"Should we submit to State-mandated annual achievement testing and curriculum review for homeschooling students?"
Where you stand on this important issue depends almost entirely upon your presuppositions, or at least it ought to. Too often we get distracted by self-interest, plausible arguments, the groups we belong to, or what our favorite speaker or author thinks.
So what presuppositions cause us to form differing opinions? The first and most important presupposition, which I think every Bible-believing homeschooler (indeed, every citizen) has to resolve, is what is the nature of the Bible's authority. Is it only to guide us on matters of theology? Is it only there so we will know how to pray and work out our own personal salvation? Does it have anything to say to the broader issues of how our society and civil government ought to be run?
You see, I am more and more firmly convinced that the Bible is, or ought to be, our ultimate authority in every sphere. In the matter of civil government, I do not believe one can construct even the bare minimum of rules for civil society unless they are firmly rooted in the Scriptures. The Ten Commandments are not just Ten Private Suggestions for Religious People. They were not set aside by Jesus - Jesus himself proclaimed that he had come to fulfill them. At a minimum, our civil society, and the laws which govern it, ought to be in conformity with biblical law.
Which leads me to my second point. The State is (or ought to be) restricted in its authority to a clearly defined sphere of activity - that sphere of activity defined and circumscribed by biblical teaching. Before this raises the specter of tyranny, inquisition, and "right-wing fundamentalist Shiite Christians," let me say clearly that the Bible nowhere authorizes the State to compel belief or doctrine. The civil laws and authorities exist to punish wicked actions - they are not to compel or bind the conscience. The Church may discipline its own members for un-repentant sin and for heresy, but the extent of its penalties are exclusion from the Lord's table and expulsion from the Church. The State may punish sinful actions, but it has no authority over the heart and the mind.
This is but one restriction on the State. For the purposes of sorting out our attitudes about homeschooling and State regulation, it is important to recognize other important restrictions on State activity. The most important have to do with the activities reserved for the family. The State, according to Romans 8, (or the civil magistrate) "beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil." The State exists primarily to punish those who do evil - this function is allocated to it rather than to families or the Church. But likewise, the positive duty to care for, rear, and educate children is given to parents and not to the State. Only if a parent has in some clear sense transgressed God's law (by permanently injuring, murdering, or raping his child), can you make a biblical case for the State being authorized to intervene - in those cases, by punishing the parent as it would any other citizen who committed such a crime against any child.
Even in extreme circumstances of neglect and abandonment, one could make a strong biblical case that it would be more appropriate for the church to act charitably, as it did from its beginning when Christians risked punishment by rescuing abandoned babies who had been left to die of exposure, than for the State to intervene. There is abundant evidence now that the State makes a very poor substitute for parents. Charitable care for minor children is more appropriately a sphere of activity for the church, other family members, or failing that, concerned neighbors or private charity.
Homeschoolers have instinctively sorted out much of this on our own, but it certainly helps to think through things carefully from a biblical perspective. Parents have primary responsibility for the care and upbringing of children. This responsibility is entrusted to them by God - not the State. This is important. It is improper for the State to require an accounting from ALL parents for the details of the decisions they make about the care, upbringing, and education of their children.
Do some parents neglect their children? not feed them properly? not clothe them properly? Sadly, the answer is yes. When this happens, the parents may have failed to fulfill their biblical responsibilities but this does not automatically give the State the right to intervene. In almost all cases of parental failure, the Church, as a charitable agent, has the responsibility to provide aid, care, support, and encouragement.
For the state to attempt to define the biblical responsibilities of parents and to compel parents to achieve the state's current politically-correct agenda, when these parents are already providing well for the child's health, food, and safety, is nothing short of tyranny. Allowing the state to define the kind of education parents must provide will inevitably lead to state standards in all sorts of areas. By the same twisted logic, the state will eventually argue that parents must submit meal plans and have clothing allowances approved.
The biblical principle, embodied in English common law and U.S. Constitutional law is that citizens are presumed innocent of a crime unless and until evidence is brought against them. Citizens are not required to periodically appear before magistrates and prove that they are not guilty of any crime. If there is reliable evidence of a crime, then (and only then) may citizens be called to give an accounting.
Sadly, this foundational, biblical, constitutional principle is reversed in the approach some states take towards homeschooling. As Greg Harris has often observed, every argument against homeschooling by parents is equally valid against home cooking by parents. Parents might not balance meals properly, they might give their kids junk food, some might not feed their kids at all. Some might leave "gaps" in their children's dietary experience. Shouldn't we then require all parents to use meal plans prepared and approved by university educated and certified dietitians? And bring their children in at least once a year to be measured and weighed to make sure that they are following the plans properly? And if their children are not within the proper height and weight ranges on the charts, then their right to cook at home would be revoked and the children required to take their meals at State-run and -supervised cafeterias (where, surprise, surprise, the menu selections will be governed by which food companies gave the most money to Congressional reelection campaigns)? I actually hesitate to spell this out in too much more detail for fear that someone will take me seriously and draw up plans to implement State-certified nutritional and cooking programs for parents. Don't laugh!
It sounds ridiculous when applied to the matter of feeding our children, but brothers and sisters, it is equally ridiculous when applied to the far more important matter of educating our children. Parents are the best educators and decision makers for their children's education because we have been entrusted and empowered by God with the responsibility for their children. Will some parents make poor choices? Will some parents fail? Will some parents neglect their children's education? Sadly, yes. And in those cases there may be room to allow for some outside assistance when there is independent evidence that parents have willfully failed their responsibility. But it certainly does NOT justify requiring ALL parents to periodically prove that they are innocent of the crime of neglecting their children's education. Parents may be safely assumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to care about, and be working hard to fulfill, their responsibility for the education of their children.
We should be be grateful when our state's homeschool laws (1) Uphold the biblical order and division of spheres and responsibilities among Family, State, and Church, (2) Uphold the biblical and constitutional provision that we all have the right to be presumed innocent of transgression unless there is clear evidence, and (3) Uphold the biblical and constitutional provision that we may not be compelled to give witness against ourselves. May all states see the light, and may the day come soon when no homeschool families anywhere are forced to annually prove that we are innocent of the crime of educational neglect.
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