Obeying the Law,
Testing, & "Qualifying" to Homeschool
by Barbara Edtl Shelton
What are we as homeschoolers to do about the issue of obeying the law? What about qualifying to homeschool? What about testing? These are all very real concerns for all homeschoolers, and immediate concerns for some. These are even being challenged in courts around the country today.
A quick look through a magazine called the Court Report published by H.S.L.D.A. (Home School Legal Defense Association, of which we have been members for many years) will show what's currently happening in this arena. And it's often not a pretty picture. Parents are actually being taken to court, sometimes even being jailed for doing nothing more than homeschooling their children.
Qualifying to Homeschool
Because it is foundational, let's first address the issue of "qualifying" to homeschool. I use quotation marks around the term "qualify" as I strongly believe that God has already not only qualified, but also directed, commissioned, and equipped each parent to teach their own children. How can you possibly "teach these words diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up" if your children are at school all day long, then off to their lessons, sports or clubs, and then at home doing the homework of the school they were at all day?!?! (And homeschoolers, you need to beware of the same too-busy traps!) When is this supposed to happen?
There are many more verses that very obviously and blatantly indicate that the only logical answer to fulfilling God's call on our lives is to educate our children at home, but that is not the purpose of this particular article. More on this in Wisdom's Way of Learning and many of the other resources I suggest for the season of reeducation.
God tells us in the Word that we are to obey the governing authorities so far as it is not in direct violation of God's commands and/or does not require us to act in an ungodly manner or in a way that would require us to violate God's prior commands. (This is where there is a lack of understanding, I have seen.)
Therefore, when we talk about qualifying to homeschool we must go deeper into the Word and deeper into the law to get to the truth and what we are to do about it. Some states actually have laws that violate our constitutional rights. (Many believe that even Washington's law, generally considered to be one of the better ones, violates our prior constitutional right to educate our children, as education is not the business of the state, in the same way as church activities are not to be governed by the state.) The bottom of this "qualifying" issue is really very simple. We are already deemed qualified by the Ultimate Authority in the Universe, God.
So should you worry about qualifying if that is mandated in your state? There are two trains of thought on this:
One is that as long as what is required of you to qualify does not go against your beliefs, is not oppressive, difficult, or impossible (like getting a degree to teach), then do it.
On the other side of the legal scales, the opposing train of thought is that any form of regulation of the education of our children is neither scriptural or constitutional. Education, they strongly believe, is not "generic" or "secular" (or able to be made either) but is at the very core of our Christianity.
Rendering to Cæsar
Next let's look a little more closely at Jesus' statement to "Render therefore to Cæsar things that are Cæsar's, and to God the things that are God's."
First, what does "render" mean? It means "to relinquish, surrender, yield, or present." In essence it is to "give up and hand over." So we have to ask ourselves two questions:
1) Are my children God's or "Cæsar's"? ...and...
2) "Is God asking me to relinquish, present, or hand my children over to the state for any reason or in any area?
You may think Hey, aren't you getting a bit over-dramatic here? ... No. I don't think I am one bit. It just might appear so in light of what well-meaning parents all over the country and even all through our churches are doing without thinking a thing of it. How, you ask, are we handing our children over to the schools?
First, physically. When you send your child to school, the system is getting that child's physical presence for at least seven precious hours. Now, to those parents who are career-minded, or simply covet their time without the children in the house, this does not seem distasteful. Sadly, these usually find out too late that they paid a high price for their freedom.
Then, as if the physical presence wasn't enough, the schools get the children's "virtual presence" for another one to four hours at home with their assigned homework!
Then, of course there’s the getting ready to leave for school, meals, chores, and extra-curricular activities. How much time does that leave them to just "be"? To be yours? To be alone with one's own thoughts and dreams? To be in relationship with the family? You can answer that better than I can.
