the compulsory attendance mindset

Homeschooling families are well aware that any family can be investigated by child social services.  Though over time, fewer and fewer homeschoolers have to confront this situation, it still happens regularly:  someone calls child protective services on a family because the family homeschools or homeschools the wrong way.

Most homeschoolers learned early on that some people would call child protective services and learned how to handle such a situation.  If you were homeschooling in an area where there were few homeschoolers, you needed to know your rights and how to handle people who thought your kids were truants. Homeschoolers often learned to be proactive, greeting neighbors and making sure they met the kids, giving them information, and creating homeschooling information networks to pass the word along.  Homeschool advocates often discussed compulsory attendance laws (a weak entry BTW) at homeschooling conferences.

Many homeschoolers worked to change compulsory attendance laws in each and every state in the US so that families could learn together.  So homeschoolers know, unlike many other parents, that parents who truly abuse or neglect children can be held accountable by mechanisms already in place.  The perennial worries about bad parents have no place in a discussion about schools: anyone who thinks a child is neglected or abused can report that at any time. Let's not confuse compulsory attendance laws with taking care of our children as many parents, locked into the compulsory attendance mindset, do.  Because attendance laws actually are designed to weaken the family and its input: that was the goal of compulsory attendance from the beginning.  

But in fact, families could provide the much-needed accountability to a public school system if they could make significant choices in conjunction with their children. Real choice for families begins with voluntary attendance because only in that way will the policing mechanism and attitude within the schools change.  Only by changing this law can families then be in the position of asking for the services they need and want for their kids. Schools should be surveying their communities every few months to see what educational resources are needed.  Schools could also coordinate a lot more volunteer work and citizen participation if parents were working with school officials and not being policed by them.

Current school reform will only bring even more remote corporate control into families whose lives are already suffering the decimation of social capital that funded the economic growth of the last 30 years. Stability means sustainable communities based on sustainable relationships.  We must preserve and strengthen the bonds children have with their families. We must strengthen community bonds.  And we must start asking parents what they need for their kids instead of asking a corporation, instead of a dedicated educational bureaucracy, what they want to do with a steady income stream of captive attendees for 12 to 16 years.

Following John Holt who spoke of community learning centers, I wonder if communities and citizen activists can learn from and build further on the lessons of homeschoolers who have had pioneered the right for a family to learn together by getting laws exempting homeschooling families from compulsory attendance laws. A community's money should work for that community and they may not need education reform as defined by a top-down corporate efficiency model.  What poor communities need is to work together and to immediately change the entire structure of their lives.  Activism building on the last 30 years of homeschooling may offer some way forward.  Understanding how families have become trapped by the public school is knowledge homeschoolers can share with the broader community.

It is time to begin a dialogue among citizens about the lessons of homeschooling as many communities must begin making significant changes, many forced upon them.  Homeschoolers have been citizen activists for many years changing laws in all 50 states.  Anyone who really wants to change education in the US needs to listen and learn from the real school reform movement that has been going on the past 30 years:  homeschooling.
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