Can the Homeschooling Movement Self-Police?

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ian Britton.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

A common question we encounter in our child advocacy through Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out is an understandable one: “Do you believe the homeschooling movement can self-police itself?” This question concerns the tragic yet undeniable reality of child abuse and mental illness within homeschooling. Those asking the question are wondering if homeschool parents, communities, and organizations are capable of properly responding to child abuse and mental illness. By extension, they are also wondering if some outside oversight (such as a government agency) is necessary.

My answer to this question is always two-fold. First, yes, I absolutely do believe the homeschooling movement can self-police. Having been homeschooled from K-12 and knowing many homeschoolers to this day, I have great hope and faith in the ability and tenacity of homeschoolers. I know they are capable, driven, and intelligent people. They can do just about anything if they put their minds and hearts to it. So yes, I do believe that if the homeschooling movement dedicated its minds and hearts to properly responding to child abuse and mental illness — with the same sort of zeal which the movement dedicates to opposing Evolutionism, Secularism, and Socialism — it could actually make great strides forward in making homeschooling safer for all children. I am not optimistic enough to think that self-policing in itself could entirely solve the problems of abuse, neglect, and illness within homeschooling. But I can certainly see a lot of good arising from the act.

Here’s the catch, though. The important question isn’t whether or not the homeschooling movement can self-police. The important question is whether or not the homeschooling movement will self-police.

The homeschooling movement certainly can do better internally. It has everything in place that could make this happen. It has a national alliance of homeschool leaders, the National Alliance of Christian Home Education Leadership. It has annual national and international leadership conferences where international, national, and state leaders in homeschooling come together and network. It has numerous legal defense associations like HSLDA and the National Center for Life and Liberty (NCLL). It has state organizations in every one of the United States. It has national convention companies like the Great Homeschool Conventions (GHC) and national curriculum creators like Sonlight and ACE and A Beka and Alpha Omega. It appeals generally to one authority when it comes to homeschooling statistics — Brian Ray’s National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI).

If the homeschooling movement had the will to tackle head-on the pressing, dire issues facing many homeschooled students and alumni like child abuse, mental illness, and self-injury, we would see a sea change at this very moment.

But we don’t.

And that’s the problem.

Yes, the homeschooling movement can self-police. But it currently doesn’t have the will to do so.

If Brian Ray and NHERI had the will to find out just how prevalent child abuse and mental illness and self-injury are within homeschooling, he and they could begin the process of finding out. They have the resources. They can do the research.

But they won’t. So they don’t.

If HSLDA and NCLL had the will to ensure that every single one of their member families was properly trained in recognizing and responding to the warning signs of child abuse before becoming a member, they could do that. They have the resources. They have the website tools. They can make child abuse prevention training a prerequisite for membership.

But they won’t. So they don’t.

If the Great Homeschool Conventions (and other for-profit and non-profit convention companies) had the will to make child abuse prevention and suicide prevention and mental health awareness a priority in their workshop content, they could do that. They have the contacts. They have the money. They can elevate the importance of these subjects for their customers.

But they won’t. So they don’t.

One can, of course, make the argument that some of these organizations shouldn’t have to focus on child abuse and neglect because that’s not their organizational focus. The argument fails for two reasons: First, any organization that works with or for children — every single organization — needs to proactively tackle these issues. That’s part of properly stewarding the children within their care. As ChildHope says, “All organisations working with children, either directly or indirectly, have a moral and legal responsibility to protect children within their care from both intentional and unintentional harm. This is known as a duty of care.” All of the organizations I mentioned do work either directly or indirectly with children. So they have a duty — both a secular one and a God-given one — to go out of their way to make sure they are doing everything they can to ensure the health and well-being of the children in their purview.

Second, none of these organizations are going out of their way to support or welcome other organizations that do focus on child health and safety. HSLDA hasn’t supported or sponsored a National Child Abuse Prevention Week. Convention companies haven’t sought out GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) or the Child-Friendly Faith Project or HARO to present at their conventions. The National Alliance of Christian Home Education Leadership hasn’t sought out a child advocacy organization to draft a national declaration about making child health and safety a priority. We aren’t seeing the movement that is so necessary to creating a sea change in how homeschoolers think about and respond to these pressing issues.

All of this might sound pessimistic or nihilistic. But I truly meant what I said earlier: I have great hope and faith in the ability and tenacity of homeschoolers. I know they are capable, driven, and intelligent people. They can do just about anything if they put their minds and hearts to it.

Homeschoolers just need to start putting their minds and hearts to better protecting the children they care so much about.

