Is homeschooling a universal human right? An interesting question, no?
You may think that as a homeschooler of four years my knee jerk reaction would be to defend my lifestyle choice and scream “YES!” You would be wrong… now before my sister has a panic attack I want to clarify that yes, I do think that homeschooling is a human right. My conclusion was not, however, a visceral response to defend my family’s choices, but a logical conclusion to a extensively thought out philosophy.
What is a right? There seems to be several different ideas as to what constitutes a right and what does not. In the Declaration of Independence our Founders stated that “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.” The phrase “among these” indicates that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not the only rights of men. Among other things we also have rights to a trial by jury, privacy, and personal property. It took nearly 200 years for our government to extend these rights to all Americans. The fact that it took as long as it did to extend these basic human rights to all men, women, races, and religions is the blackest stain on our country’s magnificent history.
Now all Americans under the law have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. I believe, as our Founders did, that these rights come from Nature and Nature’s God. One needn’t be a religious person to believe that all humans are born with the right to live and act towards their own happiness without needing the permission of others. My actions need only be limited by my physical and mental abilities and the extent to which I affect others. I am a human being and therefore have these rights. Notice I did not say “I am an American” but “I am a human being”. I am privileged enough to live in a country that was created to acknowledge and defend those rights, but those rights belong to everyone.
So what is a right? In President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union Address, Roosevelt spoke of a “Second Bill of Rights“. Among other things he stated:
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty…
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of the people to free, unimpeded travel.
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
In this day and age there are also arguments that cell phones and high speed internet are rights. I’m a fan of cell phones, decent homes, and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health, but I must respectfully disagree with President Roosevelt. How is the government supposed to guarantee those “rights” to those who lack them without infringing on the rights of those who don’t? Unlike the right to free press, free speech and free worship, these “rights” would need to be provided to you by the tax dollars of another person. I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t pay taxes. What I am saying is taxes collected from the people should be used to benefit all of the people who pay them and not be used to benefit a select few. I am also saying that if you depend on another person or entity (ie. government) to physically or financially provide those “rights” to you, then it is not a right; and if you cannot provide those things for yourself than you are not free from anything.
Rights are inherently undeniable! If I lose my job I may lose my house, but losing my job would not keep me from voting. Why? Because my continuing to vote does not infringe on someone else’s rights (if, through my actions, I do oppress another person, that right to vote is taken away from me). If I lose my job and can no longer pay my rent would it make sense for my landlords to continue to let me live here? If a decent home were a right and I were not required to vacate if I stopped paying the rent (which is actually the case in some states), I would be denying them their personal property (ie, their money) because they are still required to pay the mortgage. Squatting in a house that someone else is paying for is theft and therefore not a right.
What about food? Someone had to grow it. Unimpeded travel? Where will you get the car or the gas to power it? What about “The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living”? That sounds warm and fuzzy but what if there is a drought, flood or freeze? Are we required to pay the farmer the same amount even if the crops have failed? What if we want organic food or free range eggs and he doesn’t provide them? Freedom from unfair competition? Who decides what is unfair? Competition is good for the consumer even if the businessman doesn’t like it. “The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment” doesn’t work either. You can’t regulate emotions and “fear” is a big one. I might be slightly nervous of having to live in my car while my neighbor trembles at the thought of not having cable TV.
You may be wondering what this all has to do with homeschooling. I promise I haven’t gone off of the rails. I have made what I consider to be a fairly solid case against what some people consider to be “rights”. Now I will move on to what I think CAN be considered rights.
Thomas Jefferson said it best when he said “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” That is pretty much how I feel about most things politically. I don’t care about someone in New York drinking a 32 oz Big Gulp… until they start taxing me to pay for their diabetes treatments (aka picking my pocket. How about you let me keep my money and I’ll let you keep your soda, deal?). If it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg than I think you have a case for it being a right.
Homeschooling falls under the category of Parental Rights. As a parent, do I have the right to raise my child the way I see fit? Do I have the right to teach my child my values and beliefs regardless of whether I am Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, liberal or conservative? Does it pick your pocket or break your leg if I teach my children about evolution or intelligent design?
Now, I would like to take a moment to clear a few things up.
First of all, homeschooling, while gaining momentum and support, still makes a lot of people uneasy. It’s is a lifestyle that is different. People ask me questions about homeschooling and my answers are unsettling to some. It’s not that I say creepy or weird things, it’s just that my lifestyle makes some people uncomfortable. They ask “What made you decide to homeschool”, when I answer honestly and say “because I wanted to be a better mom, it makes me a better person and I love my children’s company”, they somehow imagine an attack or judgement upon them where none exists. That is just one example of how people in my personal life are more than just a little weirded out by homeschooling.
In the public sphere, teachers, legislators, CPS and other government workers can think that homeschoolers are trying either to hide something sinister or isolate their children from the rest of the world. I think that every homeschooler reading this will stand up with me and agree that by and large parents who homeschool their children are not the kind of parents who are going to abuse or neglect their children. Someone who takes their kids out of school so that they can beat and abuse them without people knowing is not a homeschooling parent; they are an abusive parent and I am deeply offended when they use the name of a mantle that I use and apply it to themselves. I am also deeply offended when people automatically label me as abusive in any way, shape, or form for the sole reason being that I am a homeschooling parent.
