Acton Institute Powerblog

Educational Freedom Under Attack

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As many PowerBlog readers will be aware, homeschooling is an educational choice that increasing numbers of parents are making. Once a fringe activity operating under the radar of the law, over the course of the last thirty years it has practically gone mainstream, being legalized de jure in most states and de facto in the others. No one has precise numbers (the government can’t track them!), but everyone agrees that the number of homeschooled children in the US has long passed the one million mark.

The practice has confronted severe legal challenges internationally—most notably in Germany—but the legal climate in the US seemed calm. Until now. Proof that liberty requires constant vigilance, this particular form of educational choice is under assault in California, where a judge has ruled that all teachers, including parents, must be “credentialed.”

Granted that the legal status of homeschooling in California was especially vulnerable to such an attack, this move adds fuel to a campaign by the main homeschooling legal action organization, HSLDA, to enact a federal constitutional amendment in defense of home education. I’m ambivalent. Leaving aside the question of tactics and political viability, I tend to oppose such campaigns on the belief that defenders of freedom concede important ground by rushing to alter the Constitution every time a threat is perceived. The right of parents to educate their children as they see fit (within certain limits, of course) exists and should be recognized. But that doesn’t mean it must be spelled out in the Constitution. We need to abandon the concept that every right must be explicitly enumerated constitutionally. Instead, we need to shift the burden of proof back to the government expansionists: If the Constitution doesn’t say that the state has the power to do it, then what’s your justification?

But as I say, the California ruling stokes the fires of those who think we do need such freedoms made explicit.

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of


  • Ray Nothstine

    “Instead, we need to shift the burden of proof back to the government expansionists: If the Constitution doesn’t say that the state has the power to do it, then what’s your justification?”

    Great point. As we all however, many government activists will not let the Constitution rain on their nanny state parade. It’s great that you are calling them out.

  • Logan Ramsey

    did you ever think that there are some rules and regulation in place to assure that our country continues to move forward in the world?

    Hmm maybe we should all start thinking about our civilization as a whole and not the person…i know i want everyone to get the best schooling possible for our society

  • Marc Vander Maas

    I can only assume that, based on your concern for getting everyone the best possible schooling, that you’re an opponent of our current public school system and a big supporter of private education options and homeschooling, right?

  • Rob Nelson

    Our school system was not set up to educate children, at least not in the sense that most people think. Public schools were forced on the lower classes to break the hold of the family and substitute the state, to curb critical thinking and intellectual curiosity, and to produce compliant factory workers, miners, soldiers and civil servants.
    John Taylor Gatto has done an amazing job or researching the history of education in the US. I recommend his book “A Different Kind of Teacher”.
    By the way, public schooling has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of it’s founders–our families are broken and have little influence on their own children, who grow up unable or uninterested in questioning the way things are. Let’s face it, we’ve become pretty stupid and sheep-like as a nation.
    There are many many homeschoolers who are NOT christian. To me, they are the last best hope for our country and the earth.

  • Here is some commentary on the recent California court ruling that would require parents homeschooling their children to have full teaching credentials/certification.

  • Having first seen this issue raised at the [url=]Volokh Conspiracy[/url], suffice it to say I was greatly perturbed. But I appreciate the caution you express, which is also echoed [url=]here[/url]:
    [quote=”John Mark Reynolds”]
    The difficulty for me is that it is hard to see that anybody has a “constitutional right” to home school. We do have rights that will allow most sane people to home school, but traditional Christians must avoid the modern inflating of “constitutional rights language” to include every single thing we want to do.[/quote]

  • Dan

    A civilization is only as good as its worst citizen. Good civilization begins with the individual.

  • Dan

    I know I may be banned for suggesting this; but you may want to check out Ann Coulter’s “Godless”. She has a very *interesting* take on public education.

  • Gwen

    If the California Educational Department were as passionate about the high drop out rates from school as they were about homeschooling maybe I would not see their passion as hypocritical. Of course, the CED understands that homeschooling works, and prestigious univesities are seeing this as a valuable altenate to successful education. I will agree with the blogger Rob Nelson; we HAVE become asleep at the wheel and the bond in the family is shamefully broken.

  • Homeschooling Dad # 501,382

    Does California no longer have the “least burdensome” clause – or did it ever? Requiring parents to be credentialed is more burdensome than ought be required for homeschooling. What, after all, is homeschooling. It is not the parents vomiting out the knowledge from their brains. It is doing what parents have always done and will always do in the absence of government requirements to “credential” parenting itself. Namely, parents guide children. Parents, with or without participation of their children, select courses, select curricula, provide a decent, clean, safe, and bully-free place to study, guide the study, guide the student in ways to get answers to the students questions, and other normal parents things.

    I attended a presentation of a “new” spelling curriculum in a local elementary school. One of the features which the principal and teachers were _so_ _proud_ of was that “when the student makes a mistake, the teacher points it out right away.” God, what progress! People need credentials to do _that_!?