Monday, April 24, 2006

Interview: Judy Aron - Director of Research at NHELD

Below is an interview with Judy Aron done via email. Judy makes some great points. One of the ones which resonanted with me is how children who are being homeschooled need to realize their education is a partnership and take initiative. Her thoughts about how all homeschoolers need to be informed and involved with poltics reminded me of some of the reviews I've read about An Army of Davids (which I have, and hope to read soon) by Glenn Reynolds.

I hope you enjoy the interview.

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Bio:

Judy Aron is a long time Homeschooling Activist. She has been heavily involved in protecting the rights of parents: particularly homeschoolers. Currently Judy works as the Research Director for the National Home Education Legal Defense (http://www.nheld.com/). Judy was also Vice President of CT Homeschool Network, and currently is their legislative liaison. (http://www.cthomeschoolnetwork.org/). She is wife to Michael Aron, and mom to 3 wonderful kids. David is a graduate of Boston University, Jeff currently attends Wentworth Institute of Technology, and Rachel is pursuing her high school studies at home.


Personal:

Judy, tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What hobbies do you have? Where is the most exciting place you've traveled to?

I was born in Far Rockaway, New York, and attended public school there up until my parents had to deal with bussing and other problems with the school system. Yes, I recall being bussed quite far away from my home to a horrible school. So, when I was a “tweenager” we moved to “upstate” New York, to a little town called Accord. I attended public school there and then graduated from Rondout Valley High School and went on to attend SUNY New Paltz, where I earned a BA in Economics in 1978 with a dual minor in Business Administration and Computer Science. I graduated Magna Cum Laude. Shortly after graduation I married my husband Michael Aron and we moved to Connecticut. I worked for the Travelers Insurance Company as a manager in Data Processing, and after having my second child I hung up the corporate suit and stayed home to be a parent full time. It was a wise decision, and one that I will never regret, despite the hardship of giving up half of our income at the time. During my time at home and raising a family, I did all kinds of things including obtaining a real estate license, running a travel agency out of my home for a time, and doing lots of community work.

The most exciting place that I ever traveled to is a tough question to answer, because as I said, I was a travel agent. I had left the corporate world to raise a family, and while at home I started a travel business. I did lots of traveling as a result. I have enjoyed going to Israel, Finland, Sweden, and various parts of Mexico and the Caribbean, England and Ireland, plus lots of other places. The cruises we took were lots of fun and really relaxing. Our trip to Israel was the most awesome and meaningful to me, but I really enjoyed Sweden and Finland. Best trips with the kids had to be Ireland and England, though, because we did an amazing driving and bed and breakfast tour. We just loved the castles and history, and the people were really kid friendly. While international trips have been exciting, I have to say that our domestic travels have also been wonderful and we’ve seen some very beautiful sites right here at home. From the canyons in Utah to Pennsylvania Dutch country and Disneyworld, we’ve traveled to some very special places in the USA.

My hobbies include soap making, gardening, cooking, quilting, reading, stained glasswork and some scrap booking. I just love crafts mostly because I love home made stuff. My husband brews his own beer too! People jokingly chide us for being like the Little House on the Prairie. I also love politics – but sometimes I hate it too.


General homeschooling:

How did you get started with homeschooling?

We began homeschooling about 10 years ago. In 1995, our oldest son was in middle school – 7th grade – and our middle son was in 3rd grade. All along, since they were in kindergarten, I was the typical PTO mom and was very involved in helping out at school. Our town, West Hartford, is touted as having the best school system. After curriculum changes in the late 80’s that included whole language and “mom and pop” psychology that started to creep into the curriculum, we began to see some pretty bad things unfolding. The climate in middle school also began to change, and kids were getting to be pretty nasty to each other, and I also saw the administration become less interested in the kids and more interested in the rules. We just came to see that our kids were not getting the same quality education that we got when we were kids.

