This post is a rebuttal to a 3-part post against Huckabee by SpunkyHomeschooler, another homeschooler. Before reading my discourse, you might want to read hers. It can be found here. A friend sent me the link to her site.
I have only been homeschooling for one-and-a-half years. Before I had my daughter, I taught in a Texas public school for three years. I loved my students with every ounce of my being; teaching was an emotional roller coaster. They came from homes and backgrounds that I could not possibly relate to — 97 percent of the students in our school qualified for free and reduced meals. Getting a parent to a conference required immense effort and was, at times, so frightening that we teachers “sat in” on each other’s conferences when we had a belligerent parent threatening us. Other times we had to rely on the bilingual teachers to communicate with our English-speaking students’ parents; the students spoke English, but their parents did not. Another challenge we faced was a very fluid student body. We had many migrant worker families who drifted in and out of the community with the seasons. Their children hopped from school district to school district. Getting past records was difficult, and each school district in Texas (this was ten years ago) taught each subject at their own individual schedules. So while our district had already covered multiplication, some of my new students had not yet been introduced to it. This was a huge stumbling block for them and a time drain for me as I tried to fill in their gaps so they could do the same work as the rest of the class. Throw gang problems in the mix and you suddenly had very bright eight-year-olds drawing graffiti symbols on their assignments, refusing to do their work, threatening other students, and displaying defiant behavior to teachers. During this time of my life, these kids were my ministry. I loved them. I was their teacher, their nurse (yes, I learned how to check for head lice and pulled some loose teeth!), their social worker, their counselor, their mom, and their friend. When they asked, I told them that I was a Christian and talked to them about the meaning behind Christmas. We had a “Christmas around the world” celebration each year at our school — this was back in the days when it was still politically correct to SAY the word Christmas in a public school.
In the years after I had my daughter and left the public school, a huge shift started up in the schools. Teachers were not allowed to talk about their own beliefs. Schools could no longer put on a Christmas musical; or, if they did, the kids could only sing songs about Santa…no songs mentioning Jesus were allowed. Prayer at football games and other events was outlawed. Kids were stopped when they tried to distribute information about Bible clubs. The list goes on and on, and if you are reading this blog you’ve probably heard of many of these recent restrictions on religious freedom in America. This is why, when my daughter was ready for Kindergarten, we enrolled her in a Christian school and I taught there as well. I did not want to dissect Jesus out of her education because I believe our Creator is the beginning of our education.
Today I homeschool for several reasons — one of the main reasons is I get to teach my own daughter! I decided that my time with her is precious; I became convinced, after lots of research and a healthy dose of common sense, that one-on-one education is by far superior to one-on-twenty. Her test results indicate that indeed it is — her SAT scores jumped by a very large margin after just one year of homeschooling. I have the flexibility to slow down instruction when she needs more time to really absorb a concept, and we can speed through things that she already knows.
So, I have a perspective on education that is perhaps broader than the moms who have exclusively homeschooled. I have noticed a pervasive “us vs. them” mentality between those who homeschool and those who send their kids to schools, public or private. I say that every child, regardless of whether or not he/she is homeschooled, is important to Christ and deserves the best education possible. Public education is broken, as evidenced by the number of kids in Texas (50%) who have to take remedial courses before beginning college classes. A look at the kinds of questions given to young children in schools just 100 years ago shows that our schools today have watered down curriculum. As David Barton with WallBuilders states:
Americans cherish education. Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). We spend over $470 billion each year on education; therefore, judging by the amount of “treasure” we invest in education, it must be dear to our hearts. Sadly, however, current statistics demonstrate that Americans are not getting a good return on their investment.
American students now regularly finish at the bottom in international competitions in math and science. Recent international testing found that American elementary students performed above average, junior high students at average, and high school students below average. This sequence of results prompted one observer to remark: “The longer US students stay in school, the less they seem to know.”
I have been blessed with the freedom to be a stay-at-home mom and can therefore homeschool to ensure that my child is not one of those who knows LESS at the end of school than she does now. There are many parents who would like to homeschool but are unable to because of financial hardships or other difficulties. For them, the only education their kids will get is whatever the public schools provide. Just because I homeschool doesn’t mean I don’t care about the kids who are in public schools.