But the child's body time are not all the system gets. It also gets your child's mind. Have you ever made a statement only to hear your child respond "That's not what I learned in school?!" There is an "allegiance" to the teacher that teachers actually create in their students, knowingly or unknowingly. One former teacher told me they were actually taught at teacher college to do this knowingly. "For the child's own good," of course! To alleviate confusion in their minds, they subtly establish only one ultimate authority – and I assure you this is not God or the parent! Whoever has the allegiance has the mind, and that's all that's needed to be able to control the child's complete value and belief system. And lest you think that education is neutral, think again. "Humanism" is the religion now being taught in the schools, to the complete legal exclusion of Christianity and Biblical principles. Children are taught to accept sinful lifestyles and values. (More on this in the books I recommend for the season of re-education.)
Unconstitutional and Unbiblical
Many homeschoolers have the conviction that any law regulating home education, even a good one, is unconstitutional and even unbiblical. Why? Because such a law infringes on our fundamental right as citizens to educate our children as we see fit, and is often an impediment to obeying the biblical directive to bring up our children in the ways of the Lord. There are different ways of looking at this which are far too extensive to get into here. I do offer a flyer that discusses this subject briefly, but gives some very good food for thought: "Should Home Education Be Regulated?"
True education goes far beyond what can be taught in a classroom or out of a textbook – actually the easiest part! In fact, true education is often undone in the school setting and by the godless values taught there. You have been called to take on the unique yoke that Jesus is placing on you, not to imitate the school system. God has not entrusted this area to anyone but parents; least of all the state.
At the Root of All Fear
Marilyn Howshall, developer of the Lifestyle of Learning message, when asked how to meet state requirements while doing a lifestyle of learning and, specifically, "How did you, if you did, make a portfolio to show that at least touched on each 'academic' subject?" answered:
Also, in another newsletter, she says how God wouldn't lead them into the Promised Land until they quit grumbling and trusted Him for EVERYTHING. Remember, we can't get to the Promised Land while hanging onto a foot in Egypt! He wants us to OBEY first, understand later. Kind of like "Let go of the 'traditional' mindset 'rope' over the 'Chasm of Learning' ~ I'll catch you." But we want to see the net!
What About Testing?
This is a difficult issue for homeschoolers, especially ones who do not agree with the very concept of testing. Perhaps we feel that testing is superficial, that it doesn't really test the things (qualities) of highest value in a child. Or we may believe that testing is unscriptural: "For we dare not class or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (II Cor. 10:12)
Or we may recognize the invalidities and shortcomings of testing, realizing its limitations and wide variances of results as affected by many factors in the testee's life such as emotional and physical state, their response to being tested (many suffer from "test anxiety" which totally invalidates a test's true accuracy), etc. I address all this more in-depth in my article "The Heart of Testing and Grade Placing."
There is a variety of ways testing is handled from state to state: States that require testing have a variety of stipulations:
So what's a parent to do?!
How can we know what we, as Christians submitting to "authority," ought to do under God, and when the state has gone beyond its God-given mandates? This is not an easy matter to decide, but before you do, you need a broader understanding of this matter than most Christians possess.
Daniel faced a decision in the midst of similar circumstances. All the people in the land were required to bow down (literally) to the king, and to not pray to their Jehovah-God. Doing the latter and not doing the former would result in immediate death. But Daniel continued to pray three times a day "as was his custom" and even did so at his window, which made him very visible.
It seems to me that he didn't have to pray at his window, especially since if someone saw him and reported him to the authorities, it would result in being killed. Why not just locate himself back in a corner – maybe even a closet?! He'd still have gotten his praying in, but in a manner that would have kept him from being found out!
I don't know what was in Daniel's mind, but I do know he was a man of integrity, and that God was truly his God. If he prayed at certain times every day, and at a certain place, it had to have been something between him and his God. It was a conviction; not merely a "nice idea" – or a "preference." It was sacred to him. And what was sacred, he refused to allow any earthly authority to touch or even have the slightest bit of affectation in.
