As hollow as a home-school story gets

Let’s face it. Your GetReligionistas have been doing what we do for quite some time now and, at this point, it takes a lot to shock us when it comes to journalists leaving religion-shaped holes in important stories.

Still, shock happens.

We still see a story every now and then that includes a laugh-to-keep-from-crying mistake. We see stories that make us want to slap our foreheads and say, “WHAAA!?” And then we see stories that are simply sad, sad, sad. They leave us shaking out heads wanting to know why the journalists involved in doing this work could not see what was right in front of their eyes (or for some mysterious reason chose not to see the obvious).

The following CNEWS story from Canada is a perfect example of what I am talking about.

The subject is homeschooling. Against all reason and all odds, the only subject worthy of being mentioned in this report seems to be homeschooling — period.

But here is the odd part. On one side are state officials, with mysterious motives. On the other side is a Catholic family, with mysterious motives. Ready?

A Quebec judge has ordered a family to send their two youngest children to state-run daycare for “socialization.”

Along with raising concerns about speech delays in one of the children who has hearing problems, Judge Nicole Bernier said the kids, aged three and five, need “socialization” outside of the family. The parents also have two more children, aged seven and nine, who were forced last year to send their once home-schooled kids to public school under a court-order.

What is at the heart of this tragic conflict?

Translated from French, Bernier said of the parents: “They have isolated themselves with their children in a very limited view of what constitutes education of a child, wanting to protect children from the external environment they perceive as bad. They have deprived the children of a proper education.”

The parents have not been charged with negligence or abuse. Their family doctor testified, saying the children were all healthy and well cared-for.

That’s just about it, folks. Story over.

So the big idea is that the parents want to protect their own children from the “external environment they perceive as bad.” Thus, the children have failed to receive “a proper education.”

What are the actual issues here — just the facts — in terms of educational content and proper “socialization”? Anyone want to bet that religious, moral and cultural issues are at the heart of this story? You think? Did anyone with CNEWS ask about that, at all? Is that addressed in the court documents?

Canadian readers, come to our aid. Ditto, you home-schooler types. Is this, in large part, a hollow story?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Nick Rynerson

    This is certainly interesting, I am curious to the motivation of the state to order that “socialization”, there may be a biased undertone to the mandate. But on the other hand, it is certainly hard for most, including myself. to understand the reasoning for keep these children in a state where the government would need to intervene. I am not sure how I personally feel about homeschooling, and I would guess I am fine with it as long as it leads to an accurate understanding of the world, culture, community and the gospel, which it doesn’t always. I can understand the states concern from an outside perspective, and heck, who knows, maybe they’ll be little gospel lights in their preschool ;)

  • Jerry

    There’s also a gigantic scientific hole since the story did not present any references to any proof that home schooled children are or are not more social or anti-social than other kids.

    So the story left out religion and science. Anything else?

    Actually the story is a classic example of a superficial story presenting only the bare facts of the situation without any in-depth material.

  • Kate

    Hmmm. I have a 6yo and 3yo. They don’t have many playdates, and they don’t go to school. I school my oldest at home because I think he would be both 1) bored at school and 2) disruptive (he’s got ADHD symptoms and is only now reaching a diagnosable age). We are also Catholic and, yeah, religious formation is important to me. So this story interests me on multiple levels bc it is easy to identify with the family in the story.

    But…the story doesn’t tell me if the family held any unusual beliefs or practices, it doesn’t tell me how the older children adjusted to school, it doesn’t tell me whether a psychiatric specialist was consulted by the court or the family during this ordeal, it doesn’t tell me what kind of socialization the family did provide (extended family? parish? playgroups?) or anything else to give this story more context. Is there more going on here than just the home schooling? Have other home school families in Quebec had similar conflicts and if not, why not? How did this family come to the notice of the court in the first place? Why is only HSLDA quoted on the homeschool side of things instead of a more local Canadian organization?

    Poor reporting indeed.

  • Parker

    I’m going to go out on a limb (not much of one though), and say that there is a religious angle to this story. However, that being said, what if there is not? If the newspaper pursued that angle, and found that there was nothing there, are they required to include in the story the lack of religious angle?

  • Kunoichi

    I am a Canadian home schooling parent. Though I’ve never lived in Quebec, we have been registered home schoolers in three different provinces – each province has different regulations when it comes to home schooling, but it *is* legal in all provinces. It should be noted that, in Quebec, NO registration of home schoolers is required – they are exempt.

    As you can imagine, this story is being followed closely by hs’ers across the country. Most of us realize we’re just a malicious phone call away from having our children taken from us. We actually moved to a different province partly from this fear.

    There are so many holes in this story, it boggles the mind. We don’t know who reported this family (though some guess it was a school board) or why. There is no legal reason for these children to be forced to go to school and daycare. This judge has clearly stepped outside the bounds of the law, and we have no information about it.

    Quebec is known among hs’ers as one of the less friendly provinces to hs in, even though their law is actually quite open and relaxed. An anti-religious (esp. Catholic) aspect has also been noted, and has been increasing for years. It’s just taken this case for the media to notice anything and start reporting on it. The new Sun News Network has been all over it, but we still have very few details emerging, and the religion ghost doesn’t seem to be noticed.

    As an aside, “socialization” is often referred to as “the S word” by hs’ers. It’s one of those things that makes us roll our eyes and grit our teeth. I won’t go into the why of it here – I’d take up way too much space – but it drives us nuts.

