BreakPoint: Homeschooling, Worldview, and the State

Who’s Responsible?

Beyond the crazy guilt-by-association stories, the debate over homeschooling boils down to this: Who is responsible for our kids’ education?

Hi, I’m John, and my wife and I homeschool our children.

I hope in the future that’s not how we’ll have to introduce ourselves as a sort of public warning to others. But make no mistake, the phenomenally successful homeschool movement does have its enemies: enemies constantly working to turn public opinion against parents who have chosen this way to pursue their children’s education.

A recent and -obscene example comes from the New Republic, where writer Sarah Jones is using the horrible story of the torture inflicted by David and Louise Turpin on their 13 children as a means to attack the idea of homeschooling itself. Under the inflammatory headline, “The Turpins Won’t Be the Last: How Lax Homeschooling Laws Enable Child Abusers,” Jones argues that this horrifying case is representative of a larger trend of child abuse enabled by the freedom to homeschool.

Now folks, to use a phrase I introduced a few weeks ago on BreakPoint, this is nutpicking nonsense. There’s nothing inherent to homeschooling that creates abuse. Abuse happens in all educational, parenting, ecclesial, and for that matter, cultural contexts.

My BreakPoint colleague Shane Morris, a product of homeschooling himself, tackled Jones’ cheap-shot article in a sharp-elbowed but necessary response to Jones at The Federalist. I’ll link you to it at BreakPoint.org. Shane writes, “In [Jones’s] mind, the fact that some homeschooling parents abuse their children is proof that something is wrong with liberal homeschooling laws. But we might also apply her line of reasoning to public schools.

“In New Jersey,” he continues, “93 teachers pleaded guilty to sexual relationships with students from 2003 to 2013.” And “Reuters reports that in 2014, ‘almost 800 school employees were prosecuted for sexual assault.’”

It would be absurd to conclude from these statistics that public and private schools “assist abusers.” No one thinks that way.

But that’s exactly what Jones does to homeschooling, when she and other proponents for increased regulation worry that what they call the “state of deregulation” “actually assists abusive parents.”

Not surprisingly, Jones also questions the motives of groups like the Homeschooling Legal Defense Association and downplays the impressive academic achievement displayed by homeschooled children, as well as the research “that shows homeschooling produces, on average, better-educated and more college-ready students.”

There are, as Shane writes, good schools and bad schools—schools that produce college-ready students by the boatload, and there are schools that graduate kids who can barely read. In the same way, there are parents succeeding at homeschooling and there are those that aren’t. If you’re not calling for the state to abandon public education for the bad apples, you’ve got no business calling for a crackdown on homeschooling because of the evil deeds of these two California parents.

In the end, I think Shane is right: “On a more fundamental level, those who want to place additional barriers in the way of homeschooling families have a different worldview. They see the state, not the family, as ultimately responsible for rearing and educating children.” That’s a worldview that Christians don’t share, no matter how we choose to handle our own children’s education.

Kids belong to God, who entrusts them to parents. Whether parents choose homeschooling, private education, charter schools, public education, or like many of us  do some amalgamation and combination of those options, the bottom line is, kids don’t belong to the government.

And that means at least two things for us. First, Christian parents ought to take that responsibility just as seriously and intentionally as it sounds. And second, we should call out the lie that abuse—which sadly happens everywhere—discredits an educational choice that’s blessed over a million-and-a-half kids.  Instead we should ask what’s broken in our society that’s making abuse so common.

 

Homeschooling, Worldview, and the State: Who’s Responsible?

Click here to read Shane Morris’s column in The Federalist, “Don’t Blame Homeschooling for Child Abuse Cases Like the Turpins’.”

Resources

Don’t Blame Homeschooling For Child Abuse Cases Like The Turpins’
  • G. Shane Morris | The Federalist | January 22, 2018

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  • ah.1960

    The worldview difference is key to this discussion: Who has final authority/responsibility for rearing and educating children? Is it the parents or the state?

