Following are excepts from the Amicus brief I submitted in the Brunelle
case. An amicus curiae, or "friend of the court" brief can be submitted
by interested parties on their own behalf, if the judge in the case agrees
to accept the brief. In my case, I decided to submit the brief when the
Superior Court judge asked for amicus briefs to help him understand the
Lynn home visits case. My lawyer husband was invaluable in making sure
that I followed the proper court procedures so that my submission was
favorably received. Since the Superior Court judge (the lower level that
ruled in favor of Lynn) accepted my brief, the justices of the Supreme
Judicial Court saw fit to accept the (revised) brief as well. Nicky Hardenbergh
Interest of the Amicus
I am an experienced homeschooling parent of two children, ages 15 and
18, who have never been to school. Our homeschooling has been successful,
and I would like the law of the Commonwealth to develop in a way that
encourages, rather than impedes, homeschooling as an alternative educational
experience that parents might choose for a wide variety of reasons.
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Discussion of Nonessential Nature of Lynn Requirement
of Home Visits
None of the three purposes that Superintendent Leonard mentions as justifying
home visitation is "essential" to the School Committee's performance of
its statutory task.
A. "Schedule Followed" Is Not Essential
Superintendent Leonard refers to the need to verify that a "schedule . . . is followed" as a reason that a home visit is "essential." While the following of a schedule may be an important consideration in the classroom where there are pre-existing schedules to maintain and coordinate, in the homeschool the perception and use of time are quite different.(footnote 1). In our world pressed for time, homeschoolers have an incredible luxury: a relatively large amount of control over their time. The novelty of this luxury leads some non-homeschooling parents to comment, "I would never have the self-discipline to do homeschooling." What those parents do not realize is that one develops self-discipline only by being immersed in unstructured time, just as one best learns French by living among French speakers. The lack of an externally imposed schedule helps homeschool families to understand the process of learning at a profound level. Parents can observe and accommodate the multiple variations (from child to child, subject to subject, day to day) in the process of learning. Individualized pacing means that students need not spend extra time on a concept already mastered or be forced ahead to new material before understanding the old. Thus, imposing "a schedule that is followed" would unnecessarily weaken one of the greatest strengths of homeschooling. Certainly, verifying that homeschool parents have "a schedule that is followed" is not "essential" to ensuring that children are receiving an education.
B. "Materials" Need Not Be Viewed In The Home
Another purpose of the home visit, according
to Superintendent Leonard, is the determination "that there are materials
present." (footnote 2) While Charles holds that
the "superintendent or school committee must also have access to the textbooks,
workbooks, and other instructional aids to be used by the children," id.
at 339, this access could easily be achieved if the parents brought the
materials to the school. The home visit is not "essential" to achieve
that purpose. Furthermore, some of the most effective curricular materials
may not be "visible" at all: travel, community service, and meetings with
various resource people may all be important learning experiences. There
is no indispensable need, then, for a home visit in order to observe "that
there are materials present."
C. Viewing "Instructional Space" Is Not A Valid
Reason For A Home Visit
Superintendent Leonard identified only one purpose that would necessitate a home visit: a purported need to verify that "there is an instructional space available." Certainly "space" is something that could be readily quantified, but the need for a school official's coming to the home to measure the size of the kitchen table hardly seems substantial. What would be considered insufficient instructional space? What if the children, despite what was considered insufficient instructional space, achieved at high levels on their standardized tests? In that instance, an adverse "space" finding during a home visit would not have been "essential" to determining whether the children were gaining an education. In sum, the intrusion is wholly disproportionate to the usefulness of the purpose that is said to be its warrant.
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1) Home Education Is Not "School At Home" And
Cannot Be Evaluated Using Classroom Methods
Those engaged in traditional models of education often expect homeschooling
to replicate the classroom, with children sitting around the kitchen
table and their mother standing above giving "lessons." Certainly, a
number of families homeschool in just that way, but many others use
a less formal approach, conceiving of education as much broader than
"school at home." Homeschooling allows parents to make primary the needs
of their children and their children's particular learning styles; this
individualization, though known to be effective, is simply not possible
in the regular classroom. (footnote 3) In the informal, individualized
approach to education, the structure of the learning experience might
well be invisible to the inexperienced observer, making any useful assessment
by observation impossible.Indeed, long-time homeschool parents have
discovered to their delight that the most valuable and lasting education
derives from permitting their children to following their own interests,
while the parent acts as a "facilitator." This method of education is
very different from that of the regular classroom.
