FREE LUNCH ALERT!
by Jim Farthing, from the June 2000 CHECK News
For those among our readers who are not students of the history of socialism, permit me to share a story. Around the turn of the century, George Bernard Shaw, a leading socialist of his day and a noted atheist, advocated that Britain offer government subsidies to religious schools. When one of his fellow Fabian Society members objected, Shaw rebuked him, insisting that there was no surer way to compromise the integrity and independence of such schools, and thus bring them under the control of the government, than to let them become dependent upon subsidies from the state.
Shaw was absolutely correct, as
the current state of private education in Europe bears stark
testimony. In America, however,
private religious education has not fallen victim to this insidious tactic. Not because of any devotion to higher principles, mind you, but largely due to efforts of their opponents. Civil libertarians in this country have consistently interpreted the First Amendment as prohibiting any governmental assistance directed at religious institutions for any reason, including education. Religious leaders have decried such an interpretation as being contrary to the well-documented positions of many of the Founding Fathers, but these protestations have gone unheeded. As a result, private religious schools have been forced to pay their own way, and by doing so, they have maintained their independence from state control.
Homeschoolers are the ultimate manifestation of this independence. Completely outside the tax-funded public education system, largely unregulated, home educators have been free to experiment and improvise with their educational programs, tailoring them to the needs of their children and family. The results have been truly breathtaking. Not only has homeschooling exploded in absolute numbers, its educational achievements, ranging from standardized test scores to college enrollment to Spelling Bee championships, have been tremendous.
In light of this tremendous success, I have often wondered why our opponents have not sought to employ the strategy of George Bernard Shaw against us. Instead, their attacks have primarily been frontal assaults: legislative initiatives to regulate homeschooling, court challenges to the legality of home instruction, insinuations of parental incompetency and child abuse by social services, and so on. Frightening as such fusillades may be, at least we can see them coming. Scripture teaches us that the world will condemn us for following Christ, and thus we view such opposition as proof that we are on the right track. (In fact, I have always utilized the NEA as a morality barometer -- the more they are opposed to something, the more I am likely to support it!) As a result, most of the opposition's efforts to date have merely strengthened the resolve of homeschoolers, encouraging us (and often forcing us) to become better organized, politically astute, and constantly alert.
But a sea of change is occurring. After years of seeing homeschoolers as the enemy, many in the public education camp have begun to espouse the view that homeschoolers are a "community to be served." Believe me, I enjoy being served as much as the next guy, but I am truly fearful that a smorgasbord of tax-funded goodies for homeschoolers may ultimately be the death our independence.
Here are a few samples of programs that are currently being offered to homeschoolers by public schools in Kansas:
Many of the public educators behind these programs sincerely believe they are simply fulfilling their mission as educators and public servants by making such programs available to homeschoolers. Others see these programs as a way to broaden their district's constituency and thus increase their state funding which is based on student count. And no doubt, there are some who view this as another front in the battle with home educators, hoping to co-opt the movement by encouraging families to return to public education through the provision of "free" services.
But these programs clearly fall into the "free lunch" category, and whenever I am offered such a good deal, I am immediately suspicious. All of these programs raise serious issues, both for homeschoolers and for the taxpaying public in general; and homeschoolers in particular need to seriously reflect upon the consequences of being too deeply entangled in such programs.
Homeschoolers in Kansas have arrived at a critical juncture. After years of struggle, we have finally achieved a modicum of legitimacy, both with the general public and the public school establishment, but this does not mean that the battles are over. They have merely shifted away from the legal and legislative arenas where we have fought to protect our right to homeschool. Now we must fight infinitely more subtle and difficult battles to maintain our integrity and independence as we are tempted to return to the public education system with the siren song of free resources. As Nancy Reagan would say, we must learn quickly to "Just Say No!"
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