Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The People Don't Approve

Congressional approval ratings tend to be negative no matter who's in charge. But this spring, public opinion of the job Congress is doing has dropped dramatically. In February, the Congressional approval rating was 37%; the latest rating is at only 24%, down 5 points since last month. And to make matters worse for the Democratic leadership, their approval rating among Democrats is not much better than their rating among Republicans. In fact, their rating among Democrats has dropped from 43% in April to 29% in June. And among Independents, only 19% say they approve of the job Congress is doing. The Congressional approval rating has not been at 24% since January 1996; it has not been below that since 1992, before the Republicans assumed control.

It seems to me it's time for the Democratic leaders in Congress to take a serious look at themselves, and ask what exactly it is the people want them to be doing. After all, the point of all this is representative government, isn't it? Their job is to represent their constituents, most of whom are not interested in gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research, and want lower taxes and a less corrupt government. The emphasis of the leaders in Congress on issues the people don't care about, and their blatant refusal to engage what really matters to the people, are the biggest reasons why the people no longer approve. It's unfortunate for the Democratic Party that after less than six months in office, Congressional approval is below where it was last fall when the Republicans were kicked out of office, and very close to where it was shortly before the Democrats were kicked out last time.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Are Homeschoolers Depriving the World Of Our Witness?

Homeschooling families are often criticized by other Christian families for removing our children - and their witness - from the public school. And one of the more common reasons why Christian families choose not to homeschool is that they want their children to be "salt and light" in the schools.

Sally Thomas, on First Things today, has perhaps the best article I've ever read on the topic. She points out how difficult it is for a Christian child to survive and thrive in the public schools. She describes her own family's experience with their oldest daughter in the English school system, and tells how her daughter became increasingly withdrawn. She then goes on to explain eloquently why we believers have a first duty to our children, not to our communities.

What Sally hints at, but doesn't develop fully, is the idea that children are not equipped to really be "salt and light" in the public schools. The very definition of "child" requires a certain level of immaturity. I Corinthians 13 says, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child." How does a child reason? Even the most mature eight-year-old is still only an eight-year-old, unable to reason in a mature fashion, and only partly acquainted with the world in which he or she lives.

If we take an immature child and put that child in a public school classroom, what is he or she confronted with? Twenty-five or thirty other children of the same age, holding a huge range of beliefs, coming from a significant number of different religious and cultural backgrounds, and with many different definitions of acceptable behavior. Which of these children should the child seek out? How will he be able to determine which children are likely to be influenced by him and which will influence him for evil? Can she figure what approach is most likely to reach this or that friend? How does he protect his image of himself when others make fun of his looks or his beliefs? And if that classroom full of peers presents tremendous challenge, what about the playground, full of hundreds of children, some older and stronger? And besides the other children, there is this tremendous authority figure named "Teacher," who generally perceives herself or himself as the fount of all wisdom and knowledge, at least in the classroom, and who often does not share the child's Christian belief system or even his or her basic worldview.

Given all this, which is more likely: that the Christian child will share his beliefs and bring his friends to Christ, or that he will instead be influenced by the environment in which he finds himself? Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm," and I Corinthians 15:33 says, "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character." If we insist on our children's associating, for the majority of their waking hours, with "fools," and "bad company," we ought not to be surprised when they become like those with whom they associate. Even adults struggle to hold firmly to their faith when surrounded constantly by those who disagree; how can we expect our children to survive?

There will be plenty of time for our children to be salt and light, without surrounding them for many hours each week with those who will harm them spiritually. I'd prefer my children spend most of their time with "the wise." When they have reached maturity, they will have the reasoning power to deal with the arguments of those who disagree.

Sally Thomas points out, too, that just because children don't go to school doesn't mean they aren't in the world. She illustrates by discussing how her children interact often with their neighbors and witness, in their own little way, to the people they come in contact with. My own children also interact with and pray for their friends in the neighborhood, and provide a positive influence on those friends. Even as children, they can share their faith - but they can do it in a way that doesn't endanger that faith by exposing them to forces they are not yet ready to cope with.

Homeschoolers and Socialization

This morning I ran across this great comic strip on homeschoolers and socialization. Here's the website so you can see more: Jason publishes a new strip often; follow the link to see all that are posted so far.

