Since I began working for the Home School Legal Defense Association in 1985, homeschoolers have nearly always been treated fairly by the press. It seems the press, whether newspaper, radio, or TV, viewed the homeschool parents as the underdog, facing the overwhelming muscle of the government, who was trying to trample their rights. We have received, as a result, positive coverage for homeschooling all these many years. Of course, every now and then, some reporter would take a "shot" at homeschool families, but overwhelmingly the reports by the press have helped promote the homeschool movement.
The Shift Against Homeschooling
On October 13 and 14, 2003, this all changed. The CBS Evening News released a report called "A Dark Side to Homeschooling" and on the second night, "Homeschooling Nightmares." These two pieces are the worst attack on homeschooling in the press that I have seen for the last 18 years. The shows depicted homeschoolers as child abusers. The main theme of the shows asserted that since homeschooling is not regulated enough, children would continue to die or be harmed.
The episodes focused on approximately four families whose children either committed suicide or murdered others. In all these instances, the families were truant, and were not even complying with the homeschool law. Furthermore, child welfare workers were thoroughly involved with each family, having visited some of them over thirty times. Yet they allowed the abuse to continue. After one North Carolina family's son killed the other two children and committed suicide, the family was prosecuted for child abuse. Believe it or not, they were found not guilty.
The Problem Has Nothing to Do with Regulations
The problem obviously is not with homeschooling. The problem is with the child welfare system. They are not enforcing the laws and knowingly allowing abuse to continue. On the other hand, they are "spinning their wheels" chasing innocent homeschoolers and families following malicious anonymous tips. We at HSLDA help families on a daily basis who face false allegations that others have given to the child welfare system simply because of prejudice.
That is where the most abuse really occurs: child welfare workers harassing innocent homeschool families, intimidating them, and insisting on entry into their home against their wishes. In many cases, they try to force the family into letting them interrogate the children separately. There is a general refusal to respect the Fourth Amendment and parental rights of these families on a routine basis. We at HSLDA are defending these families and are making huge inroads to changing legislation to better protect these rights. (See more true accounts of social worker abuse of homeschoolers at www.hslda.org).
Restrictive Legislation of Homeschooling Is on the Way
However, the CBS report poses the danger of "turning the clock back" to not only empower social worker abuse but also to fuel a cry in the state legislatures to change the laws in order to "crack down" on these "abusive" homeschoolers. Although we sent out an alert, causing thousands of homeschoolers to be made aware of these reports and to contact CBS with their complaints, the damage, nonetheless, was done.
Millions of people saw the "guilt by association" outrageous journalism.
Since then, we have seen more coverage than ever by newspapers on the rare abusive families who claim to be homeschooling.
For instance, the New York Times, on November 15, 2003, published an editorial entitled "Make Homeschooling Safe for Children," highlighting another situation of so-called homeschoolers abusing their adopted children in New Jersey. The New York Times stated, "Most teachers would have immediately sounded the alarm... but this child and two other school age siblings never appeared in a classroom." Further on it states, "New Jersey is not alone. Nine states allow parents to remove children from school without reporting that they are doing so. An additional 14 states require home-schoolers to report that they are keeping their children at home, but require very little else. These lax regulations stem in some instances from the old patterns of American farming communities, where parents needed to keep their children around to help with the crops. In some states, the rules remain unchanged because the groups that hold home schooling sacred have political muscle. In others, the desire to save money and avoid responsibility obviously comes into play."
They are asserting that more regulation will stop abuse. Realistically, the only law that might have prevented these rare killings is stationing a social worker in every home!
The article continues, "The home schooling laws fly in the face of compulsory education statutes that have been on the books throughout this country since the early 20th century, not to mention the new national push to raise standards and improve student achievement... The shock over this case will cause New Jersey to revisit its home-schooling law. States with similar laws should do the same."
This last foreboding comment is evidence of where this bad media coverage is driving the legal and legislative issues. God tells us in his word not to have the spirit of fear, but of faith, love and self-control. We need to turn to the Lord and ask for his mercy and his protection from this onslaught by the media in these and other instances across the country.
Homeschoolers Have to Shake Off Their Apathy
Homeschoolers, meanwhile, need to rise up and shake off their complacency. Now that homeschooling is legal in all fifty states, there is a tendency among homeschool parents to forget the huge sacrifices of how we gained the freedom that we enjoy, and also sit back and no longer be involved in the political process.
Now more than ever, homeschoolers need to be eternally vigilant. They need to be part of the Home School Legal Defense Association to ensure the protection of their own family when faced by contacts from social workers or truant officers and to help the 8,000 or so families contacted by the authorities each year. But more importantly, to fund our ability to lobby the 50 state legislatures and to launch court cases to protect the rights of homeschoolers everywhere. Without members, we do not have the finances to fight back against the attack.
Furthermore, homeschoolers should be part of their state homeschool associations and render support to them as well, as they work together with HSLDA at the state levels to stop bad legislation.
Bad legislation will come. Many legislators are waiting for these rare stories of so-called abusive homeschoolers in order to restrict the homeschool freedoms once again. The National Education Association has passed a resolution annually for the last decade urging their teachers to push for new laws that would require homeschoolers to be licensed by the state and have their curriculum approved by state specialists. This is anathema to all of us as homeschoolers and it obviously will not stop abuse.
Instead, the authorities simply need to "throw the book" at any family that abuses their children in any way. The punishments, if severe enough, will serve as a deterrent. We don't need to regulate everyone and take away their freedoms.
The honeymoon with the press is definitely over. Homeschoolers need to brace themselves for inevitable introduction of bad legislation and be prepared to stop it before it gets barely started. And pray that God would be merciful to the homeschool movement and would honor all of those families who are honoring Him through faithfully training their children for the glory and honor of God.
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