Where Is Your Sense of Compassion, HSLDA?

Josh Powell wanted to go to school so badly that he pleaded with local officials to let him enroll. He didn’t know exactly what students were learning at Buckingham County High School, in rural central Virginia, but he had the sense that he was missing something fundamental.

By the time he was 16, he had never written an essay. He didn’t know South Africa was a country. He couldn’t solve basic algebra problems.

So starts a recent Washington Post article about Virginia’s religious exemption.

Powell was taught at home, his parents using a religious exemption that allows families to entirely opt out of public education, a Virginia law that is unlike any other in the country. That means that not only are their children excused from attending school — as those educated under the state’s home-school statute are — but they also are exempt from all government oversight.

School officials don’t ever ask them for transcripts, test scores or proof of education of any kind: Parents have total control.

. . .

Josh Powell eventually found a way to get several years of remedial classes and other courses at a community college.

Now he’s studying at Georgetown University.

. . .

Josh Powell, now 21, wonders how much more he could have accomplished if he hadn’t spent so much time and effort catching up.

“I think people should definitely have the freedom to home-school as long as it’s being done well and observed,” he said. “I don’t see any reason for there not to be accountability.”

Most of all, he worries about his siblings: There are 11. One, old enough to be well into middle school, can’t read, Josh Powell said.

Now he’s trying to get his brothers and sisters into school, to ensure that they don’t have to work as hard as he did to catch up — or get left behind.

Go read the whole thing—the article is excellent. The long and short of it is that Josh’s parents used Virginia’s religious exemption clause to get out of any requirement to teach him anything, and then proceeded to give him what he knew was a substandard education, despite his desire to learn more than they were teaching him. In the end, Josh overcame all of that and managed to obtain remedial classes at a community college (without his parents’ help, I should add) and then gain admission to Georgetown. And now, he wants to see the law changed so that other children will not find themselves in his situation.

What I want to turn to now is HSLDA’s response. Before I do that, I should mention that the article includes a quote from Michael Farris. It’s not long:

The law is completely clear, said Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, who has claimed the exemption for his family. It doesn’t make sense to have the public school system regulate home schools, he said, because he thinks home schools are far more successful.

As to whether there could be children getting an inadequate education, he said: “Well sure, it’s possible. But there are whole public school districts that are slipping through the cracks.”

Dear Mr. Farris: What you said is called “tu quoque.” It is a logical fallacy. You are a lawyer, you should know that. Now with that out of the way, what I really want to look at is the official response HSLDA issued the day after the Washington Post article came out.

“Oh, my God, I have a chance to learn!” The Washington Post’s recent article about Virginia’s religious exemption statute includes this fascinating quote from Josh Powell, the young man who never attended public school because his parents obtained an exemption on religious grounds.

The article criticizes the law that allows the exemption and lobbies for its change. But let’s slow down and think this through.

How many public school teachers ever hear their students say, “Oh, my God, I have a chance to learn”? Very few. Because sadly, public schools crush many kids’ desire to ever learn again. And this has been documented.

The largest study comparing homeschool students to others (by Dr. Lawrence M. Rudner, University of Maryland) amazingly revealed that homeschool 8th grade students score the same as 12th grade public school students!

Why do homeschool students score an almost unbelievable four grade levels ahead of others by 8th grade? It’s very simple. It’s not that homeschool kids or their parents have higher IQs—I suspect they don’t. It’s simply that homeschools don’t crush a kid’s inborn desire to learn.

What is HSLDA’s evidence that public schools crush children’s “inborn desire to learn” while homeschooling doesn’t? The Rudner study. Let’s review, shall we? Somehow I feel like we’ve been over this before. (Also, if you haven’t, you should read this excellent article as well.) What did Rudner’s study say and how does he feel about the way HSLDA uses it?

Rudner’s study was funded and sponsored by the Home School Legal Defense Assocation.  It analyzed the test results of more than 20,000 home schooled students using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and it was interpreted by many to find that the average home schooled student outperformed his or her public school peer.  But Rudner’s study reaches no such conclusion, and Rudner himself issued multiple cautionary notes in the report, including the following: “Because this was not a controlled experiment, the study does not demonstrate that home schooling is superior to public or private schools and the results must be interpreted with caution.” Rudner used a select and unrepresentative sample, culling all of his participants from families who had purchased curricular and assessment materials from Bob Jones University.  Because Bob Jones University is an evangelical Christian university (a university which gained a national reputation in the 1980s for its policy of forbidding interracial dating), the sample of participating families in Rudner’s study is highly skewed toward Christian home schoolers.  Extrapolations from this data to the entire population of home schoolers are consequently highly unreliable.  Moreover, all the participants in Rudner’s study had volunteered their participation.  According to Rudner, more than 39,000 contracted to take the Iowa Basic Skills Test through Bob Jones, but only 20,760 agreed to participate in his study.  This further biases Rudner’s sample, for parents who doubt the capacity of their child to do well on the test are precisely the parents we might expect not to volunteer their participation.  A careful social scientific comparison of test score data would also try to take account of the problem that public school students take the Iowa Basic Skills Test in a controlled environment; many in Rudner’s study tested their own children.