Now, had there been a law that you could not ride your chariot over 25 m.p.h., I am certain he would have obeyed such a law. But this sacred area he remained firm in, even though it meant death.
Okay, so how does this relate to the issue at hand, that of testing? There is nothing "sinful" about having your child take an S.A.T. But what about what you do with the test scores? I can best explain this with a specific example...
Submitting Test Scores
Here in Washington state, the homeschool law requires homeschoolers to test or assess their children once a year. Let's just say that, as in Oregon and many other states, we were required us to submit our test results to the school district. I would not be able to comply. Rebellion? Disobedience to the verse "Obey the governing authorities?" No – neither.
This requirement – turning in test scores – goes beyond my convictions, which, basically, are that I have already been commissioned by God to homeschool my children, no matter what the results or consequences. I will comply with man's law as far as it does not violate this conviction. Under God's authority and direction, I and my husband are the ones, on earth, that God has placed to be in charge of our children's education. The state has not. Period. Nowhere in Scripture does God ever even come close to giving anyone but parents (and church) any kind of authority in this area. And I will not hand over to the state this right or responsibility.
What About "Declaring Your Intent to Homeschool"?
I have no problem "declaring my intent" to homeschool, (which the law happens to requires us to do here in Washington State,) as this is not "requesting permission" from them. However, if I were required to "apply," I would not and could not do so. Rather, I would send the school district a respectful letter notifying them of our decision – not our request or hope – to homeschool. This is why, when school officials have referred to the "Declaration of Intent" form as an "application," I am quick to point out to them that, indeed, it is not an application. I don't even want them thinking that I am asking them permission to homeschool. This is part of my own personal "educate my associates" program. ;-)
If I were required to have someone other than a person I knew and trusted test my children, or if I were required by state law to submit my lesson plans to anyone for their approval, I would not do so. I could not do so because God has not given them the authority to do this.
So What About Testing?
As for if testing were required, I would, instead, in the case where the results are being submitted to the school, and they have the power to do something about it, either tell them that it is against my conviction to have my children tested, OR have a person I approved of test my child, and then keep the results, but assure them that my children had been tested. I would not give them the test scores. Are you seeing where my line is drawn? I will "declare" or "inform" them, but not in any way submit to them having authority in this area.
This is not out of a rebellious heart, but out of my deep conviction that this area of education is not any of their business, (which I say very honestly and non-sassily) much as they may think it is. Educating other people's children is certainly their business because most parents have willingly handed that responsibility over to them. And I believe those in the schools, teachers, administrators, counsellors, are doing the best job they can.
I, on the other hand, (along with several hundred thousand other homeschoolers in the country) have not given that responsibility over to them, and never will. Therefore they do not have any God-given authority over me or my children, and therefore it is not appropriate or scriptural for them to have any jurisdiction over my child's education. Not even a speck. If my child is not "measuring up" according to their standards, it's not their responsibility to do anything about it. It is mine and mine alone, as I am responsible to God for the formation of my children's character, not the state. (The children in the public school system, for the most part, are not measuring up to my or God's standards for them, but it's not my responsibility to regulate that.)
But even backing up a step, it is not the state's responsibility to determine what my child is supposed to be measuring up to, other than "those minimal standards" that the state has a right to expect. In other words, the state does have a right to expect that I am not going to produce an illiterate child that they will ultimately have to support. But since homeschoolers average (I repeat average) 10 to 20 percent higher on test scores than public school children, it is hardly valid for them to be more concerned about homeschoolers than they are about the children in their own institutions, whose numbers are far greater than homeschoolers!
Let's say that your children do quite well on such tests, and, being pleased with (not to mention a little proud of) this fact, you actually want to submit your child's test scores to the school. Your reason might even be to either "show them a thing or two" or to simply alleviate their fears.
