Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Homeschooling Regulation - How Far Is Too Far?

The Opinionated Homeschooler has a rather frightening post pointing out how far the anti-homeschooling crowd is willing to go in regulating homeschooling. It's an excellent post, and well worth the read. The post quotes these paragraphs from the New York Times article on the Washington D.C. murders, which I referenced earlier:

Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, said school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children.

“Home schooling removes children from a lot of that surveillance,” Mr. Stevens said, adding that the vast majority of home schooling families are “overwhelmingly trustworthy people who place a very high value on parental autonomy.” And thanks to the advocacy of the legal defense fund, he continued, “they have been largely successful since the late 1980s in getting the law to favor parental rights.”

One example of that, in 1991, disrupted an effort by the District of Columbia to regulate home schooling, with rules that included unannounced home visits and required teachers certification for parents doing the instruction. Christopher Klicka, senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, met with District officials, told them they were on shaky ground because of the 1st, 4th and 14th amendments, and the rules were rescinded.

The Opinionated Homeschooler goes on with this comment:

Unannounced home visits. From representatives of the state. With no probable
cause. For families who have done nothing illegal. On the grounds that
"surveillance" is necessary because school officials are "society's best

Wow! They might as well argue for unannounced home visits by police in everyone's homes. After all, police officers, who are required to report suspicion of crimes, are "society’s best watchdogs" of criminal behavior. "The privacy of the home removes people from a lot of that surveillance." Of course, the vast majority of families are “overwhelmingly trustworthy people who place a very high value on individual autonomy.” And thanks to the advocacy of privacy advocates, “they have been largely successful in getting the law to favor privacy rights.” You get the point!

I find the idea of unannounced home visits frightening, not because I have anything to fear, but because of the implications for individual rights and privacy. How is it that my 11-year-old daughter can have an abortion because of her right to "privacy," but if I choose to homeschool her, we have no such right and could be subject to unannounced home visits?

The last time I checked, the Fourth Amendment still preserves "the right of the people to be
secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, . . . , and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Choosing to homeschool my children does not mean giving up this fundamental right.

And as The Opinionated Homeschooler and others have pointed out, unannounced home visits would not have helped the Jacks children. These children were in school! When they dropped out, the school district did their job, attempting to contact the family and reporting
the children's absence to authorities; the social service agency did not, and because they didn't, the children died. In fact, at least six child welfare workers in D.C. are going to be fired as a result of the failure of DC's Child and Family Services Agency to intervene. If the school district had been making unannounced home visits, they would still have reported to the same agency. These children were murdered as a result of failure to enforce existing regulations, not as a result of too few regulations.

Unannounced home visits to homeschoolers will not prevent child abuse. Requiring all children to go to school will not prevent them from being abused. And quite frankly, "society's best watchdogs" are also sometimes guilty of abusing children. Only enforcement of existing law has a chance of doing that - well, that, and more importantly, the redemption and transformation of human hearts through the power of God.


Shawna said...

Wow! Considering how many media stories are currently circulating about teachers having inappropriate and sexual contact with their students...I wonder what kind of watchdogs they would make!

And seeing that the teachers, most of whom do not fall into that category, are not even capable of noting and preventing such tragedies as the violence on campuses nationwide...I wonder how their watchdog capabilities would work in private homes when it fails to work in classrooms and on campuses.

And why do we need watchdogs to begin with? Why can't communities look out for each other: neighbors, churches, social clubs/groups...the way it used to be.

Shawna said...

Also, if we are going to consider the qualifications of parents to homeschool and be watchdogs of their own families and communities...some of these agency workers don't even have proper qualifications and actually used to be cases themselves. At least that was the rumor here many years ago, when many neighbors knew of AFDC workers who used to be AFDC recipients and had not obtained any educational background in social work.

Does their qualifications ever come into question? Or will it always just be the parents and the schools qualifications and responsiblities to prove worthy?

Just a thought.

Marcy Muser said...


I agree 100% about the watchdogs. No one is perfect; what gives someone else the right to determine whether I am a fit parent or not, or whether my homeschooling is acceptable? There are people who believe in evolution who think I'm abusing my children by teaching them creation science - should they be able to determine whether I'm allowed to continue homeschooling? There are people who think homeschooling means kids sitting at desks in the home from 8 to 3 - should those people be allowed to make unannounced visits to my home to determine whether my kids suffer from "educational neglect"?

The Supreme Court has made it clear that parents have the right to see that their kids are educated in whatever way they see fit; just because someone else disagrees with that doesn't mean they can infringe on that right. And when the "watchdogs" are not doing such a great job themselves, what makes them fit to judge us?

It would definitely be better to have relational circles like there used to be - although, to tell you the truth, much abuse was ignored or hidden in those days, too, and with today's higher mobility, that kind of accountability can be hard to come by.

LoonyMom said...

That is appalling! Both the crime and the response. But I think Shawna has a point - if there was "decomposition" going on, you would think the neighbors would have noted something after the tragedy, or recognized "crazy" before it.

We had a similar case in MI this past year, and despite authorities being called by neighbors *multiple times*, a little boy died. Because the social service workers thought everything was ok. Why? Because the mother kept a clean house.

So much for watchdogs.

Dana said...

And yet the state cannot even keep track of what is going on in its own public schools.

Marcy Muser said...


It's unfortunate, but I think the big city depersonalizes people so much that they don't even notice what's going on around them. I don't know about you, but I'm embarrassed to admit how few of my neighbors I know even though I've homeschooled and lived in this neighborhood for seven years!

As for social services, my husband has worked for them for almost 20 years. In most states, they are badly underpaid and overworked, and they bear responsibilities that are hard to believe unless you're seeing them for yourself. They are solely responsible for making sure these kids aren't hurt or killed, but they are liable to lawsuits if they in any way infringe on the parents' rights or even just offend the parents. Many of them (my dh included) can't get insurance to protect them from being sued, and their counties will only indemnify them if they can prove they did everything according to "the books." It's a tough job - you wouldn't want it! And while some social workers are clearly irresponsible, many are simply carrying far too many cases to be able to catch all the bad ones.

It just makes me angry when the media decides to argue that these kids died because they were homeschooled. No - they were public schooled kids, and the "watchdogs" failed them.

Marcy Muser said...


I wonder, though, reading the NYT link you sent - do you think the reason for underreporting violent crimes in schools is that they can't keep track? Or do you think they underreport because they really don't want the truth to be known - that they can't keep order in their schools? I'm personally inclined to believe the underreporting is less the result of error and more the result of deliberate cover-up.