Rudner himself has been frustrated by the misrepresentation of his work.  In an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal, which published a pioneering week-long investigative series of articles on home schooling in 2004, Rudner claimed that his only conclusion was that if a home schooling parent “is willing to put the time and energy and effort into it – and you have to be a rare person who is willing to do this – then in all likelihood you’re going to have enormous success.”  Rudner also said, “I made the case in the paper that if you took the same kids and the same parents and put them in the public schools, these kids would probably do exceptionally well.”

In other words, the Rudner study doesn’t say what HSLDA says it says, and Rudner himself is frustrated about how HSLDA is misusing and misinterpreting his study. In other words, HSLDA’s supposed “proof” that public school stifles a child’s “inborn desire to learn” while homeschooling does not is proof of no such thing.

Back to HSLDA’s response to the Washington Post article:

When he hit community college, Josh attended remedial classes designed to serve public high school graduates, then zoomed ahead. Now he attends one of the nation’s top 25 universities, earning good grades while working part time and carrying a heavy academic load. Not too bad for a kid who thought he had a bad secondary education!

If Josh had attended public schools, he would have statistically had a 1-in-5 chance of growing into an illiterate adult. The National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed that 21.7% of adults in Josh’s native Buckingham County are illiterate. This is the wreckage of thousands of young people whose desire to learn has been crushed in the public schools.

I wonder if any of the other kids in Josh’s remedial classes went on to attend one of the nation’s top 25 universities. I doubt it.

Maybe Josh didn’t learn that South Africa was a country while he was being homeschooled. But he arrived at the gates of young adulthood with his inborn desire to learn fully intact, and that has served him very well indeed. The Virginia religious exemption statute deserves its place of respect.

The HSLDA response is, in essence, “your bad homeschool experience is nothing to complain about, because you could have a fate worse than receiving an incompetent homeschool education while begging to learn—you could go to public school!” Is HSLDA completely incapable of saying “we’re sorry your situation was so bad, we feel that it is a terrible thing for any child to slip through the cracks”? Are they incapable of hearing “that hurt me” and responding with “we’re sorry”?

All I have to say is this: Where is your sense of compassion, HSLDA?

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How HSLDA Talks About Abuse
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://www.wineandmarble.com/ Hännah
    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Good post! I mean, really, how can anyone read HSLDA’s response and still take them seriously?

  • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

    Just yesterday I was musing on how conservatives seem unable to say “yep, that sucks. that shouldn’t have happened to you. that wasn’t your fault. you didn’t deserve that.” Thanks HSLDA for continuing to support my perception of conservatives.

  • BobaFuct

    I read this the other day and learned that HSLDA is less than an hour from my house…guess it’s time to move.

    • Joykins

      Heh. My mother-in-law attends the same church as Farris. She knows him personally.

  • Beutelratti

    So it doesn’t matter that a child is not getting any education whatsoever as long as the child still wants to learn at some point? What kind of fucked up logic is that? So does it also not matter if a person turns 50 without being able to read as long as said person still wants to learn to read at some point?

    The smugness in HSDLA’s reply literally makes me want to punch a wall. Josh Powell is where he is today despite and not because he was being “homeschooled”.

    • Trollface McGee

      It’s like saying starving a child is good because it stimulates a child’s appetite when food is available. Or keeping a child homeless is good because it instils value and respect for having housing. Fucked up logic indeed.

      • Beutelratti

        I’m afraid that is exactly the impression I get from some of the fundamentalist homeschoolers. Leaving your kids out on the porch without food somehow teaches them something. Teaching your kids is important, therefore leaving your kids out on the porch starving is important.

  • Rilian Sharp

    Education is important.
    The government school system is evidence that the government is incapable of providing education.
    They don’t even save children from physical abuse. Most of the schools I went to hit children with paddles. Plus they don’t do shit to stop bullying and physical abuse from other children.
    So, I don’t trust the government to solve any of these problems.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      *Ahem* Finland.

      It can be solved. These things can be fixed. Throwing up your hands and abandoning children to the free market ensures it won’t be fixed, though, so thanks for being part of the problem.

      • Rilian Sharp

        It does not ensure that it won’t be fixed.
        And if I’m good to my kids, then I’m part of the solution.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        No, no you are not part of the solution. Being good to your own personal kids is part of the “I’ve got mine, fuck you all” attitude that is destroying everything we try to build in this country.

      • stacey

        Thank you.
        The attitude of “I got mine, you get your, Jack” is killing our country, as its used to excuse the most egregious abuses.

      • William Dhalgren

        I hope your kids don’t have to go through what Josh did.

    • AnonaMiss

      Most of the schools I went to hit children with paddles.

      Then you have been out of the public school system for too long to be offering personal anecdotes about it. If a teacher struck a child today they would be fired, because if they weren’t fired, the school district would be sued into the ground.

      • Rilian Sharp

        I’m only 26. And I just looked it up and it seems that hitting children as a “punishment” is still legal in many places in usa.

      • Ruth

        Hitting children with objects is and remains legal in part because HSLDA lobbies state legislatures to keep it that way. If a public school student is beaten with PVC tubing a la the Pearls’ favorite method of correction, there is oversight, recourse, and consequence. In a HSLDA world, no such oversight, recourse, or consequence exists because the organization defends an absolute “right” of parents to beat their children with PVC tubing to obtain proper joyful obedience.

