Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Homeschooling and state regulation

Over at PrawfsBlawg, they’ve been discussing this paper arguing for a state constitutional duty to "regulate homeschooling to ensure that
parents provide their children with a basic minimum education and check
rampant forms of sexism
." The paper

highlights the legal distinctness of parents and children and emphasizes that parental control over children’s basic education flows from the state (rather than vice versa). States delegate power over children’s basic education to parents, and the delegation itself is necessarily subject to constitutional constraints.

Caricaturing the pro-homeschooling argument as depending upon parental "ownership" of children (naturally, no documentary evidence to back up that ridiculous claim), Northwestern University law professor Kimberly Yuracko contends that, in effect, the family is a creature of the state and that parental rights and responsibilities depend almost entirely upon state decisions, though she generously concedes that "[p]arents do have
constitutionally protected liberty interests in their relationship with their

She further argues that the regulatory regime she supports is not a matter of policy, but rather a matter of constitutionally-mandated necessity, which it would have to be since, as she concedes, virtually all the politicking on this issue follows from parental concerns. She naturally focuses on the well-organized efforts of homeschoolers (led by Michael Farris’ Home School Legal Defense Association), but I can’t imagine any effort to legislate along the lines she suggests, following the theory she offers, winning support among any but the most collectivized and complaisant parents. We have a natural intuition that our relationship with our children is natural and primary. This isn’t right-wing "Christianist" homeschool ideology; this is parenthood.

Rick Garnett, who called my attention to this piece, recommends one of his own essays as a counterbalance. I’d add an article by Yale’s Stephen Carter, "Religious Freedom As If Family Matters," which appeared in the University of Detroit-Mercy Law Review in 2000 (sorry, no link; find it at lexisnexis).

Discussions - 15 Comments

Actually, Ms. Yuracko get it exactly backwards. Properly understood, the State is a "creature" of the family.

This kind of stuff is bound to keep coming. It already is in Europe. Homeschooling is one of the most profoundly reactionary revolts against modernism that we have going these days. It is inevitable that the busybodies will not be able to tolerate it.

The leftist agenda doesn't need the support of a majority. It needs dedicated people pushing it, skillful propaganda to minimize opposition, and the usual laziness of the conservative grassroots, plus the even more usual ignorance of most people as to what's going on.

Are all people, children and adults, then wards of the state?

Dale Michaud writes: " Are all people, children and adults, then wards of the state?"

For liberals, yes. Ideally, yes.

Frankly, this depresses me. It depresses me because it's yet another piece of evidence that the left is relentless in their creativity and drive to overtake our basic liberties and freedoms. Relentless.

Joe also posted this at the GWH blog. I saw it there, first, and wrote this:

"What a generous concession by Ms. Yuracko. Is this sort of thing ever going to be laid to rest? Probably not as there always experts who may feel free to limit the freedoms of others.

After some legal battles some years back, my state does regulate home schooling. Home schooling parents were allowed to help draft the regulations. Notification and testing are the minimum requirements. My particular county goes beyond the state regulations in inquiring into our curriculum and all sorts of other questions. Some parents will only fill out the part of the form that is strictly required by the state. The form asks which books would be used during the school year. I never knew, and after listing the basics I would add, "and other books subject to need." We used so many books in a school year!

Ohio requires that we either have a certified teacher check the year's school work as a "portfolio assessment" or take standardized tests as schools do. I always did the latter so my kids knew how to take those tests. I wanted to know how they were doing compared to everyone else.

I know parents who skirt the requirement by never notifying the county authorities that they are schooling at home. They birth their children at home, do not get them social security numbers and hide their kids away from the state. They hide them because people like Ms. Yuracko are out there, thinking they know best. This is NOT even a matter of teaching your children well, but of teaching your children her way.

The Carter article is very good. "...part of the task duty of raising children in a religion involves the creation of a morally coherent world for those children." The disconnect between home and public school for the religiously observant family makes that moral coherence impossible. Is the state compelled to divide child from parent?"

To which I would add, this nothing new. In my attic I kept boxes full of home school papers, just in case someone might come and take me to court over my home schooling. Before our state regulations were in place, we were presumed NOT to have a right to school our kids. Our county superintendent was Catholic and had attended Catholic schools, not public. He rather liked the home schooling parents in his district: we got on very well. However, in the next county over, school board officials were jailing home schooling parents and taking their children. This was in the 1980's.

So I read this kind of thing and think, "What, again?"

This is rather baldly stated, but, as has been noted, really nothing all that new. Robert Reich (at Stanford) has a paper out there somewhere (I think he presented it at APSA) on the need for the state to regulate homeschooling, though he didn't tie to any constitutional mandate (which just seems silly). What's at issue here is really an anthropological claim, one that says that the most fundamental element in our identity is our civic one. That is, the view on display here suggests that it is our status as citizens that most fundamentally defines us - and so if family ties, religion, whatever, has to be sacrificed in order to get the citizenship right, so much the worse for the rest of life. Rousseau's ghost lingers on, methinks...


Yes, she explicitly cites Rob Reich (who is Robert Reich's son, no?). Here's a pdf of one of Reich's articles, and here's a list of his publications.

