[Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of commentaries written by home-school students about a recent state appellate court ruling that may affect the future of home schooling in California. The students, in grades sixth through eighth, have been working with Annette Bannister, who offers writing classes for home-schooled students at the Goleta Valley Community Center.]
On Feb. 28, a state appeals court issued a ruling resulting from a juvenile court proceeding that all forms of home schooling are illegal in California, private tutoring from credentialed teachers excepted. This ruling was derived from the case of one particular, abnormal home-schooling family, and should not be imposed on the many other home-schooling families who are clearly doing their job well. Although the decision is probably not going to be fully enacted, the court is considering putting some restrictions on home-schoolers. These may include a set collection of textbooks, yearly obligatory subjects, a compulsory number of study hours each day, and required testing to standardize their education and monitor their progress. In addition, parents may have to take a certain number of education courses or acquire a teaching credential. These limitations may prove to be more harmful than beneficial, however.
Home schooling without restrictions has many positive effects on children. Parents are able to choose or create their own curriculum to meet their children’s individual needs, with or without textbooks. Young kids who are intimidated or bored to tears with regular textbooks can open their eyes wide in wonder at fun and informational science and history books from publishers such as Usborne and D.K. Instead of slaving away at grammar worksheets and unsatisfying literature selections from language arts textbooks, home-schoolers have the option of strengthening their control of the English language by reading enthralling fiction. When learning a second or third language, they can also read from real picture books in the language they are studying, instead of doing boring drills.
On the other hand, there are students who prefer the straightforward and no-nonsense approach of textbooks, but still enjoy the approach of publishers that most likely wouldn’t get into the list of accepted textbooks. Many people also want to choose their own textbooks because they find that public school textbooks are inadequately detailed, or are inaccurate or imply something incorrect. For example, in History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond, a textbook used at Goleta Valley and La Colina junior highs, I found a number of errors in the chapter about Islamic beliefs. In the part about fasting, it says, “It is considered time to eat (break the fast) when a person standing outside cannot tell a white thread from a black thread.” In truth, Muslims break their fast after sunset, not after dusk. Also, it states that the Quran is general about women covering their bodies, which is why most Muslim women cover their arms and legs, but in truth the Quran also tells women to cover their whole bodies except for their faces, hands and feet. Although these mistakes are not super-insulting, they are enough to make some parents seek more reliable sources of information for their children. Inflicting a required curriculum would be disrespecting children’s individual learning styles, constraining freedom of choice, and therefore torturous and progress-hampering to many home-schoolers.
The government may want to make education courses or teaching credentials obligatory for parents who desire to teach their children. Although these might help children get better teachers, the new rules would be more victorious in robbing parents of time and money, without which the successful home-schooling program would have to cease. The helpfulness of these education classes are doubtful for home-schooling parents, because they are mainly useful for people who want to teach large numbers of students, like in traditional school settings. Besides, many parents can effectively teach their children without special training, because most of them have adequate knowledge and a college degree. For example, my dad is an engineer, and I can always go to him if I really need help with math or science. Even students who do not have that sort of parental help can go to their neighbors, after-school math program teachers (often uncredentialed, but remarkably knowledgeable just the same), or resort to solution manuals and free online tutoring sessions sponsored by public libraries. In some cases, parents even hire college students to tutor their children, to great effect. Required credentials for homeschooling parents would not only be time and money-consuming, but also wholly unnecessary.
In most cases, parents care for their children enough not to cheat them of their education. A parent considerate enough to teach his or her children history would find it very difficult to ignore math or science entirely. Similarly, he or she would rather send them to public school than let them play video games all day, all year. In addition, many home-schoolers prefer to be part of a home-schooling group for extra activities, and these groups often have specific study-time requirements. Self-imposed time requirements like these may be helpful, but governmental ones may not; many children are more efficient when given a short span of time to complete their daily studies, young students especially. My 7-year-old sister, for example, rarely studies seven hours a day, but nevertheless gets in substantial amounts of spelling, reading, math, science and history in the time she does study. Standardized testing for home-schoolers should remain optional, because as long as there is one-on-one instruction, parents should have no problem evaluating their student(s)‘s progress. Moreover, research shows that home-schoolers are academically quite satisfactory; in 2000, the average SAT scores of home-schooled students were 568 Verbal and 532 Math, compared to the national averages of 505 Verbal and 514 Math. Also, on the 2004 ACT, the average scores of home-schoolers was 22.6, and the overall average score was 20.9. Evidently, home-schoolers are already performing with competent scores, and “help” from the government is not needed.
The home-schooling crisis in California should be of concern to everyone, even parents of public school students. Even public-schooling parents might find free home-schooling options useful someday; when I was in third grade, my dad rejected the idea of me being home-schooled, but four years later, with unforeseen circumstances, he was all for it. Other families might change their minds because of sudden disabilities, health issues, etc., so it is very important to keep these rights available for every American. Once fundamental rights have been violated, even for a minority, there is no guarantee that it will not happen again, this time for different people. Fortunately, a pro-home-schooling resolution, ACR 115, has been proposed that will repeal the court’s ruling, which is a misinterpretation of California law. I urge you to support home schooling by calling Assemblyman Pedro Nava and encouraging him to sign on as a co-author.
Homaira Zaman is an eighth-grade home-school student. Click here to read a related commentary by Mikaela Ryan.