Where We Are on HSLDA, Homeschooling, and Child Abuse

This has been a crazy couple of weeks, to be honest. I never expected that HSLDA would respond to my posts or that people would come out of the woodwork angry about the blind eye HSLDA has turned toward the issue of child abuse in homeschooling families. Some people have even rephrased this whole thing as “Libby Anne vs. HSLDA.” I’ve put together a page bringing together everything I’ve written on homechooling, child abuse, and HSLDA recently—feel free to take a look.

So where are we, exactly? Well for one thing, you should all sign the petition asking HSLDA to actually step forward and address this issue, and with more than the vague non-answer their response to my posts truly was. If you have personal involvement in homeschooling, make sure to give the reasons your signing the petition, as I personally think that’s the most powerful part of the petition.

Petition to HSLDA

Next, there’s been some really interesting work done on HSLDA recently on both Becoming Worldly and Homeschoolers Anonymous. It appears that HSLDA was actually involved in a Christian homeschool leadership conference calling for the elimination of child protective services altogether. Why? For the children, of course.

End Child Protection: Doug Phillips, HSLDA, and the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit

This Is Not Homeschooling: Is HSLDA Part of a “Bible-Based Cult?”

I would also highly recommend this post by a homeschool mom talking about the problems with HSLDA’s approach to investigations by child protective services:

On DCFS, HSLDA, and the Day the Social Worker Showed Up

One question that has come up a lot is just how big a problem this actually is. How many homeschooled children are abused? How does this compare to abuse rates among other children? At this point the answer is that we don’t know. In fact, there’s a lot we don’t know about homeschooling, including how well homeschoolers do academically. (For more, take a look at the International Center for Home Education Research’s FAQs.) We know that it is wrong to assume that only good parents homeschool, but there are no statistics on the rate of child abuse in homeschooling situations as compared to child abuse in children who attend public schools.

As a side note, I don’t think anyone in this conversation is trying to tar all homeschoolers as child abusers or to say that every homeschool parent should be treated with suspicion. I know I’m not. There are lots of parents who homeschool their children for excellent reasons and try to do right by their kids, and the percentage of parents homeschooling for secular reasons as opposed to religious reasons is believed to be growing. I see homeschooling as an educational method that has a future, but at the moment needs some cleaning up.

We don’t have statistics on the rate of child abuse among homechooled children, but we do have stories. It’s true that the plural of anecdote is not data, but at the moment it’s all we have, and I think it’s enough to indicate that there is a problem that needs addressing.

Homeschoolers Anonymous

Homeschooling’s Invisible Children

Petition to HSLDA (read the comments)

How do we address the problem of child abuse among homeschooled children? It’s all well and good to say that we need to work to prevent child abuse in homeschooling families, but how are we going to go about doing that, practically speaking?

First, homeschooling organizations and leaders need to admit that there is a problem here and take efforts to improve the situation from within homeschooling itself. For example, these organizations and leaders could work to educate their membership on how to recognize and report child abuse. Those who homechool for educational or pedagogical reasons are more likely to take a hard stance against child abuse—for example, popular unschooling leader Pat Ferenga spoke out this week—but are also apt to miss the point and respond to concerns about the use of homeschooling as a cover for abuse with denial. When it comes to Christian homeschooling organizations and leaders, I am under absolutely no illusion that anyone will actually admit that there is a problem and work to fix it, given that these groups and leaders tend to range from “CPS needs to be eliminated” to “that kind of issue should be dealt with in the church, by the pastor.”

Second, individual homeschool parents need to change the culture of homeschooling by taking a hard stance against abuse and in favor of the needs and interests of children. Child abuse needs to be condemned, watched for, and reported. Several homeschool mothers have recently written excellent posts along these lines:

Christians, Homeschoolers, HSLDA: We Must Do Better

What I Should Have Said 13 Years Ago

I am under no illusions about this approach, though. First, many homeschool parents embrace a worldview that grants the family primacy, and makes it sacred, meaning that they are often more likely to overlook signs of abuse than to to confront someone or call in a child abuse tip—indeed, the entire idea that others’ parenting choices shouldn’t be interfered with undergirds much of Christian homeschooling today. Second, there is the pervasive conspiratorial fear of child protective services in many homeschooling circles. Third, many parents in Christian homeschooling circles define child abuse very narrowly and define appropriate corporal punishment very broadly. As a result of all of this, I have very little hope that homeschooling culture can be changed in this area, especially in circles where it’s needed most.

There’s another reason that the two above approaches wouldn’t be enough even if they could actually be implemented, though. Namely, abusive parents who use homeschooling in an attempt to ensure that their abuse of their children is not seen or noticed are unlikely to be involved in homechool groups or the greater homeschool community, meaning that changes from within that community won’t actually do anything for these children.

