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PBS Profiles Homeschool Movement

In what one homeschool-advocacy group called “one of the biggest homeschool stories to hit mainstream media,” PBS’ “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” last week carried an episode profiling the “exodus” movement.

“The bulk of parents pull their kids out of public school for reasons having very much to do with religion,” said correspondent Lucky Severson. “Some are leading an organized effort to persuade churches, including Southern Baptists and the Presbyterian Church in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America, to have their members pull their kids out of public schools and put them in private or home schools.” <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“They’re telling the churches that God really says you are in charge of your child’s education,” explained Jube Dankworth, national director of Homeschooling Family to Family, “and you’re supposed to bring the child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
 
Homeschooling Family to Family is an outreach program of Frontline Ministries, described on a Web site as an “evangelical Christian ministry seeking to communicate the Christian Faith and worldview in arenas not routinely being addressed with the Gospel and biblical truth such as K-12 Christian education, especially homeschooling, family relationships and order, raising of children, business and media.”
 
Also under the Frontline Ministries umbrella is the Exodus Mandate Project, which is spearheading efforts to replace the current educational system with a network of Christian church-run and home schools.
 
“The goal is to encourage the development of a new system of Christian public education, public in the sense that it’s open to anybody, but controlled by parents, not unions, politicians and bureaucrats,” Bruce Shortt, a leader in Exodus Mandate, told PBS.
 
Shortt, a Houston attorney and homeschool dad, has three times tried to get the Southern Baptist Convention to pass a resolution endorsing the Exodus Mandate but has been unable to get it past a committee. The convention did pass a statement in 2005, however, encouraging churches to investigate whether their local schools promote homosexuality and if they do to consider removing their kids from those schools.
 
Last year’s convention passed a resolution critical of public schools but skirting the issue of private vs. public education by pushing instead for school reform through “godly influence” by Christian parents.
 
Severson reported that while churches for now seem reluctant to tell their congregations to put their kids in private or home schools, the U.S. Department of Education acknowledges that homeschoolers are growing 10 times as fast as the general school-age population.
 
One reason, according to homeschool families interviewed by PBS, is secular schools’ teaching of evolution.
 
“I believe in the story of Genesis,” said Rena Sumbera. “That’s what I’ve been taught, that’s what I believe and that’s what I my kids to believe.”
 
“We are Christian,” added Sumbera, who schools her two children at home in an upscale Houston suburb. “That was not introduced in the school, will never be introduced into the school, and it was something that was important to us.”
 
Another is studies that show students educated at home routinely outperform their counterparts in public schools.
 
“I grew up in the projects of South Central Los Angeles,” said Voddie Baucham. “The public schools I went to were horrible. I was at a disadvantage. And there was nothing we could do. I was raised by a single teenage mother, and there was nothing we could do.”
 
Baucham an African-American evangelist from Spring, Texas, was co-sponsor of Shortt’s 2005 resolution calling for investigation of whether programs or clubs in their school promote a homosexual agenda.
 
Stanford Professor Robert Reich said he is skeptical of studies showing homeschooling to be superior, because most are based on research done by homeschool advocacy groups. He also argued the state has an interest in knowing its children grow up to be well-rounded citizens.
 
“If parents can control every aspect of the kids’ education, shield them from exposure to things that the parents deem sinful or objectionable, screen in only things which accord with their convictions, and not allow them exposure to the world of democracy, well the children grow up then basically in the own image of their parents, servile to their own parents’ beliefs,” he said.
 
Shortt found it “ironic that someone with an obviously authoritarian agenda is attempting to lecture others.”
 
“Unfortunately, education seems to be one of those areas in which the failures, astonishingly, insist on trying to regulate the successful,” he said.
 
Shortt, who has written a book called The Harsh Truth About Public Schools, made that point earlier in a column on WorldNetDaily.com
 
“In their never-ending effort to ‘help’ homeschoolers, public school bureaucrats periodically try to increase homeschooling regulations,” Shortt wrote. “This makes K-12 education perhaps a unique endeavor: it’s a field in which the failures regularly, and astonishingly, insist that they should be able to regulate the successful.”
 
“Never mind that homeschoolers consistently outperform children institutionalized in government schools or that the longer a child is institutionalized in a government school the worse he does in relation to homeschooled children,” he continued. “Never mind, also, that international surveys of academic performance show that in the course of 12 years government schools manage to turn perfectly capable children into world-class dullards. No, the same education bureaucrats who consume an annual cash flow of roughly $600 billion to achieve previously unknown levels of semi-literacy and illiteracy among otherwise normal American children feel compelled from time to time to abandon their diligent pursuit of intellectual mediocrity to offer proposals for regulating homeschool parents.”
 
Six states currently regulate homeschools extensively, according to the PBS report, while 25 states have little or no regulation of homeschools.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
 
Click here for a transcript of the “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” program.
 
Click here for BCE’s special resource section on Christians and public education.