Jonathan Zimmerman: Homeschoolers Have to be Monitored

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University and the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at

Under Pennsylvania law, I have to get my family's cars inspected every year. I can't say I enjoy it - especially when my mechanic finds my aging minivan needs an expensive repair - but I accept it. We all share the same roads, so we need to make sure our cars don't endanger other drivers.

So why are some Americans allowed to educate their children without any government inspection at all?

That's the question brewing in New Jersey, where the death of a homeschooled child prompted a recent proposal to mandate annual medical examinations of kids who are educated at home. The measure would also require homeschooling families to submit portfolios of their children's work to demonstrate that they are actually learning.

That's all as it should be. Like our cars, our children don't exist in a vacuum. They're going to drive the same roads and live in the same society as we do. So we all share an interest in what they study, absorb, and know....

Don't think the homeschoolers are all crunchy hippies or conservative, white evangelicals, either. Their ranks include Muslims, Jews, and Catholics, as well as blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. They also include well-to-do families who hire high-priced tutors, with annual fees rivaling the cost of tony private schools.

But in New Jersey and 10 other states, we really don't know what they're up to. And we should....

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