      • Alice

        Sadly, not true. There was a big news story about it a couple of years ago. This article from 2011 says spanking with paddles in school is still legal in 19 states. http://abcnews.go.com/US/spanking-school-19-states-corporal-punishment-legal/story?id=15932135
        It sounds like schools in some states don’t even have to get parental permission first, WTF!? The parents can send a letter at the beginning of the year saying the school is not allowed to spank their children, but otherwise there’s no advance notice. And some schools allow teachers/principles to spank an opposite-sex student if there is another adult in the room. It’s all utter insanity.

      • Hilary

        Yeah, that absolutely needs to be stopped. But 19 states is not 50 states – and I’m not surprised most of it is in the South, to be honest.

    • Rilian Sharp

      Huh, are the people who downvoted my comment in favor of child abuse? Or do they not believe it happens in government schools?
      Are they in favor of the uneducated people that result from the government schools? There’s no way you could believe the government schools are successful at educating people.

      • Hilary

        They educated me successfully. And Penny, her brothers, my brother, my parents, most of my classmates, and almost all of the coworkers I work with.

        Look, I’m not denying that there are failures, and they need to be fixed. It’s the blanket ‘all’ that I will push back about every single time.

      • smrnda

        I think they’re against sweeping generalizations. Would I be right to conclude that government schools are *awesome* because I did great and because I know home-schooled kids who were beaten, abused and given substandard educations?

      • WordSpinner

        Umm… I went to school in a state where corporal punishment is illegal in public schools, and where I never saw it happen.

        I also saw a mix of success and failures, but overall the education was successful. At least with public schools you get averaging, so good teachers can make up for poor ones (or for weaknesses in otherwise good instructors–my first and second grade teacher taught me the basics of algebra but failed to teach me to spell at grade level. Later teachers with better curricula fixed that.). There is only one instructor–maybe two–at home, who in the best case scenario has academic weaknesses and in the worst case scenario can’t or won’t teach.

      • Trollface McGee

        Governments? Educating people? Can’t happen.
        It’s not like pretty much every single country in the world that isn’t currently a war zone has compulsory education laws and government schools.
        Yeah.. the entire world is uneducated, except the really small population that opt for home schooling or have had their evil government school blown up by random flying mortar.

      • Anat

        We are in favor of the good work that public schools, in the US and elsewhere, are doing. I personally am tired of your repeated tirades against US public schools. I understand you had a bad experience, but by now you should be aware that your experience was not universal, maybe even not typical, and modify your responses to reflect that. Because your behavior reflects a rather close-minded attitude.

      • Hilary

        Rilian, nobody is denying that some public schools are really fucked up, that 19 states need to get their heads out of their ass and ban physical punishment. But when oversight fails, that’s a bug not a feature. That is a failure of the system that needs to be taken seriously. With home schooling as HLSDA wants it, there would be no failure of oversight, because there never was any oversight at all – feature, not bug.

        Both have strengths and weaknesses. Both can be excellent, a nightmare, and points in between. Both options should be taken seriously with support and oversight so that parents can choose which is best for their home and situation.

      • William Dhalgren

        Government schools successfully educated me, so I downvoted you because you are either a liar or an idiot.

      • sylvia_rachel

        I went to public schools for 13 years (17 if you count a publicly funded Canadian university), and I got a damn good education. Except in math, but that was about 80% my own fault for not making the effort.

        I don’t use that one data point to argue that all public schools everywhere are the best thing ever. That would be over-generalizing based on insufficient data, which is exactly what you’re doing in the opposite direction. Lots and lots and lots of people get a good education in public schools, so it is ipso facto not true that public schools are incapable of educating anyone. It’s unfortunately also true that public schools cover a wide quality spectrum from really excellent to piss-poor. I don’t think any useful purpose is served either by pretending the excellent ones don’t exist or by pretending the piss-poor ones don’t exist. There are crappy public schools? Let’s try and make them better!

        (FTR, I am not among the down-voters. But I kind of get where they’re coming from here.)

      • Nancy Shrew

        Yes, because I disagree with your assessment of public schools in general I’m totally down for child abuse.

      • Shayna

        I can absolutely believe that public schools are successful at educating people because I was successfully educated in public schools. I was, my sister was, my brother still is. I am studying to become a Physician’s Assistant, my sis is a pharmacist, and my bro wants to be an engineer.

        My mother is a public school teacher, my grandmothers were public school teachers, my grandfather was a history professor at a public university. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins who either were teachers or are teaching now. I have taught kids from preschool to middle school (albeit at an unaccredited Christian school), so yeah I think I can say that public schools are doing just fine.

        Your school experience sucked, I get it. You don’t want anyone to go through the suckiness that you did, I get that too. However, your insistence on pushing your personal experience on all public schools and all people involved with them is bullshit.

    • Hilary

      Rillian, a lot of us went to public schools. I did, K-12. I went to 7 different public schools, and saw an incredible range of failure and success. I saw teachers in an affluent suburban school teach American history by video documentary and Hollywood movies 5 days a week, and inner city high school where science teachers and art teachers moved heaven and earth for their kids. I went to a school that was basically two separate schools, one succeeding and one failing. The difference the students ambition – there were world class advanced classes available (international baccalaureate) and classes where nobody bothered to earn even a C grade.

      My father was a public school teacher. He worked 10 hour days sometimes to get done what needed doing, and every year bought supplies out of his own pocket. He’s worked in a lot of schools, almost all inner city and economically disadvantaged. In his entire career hitting students with paddles has never been accepted.

