Who Are HSLDA’s “Clients”? Not the Children.

One commenter on my post on HSLDA’s defense of child abusers argued that I was misunderstanding how legal ethics works, and that HSLDA was simply defending its clients. As she explained:

They have simply represented their clients’ interests in being able to maintain custody of their children and direct their education.

Ah, but there’s the rub, isn’t it? Who are HSLDA’s clients? Whose interests does HSLDA look out for? The parents. And in the case of the Carrolls, HSLDA defended the right of a couple convicted of child neglect leading to a child’s death to homeschool. Every time, HSLDA is looking out for the parents. In fact, HSLDA is on record saying that anyone should be allowed to homeschool their children, anyone, and lobbying against bills that would require extra monitoring for homeschool parents who had recent substantiated child abuse claims made against them. But then, that is what I said, isn’t it?

It becomes increasingly clear that HSLDA doesn’t care a flying fig about children. All HSLDA cares about is the organization’s beloved idol, “parental rights.”

The reader who argued that HSLDA was just defending its clients and advocating for the right to homeschool only reinforced what I was saying: HSLDA cares about parental rights, and especially about the parental right to homechool, and not about children or their rights. In fact, HSLDA advocates against children’s rights every chance it can get (see their opposition to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, for instance). In fact, in explaining his opposition to the Convention, HSLDA’s Christopher Klicka said “if children have rights, they could refuse to be home-schooled, plus it takes away parents’ rights to physically discipline their children.” HSLDA protects homeschool parents’ interests and homeschool parents’ rights, not homeschooled children’s interests or homeschooled children’s rights.

This fact should be especially troublesome to anyone who was homeschooled, to those who like me grew up on the HSLDA literature our parents received and grew up on the HSLDA talking points our parents recited. HSLDA cared about our parents, but the organization didn’t care about us. Think about that for a moment. HSLDA was there to defend your parents’ right to homeschool, no matter what. HSLDA set about systematically eliminating safeguards that would have ensured that homeschooled children receive an education, and safeguards that would have protected homeschooled children against abuse. HSLDA has opposed even laws that would have simply required that your parents register as a homeschool with the state board of education, so that someone would at least know that you existed. HSLDA set about putting all of the power in the hands of your parents, but during all that time they never gave a second thought about you.

Oh, and at the same time HSLDA was advocating against bills that would have banned punishment resulting in “excessive bruising and welts” and against bills that would have required corporal punishment to be “reasonable.” In other words, when HSLDA moved away from its direct mission to protect parents’ rights to homeschool it set about working to ensure parents’ right to beat their children. And by children, that meant us.

Doesn’t this bother you, at least a little? It certainly bothers me. The simple reality is that HSLDA speaks for the homeschool parents and the homeschool parents alone. HSLDA protects the interests of those parents and those parents only. And so I have to ask. Who speaks for the homeschooled children? Who advocates for their interests? Anyone?

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.

  • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

    This bothers me a great deal, Libby Anne. In a sense, children in a democracy are like stateless people — they cannot directly influence the legal system, so they are at the mercy of adults who can do so. Or at least that is the case in Somalia and the United States — the only two nations not to endorse the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    • Stev84

      There is also South Sudan. But that’s a new state.

      Even dictatorships and theocracies like North Korea and Saudi Arabia ratified it and somehow they aren’t afraid that children are going to rebel against indoctrination and propaganda.

      • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

        I stand corrected re: South Sudan.

        I have a personal hypothesis — or maybe it’s just a prejudice — that the Christian idea of “original sin” is used to justify the idea that children are little demons who need to be forced to reform their ways. I also cringe every time I’m told that people have children so that the children will be “soldiers for Jesus” — or really, for any other reason. Children have a right to be individuals rather than parts of a parent’s grand plan!

  • Composer 99

    All the rhetoric about “parental rights’ ignores the fact that parents’ job, as parents, is to look out for their children’s interests & advocate for their children’s rights. Apparently HSLDA has this backwards.

  • http://www.facebook.com/melody.marie Melody Jones

    I remember hearing all about how the UN’s Rights of the Child would completely undermine not only Godly authority and parental rights, but would result in children ruling over their parents like little “sociopath war lords hell-bent on destruction”, and how in their wake, our society would be in ruins and nothing good would ever exist again.

    . . .Now I’m an adult and I am aghast at not only the things that people told me were true when I was younger, but that they are still telling people these sorts of lies.

    If children do not want to be homeschooled, they should not be forced to be homeschooled. Ever. Besides, if parents are that worried about their children going to public school, don’t they realize a more effective way to handle that is to just instill a deep and abiding terror of public school? (that last sentence was 100% pure sarcasm and experience talking.)

    • Just Thinking…

      What if a child doesn’t want to go to school at all, of does not want to be schooled mainstream? Should that child also have the right to choose NOT to attend public school?

      • http://www.facebook.com/melody.marie Melody Jones

        If the child does not want to go to public school, and their parents have the resources to homeschool, then that should be an option available to them.

