So, one of the things that I did when I decided to homeschool (actually, before I decided to homeschool) was join homeschooling groups on facebook, follow blogs about homeschooling, and make friends who are homeschoolers. The idea was to get support and information from those who were more experienced than me, and it was generally a successful strategy. It had at least one unintended consequence that I didn’t think about at the time, though — whenever there’s a headline about homeschooling in the news, I see it over, and over, and over again, every time I turn on my computer.
Like when a homeschooling, homesteading family of 12 has ten children removed from their care in Kentucky, amid accusations of abuse and neglect. Or when a homeschooling family of reality television fame is revealed to have hidden, for a dozen years, the fact that their oldest son molested a number of girls, including his own younger sisters. Or when four brothers from a homeschooling family are convicted of molesting their sister, with more, related convictions likely to follow.
The Nauglers, the Duggars, and the Jacksons are taking up an inordinate amount of space on my newsfeed. And it’s embarrassing, frankly, because I know that non-homeschoolers are also reading these stories — or at least the headlines — and that’s informing their vision of what a homeschooling family looks like.
The truth is, these stories have little or nothing to do with homeschooling. The Naugler family isn’t even technically a homeschooling family, despite what they call themselves. Under Kentucky law, parents are supposed to report their homeschooling status to the state; Joe and Nicole Naugler failed to do so. Their school-aged children were truant, not homeschooled. The headlines about them could just as easily read something along the lines of “10 Children of Kentucky Homesteaders to Remain in State Custody” — it’s as true as the headline referencing homeschooling, and the living conditions, a result of the family’s efforts at homesteading, were really what prompted the investigation of the family to begin with.
Alternatively, news about all three families could refer to them as fundamentalist Christian families. Or unusually large families. But instead, it’s homeschooling that gets the focus. Why?
Well, we know why. The perception is that homeschooling was used to hide abuse. I’d be lying if I said that that wasn’t a possibilty — I think it’s entirely possible that all three of these families saw the lack of “outsiders” in the form of school officials as a good thing; a way to continue a lifestyle that they probably knew, on some level, as unhealthy. But to focus only on homeschooling obscures the fact that abuse also hides out in public and private schools, and in the homes of children who attend public and private school.
Child abuse and neglect is a larger problem than I can tackle in a casual blog post. I wish it weren’t, but it is. School children are bullied to the point of suicide by their peers. Teachers begin sexual relationships with students. Some parents send their abused kids to school, secure in the knowledge that either their children are too afraid to speak up, or their position in the community protects them from close scrutiny. It happens every day. In every city. In every state. And focusing on homeschoolers ignores the larger problem of children not being protected, respected, or taken seriously in our society.
Homeschooling for me is all about respecting, protecting, and meeting the needs of my children. I was tired of my daughter coming home from school calling herself stupid. I am tired of my older son being told to dumb himself down for the benefit of his classmates. I feared for my youngest, who hadn’t yet learned to hate school or hate himself at the time when I pulled him out — I didn’t want him to have the experiences that his older siblings did.
Here, we praise their progress at their own pace, instead of telling them they’re flawed if they can’t keep up with a group of other students. They know they’re achieving and they’re proud of themselves. Here, they aren’t held back from doing something that they’re interested in or good at just because someone else might not understand. Here, they’re safe from bullies and abusive teachers
I know many of my fellow homeschoolers are doing the same thing I’m doing. They simply want to foster their children’s strengths and talents, and give them room to improve their weak areas without shaming them. Others are trying to create a conducive environment for their disabled or profoundly gifted children to learn, after finding that their local schools cannot provide that environment. Still others are trying to escape the high pressure test environment that’s causing their children undue stress. The majority of parents, across the board, are not abusive. The majority of homeschool parents are no different — most want only the best for their children.
It’s a shame that media outlets and bloggers choose to highlight homeschooling as if it were a cause of abuse. Abusive people are the cause of abuse, no matter what the environment they’re found in. The rest of us shouldn’t be stigmatized for homeschooling, any more than all teachers should be stigmatized because some are abusive or all public school parents should be stigmatized because some are abusive.