Michelle Goldberg also recently wrote about homeschooling as a way to shield child abuse. In the Daily Beast:
On September 9, the parents of Hana Williams, an Ethiopian teenager living in the state of Washington, were convicted of killing her. During the last year of her life, court documents show, she had lost almost 30 pounds as she was beaten, denied food, forced to sleep in a barn, and given cold outdoor showers with a garden hose. Much of the time she was kept barefoot, although she was allowed shoes if there was snow on the ground. Sometimes she was given nothing but a towel to wear. If Williams had been in school, someone might have noticed that she was underdressed and emaciated. But she was homeschooled, and so her parents, fundamentalist Christians in thrall to a harsh disciplinary philosophy, had complete privacy to punish her as they saw fit. She died naked, face down in the mud in their backyard.
Like so many things, privacy is a double-edged sword. We all want it and depend on it; we consider it a right; but god damn it can be abused. Domestic violence wouldn’t exist without privacy; “domestic” and “private” are much the same thing.
Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman, two women who themselves grew up in homeschooling families, have documented dozens of horrific cases on their website, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which launched in May. A database of local news stories and official documents, the site is searchable by category, including Fatality, Food Deprivation, Imprisonment, Physical Abuse and Sexual Abuse. Under Sexual Abuse, to take just one of them, Doney and Coleman found almost 70 victims since 2000—and those are just cases that made the papers.
Coleman, an Indiana University Ph.D. student who studies the role of children in the Christian right, does not believe that homeschooling parents are more abusive than others. Some 1.5 million Americans kids are taught at home, and there’s no reason to think that more than a small fraction of them are subject to severe violence. Indeed, Coleman says she wouldn’t even rule out homeschooling her own children. But she argues that because the practice is almost entirely unregulated in much of the country, it can make abusive situations worse, allowing parents to hide their crimes and denying kids access to outside authority. “Homeschooling enables parents to isolate children,” Coleman says. “That can enable them to abuse them.”
It’s a helluva knotty problem, because monitoring homeschooling would obviously be massively labor-intensive. If I were a bureaucrat tasked with figuring out how to do it I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin.
The Home School Legal Defense Association was founded in 1983, just as homeschooling was catching on among an ascendant Christian right. Many in the movement believed that public schools indoctrinated children in godless secularism and saw homeschooling as a way to give their kids an education steeped in biblical values. At first, homeschoolers faced a great deal of official resistance—some states banned homeschooling outright, while others strictly limited it. During the past 30 years, though, HSLDA has successfully fought to eliminate or drastically loosen those regulations.
Even regulations about monitoring parents who have already been reported for abuse…
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania state Sen. Andrew Dinniman sponsored new legislation in response to the 2012 deaths of two young homeschooled boys in Philadelphia: 6-year-old Khalil Wime, whose parents were arrested for starving and torturing him to death, and 5-year-old Dashawn Harris, reportedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend for mispronouncing the word “sad” during a homeschooling lesson. He is awaiting trial for first-degree murder.
Under Dinniman’s bill, when families with recent child-abuse complaints start homeschooling, child protective services would have to be notified. The parents wouldn’t necessarily be prohibited from pulling their kids out of school, but there would be an outside risk assessment.
The homeschooling movement reacted with outrage. “Bad Bills Threaten Homeschooling Freedom” said an alert sent out by HSLDA. The organization was indignant that families that had already been investigated for abuse would be investigated a second time “just because they had decided to homeschool their children.” As of now, legislation’s future is unclear. “We have heard some concerns in questions about the bill,” said Dinniman’s legislative director, refusing to speculate on its chances.
That “just because” is telling. Yes, parents suspected of abusing their children would be subject to a risk assessment “just because” they decided to homeschool their children – imagine that! Imagine thinking that removing children from the one environment where they have ready access to adults who are not their parents might not be ideal for children subject to abuse.