I hadn’t heard of Calista Springer before, that I recall. She is mentioned in a piece about homeschooling and fundamentalism (and Quiverfull and patriarchalism) in American Prospect.

Homeschooling now exists in a virtual legal void; parents have near-total authority over what their children learn and how they are disciplined. Not only are parents in 26 states not required to have their children tested but in 11 states, they don’t have to inform local schools when they’re withdrawing them. The states that require testing and registration often offer religious exemptions.

The emphasis on discipline has given rise to a cottage industry promoting harsh parenting techniques as godly. Books like To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl promise that parents can snuff out rebellious behavior with a spanking regimen that starts when infants are a few months old. The Pearls claim to have sold nearly 700,000 copies of their book, most through bulk orders from church and homeschooling groups. The combination of those disciplinary techniques with unregulated homeschooling has spawned a growing number of horror stories now being circulated by the ex-homeschoolers—including that of Calista Springer, a 16-year-old in Michigan who died in a house fire while tied to her bed after her parents removed her from public school, or Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee whose Washington state parents were convicted in September of killing her with starvation and abuse in a Pearl-style system. Materials from HSLDA were found in the home of Williams’s parents.

I’ve written about the Hana Williams case here – she was murdered just an hour or two north of here – but not that horrifying item about Calista Springer.

I can’t find much about her, especially on reliable sites. A blog at CNN reported the verdict in the trial of her father and his wife (she was apparently more abducted than adopted).

Centreville, Michigan – Anthony and Marsha Springer arrived at the Centreville courtroom in green and white striped prison garb to receive their sentences from the judge, Hon. Paul Stutesman. Their daughter, Calista, died in a house fire on February 27, 2008 while chained to her bed. Soon after the fire, a long history of abuse by the couple toward Calista was revealed.

A shackled Anthony Springer spoke to the judge, apologizing for what happened to his daughter Calista, but reiterating that it wasn’t intentional and that they did the “best we could with what was available to us.” Anthony spoke about the neglect that Calista endured as a baby by her birth mother Norma Swegles. Swegles, who was present for the sentencing, muttered obscenities and was escorted out of the courtroom by the bailiff.

In his statement to the judge, Anthony Springer laid heavy blame on the Department of Human Services saying, “This system failed Calista and it failed this family and it failed seriously.”

Discipline. Another one disappears into the mist.





  1. says

    I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but Max Blumenthal’s book Republican Gomorrah (which has its problems) discusses James Dobson’s treatises Dare to Discipline (1970) and The Strong-Willed Child (1992), how they advocated the physical abuse and terrorizing of children, and how this has contributed to many psychologically scarred people who form the base of a highly authoritarian Christian Right in the US. He talks about a book called Spare the Child: The Religious roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse by Philip Greven (there’s another by Alice Miller called For Your Own Good) which analyzes the personal psychological and the sociological harms of this culture of child abuse.

    The Pearls’ book seems very much in that tradition.

  2. says

    That’s a great article,* and I see now that it discusses the influence of Dobson.

    After the family returned home from church, Jennifer’s parents discovered that she had recently been posting about animal rights on Facebook, which they had forbidden. They took away Jennifer’s graduation presents and computer, she told Lauren. More disturbing, they said that if she didn’t eat meat for dinner she’d wake up to find one of the pets she babied gone.

    To most people, it would have sounded like overreaction to innocuous forms of teenage rebellion.

    To me, it seems like abuse and terrorizing of the girl and the animals in response to a courageous moral stand.

    Homeschooling leaders argue that child abuse is no more prevalent in homeschooling families than in those that enroll their kids in public school,

    Even if that were true, which I doubt, kids in schools have some more built-in protections: it’s more likely to be noticed if they go missing or show signs of abuse, and they’re exposed to others to whom they can turn for help if they’re being abused.

    and they push back against even modest attempts at oversight. In 2013, HSLDA lobbied against a proposed Pennsylvania bill that would have required a short period of oversight for parents who decide to homeschool and already have substantiated abuse claims against them—in essence defending the right of abusive parents to homeschool without supervision. The group is currently challenging state laws that allow anonymous tips to Child Protective Services to be grounds for investigating parents. In June, the HSLDA–authored Parental Rights Amendment was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives with 64 co-sponsors. The amendment would enshrine in the Constitution parents’ “fundamental right” to direct their child’s upbringing however they see fit, free of state interference.

    Outrageous. It’s wonderful to read about the ex-homeschoolers’ movement – their sites, organizing, and activism. I hope they get even more attention.

    *I was thinking the encouragement of debating skills was going to backfire on them!

  3. fionaca says

    Sorry for the irrelevant post, but can anyone advise me about how to register with pharyngula? I have tried several times. I give them a user name and my email address, then I should wait for a mail from them and click on a link to confirm. However, I have never received the email from them, so I cannot click on the link to confirm. It is maybe because I am using stupid yahoo email address. (I tried to sign up for gmail, but they require a text message address or a cellphone number, neither of which I have right now). Has anyone else had this problem, and any advice about how to fix it? My apologies for commenting off-topic. Any advice would be much welcome.

    Brgs fionaca

  4. says

    Sorry for the irrelevant post, but can anyone advise me about how to register with pharyngula?

    If you can post here, you’re signed in for all of FTB, so you should be able to comment on any of the blogs.

  5. stever says

    It’s worth noting that there are two sorts of homeschoolers: the monsters we’ve been reading about and the ones who want to rescue their children from the wreck of American public education but can’t afford private schools. These latter ones are rare, because running a good homeschool program is a lot of work, so many of them wind up turning to religious schools even if they aren’t particularly religious. In New Orleans, it was traditional for the not-rich-but-well-off to send their kids to Catholic schools, because the Church didn’t have to bow to the teachers’ unions.

    My mother was Catholic, so she attempted to make me Catholic, but I never experienced the leap of faith delusion that’s necessary to take that shit seriously. By the time of my first Communion, I had already filed it all under “Stuff I’m supposed to pretend to believe.”

  6. yahweh says

    Following on from SC’s comments, the late Alice Miller’s book For Your Own Good draws examples from Victorian era child rearing manuals, partly because the whole ghastly rationale is set out, undisguised and unabashed whereas more modern works are much more coy. These new books, rather depressingly, seem to be reversing the trend but at least their openness about their objectives and methods might make it easier for their victims to escape, in later years.

    Anyone interested in a truly humane and intelligent perspective on “child rearing” should visit or possibly research similar, earlier work of John Bowlby. A lot of Bowlby’s ideas (e.g. about the importance of maternal bonding) are now commonplace, but Miller’s still trigger outrage amongst those who can see nothing wrong with the way things were for them. (The trick, of course, is to ask where the outrage comes from and try to answer without rationalising).

  7. yazikus says

    My parents were big fans of Dobson (probably still are), but due to my dad’s work we usually lived somewhere where we were sent to international schools, and thus not homeschooled. I shudder to think how it would have been if they could have. My mom did manage to ‘homeschool’ me for ten months when I was 13, which meant I taught myself some Latin and cleaned the house, a lot. HSLDA is a big part of the reason why the us still hasn’t ratified the UN convention on the rights of a child.

  8. yazikus says

    Libby Anne over at Love Joy Feminism did some research into the HSLDA’s lobbying work to get rid of many laws that regard anything to do with child abuse, and how effective they have been. Frightening stuff.

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