In just a few short days we will once again be choosing the political leadership that will determine the course of our future on federal, state and local levels. This election is arguably one of the most important in years. The two main presidential candidates, Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush, have very different views of the role of the federal government. It remains to be seen how either of them, depending on the winner, will play out their political philosophies in practice. At the end of the day, it may look very different from what was said in the heat of a political campaign.

However, this is perhaps a good time to raise a rather different question. This question addresses the ethical and political underpinnings of home schooling. The question is, "To what extent does the state's authority override that of the family's?"

As we consider the election season, perhaps we are more conscious of our civic responsibilities as parent-educators to raise our children to be productive citizens. Our own personal obligations to our country, our society, and our families weigh heavily on our minds, particularly as we think about the sacred right we have to vote for our governing officials. But it also provides an opportunity to think about the role of civil government a bit more deliberately than we do at other times.

What is civil government's role in education supposed to be? To what extent does the state have authority over our children? For those of us who have studied the history of our republic, and then have followed that with a review of state histories, we should be aware that the concept of state-run and state-supported education is somewhat of a recent phenomenon. "Common schools" were not all that common in the 1700's. In fact, the concept of the state-supported school was not heard of in the decades surrounding our country's birth, nor for over a half a century thereafter. Education isn't even mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Horace Mann (1796-1859), a humanist educator, had a lot to do with raising the case for changing the Christian-based approach to education that existed well into the middle of the 19th century in America. Mann's home state of Massachusetts became the battleground between conservative religion-based American educators and the humanist reformers. He was a leader in the movement to bring about free common schools in the 1840's and 1850's. This was the beginning of free public education in America.

The rest of that century was spent in the gaining of ground by advocates of common schools and losing of ground by the Christian educators, sadly, in many cases, due to increasing apathy or distraction caused by the influences of evolutionary dogmatism. Darwinism was securing an intellectual stronghold in many parts of the country. By the turn of the 20th century, public sentiment had shifted toward the acceptance of public schools as a viable educational option as immigrants flooded our shores and many rural Americans moved off farms in search for employment in the industry-rich cities.

What followed was quite significant. Parents, who had been charged by God to train their children, were quite willing to allow their young ones to be taught by the local schoolteacher, initially in the one-room school house, and then in more centralized districts. A term sprang up in American society - en loco parentis, in the place of the parent - to describe this authorization given by parents to have otherwise perfect strangers teach their children. The result was a dramatic change in institutional education, away from the church-based school, private school, or home-based instruction, to the public or common schools, locally run and managed, and funded by local taxation. Compulsory education laws were passed in every state. Every child now had the opportunity to be educated. Horace Mann's dream had been fulfilled!

But what is the Christian reaction to all of this? What does God say the role of parents and non-parents is in education? Because the state now compels parents to educate their children, can we just flippantly transfer our authority to someone outside the family unit or church to instruct our children in absentia, without any consequence? Stay tuned next time for answers and other thoughts on how to address the state-imposed educational requirements.

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