Hal’s about It: Civics Class Meets Real Life

1 Sep 2004

by Hal Young

Well, here we are in election season, and what a great time to teach about the electoral process in action!

Being people who treasure their individual freedoms and realize how jealously those freedoms must be guarded, we homeschoolers have always been a politically active group. From the very start of the modern homeschooling movement, families across the philosophical spectrum have taken a keen interest in the political situation around them. And increasingly, we're being sought out by the politicians themselves.

This attention certainly should not surprise anyone. The major parties recognized the energy and enthusiasm of high school students years ago, and their outreach to homeschool students is a natural (if belated) expansion. Now they’re finding that homeschoolers, both parents and students, are valuable allies in an election season.

Studies confirm what experience is demonstrating. For example, Drs. Christian Smith and David Sikkink, sociologists at the University of North Carolina, found that homeschooling parents have higher-than-average levels of participation in elections, campaigns and political causes generally. They wrote, "The empirical evidence is clear and decisive: private schoolers and homeschoolers are considerably more civicly involved in the public square than are public schoolers."

What's true of the parents applies more so to the graduates. Dr. Brian Ray at the National Home Education Research Institute found that adults who were homeschooled are twice as likely as their peers to give financial support to a campaign and nearly three times as likely to work for a party or candidate. They also vote regularly, in numbers as high as 96%. (The remarkably poor turnout for the July primaries puts that last figure in very sharp relief.)

And while the mainstream media seems uncomfortable with it, homeschool students are involved in the political process themselves, even before they graduate. Since the parents are able to make the decisions about which candidates and which issues to support, homeschool students have greater freedom than their peers to integrate the classroom study of the electoral process with the grassroots business of active campaigning. At least two primary candidates in North Carolina had significant numbers of homeschool students volunteering for phone banks, flyer distribution and poll watching. One of them won handily. The other one didn't, but his polling numbers in a hotly contested race more than doubled after the homeschoolers came to work. I expect to see more of the same in November.

Of course, what we do as individual voters and families is different from what we can and should do as organized groups. Many support groups, like NCHE, are tax exempt, non-profit organizations under 501(c)(3) rules. In that role, we have to be non-partisan. The organization is not allowed to take sides on campaigns or endorse candidates, and when the candidates began calling NCHE in February to ask about coming to our conference in May, we had to give it some thought. We think it's beneficial for politicians to get to see thousands of obviously well adjusted, engaged and real home educators, so we told them they were welcome. I believe we had eight who called for permission and about four more who showed up unannounced—quite a turnout. We only invited two, the local mayor and the local congressman, for "official greeting" purposes. All the rest decided on their own that this was a group of voters worth knowing.

At higher levels, the state parties are courting our votes just as the individual candidates are. The Republicans' platform opposes "regulatory attempts to deny learning options for our children," affirming that "Parents are the best judges of what kind of schooling is best for their children," <http://www.ncgop.org>. Both the Republicans and the NC Libertarian Party support tax credits for homeschooling parents, and both stand against increasing restrictions. The Libertarians, for example, call on the state "to ensure that children have access to a quality education, by lifting the burden of regulation from private education and homeschooling," saying it's a mandate from the state constitution and that "The LPNC supports any attempt by parents and students to take control of their education," <http://www.lpnc.org/issues/platform.html>.

The Democrats' platform, on the other hand, is silent on homeschooling, with a nod to private education generally <http://www.ncdp.org>. That may be why nearly all of the candidates and political figures we've seen at homeschooling events in recent years—with the exception of Mayor Joines—have been Republican or Libertarian. We certainly haven't turned anyone away. It's all very interesting and not making many headlines that I've seen.

Whatever the philosophy, with as many as 150,000 North Carolina citizens actively involved with homeschooling, the interest and enthusiasm we've shown for the electoral process should make any politician sit up and take notice. It's a good thing—for one, it demonstrates (once again!) that homeschoolers are far from the reclusive fringe imagined by some. Instead, we’re more active in the larger community than our peers, and it extends beyond the election season—a good group to rally behind your campaign.

But more importantly, that enthusiasm reflects the understanding that our very freedom to teach and learn at home depends on that active participation. For homeschoolers, political involvement is more than a patriotic duty—it's a survival skill.


Use it or lose it

Let me add my voice to those you will hear, urging each of you to get out and vote. Some elections will be close enough that a single voter in each precinct could swing the final result—look at the primary we just finished. And just between us, as homeschoolers, aren’t we too often stuck between two faults, busyness and procrastination? As we said in the military, "No excuse, Sir." This is important, it happens only infrequently, and each of us does make a difference; so let’s do it.

The State Board of Elections website <http://www.sboe.state.nc.us> has the rules and dates posted. Be sure to register by October 8, including your seventeen-year-olds who have a birthday on or before election day (November 2). You can vote early at your local board of elections office or by mail; it's still called "absentee" but the law allows anyone to take advantage of this convenience now.

And if you’d like to do more, remember every campaign needs a hand somewhere. Help register voters now, put up a sign, offer to share your van on election day. Whatever you do, be sure you vote, and bring a friend. And don’t forget the kids; we’re all about "modeling adult behavior," aren’t we?

See you at the polls—defending our freedom at the ballot box!

GREENHOUSE is NCHE's flagship publication. 

GREENHOUSE magazine is published fall and spring plus an annual graduate issue in May. GREENHOUSE is mailed to NCHE members.