Third, then, I think there needs to be some legal change. I’m going to say upfront that I don’t know exactly what that should look like. I do have some ideas, though. I think homeschoolers should have to register their home schools with the state so that people can’t claim they’re homeschooling when they’re not. I don’t think those who have recent substantiated child abuse claims against them, or past child abuse convictions, should be allowed to homeschool, at least not without added oversight. I think there should be some basic academic assessments for homeschooled children. These assessments would ensure that the parents are at least putting in an effort to educate their children, and would ideally bring children into contact with mandatory reporters. They would be minimal and would not require the dreaded “teaching to the test.” Portfolios present one possibility, and taking a test like the Iowa Test, which is fairly simple and looks at a battery of subjects, measuring competency in each, presents another. (It might be interesting to have some form of remediation for students who score especially low, designed in a positive, not adversarial effort to help the child learn.)

Again, I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, and I’m glad to see other people talking about this issue too, and offering their own thoughts. These are simply some of my ideas at the moment. I think that we will find that as homeschooling becomes an even more mainstream educational option, one not tied to any specific religious agenda or pedagogical movement, and also as homeschooling continues to grow as it is projected to, that state legislatures will take another look at homeschooling laws, and hopefully find a happy balance between maintaining homechooling’s educational innovation (which is in my opinion the most positive academic thing it has going for it) and safeguarding the needs and interests of homechool children. That would mean getting past the homeschooling lobby, of course (and remember that HSLDA’s Chris Klicka once indicated that he doesn’t think children have rights), but I’m going to be an optimist and say I think it could be done.

And with that, I have to say, this has been kind of exhausting. This is a topic people get very emotional about, and a topic where misunderstandings appear left and right. I’ve seen a lot in this past week or so, and I’ve been told that I’m saying all homeschoolers are abusers (I’m not), that I’m twisting the facts to suit an agenda (I’m not—everything I’ve written has the links to back it up, you can read the original documents for yourself), that I’m anti-homeschooling (because wanting work toward better ways to prevent and detect abuse apparently makes one anti-homechooling), that I want to ban homeschooling (I don’t), that public schooled children are abused too (yes, and I’m against that too), that I’m a feminist atheist progressive (that one’s actually true), and much, much more. And beyond that, this topic is just emotionally draining in general. And now I’m tired. Very, very tired.

The Tony Jones Affair: Releasing the Documents
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
#makehomeschoolsafe and Michigan's HB 4498
HSLDA on those "Radically Atheistic" Public Schools
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • The_L1985

    Thank you very much for this summary and the additional links. I think a lot of the hateful comments you’re getting are straight-up defensiveness from people who take this personally. Tribalism at its finest.

  • Composer 99

    We don’t have statistics on the rate of child abuse among homechooled children

    One hopes HSLDA and homeschooling parents would agree that obtaining these statistics is necessary.

    • The_L1985

      Unfortunately, the HSLDA would probably respond with something about how abuse “doesn’t really happen among Christian families,” even though EVERY religion, age group, and community has abusers in it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/zebulon.stenman Zebulon Stenman

        And probably does the whole “They’re not True Christians(TM)” when you point it out in graphic detail in a way they can’t deny the presence of abuse(at least publicly).

    • Ibis3

      The HSLDA doesn’t believe there is such a thing. They are patriarchal authoritarians who believe that children are the property of their parents (i.e. fathers), and when you damage your own property, that’s not abuse.

    • David S.

      The HSLDA, like a lot of other lobby groups, believes that statistics that don’t exist can’t be held against it.

    • Composer 99

      (I confess: this was kind of a leading question/assumption. Like David S., Ibis3, and The_L1985 I rather doubt HSLDA actually agrees to any such thing.)

  • Sally

    I’ll second the thank you for the summary. It has been exhausting to follow and comment on, but not nearly as exhausting, no doubt, as it has been to lead this!

  • Mel

    You’re doing a great job, Libby Anne! My Nana always said that you should be happy when people who oppose you start insulting you. When people are insulting you, it means you’ve undermined their rational reasons and the only recourse is to try and defame you.

  • Mel

    Also, seriously, do not get rid of CPS. I know that many people have strong feelings about them, but they do intervene to protect the weakest members of our society. When kids are being burnt, cut or beaten to the point of permanent damage to their bodies, they need protection. A pastor can’t legally remove the kids from the home; CPS can. When a family can’t feed their kids, CPS can help them find the right resources. A pastor can help with that but having two professionals helping speeds the process.

  • Sally

    Oh, but most importantly, my views have changed throughout these weeks. As I mentioned in another thread, I no longer think that the only people who will bother to homeschool are people who will do so with intentionality to educate their children or that child abuse is a non-issue among homeschoolers.

    • Mel

      Kids who come into my public school from home-schooling with sub-par education had parents who really believed they could home-school their kids. The parents were smart, kind, hard-working people whom I built a relationship with. Life just got too hard. Both parents had to work to work to support their families; no one could supervise the education. The home-schooling parent got a chronic, terminal disease that killed her; none of the kids got educated for the five years she fought for her life. I don’t blame them that life got way too hard to home-school; bad things happen. I do wish they had talked to us about putting the kids back in school before the kids were so far behind.

