Monday, June 8, 2015

Legal Homeschooling

Because I'm back to homeschooling in the fall, and because I don't feel I've got a complete grip on the ins and outs of homeschooling through high school, and because I haven't been to a homeschool convention in many years (and because I'm one of those weirdos that really enjoys things like homeschool conventions), I went to the FEAST homeschool convention this weekend here in San Antonio.

And because I'm new to Texas, one of the workshops I attended was the one about Homeschooling and the Law in Texas. I figure, I better be sure I'm legal.

This is the third state I've homeschooled in. New Jersey was amazingly hands-off about homeschooling -- there were really no regulations of any kind, essentially. I kept hearing about the overbearing, overwhelming regulations in next-door Pennsylvania and thanking my lucky stars I didn't live there.

Iowa was something in between. We had to "register" with the local school district every year, and we had to do something every year to give evidence that our students were progressing (standardized tests, portfolio . . . I paid a woman to come in and check on us once a quarter . . . she was nice and it was easy). The cool thing in Iowa was that, in our district anyway, we were able to participate in just about anything in the public schools we wanted to sign our kids up for. My youngest took violin lessons. My oldest was "dual enrolled" for eighth grade, going to the public middle school for science and the "exploratory" class with a quarter each of art, music, etc.

Texas seems to be about as free as New Jersey. The workshop speaker said the only requirements to homeschool in Texas (where a homeschool is considered the equivalent of a private school) is that you use a curriculum and that you are making "bona fide" progress in that curriculum. I asked him about that, because I am an English teacher and I don't purchase an English curriculum for my kids -- I know what they need to learn. He said that is fine. I just need to be able, if asked sometime, so produce something that shows what I'm covering and something that proves I've been covering it.

I'm not gonna lie: it is really nice to live in a state where you have so much freedom in your homeschool. But I'm also not gonna lie about this: I'm not completely comfortable with the idea of homeschoolers having such little oversight. I mean, I know I'm going to teach my children well -- and I know when I find I'm not doing a good job, I'm going to look for someone to do a better job (I've already hired a woman to do biology labs with my daughter next year because I know myself better than to believe I'm going to navigate that road successfully).

And the truth is, I have not personally known any homeschool parent who would ever have shirked their duty toward their children in homeschooling. This is a huge commitment; nobody is going to take it on who isn't going to take it seriously.

Except the really rare, really messed-up people out there. And there are a few. And a part of me still believes that the state has a stake in making sure children are protected from neglectful and abusive parents, whether they neglect to feed them or neglect to educate them.

Our workshop speaker gave a bit of the history of homeschooling in Texas. In the 80s, it was illegal to homeschool in the state, period (as it was in much of the country). He related stories of families at that time who did "CPS drills" in their school day. The kids knew when the doorbell rang, they had to pick up their books, go to mom and dad's closet, and sit in there quietly with the lights off and door shut until mom came to say the coast was clear.

Now, as grateful as I am for the pioneers of that period who went through great struggles to give me the freedom to educate my children that I enjoy today, I was uncomfortable with these stories. If it was illegal to homeschool, why were they homeschooling? I expect their answer was that they felt called of God to do it, and their obedience to God trumps their obedience to the state. And even though I don't see a biblical requirement to homeschool (certainly a case to be made for it, but not a requirement), I guess I'd have to accept that answer from those law-breaking pioneers.

Mainly because I anticipate situations coming up when Christians (maybe even I myself) will be called by God to obey in a way that the laws of the land forbid. And I anticipate there will be other Christians arguing with them (or me) that such a reading of the Bible is ridiculous. (I already get those comments now.)

And if obeying my God means breaking the law, paying fine, going to jail, or doing "CPS drills" to protect my kids, I guess that's what I will do. Just like marriage vows . . . the commitment I made many years ago to submit to my Lord doesn't get revoked when obedience gets hard.

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