The following is a letter from another Nebraska homeschooler to Senator Tony Fulton of the 29th district (South Lincoln). I have been asked by a few people for ideas on how to address senators, which I take as a compliment, but it isn’t something I am exactly well-versed on. I think Jessica does a nice job of making a personal connection with her senator, opening and closing with a clear position regarding the bill, pointing to some specific concerns and closing with an offer to help.
Make sure to read the senator’s response at the end…pure poetry to my conservative ears!
- January 25, 2008
- Dear Senator Fulton,
- Thank you again for meeting with my friend Autumn and I in November to discuss how our legislative system works and the status of midwifery and homebirth in Nebraska. As you may have heard, the organization that we are working with (Nebraska Friends of Midwives) has decided not to pursue legislation this session, due mainly to the lack of time we had to set up a sponsor for a bill. But we are hopeful to take action next year and are working hard to lay the ground work for future actions this year.
- I’m actually writing about another matter. This week, Senator Schimek introduced a disastrous bill (LB1141) that would severely impact the rights and responsibilities of parents who choose to homeschool their children. As I understand it, this bill would require either an extensive yearly portfolio review or yearly testing of homeschooled students with standardized tests to ensure that the students are making sufficient progress. If sufficient progress is not demonstrated by either method, the homeschooled students would be forced to enroll in an accredited school the following year. Here are some of the reasons why I think this bill is a disaster:
- a. One of the reasons I want to homeschool my children is because I don’t want them wasting time in school learning how to prepare for a standardized test. The only thing that standardized tests prove is how good a student is at guessing what the testmaker is looking for. One of the problems I see in public schools today is the enormous waste of time that teachers are forced to spend “teaching to the test” in order that their students pass. Standardized tests cannot test how well a student uses his/her mind or how well the student comprehends and retains material.
- b. I also want to homeschool my children because I don’t want them to be pigeon-holed. The whole point of homeschooling is that a parent, who knows their child best, guides their child in his/her studies as they learn at their own pace. If my daughter is super smart and is reading 4th grade level books at age 4, then I want her to be sufficiently challenged in her studies and to have a chance to explore the subjects that she is interested in at the time she is interested in them. She would be bored to tears in a typical grade school classroom and putting her in a classroom with kids at her level intellectually would severely impact her social skills. Of course, someone like this would have no trouble passing standardized tests. But what about the child who is a slow learner? What about the kids who have trouble reading and do not really gain reading skills until they are 8 or 9? By this time in a public school, they would be labeled as stupid, learning disabled, or another similar label that would detrimentally impact the rest of their academic career. I challenge any child to meet their full potential who is labeled as “learning disabled” from a young age. Should these homeschooled kids be forced into public schools because they are taking their time learning their needed skills and therefore cannot yet pass the standardized tests? And what about the autistic kids, the hyperactive kinetic learners, and other special needs kids? With the individualized attention that homeschool parents can give these children, they have a chance to far exceed all expectations. No such luck at public schools.
- c. This bill would create headaches for everyone involved. Who pays for all these standardized tests? Do the school districts cover them? Or will parents, who are already paying but not using their school tax dollars, have to cover the financial costs of testing in addition to the costs of time and energy? And what about the school officials who have to review all this extra paperwork? Don’t they have enough problems in their schools to worry about without adding unnecessary supervision of parents who care so much about their children that they are spending their time ensuring that their students get the education they deserve through homeschooling?
- d. Why should homeschooling parents have to work so hard to prove that their children are learning? Why do people automatically assume that all homeschoolers need intensive supervision in order to teach their children what their children need to know? Every study I’ve read about homeschooling shows that homeschooled graduates exceed in all measures of success in life. Some finish high school and college requirements early. Some become free-thinking entrepreneurs at early ages. All are better adapted socially because they were not isolated in a classroom full of peers where they were forced to sit and listen to a teacher talk and never speak unless spoken to. There are studies that show that students who learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it always learn the material more thoroughly and retain more of the material longer than students who are fed by rote a pre-ordained curriculum by a school system that doesn’t care about individual learning styles. (For great inspiration on what is wrong with standardized testing, grades, rewards, punishments, and many other typical school techniques, check out any book on education by Alfie Kohn.)
- e. Finally, where is the school that children must attend if they fail the standardized tests in public school? Are they then forced to be homeschooled? I know, based on our meeting in November, that you are a very reasonable person and will consider this matter thoughtfully before supporting or rejecting this bill. If there is anything else I can do (track down studies to disprove the usefulness of standardized testing, refer you to articles on the benefits of homeschooling, etc.), please let me know. I am very interested in seeing this bill defeated.
- Thank you so much for your time,
- Jessica S Freeman
I wish Senator Fulton were chairing the education committee. His response, short sweet and and to the point:
- Ms Freeman,
- Thank you for your email.
- Indeed, I am familiar with Senator Schimek’s bill. I appreciate your calling me a reasonable person, but I must say it shouldn’t take much reason to recognize this as an ill-conceived bill. Parents have the primary obligation and responsibility for the education of their children – NOT the State. This bill smacks of arrogance and makes an erroneous presumption that the State is of higher authority than the parent. My experience with homeschooled children makes me wonder whether the State ought not take a page from the homeschooling community…not vice versa.
- If this bill comes before the full legislature, I will not allow it to pass.
- I thank you for a well-written, thoughtfully composed email. If I am in need of reference to oppose this bill, I know I can contact you. In the meantime, please pass this note along to your homeschooling friends. You do a good job of explicating concerns with the bill.
- Tony Fulton
I try not to get too excited just because I agree with a politician on a single issue. But the content of this email seems to indicate that our agreement may go a little beyond this one issue.
Parents have the primary obligation and responsibility for the education of their children – NOT the State.
Music to my ears.
For what it’s worth, District 29, I appreciate your senator.
And for fellow Nebraskans, I hope to see you at the Legislative Day, February 6!
More posts on the homeschool legislation coming before the unicameral:
For more information on LB 1141, you can click on the category LB 1141 and find everything I have written so far.[tags]homeschool, home school, homeschooling, LB 1141, Nebraska[/tags]