I’m partnered with Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) to help promote their June, 2017, homeschool convention and had the honor of interviewing one of this year’s keynote speakers, J. Michael Smith of Home School Legal Defense Association. He, along with his friend, Michael Farris, founded HSLDA in 1983, when, as an attorney and homeschooling father, he felt called to assist prosecuted families. For over thirty years, they’ve defended homeschoolers and helped pave the way for the movement to flourish.
Benefits of Homeschooling
J. Michael Smith believes that conventions such as HEAV’s are beneficial for homeschooling parents because they get to see others’ successes and struggles – they can see that they’re not alone. He encourages parents by talking about three major benefits of homeschooling:
- Socialization – “Who you spend time with is how you’re formed. Public schools are doomed to failure because of who is attending and the lack of parents doing their job. If we are conscientious [in homeschooling], their experience will be so much better. Schools are scary.”
- Academic – A school teacher with twenty students cannot give the individualized attention that a homeschool parent can. Mr. Smith described a recent case in Missouri where a struggling elementary student’s mother spoke with school officials, asking for some individualized attention for her son. When they said they couldn’t provide that, the mother withdrew her son to homeschool him. The school district then took her to court and HSLDA defended her. Mr. Smith added that in Europe, 60-70% of public school graduates live with their parents because they aren’t able to leave home and function on their own. He sees America following that trend.
- Spiritual – Mr. Smith described one situation where homeschooling saved a young man’s life. In one of his early cases, before homeschooling was as well-known, a young man had attempted suicide because of things that had been going on at school. His parents began homeschooling him and that young man went on to become a missionary. “It’s a blessing how we save heartbreak,” said Mr. Smith.
“America’s Greatest Heroes”
At a recent convention, Mr. Smith asked the attending homeschool mothers why more Christian mothers don’t homeschool, what reason they gave. The overwhelming response was, “Because they can’t.” Mr. Smith attributes that response to either a lack of faith or an excuse, adding that it’s sad that only 3 1/2% of Christian children are homeschooled. He continued, “Homeschooling adds a lot of pressure, and 100% is on mom’s shoulders. That’s why I truly believe that homeschool moms are America’s greatest heroes.”
He encourages prospective homeschool parents to “get into the fray and take it one day at a time.” “Whatever you do, don’t quit at the lowest level,” he cautioned, explaining that his office gets a lot of calls from parents who had put their kids in public school after hitting a low point and regretted it.
I asked Mr. Smith if he had practical suggestions for relieving the pressure on the homeschooling family, especially mom. This is the advice that he had to offer:
- Dad must play a major role. He needs to give mom time alone, time with dad without the kids, and time with a support group. He needs to help shoulder the responsibility.
- Dad should have the primary responsibility for disciplining the children. They should know that the highest crime is disrespect of their mother, what the consequences are, and that punishment will be applied.
- Ideally, the father should help with homeschooling in some way.
- Dad should be responsible for the spiritual growth of the family. At the same time, mom needs time to develop her own relationship with Jesus, and her husband should facilitate that.
- Dad should be a good husband and provide a good marriage.
- Parents should pray together daily.
We, the People
Mr. Smith quoted the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He then explained, “Our liberties come from God and that is recognized in our country’s documents. In a ‘civil law’ country, they come from government and have to be written down, but in America, if we aren’t specifically prohibited from something, then we have freedom. That brings the responsibility to protect those freedoms. We, the people, are the government. We lose freedom when we don’t act.”
Mr. Smith believes that it’s our obligation to defend those rights through political processes. “Liberty is the foundation of what makes our government different. It also applies to the homeschool movement. God holds us responsible to protect our liberties. The government will always encroach.” He specified two ways of satisfying our civic homeschool duty.
- Join a support group.
- Join HSLDA – Think of future generations. Not only does HSLDA provide protection for your family, but it protects the freedom to homeschool for generations to come.
I asked Mr. Smith what current issues should be of most concern to homeschooling parents. He pointed out two hazards:
Apathy – Mr. Smith started homeschooling at a time when the stakes were much higher. He said he probably wouldn’t have started if he had known what it would be like, that there were parents who faced fines and jail time. “Homeschooling parents today have no clue what it took to attain current homeschooling freedoms,” he said.
Dependence on Government – He warned of the so-called “ESA” movement (Education Savings Account), vouchers, etc. I asked him about tax credits and he said that he was okay with them because they enable homeschoolers to keep their own money. In contrast, ESA and vouchers use taxpayers’ money. He quoted the adage, “The person who pays the piper gets to name the tune,” in cautioning giving government that foothold.
We aren’t ever safe because the legislature changes every two years. As an example, he referenced Nevada where the legislature had been a Republican majority, but it just switched and a Democrat introduced a law to lower compulsory school attendance from age seven to five. That would mean that homeschoolers would also be required by law to start earlier.
Mr. Smith and I talked about advancements he’s seen for homeschooling. He noted these encouraging developments:
- Diplomas are getting more credibility. For example, in the past the military would put a homeschool graduate in “Tier 2” which was the equivalent of a GED or a dropout, and meant that they didn’t get benefits or education. That has now changed and homeschool diplomas are treated equally.
- Disability and veterans benefits – Children of deceased or disabled fathers receive benefits until they leave school. Homeschooled children were being denied benefits because their homeschool was not recognized as accredited. This, too, has been rectified.
- Colleges are more readily accepting homeschool graduates.
- Some states are rolling back some requirements. In North Dakota, for example, homeschoolers can now opt out of standardized tests.
I asked Mr. Smith if he would share one of HSLDA’s recent victories, so he told me about a case in California where a homeschooling mother’s children had been removed because authorities believed that one of the children, a diabetic, was in danger. Even after a doctor examined the child and wrote that he was fine, the state still refused to release the children to their mother. HSLDA represented the mother and won the case. “The state had to pay a substantial reward to the mother,” Mr. Smith said, emphasizing “substantial.”
Dealing with Child Protective Services must be among homeschooling families’ greatest fears. It’s reassuring to know that HSLDA is always ready to aid its members.
At the close of our interview, I asked Mr. Smith how he felt about the new administration. He noted that President Carter established the Department of Education and that test scores had gone down steadily ever since. “We will always have government interference, but we’re better off being regulated at the local level.” He likes the trend of taking education away from federal government and thinks that’s what President Trump and Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, are trying to do.
I don’t know if I would have had the courage to homeschool if I hadn’t known that HSLDA “had my back.” Although I never needed them, I knew what to do if there was a knock on the door, and that they were only a phone call away. Being called to homeschool one’s children can be a frightening proposition. I’m grateful that along with calling parents to homeschool, God also called dedicated men and women to defend us. I thank J. Michael Smith for letting me interview him, and also for answering God’s call to defend families like mine. They are our homeschool heroes.
I will be having a giveaway for a family registration to the 2017 HEAV convention, the second-largest in the nation, valued at $79. Please subscribe to be notified of the giveaway.
This post has been shared in some of my favorite blog hops.
HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association)
HEAV (Home Educators Association of Virginia)