CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ian Britton.
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
A common question we encounter in our child advocacy through Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out is an understandable one: “Do you believe the homeschooling movement can self-police itself?” This question concerns the tragic yet undeniable reality of child abuse and mental illness within homeschooling. Those asking the question are wondering if homeschool parents, communities, and organizations are capable of properly responding to child abuse and mental illness. By extension, they are also wondering if some outside oversight (such as a government agency) is necessary.
My answer to this question is always two-fold. First, yes, I absolutely do believe the homeschooling movement can self-police. Having been homeschooled from K-12 and knowing many homeschoolers to this day, I have great hope and faith in the ability and tenacity of homeschoolers. I know they are capable, driven, and intelligent people. They can do just about anything if they put their minds and hearts to it. So yes, I do believe that if the homeschooling movement dedicated its minds and hearts to properly responding to child abuse and mental illness — with the same sort of zeal which the movement dedicates to opposing Evolutionism, Secularism, and Socialism — it could actually make great strides forward in making homeschooling safer for all children. I am not optimistic enough to think that self-policing in itself could entirely solve the problems of abuse, neglect, and illness within homeschooling. But I can certainly see a lot of good arising from the act.
Here’s the catch, though. The important question isn’t whether or not the homeschooling movement can self-police. The important question is whether or not the homeschooling movement will self-police.
The homeschooling movement certainly can do better internally. It has everything in place that could make this happen. It has a national alliance of homeschool leaders, the National Alliance of Christian Home Education Leadership. It has annual national and international leadership conferences where international, national, and state leaders in homeschooling come together and network. It has numerous legal defense associations like HSLDA and the National Center for Life and Liberty (NCLL). It has state organizations in every one of the United States. It has national convention companies like the Great Homeschool Conventions (GHC) and national curriculum creators like Sonlight and ACE and A Beka and Alpha Omega. It appeals generally to one authority when it comes to homeschooling statistics — Brian Ray’s National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI).
If the homeschooling movement had the will to tackle head-on the pressing, dire issues facing many homeschooled students and alumni like child abuse, mental illness, and self-injury, we would see a sea change at this very moment.
But we don’t.
And that’s the problem.
Yes, the homeschooling movement can self-police. But it currently doesn’t have the will to do so.
If Brian Ray and NHERI had the will to find out just how prevalent child abuse and mental illness and self-injury are within homeschooling, he and they could begin the process of finding out. They have the resources. They can do the research.
But they won’t. So they don’t.
If HSLDA and NCLL had the will to ensure that every single one of their member families was properly trained in recognizing and responding to the warning signs of child abuse before becoming a member, they could do that. They have the resources. They have the website tools. They can make child abuse prevention training a prerequisite for membership.
But they won’t. So they don’t.
If the Great Homeschool Conventions (and other for-profit and non-profit convention companies) had the will to make child abuse prevention and suicide prevention and mental health awareness a priority in their workshop content, they could do that. They have the contacts. They have the money. They can elevate the importance of these subjects for their customers.
But they won’t. So they don’t.
One can, of course, make the argument that some of these organizations shouldn’t have to focus on child abuse and neglect because that’s not their organizational focus. The argument fails for two reasons: First, any organization that works with or for children — every single organization — needs to proactively tackle these issues. That’s part of properly stewarding the children within their care. As ChildHope says, “All organisations working with children, either directly or indirectly, have a moral and legal responsibility to protect children within their care from both intentional and unintentional harm. This is known as a duty of care.” All of the organizations I mentioned do work either directly or indirectly with children. So they have a duty — both a secular one and a God-given one — to go out of their way to make sure they are doing everything they can to ensure the health and well-being of the children in their purview.
Second, none of these organizations are going out of their way to support or welcome other organizations that do focus on child health and safety. HSLDA hasn’t supported or sponsored a National Child Abuse Prevention Week. Convention companies haven’t sought out GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) or the Child-Friendly Faith Project or HARO to present at their conventions. The National Alliance of Christian Home Education Leadership hasn’t sought out a child advocacy organization to draft a national declaration about making child health and safety a priority. We aren’t seeing the movement that is so necessary to creating a sea change in how homeschoolers think about and respond to these pressing issues.
All of this might sound pessimistic or nihilistic. But I truly meant what I said earlier: I have great hope and faith in the ability and tenacity of homeschoolers. I know they are capable, driven, and intelligent people. They can do just about anything if they put their minds and hearts to it.
Homeschoolers just need to start putting their minds and hearts to better protecting the children they care so much about.
It’s easy for someone like Michael Farris to draw “a line in the sand” and make generic statements like, “The overuse of physical discipline is causing real harm to children” — and then make no effort make the line mean something and actively promote alternatives to those practices prevalent within homeschooling that cause that real harm to children. It’s easier still for someone like Thomas Umstattd Jr. to “stand with Michael Farris against the abuses of the patriarchy movement” — and then do nothing to actually work against abuse.
If the homeschooling movement is really going to self-police, we need more than platitudes. We need more than empty declarations from our leaders. We need a concerted, coordinated effort from our leaders, organizations, convention companies, curriculum developers, co-ops, teachers, and parents to do the actual work necessary to better protecting children.