Why Homeschool Regulation Won’t Stop Child Abuse

By Jennifer Lade

After reading with horror the case of the California couple accused of torture and child endangerment, I knew it would only be a matter of time.

Attention would soon turn away from the atrocities David and Louise Turpin allegedly committed against their own children. It would turn toward blanket policies that restrict innocent people in an attempt to legislate away evil.

In this case, the focus is on homeschooling, because the Turpins were homeschooling six of their thirteen children, ages 2 to 29.

A California bill proposed on Feb. 16 by Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside) would require city and county fire departments to conduct annual inspections of all registered homeschools in their areas.

Hawaii State Senate Bill 2323, which would have run background checks on homeschooling parents, was withdrawn by Senator Kai Kahele after extreme opposition.

In New Hampshire, House Bill 1263 would require parents to report their homeschool child’s annual evaluation to an education official. According to the Concord Monitor, the official would determine if the child has made adequate progress. If not, parents would have one year to “fix the problem” or risk having a hearing to end the homeschool program.

In addition, organizations such as the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) advocate for additional oversight for homeschooling families. The organization cites horrible abuse cases of homeschooled children as their motivation. “We seek not to penalize parents who are homeschooling responsibly but rather to provide a measure of common-sense accountability to protect and support children in abusive or neglectful homeschool environments. One child’s freedom of education should not come at the cost of other children’s futures,” said Rachel Lazarus, Director of Operations at CRHE.

The argument in favor of these bills is that homeschooled children who could be isolated in a way that children who are in public school cannot be. Abusive or neglectful parents could use this isolation as a cover. They would never have to worry about a teacher seeing bruises or signs of malnutrition in their child. Those who support the bills say the state is necessary to check up on children who are homeschooled. The state must make sure they are not being abused, or in the case of the New Hampshire bill, that their education is up to snuff.

This argument sets up a dichotomy between two contrasting positions. The first, espoused by these bills and the CRHE, is that children belong to the state first. A parent must petition the state for the privilege to educate their child. The state’s involvement in the lives of children is a good and necessary thing. Giving more control to the state will solve problems and help children.

The other position —the one that I hold — is that the state’s involvement is both negative and immoral. Children’s wellbeing should be the responsibility of the parents. The parents are innocent of abuse and neglect until proven guilty. Adding restrictions onto all families that homeschool will lead to more harm than good. Moreover, it is a power the state should not have.

Here’s why homeschool regulation is a bad idea.

Common sense measures?

Often, when politicians or other interest groups want to pass legislation, they will call their policies “common sense” measures. This implies that they are policies any reasonable person would agree to. In fact, Lazarus uses that exact phrase above.

But those advocating for common sense measures still put their faith in the state to solve problems. They believe the state must put restrictions on innocent and law-abiding people to make it harder for evil people to do evil.

This is a problem. A society in which laws cater to the lowest common denominator of humanity is a tyrannical, soul-crushing society.

Bills that seek to enter a family’s home or screen children annually would make homeschooling a pre-crime. That is an action in which no one has actually been harmed but still legally justifies intervention because it could lead to a crime.

But no “common sense” measure inflicted on me as a homeschooling parent will stop child abuse.  This goes for the thousands of other homeschooling parents treating their children well.  Because we are not the bad guys.

If you homeschool your children but don’t torture or neglect them, then you are not the problem. Wanting to educate your kids at home does not make you responsible for the evils others perpetrate while they homeschool. This should be obvious. But there is a pervasive reasoning about why bad things happen. Not because the evil person is evil, but because good people are selfish.

“If you would stop being so selfish and give up your rights a little bit, it would be harder for the evil people to be evil.” A statement like this is never said outright, but is often implied. It shifts the blame from the individual who did the wrong thing to the individuals who want to continue to do their own thing unharassed.

Homeschool regulation is like gun control

There are so many similarities to gun control arguments in these recent attacks on homeschooling. In both cases, individuals want to exercise a right for the sake of themselves and their family. Then, some crazed or evil people abuse the same freedom. In the case of homeschooling, they abuse their kids. In the case of guns, they shoot innocent people. Suddenly, people imply that law-abiding homeschoolers and gun owners are somehow to blame for the crimes of other individuals who happened to homeschool or own guns.

Then, the “common sense” cacophony starts. Why are law-abiding people rejecting common sense laws? Don’t you care about gun violence? Don’t you care about child abuse?

Yes, I care about child abuse. After stories like the Turpin case break, I always drive down the streets of my town with a little more suspicion. Which of these pretty colonial houses is hiding an abuser? Is there a child right now, in that house, being beaten? Starved? Locked in a closet? Will they be rescued someday? Will the whole town will be shocked because they seemed like such a normal family?

These are the questions that haunt me at night. It is painful to think of all the suffering that people are capable of inflicting on each other, particularly on children. But no policy could eradicate abuse without also eradicating our rights to privacy, property, and our role as first educators to our children.

If it saves just one child . . .

Another common argument suggests that any positive benefit of a law is worth it, regardless of the negative impact of the law. This argument is found in statements like, “If it saves just one child, then we have an obligation to ban Tide Pods/prosecute parents who leave a child in a car for one minute /take soda off the kids menu/conduct inspections of homes before parents can teach their kids.”

This is bad policy, built on emotion rather than practicality. If we’re going to go all utilitarian about it, then saving “just one child” isn’t good enough. The law must save more children than it harms, and then the harm must be quantified. Laws of this kind also usurp the freedom of individuals to make their own cost/benefit analysis of risk for themselves and their children.