It’s easy for someone like Michael Farris to draw “a line in the sand” and make generic statements like, “The overuse of physical discipline is causing real harm to children” — and then make no effort make the line mean something and actively promote alternatives to those practices prevalent within homeschooling that cause that real harm to children. It’s easier still for someone like Thomas Umstattd Jr. to “stand with Michael Farris against the abuses of the patriarchy movement” — and then do nothing to actually work against abuse. 

If the homeschooling movement is really going to self-police, we need more than platitudes. We need more than empty declarations from our leaders. We need a concerted, coordinated effort from our leaders, organizations, convention companies, curriculum developers, co-ops, teachers, and parents to do the actual work necessary to better protecting children.

10 comments

  • The entire article can be summarized as follows:

    Some organizations have the capital required to do the research and provide training, but are simply unwilling to do so. We are willing to do so, and are the obvious choice. Because these organizations have not chosen us, they are clearly evil.

    A brief perusal of your about page shows a list of folks who clearly have a beef against homeschoolers…an unlikely place to find genuine concern or care for those who choose to homeschool.

    You hold up HSLDA and NHERI as those who are inhibiting the self-policing of homeschooling, and state that they could, but they won’t. Anyone who spends the few minutes on your blog – as I just did – would know that you hold these organizations in the lowest possible regard.

    Not to mention that your blog would be more likely to flourish if abuse is prevalent, while their organizations would shrivel up and die. If anyone stands to benefit from curbing abuse, it is them, not you.

    A shameless self-promotion piece 🙂 in which the reader is to think that embracing you as a workshop speaker at a conference is a solution. Yes, shameless 🙂

    I believe that if you could demonstrate genuine care and concern (rather than overuse of loaded accusations, and wanting other donation-reliant organizations to foot the expenses, platitudes about how amazing homeschoolers are while running a blog that clearly hates homeschooling) you might be taken seriously and invited to participate. Your agenda is clear after only a few minutes on your site, and anyone who cares would do well to steer clear of you and your blog!

    • Res Alios – what an absurd comment. Just because someone doesn’t hold an organization in high regard doesn’t mean that their criticism is invalid. The mere fact that a site is affiliated with people with whom you disagree does not make the content invalid. Even more so, the fact that an author does not hold an organization in high regard does not make their criticism invalid. Next time, why not try addressing why you disagree with what they said, rather than simply posting irrelevant personal attacks?

      This is definitely not a “blog that clearly hates homeschooling”, as you’d see if you’d spent more than a few minutes reading it. Many people who were hurt while being homeschooled have posted here, but so have those who have had positive experiences. No one here is profiteering from abuse – rather they are working to prevent it by helping people understand how methods can be improved.

    • You’re right, the genuine concern isn’t for “those who choose to homeschool”, it is for the children. And really every single human being’s concern should always be for children anywhere and everywhere.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    And if they won’t, the Government (and Activists) Will Do It For Them.
    With a club.

  • I do not believe that the home-schooling movement can self-police. They have no teeth and no authority to inflict consequences. People who want to abuse their children in this system are notorious for reducing their social circles to only those who agree with them – so ostracization isn’t going to effect them, or help the kids.

    Let me give an example where self policing can work, for the most part: Architectural Internships used to be mostly unpaid, or paid below minimum wage. In order to become an Architect, candidates are required to document three years worth of full time experience working under a Registered Architect or Architects (legally referred to as an internship). Without 3 years of internship – you can’t legally become an Architect. Further more, Architect’s rely on interns and young architects for a huge part of the grunt work and latest computer technology knowledge. This is one of several qualifiers to get their Registration and the legal ability to practice Architecture on their own. Full time often means 60-70 hours a week. The AIA (American Institute of Architects) has been actively working with State Architectural Registration Boards to end the practice of unpaid internships, because they realized that they didn’t want the state to get involved and reprimand the industry. They also realized that when they competitively bid work against one another – the guy who wasn’t paying his interns for 1000s of hours of work on a job (not an exaggeration) was going to come in substantially lower than the one who was. The move had to be across the industry. When I graduated from college in 2006, our professors made it very clear to us that unpaid internships were illegal, and not to accept them. Further more, you can report an architect who doesn’t pay his or her interns to their State Registration Board – and the Board has the authority to conduct an investigation, peer review and suspend the architect’s registration. Over the past twenty-thirty years (not sure when the movement started), the practice has been reduced substantially, but it still hasn’t stopped some architect’s from offering unpaid internships. Google “Unpaid Architectural Internships” and you will see that it is still a problem, and the courts have gotten involved.

