My sisters and I share some similarities but vastly differing views, beliefs, and affiliations. We all seem to be on the same page when it comes to homeschooling and the pros and cons. During a WhatsApp call with all of my sisters, the oldest said something interesting about homeschooling that stuck with me:
In addition to being legally mandated to register as homeschoolers within their states, all parents who homeschool should be required to be an active member of a homeschool group within their area.-Janet Avery-
Why is this so important? Isolation and lack of socialization is a real and ever present threat for all those involved in homeschooling. There is no monitoring of how children are progressing in their studies, and oftentimes little opportunity for socialization.
Common Dangers of Homeschooling Revealed
I recently read the incendiary piece written for Harvard Magazine by Erin O’Donnell called The Risks of Homeschooling. O’Donnell provides a compelling and factual basis for the argument to ban the practice of homeschooling. She states that “Homeschooling not only violates children’s right to a ‘meaningful education’ and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society”.
Let me set the record straight; I am not calling for a total ban of homeschooling. In fact quite the opposite. Erin O’Donnell’s article is founded in fact about the very real scourges plaguing the world of homeschooling. This is what I am interested in discussing and in a healthy way.
It was refreshing to hear the very things I feel and experienced as a product of the homeschool community written about with such clarity and criticism. Elizabeth Bartholet, a public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program is quoted within the article often. She says that:
“We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling”. States protect the rights of all to receive an education, but “if you look at the legal regime governing homeschooling, there are very few requirements that parents do anything”.Elizabeth Bartholet
From experience and as previously discussed in this blog, state requirements vary in stringency from state-to-state. Digging deeper into these requirements reveal that there are barely any rules even in the stricter states. The small number of states that are the most stringent, only requires registery as a homeschool and use a curriculum. This is so beyond loose and careless that it seems far-fetched, but this was my reality growing up.
From an outsider’s perspective, Bartholet may seem to be sensationalizing these stats. Allow me to burst the bubble of ignorance and say that she isn’t exaggerating facts to fit her narrative. In fact, this is the first time I have heard of anyone even remotely concerned with the rights of the CHILD and not the parents.
It is vital for there to be a legal voice out championing for the rights, interests, and welfare of our children who are the most vulnerable. The fact is that there are many children being kept at home without any oversight, welfare checks or often-times any rules for parents. This makes already vulnerable children who experience abuse, even more vulnerable and un-protected. Bartholet also points out something startling:
“Even those convicted of child abuse,” can “still just decide, ‘I’m going to take my kids out of school and keep them at home”.Elizabeth Bartholet
This makes me sick to my stomach. This is not only negligible, but shameful.
Who is Championing the Rights of Homeschool Children?
We have to fight for the rights of our children all over this nation! The Home School Legal Defense Association was created to protect homeschool parents. But I often feel it exists to cover the sins of abuse, neglect or lack of education of and by the parents. So there should most definitely be an organization out there to support, protect and investigate ALL homeschools.
If you have nothing to hide, you should not be offended by stricter laws, more oversight and questions asked of you. Even if you feel like homeschooling is your right, you do not have the right to abuse your children. Abuse that includes you hiding your movements and schooling, or avoiding government oversight and inspections. Schools cannot operate without rules, regular testing, parent-teacher meetings, and government oversight. So why so much push back about being accountable to a higher authority?
Homeschooling’s History of Social and Religious Isolation
Another stunning fact was revealed in this article. There are, of course, many reasons that people decide to school at home. But “up to 90 percent” “are driven by conservative Christian beliefs and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture”. This group is made up of “extreme religions ideologues” who “question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy”.
Its dangerous when you yank your child out of school with the intention of isolating them from the influence of the world. You inevitably raise a child that is extremist, intolerant, and less socialized. As a result, they are less able to succeed in the world when it comes time to get a job or go to college.
Not all parents homeschool for religious reasons, but studies show a vast majority do. This played a factor in how difficult it was for me to get over my crippling shyness with anyone outside the family. I felt mistrustful of others who were not religious or exactly like me in beliefs or appearance. The fact is that the environment I was raised in was chock full of white supremacist sentiments, homophobia, and racism. It is a sheer miracle I questioned all of this and got away as soon as possible.
What Institutional Changes Can Be Made to Homeschooling in the United States?
