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The NEA and Its Position on Homeschooling
by Mark Kantor
 
A Short Primer on Labor Unions in General, and the NEA in Particular

A labor union is an association of workers whose common goal is to promote and protect the welfare, interests, and rights of its members. The interests of its members' customers is not a material concern. Nurses, for example, work in the health care industry, but a nurse's union does not have as its goal the furtherance of medical care. That might happen as a byproduct of having happier nurses, but better care of patients is not the reason for the union's existence. Better care of nurses is the object. The goals of a union do not always happen to coincide so nicely with the goals of customers though. The totality of the protection afforded member electricians by their union is legendary, but the existence such a union does nothing to increase the quality or reliability, nor reduce the cost of putting electricity into your home. Laws might have such an effect, and training, and market pressures, but that union's raison d'etre, collective bargaining, has naught to do with it. This latter is an example of a union whose internal goals are not aligned with the goals of its customers.

NEA president Bob Chase has informed us that "NEA members are literally the guardians of the nation's brain trust."1 In fact, the National Education Association is the country's largest labor union. Its membership consists of public school teachers - public employees - people whose livelihood is in no way related to their ability to attract and satisfy paying customers, but depends instead on their ability to make a case for the continuance of tax dollar expenditures. Continued funding from a limited supply of tax dollars, monies controlled not by citizens but by elected officials, requires an extreme amount of influence, and can be delivered only by the collective effort of a large number of like-minded individuals. Acquiring and wielding that enormous influence, which typically takes the form of huge voting blocks and millions of dollars contributed to the National Democratic Party, is the method by which the NEA protects their members. Even a cursory perusal of their Internet site confirms absolutely that already self-evident conclusion. Of the hundreds of policy statements listed on their web site, to a bullet the NEA is in favor of anything and everything that would increase the need for more teachers - myriad new programs, smaller classes, earlier mandatory school age - and is opposed to anything that might increase competition and reduce that demand. Which is to say, everything that might result in giving families a greater choice, outside the public school system, of where to spend their education dollars. This article examines one of those NEA policy statements, the one which addresses homeschooling. What is so striking about this policy, like so many of their others, is not so much the pandering, self-serving, cliché-ridden and simply erroneous content, as the vehemence of the language.

The goals of the teacher union are systemically, squarely at odds with the goals of the end users of the public education system. Thomas Sowell has called the NEA "the biggest single obstacle to the improvement of American education."2 If you want to understand what's really going on, i.e., who is actually motivated to do what, to say what, without having to rely on the verbiage of those who stand to gain or lose, one should, in the immortal words of Watergate's Deep Throat, "Follow the money." Sound advice.

What The NEA's Position On Homeschooling Says About The NEA
Resolution No. B-68 (taken from the NEA website)

"The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state requirements. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used. The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools. The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting. (1988, 2000)"

Like most of the NEA's 315 resolutions, Resolution B-68 has little to do with educating children. What I was looking for in this resolution are planks that would give me confidence that public school teachers truly want what is best for our children. Believe it or not, I'm open to the concept that such a thing is possible. But, when I analyze the resolution, statement by statement, in the most objective manner I possibly can, I'm left with the inescapable conclusion that what is best for our children is not an overriding concern for the NEA. So, let's go through it - statement by statement, and see how it fares.

"The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience."

They're saying it won't work then, right? Forget people have been doing it that way for thousands of years. You think this generation is so special that it won't work anymore? Why? Because we have things like computers now? And quantum mechanics? Do you think public school teachers understand computer information transfer protocols and quantum mechanics better than you? Don't kid yourself. And besides, who's talking about calculus-based statistical physics anyway? We're talking about reading and arithmetic. Makes for a pretty arrogant point of view.

However, they're not recommending anything here, only stating their opinion, and everyone is entitled to those. But, I have a couple of observations of my own.

(1) I imagine David and Micki Colfax's four homeschooled sons, three of whom graduated from Harvard or Yale University, might have something to say about whether or not a homeschool program can or cannot provide a comprehensive educational experience. I don't care whether or not they were the rule or the exception. The resolution doesn't say that homeschooling programs usually don't provide a comprehensive experience; it says these programs cannot provide one. "Cannot" has a very specific meaning. It means not capable of; not ever. Not even once. Can't. And clearly, sometimes they do.