That being said, cultural uneasiness does not invalidate a right.
Secondly, my parents are liberal, progressive democrats. I grew up a liberal, progressive democrat. I am now a libertarian with conservative leanings. I am living proof that just because someone was taught something their entire lives does not mean that they will grow up and continue to believe that thing is true. Children, like adults are free agents that can think, decide and act for themselves. You may not like what I teach but that does not mean I am infringing on my children’s rights by teaching it.
Lastly, it was recently reported that 80 percent of New York City high school students are functionally illiterate and have to relearn basic skills that my 10 year old has already mastered… given this information I think it’s safe to say I’m perfectly qualified to teach my kids.
So, barring abuse and/or neglect of the child, is homeschooling a human right? I believe it is. Just as it is my right to have a say in how my government is run by voting for candidates that reflect my beliefs and values; just as it is my right to write these beliefs on this blog in the hope that it will help influence someone else’s beliefs; just as it is my right to worship my God by the dictates of my own conscience; it is my right to teach my children those beliefs and influence them in a way that I believe will have a positive impact on our society as a whole.
The U.S. Supreme Court stated in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that parent’s have the “liberty… to direct the upbringing and education of [their] children…The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high, duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”
There it is! The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parents have the liberty to direct the education of their children; including the fundamental right to educate that child at home.
You may be wondering what brought this on. The reason why I wrote this defense of the right to homeschool your children is because this is a battle that is being waged right now in the United States. Towards the beginning of this article I said “I am a human being and therefore have these rights. Notice I did not say “I am an American” but “I am a human being”. I am privileged enough to live in a country that was created to acknowledge and defend those rights, but those rights belong to everyone.” Homeschooling is legal in all fifty states but it is not legal in all countries. Some countries are quite hostile to homeschooling families.
In 2009 Sweden seized a child from his parents just minutes before the three of them were to board a plane to move to India. The reason they gave for taking the child into custody was because he was homeschooled. The parents were allowed supervised visitation with their son once every few weeks until the state cut them off entirely. They haven’t seen their son since 2010 and in December of 2012 they had all of their parental rights terminated by a Swedish appeals court.
Sweden is not the only example. Hitler banned homeschooling after he took control of Germany. The idea was simple; he knew that if he could control what the children were taught, he could grow happy little Nazis. 80 years later Hitler is long gone but homeschooling is still illegal. Uwe and Hannelore Romeike are Evangelical Christians who felt led to homeschool their children. When the German government threatened to take their children and put them (the parents) in prison, they put their affairs in order, filed all proper paperwork, obtained all of the proper visas and moved to the United States.
While I am not an Evangelical Christian, I do share their belief that our Father in Heaven is involved in the lives of His children and continues to give instruction and personal revelation to those who seek it. While the doctrine of Christianity does not often specifically say “you must homeschool as part of our religion”, most Christians will agree that when you feel the Lord has commanded you to do something, you should obey. This is what I did, this is what the Romeikes did.
It is not in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that we have to homeschool; in fact, most of us do not homeschool. But the teachings of the church do state that we should follow promptings from the Spirit or Holy Ghost. After much prayer and fasting seeking an answer to the problems that I was having with my family and children I was prompted to homeschool. I know that inspiration came from the Lord and it has made me a much better mother, happier wife and more fulfilled woman than I would be if I hadn’t followed His commands. I am much closer to being the woman that I want to be because I followed the Lord’s instructions for my family. Why am I telling you this? I know I was commanded to homeschool my children by the God that I worship so if ever I am asked if I homeschool for religious reasons I can, without pause, answer in the affirmative.
In 2010 an Immigration Judge granted the Romeike family political asylum because they were being persecuted in Germany for homeschooling. In May of 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice overturned the Immigration Judge’s ruling declaring, among other things, that homeschooling is not a right, therefore the Romeike family is not being persecuted and should be deported back to Germany where they can either go against their core beliefs or face thousands of dollars of fines, prison, and empty beds where their children once slept.
Our country was founded by people fleeing religious persecution and our constitution defends the free exercise of that religion. I will defend your right to believe in 20 gods, no God and everything in between and you should defend mine whether you agree with my personal beliefs or not. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. We have an obligation to protect those who come to us seeking our help and protection. The Romeike family will neither pick our pockets nor break our legs and they came here, to the Land of the Free, so that they could freely exercise their religion.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Whether you agree with me and my religious beliefs or not, whether you love the idea of homeschooling or not, whether you are a conservative or liberal I ask you this: Should the Romeike family be allowed to stay in the United States as refugees (not as citizens) so that they may continue to homeschool their children and practice their religion according to the dictates of their own conscience? I believe they should. If you agree with me I would ask that you please go to the White House Petitions website and sign the petition to grant the Romeike’s full and permanent legal status in the United States. If you feel so inclined, please pin this article and share on Facebook. Spread the word and let freedom ring.