Since Michelle Goldberg’s Daily Beast article “The Sinister Side of Homeschooling” came out, there have been a number of people expressing support for what some of us homeschool grads are doing to raise awareness, but there have been others that have accused us of being part of some vast liberal conspiracy to force children into the public schools to be indoctrinated and too many people have crunched the numbers of deaths reported on Homeschooling’s Invisible Children and concluded that there are less children dying in homeschools than in the public schools so our conclusions about homeschooled children needing more protections are wrong. This article “The Left Alleges “Unregulated Abuses” Among Homeschoolers,” by Elizabeth Vale, did both. I responded to her in the blog comments and then decided to post my response to her here, so that others who are referring to liberal conspiracies or crunching the numbers and coming to such conclusions (or are dealing with people who are) can see why neither are true and accurate, and just as importantly, neither are constructive ways to improve the situation or do right by kids. So here’s my response to Elizabeth:
My name is Heather Doney and I am the co-founder of Homeschooling’s Invisible Children http://hsinvisiblechildren.org
and started the support group that was referenced in the article. You can dislike how homeschooling was covered in the Daily Beast article as much as you want, and that is certainly your right, but I take issue with two things you said. First that this is somehow some liberal conspiracy. In fact it was people who’d grown up within fundamentalist and conservative Christian homeschooling homes documenting our own struggles and abuses at Homeschoolers Anonymous that first caught Michelle Goldberg’s attention, and she wrote about that in April. The Erica Parsons case is tragic, but so is the case of the Gravelles and the Carrolls and those are much more closely connected to the homeschool leadership hierarchy, namely the HSLDA. Some of us put out a petition to the HSLDA to put out a statement on child abuse and it was ignored.
It is time for leaders in the conservative Christian homeschooling world to do some soul searching and ask “do we really want a child abuse scandal of our very own?” and if the answer is no, make changes to better protect at-risk kids.
Also, you can post that math you just did all you want and think it proves something, but fact is Homeschooling’s Invisible Children is far from being a comprehensive database of cases at this point. Rachel and I simply combed the internet and entered the cases we found. I imagine there are plenty of cases where homeschooled children die and no papers publicly list that they were homeschooled because most journalists don’t understand that homeschooling, when the parent is not able or willing to properly care for a child, can easily lead to severe abuse or child death. So you are crunching numbers and publishing findings on an incomplete project of ours. Fact is we don’t know if there are more or less child deaths either but we are trying to do our best and find out.
Also, if Rachel and I were so anti-homeschooling, why would I be on TV saying this?
So instead of calling this some anti-homeschooling liberal conspiracy, when this initiative is being undertaken by well-educated (I have a masters degree, Rachel is working on her PhD) former homeschool students themselves (we grew up in it, so know firsthand about a lot of things, including the need for reform), perhaps check within your homeschool community and see if more should be done there to protect at-risk children. Personally I am approaching this issue in good faith and I will always care a lot more about kids themselves than about protecting the reputation of any education method and I think any child deaths from abuse and neglect are one death too many.
Also, one thing I didn’t mention that I would like to, and that fellow homeschool reform advocate Kiery King had mentioned on her blog (Kiery also made these eye-catching buttons for displaying the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children website on your blog or website), is a bit of terminology. Elizabeth Vale spoke of homeschoolers but homeschoolers are kids that are being homeschooled. Homeschool parents are the ones who are providing the homeschooling. I would hope that homeschool parents don’t get so caught up in the business of homeschooling that they forget that us former homeschoolers not only have informed opinions on the subject of homeschooling but many of us also have something to say.
When we don’t say what you want us to say and you act like our connection to homeschooling is tenuous, unrepresentative, or does not exist, or you link our voices to some sinister left-wing or even demonic conspiracy (according to Kevin Swanson we are “homeschool apostates,” headed for hell) or a mistake in logic or math or an exercise in rebellion or a show of “bitterness,” that kind of reaction indicates not that we are deserving of being silenced and ignored, but that you, for whatever reason you may have, are not interested in listening to our words of experience. So, those of you writing such articles, I have to ask – why are you putting so much effort into conspiracy theorizing, crying persecution, and fearing homeschooling will disappear and not writing articles discussing how to keep bad things from happening to homeschooled children and preventing undeserving people from using homeschooling for purposes of fraud, waste, and abuse? Only you can answer that question.
“…why are you putting so much effort into conspiracy theorizing, crying persecution, and fearing homeschooling will disappear and not writing articles discussing how to keep bad things from happening to homeschooled children and preventing undeserving people from using homeschooling for purposes of fraud, waste, and abuse?”
Because that would shatter the illusion that fundamentalists like Swanson have carefully crafted for themselves. They would be forced to admit that fundamentalist Christian homeschooling is not immune to corruption and abuse, and is therefore not necessarily a perfect option.
Very good analysis, Heather. I enjoy your website. It might be worth pointing out that we should really be comparing the percentage of homeschool deaths vs public school deaths or deaths per 1000 students. Many more children go to public school than are homeschooled, so we need to compare accurately.
Thanks formerhacgirl, and yes, I’d definitely agree. Furthermore, since most children who die of abuse and neglect are not yet school age, I would say that comparing the rate of abuse and neglect deaths among homeschooled children to the rate of abuse and neglect deaths of school age children only would make the count even more accurate. Fact is we just don’t have all the numbers pulled together on the homeschooling side yet though, so at this point it would be conjecture to make any conclusion. It bothers me that people do make unsubstantiated conclusions though, “saying plenty more public school kids die of abuse and neglect than homeschool kids” and I say “yes, of course, because there are plenty more public school kids.” Then they’ll say that even controlling for population the homeschool numbers fare better, but frankly neither they nor I know that and people making sweeping generalizations like that based on little more than their friend circle and a gut feeling, without the data to back it up, is simply irresponsible.
There is this great fear that homeschooled children are at greater risk for abuse or neglect than children attending a traditional B&M school. I think before leaping to conclusions and calling for greater government intrusion on homeschooling families as a result of this fear, we need some actual data.
I would fully support requiring Child Protective Services to track what type of education the child is receiving in *DOCUMENTED* cases of abuse and/or neglect. We know that roughly 5% of the school aged population is being homeschooled. Is the percentage of homeschooling among cases where there is actual evidence of abuse/neglect greater than, equal to, or less than 5%? And of the kids supposedly being “homeschooled”, how many of them only started to “homeschool” AFTER Child Protective Services was already involved with the family?