Kevin Swanson, and Letting the Foxes Guard the Hen House

Kevin Swanson, and Letting the Foxes Guard the Hen House August 28, 2014

Do you guys remember last week’s WORLD Magazine article on abuse and neglect in the Christian homeschooling community? The two solutions suggested by WORLD (and by the Home School Legal Defense Association) were these: (1) the homeschooling community should self police, including investigating educational neglect tips through agreements with state child protective services; and (2) homeschool families should be active members of churches, which will step in if there is a problem.

Yesterday Christian homeschool leader Kevin Swanson spent his entire radio broadcast responding to the WORLD article, and it wasn’t pretty—but it was also very indicative of why both of WORLD and HSLDA’s solutions will only fail. Here is his description of the broadcast:

Homeschool Educational Neglect: Media Rages Against Homeschooling

We are seeing more negative reports on homeschooling than ever before.  Anecdotal evidence is fun, but does it reflect the real story?   Kevin Swanson interacts with a World Magazine article that covers homeschool graduate malcontents, and discusses a biblical perspective of educational neglect.  Should the state prosecute educational neglect in the case that a father fails to follow through on Deuteronomy 6:7?

Kevin Swanson spent years as president of Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC), his state’s Christian homeschooling organization. Swanson is also the pastor of his own church, and heads a radio ministry called Generations with Vision geared toward other Christian homeschoolers. He speaks at homeschooling conventions across the country and is a published author. The current president of CHEC, who was quoted in the WORLD article asserting the importance of church attendance for accountability, attends Swanson’s church. In other words, Swanson is exactly the kind of person WORLD and HSLDA are arguing should be policing homeschoolers and protecting homeschooled children from abuse and neglect.

What did Swanson have to say in his radio broadcast?

Kathryn Elizabeth and Homeschool Apostate both live tweeted the broadcast by Kevin Swanson and his co-host Steve Vaughan. You can read a storified version of their tweets here. Ryan Stollar transcribed the entire thing, which you can read here. Let’s look at some excerpts:

Kevin: I think WORLD Magazine should think biblically about these things. What does the Bible say about educational neglect? Again, look it up in the concordance! See, people aren’t used to that. Let me explain to you what a concordance is. A concordance is typically found in the back of a Bible. You can find them online. It’s called BibleHub.com. Go there. And… and you look up the word. “Educational neglect.” Look it up in the Bible. You say it’s not there? Yeah. Yeah, exactly! Why? Because it’s not an issue. What’s the issue?

Steve: Family.

(laughter)

Kevin: The issue is discipleship neglect.

Steve: Right.

Kevin: The issue is, biblically speaking — if we were thinking biblically — not, not with the psychobabble of the world gives us — but if we’re thinking biblically, educational neglect is the failure to teach God’s Word as you sit in the house, as you walk by the way, as you rise, as you lie down. Okay? So, so, so those are the categories in which we should be thinking, friends.

And, now, here’s the next question: How do we prosecute that through the civil magistrate? That’s the next question that comes to the mind of the socialists — whether they work for TIME Magazine or whether or not they working for WORLD Magazine. I don’t know if socialists work there or not. But, but the question in the minds of a socialist that are in the Christian population and the non-Christian population is: If there is an educational neglect — where a parent refuses to teach their children God’s Word as you sit in the house, as you walk by the way, as you rise, as you lie down — the question in their minds is, should the State prosecute it? My answer is: No.

Steve: No!

Kevin: Thank you! I’m glad that you have a biblical worldview, too!

Steve: Oh yeah!

(laughter)

Kevin: Oh it’s incredible, Steve’s got a biblical worldview, I’ve got a biblical worldview!

(laughter)

Steve: Yeah!

Kevin: Yeah! The State doesn’t prosecute it! So, who prosecutes it? Um, well — where there are church relationships! Where there is somebody who cares! Here’s one thing I’m learning, Steve: the State can’t fix these problems. They can’t fix the family. They can’t fix educational neglect.

Steve: They’re not designed to!

Kevin Swanson does not believe educational neglect is a thing because the Bible doesn’t mention it. The only kind of educational neglect he believes is actually an issue is failure to teach your children the Bible.

Swanson mocks homeschool alumni calling out educational neglect:

Kevin: We’re back on the Generations Radio broadcast talking about homeschool educational neglect. Educational neglect: “when my fa—, when my parents did not get me into Harvard.” (using fake whining voice) “Why didn’t my parents get me into Harvard? What’s wrong with them?” And you know, the point is, the point is, the goal is not to get you into Harvard. The goal is to get you into Heaven.