(2) It's very convenient to not have to define what's meant by a "comprehensive educational experience." If the term were defined, after all, then there would be nothing to stop just any homeschooling parents from finding out what those criteria were and satisfying them at home.

(3) This plank confuses getting an education with sitting in a classroom, in the same kind of way that people used think that in order to get exercise you had to do calisthenics, like jumping jacks and squat thrusts. If you define sitting in a classroom for 8 hours a day with other people your own age, getting textbook knowledge, as a comprehensive educational experience then I suppose they'd have a point. The main problem with this resolution though, is that it does not contain only opinions. There are policy recommendations too. They should have quit while they were ahead.

The NEA is worried about money. Or are they? ". . . with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardian." Whatever this one is really about, it isn't about education, for one thing. For another thing, strictly speaking, it isn't about money either. Although it might sound reasonable for people to bear their own expenses to homeschool their own children, the NEA is not talking about giving you your property taxes back and then you handle the homeschooling expenses. So, this plank is only a slightly more clever way of phrasing their real concern that "we want your property tax money whether or not we educate your child," which would be rather more truthful. Were there any reasoning ability by anyone in the NEA's chain of command, somebody somewhere would realize, and admit, that public schools don't need homeschoolers' tax money since they don't have the expenses of educating those children. So, there is neither an educational nor a financial reason for this plank. It is simply punishment.

"The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools."
What your local public school is going to tell you is that since they can't count your child among their student rolls they don't get any funding, therefore they do not have the resources to let your child participate. The reality is that the public school system bloody well does have our money, and that entitles us to precisely the same services that are available to everyone else. No amount of petty, internal, self-serving rule-making (e.g., "We can't count your child unless they're enrolled for at least x hours per day") can invalidate our perfect right to obtain any service for which we have already paid. Note one other interesting thing: The statement doesn't say that homeschooled students shouldn't participate in extracurricular activities unless they pay, it says simply that they shouldn't participate, at all. Ever. No reason is given - they just shouldn't participate. Why the heck not? Unless the NEA truly believes homeschoolers are disruptive (not being socialized and all), then this is mere hostility.

But, mostly the NEA is concerned about having 1) everyone who teaches be licensed by The State, and 2) everything that's taught be approved by The State. In other words, The State should have complete control over all aspects of education: everyone who teaches and everything that's taught. That should sound chilling. At first blush this makes no sense at all. Why would anyone in his right mind want the government to implement stricter control over his own industry? "Please Mr. Government - please force me to do these things!" (Remember, the government is merely an instrument of force.) The universal - and I do mean universal - answer is that we need government controls to protect the consumers of the product or service. And, universally, that's never the case. It doesn't add, because you simply don't need a law to make it work.

For example, when it comes time for a nose job or a tummy-tuck, most people (the smart ones) will insist on using a cosmetic surgeon who is certified by the American Society for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. In most cases potential customers insist on this certification, even if it means more cost, because it conveys information about the service provider's qualifications. It greatly lessens the chance of ending up with a hacked up nose. This is all voluntary. There is no law that says a plastic surgeon must be so certified, but many find that it's in their own best interest. If board certifications, i.e., licenses, for teachers imparted the same kind of information and greater comfort level, like ASPRS certification, people would likewise flock to certified teachers in far greater numbers than to unlicensed ones. Teachers, like plastic surgeons, would find it to be in their own best interest to comply. A law is simply unnecessary.

So, the truth is, throughout our entire economy the single reason -- and there is only one -- why every special interest group in existence calls for tighter government controls - over their own industries - is to use the power of The State to limit competition in favor those who are already established. Period. Class dismissed. And every single one of them denies it. This situation is no different, so I wouldn't be harder on public school teachers than on electricians or plumbers or anybody else - were it not for the fact that 1) they're already using my money, and against my will no less, and 2) they're using the excuse that they know, and are doing, what's best for my kid.

"Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family . . ."
Now why in the world would the NEA care about this? I'm reminded of the law that says you can't practice medicine on your neighbor without a license. That rule protects the neighbor from his own folly for choosing an untrained doctor. Or something. But, what greater good could possibly be served by a comparable law saying you can't practice teaching without a license? Exactly what is the NEA protecting our children from? Phonics? And, why does the NEA see it as their personal business to prevent us from practicing teaching on our neighbors' children? If the NEA see themselves as akin to doctors it's a bit easier to understand. An untrained doctor could do great harm to an unsuspecting patient. In a similar fashion, I suppose, an untrained teacher could likewise do great harm to some unsuspecting parents and their child.

Do they seriously believe that? Of course not. In fact, the reason for this plank is the same as the reason for the doctor rule, which is to protect the livelihoods of the incumbents by limiting competition (doctors are no better). To pretend it's for the good of the children, that unlicensed teachers can do great harm, is self-aggrandizement to a ridiculous degree.

"When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state requirements."
Students must meet all state requirements? Huh? What kind of state requirements apply to students? I think we need to start reading what we've written before we publish stuff to the Internet.

"Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency . . ."
Ignore for the moment the patent absurdity of needing a license, which implies that there's some special knowledge one must acquire that isn't available to just anyone, and that can be gained properly and completely only through a formal training program, before endeavoring to teach one's child to read and write and add and subtract. In a general sense, nobody, I think, is suggesting we make unlicensed instruction, of any type, "illegal," say, in the same way it's illegal to rob a bank - where if you do it and get caught you're punished. So, the NEA isn't saying you shouldn't be allowed to provide instruction to your children, only that it won't count unless you're properly licensed. But, and here's where I keep getting stuck: Count for what?

Regarding truancy, there are laws in all 50 states that require children to receive a minimum number of hours of schooling until they reach a certain age, typically 16. What the NEA might be saying is that unless your child spends those hours with a licensed instructor they should be considered truant. All that really means is that homeschooling would be outlawed. Which is to also say, unless your teacher is licensed you can't receive a high school diploma. Under this interpretation a person could receive all the instruction in the world, in all the right subjects, do well on nationally standardized tests, and that person still would not be eligible to receive a high school diploma. Not because he or she didn't earn it or doesn't deserve it, but because his teacher didn't have a license. This interpretation might make sense only if the time spent is considered just as important as the knowledge that's attained. But, if a high school diploma is a document that's supposed to certify that a particular level of knowledge has been attained in particular subject areas, then it's nonsense. I can't think of any other interpretations. Please feel free to try your hand. So, as I said, I get stuck trying to get this plank make some kind of sense. But, anyway, once we've come to agreement on the definition of "instruction," there are still some aspects of this not-so-innocuous little statement that remain troubling. The implication that it's a proper role of The State to have the final say and pass final judgment on who can and cannot teach your child - i.e., not somebody you approve, only somebody they approve.

That you're not one of the people they approve, unless you go back to college, get a teaching degree and pass a state test. All that really means, after you've decoded it, is, since we're not all going back to college, parents should not be allowed to be their children's primary educators. That public school teachers are always better qualified to teach children than their parents (I say always because no qualifications were made in the resolution) That we need such laws, i.e., that without them something bad would happen to our children, i.e., that given the freedom to decide for themselves parents would not do the responsible thing.

". . . and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used."
In other words, we must teach our children precisely and only what the State dictates. I have to wonder about anyone who isn't scared sleepless by this one. Are they serious? I have to teach what the State tells me to teach? Really? It's as if no one in the NEA is actually educated, as if they can't understand the implications of what they're saying. Once we give away the right to determine what our children must be taught, give it over to The State, that right is gone - we don't have it any more. From that point on they tell us what to teach and we comply, and we can only hope for their altruism and good sense to not abuse that power. But I wouldn't bet the mortgage on it.

1/ Saints, Science, & Schools: Early Childhood Education and the Making of Miracles February 16, 1997, Bob Chase
2/ Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 1998 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759, Thomas Sowell
(If you would like to see all of the NEA's Resolutions, please visit their website, www.nea.org.)