Clearly, however, the Lynn school officials anticipate observing a
home education process that resembles the classroom experience. Observation
of a classroom makes sense: the teacher is being evaluated to determine
if she is worthy of employment. The teacher's supervisor would indeed
observe the very kinds of details that Superintendent Perulo expects
the principal to observe during a homeschool visit:
So he [the principal] goes in, he observes what's happening, he observes
the instruction, he observes the teacher doing certain things, he
observes the students doing certain things, he sees the interactions,
he sees the use of materials that's consistent with the curriculum
that's stated in the plan, and he gets admittedly a subjective judgment,
but based upon years of experience, that there is indeed instruction
going on and he can tell if it's made up or if it's not made up.
App. at 28.Certainly, a public school employer should know such details
about the classroom management skills of its teachers. In the homeschool,
however, the parent is not an employee of the school system. The home,
furthermore, is not an institution for mass education.
Assistant Superintendent Perulo appears not to appreciate how education
might take place in a non-institutionalized setting. He is not alone;
even experienced homeschool parents have found that it takes many years
to comprehend how best to take advantage of this incredibly flexible
way of learning. For example, as a former history teacher, I have been
astounded by the amount of historical knowledge that our children absorb
and retain from a variety of sources, using very few textbooks; in school
teaching, when I had occasion to teach the same children for two different
years, I would often be dismayed that they had retained almost nothing
of what they had "learned" in the traditional history classroom.(footnote
4) The two ways of education are profoundly different.
2) Authentic Assessment Is Not Possible Through
a Home Visit
Because many homeschools do not function in the same way as a classroom,
a randomly chosen forty-five minute period might include no observable
instruction. What would the observer make, for example, of watching
a child read a novel or practice an instrument for forty-five minutes?
The observer might well have an enjoyable and interesting visit, but
almost certainly the family would suffer needless anxiety. Their "familial
privacy" would be violated by an unnecessary and unproductive observation.
The futility of using "observation" in measuring the "process" of homeschooling
is not unlike the difficulty that quantum physicists encounter in trying
to measure subatomic activity. In order to measure the position and
momentum of an object at a certain moment, "we must touch it with something
that will carry the required information back to us. That is, we must
poke it with a stick, shine light on it, or perform some similar act.
The measurement process itself thus requires that the object be interfered
with in some way."(footnote 5) Similarly, the home visit could not possibly
be an observation of what the family would be doing when not
being observed. The official would, of necessity, be observing a "performance"
of some kind. He would be prevented, by the very fact of his existence
as an observer, from authenticating how the family functions on a day-to-day
basis. Thus, the observation could yield nothing "essential" to the
determination of whether the children are receiving an education.
Seeking An Effective Way To Understand Home
If the homeschool cannot be equated with the classroom, is there another way that we might seek to understand home education more fully in order to determine whether a given requirement, in this case home visits, might be "essential?" A fuller understanding should help to avoid judgments based upon false analogies.
A. Avoiding Inaccurate Concepts
The Superior Court Opinion, perhaps sharing Lynn's intuitive expectations,
also adopts a mistaken conception of home education, albeit a different
one from that of the school officials. In his decision, Judge Welch
draws an analogy between home visits as a component of the evaluation
of home education and site visits as a part of the process of inspecting
building construction: "a condition of th[e] building permit would allow
the building inspector (without a warrant) to come within the house
to insure that the addition had been properly constructed." App. at
139. Certainly, if the home visit were "essential" to determining whether
education were taking place, the analogy would be apt. However, a building,
unlike "education," is a physical object that can only be evaluated
by visual inspection of the thing itself. "Education," on the other
hand, is a non-physical occurrence, the measurement and evaluation of
which continues to be a subject of intense controversy among professional
educators.A more appropriate comparison would equate a building inspector's
review of a building to a school official's review of standardized test
results. In both instances, the outcome, not the process, is evaluated.
