by Martin Forte

As we review the great history of this country, we realize that every important movement or trend was always followed by an onslaught of legislative actions which  resulted in some legal stipulations that controlled the trend.  Look at the some of the great milestones:  The Suffrage movement, equality for Blacks (and other minorities), gun control, public education, health and welfare causes, environmental issues and now the homeschool movement.  What is really of concern is that this legislative control is not static, but very fluid,  subject to change (meaning more restrictions in many cases).  These changes occur through either more legislative actions on the part of the government or through interpretation in the judicial system.  Currently,  the homeschool movement is being closely monitored by various teacher unions, the public and legislative bodies throughout the United States,   resulting in more and more laws being passed to control or monitor the movement.  

If the homeschool movement is to survive in a manner which we feel would be beneficial to us and society as a whole, we have to be more and more diligent in protecting our rights.  The only way we can do this is to be more active in the political process.  The question now becomes, how do we do this?  

First, we must acquire the knowledge and constantly be aware of the changing landscape of the  legal and legislative influences on homeschooling.  There are several ways to accomplish this goal.  The easiest way is to be a member of a statewide (and in some cases local) homeschool organization.  All three of the major state homeschool organizations have some form of legal and legislative monitoring systems in place.  Your financial support through membership dues insure that these systems stay in place.  Next, be sure to read the organizations’ newsletters.  CHN always has a section of every issue devoted to legal and legislative issues.  HSC and CHEA (through Roy Hanson at Family Protection Ministries) also have devoted considerable space to the legal and legislative issues of the state of California.  The best source for national information on homeschool issues is Home School Legal Defense Association through their publication “The Court Report.”  The various national homeschool magazines often times address legal and legislative issues on a somewhat timely basis, however   publication deadlines often times result in dated information.  Probably the most up to date information on issues can be found on the various homeschool sites on the Internet.  Do not overlook the wealth of information you can find in your own local newspapers and news outlets.   The editorial pages are often a great barometer of the community on the issues.  In our community the Daytime Curfew Law was openly discussed through the editorial pages.  

Once you have become knowledgeable about both homeschooling and the current legislative (or legal) actions taking place,  you can start getting more proactive.  There are several ways to accomplish this goal.  We will discuss reactive actions later.  One of the easiest ways to start being proactive is to discuss with your family and friends the issue of homeschooling, thus making them more informed and less susceptible to the arguments of the anti- homeschooling groups.  Do not underestimate the value of an informed public.  

Now realize that at this point your actions (as a successful homeschooler) speak much louder than your words.   Another important venue is the editorial pages and talk radio.  If you see an article or hear a discussion about homeschooling,  be sure to provide good positive input either through a letter or a phone call on the issue.  This becomes a good place to correct any misunderstandings about homeschooling.  The only caution here is to be sure that you very carefully present your case hat is clearly understood by the average public.  Do not present an emotionally based argument, but clear,  concise and logical argument that cannot be diverted by people focusing in on the emotional side of the discussion.  

Your next step to a proactive journey is to become involved with your local political representatives.  The list of local political representatives can include members of city councils, school boards, state assemblies, state senate, county boards and Federal Congressmen and Senators.   One easy way is to get involved with your local political party organizations.  We attend the meetings of our local chapter of the Republican Assembly which has allowed us to meet several candidates and current office holders of both state and federal offices.  During these meetings you can ask these people how they feel about issues relating to homeschooling and answer any questions they may have.   You will be surprised at the lack of knowledge these people have on some of the issues.  We have had some great success in expanding the knowledge level of some important people, including a legislator who sat on an education committee.  

If you have the time, get involved with the election of your representative of choice.  Once you start helping on his campaign you will be a known entity to not only the candidate, but also his staff.  Your involvement could be as simple as putting a sign on your front lawn to volunteering for some phone-bank time.  These candidates do appreciate your efforts and in time this could become an important connection.  The fun really starts when they realize the importance of your contributions and start inviting you to various functions, community affairs and fund raisers.  At this point your sphere of influence can become much greater than you ever imagined.  After your candidate is elected to office, be willing to volunteer to be a member of any special fact finding committees he is interested in forming.  This is particularly true of any education oriented committee.  Also, do not forget to write letters to him on any issue that is important to you.  We have written plenty of letters to our congressmen and inmost cases receive a reply.  

Another step in the proactive journey is to visit your representative at his office, whether it be his local office or in Sacramento or Washington.  Don’t be afraid to introduce your children and if the opportunity arises, mention that you are homeschool parents on a field trip with your children.   We would encourage you to present the best impression you can.  This would include simple actions like having the children in clean clothes, encourage polite behavior on the part of the kids as well as having the children participate in a short but nice conversation with the representative and his staff.  A follow up thank you letter never hurts.  The positive result of these visits is that it tends to put the human element into their relationship with their constituents.  Remember, these people put their pants on one leg at a time just like you. Do  not feel intimidated by these people.  Also, be prepared for disappointment in the case where they may not have the time for you.  If you make an appointment, your chances of success are far greater.

Our next level of political influence is the reactive stage.  This is when your city council, state or federal legislative branch is in the process of passing a law that may have a negative effect in homeschooling.  Your first line of defense can be the editorial page of the newspaper and talk radio.  In the case of the paper, you can initiate the discussion by sending the first letter to the editor.  With radio, you may have to wait till the issue is being discussed and hope that you have the good fortune of having your call put on the air.  It is amazing how many times one of our legislators has written a letter to us in response to a letter we had published in the paper.  

Once the process has started, be prepared to address the legislative body if you can.  This is a very doable process in the case of a city council meeting.  Do not be afraid of the councils.  In most cases these individuals’   intentions are good, but we have found that the ignorance level can be frustratingly high many cases.  All city councils must listen to the citizen and provide time for public comment on all issues.  The only restriction is that most only allow for a three minute presentation, which is not a long time.  When you go, be prepared and try not to present an overly emotional monologue that will cause an equally emotional reaction from the council or other members of the audience that may not agree with you.  We realize this is difficult to do, but you will be most effective if you come across as reasonable and prepared with proper statistics and information.  When it comes to committee level actions or legislative bodies at the state and federal levels, the process is still the same but requires more travel time and commitment on your part.  Homeschoolers from across the state testified at the Public Safety Committee hearing in Sacramento when the Daytime Curfew Proposal was discussed.  All your comments will b entered into the record.  If you get a chance, call your council person or legislator prior to the scheduled meeting and let him know how you feel.  This “one on one” discussion can be very productive and  you can know that you did what you could to influence the direction of the ordinance in question.  

In conclusion, it is imperative that you understand that we still have a government based upon the concept of representation which is highly dependent on the input of the citizens.  The above recommendations are intended to maximize your input and help you to have an influential role in the direction of the course of the issue at hand.  It is amazing to us how few people can have so much power and influence on the legislative process.  It is up to you if   you want to be part of that power and influence!