Cover Story

Fighting back

"Fighting back" Continued...

As it stands, California’s “agency shop” law allows teachers to opt out of about 30 percent of the union’s mandatory dues that are deemed “political.” But even nonunion members are required to pay annual dues up to $1,000 for the union’s “collective bargaining” expenses. These expenses include, for example, the CTA’s annual gay and lesbian conference this November and its monthly magazine, The California Educator, which features voting guides and other political messages.

Teachers can become “religious objectors” through a tedious application process. If approved, they can send dues to a union-OKed charity.

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Eight was  
too much

Friedrichs cites California’s Proposition 8 as “a real wake-up call” for teachers. An NPR analysis of state data shows that the majority of public school teachers financially supported the 2008 ballot measure affirming traditional marriage. But the CTA gave $1.25 million to oppose it, running commercials with teachers disavowing the proposal. 

During that time, CEAI’s Finn Laursen said his Ohio-based organization had to set up an extra phone line to funnel calls from its 700 California members. The CEAI, which offers spiritual and legal guidance to 7,000 public school teachers nationwide, hears most frequently from teachers in California and other blue states with strong teachers unions. Laursen says, “Their voices are the loudest. They are fed up with the fact that they are forced to support causes that violate their personal convictions.” —M.J.

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arrows_3.jpgHomeschool rising

by Elise Grafe

With all the educational bad news around, the growth of homeschooling continues to be good news for the vast majority of an estimated 2 million children who learn at home, a number that has doubled in the past decade. Among the beneficiaries: New Mexico’s Kyle Garcia and his parents, Scott and Rose Garcia.

Kyle’s older brother thrived in public school, but Kyle did not. He loved learning and exploring new ideas—from the time he was little, he’d kept a notebook filled with drawings of his new inventions—but public school wasn’t challenging him academically. Scott Garcia, who worked from home as an architect and artist, was willing to become Kyle’s primary teacher: Father and son shared the same love for design. They worked and learned together, and Kyle is now pursuing his college degree in engineering.

As the number of homeschoolers has grown, so has the diversity. Almost one-fourth of homeschooling families are members of minority groups. The stereotypical homeschooling family has many children, but in reality 58 percent have three or fewer. Children in single-parent homes now represent 11 percent of homeschoolers, and come from all income levels. Reasons for homeschooling vary enormously: Some are religious, some have to do with lifestyle (wanting to spend more time outdoors or traveling), some are related to the arts or to particular cultural heritages.

Brenda and Pete Cummings homeschooled two children in the 1990s and are now homeschooling two more. They chose to homeschool as a way of building good relationships in their family and helping their kids develop a solid Christian foundation. Brenda Cummings said she appreciates the ability to develop her children’s unique strengths: Her daughter Hallie loves working with children and has been able to work with younger kids as part of her middle-school curriculum.

The Cummings have experienced the changes brought about by homeschooling’s increased popularity. When Brenda Cummings told people she was homeschooling twenty years ago, they asked her, “What is that?” Now when she tells people she homeschools, they usually say they wish they had done the same with their children. When she taught her first two kids, she had little homeschool community. Today, her family is part of a 300-member homeschool co-op. Ten or 20 years ago, Cummings had difficulty finding great materials, but now much more is available.

Homeschooling was illegal in the United States for most of the twentieth century. Starting in the mid-1960s, advocates—primarily Christian parents—started pushing for the right to teach their own children. State by state, they gained the right. By 1993, every state had legalized home education—but it isn’t free. Some homeschoolers want to be exempt from paying the portion of property taxes allocated to schools, yet others worry about opening the door for more regulation by state or local school districts.

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arrows_5.jpgID incognito—for now

by Angela Lu and Daniel James Devine in Seattle

It shouldn’t raise a ruckus for a state university to hire an astronomer. Especially one who helped discover two extrasolar planets, published 76 peer-reviewed papers, and discovered the “Galactic Habitable Zone,” the concept that only certain regions of galaxies are likely capable of supporting life.

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