      I’m not trying to shut you up – your experience was real. But you know what? So are the experiences of the rest of us with decent or even good experiences in public schools. I’m 34, and I remember anti-bullying work teachers tried to do. I remember anti-sexual harassment teachers did with students in Jr. High. No, my positive experiences don’t negate yours – but yours don’t negate mine either.

      Your blanket condemnation of all public schools is just as inaccurate as blanket praise for all homeschooling. Or vise versa, for that matter.

    • Trollface McGee

      The homeschooling community protects kids from physical abuse? Pretty much anyone who works at a public school is a mandated reporter so if they suspect abuse they are under an obligation to report it. Homeschooling organisations? They fight for the right of parents to abuse and neglect their kids. The “Christian” parents organisations are also some of the most vocal pro-bullying of kids as “freedom of speech and religion.”

      Yes, some schools suck. Some teachers suck. I had some really crappy teachers and some really great ones. You know what we need? More great teachers – which doesn’t happen when you keep sucking money out of schools and replacing real accountability with endless testing. We need strong anti-bullying policies which don’t happen when parents feel their kids’ precious rights are being violated when they aren’t allowed to call other kids “fags” to their faces.

      No, the government isn’t perfect, never has been and never will be. But I don’t want perfect. Waiting for perfect results in never getting any change because any change will never be perfect enough. I want reasonable and accountable and that can happen.

    • Noelle

      We’ve discussed this before, Ril. If public school is so bad, how am I here? My years of education:

      Pre-K (I had a late bday and my parents decided I was too shy for K, so they stuck me in this). Upper-middle and middle class neighborhood. Nice bright school with caring teachers and big playground. I learned so much this year that I was completely bored with regular K.

      K. We moved to a small city. My parents divorced, remarried others. My mom is pregnant and step-dad doesn’t have the kind of job that supports families. We are slipping into poverty. The public school is a good one. Excellent resources and hands-on activities. I have a chip on my shoulder. I already know all the material and I’m 6 dealing with a big life change.

      1. We move again, to a big city in another state. Dedicated teachers and many assistants in the class. I’m placed in the default middle reading group and quickly bumped up by the volunteer who notices I know all the words. I get a big old boost of confidence.

      2. We move again, same city different school. This place I do remember. My family is in poverty. This is where I start getting free lunches. The school itself is surrounded by a middle class neighborhood, and it’s good. The school is sunny and the playground is big.

      3-5. We move again, same city, different district. This one is a little more obvious city than the previous ones that were tucked into neighborhoods. It does offer capital punishment, though every kid I knew sent to the office with this threat returns with only a lecture. It does not have daily scheduled recess, and we kids are wild by lunch. I was placed in the default middle reading group in 3rd grade, and first day of class raised my hand and said I already read these books last year and I want bumped up. Teacher ignores my request. I repeat it at least weekly, reminding her that I don’t need a copy of the reader, having done it already. I will take my tests without rereading thankyouverymuch. She puts up with this for a full semester before giving in and promoting me. I am rewarded for being a precocious brat. This lesson will serve me well in the years to come. Though the school had rougher edges than the others, it did offer some of the best academics I’ve encountered in my personal schooling. I am very sad when

      6. We move again. We are homeless and my grandparents take us in. We go to a K-6 small town school in a farming community. It’s a one gas station, one bar, one beauty salon kinda place. They bus the older kids out for 7-12. This was not a high-quality academic institution. I was an outsider, all the kids knowing each other from birth. But it did offer a glimpse of Americana I would’ve otherwise missed. The boys were all so excited to go to classes on gun safety and get their hunting licenses. The teacher seemed confused that I was a girl and so smart. He chocked it up as a fluke. Most sexist teacher I probably had. We did get to boil, skin, and bleach animal skulls from trappers for science class. So that’s something.

      7-8. We move again. Detroit. Even my parents are afraid of the public schools here and they put us in a small private Lutheran school. 7th grade sucked. The teacher was awful. 8th was awesome. I had my favorite teacher ever. He taught us algebra, made us memorize all the states, and countries, and capitols, and where to find them on a map. He took us on a field trip to Washington DC. He is the reason I sought out more high level math and science courses after that year. He is part of the reason I am a physician now.

      9. I choose to go to the whitest option of the Lutheran high schools. School was ok. The academics were fine. But my mother’s headaches turned out to be metastatic cancer. She was dying. I was sad and vulnerable. It was the only year teasing and banter turned to flat-out bullying. I had nothing left to fight back. I lost the spark to my snark.

      10-12. Mom dies. My 1 full brother and I move away from our previous family and in with dad. We go to an excellent public school system in a wealthy medium-sized city, with lots of AP and honors classes and dedicated intelligent teachers. I fully enjoyed my time there and blossomed into full-on nerd with nerdy friends and nerdy classes. It would be the last push onto the higher education that gave me the career I have today.

      I learned a lot in my mostly public education. My mother never could’ve taught me the things I learned from a slew of excellent teachers and interactions with equally brainy classmates. I never could’ve learned it all alone in a library. I climbed right back up that ladder and out of poverty. And I want the same opportunity for every child everywhere. Not just my own.

      • The Other Weirdo

        I think the word you were looking for was “corporal”, not “capital”. Capital punishment is something else entirely.

      • Noelle

        Damn, you’re right. That would’ve been a rough public school.

    • stacey

      I think this is way to general. I will grant you that SOME schools are horrible, but I went to excellent ones where the academics, asts and athletics were great and there was no physical punishment or accepted bullying.
      Aren’t you an Unschooler?