My oldest child was bored in school and very frustrated because he wanted to learn about Galileo and Copernicus and the great art masters and other aspects of a “classic curriculum”. They were just not doing the job for him. Meanwhile my 3rd grader was having lots of difficulty with his reading and writing, and the school wanted to blame it on “learning problems”. The only problem that my child was having was that they were spending more time on making quilts for AIDS babies then teaching him how to read or write. I also saw that school was completely monopolizing our family time. When the kids were not in school, then we had to go to parent nights, or some other school sponsored event. Believe it or not, they were even sending homework home for me to do! It was ridiculous. We had lots of school meetings to discuss these issues with curriculum specialists and the principal and other administrators, and finally the principal of the middle school told me that since they thought that they were meeting the needs of 85% of the children at the school, that they felt they were doing their job, and if we were dissatisfied then we ought to put our sons in a private school. That was that. They basically told us that they couldn’t do a better job.

We did start looking at private schools, but quickly saw that it was unaffordable. We began doing supplemental work at home for the kids, and after a while saw the unfairness of that. Why spend a day at school and come home and be expected to do more school work? But what I saw was that we could teach our own, and they liked it, and they did well with it. Anyway, after doing some reading and finding out about homeschooling, we discussed it with our kids and they said they wanted to try it. Homeschooling was a completely new concept to me, and I had no idea people actually taught their kids on their own, let alone that they were allowed by law to do that. The thought of homeschooling was akin to jumping off of a cliff. So we thought we’d try it for a year and see what happened. We left the public schools in 1996 and haven’t gone back since. It was a very good decision on our part. Our kids have done quite well, and are all well educated and well adjusted individuals.


What do you see as some of the biggest reasons for homeschooling?

In my mind the biggest reason is freedom and flexibility. Maybe people leave the government schools because they are unhappy with it or it isn’t serving their needs somehow. Ultimately, I think people homeschool for lots of different reasons. I’ve known people who homeschool because their child has a specific talent they wish to pursue – like music or equestrian or figure skating. I knew a family whose child was an Olympic competitor in luge. I have known families who homeschool because the parent’s job is such that they travel a lot. It doesn’t even matter what the reason is, because in the end, a home tailored and specific education for your children is the best way to go. Engaging kids in what interests them, and weaving in what doesn’t, really works well and if they have input into the process then they have total ownership of their education. When kids are invested in what they are doing, they are excited and motivated to achieve goals. It is much different than government schooling which tends to spoon feed everything, and kids are always told what to do and how to do it. Leaving it was total freedom from their schedules and demands.


And along the same lines, what do you see as some of the strengths of homeschooling?

I think my previous answer touched on that.


Do you see any valid concerns about homeschooling?

I am concerned that most parents rely on others to tell them what they need to do to homeschool. They especially should be wary of their school system telling them what they need to do to begin homeschooling, or what paperwork they “must” submit. I believe first and foremost, that parents need to understand the laws that allow them to homeschool in their state. They should not allow themselves to be told what they need to do, or not do, without having read the law themselves and fully understanding it.

Secondly, parents should not listen to others about how to homeschool their kids because everyone should homeschool in their own way. There is no “one” correct way and there is no “best” way. You have to find your “own” way. Parents have to want to take the time to either guide their kids through materials or to track down and obtain materials, like local classes or online programs, for their kids to use. They also should try their utmost not to replicate school at home. Kids also have to want to homeschool as well, and should understand that they have a stake in succeeding in their own education. This isn’t something that someone is going to do for them, and it is all about what they make of it themselves. It is very much like life in general. Families should always discuss and reassess how they are doing, and make sure that they are co-operating in the effort and not butting heads. Parents can be excellent teachers, but they also have to know how and where to get appropriate resources to achieve good results. I think it is important to be connected to a network of other homeschoolers. It certainly can make the path a lot easier.


Public Schools:

What do you think will happen in the future with Public Education? What are some of the biggest problems with public schools? Do you think things will get better, worse, or stay about the same with the public schools?

As it is, the system seems to be failing in general, and there is rising pressure for competition in the demand for charter schools, magnet schools, voucher programs and other forms of reform regarding choice. There has got to be some major reforms in the current design of government schooling or it will just continue to crumble under the weight of union control and federal and state mandates. The taxpayers will certainly revolt because they simply cannot keep throwing huge amounts of money down this never ending hole of need. It is already happening in many municipalities across the country where taxpayers are voting down school budgets and drawing the line on spending. The only ones getting hurt are the kids. The fact of the matter is that more money is being spent on administrators than on school children. Comparatively little money actually shows up in the classroom. We are spending huge amounts of money for the credentials of the administrators who continue to dream up more ridiculous programs to spend even more taxpayer funds. With the addition of legions of school psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors, and the notion that schools also need to be health centers there is something pretty insidious going on. Not only is the teacher’s union in control, but the pharmaceutical and medical industry seems to also be taking hold in the form of school mental health screening programs and school health centers. It looks like they are setting up screening programs in order to cultivate new medication users. On top of all that, parental rights are being stolen from us. For some parents that is what they desire, for they have abrogated most of their responsibilities for raising their children to the state.

At some point, compulsory school age will be dropped to 3 and 4 year olds as we move ahead with universal preschool in many states. Most parents seem to welcome the state takeover of the care of their children, and that is pretty alarming. They view it as free daycare while they go out and work, or do whatever else, instead of raising and educating their kids themselves.

Somewhere along the way people have forgotten what educating kids is all about. It has become more of an indoctrination of political correctness and less about actual learning and exploration. There is way too much fluff in the schools as they attempt to “teach” about sex education, AIDS awareness, gay and lesbian issues, anti-smoking, anti-drugs, and every other campaign that comes down the pike. Kids are not spending enough time actually learning the things that they need to learn. It seems to me that there is precious little on task time being spent on the essentials. Kids are not learning enough history or civics to become active informed citizens. The reading lists at most schools contain such contemporary trash and little in the way of real literature. Kids are not learning enough higher math or science and they cannot even read or write properly. This is evidenced by the huge number of remedial classes that colleges now have to offer in order to get their students up to speed. That is shocking!


Are public schools fixable?

Yes. Here is what I think has to be done: Get rid of union control. Get rid of government mandates. Get the psychologists and psychiatric community out of the school system. Get rid of tenure. Put a cap on the amount spent on attorney fees for the schools. Do not allow unlimited legal proceedings against families who are just trying to do the right thing for their kids.

Demand more from the kids and have some real discipline. Give the kids some respect and some real reasons to cultivate self respect and self esteem. Let them work hard to achieve results they can be proud of. Hire teachers who really understand what learning is all about. Have a curriculum in place that is interesting, and not just busy work. Believe it or not, some of the more successful charter schools in my area are doing the things I have just mentioned. Furthermore, I would, cut the school hours in half, and allow the kids to have a life and interests of their own choosing. There would be no homework because any work needing to be done would be done in school. Parents need to be fully involved in the endeavor of their kids’ learning. Kids should not be fed and clothed by the school system. If parents are not doing their job of taking care of their children’s needs then they should be prosecuted according to the laws having to do with parental neglect of duties. Basically I believe in parental control and responsibility and a policy of no government interference in education. If I had my way, we’d abolish the Federal Department of Education all together and the State Department of Education would have nothing at all to do with children who are not enrolled in their public school. I could say more, but I think you get my drift here.

Homeschooling and politics:Tell us a little bit about the National Home Education Legal Defense. What are its aims and goals?

NHELD is a national organization open to all who wish to join, and it seeks to protect and defend the rights of families who wish to educate in freedom.

NHELD's goals are as follows:

Empowerment of individuals. All individuals in this country, a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, should always be empowered. Too often today individuals do not feel empowered but feel overwhelmed by the dictates of "the government". We, the people, form the basis of that government. It is time to remind those whom we have elected that they work for us. It is time to remind them that the United States Constitution is still in existence and that they all have taken an oath to uphold it, not to disregard it. How can individuals become empowered? They can become empowered with knowledge, with information, with accurate facts about what the law actually says and accurate facts about any proposed changes to the law which are being perpetrated by elected officials. We believe that anyone can and should become empowered to act to retain freedom.

Unity of purpose. One individual acting to retain freedom faces a daunting task. Many individuals acting to retain freedom face an achievable task, a task that can and must be accomplished.

Freedom to educate. Parents educate their children for a variety of reasons in a variety of ways. However, there is one thing that is crucial for all parents, the need to be free so that they are able to educate in the manner in which they choose in the best interest of their children. Together, we can and must retain this freedom; without freedom, there is only one choice: government schooling. That is not acceptable.


