Tag Archives: homeschool regulation

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.


Making Your Own Path

Like so many homeschoolers, I recently read and enjoyed Laura Brodie’s book Love in a Time of Homeschooling.  However, I can’t say it held any amazing revelations for me.  Most of my enjoyment stemmed from the fact that it was well-written, which I’ve found to be a rarity in the world of homeschooling memoirs.  While Brodie has gone back to her day job as an English professor and her daughter has gone back to school, she writes an occasional blog column about homeschooling for Psychology Today.  Recently, she posed the following question: Should home educating parents be required to have a college degree?

While she eventually, in a post a week later, came to the conclusion that no, they shouldn’t, it’s so totally and completely the wrong question that I’m still shaking my head.  It solidifies for me something that I felt when I read Laura Brodie’s book, which is that I wasn’t sure if she ever really got homeschooling.

For starters, unlike many homeschoolers who would love to move to Texas just for the lack of regulation, I think there’s a legitimate debate to be had about what constitutes appropriate oversight for homeschoolers.  However, I would set the bar way before we start checking parental resumes and educational histories.  If you accept that parents have a right to direct the education of their children, then the only appropriate regulations are to ensure that educational neglect isn’t occurring.  To do more infringes on that right.

Even putting aside the question of rights for a moment, the whole point of homeschooling is that you are opting out of the educational mainstream because you don’t believe it serves your kids.  While many homeschoolers, like Brodie herself, choose to do so with the intention to return, it’s still a decision that rests in the belief that there’s a value in stepping outside the mainstream and making your own way.  If that’s truly a value, why does it apply only to education that happens before college?  I have nothing against college per se, but the way in which our society seems to hold college up as the only legitimate path to success drives me crazy.  There are many paths to a successful life, not to mention an intelligent life, and not all of them include college.  The question that Brodie poses doesn’t seem designed to expand thinking about homeschooling or to advocate for a wider understanding of homeschooling.  It seems designed to address the concerns of her own community in academia, where, in my experience, most people value those with academic degrees while they dismiss autodidacts.  Just having a supposed homeschool advocate put that question out there as if its a legitimate worry makes me dismayed.  Homeschooling is about making one’s own way with education for both kids and adults.