Please hear me: Giving them your children's test scores – no matter what the reason – indicates to them, whether you intend to indicate it or not, that you see them as an authority over you and your children, and over the education of your children. I would say to you very simply and respectfully that they are not. Furthermore, "complying" would give them the impression that you are in agreement with their intrusion into this area. Such laws actually counter the provisions to all citizens in the Constitution of the United States, which are actually just acknowledgments of God-given rights. These laws are also intrusive into the private home and are impediments to people carrying out their honestly held religious beliefs. And whenever a legislative body says they are "giving homeschoolers the right to homeschool," they have a very incorrect perception of both the Constitution and of their role.
Who Has Authority Where?
The school officials are no more an authority in the area of education that the public library is an authority over what you read. School "officials" are "officially" in charge of the education (or "schooling") of those who have chosen to submit their children to that system. Both the public schools and the public library are there for the public's use if they choose to use their services.
If the library staff were to step over that line and start trying to regulate what I read, how much I read, when I read it, how many hours a day I ought to read, or what I should have read by certain ages, I would say this to them: "I'm sorry, but that is not your area of authority; it is God's place and mine to determine these things in my life, not yours."
What if a law were made giving libraries this right? (And if you haven't recognized it yet, any law regulating homeschooling in like manner to the ridiculous example I have just given, is equally as intrusive and ridiculous.) Would you comply with it? Or would you recognize what is really happening here?! This is the very thing our forefathers died for! They sacrificed all to gain for us the freedom from intrusive government, not to have us, in ignorance, lose it all 200 years later! Interestingly, I drove by our public library the other day and there was a sign on a front window saying "Free people read freely." I wonder if they know just how true that really is!
Just to drive the point home, let's do one more example: Does the State Department of Public Transportation have the authority, under God, to tell you how fast you will go on the freeway? Absolutely! ... Does it have the authority to tell you where you will go when using their roads (which are really the public's roads; they are just stewards of said roads) or to tell you which route you will take to get to a certain destination? No, that is up to you. The Dept. certainly has the power to close a road for repairs, to decide how much weight to allow to travel on the roads, to decide what kinds of road it will build where, and to give those who drive on the roads guidelines for how they drive insofar as it affects the safety of the other drivers on the road. They do not have the authority to tell you your destination on "their" roads or what you will and will not do in your car while getting there.
As far as whose responsibility it is to determine what my child is to be measuring up to, that is not even mine, but God's. This is why it is not only "good" but absolutely vital and non-optional that I be hearing from God. This is also why homeschooling outside of our walk with God leaves us frustrated and constantly wondering if we are "doing enough."
Conviction or Preference
If a person would comply with an intrusive law out of fear of the consequences (harassment, fines, imprisonment), then they would need to realize that homeschooling is not a conviction, but only a preference. This is why it is imperative that we start by hearing God! He is speaking to each of us individually, we just have to listen, and need be, learn how to discern His voice above all the other many loud voices of the world, and even the voice of "religiosity." If a decision is merely a preference, that means it is what I will do as long as it is convenient – as long as there are no negative consequences.
If a decision is my conviction, I will do it no matter what the consequences. If it came down to having to go to court or jail, then so be it. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if that happens to me someday, because, in our morally and ethically declining society, it may very well become the law of the land someday that homeschooling is outlawed, or that the requirements to do so are too cumbersome if not outright impossible.
What then? I will still homeschool my children – because God told me to do so. Daniel continued to pray "as was his custom" because God had lead him to do so, even though he disobeyed the law to do so, and even though he knew full well that the consequence of his "civil disobedience" resulted being thrown into the lion's den. In such a case, God may close the mouths of the lions, as He did with Daniel, but He may, instead, allow it to be the Christian's time to go be with Him, as happened with many Christians who refused to denounce Christ even though doing so was not obeying the governing authorities.
Or, if not death, then standing with Jesus – obeying God – may mean going through the fiery trial of a court trial. This, in fact, is part of why I have kept records, but I know that in the hands of an anti-God or non-Christian judge, even those records, no matter how impressive or well-kept, would not save me; only God could, if He so chooses. And if He does not, so be it.
