by John Carey, CHEWV Legislative Liaison
The battle to pass the Education Reform Bill was passionately fought on both sides. While the side that supported more freedom and greater options for parents, children, and local communities won a victory, the side that opposed these changes has not given up, adamant that they will have their say come the 2020 election.
The education bill’s advocates and detractors see the world quite differently. Advocates feel the parents are the solution; the detractors, on the other hand, see parents as the problem. Two opposing worldviews result in two different legal outcomes. Ultimately the question becomes: do we have more faith in people or in institutions?
Throughout the battle to pass the Education Omnibus Bill, home educators’ only request was for the homeschool exemption to be left standing without any changes. Our main concern was that the government-funded ESA program would be combined with the homeschool exemption, making it appear that homeschooling was government-funded, which would invariably lead to increased regulation. In the end, the Senate chose to keep ESAs separate; later, the House chose not to advance the ESA legislation. But while homeschoolers’ concerns were addressed in this particular bill, I believe the underlying worldviews of the two sides will greatly affect us in the future.
The battle for the Education Reform Bill, which included provisions for charter schools and ESAs, went on for so long because legislators would not give up the fight. They were passionate about giving more educational control to parents, teachers, and local communities; they had heard from their constituents many times over the years and chose to respond to their cries for help. One point made in committee early in 2018 was that the state-approved curriculum prevented a parent from being able to help their child with their math homework. Clearly the system – by design – excluded parents from helping their child. Legislators came to believe that if they did not act, nothing would change.
So why do legislators believe that parents having more control is a good thing? Over the last three decades, it has become evident that increased parental control over education brings positive results. Just look at homeschooling. Even when a parent lacks an advanced degree and is not certified in any of the subjects they teach, their children excel both academically and socially and become lifelong learners.1
Day by day, homeschooling proves that there are ways to improve educational outcomes.
So what is the response from those who want to maintain the status quo in education? Their main claim over the last 18 months has been that the problem is not the current system. Instead, pointing to the opiate crisis and dysfunctional families as the cause for low test scores, they place the blame on the children who attend public school – and their parents. Such reasoning is rooted in pessimism and implies that those who seek to change the system are uninformed and misguided.
Low views of individuals or groups is nothing new in America and has been used many times over the years to change the law and threaten basic civil rights. For example, Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, is quoted:
“Authorities tell us that 75% of the school children are defective. This means that no less than fifteen million schoolchildren, out of 22,000,000 in the United States, are physically or mentally below par… We prefer the policy of immediate sterilization, of making sure that parenthood is absolutely prohibited to the feeble-minded.”2
This is a shocking example of what happens when you stop looking at people as people and start looking at them as problems. Laws do not change for the better; restrictions increase; freedoms melt away. Eugenics was a sick legal practice in America that took away the rights of thousands of people. Courts, including the US Supreme Court, decided in favor of forced sterilization. Legislators did too. West Virginia did not repeal Article 16, referred to as the “sterilization of mental defectives” provision, until 2013, and evidence suggests that sterilization of the “defectives” was allowed until at least 2011.
As long as there are those in power who view people as the problem, we can expect laws enacted that seek to limit freedom. For example, why are there so many bills introduced that seem to limit parental rights and control children? After asking this question, Heritage Communications of West Virginia (HCWV) took a look at the Youth Incarceration rate in West Virginia. We were shocked to discover that while 47 states have reduced the number of kids removed from their homes, West Virginia’s youth incarceration has risen dramatically3, mainly because of truancy violations.4
This is what happens when people are seen as the problem. If you do not trust people, then you take away their freedoms. Fortunately, we have a document that supports our view that people should be valued and their rights protected. Let’s better understand that document and get very good at explaining it to our representatives. At the same time, we need to thank legislators who stand up for our freedoms; each of us needs to see them as part of the solution.
In 2000, when homeschoolers went to Charleston to change the law so that all our members could homeschool past 8th grade, we were not asking for favors. We were asking that the legislature give back what they had taken away: the freedom to homeschool our own children as God directs. The legislators of 2000 expanded our freedom.
Unfortunately, the message that demeans parents and children has grown in West Virginia since then. It is only a matter of time before more laws are introduced, based on this view, that limit our freedom. If not today, detractors will try again after the election if more people are elected who think like them.
The time comes when we all must ask: what kind of world do we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren? One that respects and values them and expands their freedom? Or one that lacks faith in them and believes they need to be controlled? For their sake, what message are we going to allow to stand? How about this one:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
2 The Pivot of Civilization Margaret Sanger (Planned Parenthood founder), Brentano’s Press, NY, 1922, p. 263