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Dave Mankins on the HSLDA

Subject: hslda
Date: Tue, 07 Jan 1997 11:54:01 -0500
From: david mankins <>

Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

The question was recently circulated about why people would complain about HSLDA.

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 to maintain.

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 the locality.

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 home-schoolers.

  • 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 communities.

Okay, here's a little home-school math lesson:

  • I'm going to repeat my question: how many people have they helped?

    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 ahead $50.

    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 enough for:

    • 5,000 visits to superintendants (one for every ten members) EVERY YEAR, plus
    • 185 court cases (one for every 270 members) EVERY YEAR.

    [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:

  • 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 numbers, then?

    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.

- david mankins (,, phone(US): 617-873-2873)

Note added by Dave Mankins 2 October 2000:

For more up-to-date information on the HSLDA, Helen Cordes published a thorough article on the HSLDA in Salon. This article contains a number of useful links to other sources.
There's also a nice page on how to be an informed consumer when dealing with the HSLDA.
And here is a page that discusses the question "Need I join the HSLDA?".

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