Saturday, March 22, 2008

Legality: hot topics

Two notable editorials today: one on the District of Columbia v. Heller case, the second on CA's recent move to severely restrict homeschooling. Below are excerpts plus my comments.

Gun control:
As shoot-outs (cough! relevant metaphor!) go, the Supreme Court had a famous one Tuesday...the debate this week augurs well for a conclusion that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms.

District of Columbia v. Heller has become the test case for a question that has animated legal scholars, politicians and lower courts for much of our modern history: Is the Second Amendment guarantee a collective right, which is to say it is reserved only for state militias, or is it an individual right? (To have a gun or not: that is the question. Cheesy but relevant.)

...

Judging by Tuesday argument, the High Court has a majority in support of the circuit court opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts asked why the Framers included the word "people" if the Amendment only applied to militias. Justice Antonin Scalia discussed the importance the Framers attached to providing citizens the means to protect against tyrannical government. Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the Court's swing vote, informed all in attendance that "In my view, there's a general right to bear arms quite without reference to the militia either way."

The debate also focused on what restrictions, if any, government could impose on such an individual right... [such as] banning even such heavy weapons as machine guns.

In fact, that opinion leaves ample room for a government to regulate machine guns, bazookas and the like -- much as even the First Amendment protects speech as an individual right but not as a right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater. (Freedom coupled with responsibility - what parents should have been teaching their children all along.) We hope the Supreme Court agrees...that the Second Amendment does protect the right to own pistols, rifles and other guns of the kind the American Founders believed were needed to protect liberty.

Certifying parents:
In the annals of judicial imperialism, we have arrived at a strange new chapter. A California court ruled this month that parents cannot "home school" their children without government certification. No teaching credential, no teaching. Parents "do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," wrote California appellate Justice Walter Croskey. (Fie!)

The 166,000 families in the state that now choose to educate their children at home must be stunned. But at least one political lobby likes the ruling. "We're happy," the California Teachers Association's Lloyd Porter told the San Francisco Chronicle. He says the union believes all students should be taught only by "credentialed" teachers, who will in due course belong to unions.

California law requires children between six and 18 to attend a full-time day school. Failure to comply means falling afoul of the state's truancy laws, which say kids can't play hooky without an excuse. But kids who are taught at home are less likely to be truants. (Whaddaya know?) Their parents choose to spend their time teaching English, math and science precisely because they don't think the public schools do a good enough job.

The case was initiated by the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services after a home-schooled child reportedly (note: that word connotes with r-u-m-o-r) complained of physical abuse by his father. A lawyer assigned to two of the family's eight children invoked the truancy law to get the children enrolled in a public school and away from their parents. So a single case of parental abuse is being used to promote the registration of all parents who crack a book for their kids. If this strikes some readers as a tad East German, we know how you feel. (So where exactly are those claiming that socialism is good? Nice crickets.)

That so many families turn to home schooling is a market solution to a market failure -- namely the dismal performance of the local education monopoly. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, the majority of states have low to moderate levels of regulation for home schools, an environment that has allowed the option to flourish, especially in the South and Western U.S....

For some parents, the motive for home schooling is religious; others want to protect their kids from gangs and drugs. But the most-cited reason is to ensure a good education. Home-schooled students are routinely high performers on standardized academic tests, beating their public school peers on average by as much as 30 percentile points, regardless of subject. They perform well on tests like the SAT -- and colleges actively recruit them both for their high scores and the diversity (!) they bring to campus.

In 1994, a federal attempt to require certification of parent-teachers went down in flames as hundreds of thousands of calls lit up phone banks on Capitol Hill. The movement has since only grown larger and better organized, now conservatively estimated at well over a million nationwide...

If John McCain wants an issue to endear him to cultural conservatives, this would be it (Check out Cheryl's great post). Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama rarely stray from the preferences of the teachers unions, but we'd like to know whether they really favor the certification of parents who dare to believe they know best how to teach their children.

My, what a year!

1 comment:

Aurora said...

Hannah, the thing that bothers me about that homeschooling case is that social services can arbitrarily accuse someone of abuse and act without the general public even knowing what it was about. Parents in some western countries have been hounded for one or two whacks on the behind. So it shows that these govt. agents are like untrained police who are just about free to do as they please with no accountability. Combine that with the witchhunt against homeschoolers and you have the real potential for some heartbreaking situations for homeschooled kids and their families.