  • Heatherjanes

    I just wanted to give you a virtual high five for being so organized and thorough in your work. I think it can truly make a difference (and is making one) and it means so much to me to see people starting to address these issues (even if the conversation attracts way too many jerks), as homeschooled children like I used to be truly need it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sharon.autenrieth Sharon Colflesh Autenrieth

    I’m amazed by the work you’ve done & I thank you for it. It’s been incredibly challenging to me, personally.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Like everyone else said, great job getting all this information together and calling for change. I’m sure it’s been emotionally exhausting.

    One thought I had about changes within the Christian homeschooling community- it seems that HSLDA is promoting this idea that Christians are a persecuted minority and CPS is evil and just wants to take away your children, etc etc, and once you start having regulations it’s a slippery slope to the government ending freedom to homeschool… scare-tactics not based in reality, but based in the idea that the whole world is against them and they should regard anyone associated with the government with high suspicion. (I have no experience with homeschooling so I could be wrong, but that seems to be the impression I get from reading your posts.)

    And so I wonder how change can happen within the Christian homeschooling community if there’s this attitude of “we can’t trust CPS or the government, everyone’s out to get us.”

    • The_L1985

      There’s a lot of this persecution complex in the Religious Right in general; IMO, the whole idea that “the world” is always against Christians, morality, and All That Is Good needs to go. Now. Forever.

      • Shadow Spring

        Agreed, and in Christian circles it’s turned even smart men and women into paranoids. My sister- retired Army officer, you don’t get any more feminist than that!- now believes that asking pharmacists to fill prescriptions doctors write is religious persecution. I am not kidding you! I have no idea how she got to this point, except that since she retired she’s a big important person (tither) in her church. My other sister-VP of the electric company of a large Southern city, with an MBA, corner office, company car,secretary, etc.- believes she should submit to her husband in all things, and even though she herself attended Head Start as a youth, embraces the call to cut funding for social services as an evil influence on society somehow. All because of what she is hearing at church, on Christian radio, etc. Both of these smart women have been sucked into group think because they surround themselves with Christian culture. They see all disagreement as persecution, sadly. :(

  • tsara

    I’d like to thank you for the work you’ve been putting into this; you’ve put up with a lot of shit, and been consistent in dealing with it fairly and with patience.
    You’ve been doing a very good job drawing attention to and dissecting issues with homeschooling in general and the HSLDA in particular, and I think you have a decent chance of making a real difference on this.

    Thank you, and good luck!

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    I noticed that the Men’s Leadership Summit also vilified female bloggers, which I think is a great sign that the work you do is making a difference!

  • Matt Foley

    Got to say… this entire episode has been really compelling stuff. I have been glued to your blog and HA for days now just waiting to see what comes up.

    Grade A reporting on your part, Libby Anne. Seriously, any (non-fundamentalist) parent would be extremely proud of you. Stay strong!

  • Sandra Duffy

    You’re doing a great job. It’s brave to take a stand against those who treat their children as their property to do with what they will.

  • Rosa

    There are so many voices out there claiming homeschooling is always better, and shutting down anyone who disagrees – especially the other former homeschooled kids, who get all sorts of personal shit thrown at them for sharing any negative experiences. You’ve really been a bulwark for a lot of people sharing their stories. I’m sorry it’s so much personal wear and tear on you.

  • http://thehomespunlife.com Sisterlisa

    There is a lot I would love to discuss about the different points you bring up, but I am swamped with my own life. But one thing I wanted to shed some hope on is about what you said here “As a result of all of this, I have very little hope that homeschooling culture can be changed in this area, especially in circles where it’s needed most.” As any group implements change, it takes a while to see the change grow. As we keep putting our feet down for change and make changes as swiftly as possible..those groups that need it most will shrink and abuse can be less and less over time. However, we MUST keep moving forward firmly and diligently so the next generation doesn’t sulk back to the old ways that cover abuse. There’s no easy, get fixed way to do this. It’s going to take time. Parenting philosophies need to improve and toxic religious teachings need to be obliterated. Sadly, religions (especially the patriarchy types) have perpetuated abuse through twisted bible passages. There’s a lot to work on in those areas. We have our work cut out for us.

  • CarynL

    This brings up some really good points. My best friend in high school had neglectful parents, and her younger brother ended up being homeschooled because they didn’t care enough to force him to go to school when he didn’t want to (which was always) and didn’t want to deal with the school about his truancy. However, a girl who joined my sorority in college was homeschooled because it was the best way for her parents to educate her where they lived. She was not religious, and she had a strong interest in science that her parents encouraged more than most public or private schools would have. I want to homeschool future children I have for that reason. My city has wonderful public resources, parks, and museums that offer great supplemental programs for homeschooled children. I remember my days in the public school machine of mindlessly filling out workbook pages while sitting quietly because the teachers had neither the time nor the energy to engage with me. I want to give my kids better educational opportunities than my income will grant them, and I can do that if I do it personally.

    • cindy@rbogner.com

      Those are the best reasons to homeschool, in my opinion. Or if severe bullying is taking place at school. Just watched Bully on Netflix and wanted to jump through the screen!