Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | January 3, 2014

Dipping a Toe into the Homeschooling Debate

There’s a piece going around on Facebook; a link to this blog post by a guy named Matt Walsh about home schooling, specifically about a ridiculously misguided piece of legislation (since withdrawn) proposing that all homeschool parents undergo background checks and social services investigations. I find myself wanting to respond more extensively than would be possible in a comment trail.

Let’s start with where we agree: the legislation is outrageous. Homeschooling parents should not be singled out because of their choice to educate their children at home. Most people who homeschool their children are intelligent, conscientious, caring, and are not trying to cover up blatant child abuse.

However I do have issues with some of his other points. It starts near the top:

…[W]e don’t have any rights at all if we don’t have the unquestioned and absolute right to teach and raise our own children.

No sir. You do not have any “absolute” rights to your children. They are not your chattel. They are citizens of this country, entitled to the same protections as any other citizen. They also have the right to an education, which is where much of the kerfuffle ensues. What “should” a child be learning? Obviously each homeschooler’s answer to that is, “What I’m teaching them.” It turns out that even outside the realm of the homeschoolers, the “ideal curriculum” is a chimera. There’s ridiculously little agreement on what people, let alone kids, should know. It’s no wonder that local school board meetings are so contentious.

The vast majority of parents love their children, and take very seriously the job of seeing to it that they are protected, cared for, and educated. Nevertheless, the rest of us/society/the government have an obligation to watch out for those (hopefully) few children whose parents aren’t up to the task. This surprisingly thankless job has been relegated to the poorly paid field of Social Services, whose failures never fail to make the front page, and whose successes are invisible to the general public. As they should be. But just because you never hear about these overworked, underpaid professionals when they do their job right does not mean that they don’t serve a vital role in our society.

Here’s a question for all you homeschoolers: What constitutes “educational abuse”? Would you recognize it if you saw it? What would you do about it if you did? And don’t go trying to tell me it never happens. That’s just naivete on your part.

What about the kid who wants to be a doctor, but whose parents refuse to teach him anything but creation science because anything else “conflicts with our religious beliefs.” Does that count?

Oh, but none of you would do that, would you. Nor take your kids out of school so your boyfriend could beat them to death. Oh no. It’s just “other people” who do that. The problem is that you can’t always tell who “the others” are.

Imagine the following scenario: A father regularly brings his three homeschooled sons to the library. They don’t go to your church, but they do go somewhere; they’re good, God-fearing folk, just like you. You frequently exchange pleasantries with them. You’ve never seen the mother, but that doesn’t seem strange. She’s a busy home-schooling mom, probably grateful to Dad for taking them out so she can get stuff done around the house. One day you notice that there are only two boys there. No biggie; kids get sick. Except that when the father takes the 8-year-old to the bathroom, the 10-year-old mentions that the 11-year-old isn’t there because he’s being punished. That’s okay; withholding a privilege is reasonable. Except then the kid tells you it’s because his brother was caught teaching his sisters to read. Turns out there are four little girls at home as well, whose “home schooling” consists entirely of cooking, cleaning, and other “womanly arts.” Dad doesn’t believe girls need to know how to read or write. Mom can’t read very well either. Dad hits her when he catches her sneaking a look at the newspaper.

What do you do?

In Matt Walsh’s world of “Family Sovereignty” those kids are shit out of luck.

I am NOT saying that government always gets it right. And one manipulative homeschooling parent is not an indictment of homeschooling by any means. The default assumption should always be that everything is fine, but circling the wagons and refusing to cooperate with any government effort to “check in” on homeschoolers is similarly unhelpful. Some may say it makes you look like you have something to hide.

Just because you’re not abusing your kids, and just because the “system” is flawed doesn’t mean we don’t need it.


  1. all valid points…I know of a family whose children are not home schooled, but are extremely isolated from community and other family after school hours. the officials I’ve contacted say that they wouldn’t even check out the family-that the parents are not doing anything illegal, it’s their right to raise the children using their own standards. if anyone knows where I should go to get these children some protection, I’d love to have that information. the family lives on the Philadelphia Main Line and money does talk-social services does not want to touch this situation.

  2. Insisting it’s better for every student to either be taught at home OR in groups is as oversimplified and misguided an argument as stating that government should always be either bigger or smaller – instead of better.

    Educational goals are both societal and individually varied. The children of research scientists or advanced musicians who have aptitude and interest toward pursuing those professions could benefit from studying exclusively under their parents prior to college. The child of a doctor and a nurse intent on medical work could do better by learning the core subjects at home, then going to High School as a precursor of internship in patient care. Careers in law, politics and religious vocations require varying combinations of focused study and social interaction. Certainly no one is going to learn sales or marketing from being exclusively home schooled.