The "citizenship" attack on home schooling families in the Reich article is almost funny. I should like to see some proof that home schools are creating unpatriotic and civically incompetent adults. The most patriotic families I know home school their children. The parents worry about "creating citizens" and instilling civic and other virtues in their children. That's why they keep them away from the public schools. Even the parents I mention above who hide their kids from the state have them stand in front of American flags and recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. These families teach their kids more American history than any publicly schooled kids I have ever met. In public elementary schools all instruction on the subject seems to disintegrate after studying the Indians and Pilgrims around Thanksgiving Day. They seem to pick it up again for Martin Luther King's birthday and then they are done for the year.

I must be reading the Reich article incorrectly. It seems to me he is saying that we have no good evidence about these home schools, and therefore we must presume they are doing everything incorrectly. Is there proof that home schooled students are NOT becoming autonomous and self-governing persons? Are home schoolers leaving home and then becoming dependent on the state? Are there major and evident deficiencies in the products of home schools in states that are NOT regulated? These people do not grow up to vote or contribute to society in other ways? America is crumbling from within because home schooled children have not been properly taught. Prove it.


The "best" case for this particular version of the civic education role of public schools, against the religious alternatives, is made by Stephen Macedo, who goes after religious education in the name of cultivating a tolerant version of democratic republican citizenship. The extended version of his argument can be found in Diversity and Distrust, which I reviewed for Peter Lawler's great journal, Perspectives on Political Science a few years ago. Unfortunately, it's not on line. I've also written about his argument in my contribution to this book, where I compare him unfavorably to Bill Galston and Stephen Carter.


Kate is a world champion homeschooler. My wife and I also inflict homeschooling on our children, depriving them of the excellent experiences they would have received at the local public school (very good, by Georgia standards). Instead, they're taught by two college professors, go on field trips to Philadelphia, Savannah, and Williamsburg (this year is colonial and American history year, but, of course, homeschoolers are civically deprived), and have opportunities to act in plays with professional and collegiate actors, as well as to hear speeches by political figures like Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and Rudy Giuliani (but of course homeschoolers don't get a solid civic education). Tell that to my son's oldest friend, who was on the receiving end of a disquisition on separation of powers at a pizza joint last week (at a lunch celebrating the friend's "graduation" from fifth grade).

To be sure, my daughter's a little less interested in the political things, but she's got a pretty darn good knowledge of early American history for someone who just finished third grade.

Of course, there are children who are "left behind" in any setting, but it isn't clear to me that the heavy hand of state regulation is the solution to that problem, or that it's a problem that can in fact be definitively "solved" in any meaningful way.

As a product of home schooling and a Classical Christian School I would agree that I received a better education than if I had attended to the local public school.

I would however caution readers to remember home schooling is only as good as the parents who do it. I saw some fellow homeschoolers who were woefully under prepared because their parents were not lazy ineffective teachers. Also, the desire to protect their kids from the state sometimes means protecting their kids from the “world” creating some interesting social skills in some. Although some public school obviously create some equally interesting outcomes academically and socially.

It takes a special person to home school well, and it is not for everyone.

The kids from "Homeschool" also won the spelling bee on South Park.


You're right. Not everyone can homeschool; not everyone should be homeschooled. My point is simply that governmental regulation isn't the cure for what ails the "failures" of homeschooling.

The federal government cannot even protect the borders of this country. Why would anyone believe that they should be given the responsibilty to regulated the school system. Besides, there is nothing in the Constitution that expressively gives the Government the right to regulate schooling. Let elementary and high school be served up the same as colleges and universities. It's a Choice - just like abortion.


I home schooled six children for 17 out of the last 20 years. Each of my children have also gone to schools for part of their schooling lives. One only schooled at home or in Christian schools; the others have had some experience of public school, as well. At some point, it could be their negotiated choice.

I agree with Jamie that homeschooling is not for everyone. There are incompetent home schooling parents and there are children with who thrive in a competitive setting and languish at home. The social setting of school is necessary for them. As to children with very unusual personalities whose parents keep them home, usually that is the case because the child has a very unusual personality. Those children would have those "interesting social skills" wherever they were. I met that sort when I was in school and their school lives could be hellish. Home schooling can give those oddities time and space to get past that aspect of themselves. They can get an education without abuse for their oddities.

At home there is an extraordinary opportunity for the education of a child. We did so much, it is dizzying to look back on it.

Joe, as to Macedo and what I can glean from the links you offer, my children's experiences in public school, would belie his contentions. We have found far more toleration for diversity of every sort and better inculcation of civic values in home schools and Christian schools. My kids would come home from public school appalled at the disrespect of child towards child, disrespect of teachers and other adults, xenophobia and racial prejudice and anti-social behaviors of every sort. These were thoroughly enculturated children, raised on TV and in public schools. By high school a positive civic value was more foreign to them than sushi. When I was thinking about becoming a public high school teacher, my boys would not hear of it. School was no place for a lady. We also live in a "good" school district. Their teachers did not disagree but said, "You get used to it." Given that, I have wondered who is socializing whom?

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