        If the child wants to not go to any sort of school, and their parents have the resources to unschool, then that should be an option for them.

        If the child does not want any education at all, that I actually disagree with. Education is important for their growth as individuals. The medium for said education should be chosen with impute from the children, though.

        The families that I know who homeschooled well, where the children weren’t abused, the children had some say in it. They didn’t like public/private school, they were being bullied, they had learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, mental or physical illnesses–and upon their request, or their agreement, their families homeschooled them to great success.

        That isn’t however how the majority of homeschooling families “choose” to homeschool their children.

      • Just Thinking…

        Okay, I sort of get what you are saying. But how do you know what the majority of homeschooling families do?

      • smrnda

        There are lots of Christian home-schooling associations who publicize their educational practices and philosophies. I’d assume that most of us heard about these things from sources written by Christian home-schooling parents, or adults who were looking to guide or facilitate these adults.

      • http://www.facebook.com/melody.marie Melody Jones

        I read a lot of homeschooler publications, I still have family who homeschools, and I am still in touch with friends who homeschool or are homeschool alumni. When I said “the majority”, I was specifically thinking of the families who according to publications and the groups I am in contact with, start homeschooling either for educational or religious reasons in kindergarten regardless of what the children want.

        The attitude I have always heard was that “children will be children” and that they couldn’t know their own minds, so it was up to their parents to “protect them from their own foolishness”. While this might sound good to parents, particularly those who are authoritative, it is not.

      • The_L1985

        I always hate that argument, that any person of any age could “not know what they want.” Children always know what they want.

        Some of the things children want, like cookies and candy for every meal, are bad for them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re talking about when they say, “I want candy.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/melody.marie Melody Jones

        Yes! That too. Somehow, every opinion will magically match theirs as soon as the people who disagree with them are as old as they are. even though they can never catch up… So if you disagree, the answer is always that you just need more time until the scales fall from your eyes and you see the truth! If you do agree, you are precocious and wise beyond your years.

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    HSLDA just put this on facebook. i really love how vague it is. it’s meaningless to me until they address specifics but i’m sure it comforts people who want to believe all is well:

    “It has come to our attention that HSLDA has recently been accused of condoning child abuse. HSLDA does not and will not ever condone nor defend child abuse.

    HSLDA receives hundreds of calls each year from parents who are under investigation by CPS, often based on false, anonymous, trivial, or malicious reports. The vast majority of these are determined by CPS or a court to be unfounded and are dismissed. Because of this, we do not immediately assume that everyone who is the subject of an investigation is guilty of child abuse or neglect.

    As a service to our members, we help homeschool families navigate the legal landscape in the early stages of an investigation before all the facts come to light. This could include helping families know their constitutional rights, helping them understand the legal process, or referring them to a local attorney. If the allegations include homeschooling, we generally will either assist their local attorney todefend homeschooling or represent the family on homeschool matters.

    Of the three examples mentioned in a recent article, we did not represent two of the families and in the third we were involved on the question of homeschooling alone after the other issues were resolved by the court.

    We believe that every child deserves a healthy upbringing and that parents have the high honor and duty to meet that child’s needs. For 30 years we have been zealously advocating for the right of thousands of parents to responsibly homeschool their children. To the extent that any statements we may have made could be misunderstood to suggest that we condone the abusive actions of some we repudiate them wholeheartedly and unequivocally.”

    • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

      and it got over 100 likes in 4 minutes….

      • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

        lol. I’m glad the tension is on!!!!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I saw that! I am contemplating a response beacause, really, they kind of made my point.

    • Just Thinking…

      How is this vague? I am curious…

      • Scott_In_OH

        One way in which it is vague is that it does not define “child abuse.” As Libby Anne discussed in an earlier post, it’s easy to say you’re against child abuse in general, kind of like everyone claims not to be racist. In practice, however, HSLDA has defended, either rhetorically or legally, the right of parents to do things many people would consider abusive.

    • Saraquill

      Their idea of “responsibly” makes me hang my head.

    • ILoveJellybeans

      They dont condone child abuse?
      Then why are they against child abuse laws? Why do they think that someone who had four children die in suspicious circumstances in less than a year should be able to homeschool? Why are they against a law that child abusers cannot homeschool their children?
      I wonder, has there ever been a case where a family has asked for help from the HSLDA because they were going to have their kids taken by CPS, but HSLDA didnt agree to help them out because they believed the parents were genuinely abusive?
      Surely this must have happened at least once if they are actually against child abuse. A lot of the child abuse cases amongst religious homeschoolers believe that they are doing things right and that God wants them to beat their kids, so surely they would want to defend their “rights” to beat their kids nearly to death?

