PASADENA, Calif. Susan Beatty has spent 30 years of her life helping parents to educate their children through private Christian home schooling. These days, as co-founder and general manager of the Christian Home Educators Association, she’s spending almost as much time trying to educate Christian parents about potential threats to the movement as lawmakers and educators are increasingly seeking ways to tamper with parental rights.
“I believe that one of the reasons that (home schooling is) still growing is because people are waking up to the fact that there is a concerted effort against freedoms these days, freedoms across the board,” Beatty said. “There are so many things going on in the federal government that may not be obvious to everyone, but they are there if you are keeping an eye out.”
One such threat played out in the courts in 2008, when a California appellate court ruled in Rachel L. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County that all parents had to have a teaching credential to in order to teach their children from home. The ruling prompted widespread criticism. Six months later the same court reversed itself.
In more recent years, as the popularity of home schooling has grown, the state of California has implemented an Independent Study Program, its own plan to allow parents to teach their children at home using the same curriculum as their public school peers. In addition, school districts have more widely embraced charter schools, which are free to parents and are operated independently from public schools.
Even with the expanded choices beyond the more traditional private schools, Beatty said she believes home schooling offers Christian parents an invaluable opportunity to teach their children from a biblical worldview.
“It’s vital that we disciple and train up our Christian children, and I think that’s best done in a home-school situation,” the educator said. “Because our freedoms are eroding these children need to be taught what does the Constitution say? What does the Bill of Rights say? How does that affect our everyday life? And they need to know that because the general public does not know that information. We need to have Christian young people growing up to defend those rights and to work for those rights.”
At the center of those rights, Beatty said, are parental rights, including home-based education.
“We want to keep that viable and safe for generations to come because we feel that there is a huge difference between home schooling privately and doing school at home through a public school system,” she said. “It’s still the public school system, and you are still responsible for all the rules in a public school.”
Ebb and flow
By nature, the home school is a transitory population, not unlike many school districts in California where military and low-income families are frequently moving. Because of those trends and the fact that some parents are home schooling independent of any formal organization, Beatty said it’s difficult to get accurate numbers about how many children are being home-schooled. Some estimates place it as high as 200,000 in California alone.
“Home-schoolers jump in and out of home schooling frequently,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just out of California. They will move to another state and home-school somewhere else. We had some mass exoduses over the last few years to charter schools … That has eroded the private Christian home schooling community a bit.
“People are coming back when they find things (at public schools) more and more restrictive, but the lure is there.”
As technology becomes more accessible and more support programs such as extra-curricular co-ops emerge, parents are discovering that some of the traditional barriers to home schooling are less intimidating than in previous years.
“There are tons of things to get children, young people, particularly high school students, involved,” Beatty said. “That’s really important in high school because one of the dropout rates really begins as children get into junior high because the parent really fears teaching the high-schooler.”
As part of its mission, the association offers a variety of services to help parents with their own learning curves. Resources include research on the advantages of home schooling, legal guidance on teaching at home, tips for home-schoolers, a home-school consultant, and the California Parent Educator magazine. The organization has also teamed up to co-host “Take Back the Land” seminars with Rick Boyer, an early advocate for home schooling.
One drawback to the broad resources of the Internet, Beatty said, is that it’s easy for parents to isolate themselves, which becomes a barrier to much-needed support and accountability.
“They have a tendency to isolate themselves, and I don’t think that’s a good place to be,” she said. “I think they should surround themselves with like-minded people, just as we, as Christians, should be in fellowship in church so that we surround ourselves with accountability and encouragement. I think home-schoolers should do the same thing rather than being so independent.”
Southern California parents will get an opportunity to do just that and to research what’s available to home-schoolers at the association’s 29th Annual Christian Homeschool Convention, set for July 12 to 14 at the Pasadena Convention Center.
The event offers 60 workshops for beginners and veterans, including special conventions for teens and children. Entertainment will include a Christian comedian, a giveaway night and a day game with the Dodgers. About 200 vendors will have displays in the exhibit hall.
“We have such an emphasis on parenting skills, improving parenting skills and getting parenting information out there,” Beatty said.
The conference also provides networking opportunities for parents to learn about various co-ops in which parents can share their expertise on specialized subjects. Similar groups are available to offer sports and other enrichment opportunities such as music and drama.
“There are many studies and research papers out there that show that home-school graduates are far more engaged in public life, in church and in charities and so forth than the average public school graduate,” she said. “We need to keep that up, and we need to foster that.”
In addition to the intimate setting for learning, home schooling allows parents to keep their children away from social teachings that conflict with their faith.
“It’s not home schooling for home schooling’s sake or just to do school at home, but it is so we have the opportunity to disciple our children and teach them in the way they should go so that they have a much better chance of continuing to follow the faith as they grow older,” said Beatty, who home-schooled her three children, now grown.
In January, California initiated a new law mandating that all social studies courses in public schools teach about the cultural contributions of gays, lesbians and transgendered individualsbeginning with children in kindergarten. A petition is now circulating that would reverse that policy, but the soonest it could make the ballot is in November 2014.
“Just because they are the ‘experts’ does not always make them right,” the general manager said. “In fact, we’ve based our whole home-school and community for 30 years on the fact that the experts are not always really the experts.
“The real experts are the parents because they are with their child 24/7. They know what they need better. Yes, do they need help sometimes? Yes, absolutely, because they have the resources, but it’s the still the parent who is in control, and that’s the important part.”
Beatty said that as her organization focuses on helping new families transition into home-schooling and providing relevant resources to established home-schoolers, it is also keeping a keen eye to the future to be sure parents don’t loose the right to choose what works best for their children.
“I think that going forward there is a real challenge in home schooling right now for families to get the full idea that we have to be a community, that we have to stick together as private Christian home-schoolers if we are going to persevere,” she said. “There’s nothing that the authorities, who would like to be in control of our children, would like better than to weaken the private Christian home-school community so that eventually we don’t have enough clout to keep our freedoms and we could eventually be forced to do home schooling through the public school programs.”
For more information, visit www.cheaofca.org.