Don't mess with our kids

March 11, 1994|By Tom Bisset

LAST month, most politicians inside the Washington Beltway knew very little about the home-schooling movement.

Today, every elected official on Capitol Hill knows at least this much: Home schooling is a large, powerful, grass-roots movement fiercely devoted to the belief that parents have the right to decide how their children are educated.

The source of this newfound congressional awareness was the recent avalanche of phone calls, faxes and letters to members of Congress objecting to a provision in House Bill HR-6.

This section required school districts to certify that teachers are qualified to teach the subjects they're assigned.

Even though the provision said nothing explicitly about certification for home schoolers, home-school advocates saw danger written all over it.

In particular, they considered the bill's definition of schools broad enough to include all religious, private and home schools.

Teacher certification looked suspiciously like a back-door maneuver aimed at controlling or closing down home schools because most home school teachers are not certified.

When the alarm was sounded on Feb. 15, home schoolers, church and synagogue schools and private schools rose as one to battle the enemy. Teacher certification quickly became a hot topic on local and network radio and TV talk shows. Church groups networked. Telephones rang and fax lines hummed. Prayer meetings petitioned the Almighty for divine deliverance.

The upshot was a public protest not seen in official Washington since a few years ago, when many of the same protesters were led to believe (mistakenly, as it turned out) that the Federal Communications Commission, at the behest of atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hare, was going to remove religious broadcasting from radio and television.

The home-school protest continued to build. By Feb. 24, the day of the vote, more than 50,000 calls were pouring into Congress daily. More calls would have been registered, but the phone and fax deluge jammed the House telephone system, temporarily closing it to outside calls.

Congress got the message. On Feb. 24, the House voted 424-1 to approve an amendment that deleted the language about teacher certification. It further voted 374-53 to adopt a stronger amendment stating that HR-6 does not authorize federal control over any private, religious or home school. All Maryland representatives voted for inclusion of the stronger amendment. Incidentally, California Democrat George Miller cast the lone dissenting vote on the move to delete. He authored the provision.

My guess is that the uproar over HR-6 won't be quieted soon. With its fearsome hint of Big Brother moving in to close down home schooling and control private education, HR-6 has taken on a life of its own. Organizations like the Family Research Council and the National Center for Home Education are already gearing up to make sure that the HR-6 tidal wave has plenty of ripple effects at the local, state and federal levels.

What is clear from this unexpected blistering of Congress is that a lot of Americans consider the education of their children the final line over which the federal government may not step.

You can tax us, double-talk us, even ignore us. But don't mess with our kids.

Convinced that public education has failed them in both its content and its moral environment, home schoolers believe that the only hope for the future of their families is to teach their children themselves. In so doing, they believe that they can bypass the intellectual and moral decay they consider systemic in public education.

Whether or not home schoolers are correct remains to be seen. Even though nearly a million kids are being home schooled, the movement itself is still in its infancy. It will take at least one generation of these children to prove or disprove the correctness of the movement's fundamental assumptions.

In the meanwhile, America's kids deserve the best public education our tax dollars can buy. A lot of Americans don't think they're getting it. One can only hope that America's leaders heard at least that message in the extraordinary public outcry over HR-6.

Tom Bisset is general manager of WRBS-FM, an evangelical radio station in Baltimore.

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