What has it done recently?

NHELD has been working on analyzing various pieces of proposed federal legislation and putting out bulletins to inform everyone about what those bills may mean to our homeschooling freedoms as well as parental rights. We have been very concerned with the attempts of the education establishment to make withdrawal from public school conditional, to lower or raise compulsory school ages, to usurp the power of parents by performing various health screenings without proper parental consent, and a host of other issues. We have been monitoring what has been going on in various state legislatures as well as in Congress. We have also been doing some speaking at homeschool conferences and we have just begun a regularly scheduled radio show on WDRC-am 1360 , WSNG-am 610, WMMW-am 1470, and WWCO-am 1240 in CT (details can be found on our website). We are also working on continuing our networking for parents who are looking for legal help or support in their own state, and we are hoping to branch out to create NHELD chapters in each state.


Twenty and thirty years ago the parents who fought for the right to homeschool faced an uphill battle. In the United States then there were many states where it was illegal to homeschool. Today what are you biggest concerns about the continued existence of homeschooling?

First of all, it was not an uphill battle, and homeschooling was not illegal. I would check the accuracy of that statement, as NHELD knows where that misinformation originated from. What the law was back then, and what it was interpreted as saying, may have been the only problem that existed to begin with. People need to remember that the duty of parents to educate their children has been with us since the inception of the colonies in the 1600’s.

NHELD believes the biggest threat to parents nationwide is the lack of accurate information. If citizens are not informed about the law and the facts affecting their rights under the law, they cannot effectively retain their freedom. NHELD urges everyone, no matter how tedious the task is, to obtain, read, and retain copies of the U.S. Constitution, their state Constitution, and all federal and state statutes, administrative regulations, state Department of Education and local Board of Education policies affecting the right of parents to instruct their own children. Many of these documents are available on the Internet. If parents are not informed as to what these laws and polices say exactly, then those in a position of power may easily and intentionally distort the language and intent of the law and coerce, intimidate, or otherwise fool parents into compliance with their own whims. Even organizations that purport to protect your rights as homeschoolers, may try to misinform you. You do not have to be a legal professional to understand the law and what it says, or what it requires you to do or not do.

As for current issues that concern us about the continued existence of homeschooling, first and foremost we are concerned about the continuing proposal and enactment of federal legislation regarding homeschooling. Federal laws are being proposed by Congress at the behest of another national homeschool organization. The federal definition of homeschool does not currently exist, but laws mentioning homeschooling do exist. In any federal legislation the term “homeschool” eventually must be defined, either in the legislation itself or by the courts. Whatever that definition is, or turns out to be, because it is a federal law, it may, and probably will, supersede any definition of “homeschool” that currently exists in each and every state, and, in turn, may and probably will, supersede the law regarding homeschooling in each and every state. Aside from the fact that federalizing homeschooling, and education in general, goes against the 10th amendment, for the federal government to be involved at all in matters regarding education, we see an erosion of states rights in this area. As we all know this has been achieved by the power of the purse, the Commerce Clause, which is a means by which the federal government is coercing the states into adopting education laws that the federal government desires. A case in point is No Child Left Behind. NHELD would love to see just one state stand up for its rights and tell the federal government what to do with their Title 1 funding. We would love to see just one state remain free from federal mandates and to manage their own affairs when it comes to educational issues, because that is how the founding fathers meant it to be, and that is what the 10th amendment requires. Vermont came pretty close to doing this, but never came through. Instead, states like Connecticut would rather take the federal government to court to get federal money and exemptions from the law, rather than say no thanks to the federal funding and remain mandate free. They don’t seem to understand that the money has strings attached.

