Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Young Person’s Thoughts from the 2008 Homeschool Day at the Capitol

On January 16th, home educators from across the state converged on the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck to voice their opinions on the homeschool law, meet with government officials, and begin the process of bringing back vital parental rights.

Representative RaeAnn Kelsch gave the first address to the crowd. She was the Chair of the House Education committee last legislative session, and in the past has been known to be unfriendly to pro-homeschool change in the law. Mrs. Kelsch gave some good pointers regarding how to best influence legislators and how to best draft an email to them. Don't use form letters, she said, and keep it short and to the point. Bullet points separating thoughts are very helpful as well. Towards the end of the speech, Kelsch briefly mentioned the upcoming legislation that will initiate public-school-at-home programs in a positive light, obviously not understanding that homeschoolers are generally opposed to such legislation due to the control the government would exercise upon the family.

Wayne Sanstead, Superintendent for Public Instruction, spoke later in the day. He prosecuted the homeschoolers back in the late 1980's, and at least according to him he has changed his views now that homeschoolers have proved that home education is a viable choice. However, it was clear during the speech that his previous views had not done a complete 180 and much of his unfounded suspicions of the homeschool movement remain firmly ingrained in his mind. Sanstead listed several steps of legislation that he would be willing to work with us on, but none of it was anywhere close to bringing a restoration of “green state” status to North Dakota. The best he got was offering to work to make the state pay for testing, rather than the parents. At one point, someone asked him a question about how testing doesn't measure values and morals, and Sanstead answered eloquently with how important values and morals are to the education of every child. Mark Dagley spoke up and asked for clarification on what values Sanstead was thinking of. The answer was quite shocking: At first, Sanstead talked about his involvement with the Boy Scout Movement and their values, and then mentioned the “values of the Greeks and Romans,” and how we all can agree on basic morals for everyone. He obviously wasn't standing on a firm foundation.

Another person asked if the DPI knew how many homeschooling families existed in the state. Sanstead replied (and I paraphrase), “No, we have not yet obtained a count of how many homeschoolers there are. Until we implement an effective tracking number system for every student in the state, which we are working on, we will remain ignorant as to the numbers.” He went on to describe the tracking system which eerily brought up thoughts of Big Brother looking over your shoulder in “1984.”

Dr. Sanstead described how homeschooling used to be mainly based on religious conviction, but “that's not the case anymore. We know that you guys don't represent ALL the homeschoolers in the state, so we will work to do what the majority wants, not specifically for any group.” He went on to talk about how “even though I'm impressed with your families here, there is those families out there keeping their children at home and abusing them like the case of the... blah, blah, blah...etc.”

Greg Gallagher, DPI director of Standards and Achievement, spoke at 3:30pm. He was afterwards described as being “hypnotic” with his smooth monotone voice detailing a defense of the current testing requirements. He was totally opposed to any change in the current law. Mr. Dagley asked another good question on how the testing measures success in a different manner than some people would agree with. Another homeschool Dad asked how the testing method is formulated, and Gallagher talked about how educators are chosen from all ends of the spectrum, both public and private, but no, ZERO homeschoolers.

“Yes, we would be willing to get some homeschoolers to join the discussion...” Gallagher went on to describe in vivid detail the Hegelian Dialectic that Mr. Dean Gotcher warned against in his recent North Dakota tour. Gallagher described the group setting, the facilitator, and the compromise and consensus that all would reach; of course the end result would be favorable to the DPI. It was obvious that Gallagher was using the Soviet method of faking willingness to accept public opinion while twisting, compromising, and ending up with socialist goals.

A homeschool mom spoke about the monitoring provision of the law and how she is told what not to do, but has never been told what exactly the responsibilities of a monitor really are. In her view, and mine, the law is so messed up and not effective that it is essential to abolish the provision. Afterwards, apparently Sanstead came over to her and expressed his opinion that there ought to be MORE regulation of monitors! That was exactly opposite what the lady was wanting.

