It’s called “soft dictatorship” – government’s attempt to control every aspect of American life for your own good or for the good of the children. The ultimate issue is power.

This week’s example: government’s assault (at all levels) on the homeschool movement, which now includes threats to send homeschool parents to jail. Government’s great fear in this matter is not that the kids are being short-changed or abused – it’s that they might be getting a better education than the government-educrat de facto monopoly can provide and that the word might get out.

Yes, government has an obligation to ensure that children receive an adequate education. But in several states, such as California and Illinois, educrats are threatening parents with court action if they don’t allow officials to intrude into their homes and evaluate their programs beyond the authority of state law. The game gets rough. In Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune, truant officers arrive in police cars, bearing letters telling parents to come to “pretrial hearings” At least one officer told a parent “we can take your children away.”

According to columnist Michelle Malkin, California “State Deputy Superintendent Joanne Mendoza wrote in a July 16 memo to all school employees that without official teaching credentials, these parents no longer can file required paperwork that would authorize them to homeschool their children. Thus, homeschooled children not attending public schools would be considered ‘truant’ by local school districts – making their parents vulnerable to arrest and criminal charges.”

In many other states, such as Louisiana and Montana, education or legislative officials threaten “tighter” regulation and other laws or policies which seem to have the goal of making it more difficult for parents to educate their own children at home.

In a series of three illuminating articles by Angela R. Stoltzfus of Elizabeth, N.J., in the community newspaper The Informer, Stoltzfus writes, “Homeschooling is not a new concept or practice. Education in early America actually could be said to be a form of homeschooling. Settlers and farmers would sit and read the Bible and primary readers with their children, teaching them to read at the kitchen table, after the family was finished with daily chores.”

So, what is homeschooling now? Basically, it’s educating children outside the public-private-parochial school establishment. There are many varieties, from in-home parent-child private, to co-operative arrangements with other parents and organizations. There are curricula available and supportive websites. Some arrangements feature structured classes, others provide minimal guidance and let the kids run on “autopilot.”

How many kids? A U.S. government report, “Homeschooling in the United States: 1999 (NCES 2001-033). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, D.C: National Center for Education Statistics,” estimates 850,000 American children in 1999. Some homeschool advocates suggest the number may be as high as 2 million. Even if the government’s 850,000 estimate is doubled to 1.7 million, this would still be less than 4 percent of school-age children.

But the threat to government control is not in the numbers. It’s in the reasons why parents do it, and in their success.

Reasons for homeschooling range widely, from physical conditions and danger in government schools to concern about unacceptable teaching of ideology or religion. Many feel that their homeschool is more flexible and responsive to their children’s needs. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Parent Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program, 1999” – 49 percent of parents felt they could give their kids a better education at home.

Other reasons, in descending frequency, include “Religious reasons” – 38 percent, “Poor learning environment at school” – 26 percent, “Family reasons,” “To develop character/morality,” “Object to what school teaches,” “School does not challenge child,” “Other problems with available schools,” “Student behavior problems at school” and “Child has special needs/disability” – 8 percent.

Please note well: The most important reason was that parents felt that they, the amateurs with no significant facilities, could do a better job than the professionals with their gargantuan resources.

So who homeschools their kids? Again, there’s a wide variety, from ghetto parents and families in the Alaskan bush to affluent professionals and intellectuals of all political persuasions. Success stories are increasingly common, and involve both the challenged and the gifted. Among the most interesting: Jedediah Purdy, who went from homeschooling in rural West Virginia to Harvard, then Yale Law School, and whose first book, “On Common Things,” appeared to rave reviews. His second, “Being America,” comes out in January. Purdy’s not yet 30.

The better homeschooling gets, and the better known it becomes, the more of a threat it poses to the soft tyrants. So they’re attacking in the name of “standards.” Some educrats want parents to prove they’re succeeding while making it ever more difficult for them to do so. It’s an old, tired tactic.

No, this is not our statement against public education which we also believe in (and so do our teacher wives). It’s merely that we find education choice brings positive competition and better services benefiting the children. Parents, families and guardians should be allowed the freedom of choice to make an informed decision.

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