That’s not what anyone is saying. We are talking about homeschooled children whose educations simply cease. Children who are put to work at under-the-counter jobs, children whose parents simply don’t teach them anything, or children whose parents give up on teaching them algebra or high school level subjects because they’re beyond their ability to teach and they aren’t willing to put in the effort to find resources. We’re talking about children who aren’t taught to read, or basic math, and children whose education is so truncated that their occupational options are severely limited. No one is saying that a child is educationally neglected just because they can’t get into Harvard.

Swanson goes farther, and blames educational neglect on the children themselves:

Kevin: But when someone says, I could have had a better education than that provided by my mother or by my father, that’s really, really, really hard to prove. How, how, how do you know that? Maybe it was a character problem on YOUR part. Maybe you didn’t obey your parents! Maybe you didn’t study your books like you were told to! And to think that you could have had a better education if you had done it this way versus that way is extremely hard to prove.

Steve: Right!

(laughter)

Kevin: Extremely hard to prove!

Steve: Because you can’t go back and do it that way!

Kevin: You can’t! (laughter) You can’t… and even if you could have, you would have dragged your same old person, with your same old character flaws, with your same old slothfulness issue, into the public school or private school setting or other setting ‚ and you could have done worse…

Steve: Yeah.

Kevin: …than you did with your parents — trying to do whatever they could have done with you, even with all of your character issues that you’re dealing with. It’s fun to blame your parents for your OWN lack of character!

Again, this is not what anyone is talking about. No one is talking about situations where parents teach their children and provide them with resources and the children goof off and refuse to do the work. We are talking about homeschooled children who desperately want the opportunity to learn but are denied that opportunity. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education, one of the new organizations formed by homeschool alumni, makes this clear in its brief on recognizing educational neglect in a homeschool setting.

So let’s get this straight:

  1. Swanson says academic educational neglect is not an issue we should worry about because it’s not mentioned in the Bible.
  2. Swanson says that homeschooled children who say they were educationally neglected were actually simply being lazy and not studying hard enough.

Swanson says other things, too, like that abuse must have two or three witnesses to be considered verified, and that social services can’t fix dysfunctional families, only churches can. There’s also an awful lot of railing against any government action ever as “socialism.” And this is the sort of person WORLD and HSLDA would have policing homeschooling.

The sad thing is that it’s not just Christian homeschooling organizations and leaders that have this problem, it’s the secular ones too. For instance, the California Homeschool Network includes this in its mission statement:

California Homeschool Network exists to protect the fundamental right of the family to educate its children in the manner it deems appropriate without regulation or interference by federal, state or local agencies.

The problem is the use of the phrase “in the manner it deems appropriate” without any qualifiers. There is a reason the Coalition for Responsible Home Education includes the word “responsible.” Homeschooling can be done responsibly (and can be done very well indeed), but it can also be done very, very irresponsibly, and organizations like the California Homeschool Network appear to care more about parents’ absolute freedom than children’s interest in an education. But then, this makes sense when you remember that these organizations were created by and for homeschooling parents, not by or for homeschooled children.

Beyond this emphasis on parents’ rights, I’ve also seen secular homeschoolers insist that educationally neglected homeschooled children are suffering from learned helplessness and need to just get up off their butts and educate themselves on their own. This ignores the fact that not every child is capable of that sort of comprehensive self-education—many children need the accountability of a teacher and things like deadlines—and it ignores the fact that educationally neglected homeschooled children may not have access to the resources they need to teach themselves in the first place. In other words, they use the same like as Kevin Swanson, accusing educationally neglected children of being lazy.

Now are all secular homeschoolers—or even all Christian homeschoolers—like this? No. But enough are—and enough of those who are are in positions of power—to create fundamental problems with any suggestions that the homeschool educational neglect problem should be solved by self policing. What we need is not self policing but rather accountability, and as one homeschooling parent pointed out in her testimonial for the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, accountability isn’t a punishment—and it’s not about singling homeschoolers out.

As a licensed civil engineer, I would not think twice about my superior evaluating me. It simply wouldn’t be safe for the public if I were to design something without that design being checked by my superior. I think about accountability and oversight of home education in the same way.

But don’t tell Kevin Swanson that! Accountability means government involvement—and that’s socialism!

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