There is plenty to debate about home schooling, but a new court ruling managed to avoid all reasonable disagreements and instead used a single example of possible child abuse to throw the book at tens of thousands of home schoolers throughout California.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal was asked to require the parents of eight children to send them to a regular public or private school, where their welfare could be monitored. A lower court had ruled that the parents had a constitutional right to home school their children.
The appellate court correctly ruled that no such right exists. Further, it noted that the state Education Code appears to express distaste for home schooling by requiring children to attend a public or private school or to be taught at home by a credentialed tutor. Without a teaching credential, the court ruled, the parents could not educate their children.
What the justices ignored is that, for decades, even the giant bureaucracy of the California Department of Education has allowed parents to teach at home if they file an affidavit stating that they operate a small private school. Private school teachers do not need a credential to instruct a class of 20 or 30 students. Why should parents need one to teach a few children at home?
Public and private schools have developed programs to help home schoolers, employing credentialed teachers to provide curricula, materials and advice. "Homeschooling is a wonderful way to individualize your child's learning," reads the website of one such program offered by the Orange County Department of Education. Yet the panel tossed out this option as well.
There are rare cases of parents who use home schooling to hide abuse or neglect. Far more common are the stories of responsible parents providing a good education. A home- schooled teenager wrote the bestseller “Eragon,” something a public school homework load alone wouldn't have allowed.
The court's overreaching decision failed to address the main point of the case. A parental teaching credential would in no way reduce the need, if there is one, for these children to be more closely monitored. Credentialed teachers can also be bad parents, or, for that matter, bad teachers.
That said, compulsory education is a basic of modern society, and it should be enforced. It's time for the Legislature to formally recognize home schooling as an education option and to impose reasonable regulations -- such as a yearly lesson plan or portfolio of student work -- that encourage these schools' individuality and ensure that children aren't home all day watching reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show."