Taking aim one last time with her political gun, outgoing [California] Superintendent of Public Schools Delaine Easton chose to direct her final bullets at the group she and other partisans of the education establishment love to hate: homeschool families.
In the waning days of the Legislative session, Eastin publicly declared that in her opinion, homeschooling was illegal in California. Working feverishly, she dispatched letters and drummed up news coverage, putting homeschool parents on notice.
If they didn't want their children to be truant, said Eastin, they had best register with an "approved" charter school that had a homeschooling option. If such a charter school didn't exist in that parent's neighborhood, well, too bad.
At the time, a local TV station interviewed me about the controversy. To my chagrin, I found the words, "It's a dastardly deed that Delaine Eastin has done" slipping from my lips. Granted, it wasn't the most erudite remark I've made in my legislative career. Few statements, however, have been more on target.
Eastin's attack was indeed "dastardly" because her claims were simply wrong, and the error sent tens of thousands of Californians into unnecessary panic. For weeks, homeschooling parents flooded my office with letters, e-mails, and phone calls, seeking reassurance that Eastin was mistaken. They did not wish to be labeled -- even in the interest of doing what was best for their children -- as lawbreakers.
Rest assured, if you homeschool your child, you are not doing anything wrong. Homeschooling is perfectly legal in California and has been for over 100 years. Eastin's assault was simply an attempt to force more kids into traditional public schools, which lose roughly $4,000 for every child that isn't sitting inside a state-sponsored classroom.
I personally remain deeply committed to public education, where my own children learned and grew. However, I believe the very best thing for public education is the presence of alternatives to the conventional model -- charter schools, private schools and home schools. Denying parents these options may increase public school populations, but it will not benefit anyone except bureaucrats and teachers unions.
If Eastin had focused her eight years in office upon education fundamentals like reading, writing, math and history, it seems likely she would not now feel the need to force students back into traditional settings. Instead, while test scores remain dismal, Eastin poured much of her energy into politically correct causes -- diversity mandates, sensitivity training, and promoting anything-goes tolerance.
Some homeschool parents simply don't want Eastin's view of the world, which is shared by much of the education establishment, pushed on their children. Take, for example, the contents of textbooks such as Bridges to Literature and American Literature: "America's military is consistently portrayed as the perpetrator of a host of ill-deeds, with no mention of the noble sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform and how they have kept us free.
"The man who won the Civil War and brought an end to slavery in America, Abraham Lincoln, is hardly mentioned. Instead, attention is lavished on a new pantheon of politically correct 'heroes.'
"America's flaws and shameful moments are repeatedly highlighted, while its noble sacrifices and tremendous contributions to the world are overlooked. Apparently, the goal is to teach impressionable children to be ashamed rather than proud of their country.
"Communists are often presented as victims, with no mention of the terrible atrocities committed by communist officials around the world, which continue to this day in China, North Korea, and Cuba."
For other homeschool parents, the issue is simply quality of education.
According to the Oct. 14 issue of Time magazine, "more than 600,000 of the freshmen who arrived at U.S. colleges this fall -- remarkably, 29 percent of the total, are taking at least one remedial reading, writing or math class." No wonder some parents believe they can do better by teaching their own kids.
Given the education establishment's checkered record, in terms of both values taught and quality of education, it is certainly understandable that approximately 400 - 600,000 children are currently taught at home. And lest there be any doubt, these children are not languishing.
Every study done on homeschooled students, including several by state governments, have concluded such pupils actually perform better by every measure. According to a USA Today Weekend report several years back, even homeschoolers' social skills often surpass those of their publicly schooled peers.
Regardless of one's own personal education preference, I think we can all agree that homeschooling is -- and should remain -- a viable option for California's parents. It is my hope that Delaine Eastin's successor, Jack O'Connell, will embrace this view.
Homeschool parents aren't the enemy. They are partners in our shared goal -- giving all children the very best education they can get.
Tim Leslie is Assemblyman of California's 4th Assembly District, which reaches from Roseville to Lake Tahoe in the north and Mammoth Lakes in the south.