Dave Mankins on the HSLDA
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
The question was recently circulated about why people would complain
I'm composing this because my morning mail included another cry of
"wolf" from them, and I'm more than a little angry that they try to
spew their noxious propaganda on a list that costs me time and money
First, I'll acknowledge that, on an individual level, they might be
helpful --- they obviously have helped some people (how many, I
wonder? What percentage of their dues-paying members have been
helped?). If I lived in a state or district that seemed
anti-home-schooling, a state that that didn't have an existing local
organization, I might turn to them.
On the other hand, at $100/year for fifteen or so years,
self-insurance strikes me as a worthwhile alternative. Setting up a
local organization is even better, since, just as home-schooling is
best tailored to the child, political organization is best tailored to
Here are my objections to the HSLDA:
- They've engaged in lobbying efforts in Michigan, New
Hampshire and other states that have left a lot of
home-schoolers in those states feeling disfranchised and
feeling as though their situation was worsened, not
improved by the legislation.
They did this as an outside organization, overriding the
objections of local home-schooling groups and local
- They engage in national lobbying efforts which, in my
opinion do not further the interests of home-schoolers (in
fact, it is my opinion that they run counter to the
interests of home-schoolers, painting us as a herd of
sheep-like right-wing cranks).
Frankly, I view some of their propaganda manipulations as
downright EVIL (their reaction to HR 6 was merely hysteria,
the UN Convention on the Rights of Children was despicable,
and now they're calling up their minions to oppose the
confirmation of Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State!)
- This lobbying effort strikes me as serving two purposes:
- support of a political agenda that I do not support
- padding their mailing lists, increasing their
political clout, which might be okay if only they
would use it to benefit home-schoolers
- I wonder where the money goes (see the math lesson below).
Frankly, in a manner analogous to public education, I think they do
more harm than good. The good they do on an individual level does not
outweigh, for me, the harm they do on a state legislative level. We'd
be better off if we handled our legal defense ourselves, in our own
Okay, here's a little home-school math lesson:
- I'm going to repeat my question: how many people have they
Let's say the company of a lawyer to a meeting with a
superintendant costs $250 (this is kinda high), if three
home-schoolers got together and split this cost, they'd be
Let's say a court case costs $20,000 (I've been through a
law-suit, $20,000 is a reasonable ballpark figure). Then
you'd need 200 home-schoolers' dues to cover that cost.
HSLDA claim something like 50,000 members. Their annual
revenues are therefore about $5 million dollars. This is
- 5,000 visits to superintendants (one for every ten
members) EVERY YEAR, plus
- 185 court cases (one for every 270 members) EVERY
[If I'm off by the number of members they claim, the 1 in 10
and 1 in 270 numbers still apply.]
Do they really do that much? Why haven't we been hearing
about this mass of litigation? This list has had probably
3000 people pass through it in the last five years, how come
we've only heard of a handful of them actually being
helped by HSLDA?
Putting on my home-ed math caballero hat for a moment, I want to point
out some things about this lesson:
- david mankins (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, phone(US): 617-873-2873)
- It's based on ball-park estimates. Don't get fooled into
thinking this is truth.
- This is a mathematical model. Mathematical models are open
to criticism. Immediate criticisms are:
- they have a staff they need to pay (it turns out
their staff are 35 people, including 6 lawyers), but
some of these costs are still "visiting
superintendents and litigation" costs.
- they have to rent space somewhere.
- Well, if it isn't "truth", what good is this game with
Spending a little time playing with a single pair of numbers
--- 50,000 members times $100 annual dues --- suggested a
set of questions, the answers to which would make HSLDA's
value (or lack of it) concrete, namely:
- what percentage of their members are helped?
- what is the nature of that help?
- is that amount of help worth the cost?
Now you're better able to ask questions about the world.
I've thought about the HSLDA a lot over the years, yet these
questions never occured to me until I started playing with
the two numbers, 50,000 and 100.
Note added by Dave Mankins 2 October 2000: