Tag Archives: homeschool politics

Homeschoolers Need Better Advocacy

Coming out of my post-election, post-DI season, winter coma to hammer home something that has driven me crazy for years now.

This photo has nothing to do with this post. I just wanted to rub it in that we scored Kusama Infinity Mirrors tickets.

The greater homeschooling community needs a better media and political advocacy organization.

What’s reminding me of this today, you may ask? The Washington Post Magazine ran this piece about how some of HSDLA’s former Generation Joshua type rising political activists have turned to advocating for more homeschool regulation. If you follow these issues, there’s not much new in this piece and the individual personalities profiled simply don’t have particularly compelling or unusual stories. Plus, while none of the people profiled seem to be involved with the group, I found the omission of CRHE, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, to be somewhat baffling. This is an organization doing exactly what people profiled do which has a good bit of visibility in homeschooling circles. Why weren’t they mentioned?

In the piece, the Post claims in the headline that, “These activists want greater home-school monitoring. Parent groups say no way.” However, the only “parent group” they talk about is HSLDA, which is not a group of homeschooling parents at all. It’s a group of conservative lawyers.

The implication in that piece, and countless other media pieces about homeschooling, is that HSLDA speaks for homeschool parents. Honestly, I’m sick of it. I’m beyond sick of it.

HSLDA and its leader Michael Farris do not speak for me. Nor do they speak for the majority of homeschooling families I know. They are fear-mongers when it comes to homeschool rights, sending out a constant barrage of email alerts designed to make families think the government is out to get them, thus increasing their revenue and membership. They use their clout to kill legislation that has little to do with homeschooling, such as nearly singlehandedly keeping the US from signing a disability rights treaty or lobbying against LGBT rights. And local homeschoolers do not always like the positions they take in updating or changing state homeschooling laws but because of their high profile, they have the ability to move in with their agenda, getting people nationwide to lobby state legislators the way they want.

As I’ve written about before on this blog, educational neglect and abuse are real problems in some parts of the homeschool world and all homeschoolers would do well to get wise to that fact of life, especially when it comes to things like using social media to share the pleas, petitions, lobbying cries, and fundraising efforts for homeschool families who are in trouble with the law. Too often, the biased reports about homeschool families sent out by groups like HSLDA don’t show the whole picture.

But that’s exactly why homeschoolers increasingly need a new advocacy group to speak for the growing majority of us who are not schooling because of evangelical protestantism. We’re schooling for primarily secular reasons, we’re more diverse religiously and ethnically, and we have positions across the political spectrum. We need a group that can field media requests and political requests for “the homeschool position” so that HSLDA doesn’t simply try to speak for everyone. Some states have groups like this already, but not all. And the statewide groups are also often just as exclusive in their mission as HSLDA.

I don’t know what the “right” amount of regulation of homeschoolers is. I know that even a lot of “good” homeschoolers think that homeschooling should be completely unregulated and tracked. And I admit that most of the regulation that already exists in some states seems to be mostly hoops to jump through that I think anyone who is determined to hide neglect or abuse can probably do with relative ease. I think the CRHE has some good ideas, but I can’t say I agree with every single point.

While the CRHE and the views of homeschool alumni in general are starting to be seen as important, don’t speak for homeschool parents. I really believe that this message that we believe in sane regulation is strongest from within. I think it would be amazing to have a group that believed in advocating for homeschooling as a positive schooling method and believed that children’s rights were important.

I don’t know how this comes to be. Many of the secular focused groups that have sprung up in the last few years have been focused primarily on curriculum and community, not advocacy or politics. And several of these groups have had strong starts only to fall apart over time. It’s hard to sustain a community that’s more diverse and divergent in its viewpoints. However, every time I read another piece that implies HSLDA speaks for me, I am reminded of how needed this is.

Educational Neglect is Not Okay

When I first got into homeschooling, it was with the assumption that homeschooling regulation was generally bad and that homeschoolers, with the exception of a few bad apples, were good people.

Unfortunately, having been around the block a few times, I’m not quite so idealistic anymore. For one thing, I think all homeschool parents should spend a little time reading the stories on Homeschoolers Anonymous if you haven’t already. They range from just disappointing to terrifying, but none of them are good. And there’s typically a slow but steady stream of stories in the media about families who either use homeschooling as a cover to mask abuse or who purposefully practice educational neglect. Just last week, the story of a Texas family who allegedly refused to teach their children because they believed the rapture was coming hit the news again when the Texas Supreme Court remanded the decision to lower courts to decide on different issues than those brought up there, effectively saying it was okay for them to have done that.

