You've probably heard about the California court ruling from February that homeschooling without a credential was not a "constitutional right." You may or may not have heard about the court ruling being vacated, and a new ruling was handed down in August stating that everything is the same as it was before all the hubbub.
There was a lot of controversy about this issue, all over the country. Some love was sent to California during this time, some finger wagging and warnings, and some downright anger that we would screw everything up for the rest of the states. Even now, there is some debate about the long-term effect of the recent ruling.
In the midst of it all, there was a core group of people here in the trenches here in California. I was lucky to have been privy to many of the discussions and decision-making processes during that time. While at the same time, I was not directly involved, so I had no influence or direct effect on the actions of the various groups. I was a fly on many walls, and this is what I saw, read and heard.
In California, there are three large state-wide homeschooling support groups: HomeSchool Association of California (HSC), the California Homeschool Network (CHN) and the Christian Home Educators Association of California (CHEA). HSC and CHN are both inclusive. I am the editor of HSC's magazine, the California HomeSchooler. And I am also a volunteer for CHN, mostly doing outreach. I speak at both of their conferences. I am not a member of CHEA.
Before the surprise ruling, these three groups pretty much worked independently. There were even some negative feelings between some of the long-time members of the groups. The groups weren't competitive, but they didn't communicate with each other much, or help each other out. This arrangement worked out fine because it had been such a long time since anything truly threatening had happened in California.
Then, that all changed practically overnight when World Net Daily published an article about a recent California appellate court ruling that effected homeschoolers.
CHN and HSC did not respond immediately. The wording in the ruling was ambiguous and didn't change the law. The e-lists were buzzing with talk, and nobody from the CHN or HSC board or legal team would tell us what was going on. Now, I know all of the people who run HSC and CHN, so I knew immediately why they weren't saying anything - they wanted to make damn sure that they understood what was really going on before making decisions.
What I didn't know, at the time, was that HSC, CHN and CHEA representatives were busy phoning each other and asking, "What's really going on here?" This case had come out of nowhere. The family involved had not contacted any homeschooling groups other than the school they attended. Nobody knew what was going on. The legal papers were long and detailed. There was a lot of information to digest in a short period of time. California homeschoolers were suddenly dragged into a court battle that had nothing to do with us. But we had to do something, because the media was closing in, and the phones were ringing off the hook.
Finally, CHN, HSC and CHEA came to a decision and made a joint statement. They reassured us that nothing in the law had changed, and that the ruling did not affect us. Not everyone was convinced. Even after the Governor of California, Arnold Swarzenegger, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell, chimed in with political support, many Californians, and many people across the country, were convinced that it was now illegal to homeschool in California.
The pressure was on. CHN, HSC and CHEA did not ask to be involved in this court case, but it became apparent that they all had to. Partly, we needed to manage information and the media. And partly, we had to put pressure on the courts to get us out of the case, and strike the homeschooling aspect of the ruling out of the opinion.
Members of the CHN, HSC and CHEA legal teams, and the presidents of these organizations were overwhelmed with requests for interviews from newspapers, radio and TV. They did an amazing job standing tall under the relentless questioning, all while working hard to find legal representation, coming up with a solid plan, and keeping the current California homeschoolers from panicking.
That's where I was asked to help, and I did my best to keep the information flowing on my blog. I hope I helped at least a little to keep us focussed and to reduce hysteria. I wasn't the only one. There were several people on the e-lists and on blogs who did their part to make sure that information was getting out.
Nonetheless, the media thrives on catastrophe. And we could not control the onslaught of stories about how homeschoolers in California were "panicked". I did one interview where the "expert" opposite me assured us that this ruling was "The 9/11 of homeschooling." The media loved this, and fed like sharks on it.
But, in some ways, this worked to our advantage. There was such a high demand for articles about this case, that after a while, interviewing the "experts" was getting somewhat dull. They needed "real people" to tell their stories--and a lot of them. Secular families, like mine, who generally stayed out of the whole hubbub of media, were asked to step up and say "hi" to the world. "We're here." We were scared. We had no bone to pick. We simply wanted to do what we could to help fix this "problem" that was thrust upon us.
In some regards, the reporters were probably frustrated with us. I know they were a bit frustrated with me. We weren't hysterical enough. Family after family was interviewed and quoted to say, "This isn't really that big of a deal. It doesn't effect us much." Also, more and more families who homeschooled for reasons other than religion were getting on TV, radio and in newspapers. It started to become clear that in California, homeschoolers are a diverse bunch.
Of course, not everyone got the message, but the courts certainly did. And so did our legislators. One of the quiet efforts that was never written about in any publication, or talked about publicly on the forums, was an effort to make contact with our Democratic representatives. And those of us who are registered Democrats were asked specifically to call our legislators and let them know our position on this.
The main purpose of this effort was to use the momentum we had to strengthen our relationships with our senator and representatives. We wanted them to meet us, get to know us, and pay attention. At one point, several of the leaders of CHN and HSC drove around for a weekend having in-person meetings with Democratic legislators. They asked what the legislators' concerns were, they gave them literature, and brought the topic up to the surface.
Some meetings did not go as well as others, but overall, the effort was a great success. We now have a pretty solid relationship with a number of democratic legislators.
Even now, after the second ruling was handed down, we are still pursuing this effort. It was so successful, that we realized how important this is to do on a continuous basis.
All of this was preventative. The real work with the court case itself happened between the lawyers and legal representatives of the CHN, HSC and CHEA. The groups worked together, deciding who was going to say what, and which points were absolutely necessary to bring up during the retrial. This is a critical point to understand - the secular and the Christian groups worked tightly together on this. They were calling each other daily, having meetings and redrafting their arguments, all together. This is unprecedented in California. Perhaps, also in the rest of the states. Have there been any other states that have come together - secular and religious - to fight for state-wide homeschooling rights?
For California, this was the hugest benefit of the entire ordeal. This coming together of all homeschooling groups is monumental. What a message we sent to those judges and to the legislators!
Of course, the news never mentioned any of this. Their main focus was on whether or not we're going to be wrangled up and arrested en masse. Once it was determined that there really was nothing to see here, the news lost interest. And what little we do see in the news tries its very best to keep up the drama, even when there isn't any.
Now, the drama is essentially over. There is still a threat that something else will happen. There always is. Even if the law was spotless, there will always be someone who is not happy, and always a chance that we'll be challenged.
After having gone through this year, and coming out unscathed, and in fact stronger than we were before it started, we're ready. We're ready together - secular and Christian homeschoolers and everyone else.
And what this proves to me, is that challenges to our right to homeschool is not necessarily a bad thing. If we really want to see a shift in how the world views homeschooling, and how our laws regulate us, we're going to have to get through these tough times. It's part of the evolutionary process. And there will be resistance and setbacks. We can't let that stop us.
The secular homeschooling community is an important part of our country's future. And so is the Christian homeschooling community. When we can work together, and show that our homeschooling rights run deeper than personal conviction, that they are about democracy, freedom, and independence, for everyone, then we will send a much stronger message than we ever could alone.
I'm confident it will happen someday. And if it doesn't happen, that won't stop me from trying.
Tammy Takahashi lives and learns with her three children (10, 7 and 4) and supportive husband in California. She is the author of Deschooling Gently: A Step by Step Guide to Fearless Homeschooling. She also serves as the editor of the California HomeSchooler magazine, a bi-monthly publication for the Homeschool Association of California. You can read more from her about education and homeschooling on her website. And you can email her at tammy.takahashi @ gmail(dot)com.