A ruling against home schooling reveals a belief that children are mere creatures of the state.
One triumph for US education during the past 30 years has been a turnaround by states to let parents home-school their children. As many as 1 in 25 school-age kids now are taught around the proverbial kitchen table. But the triumph is a shaky one, as a recent court ruling proves.
Last month, a three-judge panel in California ruled that only parents with state-recognized teaching credentials can educate their children at home. Otherwise, the parents are criminals and, as the court wrote, their children will not learn "loyalty to the state."
The ruling, which now turns some 166,000 of the state's home-schooled children into truants, may be overturned on appeal. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has promised to protect home-schoolers, saying correctly, "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education." The state legislature should quickly follow his lead.
But this ruling may have ripple effects. In many states, home-schoolers must ensure that lawmakers – under pressure from turf-protecting teacher unions – don't put onerous rules on parents. This decision could provide fresh ammunition for harsh controls.
Fortunately, such efforts have largely failed to roll back a movement that has grown with the rise of conservative Christians and others who prefer home schooling, and with the Internet's ability to bring the best teaching tools into the home. Parents are now organized into virtual communities for mutual educational support.
Still, as the California case makes clear, a right to home school remains vulnerable to political interpretation. Rules and enforcement are sometimes murky, with education officials uneven in their demands. At the least, home schooling should fulfill society's interest in compulsory education up to a certain age, with students asked to provide a level of minimal educational competency.