I hope with all my heart that this never happens; I have a hard enough time staying warm and sleeping soundly in my own warm home and bed, let alone in a cold prison!!! But my conviction to homeschool our children is not based on whether or not it is easy or convenient to do so; I am doing it because I believe God has instructed me to do so; and no earthly governing agency has the authority to usurp that.
What if a State Does Give School
Officials Authority Over Homeschoolers?
Some states give blanket authority to the school districts to regulate homeschooling how ever they see fit. I have heard from homeschoolers who are required to submit their lesson plans to a school official quarterly or monthly for their approval.
Many parents have indicated to me that they are drawn to the idea of following God's leading for the education of their children (also termed as a "lifestyle of learning") and want to become more delight-directed in their approach, but they live in a state where the students are required to take standardized achievement tests every year and submit copies of the scores to the school district or state, or they are required, as mentioned above, to give a complete outline of their daily lesson plans, for certain minimal hours each day – which is not conducive to following the leading of the Holy Spirit!
Very simply, I would not be able to comply. As I have already said, God did not give them this authority, and "a Man cannot serve two masters." There is no way you can completely follow God in how He is leading you to educate your child and also follow a non-Christian school authority. Even if the school official is a Christian, the methods they are immersed in are completely contradictory to what I believe is Biblical. They are clearly attempting to get you to imitate their system!!! Why would you want to do this?! The system isn't working! (And if you aren't yet convinced of this, check back with me after finishing the resources I suggest for this season of re-education.) In fact, it is because of the system's ineffectiveness that God has called us out of it to homeschool! He has a better plan! How can we obey Him and yet, at the same time, bring that system right back into our homes?!
Back to the Testing Issue
One mom commented: "I was wondering how students who follow this delight-led, very unstructured learning score on achievement tests, as well as on the SAT?" This is a very good question. Never having taken a poll on it, I can't give you any figures. But I can tell you that it just plain doesn't matter. As Marilyn Howshall said in her article "The Biblical S.A.T.'s of Learning":
When homeschoolers are required to take the same (or similar) test as the schools give, they are wanting to know how well we are presenting, and how well the child is retaining, their system, priorities, and value system. Does this mean there's anything wrong with knowing nouns and verbs and adjectives? No, grammar is one of my favorite things! But research proves – and so will your life as you continue down this road – that good grammar is not attained only (or even mostly) by sitting at a textbook but by exposure to good usage.
Dear sisters and brothers, we are living in increasingly anti-God times, and the enemy is very clever in how these deceptions are presented and enforced. If Christians do not take time to enlighten themselves and dig deeper into the Word, they will find themselves, like the proverbial frog, suddenly shocked and overcome by the heat of the frying pan, which is rising in temperature faster than we think. If we do not prepare ourselves to take a stand for what we believe to be right, we will soon have no rights at all!
We live in a democracy. This means that the people make the laws. Let me quote Thomas Jefferson: "As government advances, freedom gives way (abates, lessens)." Woodrow Wilson later said: "Liberty has never come from government. The history of liberty is the history of limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it." Both of these quotes were found in "The Land of Fair Play" (Yes! It's a- a- TEXTbook!!!) The author of this textbook goes on to say,
"What truly concerns me is that for two centuries, because of the individual strength of each citizen, we guarded and nurtured our hard-won freedom. Gradually, though, as we have become more prosperous, we have also become less willing to shoulder individual responsibilities. More and more, we have government do what the individual should do. (Such as allowing government schools to run the educational show!!!) Either we will again assume the responsibility required by freedom, or that light will go out in America."
