May 31, 2002

Don't Link Home School With Abuse

By Robert Ziegler and Jeff Townsend

From the News & Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, Friday, May 31, 2002

A recommendation by the state [North Carolina] Child Fatality Review Team that the "correlation of home schooling and protection issues for children" should be examined is a classic example of a state fiefdom attempting to convert an unspeakable tragedy into increased political clout and power.

For state agencies to do this is alarming enough, but to do so in the wake of events that transpired in Johnston County last July the murder-suicide of two boys and their older sister seems almost heartless.

The team found that home school laws "allow persons who maltreat children to maintain social isolation in order for the abuse and neglect to remain undetected" and called for a task force to look into the issue. But there is no logical connection between the practice of home schooling, which is the chosen means of education by the parents of more than 2 million students nationally, and child abuse.

Parents who home school almost always do so out of a great regard for their children's future and a heartfelt belief that they can make a difference by more personally directing their education. Many parents come to this decision due to real concerns about their children's well-being, whether emotional, intellectual, physical or all three, in the public school system.

Where in that is a recipe for abuse?

Obviously parents are free (at this point) to choose what they see fit in terms of their children's education. Obviously there are differences of opinion within mainstream thought as to what the best way is, but to take one of the choices and attempt to say that it has some special link with abuse is nothing short of ludicrous.

Make no mistake about it, abusing a child is a decision that a parent makes. The parent chooses to do evil. While sociologists and psychologists may spend hours determining the factors leading to this decision, it is an inexcusable decision nonetheless. To say that it might somehow stem from the choice of educational format is so remote a thought that it defies belief that a state-appointed panel would actually raise it.

So why target home schooling this way? If there's no real link to child abuse, what is it about home schooling that causes certain establishment entities concern?

There are two main threats that home schooling provides to certain interested parties in the current context.

One, it is a direct challenge to the liberal big-government notion that the public schools can be the be-all, end-all vehicle for social services delivery. This notion has led to such a diluting of the mission of public schools that they could not help but lose effectiveness. This is not to slight all the well-meaning teachers and families who strive to make public schools the best they can be. But the state, in burdening them with so many non-academic tasks, has given them an impossible mission.

The second threat has more to do with the education establishment decision-makers. Teachers' unions recognize all too well that home schooling is a threat to federal funding, because so much of that funding is based on enrollment figures. While there are many well-meaning and decent teachers in public schools, the organization that represents them is agenda-driven, and in our view dollars are that agenda.

Home schooling is a means by which parents take back their central role in the development of their (not the village's) children. And so, many in the liberal big-government, educational and social services conglomerate fight against it desperately.

They have failed to stigmatize it academically, due to outstanding test results and college and work performance by home schoolers. They are losing (on a family-by-family basis) the battle to spread the myth that home school students cannot be properly socialized. So now they are getting out the heaviest and most desperate artillery. They find tragedies like that in Johnston County, most often in families so dysfunctional that they are more properly termed dropouts rather than home schoolers, and try to use them to put their failing apparatus back in a more secure position of power.

This is why such outlandish charges are popping up, and this is why they should be ignored. Shame on those who would try to exploit a tragedy.

Government should recognize that its responsibility is to protect its citizens, not harass them. Instead of trying to make a bogeyman out of such a good thing, why not recognize that thinking of the public schools as the answer for every possible social problem is flawed, and work on developing a better way to prevent and uncover real child abuse?

Robert Ziegler is with the Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va. Jeff Townsend, of Bolivia, N.C., is president of North Carolinians for Home Education.