By Denele Campbell
In mid-June the Arkansas Department of Education announced a public comment period on the implementation of new rules regarding home schooled students. But don’t worry if you didn’t comment, your input wouldn’t make much difference.
These rules are mere housekeeping details in the wake of legislation enacted over the last few years which remove any accountability in home schooling.
Previously the state paid for standardized testing to assess student progress at specified points along the educational path, including home schooled students. But the teeth were removed from that effort when the state failed to institute any meaningful follow-up if the student performed badly on those tests. Now, even the testing will cease to exist.
Touted as a money saving measure, the legislation actually satisfies a long-sought goal of the religious right. That is, nobody is going to tell my kid we’re descended from monkeys (and so forth).
As recently attested in a Texas court case, “…A lower court ruling allowed for Texas homeschoolers to legally teach their children absolutely zilch if they believe their family is waiting to be raptured.” Texas counts over 300,000 homeschooled students. There, in a nutshell, is the problem with Texas.
An Arkansas family wishing to home school is able to choose their own curricula— accredited or not—pursue the education at whatever pace they wish, and accept whatever outcome suits their personal whim. The Arkansas law still stands that a child between the ages of five and seventeen must be educated, but for homeschooling devotees, this is sidestepped very easily: Parents must sign a form stating they will homeschool. Period.
Currently in the state of Arkansas, over 18,000 students are homeschooled.
Undoubtedly not all 18,000 homeschooled students are failed utterly by the state’s willful abandonment of oversight. Some parents have reasons other than fundamentalist religion to homeschool—a child’s disabilities, perhaps, or the conviction that non-traditional education better serves their parental goals. Many parents may work hard to ensure their homeschooled child gains skills needed to enter college and/or otherwise pursue a successful life. Many homeschooling parents choose standardized tests to measure their children’s progress.
Unfortunately for the future, recent surveys show that the “most important reason” parents give to homeschool is “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (36%). Typically the religious belief being represented is evangelical Christian.” In these homeschool situations, modern scientific knowledge—geologic age of the planet, for example—is disregarded. Math and critical thinking are not highly prized. The objective is that the child obtain minimal literacy so he or she can read the Bible.
Or, put another way, the Koran.
Arkansas students in public schools are regularly tested so that if they are failing to learn, their school can provide remediation. No such option exists for homeschooled students. If they are failing to learn, the state doesn’t know or care.
The problem is bigger than homeschooled students. Non-accredited private and parochial schools also escape state oversight. If a school is not receiving tax dollars, it does not have to meet state standards. Whatever they teach and whatever the students may know or not know at the point of ‘graduation’ is beyond the state’s purview.
All this irrational fear of compulsory state education feeds the rising plague of intentional ignorance. It undergirds the success of extremist conservative politics. These folks don’t believe in global warming because they have no comprehension of science.
To them, state standards are part of a humanist conspiracy to stamp out religion.
As far back as Ancient Greece, leaders advocated for compulsory education that started kids learning at age six.
By the 16th century, European church leaders enforced compulsory education to ensure that people could read the Scriptures. Colonial governments in early American settlements required education as well, a practice that spread with the growth of the nation, and these were largely private, tuition supported efforts. As more immigrants arrived through the 19th century, support grew for tax-supported schools that could provide education for rich and poor alike. The last state to pass compulsory education laws was Mississippi (1919), a circumstance perhaps reflected even today in that state’s continuing struggle to move out of last place in just about everything.
Compulsory education was good while it lasted.
The first challenge arose in 1925 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while the state had the right to enforce certain standards, it could not eliminate the right of parents to place their children in parochial or private schools. Generally, however, it was upheld through this and other legal actions that while states may grant exemptions for home schooling, that schooling must meet the standards required of public and state-accredited private schools.
This is no longer the case in Arkansas—one of 15 states which require only notification of intent to preschool. As long as a parent signs that one form, they are free to home school in any way they desire. There is no follow-up, no checkpoint, no tests. Nobody looks in to see if the parents are teaching anything.
There is no safety net.
While one might assume that parents want the best for their children and that any well-intentioned parent understands that education holds the key to a child’s successful future, one might be wrong. Some parents do not care and may select the homeschool route simply to avoid waking up early and getting the kid ready for school. Some parents may embark on homeschooling for vague reasons and fail utterly in selecting and teaching adequate curricula.
Worst of all are parents who intentionally subvert their child’s education in order to satisfy reactionary belief systems based on religious faith. Such parents are deluded with the idea that God is coming soon, or God tells them whatever they need to know, or that the holy scriptures are all the education anyone needs (feel free to substitute ‘Allah’ for ‘God’ in the preceding sentence). The results are staggering: young adults unable to function even in minimum wage jobs, unable to reason through simple logical processes, and incapable of thinking past whatever dogma is imposed on them.
Which is—sadly—the objective.
That the State of Arkansas has disgraced itself by falling to such a low non-standard in its education of young people correlates exactly with the rise of extremist Republican government. It does not bode well for the state’s future. The greater the number of intentionally ignorant citizens, the higher the likelihood of more extremists being elected to public office. It’s difficult to imagine how far the state might fall.
Surely there is legal remedy for this descent into religious lunacy. I propose that would-be voters be required to have obtained a GED or high school diploma. Literacy tests were ruled unconstitutional when used in southern states as a racial barrier, but if the standard were applied equally to all races, that objection would fail.
Democracy depends on reasoned political discourse and informed voters.
It’s in the national interest that elections be conducted fairly. Neither bribes nor brainwashing nor willful ignorance should be allowed to subvert the democratic process. We all suffer when young people aren’t taught to read, think, and process information in ways that are necessary in most types of employment.
We suffer when people don’t understand and respect differences of race, ethnicity, or gender. We suffer when extremist religion dominates all other aspects of life.
We can see what the rule of extremist religion accomplishes for a nation by looking at the Middle East and even at the acts of extremists here at home. Fear is the first reaction in someone confronted with something he or she doesn’t understand. The next reaction after fear is hate. After hate comes violence.
With violence, comes the downfall of civilization.
 Texas is one of nine states where parents are required to give no notice to the state as to their intention to homeschool. Arkansas is one of fifteen states where parents must only give notice of their intent. For a map showing all states and homeschool requirements, visit here.
Editor: Dana Gornall