Why California Home Schooling is in Peril
© Jack Cashill
Roughly ten years ago, I set out to write a novel about the seeming small-potatoes tyrannies being heaped on the national plate with some regularity.
I set the novel in western New York in the not too distant future and, to my astonishment, found a publisher, Olin Frederick, now defunct.
This worthy publisher released the book in the year 2000 under the title, 2006: The Chautauqua Rising (pronounced "sha-TAWK-wa.")
In the novel, the various subgroups in Chautauqua County - ethnic Catholics, Seneca Indians, rural Scotch Irish, and a substantial Amish population - endure various creeping indignities until the government goes one step too far.
This occurs when Al Gore--elected president on a "do it for the children" theme after a presumed defeat in 2000 (I was guessing)--steers a fully Democratic congress to pass the omnibus Children's Defense Act (CDA) of 2005.
As I described it, "The bill mandated schooling with masters level state-certified teachers until a child reached at least 19." I added that the Amish and their allies "didn't need a college degree to understand they'd been sold down the river."
I observed that the CDA effectively nullified Wisconsin v. Yoder, the 1972 Supreme Court decision that had granted the Amish immunity from compulsory education laws. The fictional CDA also precluded all home schooling and the small traditional schools that many of the Seneca and ethnic Catholics attended.
The residents of Chautauqua County had put up with roadblocks for seatbelt checks, a ban on tobacco sales, the trial lawyer squeeze on the area's many wineries, new gun restrictions, and even the application of hate crime law to stifle free speech.
But, I argued, when you mess with people's children, you can expect an insurrection-or a "rising" as it was called in Chautauqua County--and that is exactly what happens in the book.
California had better brace for a rising of its own. If allowed to stand, the recent decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeals--re Rachel L.--has the potential to set one off.
In this case, Justice H. Walter Croskey overruled a lower court decision as an "error of law" and argued flat-out that "parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children."
The lower court had addressed only the individual case of Rachel L, describing her education as "lousy," "meager," and "bad."
If Croskey had acknowledged these to be disqualifying criteria in general, he would have had to shut down half the public schools in the state.
Instead, the good judge ruled that the education of children at home, "whatever the quality of that education," does not exempt the child from "compulsory education in a public full-time day school."
The only relevant exemption Croskey allows is the one that the fictional CDA also allowed, namely if the real life parent "holds a valid state teaching credential."
This credential, by the way, has to be "for the grade being taught." This makes it doubly difficult for parents with more than one child being home schooled, which is typically the case.
Croskey addressed the Yoder exemption referenced above. As he interpreted the case, The Yoder court rejected the notion that parents have a "universal right" to bypass a state's compulsory education law.
As the judge saw it, a parent's objections to "contemporary secular values," even if religiously motivated, would not be an adequate reason to opt out of public education.
If this ruling does stand, it will be for one reason: The Rachel L case is getting zero traction in the major media. As I have learned over time, and written about often, the left's affection for liberty and civil rights is fully situational.
I got an up close sense of this in reading Thomas Frank's What's The Matter with Kansas, his best-selling assault on heartland conservatism, which included, oddly enough, a critique of 2006: The Chautauqua Rising.
That Frank would blame Kansas for a novel set in western New York, written by a native of New Jersey, who was schooled in New York City and lives and works in Missouri, is a bit mystifying.
I felt both slimed and honored that Mr. Frank would so trouble himself to review the book, which he describes as "a vision of a hideous future in which all the elements of the conservative persecution fantasy have flowered . . . grotesquely."
Frank found it particularly amusing that in this future world, "Laws against 'hate crimes' are being used to punish ordinary speech."
Those who share Mr. Frank's sense of the ridiculous might make a quick detour to freemarksteyn.com. I know it is Canada, but that is only thirty miles--and a liberal judge or two--from Chautauqua County.
Oddly, Frank does not address my concern about the governmental crackdown on home schooling that triggers the insurrection. I suspect that the whole subject was too far removed from his experience to merit an opinion.
Given the silence of the media's many Thomas Franks, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is throwing itself on the mercy of the California Supreme Court.
The HSLDA is petitioning the court to "depublish" the Rachel L. opinion, meaning that it could not be used against every home schooling family in California.
As I write, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been roused to action as well and may be able to intervene. Home schooling, after all, is good for the environment.
If the courts and the Governator fail, I would not rule out a rising. The judicial overreach is that egregious and the injustice that grave.
In 2006, once aroused, the protagonists capture the New York State attorney general and bargain successfully for a return to constitutional values. Stranger things have happened.
I modeled the captured AG, the "ee-vil liberal" as Frank mocks him and me, on the unscrupulous real life character then holding that position.
His name was Eliot Spitzer. Sometimes, life really does imitate art.