    At the heart of almost every politically liberal initiative is a common idea that the individual is incapable or unwilling to take care of himself. Examples:

    You are not smart enough to educate your children, so the state will do that for you. You can’t be left alone with your children or you will abuse them, so the state will watch over them at government run pre-school/daycare/public school. You are incapable of making correct decisions on healthcare, so the government will require you to purchase government approved health insurance plans. You are not capable of evaluating whether a mortgage or investments are good for you, so the government will oversee all significant financial transactions through Sarbanes-Oxley or Dodd-Frank. You are not capable of negotiating for a good salary or leaving one job for another to improve your economic position, so the government will mandate minimum wages an employer must pay…and so on.

    Many of these items on the surface seem compassionate and reasonable. But most people would say “I’m OK on this issue” but will still acquiesce on the government control because “I’m not as sure about my neighbor.”

    However, this government altruism is really a subtle form of slavery. Once people become dependent on government, they are forced to support government growth and fight against anything that seeks to reduce the power or money in government.

    Excellent editorial.

  • Indigo Blue

    I was homeschooled in both Missouri and Wisconsin. At the time, Missouri had stricter laws than Wisconsin (I do not know if either changed since my days).

    What many non-homeschoolers do not know: Homeschool families connect with each other, AND with public schools. We have co-ops and organizations, and some interact with public schools so their children can join band or specific sports teams. Some parents, especially if they are or were public school teachers, will put a class together for a subject for the whole group. We take field trips and do drama and debate and many “normal things” as groups. We simply have the freedom of timing.

    (Yes, public school teachers and college professors will both homeschool their kids while still teaching other people’s.)

    The difference in laws does NOT affect abuse. Strict/lax homeschooling laws affect the education: what curriculum is state accepted, how often and what sort of testing is required, how far back you have to keep records, and what field trips and fine arts classes count. I know in Missouri we were visited by a social worker type person who went over our records and talked with us kids. The visit was scheduled in advance. We moved to Wisconsin in the middle of winter, and our neighbors alerted the school system because there were kids outside during school hours. A truancy officer dropped by (unexpectedly) and asked what was up. Figured out we were homeschooled and the filing was still going through. Cool, have a good day.

    Abusers isolate. They seek to control and manipulate the environment. Yeah, some “homeschool”. Most don’t, actually. People using homeschool to hide abuse will not connect with other families. They may join a group for show, but be mostly inactive. They may avoid them altogether. Just like with public school abusers, these people get caught because neighbors, family/friends, or their own community starts smelling something fishy and reports it.

    Please being willing to understand homeschoolers in your area. I’m a homeschooling graduate who intends to homeschool because I remember the fun we had. We really aren’t awkward any more than other children, and we are loved. Please don’t think the evil ones define all of us.

  • Indigo Blue

    I’m sorry; I can’t leave this alone. Homeschooling is growing as a community, and people need to know!

    A lot of people that don’t know HSers still have an idea that we are mostly religious and somewhere between country bumpkin and straight up Amish. I don’t think that was ever an accurate picture, but it’s not even close. We are growing as a reaction to the brokenness of the public school system.

    In districts or states that require common core in the public system we are seeing growth. Private schools are expensive and charter schools aren’t available to everyone. The people in between are starting to choose homeschooling. (If I meet a teacher or professor who homeschools, this is the number one reason they do it. I know common core has its supporters and has helped kids. But this is the number one reason someone working in the school system will choose an alternative option for their children).

    Parents who feel strongly about history and about cultural awareness are choosing to HS, or to do a public school/HS mash up. Again, the price of alternate education is part of it. But the depth of resources available to HSers shocks people who don’t know. You can take the time to really connect with your culture’s history and can find detailed information on minorities and women that are never mentioned in public school.

    Anxiety, bullying, and international standing are driving parents away from public school. Like with health care, we are one of the higher costing education systems while regularly falling in the middle of international scores. Parents are looking for alternatives.
    Bullying had been poorly addressed. We see articles on this all the time. Partly because it’s too big an issue for schools, but school is where it often surfaces. Add cyber bullying and sexting in even the elementary schools, and parents are seeking other options. In addition, groups more likely to be targeted for bullying -transexuals, Muslims, ect.- are turning to HS as a safe and healthy option for their children
    Our anxiety and stress levels for the average Jr high/high schooler are on par with levels for patients admitted to pysch. wards in the 1950. Average. God help you if you’re above average here. Parents want other options.

