Deciphering home schoolers

fireside educationMost of the California print media covered the state's Court of Appeal's decision to reverse itself regarding the legality of home schooling under the state's laws. In general the coverage was fairly spotty. A rather significant holding of the case (that parents have a "constitutional liberty interest in directing" their children's education that is balanced against the state's "compelling interest" in protecting children's welfare) also received little coverage. (See here The San Francisco Chronicle's coverage which mentioned it in a single paragraph.)

Not much discussion was given as to why religion was a factor in this case other than briefly mentioning that the family involved in the case home schooled for religious reasons. The most significant gap in the religious coverage of this decision had to do with the characterization of the home schooling family in question. See here how the Mercury News portrayed the family:

The overall victory for home schoolers does not necessarily apply to the family who sparked the case. The court ordered a new trial to determine whether the two youngest children of Phillip and Mary Long of Lynwood in Southern California should be removed from home schooling for their safety.

The parents had home-schooled their eight children through the Sunland Christian School in Sylmar. After authorities determined that the father physically abused the older daughters and the mother attempted to hide the children from authorities, an attorney representing the two youngest children asked the juvenile dependency court to order that they be enrolled in public or private school as a way to protect their well-being.

Because school employees are "mandated reporters," required by law to report suspicions of child abuse, county welfare authorities believed that the children would have additional protection from possible abuse by being in school, Owens said.

There are too few details here and no word from the family to get any idea of whether these allegations are true or not. There's also no mention the alleged religious motivation behind the family's decision to school their children at home. I wouldn't be surprised if this issue had been covered in previous articles, but there are basic ways of concisely summarizing than and even more (radical?) ways of linking to those prior articles.

For more on this family, see this article by The Los Angeles Times:

Phillip Long, who has said the family chose to home-school the children because of their strong Christian beliefs, said Friday that he doesn't believe the court was swayed by the legal arguments.

"Only one thing swayed this court -- politics," he said. "This court was under pressure. . . . They did it to protect themselves and their reputation. Those judges want to be Supreme Court judges, they want to move up. They're not going to do anything to upset their careers."

Though the appellate court upheld the right of parents to home-school, it did direct the family court to revisit whether the Longs should be allowed to continue to home-school their children.

It's unclear what will happen, because in July the family court terminated its jurisdiction over the family's children, though the children's lawyers are appealing that decision. Long is confident he will prevail.

"Educating your children in your own home preexisted these buffoons that sit on the 2nd Circuit," he said. "It preexisted this state. It preexisted us. Parents have been teaching their own children since the beginning."

Lots of nice quotes in this story, but unfortunately there is little content. The only thing I learned is that Phillip Long doesn't like judges all that much. Can't I at least learn the family's denominational affiliation or lack-there-of?

We harp on this a lot, but this family's Christians beliefs and values are an important aspect of the story in addition to the factual basis of the alleged abuses. How do those beliefs inform their decisions? Define for the reader what "strong Christian beliefs" are?

Home schooling is often associated with families with "strong Christian beliefs," whatever that means. However, assuming that home schooling families are all Christian (or conservative) would be a grave journalistic error.

Even within the "strong Christian family" context though, families' motivations for taking their children out of mainstream education settings vary greatly. Sometimes it's exclusively religious reasons, as seems to be the case here, at least on the surface. Other times it relates to the parent's desire to see their children receive an education that they believe will be better than the ones offered by their area's schools. Other times it's a financial issue. Sometimes parents believe home schooling better serves the needs of one or more of their children, and they send the remaining children to school.

A family's decision to home school their child has significance. Are they home schooling because they want their child to have extra time to practice his or her cello or just because they don't like the fact that prayer isn't allow in the school? These two families may both be strongly religious Christians, but that doesn't mean their motivations are the same.

Frontispiece to Fireside Education, Samuel Griswold (Goodrich) used under a public domain license.

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