Home Schooling IS Child Abuse

People all over the country are appalled at the child abuse story that came out of California recently. David and Louise Turpin held thirteen children ages two to twenty-nine captive in their “good Christian home.” Their offspring were chained, malnourished and living in their own filth. Many people questioned how these children could have been homeschooled for so long without the government finding out what was going on. Most are surprised to discover that there are few, if any, rules governing homeschooling. In states like California and Colorado, all it takes is signing a piece of paper. This a result of highly organized parents, mostly fundamentalist Christian, and a receptive political atmosphere started by Ronald Reagan and nurtured by the extreme right wing of the Republican Party.

I am sure this article will be trolled by home school advocates who will cite a lot of meaningless statistics about homeschoolers, spelling bees, and college. The reason their statistics are meaningless is because no one has any way to track homeschooler success or failure. It’s true for example, that many homeschoolers who go to college are successful and graduate. But what percent of homeschoolers actually go to college? No one knows. The other canard the homeschoolers throw out is success in Spelling Bees. Although Asian immigrants have shut those bragging rights down, spelling has little to do with intelligence or academic success. Being able to spell is a talent on par with drawing. It has nothing to do with problem solving which most people would agree is a better indication of intellectual prowess.

Lacking meaningful data, we are confined to anecdotal information. However, if we proceed with the awareness that the Hasty Generalization fallacy is nipping at our heels, we can still discover some valid insights. I will start with my own experiences. Teller County, where I spent thirty years teaching, is a hot bed of homeschooling. When I started teaching in 1977, every homeschooler was required to show progress on standardized tests administered by the school district on a regular basis. After the election of “the government is the problem” Reagan, Colorado tossed out all restrictions on home schooling.

The first result we saw was parents withdrawing students who were about to be suspended. Exhibit A is former students being “homeschooled” in a bar where mom worked, driving an ATV around their property all day, and on the ski slopes snowboarding. Of those three specific students, one is now incarcerated, one is a drug dealer, and one is a day laborer. I have more stories like these, just as my trolls will present success stories. And if I am completely honest, some of my best students through the years were homeschooled for significant periods of time. One family in particular comes to mind. There were five kids and mom homeschooled all of them through third grade. She stopped there because that was the limit of her expertise. Assured of their solid educational foundations, she trusted that we couldn’t mess things up. Every teacher who had the pleasure of working with these kids and their mom loved them. They have all turned out to be successful adults.

On a personal note, my wife and I also homeschooled our boys albeit not exclusively. And that’s the catch. Kids need home learning as well as school. As an adjunct college professor, I have had my share of homeschooled students in a college setting. Almost all of them suffered from social difficulties in the classroom. They had a hard time sharing the teacher, waiting to be called on, and working in groups. But the biggest problem was their inability to understand, let alone accept alternative viewpoints as valid. This is particularly true of Evangelical Christians.

To me, this is foundational to my assertion that strict homeschooling is, by its very nature, a form of child abuse. Only teaching children what to think instead of how to think stunts their ability to function successfully in the world at large. It’s also poor theology. People who only hear one interpretation of the Bible (and ALL versions of the Bible are interpretations but that’s a different essay) cannot defend their faith and are susceptible to having it destroyed or undermined. The Catholic Church, arguably the most successful Christian denomination, has a long history of debate and logical inquiry. Jesuits and Dominicans are particularly famous for their use of a Devil’s Advocate approach to theological questions.

Children who are kept at home do not know that it is abnormal and illegal for a twenty-nine-year-old adult to be chained to his bed by his parents. They have no idea of what is normal, acceptable, or legal when it comes to their lives outside of the home. And worse, society has no idea what these parents are up to. Because these children never interact with authority figures such as teachers, their parents can get away with all sorts of awful things. We see it in the Mormon compounds where 12-year-old girls are being married to older men. We see it in the anti-vaxxer movement. We see it in the parents who treat juvenile diabetes with prayer circles. And while public schools have their problems, at least those problems are transparent and open to the public for remediation.

Home school advocates argue that parents should have total control over their children’s education. This is false. No one is an island. I agree that parents should have the ability to home school their children up to a point. But taxpayers need assurances that parents are actually teaching kids appropriately. Because society ends up paying the bill when the parents fail to do their jobs. The Turpin offspring will require an enormous amount of resources to undo the damage done to them by their parents. Some of them may never be able to be contributing members of society. And in this case, it is only fair that we taxpayers foot the bill. Society, in the name of religious freedom and Conservative ideology, placed these children in harm’s way. How many more children will suffer before we accept that close monitoring of home schools by society is both a financial and moral responsibility?