It continually frustrates me that homeschoolers tend to close ranks and defend fellow homeschoolers who claim the government is meddling in their affairs, even when evidence comes to light that they indicate are guilty of real neglect. Just look at the case of the Naugler family last year. They raised an inordinate amount of money online from fellow homeschoolers and homesteading families after the state removed the children from the home. However, even images and statements by the mother herself made it clear the children were living in squalor and not receiving any educational efforts.

I want to be clear that I’m not against unschooling or delayed schooling or slower timetables. I’m not talking about when you have a rough few months and less gets done or when you have to take a month or two off for an illness or the birth of a baby. Not having a formal time to “do school” doesn’t indicate educational neglect. Not having textbooks or tests isn’t the same thing as educational neglect. And it’s hard to know from offhanded statements from kids or even parents that they’re not “doing much school” whether that’s true or not. Kids can see the world differently, parents can be humble or just not want to talk about how they’re not fully living up to their own vision and standards. There’s no reason to step in and judge based on that. And no reason for anyone, homeschooler or neighbor or well-meaning family member, to put a child on the spot and quiz them because they’re homeschooled. You’re not doing anyone any favors and asking a bewildered 9 year-old to recite his times tables apropos of nothing is just rude. And sometimes the government does step in and make life a nightmare for a good family based on nothing but a nosy neighbor’s misconception.

However, when a family actively prevents a child from accessing education, that’s not unschooling or any legitimate philosophy of education or childrearing, that’s neglect. It happens. I’m talking about families that refuse to allow their children to go to the library or refuse to teach older children to read or do basic arithmetic, even when the children ask or beg for lessons or materials. These are families where kids ask to attend school, not for social reasons, but because they see that their peers know vastly more about the world than they do. While most homeschoolers are good people who love their kids and do their best, there is a strain of people in homeschooling who are keeping their children home for reasons of control, who are purposefully not equipping them with basic skills. And it doesn’t matter if there’s a religious reason for it. There’s no religion that commands that children be denied basic skills to succeed in their world.

I don’t know exactly what would prevent educational neglect for homeschooled kids. Many of the regulations on the books now are either silly hoops that abusers can easily fake like attendance records or measures that leave too much open to interpretation by the state. In my own jurisdiction, the law asks us to keep “a portfolio of materials” but doesn’t really define what that means. Overly vague statues don’t serve anyone because they give the state power to be capricious in enforcement. Too often, in states with reviews or where plans must be approved, the reviewers know next to nothing about what homeschooling looks like and the guidelines are vague.

On the other hand, I refuse to believe that means that nothing can be done to protect innocent kids from educational neglect. For one thing, families that refuse to jump through those silly hoops like having a child take a test that doesn’t even require sending in results or drawing up some attendance records, seem to be doing their kids a disservice in one way by not following a law that’s easy to follow, so perhaps there’s a correlation that they’re not serving their kids in other ways. A group made up mostly of former homeschooled students, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, has some recommendations, most of which are reasonable and worth consideration.

As homeschoolers, we shouldn’t just throw up our hands and say, oh well, a few bad apples are going to neglect their children’s education. Often, homeschoolers place their own rights to direct their children’s education above the rights of children to receive an education in the first place. In other words, if there’s a conflict between the state interfering in a homeschool versus trying to protect children, then homeschool families tend to say that the parents’ rights not to have the state interfere should always win. However, I cannot accept that. My right to do less paperwork or be hassled a little less can’t trump a child’s right to a basic education. I just don’t buy that.

Educational neglect is real neglect. Every time these cases surface, it depresses me to see how homeschoolers excuse, dismiss, and defend parents who simply aren’t doing their job to see that their kids get an education. Basically, this is my plea to you not to defend families who seem to be practicing educational neglect. If you see these stories in the media, don’t give them money, don’t talk about how they were probably doing fine, don’t assume every homeschooler you meet is as good as you. Don’t get stuck in suspicion either, but resist the urge to close ranks when there may be a real problem.