    • Allie

      It’s a horrible shame that there are so many states that allow corporal punishment in schools. I went to public school in one of those states, although I don’t recall ever hearing of it actually happening in my district. However, that seems to be a problem with the laws of states regarding corporal punishment and what constitutes abuse, NOT an example that public schools are all terrible failures. Government workers are like all workers: some are terrible, and some are amazing. There are terrible public school teachers, there are lazy public school teachers, and there are unqualified public school teachers, but there are also passionate, kind, dedicated, overqualified public school teachers (and administrators). A lot of public schools are not producing great results, but the only way to fix that problem is to try. You can’t just say, “I wash my hands of this. Screw the next generation.” And by the way, when you say things like “I don’t trust the government to solve any of these problems,” that is certainly a valid opinion, and you have the right to it, but you aren’t helping by not contributing any ideas about what a better system would be. We can’t just close down all public schools and just hope that millions of kids are getting an education somewhere else. The only solution is to try to make public schooling the best it can be, and I don’t see you offering any suggestions about how to make that happen. One last point: I can’t speak for everyone in this conversation, but I think most people have no intention of trying to disallow homeschooling as an alternative to public schooling; however, when public schools are failing, there are systems in place to rectify the situation – the schools are held accountable. Those systems may not be perfect, but they exist. (For example, in some states, the state school board assigns each district and each school within that district a grade from A-F. When schools are below C level, they are on probation with the state. If they don’t fix their current problems, the state will take over the district to ensure that changes occur.) But when homeschooling parents are failing their children (and by failing I mean anywhere from merely not adequately educating their children to neglect and abuse), in a lot of states there is exactly nothing holding them accountable. Their children come into contact with no mandatory reporters who are trained to spot signs of neglect or abuse, and there are no safeguards in place (like curriculum review or mandatory testing) to ensure that ANY education is happening. So what I’m asking you is this: what, if any, is our responsibility to homeschooled children who are not being educated? Certainly it is not unreasonable to you to place common sense regulations in place to protect children from educational neglect.

    • AlisonCummins

      “The government is incapable of providing education.”
      You have just stated that very, very few people on the planet have received any education at all. That almost everyone is completely illiterate and unable to think.
      This is a statement utterly without foundation that you cannot defend. Many of the people commenting here learned to read at public school — something you have just said is not possible. Are they lying? Do you believe that everyone responding to you secretly received lovely homeschool educations that were beneficial to us and are just pretending that we didn’t so that … um, can’t think of why we would do that.

    • AlisonCummins

      “The government is incapable of providing education.”

      Schools are run by school boards which are funded by the local population. They are accountable to meet standards set by bureaucrats — that is, people whose business it is to know about and administer education — and to local elected representatives. If parents don’t accept the way schools are being run they can run for election to their school board.

      Individual parents can also advocate for their particular child at their particular school.
      Which of these multiple levels of checks and balances renders a teacher incapable of contributing to the education of a child? How exactly does that work?

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

      Yes public schools can suck.

      Likely has something to do with the fact that this country is convinced education can be done on the cheap, instead of investing the full amount of funding it needs.

      As you’re 26, you also spend a good chunk of your final years in education under NCLB, so you can thank evangelical homeschoolers, who are determined to make public education fail, for that.

    • Composer 99

      What makes the government of any given polity apparently incapable of providing education is when that polity is chock-a-block full of nihilist dimwits who insist, against the evidence I might add, that “the government can’t do anything right”.
      (I say “apparently” above because at least one reported educational success from public schools shoots your sweeping generalizations down in flames; and such reports have come pretty much every time you comment with this particular drivel here.)

    • The_L1985

      “Paddling” is illegal in ALL public schools in ALL of the US. So just because you were beaten however many years ago doesn’t mean that kids are being beaten today. Things change!

      • JoannaDW

        That, actually, is not correct. Corporal punishment is still legal and widely practiced in a minority of US states, mostly in the South. Things certainly have changed, but not nearly enough.

      • Conuly

        Not technically correct. Paddling is still allowed in many states, some of which are opt-out instead of opt-in.

        Rillian may be trolling, but that doesn’t mean he is always factually incorrect.

  • Rilian Sharp

    I shared this on facebook with this comment:

    Going to a schooly school WOULD have been worse … probably. If your parents allow to you seek out information and experiences, it’s already a million times better than any of the schools I went to. Providing opportunities for you is like forty million billion quadrillion times better. The idea of the gubment (the ones who make the gubment schools) overseeing such a thing is laughably stoopid.

    • Abby Normal

      So all the “government schools” are broken?

      What, pray tell, is YOUR brilliant solution to that problem?

      And, no, educating your own kids is not it.

      If you can provide a good education to your kids at home, well, bully for you. What about the rest of the kids?

      Not every family has the means to homeschool. And, sorry, not everyone that home schools does a good job of it, as this case illustrates. And, unless you live on a survivalist compound somewhere, it’s actually in your best interest for kids who are not your own to have a good education. An uneducated child is an eventual drain on society.

      So, whoopee-doo if YOUR kids are just fine. As a taxpayer, I personally want the public schools in my area to be decent, and I don’t want to be surrounded by homeschooling families that are turning out poorly-educated young adults that can’t function in general society.