We should do like the French do in regards to homeschooling. This would entail yearly testing and randomized home visits in an effort to protect the children in homeschool situations. We need to start demanding stricter laws and regulations for homeschooling. If you are a homeschool parent, you owe it to your children and all homeschool children to lobby for better protection. An undeniable right for those most at risk who currently have no safety net.
Parents should be examined for past or current abuse before being allowed to pull their children from school. Oftentimes, teachers are the ones who are discovering and reporting abuse, so who is looking out for those removed from the public eye? The mental and physical abuse and Mom’s refusal to give me and my siblings a proper education was allowed to continue. This is mainly thanks to religiously and politically powerful institutions like the Home School Legal Defense Association.
HSLDA would come running to the aid of my parents whenever abuse or school related issues were reported by friends and family members. And this legal aid therefore made my mother untouchable and completely unaccountable. I agree with Bartholet who say “if parents want permission to opt out of schools, the burden of proving that their case is justified should fall on parents”.
Its encouraging that there are those out there who know the score and the stakes involved with homeschooling. Who know the dangers when there is a lack of regulation and accountability. We have more stringent laws on owning an inanimate object like a car. Of which involves licensing, registration, driving rules, safety measures etc. So what are WE going to do about this severe lack of protection for children?
One way we could step up some preventative measures for children in homeschooling situations is to add some nationwide legal requirements. In addition to registering with your state as a homeschool, you then have to prove membership with a local homeschool group. There are homeschool groups out there everywhere, but the only ones I grew up around were extremely religious and alt-right. So what does that mean for non-religious or pro-science homeschool families out there?
The Rise of the Secular Homeschool Family
Homeschooling Without God, an article written by Jaweed Kaleem for The Atlantic says that
“Today, there are more than 1.7 million homeschooled kids in the U.S., roughly double the number of those at the turn of 21st century. Religious families, nearly exclusively Christians, make up more than two-thirds of them, and religious curricula and social groups dominate the community”.
Kaleem reveals how “Non-religious families face an additional challenge: finding lesson plans, qualified teachers, and daytime social groups that aren’t overtly religious”. And this is a problem that is not going away since there has been a recent rise in non-religious homeschoolers. This is a good “problem” to have and one that has a solution. I recommend non-religious families beginning to homeschool check out secularhomeschool.com. They provides a state-by-state list of groups to join, resources for secular curriculum, and support group ideas.
Homeschool groups should provide members and families with the following:
- Resources for families like assigning a counselor to meet with individually and as a family unit. Counselors should be visiting families on a regular basis for check-ins and assessing children for warning signs of abuse or mis-education.
- Regular group activities like sports, supplementary learning, field trips, and get-togethers to provide and encourage social interaction.
- A designated place where yearly testing is administered and evaluated to ensure that no one is cheating or faking results.
- Support groups for parents where they can exchange tips, share struggles, and request help in areas where they are struggling.
How to Get Involved with Positively Changing the Future of Homeschooling
We should discourage Homeschool groups from forming based solely upon religious beliefs. Groups encourage diversity and include all walks of life to impress upon everyone the importance of acceptance and tolerance. Additionally, all homeschool groups should be answering to their local chapters who in turn answer to their state.
Most homeschool groups out there that I have researched are religious based and require a declaration of faith from any and all members. But there are some out there that are not religious or affiliated with any set of beliefs other than improving education. If you are planning on homeschooling, find a local group from the list of resources provided by Secular Homeschool. And find a group of people who can help you remain accountable, supported and protected. Please help turn the tide by the simple act of doing more than just the bare minimum required by your state.
It is refreshing to find a website like responsiblehomeschooling.org out there. I quickly joined up to be a CRHE Advocate. If you were homeschooled or plan on homeschooling, this site is a must. They endeavor to support what the site explains as “better protections for homeschooled children”. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education believes in and stand for “reasonable and effective oversight”. They strive “to ensure that homeschooled children receive a good education in a safe home environment”, which is vital work. And the group strongly believes that “homeschooled children should have access to curricular and extracurricular activities in their local public schools”.
Feedback, Suggestions, or Comments
Please feel free to comment below with suggestions on good resources that have worked for you. Feel free to pose a question for me and fellow readers in regards to this topic. I believe strongly that legislation needs to update and change in order to better protect our children. Share some ways we can use our voices to promote change and improvements. Also, check out the very thought provoking article by Erin O’Donnell; The Risks of Homeschooling to see what FOX News, Forbes, and the Christian Post are raging about.