Getting Down to Specifics
So let's get down to a very specific situation here. I was privately contacted by a homeschooling mom in Oregon who's 11-year-old son has been labeled severely dyslexic. He was suicidal a year ago, so his parents took him out and he has been doing much better over the last year of being homeschooled. The school district is now requiring that the boy be re-tested because of incomplete test results last year, and the mom is concerned that, because of the dyslexia, he may score below the 15th percentile. So this mom was asking me what I suggest...
I see two options here, but what I suggest before giving either of them is that these parents do some fast and serious reading and praying, as they need to come up with their own "bottom line convictions." What is the bottom line for them? For each of us? This is what will determine the course of action we take in any given case.
So back to our Oregon testing situation... Let's say for a moment that this boy does indeed score below the 15th percentile. What would you as the parent then decide to do? I can only speak from my own heart. I would not, under any circumstance, ever consider placing my child in a public school, at any time or for any reason, not even if forced to by the public school. This is because it is my conviction to homeschool, not my preference. I must obey God over the state.
So what would I do if I were in this family's situation? I personally would not submit my child to the testing to begin with because of the "15th percentile" clause and because they have the "power" to do something about test scores that are not up to their standard. That alone indicates that the bottom line for the school district is that they retain authority. Since, in my view, they do not rightly have this authority, it would go against my conviction to submit to any part of their evaluating and "weeding out" process.
If I submitted to the testing to begin with, and then when my child scored in the 10th percentile, and I, at that point, refused to put my child (back) into school on the grounds that it is my conviction that I am in charge of my child's education, they would (rightly) be able to say, "Well then why did you allow him to be tested to begin with since you know that the law has given us the authority to put your child in school if he scores below the 15th percentile?" My answer of "Well, I just hoped – and took the chance that – he'd score above the 15th percentile" would not hold legal water.
And what about putting your children back in school? What is being assumed here? Nothing less than that the school system thinks it can do a better job of educating your child than you can! Here's what John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991 and author of "Dumbing Us Down," had to say about this very matter of "genius"!
"I've come to believe that genius is an exceedingly common human quality, probably natural to most of us... I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself was what was dumbing them down. Was it possible I had been hired not to enlarge children's power, but to diminish it? That seemed crazy on the face of it, but slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior."
If you would like to delve into the legalities further, there are three books that will be helpful. One is Home Education and Constitutional Liberties by John W. Whitehead and Wendell R. Bird; another is Home Education Rights and Reasons by John Whitehead and Alexis Crowe; and the other is The Right Choice: Homeschooling by Christopher Klicka.
"Dumbing Us Down" by John Taylor Gatto (whom I quoted above), The Great Escape by Geoffrey Botkin (excellent!), or Onto the Yellow School Bus and Through the Gates of Hell by Mary Hood (who is known as "the relaxed homeschooler) will reveal more of the school system's undesirable effects on children and families and values – even aside from the actual content of the curriculum.
Yes, the title of that last "Yellow School Bus" book sounds a bit radical, but it is based on the following, very sobering quote by Martin Luther who lived in the early 1500's. (I started using this quote in my "Out of Fear & Burnout" workshops long before I ever came across this book.) Luther said:
As I said, sobering, isn't it? I looked up sobering and found it means "provoking one to think." I hope that what I have shared here has not merely produced fear (which, if it has, you need to take to Jesus), but my hope is that it has provoked you to do some thinking and praying about these matters. It is imperative that Christians wake up and take these matters seriously.
We live in godless times and in a culture that is generally godless – true for at least our entertainment industry, advertising industry, and the main leadership institutions of our country, the three most powerful influences on the lives of the general public today – a sad reflection on the integrity (or lack thereof) of our people.
We ourselves are being "tested"! We must think and pray through our thoughts and convictions about education, what it is in God's eyes, and who's in charge of it, if we are going to keep the freedom to so do so, won at so tremendous a price for us. Humanly, in our country, by the blood of thousands who thought such freedom was worth dying for; and spiritually by the blood of Jesus.
Copyright 1999 by Barbara Edtl Shelton, as follows:
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