This particular strip provides a concise comment on the truth about homeschoolers and socialization: that homeschooling provides a far richer social environment than is commonly assumed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Churchgoing Fathers and Urban Families

A new study has recently been published by Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia. It contains good news for churches and for families that attend them. The study tackled the difficult question of whether church attendance makes a difference in the quality of urban family life. Here are some of the relevant findings:

- Church attendance is strongly associated with marital childbearing. This is especially true when fathers attend church. "Fathers who attend services several times a month or more are 95 percent more likely to be married when their child is born."

- Church attendance is also associated with single mothers getting married within three years after their baby is born (as opposed to remaining single as the child is growing up).

- If the father attends church services regularly, both parents are more likely to rate their partner as supportive, and both are more likely to report that they have an excellent relationship with each other. These results do not vary by race.

As the author says,

Religious attendance appears to foster behavior among urban fathers that makes
them more attractive mates and better partners. African American parents in
urban America are as likely to benefit from churchgoing as are whites. Indeed,
the racial gap in marriage rates in urban America today would be even larger
were it not for comparatively high levels of African American religiosity.
Finally, religious attendance is associated with higher reports of relationship
satisfaction for both married and unmarried parents in urban America.

This study confirms what many churchgoing families have understood for years - that when men assume the role of spiritual leader of the family, families are more stable, and relationships between spouses are more satisfying. (Hat tip: Family Research Council's "Washington Update," June 12, 2007)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Good News on the College Admissions Front

The Washington Post this morning has a surprisingly positive article on how colleges are evaluating homeschoolers' records. The best news, to many homeschoolers, is buried in the middle of the article:

Colleges are finding ways to adapt to the growing market. Eighty-three percent had formal policies for evaluating the home-schooled in 2004, up from 52 percent in 2000, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Many rely on standardized tests.

Eighty-three percent of colleges, up from only 52 percent, in just four years! And that was three years ago; at that rate, almost all colleges will soon have formal policies in place. That means great news for homeschooled students, who have long feared that homeschooling high school would make it difficult for them to get into college.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Illiberal Homeschooling: More on Kimberly Yuracko's Paper

Dana at Principled Discovery had an excellent post yesterday on the paper I wrote about by Kimberly Yuracko. She pinpoints the real constitutional problem with the argument put forward by Ms. Yuracko:

Only a certain minimum education that the state is mandated to ensure which
includes not only basic skills, but certain liberal values. And this is
central to her argument (emphasis mine):

It [the argument about the constitutionally mandated minimum that states must require of homeschools] highlights the distinctness of parents and children and emphasizes that parental control over children's basic education flows from the state (rather than vice versa). States delegate power over children's basic education to parents, and the delegation itself is necessarily subject to constitutional constraints.

This is what I don't really understand. I'm all for a "liberal" society, at
least in theory. I live peacefully in a society with atheists, homosexuals,
Muslims, pagans and liberals. I don't agree with them. In conversation, I may
even tell them that. But I am not about to try to exert any political force
against them or what they teach their children as truth. What ideas exactly
is a "liberal" society open to, if conservatism is so taboo as to necessitate state oversight of the relationship between parent and child to ensure its extinction?

But more central to the argument, and more concerning to me is the idea that
the parent's ability to homeschool is delegated by the state. What happened to
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,
establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America?"

We the people gave the power to the state which governs by our consent. That
is the most fundamental assertion of the Declaration of Independence and the
Constitution, and yet somehow out of that we assert that the parent does not
have the right to educate the child, but is only delegated a portion of the
state's authority?

I am not saying that parents have the right to not educate their child, but
some minimal standard of due process should be necessary to bring the state into
my home to oversee what I am doing. And "Christian" shouldn't be enough.

This is really where the rubber meets the road when it comes to constitutional issues. Perhaps Ms. Yuracko is one of those who would like to see a new constitutional convention; there are those in America who would. But until we have a new Constitution (and let's hope it's a long time), the state has only those powers given to it by the people, and parental control over their children's education is not delegated to them by the state. In fact, state control over any child's education is delegated to it by their parents, and by the people of the United States (in spite of Ms. Yuracko's contention).