L. Anita Thomas, Legal Council for ND Legislative Council, gave a good summary of socialist principles. To sum up her speech to a group of homeschoolers downstairs in the Fort Union Room, DON'T use religion, DON'T use the Constitution, and DON'T base any of your arguments to legislators on principle. “It may make you feel good,” she stated, ”but it won't do anything for your side.” Earlier, she said, “I don't think religion should have anything do with this issue. We need to focus solely on obtaining a quality education for the child.”

Someone asked about how the State Constitution doesn't appear to give authority to the state to regulate education anywhere but the public schools. Mrs. Thomas replied that the state has the responsibility to ensure a quality education for each child. I knew that was a blatant twisting of the literal reading of the Constitution, so later in the discussion I raised my hand and asked her, “You stated earlier that the state has a responsibility to ensure a quality education for each child. According to my reading of the Constitution, it merely says that the state is to provide for the establishment of a public school system, NOT to provide an education for each child. Where in the ND Constitution do you find the part about providing an education for everyone?” It was funny as her face went blank a minute, she looked sideways, paused, and then responded with the single sentence, “Who would go to the school?” Obviously she had no comprehension that the job of a legislator is to adhere strictly to a literal reading of the Constitution. Instead, she misinterpreted “establish a public school system” as “provide for the education of the public.” There is a HUGE difference!

Overall, the day was very enjoyable and educational as we listened to both the pro-homeschoolers and the anti-homeschoolers. Many friends were there in attendance and as always it was good to have a chance to visit with them. I left the capitol with awareness that we are facing a Goliath in the state; they are not going to give up without a hard fight. But I'm willing to take part in the fight, and will not stop until freedom has been won. I hope you will join me as NDHSA brings forward legislation next year to change North Dakota from a “Red” restrictive state to a “Green” free state in the tradition of the founding fathers, the Constitution, and the Bible.

Jonathan Bartlett

Capitol Day 2008 – Executive Director Brief Review

Capitol Day 2008 – Executive Director Brief Review

The 2008 Home School Day at the Capitol on Wednesday, January 16, 2008 was well attended and accomplished the legislative and outreach purposes for which it was arranged. The day began with a meeting between NDHSA leaders and the Lt. Governor and Governor’s Senior Policy Advisor on Education where the 2009 home education legislative direction was presented and discussed. The Lt. Governor greeted the attendees and generally conveyed that home educators won’t find resistance to the home education legislation desired from the Governor’s office, but legislative difficulties would be expected if home education begins to generally look more attractive than public school.

The Memorial and Legislative Halls contained many displays which represented home educated student activities along with vendor booths, the NDHSA booth and a booth on the history of ND home education. There were many state employees and people from the community who came by throughout the day to listen in on presentations and look at the displays.

Representative Rae Ann Kelsch encouraged home educators to generally have a unified voice in order to best communicate their 2009 legislative direction to the House Education Committee and legislators. She mentioned that usually legislators hear the bad stories and not the good about home education, which emphasized the need for home schooling families to communicate their good stories to their legislators. She has communicated elsewhere that she believes it is a good time to pursue significant changes in the home school law. Representative Kelsch also recommended having home schooled students do several testimonies before the House Education Committee in 2009, because they like to hear from young people.

The Dagley family sung Home School on the Range as the theme song for the day and the Miller family sang God Bless America, both which brought a touch from Heaven in the midst of the day. Theresa Deckert explained the Red State / Green State sound bite which was echoed throughout the day with posters, name tags, and discussions about the details.

Dr. Bartlett introduced Attorney General (AG) Opinions, Cora Bornemann read the 2007 AG opinion related to home education and Cam Leedahl provided the HSLDA perspective and comments on the AG Opinion. The general point was that the AG opinion demonstrates further that it is time to make new legislative history.

Mikala Geiger read Gail Biby’s article on The ND Constitution and Home Educators and Dr. Bartlett presented the background and status of the NDHSA legislative research and development efforts, and shared the HSLDA comments on the ND Constitution with regard to home education laws.

Barbara Jo Miller highlighted issues with the homeschool law in relation to monitoring, and Kim Breuer shared her insights into the testing issues faced by home educators.

