Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Homeschooling as an Act of Conscientious Objection

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Homeschooling as an Act of Conscientious Objection

Article excerpt

Wherever we go, at first we are looked upon as some special, suspicious kind of beings but in due time when people know us we are generally respected and in some cases admired. We are certainly bearing testimony to our beliefs and we hope seed will fall upon good ground and bring forth fruit in other lives ...

The statement above was made by a deviant, someone who acted in a divergent way from normative behavior. But what, exactly, was the deviancy? Was it deviancy of lifestyle of some sort? Of eating habits? Of boycotting shopping at Wal-Mart? Of how one raised her children? Of abstention from military service? Of refusal to be vaccinated? In truth, the deviancy spoken about in the above was conscientious objection to World War I (W. H. Eaton as quoted in Schinkel, 2007, p. 538), but it could easily have been about any of those other forms of breaking from the norms as well. Deviancy comes in many packages, of which conscientious objection is one.

Typically, the term conscientious objection is used to describe an individual's objection to being conscripted into the military (Cohen, 1968; Harries-Jenkins, 1993; Schinkel, 2007), but the term has also been used in different ways. For example, one of the first documented uses in the United States was in regards to people who refused compulsory vaccinations (Moskos & Chambers, 1993; Schinkel, 2007). Other uses present in scholarly literature are in reference to parents sending their children to private Christian schools (conscientiously objecting to the secular humanism they perceive in public schools) (Rice, 1978); consumers boycotting shopping at Wal-Mart, which they perceive to be engaging in harmful and illegitimate business practices (Cronin, Reysen, & Branscombe, 2012); Sir Thomas More's conscientious/religion-based opposition to approving King Henry VIII as the head of the church in England (Schinkel, 2007); and pharmacists or doctors refusing to provide certain services and products (e.g., birth control, abortions) to patients because doing so violated the health-care practitioner's ethical/religious convictions (Alegre, 2009).

The term "conscientious objection" in and of itself provides a rationale and motivation for the act of deviancy--that one is compelled to be true to his/her ethical beliefs (one's conscience) even if those beliefs run counter to society's laws and/or normative understandings and practices. Although some definitions of conscientious objection specify or imply that conscientious objection must entail a refusal to comply with legal obligations (thus setting the action in the legal/public sphere), other definitions do not (e.g., the Wal-Mart and Christian school examples). Schinkel (2007), for example, argues that while there is a distinction between conscientious objection as "a private phenomenon and conscientious objection as a political-juridical phenomenon," this difference is immaterial as it is the combination of motivations, actions, and subsequent consequences that define something as conscientious objection or someone as a conscientious objector. Thus, authors such as Rice, Alegre, and Cronin, Reysen, and Branscombe (cited above) are in line with Schinkel in their usages of the term "conscientious objection" for their studies.

One begins to wonder, then, if there are any other deviant behaviors that can also be identified as conscientious objection. Olson (2009) posits that other, non-normative educational choices made by parents for their children (e.g., homeschooling) can be considered conscientious objection (pp. 151-152). This connection, in fact, is built into the statutes related to compulsory attendance (and thus by extension to homeschooling) in the state of Virginia. According to Virginia Code [section]22.1-254,

   A school board shall excuse from attendance at school ... Any pupil
   who, together with his parents, by reason of bona fide religious
   training or belief is conscientiously opposed to attendance at
   school. … 
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