    Parents with kids with special needs are also turning towards HS now. Partly because special needs classes in public school system are often WORSE than the general system. And often once a child slips into that system, it’s near impossible to get them out. Not all special needs or learning disabilities are equal; sometimes people need nuanced but otherwise regular schooling, sometimes intensive help only for a season, and sometimes ongoing intensive help. Our public system is already strained with the demands “normal” children put on it; the special needs side can be outright damaging to those in it. And this is one of the last things education reform ever talks about or addresses. Parents want better for their kids.

    Basically, HSers are going to get more common. We are here to stay and headed for healthy growth. Please, please find out what we are actually like. Don’t jump on these horrible, evil people and hold them up as “what we all are.” If you really think we should not exist in any form (I know some are out there like that), work with politicians to create a better education system that is affordable, safe and healthy, and competitive with the top international scores.

  • Just One Voice

    I really wish we could home school. Both my wife and I have to work though, to make any decent livable income. (And no, a livable income is NOT keeping up with the Jones’ and their Cadillac vehicles, cable TV, party boat, multiple club & association memberships, etc.) We’re both working, and we STILL qualify for a couple of assistance programs.

    Some of us have no choice in this matter, but to fully & completely entrust our children to the LORD.

    • Scott

      Your situation sounds similar to ours, although neither my wife or I had the desire to homeschool. Honestly I don’t know if I would have been a capable educator for my children… especially in the early years (my wife would probably say the same thing). We would have gladly sent them to Christian schools, but even with both of us employed that was financially impossible.

      “…but to fully & completely entrust our children to the LORD.”

      We are all God’s children.

      Our kids are not really ours but rather a blessing from Him. The LORD entrusted YOU with His children… and that is an encouraging thought! : – )

  • HS is a wonderful option for those who are able to do so. The public schools are in shambles. Keep your kids close. love them and teach them, without the nonsense.

  • ElrondPA

    As a homeschooling parent, I find myself a bit conflicted here. I do think Sarah Jones has proven herself multiple times to be more interested in statist ideology than truth or balance. To suggest that 5 incidents of abuse in homeschooling families per year nationwide (average over the last 30 years) is an epidemic demanding massive legal changes is ridiculous. (Each is a tragedy, to be sure, but that’s a rate of problems far below the general population.) But at the same time, I think there’s a case to be made that it’s appropriate to have some level of accountability.

    In our state, starting in third grade, homeschoolers must prepare a portfolio of their work for the year, which is reviewed by a certified teacher. The HS parents can choose their reviewer, and it’s not an antagonistic setting, but the idea is that you need to show that you really are providing a meaningful education. Situations like the Turpins are clearly extreme and vanishingly rare, but certainly the stunted growth would have been noticeable to anyone meeting the children and knowing their ages (a teacher no less than a social worker). The still rare but less uncommon situation of a family that isn’t taking schooling seriously, or is simply unable to provide what is needed, would also be discovered before a child goes so far down the road that he can’t catch up with where he should be. What we must do in portfolio preparation (and taking standardized tests every three years) requires more time than in states that just require notifying the local school district that you’re homeschooling (or doing nothing at all), but I think it’s time well spent to organize what you’ve done for the year and see the progress made.

    I strongly oppose the calls of some for mandatory meetings with child welfare personnel. Such people are not qualified to judge educational achievement or to offer advice when there are educational problems, and the cases of actual abuse are so rare that it would be a massive waste of resources to meet with 1.8 million kids to try to find the handful of abuse cases. It also presents a much more accusatory environment (“show me you’re not an abuser”), and there are numerous documented cases of child welfare personnel who are prejudiced against homeschoolers. Given the clear evidence that homeschooled students are more likely than public school students to be successful in education and life, the lack of evidence of significant abuse problems, and the Constitutional presumption of liberty, the government should not be putting up significant roadblocks to homeschooling.

  • urbanvrwcmom

    In 2006, two Detroit children were pulled out of public schools by their mother, claiming that she was planning to homeschool. Some time later, the children’s bodies were found in a deep freezer in the basement. A state representative introduced a bill to outlaw homeschooling because of that incident. The date of the bill’s introduction was on April 20. Apparently, the bill’s sponsor didn’t realize that it was on that date less than ten years before that an incident took place at a public school — the Columbine massacre. I knew that what happened to the Turpin children would be exploited by the leftist powers-that-be to attack homeschooling.