Saturday, March 8, 2008


The homeschooling world is all abuzz this week over a recent ruling by the California Court of Appeals. The court was responding to a confidential juvenile proceeding and the case involved child abuse. Legal battles are still being fought but as the ruling stands now, it sounds like all children in California will need to be taught by credentialed teachers in the future. We're having pretty similar troubles in DC right now. There was a tragic case earlier this year of four children found dead in their home. It's a long, complicated story but one of the reasons these kids slipped through the cracks was that they weren't attending school. The mother had withdrawn them to "homeschool" them. The District, previously one of the most homeschool-friendly "states", is responding with a set of regulations including home visits to observe parents instructing their children.

These cases remind me a bit of the articles on co-sleeping that come out once a year or so. The newspaper reports that there is a growing or hidden trend of parents sleeping with their children and then goes on to list all the reasons this is a bad idea. The example always given is of a mother under the influence of drugs or alcohol who has rolled on top of her infant in the night. What's the problem? It must be co-sleeping.

It is nothing short of tragic when children are abused by their parents or, worse, when they die from neglect or at the hands of a mentally-ill parent. But the problem is not that these children were homeschooling or sharing a bed with their parents. What shall we discourage next? I would bet it's pretty dangerous for a six-month old to be bathed by a drunk parent. Should we discourage the bathing of small children?

Many of my closest friends are teachers or have been teachers in public schools. They are, without exception, wonderful teachers. I have asked all of them if their education degree has been helpful to them in the classroom and almost all of them agree that their teacher training was helpful only in the area of classroom management. (I should note that all of the teachers in my sample teach elementary school. My argument may become less true with older children.) This is great. I would hope any single person left with the charge of twenty to thirty five-year olds has had training in classroom management. But home-educating parents do not need to practice classroom management. There might be similar skills required in managing a transition from one activity to another, or redirecting a stressed-out child but these are skills necessary for a parent long before a child reaches school age.

The attentions of even the most excellent teacher are no substitute for the love of the most distant, ignorant, or uneducated parent. There are extreme examples, to be sure. But if a parent is abusive, addicted, or mentally ill the problem will still be there after school. Remember, kids live with their parents.

I don't have an easy answer for the problem of how to keep kids in those sorts of situations from being injured or killed. I don't think there is an easy answer. It is unfortunate that the state of California and the District of Columbia seem to be reacting strongly against a tangential issue to these cases. The State wants to protect these kids but as my husband is fond of saying, "The State can't love you." Change needs to come at the cultural level, not from top-down government intervention and cultural change is a long, slow road. Few, I'm afraid, have the energy to travel it.

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