  • Just Thinking…

    Okay, I don’t really get this. I believe parents do have rights concerning their own children. I don’t believe that parents have the right to abuse or neglect children, but we seem to live in a society that tells parents the state has the child’s best interest at heart and know better than parents. You can’t stream line everything. Some people choose to homeschool, not even, necessarily, for religious reasons. Those people are, in most cases, just doing what they feel is best for their families. Since so many government agencies seem to have nothing but contempt for homeschooling parents, it seems there is definitely a place for an agency which helps these families with the legal aspect of homeschooling. Homeschooled students statistically do better in academic pursuits. It seems to me that we, as a culture, need to consider that there is more than one right way to grow up.

    • Just Thinking…

      Wow, two thumbs down for suggesting that some parents might have their child’s best interest at heart!

      • Noelle

        I wouldn’t give the voting numbers much mind. They don’t matter for anything real.

        There, I just up voted ya. Now you’re all even. I don’t agree with you. But, there’s your vote.

        You cannot statistically compare the academics of homeschoolers in states where the same testing given to all public school children is not also mandatory for all home schoolers. It is impossible. That includes my state. The last homeschooling family I asked didn’t even know how they could sign up for the test, or if they were even allowed to. Meanwhile, the failing stats you see include my third grader with autism and horrible behavior problems, whose multiple special ed teachers and therapists bend over backward to help him. Every time I see someone complaining that public schools don’t care about kids, I want to drag them along to one of the monthly meetings we have on how to help him. He takes the same test that everyone else does.

        But that’s not the point.

        Basic children’s rights are to keep children from being horribly abused. They are not to keep children from a good home schooling education. The government is not some “other”. It is not a foreign entity coming up with evil socialist schemes. It is made up of normal people. Homeschoolers are encouraged to be part of the government process too. So are the unschoolers.

      • Composer 99

        Just Thinking:

        This post is not a criticism of homeschoolers per se. I do not recall seeing Libby Anne or others suggesting that parents who homeschool are failing to look out for their children’s best interests simply by virtue of homeschooling.

        So I don’t know why you came onto this thread to make the fuss you did.

        This post is discussing how, by working against any form of oversight or regulation whatsoever, the HSLDA is providing rhetorical and legal cover for negligent or abusive parents, and ignoring that children’s interests & rights are – or at least ought to be – equal to those of their parents in the eyes of the law & of wider society.

        Having an agency dedicated to ensuring homeschooling parents have access to adequate legal and other resources when navigating bureaucracy is well and good. Having an agency that gives negligent or abusive parents a free hand is simply unacceptable.

      • Sally

        Yes, Just Thinking, read the other articles Libby Anne has written about HSLDA. It will give you more context for this post.

    • Saraquill

      Those statistics are highly skewed, taken from self-reporting sources. Libby Anne has mentioned this.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mtillsley Monika Tillsley

      I disagree with homeschooling conceptually because I think learning to be part of your whole country and culture is an important part of public school but that aside if homeschooling is to be allowed I do agree with you they need legal advocacy and help.

      It seems however that HSLDA have gone well beyond that. They are not just helping families to homeschool. In fact I would hope such an advocacy group would aid government in making regulations not oppose every one. It does not help all the ernest and good homeschoolers you describe for homeschooling to be a haven for abusers as well.

      Since there is so little oversight of homeschooling it is hard to tell if the results you speak of are skewed. Even if the results are correct is it not necessarily a tick for homeschooling. Rich kids generally score better than poor ones but reality is much more complicated that saying rich kids are therefore smarter.

  • Just Thinking…

    By the way, I am what one might consider an attachment parent. I don’t believe in “physically disciplining” a child. In that respect, I don’t agree with everything the HSLDA stands for.

    • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

      Then this shoe doesn’t fit you, why are you trying to wear it?

      I mean this whole conversation is not about homeschooling, but how it can be abused. If this topic were about alcohol abuse, would you come into the thread to tell us that Anheiser Busch makes good beer? Cuz that’s what you’re doing here, coming into a conversation to argue against an argument no one made.

  • Beutelratti

    “if children have rights, they could refuse to be home-schooled, plus it
    takes away parents’ rights to physically discipline their children.”

    This. Is. Scary. So, children have no rights. Parents have all the rights.

    Are these the same people that will advocate for personhood starting at conception?! Equal rights for embryos and fetuses?!
    Personhood includes having rights. If they do not grant their children any rights, then how on earth can they advocate for the “rights of the unborn”. Unborn are children to them and by their definition without rights. Does anyone else see that incredible inconsistency?

    And no, I do not believe there is a “parental right” to physically discipline (read abuse) children and I luckily live in a nation where every form of corporal punishment is outlawed.

    I feel really sorry for these children. I have no idea what else to say.

    • ILoveJellybeans

      So true, its like that the only time children have rights is when theyre fetuses.

  • Pingback: I’ve Had Enough: My Reply to HSLDA’s Response

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  • Emily

    There is a line in Wont Back Down, a recent film about reforming public schools that are failing that is pertinent. “When school children start paying union dues the teachers union will start working to improve the conditions of school children.” Interesting flip side of the educational coin.

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