If the building inspector were to inspect the "process," in a way analogous
to the home visit, the inspector would sit for forty-five minutes on
the construction site, watching the carpenters at work. Clearly such
an "inspection" would not be considered "essential" to determining whether
the finished building complied with the building code.
B. Toward A More Accurate Concept Of Home Education
Since virtually every adult in our society has attended school, most
people have a very difficult time imaging learning outside of an institutional
setting. Nevertheless, it is important to separate the two concepts.
"Learning" does not equal "schooling." It is the non-institutional nature
of home education that provides its greatest advantage; home education
should not be regulated to make the process more "school-like." Instead
of analyzing home education in terms of analogies to known institutions
such as classroom learning and building inspection, one might find a
comparison to gardening more fruitful. Gardening, like education, contains
a number of acknowledged variables that contribute to a successful outcome.
In evaluating produce from a garden, the "essential" information would
be how the vegetables tasted or how the flowers looked, not whether
the gardener had been weeding or fertilizing or taking a nap during
the "garden visit."As I would apply the gardening metaphor, it would
be a mistake to assume that the parent is the gardener and that the
children are the "produce." Both parents and children are "cultivating"
themselves, making full use of their natural curiosity in ways usually
not possible in the school setting.(footnote 6) The parent might be
considered the more experienced gardener, but both parent and child
are engaged in learning. A major strength of the homeschooling process
is that the "teacher" does not have to "know" everything that the student
might need to learn. With the flexibility of individualized instruction,
the parent is often in the position of helping the child to find information
rather than "instructing" the child. As the child develops, the parent
and child might well be learning together. The misconception that a
competent teacher must know "everything" perhaps stems from the historical
situation in which the teacher was one of the most educated persons
in a community. Today, however, many people in our communities have
obtained higher education. Moreover, homeschool parents and children
have access to abundant sources of information, including:
- the public library and its professional librarians
- well-stocked local bookstores with their enticing collections
of skillfully crafted non-fiction offerings for children
- mail-order companies serving homeschool families with informative
catalogues detailing all sorts of educational materials
Massachusetts Educational Television and
New Hampshire Public Television's Knowledge Network broadcasting
of such courses as French in Action and The Power of
Algebra during school hours.
- packaged curricula, such as Calvert, providing a full K-12 program
for independent learning.
at local museums, such as the science course for homeschoolers offered
at the Boston Museum of Science during school hours.
- internet educational
sites, such as the San Francisco Exploratorium's site that allows
participants to run genetic experiments on cyber fruit flies
- Cable in the Classroom magazine, which alerts teachers
to educational programs on television and to the lesson plans provided
online by the networks
- correspondence courses through extension divisions of universities
such as Indiana University's high school program
- distance learning via computer, such as Stanford University's
Education Program for Gifted Youth
- instructional videotapes, such as those available for rent or
purchase from The Teaching Company
- local college level course offerings, such as those at the Harvard
Extension School, all open to high school age students
- advice and support of other homeschool parents through local and
online support groups (perhaps the single item of greatest value).
This list indicates the rich variety of sources of information and expertise that homeschool families may utilize in their educational endeavors. Before making any determinations about home education assessment, educators and judges should understand the diversity of methods of learning that are available to homeschool families. Once one discards the false analogy to the classroom and recognizes the incredible variety of experiences through which homeschool families can achieve satisfactory end results, one realizes that any meaningful assessment by observation in the home is impossible.
Much more could, and has, been written about the nature of home education
and the satisfaction that growing numbers of families find in homeschooling.
