Culture War: Teach Your Children Well? genre: Hip-Gnosis


Drawing the appropriate line between parental rights and the states interest in the welfare of children can be a complex consideration. The emergence and prevalence of homeschooling has further complicated the equation. A ruling by a California appeals court will likely catapult the topic into the mainstream and it will undoubtedly become the latest flash point in the culture wars.

A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homeschooling by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution.

The ruling arose from a child welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, who have been homeschooling their eight children. Mary Long is their teacher, but holds no teaching credential.

The parents said they also enrolled their children in Sunland Christian School, a private religious academy in Sylmar (Los Angeles County), which considers the Long children part of its independent study program and visits the home about four times a year.

The Second District Court of Appeal ruled that California law requires parents to send their children to full-time public or private schools or have them taught by credentialed tutors at home.

The appeals court said state law has been clear since at least 1953, when another appellate court rejected a challenge by homeschooling parents to California's compulsory education statutes. Those statutes require children ages 6 to 18 to attend a full-time day school, either public or private, or to be instructed by a tutor who holds a state credential for the child's grade level.

The appeals court told the juvenile court judge to require the parents to comply with the law by enrolling their children in a school, but excluded the Sunland Christian School from enrolling the children because that institution "was willing to participate in the deprivation of the children's right to a legal education."

I suspect that the issue will soon devolve into a question of religious freedom...pitting the rights of parents against the states compelling interest to insure a curriculum consistent with sound science. Anyone who has watched documentaries like Jesus Camp or Baby Bible Bashers should have an understanding of the underlying issues.

Adding to the complexity are cases like that of Matthew Murray, the young man who was homeschooled and subsequently murdered two individuals at a Youth With A Mission location in Arvada, Colorado and two others at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs before killing himself.

Let me be clear, I don't believe that parents should be precluded from teaching their religious beliefs to their children or that Matthew Murray's situation is an indisputable indictment of homeschooling. On the other hand, the push for a Biblical interpretation of science and the argument that God's laws take precedent over the laws of the state are troubling developments that must be addressed.

Ironically, one can look to the words of the ancient playwright Terence for a measure of guidance. Not only is Terence known for his quotation, "Moderation in all things", he also is said to have stated, "Children should be led into the right paths, not by severity, but by persuasion."

All too often, those inclined to homeschool do so in order to instill their brand of extreme ideology...even if it lacks substantiation and conflicts with far more factual theories. Unfortunately, the dogmatic nature of many religions posits that the only relevant truth is the truth they espouse. Hence, many of those parents who embrace this doctrine are not only unwilling to expose their children to alternate views; they see the views of the state as inferior and irrelevant.

Even worse, some parents seek to portray the state and the society as evil which can effectively isolate and alienate their children. In extreme instances, it may well set in motion the process by which the Matthew Murray's of the world unleash their misguided malice on others.

Unfair as this may be, the fact that the California ruling outraged James Dobson of Focus on the Family leads me to believe that the appellate court may have ruled correctly in requiring that homeschooling must be conducted by instructors with state mandated credentials. Sadly, men like Dobson have made a career of vilifying others in order to solidify their hold on their followers and thus insure his financial success and his penchant for power.

The following is from the Focus on the Family website.

Dr. James Dobson used today's Focus on the Family radio broadcast to tell his listeners about an "egregious decision" handed down by a California appellate court recently.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that California parents without teaching credentials do not have a right to home-school their children.

"The court has assaulted parental rights again, and this time with a sledgehammer," Dr. Dobson said. "Listeners in all 50 states should take notice."

Dr. Mike Farris, co-founder and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said the ruling "effectively is slamming the door on home schooling for everyone."

"I [Dobson] just pray that you all will be on your knees before the Lord, symbolically or otherwise," he said, "and ask Him to protect those children in California and all over the country."

Note how the final quote from Dobson seeks to suggest that parents must "protect" their children from the state. Look, I realize that public education isn't perfect. At the same time, the ruling isn't prohibiting homeschooling; it is simply requiring that it be taught under the guidelines of prior rulings. Dobson neglects to mention this in his statements.

It doesn't surprise me that he prefers to portray the ruling as an assault upon emerging tactic employed by many evangelical leaders. Identifying an enemy and establishing themselves and their followers as victims of persecution only strengthens the hold men like Dobson seek to insure.

Frankly, I see the strategy of men like Dobson much the same as I view the actions of Karl Rove and George Bush. Nothing serves their purposes better than to identify an enemy, argue that the enemy seeks to destroy one's way of life, and them utilize the fear they create to manipulate the masses.

I don't begrudge anyone's right to their religious beliefs. At the same time, when those beliefs are pitted against the interest of the state in order to usurp the state's authority, then the lines drawn by our forefathers to separate church and state are being violated.

In the end, men like Dobson burn the candle at both ends. They favor democracy when it serves their purposes, they play the victim when democracy doesn't comport with their wishes, and they yearn for the day when have the wherewithal to dictate their doctrines without regard for the democratic process.

The Dobson's of the world champion dissent...but only if it is their own. Those dissenters with whom they disagree are cast as villains who threaten to usurp God's authority. Unfortunately, countless religions are convinced they are the sole purveyors of God's truth. As such, they have no reservation to meet out condemnations and call for prohibitions against, and punishments for, those they oppose.

The logic employed by our forefathers well over 200 years prior suggests they understood that religions would likely remain "at loggerheads" in perpetuity. Wisely, they sought to establish a system that was intended to insure that no one faith should or could abridge the rights of others.

In this day and age, it's troubling to realize that men like Dobson in this country...and Islamic extremists in other nations...are all too happy to seek to subvert the role of the state while sharing in their disregard for the principle of reciprocity.


1 On March 9, 2008 at 10:25 PM, Larry wrote —

Home schooling is illegal in California. Most home schoolers are Christians and all they know to do is fearmonger. Just look at this as an example!

Thought Theater at Blogged

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A California appellate court ruling is apt to open a new front in the culture war. The ruling requires all homeschooling to be conducted by a state credentialed instructor. James Dobson of Focus on the Family immediately weighed in on the decision…insi... [Read More]

Tracked on March 8, 2008 12:46 PM

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