Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. - Franklin D. Roosevelt
With the debate over the proposed levy heating up, it has been suggested to me that home schooling and charter schools are viable options for teaching large numbers of children. Before engaging in the viability of alternative systems for educating children, it is important to review the primary reasons public schools were started in the first place. The first was the need for a semi-trained work force to serve the requirements of a rapidly industrializing nation, and the second was because most parents then, like today, lacked the capacity in time, temperament, discipline and education to do the job themselves. In addition, as FDR and many others have pointed out, for representative government to succeed over the long run, the first requirement is an educated electorate.
These reasons are why society will always have a compelling interest in the education of the children that will become its adults and why policy must address all children, not just some. No doubt there are a very small percentage of families that make homeschooling work. However, as you are reading this, no one can tell us how many children are being home-schooled in Idaho, nor can they tell you how effectively that job is being done. They can’t tell you because that data is not collected by anyone. No Idaho agency requires parents to inform them how they are homeschooling, and neither testing nor inspection is done to insure the instruction is taking place.
The state does not keep track of how many home-school students there are, what grade level they have progressed to, whether they fulfill graduation or GED requirements, or how many go on to college. They also do not mandate that parents submit a curriculum, or students sit for an ISAT or SAT test. Therefore, the test scores home school organizations tout are only of the brightest or at least of the ones lucky enough to live in a family where education is taken seriously enough that parents realize they need to make sure their student is on track, or ahead of, their public school peers. My guess is if you only tested the top 25% of public school kids, the home-schoolers would be trounced soundly for all the reasons I mentioned earlier. However, because home school kids are neither tracked nor tested, we don’t have any way of proving my contention one way or another.
Further complicating matters is the fact that it is virtually impossible for authorities to prove that education is not taking place in a home. Only in cases of divorce where one parent is complaining against another or in a case of suspected abuse where an investigation exposes a student not being educated, do authorities have the ability to act. In this regard, the law is wholly inadequate to protect children from the neglect of not being educated.
If you are looking for someone to blame for this mess, the list is short. First parents, for their arrogance in believing they can teach subjects that for most of them they barely learned when they were students, and time has eroded most of the rest of their knowledge. The next is our legislators for pandering to citizens who fall in the first category or who are borderline paranoid. While I realize you have a tough time being elected when you call the electorate uneducated or stupid; you don’t have to tie the hands of the very people that spend their professional lives passing the knowledge of one generation to the next. Surely, there is common ground we can find in insuring that children are receiving a full measure of the only earthly birthright they are all entitled to: as much education as they can soak up.
Tagline: Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is the author of a new book, Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb; it may be purchased at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and other on-line retailers. Mark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.