What concerns me, though, is whether the people of the United States today are willing to give up their freedoms for the sake of creating the "tolerant," "free" society they think they want. Far too many people in America are easily led wherever the national media wants them to go. They believe what they see on television or read in the paper, without stopping to consider whether those things are true or what the ultimate consequences of those beliefs will be. The state can have only the powers granted it by the people, but if the people grant it power to restrict their freedom, then it has that power until the people as a whole rise up to stop it.

If we are not careful to preserve our freedom, we may lose it, and we will certainly lose much that we hold dear.

Friday, June 08, 2007

More On Restricting Homeschooling

A few weeks ago Russell Shaw posted this blog entry on the Huffington Post. Apart from the lack of any evidence for the majority of his claims, his arguments are amazingly inept. His worst argument,

Obviusly there were and are political reasons for this. Lots of
home-schooling parents run with the creationists. Creationists are easily led,
and they vote,

has been well addressed in this post by jacidawn, so I won't go into that here.

Mr. Shaw finds himself "troubled" by a surprising number of issues related to homeschooling, particularly for someone who claims, "I am not advocating that home-schooling should be outlawed." Here are some of the things he says "trouble" him:
I'm troubled by the fact that a significant percentage of home schooling
parents choose this option because of an overriding feeling that they want
their children to pursue curricula from theology or received wisdom rather than
a scientific perspective.
OK, I think I know a few people who homeschool because of such an "overriding feeling." They are far from the majority, however. Most believe their children will get a much better education in "a scientific perspective" as a result of studying at home. Many don't use curriculum based on "theology or received wisdom," and many of those who do choose a curriculum that uses primarily real, secular books and includes only some religious materials. More and more homeschooling parents are leaving Christian textbook curriculum, which I'll admit can sometimes be out of date and can force the issue of religion, in favor of fascinating, captivating, real books that libraries buy and parents who send their kids to public schools buy for them to read at home.

I wonder how many of these types of home-schooled kids take the assumptions
of say, 6,500 year-old earths and other lack of respect for scientific inquiry into
adulthood. Will these people be on equal preparatory footing for jobs where
scientific inquisitiveness, technical insight or critical thinking skills are far more necessary than rote recitation?

Well, Mr. Shaw, I can ease your mind on this issue. Homeschooling graduates are doing just fine in the workplace, not only in easy, nontechnical jobs, but in all different kinds of technical careers: medicine, engineering, even research science. There is far more to "scientific inquisitiveness" than just an understanding of evolution, and in many ways homeschooling is far better equipped to promote that very inquisitiveness than public school is. For example, if a child wonders about gravity, a homeschooling parent doesn't say, "God made gravity; you must accept it as one of His laws," and shut down the discussion. Rather, every homeschooling parent I know (and I know a LOT of them) would say either, "Let's read a book and find out about it," or "Let's try it!" On the other hand, a public school student who wonders about gravity when the class is studying the rain forest is likely to be told, "We'll talk about that later; right now we're talking about the rain forest." (And it might next school year before they get back to gravity again!) So which approach promotes "scientific inquisitiveness," Mr. Shaw? As for technical insight, a belief in creation in no way hinders that. And critical thinking is at least as easily and thoroughly taught in a homeschooling environment as in public school, where the textbook and the teacher are the authority and questions are likely to be considered disruptive. My own daughter's test scores on critical thinking this year ranged from the 85th to the 97th percentile (meaning she scored higher than 85-97% of 6th-graders who took this test) - and she took the 6th-grade test in 5th grade!

I'm also troubled, frankly, by parents who find the world overly complex, and
want to keep their students at home in the service of simplicity and

I'm puzzled by this one. I've never heard of a homeschooler who wanted "to keep their students at home in the service of simplicity and protectiveness." Sure, I know many who find the world overly complex; in fact, Mr. Shaw goes on to say, "Well, the world is overly complex." But unless you count the desire to allow our kids to be kids a little longer, that's not why we homeschool. True, I really don't think my 6-year-old needs to be exposed to the horrors of the Vietnam War - but we'll get to that before my kids leave home, and we'll discuss it in all its gory details. It seems to me, though, that I am the person best equipped to determine when my daughters are ready to learn about the world's complexity, not a teacher who might spend 1-6 hours a day with them for a year and then perhaps never see them again. And this isn't the primary reason I homeschool - the primary reason is because I believe I can give my children a better education than they could get in the public school, and I want them to have every opportunity life has to offer.