      • Rilian Sharp

        I want homeschooling everywhere to be decent, and I don’t want the government schools turning out poorly-educated young adults who can’t function in general society.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        So what’s your magical plan to make homeschooling everywhere be decent? How will you deal with orphaned kids, kids with parents in jail, kids with abusive parents, kids living with sick parents, kids with insufficient food, kids with no heat or AC, etc, etc? How will you deal with parents who have to work and simply don’t have time to homeschool? How does your utopia work, Rilian?

      • Anat

        Adding to Feminerd’s questions: And once you magically arrange for every child to have someone capable of homeschooling them available, how do you make sure schooling actually happens?

      • smrnda

        I don’t think you can make all home-schooling decent since that would require making all parents decent – at least teachers and other government workers are accountable to *someone* and can be made to do *something*. Unless you found a way to first overthrow the authority of parents or create some system of accountability for all parents (not sure the feasibility) you’re still running into problems since nobody can make the parents do or not do anything, and they have tremendous power over kids.

        I also think that home-schooling would have been a disaster for me. At present I hardly ever talk to my parents, but I’m still close to people I met in public schools, many of whom were outside of my own racial/ethnic and socio-economic demographic. Getting exposed to people who were not like me was something that I don’t think would have happened without public schools.

        I don’t think that public schools will always work for everyone. I don’t think home schooling would always work. I don’t think either can be said to never work – in fact, I think both options have pros and cons that depend a lot on the individual student and the family. I don’t like to take an extreme 100% public school or homeschool position because there’s no clear winner there.

    • AlisonCummins


      “By the time he was 16, he had never written an essay. He didn’t know South Africa was a country. He couldn’t solve basic algebra problems.”

      I was educated in public schools. I knew all these things by the time I was 11.

      • Pam

        Heck, I was educated in public schools and was debating politics with my friends at the age of nine.

    • Trollface McGee

      The parents were clearly not providing him with information and experiences. He’s clearly a bright young man. If he wasn’t playing catch-up, he would probably have earned an academic scholarship, and have the opportunity to enjoy learning things he’s interested in (and would know what he’s interested in because the evil gumbment education exposed him to it).

      Home schooling, unschooling, etc. can be a positive experience for some kids, if the parents are committed, interested in teaching and learning and willing to go out of their way to make sure their child gets a well rounded education that will allow them to lead a fulfilling life. This is a pretty small segment of our society. For the rest, most would be better served by the evil gumbment schools and some have no business home schooling whatsoever.

    • Gillianren

      So your solution is what? You get asked that a lot, and you don’t answer. I want to know how, specifically, you would have ensured a proper education for me and my sisters given what our life was like.

      1. From the time I was six, we were in a single-parent household.

      2. This is because the breadwinner had died, and the remaining parent had to go back to school herself in order to get a job that would keep us fed and clothed.

      3. Two of us have mental health problems.

      4. One of the ones with mental health problems is also severely dyslexic. (Which was caught by a public school teacher, incidentally.)

      5. Two of us are extremely gifted.

      As it happens, I went to public school all the way through college, and I got a fine education. Your schools may have been lousy, but you really need to stop assuming that your experiences were universal.

    • Hilary

      Please, it’d be a lot easier to at least respectfully disagree if you would spell ‘government’ properly. It doesn’t make you look clever to spell it so ‘stoopidly.’

    • Michael W Busch

      Way to completely miss the point.

      That some schools do a bad job and some homeschooling parents do a good one does exactly nothing to say that homeschooling should not be regulated to ensure that it meets basic educational standards – just like private and public schools are regulated. Although those regulations sometimes are not followed and are sometimes lacking, they are far better than anything at all.

      And re. “providing opportunities for you”: my parents provided many opportunities for me – by sending me to better schools. They did that because they quite sensibly realized that they were unable to educate me as well as the cadre of teachers employed by St. Paul Public Schools and by the University of Minnesota’s youth programs.

      • Hilary

        Hey, you’re in MN too? Fellow alum of St. Paul public school system!

      • Michael W Busch

        I lived in St. Paul until I was 17. For the last 8 years and change, I’ve been living mostly in California (albeit with relatively long stays in Colorado and New Mexico). Better options for studying and working on planetary astronomy.

        Still good to come back and reacquaint myself with winter.

    • ArachneS

      The problem with demonizing the public schools in favor of unregulated free reign homeschooling, is that as others have said, this makes for huge problems to go unnoticed in homeschooled children who have a right to an education while they are young.

      Not only that, but every single person I have heard who demonizes the public school and homeschools, does absolutely NOTHING to improve the school in their area. What it does is sap the area of intellectual and financial resources and then blames the government for not being able to do better what they are not even trying to do themselves. Better the community. Look out for the kids around you. Actually pay attention to the school board and vote in the kids interest who go to the schools.

      Not to mention my parents demonized the schools in my area too, to justify their homeschooling(which was a failure).

      When I looked at our county schools as an adult, I found that our area schools were not actually terrible. They were good schools and had very many kids coming out and doing very well. One of the guys I worked with that went to public school was in our local paper for getting a perfect score on the SAT and getting a free ride into a very good college. This blew my mind at the time because I had been raised on the “public schools are terrible” line. And I had signed myself up for the SAT. And I knew what stuff on there that I didn’t know. I was coming to realize at that time he had gotten a MUCH better education than I did.

    • itsjustme

      “If your parents allow you . . .”

