A bill sponsored by Michigan Democratic state representatives Joan Bauer (Lansing), Mark Meadows (East Lansing), and Mike Simpson (Liberty Township) would require parents to register their homeschooled children with the local school district and provide the parent's or guardian's name and address.
Sound innocuous? Maybe. But when seemingly harmless legislation is proposed, especially that which is completely unnecessary, it's wise to look for an agenda on the part of sponsors and supporters.
Michigan and its school districts have managed to function just fine without requiring homeschooled children to be registered, but suddenly, we are to believe that such legislation would "address questions of truancy" and that it is critical to our knowing, in Rep. Bauer's words, "where and if our children are being educated."
Beats me how registering homeschooled children would clear up questions about truancy. Just how would that work? A child who is truant from school is one who is registered at, and attending, a school; his or her continued, unexplained absence would point to truancy. It seems to me that registering homeschooled children would just muddy the waters here, as they'd appear on school rolls without actually ever attending.
The more revealing comment is Rep. Bauer's: "where and if our children are being educated [emphasis mine]." "If"?
How would merely registering a child with the district give any information about whether that child is "being educated"? Well, it wouldn't, of course. And that points to the real purpose of this legislation: to establish a record of homeschooled children that will then allow the next slide down the slippery slope of more and more regulation of homeschooling. The real agenda is given away in that casual (unguarded) remark.
No wonder homeschooling parents turned out to protest in Lansing. They see this bill for what it is.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, there's a persistent belief that homeschooling is usually inferior to public education. Nothing could be further from the truth. There's also a horror out there of children unrestrained by the regimentation of school: witness this opinion piece by Jack Lessenberry, in which he says that this bill is necessary:
For one thing, if we don’t know who is home schooling their kids, how can we know who is teaching their kids at home – and who are simply letting their kids run wild?
Apart from some terrible writing ("if we don't know who's teaching their kids at home, how can we know who's teaching their kids at home?"), there's an assumption here that needs to be addressed. That assumption is that numbers of homeschooling parents are shirking their duties and, instead of teaching their children, are just letting them turn into little Lord of the Flies wannabes. There's also the implication that the real purpose of registering homeschooled kids is so that homeschooling parents can be spied upon to ensure that the children are being educated instead of just being allowed to be little savages. That's precisely what homeschooling parents immediately sniffed out in this supposedly innocuous bill.
Lessenberry goes on to call for greater regulation of homeschooling:
Actually, this bill doesn’t go far enough. We need a strong package of bills firmly regulating home schooling. They should prescribe a curriculum and require home schoolers to prove they are qualified to teach. We owe it to our kids and ourselves.
I believe that a bill establishing registration of homeschooled children is the first step toward exactly that kind of regulation. Once you know where they are, and once you pass laws regulating homeschooling as to curriculum and whether or not parents are qualified to teach, it's a simple matter to hunt down families and force their compliance.
There may also be a motivation for the individual school district to add students to its rolls. Whenever schools in my area experience a drop in student enrollment, the schools always talk about this in terms of loss of federal funds to the district. So, in the monetary crunch the state of Michigan is currently experiencing, getting all those homeschooled kids into the classroom may be seen as a plus. This doesn't actually make sense to me, as more kids means more teachers, classrooms, equipment, buses, and so on, but since schools regularly mourn the loss of students as a loss of federal dollars, I can only speculate that such might be the case.
Whatever the motivation, it certainly isn't concern for children and families and their needs. Some variation on this comment by Lessenberry is often heard:
More and more, we are evolving into a place where two kids the same age have wildly different educational experiences.
That’s a prescription for eventually losing our identity as a people and a nation. And if that doesn’t scare you more than internet porn, you clearly need more education.
Actually, it doesn't scare me. There's enough cultural sharing through mass media alone to make that a silly bugaboo. Americans also share a government and a history, a popular culture, and so on. Beyond that, most homeschooled children learn just what publicly schooled children learn--only more of it, and in many cases, with the kind of in-depth treatment and critical thought that public schools just don't prioritize in this standardized-test-driven era. But that fear of "losing our identity" is often echoed by other critics of homeschooling. I once visited a blog on which the author had posted a tirade against homeschooling that declared homeschooling parents to be traitors! She was quite serious, claiming that to homeschool a child was to defy the state. If so--more of this, please.
I also think that people invested in public education and employed in public education fear for the future of that institution. Homeschooling becomes more attractive as public education becomes less effective. Perhaps some see public education as able to continue only if parents are forced to place their kids in public schools. That's pretty sad. A better solution would be to revitalize public education, but alas--we don't have too many thinkers outside of the box when it comes to creative ways to do so.
Finally, let's not forget that the public schools are all about providing what the corporate culture demands. For all the spouting off about how we need highly educated citizens in this technological age, blah blah blah, in fact most of the jobs that are being created are in the service sector, mostly having to do with serving food and drink. For that you need people who will do what they're told without fuss and without suggesting a better way to do it; otherwise, it's too difficult to standardize menus and foods and so on. Not rocking the boat is much more important at most places of work than coming up with creative solutions or suggesting changes. Homeschooling is not efficient at providing what late capitalism/high consumerism demands, namely, an unthinking subjection of the self to market forces and advertising. I don't say it doesn't, given American culture, produce workers who fulfill corporate needs, only that homeschooling isn't nearly as efficient at doing so.
For all these reasons, there are a lot of people out there who want to make homeschooling difficult and fraught with regulation, red tape, prescriptions, and proscriptions, in order to discourage it or make it nearly impossible. Registering homeschooled children can have no other purpose than to gradually introduce such a process a bit at a time. It's just the first step in eventually taking away the right of parents to educate their children at home.