Another hugely important issue threatening parents nationwide is the issue of loss of parental control over the lives of children through a combined effort of the psychological community and the public school system. Whether you are a homeschool parent or a parent of a child in any educational institution, this is an insidious effort that already is underway all across the country. The psychological community has begun an effort to undermine parental involvement with children by introducing a new word in their lexicon, the word, “enmeshment”. It seems that certain influential psychologists have deemed parents who become “enmeshed” with their children’s lives to be neglectful of those children. “Enmeshment” is viewed as too much bonding with a child to the extent that the child is not able to thrive independently from his parents. The theory is that children must become independent from their parents, and the sooner the better. To do anything less is neglectful. Parents already have been charged with neglect for being too enmeshed with their children. Of course there is a lack of scientific basis for the claim that “enmeshment” between a parent and child or that it is inherently bad. Yet, this may be the next step in claiming that parents who homeschool and, who necessarily are “enmeshed” with their children’s education, are neglectful simply because they are homeschooling. Thankfully, we have also seen that the psychiatric bible, the DSM-IV, is coming under attack as being a tool of the pharmaceutical industry to define new “diseases” that require therapy, intervention or drug treatment, and that “disease mongering” is being exposed for what it is, selling sickness to otherwise healthy people.

The public school community, on the other hand, thanks to newly enacted federal legislation, is implementing the mandate to establish mental health clinics in every public school and to have “psychological evaluations” completed of children routinely in the public school system, along with eye and hearing exams. There is also an effort underway to have all pregnant women giving birth in hospitals undergo psychological evaluations. This type of legislation has already been seen in Illinois and New Jersey. Again this does not just affect homeschoolers, but everyone, and it is extremely troubling.

Legislatures are actually mandating that public money be spent on screening programs which were developed by companies being funded by pharmaceutical companies, and administered by people unqualified to make diagnoses. Talk about conflict of interests! It is outrageous.

Another looming threat is the likelihood that state and federal law will continue to evolve in such a way as to make it even more difficult for parents who resist the efforts to detach children from their parents and to leave the public schools to homeschool in freedom. The likelihood is that there will be more of an effort to “regulate” homeschooling and to prevent parents from withdrawing their children from the public schools in order to homeschool. This is where we are concerned about conditional withdrawal becoming more of an issue. We already have been fighting in Connecticut to put language into statute which will guarantee a parents right to withdraw their children from public school at any time for any reason, without anyone else’s approval. We never had to obtain approval from the school in order to withdraw our children, but recently new policies have been put into place, by the CT Department of Education, which require a parent to perform some conditions in order to obtain approval to withdraw their child. We foresee that school districts in the future likely will require mental health assessments from parents, children and others in the family, before consent to withdraw a child from public school is granted. It is troubling to think that we have come to this point. Parents used to be able to send a letter to school or make a phone call to the school saying their children will not be returning to school. Now we have seen parents threatened with removal of their parental rights for simply not signing a Notice of Intent form; a form not even required by law.

It is extremely important to educate parents and legislators about these issues, as well as a host of other concerns. It is also important to fight every effort to “regulate” homeschooling and to retain as much freedom from government intrusion as possible.


After reading about a father in Germany who was thrown in jail for homeschooling his family, I've become more aware of how important it is for us as homeschoolers to be informed and involved. What are some good resources for homeschoolers to stay informed and involved?

The best resources are your own state statutes, and the federal, state and local documents that I mentioned above, including the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Of course there is our website at http://www.nheld.com/ but there are numerous websites having to do with many of these issues. Home Education Magazine hosts some wonderful ongoing columnists, like the Kasemans, who write about these issues. They also have a pretty comprehensive website at http://www.homeedmag.com/ . The Home Education Magazine blog site http://www.homeedmag.com/blogs/newscomm/ also has wonderful updates on legislative issues affecting homeschoolers nationally. Valerie Bonham Moon does a fabulous job of keeping that site up to date and filled with very useful information. HEM also has a variety of Yahoo lists which facilitate conversation about these subjects http://www.homeedmag.com/wlcm_netwrk.html . Other informative Internet websites include: Separation of School and State http://www.honested.com/index.php and Edwatch http://www.edwatch.org/ among many others.

On the topic of mental health screening there is lots to learn from TeenScreen Truth http://www.teenscreentruth.com/index.html and Signs of Suicide http://www.signsofsuicide.org/

Whether you lean left or right, there is also a terrific list of organizations and weblinks at the Constitution Society’s website http://www.constitution.org/cs_organ.htm

There are some terrific books available written by Charlotte Iserbyt, Beverly Eakman, John Taylor Gatto, Isabel Lyman and Sam Blumenfeld. Parents should try to hear these fine people speak in person at various homeschool conferences.