      That, hon, is the problem. Lots of parents don’t. It doesn’t sound like Josh’s parents provided him with opportunities–it sounds like he worked his ass off making those opportunities himself, with his parents obstructing him all along the way.

      That’s why homeschooling needs to be regulated. Because there is a ton of shit that parents don’t allow. Besides, this comparative shit is ridiculous. Public schools have problems, homeschooling families have problems, private schools have problems. We should work toward resolving all of them. (But if you insist on comparative pseudo logic, then I’ll say that I would have been better off in any of the mediocre public schools near where my family lived than I was trapped at home with my extremely dysfunctional family, where the “opportunities” I was allowed mostly involved getting screamed at and performing backbreaking amounts of drudgery).

    • The Other Weirdo

      Did you learn how to spell in a homeschooling environment?

      By the way, citation needed for your quantitative analysis.

    • Nancy Shrew

      When are you going to accept that your experience with public schooling does not equal everyone’s experience with it ever? You have been refuted multiple times now and yet you continue with this bullshit.

    • Pam

      You would condemn the kids already at the bottom to be society’s epsilons. What a wonderful brave new world that would be, where the kids of families who don’t care about education have absolutely no opportunities to learn. It’s those kids who absolutely need public education. Those kids will never achieve or excel in homeschooling, because their parents simply do not give a shit. And apparently people like you don’t give a shit about those kids, either. And honestly, it’s the widespread underfunding of public education, the denigration of teachers, the lack of consistency in financial and academic standards across American public schools that leads to schools and school districts that fall behind. It’s poor areas being systemically drained of the basic educational necessities that create a self-perpetuating situation of social, financial, and educational poverty. And it’s a situation that cannot be solved until public education is properly funded and public educators are properly paid and respected.

  • Nox

    HSLDA are lawyers. Speaking the truth is not part of their job. Neither is compassion. They are paid to always cheerlead for homeschooling even in cases where it is obviously detrimental. So that is what we see them doing here.

    • Saraquill

      Lumping all lawyers with that group is insulting.

      • Nox

        I wasn’t really intending to lump all lawyers in with this group. More saying the root problem with this group is that they are lawyers. If you find that too insulting, “lawyer” could be read as “paid spokesman”.

        Attorney is just a job. It can be held by good or bad people. But regardless of the person, their job is not to argue for what they personally believe is true. The job is to argue that X is true (where X=whatever they’re being paid to say).

  • Sandal

    Michael Farris is an evil human being with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. If it were up to him all children would be ignorant and religious useful idiots.

  • http://lostreef.blogspot.com/ Virgil T. Morant

    In fairness, I wouldn’t expect a lawyer to know tu quoque. I would, on the other hand, expect any lawyer engaged in civil defense litigation to have instant recourse to the Clean Hands Doctrine, since such an attorney would often automatically plead it in his work, and that seems to be more or less the spirit of Mr. Farris’s comments. This is not to say that I find his argument persuasive, but it’s absolutely lawyerly.

    I think Dr. Rudner’s remarks later on make the more legitimate observations about this controversy. It is worth noting that, just as there are homeschool parents who do an atrocious job as well as those who do a marvelous job, some public schools are very poor places to learn and some are very good. In all situations, though, the most critical influence on a child’s education is the child’s parents: as indeed parents are the primary influences or models in all affairs in their children’s upbringings. I could name off the top of my head several young adults whose intellects and spirits were crushed by homeschooling by deranged parents who taught them a whole lot of nonsense and inculcated in them an irrational, apocalyptic mindset. I have, however, long thought that, if I had children, I would have, to at least some level, kept them home for their education: and, of course, I don’t think my fictional wife and I would be among the crazies who cause such a stir as all this above in homeschooling.

    Of course, if I’m reading this correctly (and I’m by no means well acquainted with the story of the young man whom this is about), the whole problem is well captured in this HSLDA quote:

    But he arrived at the gates of young adulthood with his inborn desire to learn fully intact, and that has served him very well indeed.

    From what I vaguely gather, it was all quite psychologically the opposite for Mr. Powell. My sense from way out on the outside of this story is that the poor fellow was a bit beaten down in his experiences. I imagine this trite and dishonest answer from HSLDA doesn’t help.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    In other words, HSLDA’s supposed “proof” that public school stifles a child’s “inborn desire to learn” while homeschooling does not is proof of no such thing.
    Ees Party Line, Comrade.

    All I have to say is this: Where is your sense of compassion, HSLDA?

    Liquidated by the Purity of their Ideology, Comrade.

  • antimule

    Fuck compassion, what HSDLA lacks is SHAME.

  • Stev84

    You are expecting something from religious fanatics that they are incapable of feeling.

  • Ruth

    Apart from the appalling assertion that the environment and people that failed Josh are now taking credit for his success, there were two other gems buried in the article. Mr. Powell homeschooled in part because in other homeschooled families he was observing: “The young woman was doing homemaking, sewing, learning to cook, and the boy was doing farming…” leading Josh to worry that with the (lack of) education he was receiving he would unemployable. (of course a girl’s education should be limited to preparing her to be a vagina and uterus for her husband so that she may then also inadequately “edjukat” her children in a perpetuating cycle of ignorance and educational neglect). Also, Mrs. Powell, responsible for the children’s education, “let her husband speak for the family.”

