was beautiful and warm, the five of us riding together chattered away while trying to get to the public hearing for LD 151, "An Act To Align State Law with Current Practice Regarding Required School Attendance", sponsored by Senator Rebecca Millett. LD 151 would endeavor to lower the compulsory school attendance age from 7 years old to 6. Those traveling down in our vehicle were either graduated or in high school, none of us have children of our own and yet all five of us were ready to do what we could in order to keep it legal for a parent to keep their child of six from needing to meet the pressures of formal education, whether at a public or private school, or at home.
We arrived at the State House, found out where the hearing was to be and found seats. I had never been to a bill hearing, much less spoken at one. If I had had more time, I would have looked up what someone who wishes to speak at a bill hearing should do, how they should present themselves to the committee, etc. My knowledge of the proceedings was small. But there we were, the only young people 21 and under, wanting to share our voices in a place where we weren’t sure they would be heard. All I knew was that I had a short three minutes to give my argument. Other than that, I relied on discernment and observation of those around me to decide when and how. Realizing that I was supposed to have 20 copies for the chairwomen and committee members, up I stepped to the clerk’s desk. After explaining my position, she pleasantly told me to email the copies to her, so back I went to my seat. The hearing started and the first proposed bill discussed giving educational tours of lighthouses. Up I went again, this time to ask the clerk if I was in the right room. She pointed to a counter with informational papers, that somehow in my nervous entry I had overlooked. Grabbing the schedule for bill hearings, the list of the chairwomen and committee members and several other papers, I sat back down. Yes, they do discuss more than one bill in a session, we were in the right place.
During the presentation of the second bill, a few more people arrived, including a homeschooling mother with her four older children. The second bill’s hearing concluded, and LD 151 was presented by State Senator Rebecca Millett. After she had presented the bill, those supporting the bill were allowed to give their reasons, facts and opinions supporting a compulsory school attendance age of six. With my heart pounding, I heard the chairwoman open the floor to those opposing the bill. Mr. Wilcoxson, a gentleman there on behalf of HOME, was first to speak. He shared how this bill would in fact affect homeschoolers as much as those in the public schools. When he had finished, the committee asked a few questions. One of the chairwomen questioned him on what this bill had to do with homeschoolers. I must admit that I was surprised at the lack of knowledge some of the members of the committee had concerning the across the board requirements for any school age child. Mr. Wilcoxson explained that all homeschooled children who are of the required school age must either take standardized tests or submit, through specific means, to their superintendent that they are indeed progressing.
This puts undue stress on a homeschooling child and his or her family, as it would any child forced into a formalized school situation. Because this homeschooling father brought this concern to light, the chairwoman said that she would reread the bill.
“Is there anyone else who would like to oppose this bill?” she asked.
Standing up, I walked over to the podium. Though I was still nervous, when the supportive parties of LD 151 had given their “facts” and reasons as to why they believed this bill would be beneficial to children, saying children would learn more and be more quickly established in school, I felt more and more strongly the necessity that I speak. The supporting side had referenced to some “facts” and had encouraged the committee that this bill would help establish children in the school regimen and prepare them for the more strenuous academic requirements ahead. Many children are already in school at age six, they argued, it might as well be a requirement.
In order to be taken seriously, one must conduct oneself confidently and in a sure manner and that is what I went for! I proceeded to read through studies and quotes of professors, doctors and universities I had copied from HSLDA’s website, which stated the ineffectiveness of “earlier is better” and that requiring children to be in school at age six was indeed most likely harmful to the still emerging personality of a child.
The committee listened. When I was finished, they asked me a few relevant questions and I returned to my seat. Next, my sister, Grace, stood up and gave them the reasons she believed LD 151 should not be passed.
As I listened it hit me. Wow, that was easy, a little nerve racking, but easy! I didn’t need a college degree, an educator’s certificate, or a political background. I was a citizen of the United States of America, a resident of the state Maine and that was enough! I was able to stand before the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, of the 129th Maine Legislature and support or oppose any bill. I was heard and my opinion considered by a legislative committee, what an empowering feeling! Only four people spoke against the bill, but several others were there, supporting us and visually letting the chairwomen and committee members know that they too were opposed to such an invasive bill. It felt good to know that we were doing something to keep safe what is precious to us.
That, my friends, is how we keep our freedom. Our freedom to raise our children outside of the mold. Our freedom to teach them truth and to teach them according to their personal needs and bends. The freedom that I was raised in will quietly slip away if I do not actively seek to protect it. It is much harder to regain that which is lost, than to maintain that which we already have.
If you value homeschooling and value the ability for you, your children and your children’s children, and for your neighbors and communities, to grow and flourish outside of a struggling and crumbling, one-size-fits-all education system, then I encourage you to take the simple step of coming to the bill hearings and work sessions that are relevant to keeping our freedom of homeschooling and our freedom of choice. You do not have to even speak; your presence will speak volumes. For the busy fathers and mothers, you can use this opportunity as a field trip for your children. Encourage them to take notes and to research the law-making process beforehand. They too are citizens of this country! There is absolutely nothing like real life experience to inspire and educate you minds! If you don’t have children, maybe you are single, your presence and voice will still speak volumes, and you can be a positive influence on behalf of your friends and community.
Our country is what we make it, what we do or don’t do will change the way our lives here may be lived. Nothing is going to stay the way it is if we do nothing, nor is someone going to do it for us.