Dana on the issues
Perusing Education Sector's Eight for 2008: Ideas for the Next President, I finally realized what it is that is bothering me about the national discussion surrounding our education system. Ironically, it covers recent annoyances I've had with the homeschooling community and my increasing disillusionment with the political process.

"It's the issues, stupid."

Something about "the issues" has always bothered me. I used to think it was merely a response to its sister slogan, "character doesn't matter." I viewed it as nothing more than rhetoric, but it is a difficult point to argue. I was stuck on one aspect of the debate: if you vote for a person without character, how do you know for sure how he will vote on the issues? A person without character will say anything to gain your vote. A person without character will act in accordance with his own best interest rather than the interest of the people he is sworn to represent.

Issues seem to be tearing the country apart. Whether it is abortion, the war, homosexuality, gun control or education, there is a gauntlet of issues a candidate must pass through to win the nomination and seriously seek election. Project Vote Smart even has a test for candidates to give voters an idea of how they stand on issues historically important to US citizens. Last election, I received a nice summary from some organization highlighting how everyone on the Nebraska ballot stood on key issues to the state. But how important are they, really, in this train of American politics which seems headed for derailment?

Depending on what your issues are, a Republican or Democratic conductor may slow the train, but the train is still heading in the same direction.

I think the issues have distracted from what this whole thing is supposed to really be about. Because we are so focused on a narrow set of issues and making sure that these issues remain at the forefront of political debate, we have abandoned principles.

Every issue that the Education Sector addresses is important on its own, but each proposed solution flows from an underlying assumption that education can be improved by government regulation and intervention. The points are difficult to oppose politically, because the politician who dares to do so will be immediately branded as being "anti-education." I can see the issue checklist handed out before the polls already:

Do you think I have a chance?

I fear homeschooling in America is going in a similar direction. Rather than upholding the fundamental rights of parents to direct the education of their children and the notion that education can flow naturally from the family, we have allowed ourselves to splinter on a diverse set of issues. When aspects of homeschooling fall prey to negative media attention, it is easy to distance ourselves by arguing, "Yes, but that is just religious homeschoolers," or, "That only applies to unschooling. We aren't like that." We divide ourselves by deflecting attention based on our stance on narrowly defined issues rather than underlying principles.

By defining ourselves too narrowly by our individual issues and reasons for homeschooling, I think we only succeed in adding fuel to the fire which will ultimately lead to greater regulations on homeschooling. This type of argumentation carries with it the underlying assumption that our rights are contingent upon our relationship to "the group," whether that group be religious homeschoolers, secular homeschoolers or society at large. In America, we have a distinct advantage over homeschoolers in nations like Germany. Here, our culture tends toward defining rights as something which is inherent in the individual and protected by the state rather than something defined by and procured by the state.

Let's not chip away at that by focusing too much attention on "the issues."