I'm equally troubled by the fact that a non-trivial number of home-schoolers
are taught in that way because their parents are overly rugged individualists
who lack the impulse or skills to mix in as collaborative members of everyday

OK, this is a completely unsubstantiated argument. Among the hundreds of homeschooling parents I know, I can't think of one who fits this description. (I'm sure there are some, since homeschoolers come in every variety imaginable - I just have never met one!) "Lack the impulse or skills to mix in as collaborative members of everyday society"? Prove it! (Oh, yes, and while you're doing that, Mr. Shaw, would you mind letting us know how those parents were educated? How many of them were homeschooled?) I was homeschooled and have been both a high-level administrative assistant and a private-school teacher. Now I homeschool my own children; am actively involved with my daughter's swim team, including becoming an official through USA Swimming; assist in my children's one-day-a-week homeschool enrichment program; volunteer at my church; blog; interact on several Internet bulletin boards; help sort food for Thanksgiving baskets with a local charity; participate in our homeowner's association; and am otherwise involved in various activities. Every homeschooler I know is equally active, though obviously not always in the same capacities. Many work in food banks; others visit nursing homes and make friends with the elderly; others help in homeless shelters; others are involved in agriculture co-ops. Some homeschooling parents work full-time (even some single parents find ways to make this work); others own their own businesses; many (perhaps most) work part-time; and some don't work a formal job but do significant amounts of volunteer work. In what way are we not "collaborative members of society"? Only because we don't choose to put our children in schools that sap their enthusiasm for learning; hold them back from becoming all they can be; destroy their self-esteem; subject them to intense peer pressure; put them at risk of their lives due to bullying, alcohol and drug abuse, and angry fellow students; teach them values we believe are wrong; and ultimately turn them out ill-equipped educationally or socially for the demands our society and our world place upon them. If that's the only criteria for Mr. Shaw's claim that we "lack the impulse or skills to mix in as collaborative members of society," I plead guilty!

It is precisely because we want our children to grow up with "the impulse and skills to mix in as collaborative members of society" that we are educating them at home. Most parents who have been homeschooling for long believe strongly that home education is by far the best way to give our children the social skills they need. We believe mixing with real people while they are still young will make them much more collaborative members of society than sitting day after day in a classroom full of kids all the same age (and mostly the same race and religion). My children have friends of many ages, races, national backgrounds, social classes, religious affiliations, and economic strata. My 6th-grader thinks it's a shame that her public-schooled friends won't mix with 5th-graders - she has several 5th-grade friends. She also has friends in kindergarten and in high school - as well as many adults. She already has years of practice interacting with all different kinds of people, and I believe she is more than adequately equipped to become a collaborative member of society.

Hmm . . . I wonder if I've managed to ease Mr. Shaw's "troubled" mind about homeschooling as a result of this post? Somehow I doubt it - not because my arguments or evidence are unsound, but because his real objection to my homeschooling is not in the feeble arguments he posted. Mr. Shaw, if he is like most people I know who object to homeschooling, is really protesting the fact that the U.S. Constitution gives me the right to teach my child what I believe is right, rather than what the state or government or Mr. Shaw himself believes is right. Oh, he says parents can teach children what they believe at home, during the time they have them; but how much time is that, really, between school and television and peers? And how much authority does a parent really have when weighed against a teacher who is an "expert" in the subject? Most critics of homeschooling understand this, and want my kids in their system precisely for that reason - so they can also become obedient little "sheep," believing whatever the authority of the moment wants them to believe.

Sorry, Mr. Shaw - I don't buy it. I will not sacrifice my children's education to the whim of those who care more about tolerance than about truth, just to ease your "troubled" mind. You have provided no evidence of your claims of "significant percentages" or "non-trivial numbers." I recommend you get to know some homeschoolers - preferably a lot of them - and then see how "troubled" you remain. Home education, for many families (though certainly not for all), provides the best possible education. Restrictions and regulations are not the answer. The few million children who are home educated in America today are not going to be able to reverse the trends of our society in general, especially if their education is as poor as Mr. Shaw claims. If he wants to be "troubled," I suggest Mr. Shaw look instead at the current condition of public education in America, where the vast majority of our children receive their schooling. Now there's a reason to be troubled!

