Saturday, January 12, 2008

Homeschoolers Do Not Need Watchdogs

This is just not my week for journalists.

I shouldn't be surprised at the attitude of this report from The New York Times, that "lack of supervision" of homeschooling families was a contributing factor in the deaths of four girls. I really am not surprised, because most Americans value regulation and control over individual liberty. Still, I am disheartened. No, make that incensed.

The lack of supervision of the home-schooling process, some experts say, may have made it easier last year for Ms. Jacks to withdraw her children from school and the prying eyes of teachers, social workers and other professionals who otherwise might have detected signs of abuse and neglect of the girls. (emphasis added)

What happened to these children is tragic and inexcusable. The fact that they died at the hand of their own mother is horrible. I can't even imagine how terrible their short lives must have been.

But homeschooling, and the supposed lack of governmental oversight, is not responsible. No way.

Some would have us think that it is the proper role of "society" (that is, the government) to oversee all children just in case the child is in danger at home.

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.

By this reasoning, parents should be REQUIRED by law to put their newborns in daycare after leaving the hospital. Why? All children are unable to fend for themselves in terms of their own safety and wellbeing and some kids are victims of horrible crimes. Therefore, all parents need "watchdogs" because some parents harm their kids. To prevent such crimes, a qualified and certified and licensed third party must be absolutely necessary to the wellbeing of all children. Parents should never be trusted to be alone with their offspring EVER, because the children might come to physical, emotional, or mental harm.

This is not the way to protect children in a country where freedom is valued. Or was once valued, but that's another post.

Protecting the rights of children can of course be difficult when their own parents--the people responsible for supporting and caring for them until such time as they are able to care for themselves--are the criminals harming them. Certain professionals, such as doctors and teachers, have a legal obligation to report suspected abuse. (I would argue that any adult who suspects child abuse has a moral obligation to do the same.)

However, the proper solution to this tragic reality is NOT to criminalize all parents. I am not a potential criminal because I have chosen to have children and because they are alone with me in the house sometimes. I do not need a watchdog. I am their parent, not a Sanctioned Guardian for a Ward of the State.

Never mind the fact that lots and lots of children who go to school are harmed or killed at the hands of their parents. Sheesh--kids are being harmed and abused by their school teachers, too! It's not even hard to find examples of kids hurt or killed by adults who were supposed to be looking out for them--crimes of this nature are sadly all too common. And I of course must point out that in the case of the Jacks's children, they were being monitored by "society's watchdogs" and they still died. The watchdogs didn't do what they were supposed to.

Homeschooling (or, more accurately, the mother's claim to be homeschooling) is simply not a mitigating factor in these deaths. Parents are not potential criminals. Further regulation of homeschooling families, or indeed ALL parents (because that's where this is heading), will not completely prevent these kinds of crimes.

As an aside to the main point of my post, I'd like to mention that The New York Times has its facts wrong. Homeschooling has NEVER been illegal in any state. The HSLDA did not legalize homeschooling. This is a very common misconception about homeschooling and it's high time that some reporter for a major newspaper figured this out.


COD said...

So these kids had been in school for many years and nobody saw any signs of abuse. But they would have definately stopped this murder, which happened over Christmas break.

Yeah, right.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thank you!

Terrible things happen in the world, and this is one of them. And my heart goes out the children and what they must have suffered.

But we do not have the power to stop all terrible things from happening--no matter how zealous the nanny state becomes. And what is more, often terrible things happen at the behest of the state--and those tend to be at a much larger scale. Think about Stalin. Mao. Saddam.

So thanks for your reasoned approach.

DM said...

I couldn't believe it when I started reading other articles about this horrible incident. It was as if the NY Times wasn't even writing about the same event.

I called my husband to tell him this -- he'd read the NY Times article, just to see what all the screaming was about (hey, he knew he married a screamer) -- and he said he'd actually read about the Jacks case in other newspapers, but hadn't recognized it as the same story the NY Times was reporting.

That reporter is a ghoul. She's using the murder of four children as an excuse to push her own ideas about homeschooling. How in the name of anything can she talk about requiring standardized testing and parental teaching certification in the face of this? How could that kind of law have saved the children in question, and how could having laws like that in place now do anything but make real homeschoolers' lives more difficult than they already are?

Dana said...

From the lead paragraph:

Ten states and the District of Columbia, where Banita M. Jacks was charged on Thursday with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her four daughters, have no regulations regarding home schooling, not even the requirement that families notify the authorities that they are educating their children at home.

And this isn't even true, exactly. From my understanding, D.C. requires notification if you are pulling your child from a public school during the year. I don't know how strict that is, but it seems perhaps flags should have been raised by a potentially illegal withdrawal? Not to mention previous reports with closed cases which were never investigated because of no fixed address?

Social Services dropped the ball on this. Had they at least investigated and turned up nothing, it would have been different. But they had reports they dismissed against their own procedures.

And now mayor Fenty wants to track homeschooled students? The system is already overburdened and can't handle monitoring those with allegations against them. So now we will add to that monitoring innocent people with no record?

The CLUES Academy said...

>>>However, the proper solution to this tragic reality is NOT to criminalize all parents. I am not a potential criminal because I have chosen to have children and because they are alone with me in the house sometimes. I do not need a watchdog. I am their parent, not a Sanctioned Guardian for a Ward of the State.>>>

Great point Jen. People seem to be all too happy to be considered POTENTIAL CRIMINALS just because we have children.

It seems to me that this is the first step towards a fascist government and no one is paying attention. Everything one is walking absurdly and blindly along into this horrific fate......

Alasandra said...

I just read in The Sun Herald that 6 child welfare workers were fired because they failed to do their job in this case. I posted about it at Alasandra.

The New York Times article completely ignores the fact that substance abuse and mental illness of the Mother were reported and child welfare failed to act on it.

jugglingpaynes said...

"I am their parent, not a Sanctioned Guardian for a Ward of the State."
That was my favorite sentence.
Don't forget all the children who are harmed or killed by their fellow students.

As someone who used to work in the public schools, I can tell you that it's a heavy burden placed on teachers to be "society's best watchdogs." No teacher will come forward unless they are absolutely certain that abuse has taken place, they don't want to risk their careers on false accusations. If teachers are such wonderful watchdogs, I would assume the percentage of incidence of abuse would be lower among public school children. Is there any data to support this logic?

Thanks for an excellent read.

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

The more I consider this issue, the more I'm convinced that this affects not only homeschooling families, but ALL parents. The government is slowly and steadily entering our homes. Words like "watchdogs" and "surveillance" should never be used when referring to the proper role of government and how it should treat innocent, law-abiding citizens. Something is very wrong when this idea keeps popping up everywhere. EVERY parent should be wary and I hope they are!