    To me the most likely obstacle facing parents of home schoolers is that they aren’t qualified to teach anything except parenthood and family dynamics to their students, assuming they are good at that. Being expert in a profession yourself does not mean you automatically have an ability to impart that expertise to others.

  3. Actually, no, it’s not ridiculously misguided to require children to meet with mandated reporters before being withdrawn from access to mandated reporters. Homeschooled children may never again meet another mandated reporter and that may be one of the goals of homeschooling.

  4. You make good points re: social workers. However, Matt already addressed what you dispute. He would disagree with your claim that he thinks those kids are “shit out of luck”. Because he already said “Certainly, you should be able to lose your claim over your child if you are truly abusive, or if you commit any felony crime that would put you in prison and require your kids to be cared for by someone else”.

  5. But how would anyone know?

  6. Public librarians, pediatricians, other members of the home-schooling group, parents on the kids’ sports teams, I’ve heard of all of them raising questions with Child Protective when there were suspicions of abuse. As to educational “abuse” – again, I’ve talked to other home school parents who raised the matter with the rest of the group. Some states have tests that the students have to pass in order to get a version of a diploma.

    The hypothetical case in the library? I’ve met that family. And when someone the Dad respected found out, he gave the Dad an earful about “How are the girls going to find husbands or help the family if they can’t even read, write, and cipher? How can they read the Bible like G-d tells us to?” Dad thought about it and realized that yeah, girls need to learn too. Not an ideal situation, but one solution to one case that I happened to be peripherally involved in.

  7. the real problem is that children have no power and no real way to get help when they need it. they also may have no idea that they are being abused or neglected…that’s the point…however do we protect them?

  8. People who want to isolate their kids often belong to subcultures where children are regarded as property. If homeschooling parent A is aware that homeschooling parent B is not educating her children she may think it’s none of her business. She is not a mandated reporter.

    Other members of the homeschooling group (if there is one) are not mandated reporters. Librarians are not mandated reporters. Pediatricians are mandated reports but the children don’t necessarily see one.

    Homeschooling allows parents to prevent their children from ever being in contact with a mandated reporter. That may be the goal. So no, requiring that the children meet with a mandated reporter once if they are going to be withdrawn from school where they are in contact with mandated reporters every day is not ridiculously misguided. It’s realistic and demonstrates a good understanding of some parts of the homeschooling subculture.

  9. Don’t homeschool kids take achievement tests too? At least they do in my state.

  10. No, not always. In some states it’s simply up to the parents: if they want to send their kids to school, they can; if they don’t, they don’t have to and they don’t have to notify anyone of their decision either.

    If they don’t send them to school they can opt to teach them themselves, or not. It’s up to the discretion of the parents.

    Homeschooling parents have a wide range of motivations and abilities.

  11. I’m fortunate homeschooling wasn’t an option in my time (1960s and 70s). My domineering father, a man with a grade 4 education, would have gladly had our mother ‘educate’ us at home for a life of servitude to a husband. Despite his protests, and with the help and encouragement of teachers, I went on to get a bachelor’s degree. Thankfully we were legally protected from educational neglect at the hands of our parents.

    I am suspect of anyone who is against standardized regulation in the homeschool system.

  12. Hi, I stumbled upon this blog today and was reading a few entries and came upon this one. I thought I’d give a comment in the “for what it’s worth” department. I was homeschooled–from kindergarten through my senior year of high school. Now, I am also a second year medical student. I absolutely loved my homeschooling experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It is discouraging to see that there seems to still be stigma around parents’ decisions to educate their children at home. Yes, child abuse happens in the world–it’s a heartbreaking reality. However, I do not think it’s fair to use isolated instances of child abuse or neglect to paint suspicion on a group of people in general, just as it would not be fair if I did the same with instances of child abuse in private or public school families.

    In regards to enforcing regulations on homeschoolers… I hesitate at the idea. One of the things that I loved most about homeschooling, particularly in high school, was the freedom that my peers and I had in directing our efforts toward our strengths. For me, it was in journalism, running, group sports, piano, etc. We also had the freedom to get out and see places and go on field trips that could not have been possible within the confines of a public school system. Now, this freedom did not mean that I did not have to address my weaknesses as well–I had to struggle through spelling and math just like all of the other kids. All of the homeschool families

    Also, each year we took standardized exams, just like our public school peers. I would encourage anyone who is interested to look at test statistics of homeschoolers in general (they tend to be higher than average), or performance in college or post-graduate work. I personally know several other individuals in my medical school class who were homeschooled as well, not to mention my other homeschool friends who are becoming or became PhD-level researchers, professional musicians, lawyers, military officers, etc.

    Again, this is all in the “for what it’s worth” department. I just thought I’d throw out an view-point to mull over. All the best.

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