A Tempest in a Thimble

March 13, 1994

Congress was about to put home schools out of business, but those who think home schooling is none of the government's business rallied and put a stop to it. But was it about to, and did they? What happened throws instructive illumination on American politics:

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requiring that public school teachers be certified by their states. The wording of the amendment was construed by the religious right to apply to home schools, and this touched off a furor. A massive campaign against the amendment was launched by Michael P. Farris, an activist on the religious right who ran for lieutenant governor in Virginia last November. He was joined by Rep. Dick Armey, the conservative Texas Republican who has eyes on higher office, by religious broadcasters, home-school organizations and ever-vigilant talk-show hosts from coast to coast.

Dozens of parents roamed the halls of Congress. Rep. Ben Cardin's offices in Baltimore and Washington received more than 500 calls. And poor Representative Miller was so besieged that he recorded a message assuring callers that he "fully supports the rights of home schoolers." Those members of the House who paid any attention to the matter never doubted that the Miller amendment applied only to public schools.

But that convinced no one. Calls kept coming in. The talk hosts railed against government "intrusion" in private school affairs, though there was never any such intention. But so well organized is this one segment of American society, and so swift and loud its cry of protest, that the bill was amended so as to leave no doubt that it applies exclusively to public schools. The 4,500 students in Maryland home schools are safe for now.

And never let it be said that Congress is unresponsive.

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