    How is the Home-school movement supposed to self-police? How do they have the authority to remove children from situations that are abusive, or force parents to become less abusive? They can certainly change their culture so that it is less of a safe-haven for abusive parents. But that is not the same as self-policing, and shouldn’t be confused for it.

  • To self-police would require basic respect for children, for their human autonomy and the right to choose and learn rather than just be taught. This is not common in homeschooling; in fact many homeschoolers practice active harm to train their children, slapping, swatting, spanking and shaming them while loving them with all they have to give. Self-police? Don’t you mean become less patriarchal, less judgmental, less violent? When those in authority are harmful, you cannot ask them to be less harmful and self-police. Well, you can… Children have been doing it forever: Please don’t spank me. Don’t hurt me! Please no…
    Those who harm children and relish it use everything including religion to support their continued abuse. They call it love. Mike Pearl et al make a living doing it too!

    • Are you not a fan of homeschooling, Brian? We all know that parents of public schools never berate or spank children and these same schools provide a fantastic learning experience for every child, safe from harm.

      What nonsense! There are over 100 families in our homeschool area actively involved in their childrens’ education. Discipline and behavior has never been an issue. Almost without question every family has a no-spanking policy, if for no other reason than it is very ineffective. Rather, we spend time with our children, teaching them and letting them learn on their own.

      If your understanding of homeschool is as woefully inadequate as above, I challenge you to learn and research. It is illogical to make broad statements regarding a class of people based on a very small and questionable subset. Are all conservatives Christian? Are all liberals democrats? Are all homeschoolers violent towards their children?

      • Foxtrotdog, I am a supporter of free choice in schooling so yes, I support children being able to choose schooling or as my children eventually chose, unschooling. It is not now and never was homeschooling that is the culprit is harming children and whether kids are hit more by religious people than secular, I have no idea. What I do firmly support is what you seem to know, that harm is done by harmful people, not specifically in any group. When I get grumpy about homeschooling it has to do with parentals who harm, who spank, hit, swat and then support it with scripture they freely interpret. I speak against berating and shaming, practices popular among Baptists of the IFB stain.
        I will not take issue with anything you said because it is not offensive to me but I would ask you to have a look at your statement about no-spanking because it betrays a hard perspective to me. It implies that if a good spanking did bring about correct or acceptable behavior/outcome, then you might indeed adopt it. I am relieved that you have learned, as I did, that spending time with the kids and allowing them to learn is more loving and allows a great joy in parenting. That is less patriarchal, less violent and I really have found it more evident among those outside the public school system. Among unschoolers I have never found a parent who uses physical force, though I have seen children removed from deep water when in distress:-)
        I do regret that you felt I was speaking to homeschoolers alone in my statement. I was speaking of the whole bunch of us and saying that we benefit by being open and not cloistered, by embracing what is worthwhile in the world and not preventing our kids free choice. I would never impose my lack of belief or any belief on my child. I respect them too much to take away that freedom which is or ought to be available to us all.
        Foxtrotdog, have you practiced corporal punishment? Do you support the idea that there should be no oversight in homeschooling, no dialogue with the greater community? (Just curious, if you care to share your perspective.) Even in homeschooling, we felt okay about sharing our learning with others who seemed interested. My kids chose some actual schooling for themselves but very little. We slowly found ourselves able to let go of curriculum completely except where it became important for our kids interests and then it was our children who decided to adopt a part of curriculum to further their passions and interest. I found much support and wisdom by way of ex-teachers, John Holt and Norm Lee, to name a few.
        Again, I think I may have expressed myself in a clumsy way regarding homeschooling. I trust this clears it up a bit.

  • I’ve talked about this before with my mother. She is, not surprisingly, very against government intervention. When I suggested that homeschoolers begin an effort within the movement to protect children, she was not impressed. According to her, any type of intervention is too much. In her opinion, if anyone is “interfering,” even to protect children, it infringes on the rights of the parents to conduct their lives privately and as they see fit. I suspect that many homeschooling parents would agree with her. So, it’s not just that there they have no will to self police, but that there are those who are against any attempt.

  • Here in New Mexico, I am closely watching the case of Nehemiah Griego. Nehemiah was home schooled in a highly patriarchal home and attended Calvary chapel. At the age of 15, he snapped and murdered his family. The sentencing depends on whether the court decides he is amenable to treatment. Too many people are dismissing the family structure, isolation and authoritarianism as a cause of his break. I wish people from HA and other sites were here to tell their stories.

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