SpunkyHomeschooler does not like Huckabee’s record on education in Arkansas for several valid reasons, from a homeschooler’s perspective. Many homeschoolers and homeschool organizations such as HSLDA work hard to ensure that homeschool freedoms are not restricted in any way. A look at what’s happening in Europe shows what can happen when our parental rights are taken away. (There was a case in Germany where a child was taken away from her home because her parents continued to homeschool her despite being told it was against the law — she was placed under psychiatric care for “school phobia.”)
Mike Huckabee did indeed sign a bill into law that imposed additional restrictions on homeschooling families. It is key to note, however, that this bill was written by a homeschooling father. I think it is worth it to take a good look at what this law actually requires:
House Bill 1724
- Requires parents to notify the school superintendent of an intent to homeschool by August 15 (for those beginning in the fall) or by December 15 (for those beginning in the spring.);
- Requires parents to have a 14-day waiting period before withdrawing students in the middle of the semester (unless waived by the superintendent)
- Requires parents to re-file their intent to homeschool annually for each year they homeschool
- If a child is currently under a disciplinary action, the family must wait until the consequence has been filled (unless waived by the superintendent)
SpunkyHomeschooler writes that:
Our children do not belong to the state and no parent should have to wait 14 days before pulling their child out of a government school.
The back story to HB 1724 is interesting. The homeschooling author of the bill wrote it because others in the legislature were cooking up MUCH more restrictive homeschooling bills that would have required all sorts of hoops for parents to jump through: proof of a parent possessing a high school diploma or GED, proof of a minimum 180-day instruction year, portfolio of student work, instruction required in certain subjects, and a prohibition of a parent withdrawing a student during the middle of a semester unless the student was failing, had serious medical concerns, or had documented safety concerns. In the face of these possible restricts, the homeschooling dad cooked up HB 1724, which is much less restrictive than those described above.
If I were a parent in Arkansas and decided to pull my child out of public school in the middle of a semester, I would first set up a meeting with the superintendent and humbly request that the 14-day period be waived, depending on the circumstances. Or I would just deal with the truancy charges and “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” My point is this, from Titus 3:
Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.
As a former classroom teacher who saw a huge spectrum of parent-child relationships, I can see both sides of the 14-day issue. I had students who were physically abused — I shudder to think of what might have happened to them if their parents got angry and pulled them out to homeschool them. I also had students who were fidgety and bright, and the classroom model just did not fit their natural learning styles. Their parents obviously loved them and wanted to help their kids succeed; I would have supported having them pulled out and be homeschooled in a heartbeat. I do not believe the authors of this law and Huckabee intended to prevent homeschooling from occurring by passing it.
A benefit to the “intent” part of the law is that it does allow some form of record-keeping. As a homeschool advocate, I want to shout from the mountaintops that home education is superior to classroom instruction. Our children consistently perform better not just on standardized tests, but also when they get out in the “real world.” They have experience with a wide variety of age groups, not just the ones at their same age. The one-room schoolhouses of yesteryear were very much like today’s multi-child homeschools. There is a lot less bickering and peer pressure when multiple ages are combined, in my experience, anyway. Classroom settings are artificial; there will never be another time in a person’s life when they are subjected to people of exactly the same age, five days a week, eight hours a day, nine months of the year. The workplace has workers of multiple ages, and that presents an adjustment to young adults who have been — shall I say — sheltered from the REAL world? (give that argument to the next person who tells you that homeschooling deprives a child of socialization!) Because many states do not require parents to notify them when they are homeschooling, no one really knows how many awesome homeschooled kids are out there. I believe that keeping track of how many of us there are does a lot to strengthen our movement and does not weaken our parental authority. I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should it bother me that you know I am giving my child a fantastic education?
Another point made is that Huckabee was naive when he said:
“Education has to stop being a [horizontal] issue – left and right, liberal and conservative. Education must be a vertical issue – it will either move our country up or take us down.”