Many people received a free copy of the book titled Confrontational Politics, which conveys how legislative tactics are used against conservatives and how home educators can be more effective in the political process. Supreme Court Justice Crothers presented an excellent perspective on the function of the court system in ND and the role of the ND Supreme Court in constitutional issues.

The Breuer children, Andrew Bornemann, Molly Geiger, and Jonathan Bartlett gave testimony to the benefits of home education from a student perspective, along with a challenge to pursue the liberty intended for Americans.

Dr. Sanstead, State Superintendent of Public Instruction attended most of the day, and presented an interesting talk on how the physical layout of the capitol building reflects the role of each branch of the ND government. He also lamented the fact that the state does not know how many children are home educated and therefore there is a need for tracking both who is being educated at home and the achievement levels in order to not leave any child behind. He expressed his willingness to work with home educators on the home school law with regard to such items such as changing the wording from “National Teacher Exam” to “Praxis I” and improve the home education record keeping process for home educators to transfer their children into the public schools and make public school at home accessible to all families in ND. Dr. Sanstead also shared how he is proud of the red state status of the ND home education laws because this shows that ND cares about the education of its children. He also pointed out that he has testified against the interests of home educators for over 20 years and related a story of a home educated student who sued the state of Nebraska for not having laws to ensure the quality of his education. He invited the NDHSA leadership to the negotiation table with regard to home education law direction.

Tom Freier, Executive Director of the ND Family Alliance introduced his experiences with being a legislator and lobbyist, along with the importance of working together on legislation of mutual interest such as the 2009 home education legislative direction.

Greg Gallagher, Director of Standards and Achievement, presented background on testing and invited the NDHSA to become involved with the dialog toward consensus on home education testing to ensure that every child in ND receives a quality education.

Anita Thomas, Legal Council for the Legislative Assembly, led smaller group meetings twice during the day which many found exceptionally interesting. She advised not to base legislation on principle or the ND Constitution because that is not popular among legislators. She also suggested laying out a multi-year plan to accomplish the bigger goal in a series of steps.

Many other things happened during the day such as the many personal visits with the Governor as he wandered the halls, the signing up to take responsibility for communicating with legislators in districts, television and radio coverage, new home schoolers encouraged and others encouraged to become involved in the legislative process. Several people volunteered to help with the home school law details and even more had their eyes opened to the reality and roots of the opposition.

Andrew Bornemann video recorded most of the day, and we are working toward making portions of that video available on YouTube.com. The details are very worth discussing in your home school toward understanding our times, realizing the important role each family has in keeping America free, and preparing for the 2009 legislative session.

Thanks very much to all of you who were praying and made this day the perfect starting point toward returning liberty to home education in North Dakota!

What is the greatest hurdle which home educators need to overcome?
A few people have asked what the biggest hurdle is that home educators need to overcome toward reducing the regulatory burden on home educating families in North Dakota. Some say it is the testing, some point to monitoring, or educating our legislators on the good results of home education with the worldview implications. Others point to the financial implications to the public school system, some to the ND Constitution being interpreted to require the state to ensure that all students be given a quality education. This brief list in some order is a step down the ladder toward the root, but it begs some additional questions which need to be researched.

Could it be that ND home educators are experiencing a uniting of the powers of government? A uniting of the ND legislative branch and the ND executive branch where the DPI and NDEA have dominant influence in the education, professions and thinking of ND legislators? Should the executive branch be the major influence in making laws? Should the DPI be testifying or providing input to legislators as they make the home education laws which represent the people of ND? Is this legal? Is it time for a judicial review?

“When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body, there can be no liberty, … lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws to execute them in a tyrannical manner.” Montesquieu, key spokesman on the separation of powers in the founding of American Government.

“If the legislature should at any time overleap their limits, the Judicial department is a constitutional check.” Oliver Ellsworth

“The remedy for unwise or oppressive legislation, within constitutional bound, is by an appeal to the justice and patriotism of the representatives of the people.” Thomas Cooley, A Treatise on Constitutional Limitations (1868).

These issues remind me of why I prefer engineering over law, while at the same time leading me to pray for the home educating lawyers who can help us all sort this out!

Respectfully submitted,

Jim Bartlett