Everything is unsafe to some degree. So the logical conclusion of the “just one child” argument is that the government should ban everything.  Getting rid of swimming pools, cars, and alcohol would save children’s lives. It is easy for people to say they will gladly give up their rights for the sake of another’s safety if the issue doesn’t affect them. But to enforce this policy unilaterally, people would see restrictions on so many rights that no one would be able to function. At some point, we would have to say that no, saving one child is not worth the restriction on our freedom. Right now, it is homeschoolers’ turn to reject these particular infringements on freedom.

The innocent have nothing to fear

If I’m such an upright homeschooling parent, then what is the big deal? Do I have something to hide? Why not let the government inspector visit my home, interview my children, and tell me that they have made adequate progress in their academics?

To put it bluntly, because I shouldn’t have to. The onus should not be on me to prove my innocence or competence; that should be the default. Rather, the state should have to prove a person’s guilt before restricting them.

Suggesting that people who don’t accept violations of their freedom and privacy must have something to hide is a false dichotomy. It ignores the fact that often people without anything to hide still have a right to and a desire for privacy.

And of course, sometimes the innocent do have something to fear. Homeschooling is often in the crosshairs of public policy. The government has not done much to inspire confidence in homeschoolers. Consider the following:

  • Lawmakers killed legislation that would allow parents to use money in 529 savings plans for their home-schooling expenses (though the effort is being revived).
  • West Virginia’s congressmen denied home school students the chance to try out for public school sports teams.
  • The National Education Association, the major union of public school teachers, pulls no punches when it states its position on homeschooling. In its 2016-’17 handbook, Resolution B-82 says, “The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.”
  • The New Hampshire bill was proposed by Rep. Robert Theberge, R-Berlin, at the request of Corinne Cascadden, superintendent of the school district in Berlin. According to the Concord Monitor, “Cascadden said the number of children in Berlin being home-schooled has ballooned since 2012, when lawmakers rolled back most home-school oversight.” The article went on to state that Cascadden feared some homeschooled students were not getting an education at all. But then again, students attending the local public high school aren’t exactly thriving, either. According to U.S. News & World Report, Berlin High School students scored well below the state average on statewide assessments. English and Math proficiency was 55 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Perhaps Cascadden is angry that her failing school is losing funds as more parents get fed up and homeschool.

In contrast to the special interest groups and politicians quoted above, I truly believe CRHE’s members are looking out for a child’s best interest. They were founded by homeschoolers, who in many cases had horrible childhoods, full of coercion, violence, and power-hungry parents. They want to stop that same fate from befalling any more children.

Unfortunately, their solution is to place more power in the hands of a government that is just as coercive, violent, and power-hungry as their parents were.

Children in public schools are not immune to abuse from their parents. Nor are they always safe from the teachers and students in the schools themselves. Recent cases in Oklahoma, Indiana, California, and Texas attest to that. Sitting in their “gun-free” classrooms, students are sitting ducks for school shootings. They are also subject to all sorts of restrictions on their freedom. They are forced to consume and regurgitate curated information deemed important by the state. Some of it is false propaganda.

Public schools are a better choice for those children trapped in abusive homes. But they are not an escape from coercion or misinformation.

Unforeseen implications of homeschool regulations

Additional homeschool regulations will do more than unfairly restrict homeschoolers. Other potential negative outcomes include the following:

  • Discouraging  adequate parents from homeschooling because of the hassle;
  • Casting homeschooling as something that requires special oversight, thus stereotyping it as abusive or neglectful;
  • Less vigilance on the part of everyday people to investigate or report suspected child abuse. The public at large will believe “the authorities will take care of it;”
  • Wasting money on widespread enforcement of regulations and diverting resources from investigating claims of abuse;
  • Driving abuse even more underground as abusive parents stop complying with any oversight that could lead to their getting caught;
  • A power-hungry government that gets affirmation of another regulation it can get away with;
  • A populace that is more used to being regulated and controlled.

Good policies

The only kind of laws that should surround homeschooling should be the ones that take away the right to do so from the guilty.

People who have a criminal record of child abuse, neglect or endangerment have forfeited their right to homeschool their children. It also begs the question why their children are still living with them at all.

So many of the cases of abuse detailed at the the CRHE’s database mention that Child Protective Services were already aware of the family. Concerned neighbors and family members had often reported the family to authorities, but CPS could not substantiate the claims. Sometimes the children were only rescued after years of abuse and more reports to authorities. Many were never rescued and died from the torture their parents inflicted.

It seems that often, people knew about the abuse despite the isolation of the homeschool family. The state should prioritize following up on these troubling cases. It should not waste resources conducting widespread evaluations of mostly-innocent homeschooling parents.

If not the state, then whom?

We should reject the idea that the state must police homeschoolers. But then homeschoolers have a greater responsibility to do the right thing. This is how it should be in a free society.

If you suspect someone is abusing his or her children, do whatever you can to stop him or her. Cases of abuse could be handled in a voluntary society, but currently, it is probably necessary to get the police involved.

Reporting a probable abuser is completely different than supporting a law that requires pre-approval of homeschooling. In the case of abuse, the parents gave up their right to homeschool unhindered when they aggressed upon their children.

Finally, if you are homeschooling your children — if you are a parent at all — you should be treating your children excellently. It should go without saying that children deserve adequate food and shelter. But it should go well beyond that. Parents owe their children a life of joy and autonomy. When it comes to their education, give them input into what to study and how to spend their time. Don’t seek to be as restrictive as a public school. Rather, bask in the freedom that homeschooling can give you and your kids.

Jennifer Lade writes for the Daily Bell.

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