I disagree that he is naive. I think he is a visionary. The “vertical” issue he is talking about is also the issue we Christians deal with in our relationship with our heavenly Father. The more involved we are in studying his word, the more we come to know him “vertically,” the better we are at dealing with all aspects of life in ways that are pleasing to him. Huckabee is trying to show people that all forms of education are important in our country. If we are to recover from this economic downturn, if we are to once again become a beacon to the peoples, then we have got to get our children educated. We homeschoolers are not thinking clearly if the only way we get involved in public education is to turn our backs on it, wash our hands of it. The children in public schools will grow up into adults who will impact the culture just as our homeschooled children will. Who will be the next innovators? Who will find a way for us to get away from our dependence on foreign oil? Who will be the ones who handle the crucial decisions that come up with bioengineering, DNA mapping, cloning, etc.? The children in our country have a lot of filth to face as they become adults. The best way for them to cut through that filth is through an excellent education. Although I homeschool my own child and am holding tight to my rights to do so, I also believe that we have to face the fact that not everyone can homeschool. The kids of those parents matter just as much as our own.
Criticism of P-16
The next criticism of Huckabee is that he was an advocate of the so-called P-16 initiative. I had to read up on this one myself, so don’t feel bad if you don’t know what it is. In a nutshell, it is the belief that education of a student should be seamless and integrated from preschool all the way through four years of college and a bachelor’s degree. It’s an effort to streamline curriculum. And that makes warning bells and whistles blow in the minds of homeschoolers who are afraid such streamlining would lead to the state (or federal) government telling them what they can or can not teach their children. As far as I can tell, P-16 is dealing with public education. It is an attempt to fix something that is very clearly broken. As a teacher of migrant worker students, I would have welcomed such an initiative because it would have meant that my new students would have already covered the same material as my current class. It also addresses what many teachers know — some kids are NOT meant to go on to college — and I don’t mean that as a negative in any way. There were guys at my high school who could fix any engine or build one from scratch, but they couldn’t pass Algebra II or Chemistry. I would rather see high schools develop some sort of apprenticeship programs for those kids who do not want to enter college, whose love and passion is found in a trade. That sort of thing used to be federally funded, but not anymore. Huckabee agrees. From his website, he writes:
As I traveled the country and the world over the last decade bringing jobs to Arkansas, the business leaders I met weren’t worried about creating jobs, they were worried about finding skilled and professional workers to fill those jobs.
Some homeschoolers are afraid that if national curriculum standards (P-16) are adopted, then homeschooled kids will suffer and will not test as well as public school kids precisely because they haven’t been “taught” the test. I want to first of all say that I believe a national curriculum standard is NOT constitutional, and I do not believe Mike Huckabee would sign such a bill. Education is up to the states. Mike Huckabee knows this and has said he will not use the presidency to create national curriculum standards. About state and federal leadership in education, he said:
As President, my education agenda will include working towards a clear distinction between the federal role in assisting and empowering states and in usurping the right of states to carry out the education programs for their students. While there is value in the “No Child Left Behind” law’s effort to set high national standards, states must be allowed to develop their own benchmarks.
Yes, as Governor, he signed education reforms into law, some of which required more restrictions on homeschooling. But not ONE of them required the homeschoolers in Arkansas to change their curriculum in any way. He did not dictate what or how certain things should be taught, or even how many days of school a homeschool must be in session. He used his “bully pulpit” to press on for more music and art in schools and to streamline the curriculum within his state, and look what happened. The test scores and overall quality of education for Arkansas students soared. He has said “leave the homeschoolers alone…they are doing a GREAT job!”
I really appreciate other perspectives on Huckabee’s record on education, but so far I have not been convinced of anything in his record that makes me think twice about supporting him….except perhaps that the NEA supports him. The NEA vehemently opposes all parent-led education…of course they do. If all parents taught their own children, the teachers at NEA would be out of a job. (The NEA has a far left secular agenda, and it is the duty of parents to make sure that this agenda does not filter down into classrooms. If your kids go to public school, be sure and get to know the teacher.) Huckabee opposed the teacher’s union when he was Governor of Arkansas, so I imagine that’s one reason why he was surprised to get NEA’s endorsement! Perhaps they see his success in Arkansas and hope to see the same kind of leadership with him as President. After all, many of the teachers who make up the NEA are not one-eyed Cyclops intent on stamping Christianity out of this country. They work hard and often see the worst of the worst; they want to help kids.
Isn’t that what we all want? Can’t we homeschoolers find some common ground? Do we share Jesus by insulating ourselves away from public school happenings, or do we share him best when we are as vocal for the rights of all children, not just homeschooled ones?