  • Captain Thin

    A slightly newer article from the Toronto Sun on the same story seems to imply the big problem is minor language development delays in one of the children. Quote: “In March 2011, Judge Nicole Bernier cited minor speech delays caused by hearing difficulties in one of the children, and ruled that all four needed to be “socialized.”" And, according to the lawyer for the family, “The judge also found the mother’s use of “phonics” to teach her children to read out-dated.”

    I’ll avoid commenting on the rationality of the judge’s decision except to say that, even with some of the details filled in, this story really doesn’t make a lot of sense…

  • Elijah

    Kunoichi hits on a really tender spot for all hs’ers – the perceived lack of socialization. Although I run a small private Christian school, I spend LOTS of time with homeschool parents and kids and the truth is that they go out of their way to make sure their kids are as well socialized as any others out there. But if by ‘socialization’ Quebec means “mixes in with drugs, sex whenever you want it, vulagr music etc etc” then yes, hs’ers aren’t well socialized. And 99% of the hs’ers I know are deeply religious people and – imagine! – the Catholic and Protestant familes actually have much in common and work well together. I can’t imagine secular Quebec views that too favorably. Lastly, I am both fascinated and appalled by the conduct of a nation that calls it self “free”.

  • Dave G.

    I noticed that the story kept “socialization” in quotes. I wonder why. Is that some term usually put in quotes in stories?

    I agree, it would have been nice to know just what they mean by not being up to snuff when it comes to the quote word. Elijah makes a great point. We had our boys (our three oldest) in a Christian school for a time. But I preferred to have them in the public school realm to get ready for the world. After the last 6 years, though, I’m not sure I would do it again. Socialization can mean many, many things depending on the time and place.

  • Wendy

    After reading the actual judgement (with difficulty, since my French is rusty) it seems like the big issue for the judge was that when told to get treatment for the child with the most severe impairment in 2007, they never showed up for appointments, and never followed up, with the result that the child’s condition got even worse. The judgement also notes that the children (it seems that all or most of them have some sort of speech problem) with speech/auditory impairments have made up their own sign language of sorts to get around the impairments instead of trying to improve their speech, which may be what is prompting the ‘socialization’ talk… forcing them to interact outside the group that knows their shorthand might improve their communication skills.

  • Jason

    Wendy: thank you. Your comment provides more insight into the issue than the original story. It is a slightly different issues if a parent is medically neglecting their children, but that is another can of worms entirely and only tangentially related to home schooling.

  • Kunoichi

    Wendy, do you have a link to the actual judgement? I’ve only seen parts.

    This morning, on one of my Canadian home schooler email groups where this is being discussed, a family who moved out of Quebec to escape their draconian attitudes towards hs’ers weighed in. In Quebec, unlike most other provinces, it is the school boards, not the parents, that have the right to decide whether or not a child is being “educated” properly. As they are often overloaded with regular students and get no funding to supervise hs children in their district, there is a tendancy to make things difficult for hs families.

    In Quebec, it’s the parents that need to prove to the state (school board) that their children are being educated, not the other way around. A sort of “guilty before proven innocent” system. This is a *huge* problem for hs’ers, since it leaves families open to all sorts of persecution.

    To quote from the former Quebecer I mentioned…

    “The important point to understand is the 134 : The tribunal declares that the security and the development of the 4 children is compromised. (That means that the parents did not show that their children have an equivalent education to the one provided in school. That means that the tribunal has the right to force them to go to school)
    Point 139: If the parents can show that they will correct the situation by providing the care that their children need, especially about socialisation because the children have problem with their speech, they will be allowed to homeschool and to not send their children to daycare.”

    Of course, none of this was in any of the reports on the story.

  • Wendy

    Here it is, for your French legalese reading pleasure….

  • Parker

    As a former home schooled student (K-8), I always enjoy reading these stories.

  • Kunoichi

    Thanks, Wendy. :-)

  • Jay

    The mangled English translation per Google has the judges claiming they’re not infringing parental rights or religious freedom, merely doing what’s right for the children.

    As best I can tell, the judge is arguing that it takes a village to raise a children when the village (or its tribal elder) disagrees with how the children are being raised.

  • MJBubba

    To Dave G. (#8), it appears that the original story in French started with “socialisation” in quotes, and this just got carried along by the English-language press.
    Captain Thin (#6), thanks for the link to the Toronto Sun article. I notes that the father says that they were homeschooling because the older kids were being bullied at school due to their speech problems. So, the judge decided that this bullying environment is preferable to homeschooling because it provides the needed “socialisation,” which she believes will help their speech. Do you think these kids will practice talking more or less while at public school?
    The Homeschool Legal Defence Association says that “The judge refused to hear expert witnesses and evidence regarding the value of homeschooling over public schools.” That seems a relevant detail that we did not learn from media accounts.

  • Shadow

    This is part of a bigger story: the suppression of religious education in Quebec. Day care centers can no longer speak about religion if they are to get their subsidies. Kids in school have to take an obligatory religion course that does not recognize any faith as one’s own. There are lawsuits, but the provincial government is plodding inexorably onwards. So it’s no surprize that they won’t allow home schooling. People who do it wait for a knock at the door.

  • Christy

    Quebec is a very secular part of Canada and consequently some home schooling families have withdrawn from the larger culture and sheltered their children too much. The culture is still in reaction to abuses of the Catholic church in Quebec. Thus Christians are more susceptible to persecution and home schoolers struggle even more to find community.