    • smrnda

      The idea that they chose to home-school and chose what to do based on a fascination with kids doing farming and old fashioned sewing makes me not think of them as very responsible. It’s like deciding not to send your kids to school because you think they could become pro video game players.

      • Seeker

        A lot of homeschool families in my umbrella group go into homeschooling so they can raise star athletes. After all, if a boy is playing football on the county high school team (thus depriving a public school kid from being able to play for his own school), then he don’t need him no book-larnin’. That stuff’s for sissies, anyway, amirite?

      • Levedi

        Frankly, I’d be more okay with my kid wanting to be a pro-gamer than a 19th century style farmer. There’s actual money in the gaming industry and I could probably get my kid an internship through my alumni connections. Farming like Little House on the Prairie is a pipe dream.

        (BTW – I’m not bashing farmers. Farming is in my family. But these parents clearly don’t know jack about agricultural science or the intense, complicated education needed to pass an ag-sci major at a land grant university and run a profitable farm. You need things like advanced accounting and organic chemistry. That’s not what Josh was being taught.)

  • Saraquill

    The HSDLA feels so insecure it feels the need to belittle a man who was deprived a human right. They really don’t deserve the money the receive.

  • TLC

    The biggest threat to homeschooling, in this case, is that Josh had so much determination and desire to learn that he questioned the system, got help from the outside, and put himself through ALL levels of school — grade, middle and high school. He has escaped their clutches and learned how to think, reason, and see another point of view. Now he speaks out about it, hoping others will learn from his experience. He is that most dangerous of homeschooled children: an enlightened one. I classify him as EED: Educated, Extremely Dangerous. Well done, Josh!

  • onesmallstep

    HSDLA doesn’t seem to understand the difference between “desire” and “desperation.”

  • Space Blizzard

    I think it’s pretty clear that both HSLDA and many of the people who share their beliefs about education and parenting don’t have any compassion at all. Propping up their ideology comes first and foremost; if they have to sacrifice the childhoods of hundreds or even thousands of people to do that then so be it.

  • Jayn

    “How many public school teachers ever hear their students say, “Oh, my God, I have a chance to learn”?”

    Or, you know, they don’t say it because a chance to learn isn’t a novel experience for them. Josh wanted something he knew he was missing out on, so when he actually got it, of course this is what he said. Personally, while I felt like my public school education could have been better, an improvement would not have yielded this response because I already felt like I was getting an education, just not as good of one as I would have liked.

    • AnotherOne

      I know. If a kid came over to my house and I brought out a snack and he exclaimed in rapture, “Oh my God! I have a chance to eat!” I wouldn’t be blathering on about how his parents were so awesome because they were cultivating his natural desire to eat. Good lord.

    • kisekileia

      At some points in my public school education, I would probably have had that reaction if given the chance to be homeschooled instead, because my parents shared my frustration at the public schools’ failure to teach me a suitable curriculum. However, I would have had the same reaction if I’d been given an appropriately accelerated curriculum in a public school environment. I was an extremely gifted kid and was extremely frustrated by the failure of my schools–even with gifted programs–to provide a curriculum at my level. However, the problem wasn’t public schools in and of themselves. The problem was that my needs were not being recognized and met, which could have happened in any setting.

    • Joykins

      Bright, highly-motivated kids like Josh Powell tend to excel in public education. At worst he would have been bored at lessons below his ability, but that’s still much better than the lessons far, far, far below his ability that he got.

  • AnotherOne

    HSLDA’s response makes me so angry. Yes, of course there are the Joshes. I am one, in the sense that I had a similarly bad secondary education and after a lot of false starts and excruciatingly hard work and therapy and angst and luck, I’ve managed to get quite an education for myself. Every time I hear someone use “success” like that as proof that people like Josh and I are wrong and that our poor homeschooling experiences couldn’t have been that bad since we turned out so “well,” I want to scream. Because for every one of us that manages by hook or crook to forge a decent life that gives us the time and energy to formulate a thoughtful, outspoken critique of our homeschooling experience, there are people like my siblings who have no voice. Unequipped for life, they are crushed by financial and emotional struggles that break my heart. They don’t have the wherewithal to come up with some New York Times-worthy critique of lax homeschooling regulation, because they’ve got other shit to worry about. Like extricating themselves from abusive relationships, or trying to put food in their kids’ mouths with a minimum wage job. So don’t tell me that I’m an example of how even shoddy homeschooling is better than public school. I’m the lucky anomaly.

    • Rosa

      Success is how you judge past parenting, of course. Even if the kids say otherwise – clearly Jay-Z’s massive business success is an argument for putting teenaged boys out on the corner to sell cocaine – it teaches important entrepreneurial skills and they’ll all end up in Forbes.

  • Lisa Bennet

    I can so relate to Josh. Catching up is so difficult, and yet makes you so happy.

    I think the whole “children are eager to learn through home schooling” is BS. I was greatly discouraged by the fact that my teacher was also my parent. Whatever I did in school would directly transfer into the rest of my life. For me this meant fearing mistakes in classes, fearing the private consequences, the talks… everything. I hated learning because I just couldn’t get a break from the mistakes I made.

  • wanderer

    Maybe the reason kids aren’t begging to learn in public school is because they understand it to be NORMAL that kids go there and learn. There’s no need to beg.
    It’s like kids thinking it’s normal to eat 3 meals a day. Would it be better if kids had to beg for food to prove that their innate hunger hadn’t be squelched?