Here I merely try to provide enough information about the structure of
home education to demonstrate that home visits are not an effective, and
certainly not an "essential," method of evaluation. The burden in this
case, however, should rest with Lynn. If the home visit were truly "essential,"
Lynn ought to be able to establish that fact. Rather than insist, without
evidence of its "essential" nature, on home visits in order to evaluate
home education, the School Committee would do better to use those methods
of evaluation that both parties accept. Lynn might also acknowledge that
homeschool parents care deeply about the quality of the education that
their children receive, for parents would not otherwise make the commitment
of time and finances necessary to take on the full responsibility for
their children's education. Homeschool parents share with all educators
the goal of helping the next generation achieve its full potential.(footnote
7) Because no educator has a perfect understanding of the ingredients
that are necessary to the success of this enterprise, the Commonwealth
would do well to allow great flexibility to homeschools.Thus, for pragmatic
as well as doctrinal reasons, the Court should determine that G.L. c.
76, § 1, does not permit Lynn to impose a mandatory requirement of home
visits as a condition of the School Committee's approval of a home education
plan. In particular, since the home visit requirement has not been, and
indeed cannot be, shown to be "essential" to the evaluation process, the
Court should determine that the requirement is impermissible.
On her own behalf, Nancy N. Hardenbergh April 7, 1998
1. Judge (now Justice) Greaney made the following observation in an important
pre-Charles home education case, Perchemlides
v. Frizzle, No. 16641 (memorandum of decision on motions for partial
summary, November 13, 1978), a copy of which appears in the addendum:
[t]here are certain ways in which individualized home instruction can never be the "equivalent" of any in-school education, public or private. At home, there are no other students, no classrooms, no pre-existing schedules.
Perchemlides at 17.
2. School officials should not necessarily expect homeschool educational
"materials" to match school textbooks. The flexibility of home education
allows parents and students to search for approaches to learning that
are most effective for the individual student. As Judge Greaney observes
[t]o require congruent "equivalency" is self-defeating because it might foreclose the use of teaching methods less formalized, but in the home setting more effective, than those used in the classroom. For example, certain step-by-step programs of graded instruction . . . might be unnecessary when the parent-teacher enjoys a constant communication with the child, and so is able to monitor his or her comprehension and progress on an individualized level impossible in a school setting.
Id. at 17.
3. One college professor who homeschools his children relates that he
first considered homeschooling when he was working on a master's degree
in curriculum and instruction. He noted that research indicated that individualized
lesson plans were effective. "But my instructors were careful to point
out that while such planning was a great idea, it was impractical for
a teacher with 30 or more students." Wallis C. Metts Jr., Home Sweet
Hassle, Educational Leadership 72 (October 1996).
4. Another teacher reports on his experiment to determine how much information
his students retained. David Guterson, author of the acclaimed novel,
Snow Falling on Cedars, is also a homeschooling parent and high
school English teacher. In his previous book, Family Matters,
he describes his experiment. After preparing students all week for a multiple-choice
test on a particular topic, he administers the test on a Friday. The following
Monday, without warning, he gives them the identical test. In the five
times that he has conducted the test, "none-no one-has ever received
an equal or higher grade on the test administered Monday. Most, in fact,
receive a considerably lower grade, missing, often, twice as many questions
on Monday as they missed on Friday." David Guterson, Family Matters:
Why Homeschooling Makes Sense 13 (1992).
5. Arthur Beiser, Concepts of Modern Physics 112 (5th ed. 1995).
6. As prominent educational theorist Jerome Bruner states,
[t]he will to learn is an intrinsic motive, one that finds both its source and its reward in its own exercise. The will to learn becomes a "problem" only under specialized circumstances like those of a school, where a curriculum is set, students confined, and a path fixed. The problem exists not so much in learning itself, but in the fact that what the school imposes often fails to enlist the natural energies that sustain spontaneous learning-curiosity, a desire for competence, aspiration to emulate a model, and a deep-sensed commitment to the web of social reciprocity.
Jerome S. Bruner, Toward a Theory of Instruction 127 (1966).
7. As stated in a recent issue of Educational Leadership:
Clearly, home schooling offers the potential for a very different educational environment for children. As such, it could be an important resource for studying how children learn, and whether and when formal or informal learning environments are superior. To the extent that home-schoolers are willing to cooperate, they could provide an opportunity to study the effects of one-on-one lay tutoring, child-led learning, and distance learning.
Patricia Lines, "Home Schooling Comes of Age", Educational Leadership
67 (October 1996).