Should Homeschooling Be Regulated?

There's been a great deal of discussion about the paper written by Kimberly Yuracko of Northwestern University, in which she advocates in favor of significant government regulation of homeschooling. She particularly wants to see homeschooling regulated in order to prevent "Christian fundamentalist" parents from "shielding" their children from the liberal values being taught in the schools - all for the good of the nation, of course. For an excerpt from the introduction to her paper (all that has been released to this point), see this blog entry from the "Christian Alliance for Progress."

This paper ignores one critically important reason why more questions have not been raised about constitutional issues surrounding homeschooling - because the Supreme Court has already spoken to this issue, many years ago, and declared that the right to direct the education of children belongs exclusively to their parents. I hate to disappoint Ms. Yuracko or the author of this blog, but parents do have the right to determine how their children will be educated.

I've been involved in the homeschooling movement for about 37 years, ever since my mother taught me to read at home when I was four years old. I attended virtually every schooling option you can imagine, from public to private to homeschooling to a small classroom with a tutor. During my high school years, I completed the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's independent study program (in 3 years instead of the usual 4, giving me the opportunity to pursue my college education my senior year - something that is routinely done in schools today but was unheard of in 1982). Since then I have helped many parents begin or improve their homeschools, have educated both my own children at home, and have taught in a homeschool enrichment program through a local public school system.

Based on my rather significant experience with homeschooling and homeschoolers, I believe Ms. Yuracko is wrong to divide homeschooling parents into "two distinct movements." Of course, that kind of artificial distinction is possible - some homeschoolers are Christians, some are not - but the truth is that reasons for homeschooling are almost as many as the people who do it. It is undoubtedly true that SOME homeschoolers do it to shelter their children. Possibly a few even do it "to shield their children from liberal values of sex equality, gender role fluidity and critical rationality," though among the hundreds I've met, I have never met one who did. MOST homeschoolers, however, do NOT homeschool in order to shield their children from any of these things. In fact, many believe their children will learn "critical rationality" much more thoroughly at home than in the public school system.

Certainly many Christian homeschoolers would include, among the multiple reasons they homeschool, their desire to teach their children what they believe and why. But most homeschoolers do homeschool for MANY reasons, teaching their beliefs being only ONE of those. And most secular homeschoolers also want to teach their children what they believe, though what they teach would undoubtedly be different from what a Christian homeschooler would teach.

So why DO people homeschool? As I've said above, for MANY reasons. I personally began homeschooling my daughter because when I started looking at preschools, when she was 3 1/2, I realized she already knew everything they were teaching even at the kindergarten level. I saw no sense in subjecting my daughter to two years of stagnation when I could teach her at home, and help her continue to be excited about learning. We started then, and each year as I looked at the school system, I realized she was moving farther beyond her peers. She'll be starting sixth grade in the fall. She took the sixth-grade Iowa tests this spring, and her test scores show her in the 98th percentile among sixth-graders (she was in fifth grade). I would do my daughter a grave disservice putting her in any middle school in the country at this point.

Am I what Ms. Yuracko would call a "Christian fundamentalist"? I'm quite sure I am. Do I homeschool in order to shield my children from liberal values? Most definitely NOT! I homeschool in order to give my children the best education I possibly can. I homeschool in order to allow both my gifted daughters to soar. I homeschool because I hate textbooks, written by committees and dispensing controlled amounts of information in tiny bits and in the driest way imaginable, and love real books, full of adventure and interest as well as truth. I homeschool in order to protect them from the dangers of apathy, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, and murderous lunatics with automatic rifles who invade even tiny Amish communities and remote mountain villages. And yes, I homeschool in order to teach my children what I believe and value and why I do.

And most homeschoolers I know, both Christian and secular - and I know hundreds, including those from both groups - homeschool for these reasons and literally dozens of others. The Supreme Court has stated clearly that the United States Constitution gives me the right to educate my children as I see fit; Ms. Yuracko's paper does not change that, and I hope it never will.