What can homeschooling parents and children do to protect the rights of homeschoolers?

Get educated, stay informed, and get involved. Keep an eye on what your legislature is doing and take the time to go to testify on proposed bills that will affect you and your parental rights. Every state has a website about their legislature; take the time to find yours and check it over. You can track bills online and you also have the ability to email your representatives and tell them what is on your mind. When election time rolls around find out what your candidates positions are on the issues that affect you. VOTE!

Another thing that you can do is listen to talk radio, and call in to discuss these issues. Write letters to your local papers. Talk to your friends and neighbors about these issues. If this seems like too much work, then just remember that freedom is not free and it never was meant to be free. The price of freedom is vigilance because there will be others who will attempt to take your freedoms from you. Remember that the laws that are enacted today may in fact govern your children and grandchildren. Don’t think that you are ever immune from legislation that doesn’t seem to directly affect you at this time. Teach your children valuable civics lessons, and let them know that they have a voice in how they are governed. Discuss the issues with them. Teach them about propaganda and how it is spread. Teach them the difference between various governments from democracies, theocracies, communism and socialism and everything in between. Most kids today do not even know what type of system we live under; let alone who their elected officials are. The prevailing ignorance and laissez faire attitude of most people is unbelievably shocking as is the willingness of most people to believe what is told to them without so much as a follow-up investigation for the truth. It is no wonder that their/our rights are being eroded daily.

Do not rely on others to interpret laws or proposed legislation for you or to represent your interests. Do not think that just because an issue touches public or private school that it won’t come to interfere with your life, because at some point the same laws governing public education may be applied to you and yours.

Lastly, be positive…sometimes really good laws are passed and every once in awhile you will find a politician who knows what our founding documents mean. We are still very blessed to live in this country, and each of us can make a difference.

NHELD’s motto: Knowledge through freedom, freedom through knowledge.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think what you say is true in the affecting of our country in politics. I am thirteen years old and a home schooler, I was watching a movie with some of my friends and Hitler,the Holicust and World War Two were mentioned. After the movie I was talking about Hitler and two of the three girls did not really know who Hitler was. They also didn't know the cause of world war two. These were smart kids who did well in school. I was very amazed my nine year-old sister knew much more about World War Two than they did and she never really studied it. I voiced a quiet comment and they remarked "Oh, we learn about that in eighth grade. We don't have to concern ourselves." This troubled me that they didn't know anything about the world except what they specificaly learned. It also shocked me that they didn't care and weren't curious enough to find out.

Almost Lazarus said...

Wonderful interview. I've been bemoaning the lack of meat in a world of iceberg lettuce blogging lately.

I wish she'd touched a bit more on the loss of income from her corporate job - seems like in reality, after commuting costs, childcare costs, unreimbursed business expenses, and business clothing expenses, their actual income loss was probably less than "half".

Susan Ryan said...

Great interview! I'm always glad to see Judy and advocacy like NHELD out there for people to see.

Connecticut homeschoolers and their network to protect homeschool freedoms is something I wish Illinois could pull together soon. This below is one of the biggest problems along with a myriad of others.

I believe first and foremost, that parents need to understand the laws that allow them to homeschool in their state. They should not allow themselves to be told what they need to do, or not do, without having read the law themselves and fully understanding it.

Judy Aron said...

I have a reply to Lazarus (since he asked)...

Regarding the financial impact of our decision to homeschool, and our income being cut in half.. it was probably more than half..

I was making a bit more money then my husband at the time.. my commuting costs were next to nil - because all I needed was a bus pass..I saved about $100 a week in daycare because I left work after my second child was born.. there were no other business expenses..... and clothing.. well I had a closet worth of suits anyway, most of which I bought on sale :)

On top of that I lost my pension from Travelers Ins. Company (where I
worked) because if I had stayed at work for an additional year I would have been vested.. but like I said - the financial sacrifice was worth it.

best, Judy

Anonymous said...

If people can think for themselves, then it becomes harder to control or brainwash them because they know how to make informed decisions. Teach your own kids because no one else is going to do it for you.