A New Trojan Horse

By Carolyn Forte

Remember the Trojans?  The city besieged by the Greeks for years that willingly opened its gates to accept a “gift” from the Greeks who had sailed away, feigning defeat.  The citizens of Troy opened the gates out of pride and greed.  They didn’t look closely at the horse and they didn’t send anyone to take look from a mountain to see where the Greek ships actually went.  In short, the Trojans were defeated by their own lack of vigilance.

Homeschoolers face a similar situation today.  It seems that the enemy has been defeated.  Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.  Everyone knows about brainy and diligent homeschoolers who win the National Spelling Bee or the National Geographic Geography Bee.  People no longer recoil with horror when you tell them you are involved in homeschooling.  Many are encouraging and many more are interested in the concept.   Thousands of homeschool parents no longer feel the need to stay connected to homeschool organizations or attend homeschool conferences.  “The enemy has melted away; perhaps it was a paper tiger all along.”  At any rate, we are no longer threatened and we can concentrate on teaching our kids without the annoying distraction of scary stories of parents arrested or children taken away by Child Protective Services.  Life is good. Enjoy.

But is it?  Home School Legal Defense Association still defends families against an intrusive bureaucracy.  Family Protection Ministries still sends out alerts about legislation that could harm our freedom to raise our children as we see fit.  And family friendly legislators are fighting to give every parent the right to use an educational voucher to send their children to a private school or to pick the charter school of their choice.  The last time I checked, vouchers and charters were funded by tax dollars.  Have you noticed what happens when tax dollars are used in any industry?

First, the price starts to climb.  Fifteen years ago, many private colleges did not accept Federal Student Aid.  The tuition at some of them was under $5000 an year – way under.   Even some schools that did accept Federal and State Aid were reasonable.  Our daughter’s tuition in 1995 was around $6000 a year.  Today tuition at the same school is over $12,000.  But that is cheap!  Another school she looked at has gone from just under $20,000 to over $30,000 a year.  Anything the government gets involved in gets more expensive.  Before the government started “subsidizing” tuition, many middle class families could afford the tuition.  Poor students could often get scholarships and/or “work their way through college.”  When was the last time you heard that expression?  Anyone who can make enough money to “work his way through college” today doesn’t need college!

Second, when government money is involved, sooner or later, government wants to run the show.  It is happening to colleges.  You don’t hear much about it, but there are federal regulations tied to the student aid.  The changes are “minor” at first and apparently even Christian colleges are willing to follow the federal “guidelines” to get the money.  A few colleges have decided to stand on principle and refuse government money, but they are few.

So, what does this have to do with homeschooling?  Plenty.  When homeschooling was underground, practiced by a few “radical” Christians and “hippies,” government entities tried to squash it.  They sent in truant officers, Child Protective Services and even police to harass, intimidate and basically make life miserable for anyone they could find trying to educate their own children.  But then homeschoolers got organized.  They created large organizations, networks and the big guns: Home School Legal Defense Association.  They petitioned their legislators, stood up to their persecutors in court and started to win!  They even shut down the Capitol switchboard when HR6 threatened homeschool freedoms on a national level.  The result is what you enjoy today: freedom to homeschool as you see fit.

But freedom isn’t free.  The next generation will have to remain vigilant or the freedoms we won in the 80’s and 90’s will be lost.  If too many homeschoolers answer the siren song of the charters and vouchers, the forces that want to take control will have the means and the homeschoolers who remain independent will be too few in numbers to mount an effective defense.  We have watched for the last 15 or so years as charter schools have opened up for homeschoolers.  In the beginning, they offered money and total freedom to use it as you wished.  Little by little, year by year, the rules became more stringent and parents lost more and more control.  This is the inevitable result of taking government money.  “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.”

Our schools are in big trouble but the answer is not vouchers to send children to “good” private schools or charters to give parents “choice.”  Once the government pays for all schools, all schools will be government schools.  This may not happen in a day or even in a decade.  I have heard parents say that they will immediately pull out of the charter, if it gets too controlling.  That may work, but then again, by the time one realizes the danger, it may be too late.  When too many children are enrolled in government -funded programs, the private homeschoolers won’t have the political clout to protect homeschoolers in general.  Make no mistake, it is the private homeschoolers who are protecting your right to homeschool.  The powerful school unions and statist legislators would like nothing better than to outlaw all homeschooling.  They can’t now because homeschoolers are a potent political force, but they are looking for an opening.

The genesis of the charter school movement lies in President Bush 41’s America 2000 education law and President Clinton’s revision, Goals 2000.  They are part of a well thought-out plan to co-opt private education with the ultimate goal of destroying private schooling and homeschooling as we know it.  Those who want to control all of education, cradle to grave, designed charter schools as an end run around the private and homeschool exceptions to compulsory education.  Unlike public schools with their elected school boards, charter schools have no parental control except that of voting with their feet. That option may not always be there. Charters may seem benign now, but that Trojan Horse looked harmless too.

Vouchers and even tax credits have just as many problems.  The devil is always in the details and we all know how carefully our elected representatives read the bills!  Independence is the only way to keep our freedoms.

 I know it is terribly tempting to take the money.  I thank God I did not have that choice.  I can say from experience, that you don’t need the money to give your child a good education.  In fact, that extra money may even be harmful.  I remember looking covetously at the shiny textbooks a family I knew was using.  I couldn’t afford even one of those books, let alone a dozen or so for each child, but I was still thinking of education in “school” terms and I hadn’t yet learned that my children did not need text books to learn.  I had to improvise out of necessity (and so did most of my friends) and so I was open to learning that once a child can read (which does not take a text or “program”), the only texts you really need are for math.  Now, with the internet, one could easily dispense with math texts too.

You may be wondering what on earth we did.  We used libraries, both church and public as well as used bookstores.  We looked for opportunities to volunteer and to trade work for services.  We thought of every trip as a chance to learn, not a long road to endure.  We discussed and debated and researched when we needed answers.  The girls joined 4H, AWANA, the County Diving Team, Red Cross First Aid, Red Cross Babysitting class, Choir, Bell Choir, Theater Groups (free), KARE Youth League, Karate classes, wheat weaving class, art class, cake decorating, music lessons and, of course, our homeschool group for park days and field trips.  We grew a garden, went hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains, raised ducks and chickens, baked and sewed and entered many items in the L A County Fair.

Our kids started all kinds of businesses and earned their own spending money, including enough to go to Aviation Challenge in Huntsville, Alabama- twice.  We participated in the National Geographic Geography Bee, which spurred interest in the study of Geography, a subject that covers everything on the planet and the heavens as well!

The girls enjoyed a rich and varied education, which introduced them to all kinds of people, activities and professions.  They didn’t need or want hundreds of pages of boring texts to plow through and when it came time to go to college, they hit the deck running.  Unlike their peers from the schooling sector, they were fresh, excited for a new challenge, and not burned out.  They also learned a great deal about how to earn money and barter for services.  Since we couldn’t pay for everything they wanted, they learned how to be creative in order to get things they really wanted.

Our homeschool years were exciting, interesting and relatively stress free.  This is not something you get from a Charter School.  Because we were not tied down to a curriculum, we were free to jump on any opportunity that looked promising, from learning to run a Christian bookstore to studying geography for two and a half months solid in preparation for the Geography Bee to volunteering 8-20 hours a week in our church’s Christmas and Easter plays.

Education is a lot more than a list of segmented courses doled out piece by piece from a text written by a committee and washed clean to insure political correctness.  A real and useful education includes many and varied experiences both in and out of books, chosen to fit the student.  No list of State and Federal Standards, no matter how well put together, can provide this because the standards are a one size fits all formula.  How often do you buy one-size-fits-all shoes?

Our founders thought generations ahead when they laid out our government.  They were not thinking only of their own comfort.  They could have paid the little tax, put up with the British soldiers until they were recalled and had a comfortable life, but they were thinking of future generations.  The Charter School and Voucher movement is designed to take away your grandchildren’s freedom to homeschool.  It is on track, but we can still stand firm and refuse to assist in the destruction of our posterity’s freedom.

© I know and love many families who are using charters.  I understand all the reasons and rationales for using them.  But I also see into the future.  We are forging our own chains.  Slavery comes in many forms, some of them very attractive at first.  I have watched the Charter movement gradually change, each year adding more and more restrictions and regulations.  Please consider the future, be vigilant, and at the very least, join and support your state homeschool organization.

©1916 Excellence In Education