Politics & Policy

Homeschooling as Scapegoat

Politicians blame homeschooling for tragedies it had nothing to do with.

Homeschooling is rarely in the news. This is the way most homeschoolers like it. We tend to be the kind of people who prefer to be left alone. When homeschooling does make headlines, it’s almost always because some politician wants to exploit a tragedy in order to rein in homeschooling, regulate it, or ban it outright.

In Connecticut, where I live, Democratic governor Dannel Malloy appointed a blue-ribbon commission to examine the causes and consequences of Adam Lanza’s December 2012 murder spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Among the panel’s recommendations was tighter regulation of homeschoolers in the state.

The commission — which included two high-ranking members of the teachers’ unions, but no one from a homeschooling family — persisted with its recommendation even after it was proved that Lanza had never been homeschooled. And it recommended giving local education bureaucrats even more power over homeschooling families’ decisions, despite the Newtown school system’s epic failure to help Lanza overcome his severe mental illness.

Something similar happened in Ohio in 2013. State senator Capri Cafaro introduced a bill requiring homeschooling parents to submit to multiple interviews and background checks after 14-year-old Theodore “Teddy” Foltz-Tedesco was tortured and murdered by his mother’s boyfriend. Teddy’s mother had pulled her kids out of school after teachers noticed signs of abuse and reported them to the authorities.

According to reports, family, friends, and neighbors also knew the abuse was happening and attempted multiple times to intervene. They had contacted local social-service agencies, which should have investigated Teddy’s mistreatment and stopped it. For some reason, they didn’t. As in Connecticut, though, the Ohio bill would have further empowered that broken system and restricted the rights of homeschoolers. Cafaro ultimately withdrew it.

The latest attack on the rights of homeschoolers comes from Michigan, where state representative Stephanie Gray Chang plans to introduce a bill requiring any homeschooled student to join a registry maintained by the local school district. The bill is a response to the recent discovery that a Detroit mom had killed her two children and put their bodies in the freezer. When school officials called to inquire about the children, their mother, Mitchelle Blair, claimed she was homeschooling them. Chang wants to force homeschoolers to submit to twice-yearly in-person visits from a “community representative.”

Gruesome crimes tend to capture the public imagination. The media love a sensational headline. People demand answers and politicians sense opportunity. Though none of these politicians — all Democrats — would dare take the existence of ISIS, for example, to mean that all Muslims are potential terrorists, they eagerly advance the false notion that homeschooling is by its nature dangerous to kids because of a few isolated instances of abuse.

It’s understandable that they would think this. If you put blind faith in the public-education system to cure social ills and “educate children into citizenship,” you too would view homeschoolers with suspicion. If your campaigns were financed by the teachers’ unions, you’d happily attack an alternative that challenges the political stranglehold of those unions on the public schools. If you believed, as Hillary Clinton said last week, that education is a “non-family enterprise,” you might be inclined to treat all homeschoolers as potential child abusers.

Of course, most progressive politicians don’t acknowledge any of this. They say they’re only interested in keeping kids safe. In withdrawing her bill — which was to be known as Teddy’s Law — Cafaro said her hope was to “bring the discussion back to where it was always intended to be: protecting children.”

Ah, yes. We must protect the children. After all, only a monster could object to that. 

Admittedly, the cases in question are painful to read about. But when progressives attack homeschooling in the name of “protecting children,” they always seem less interested in remedying specific examples of abuse than in curtailing homeschooling generally. Kids who are homeschooled, they worry, will end up as social outcasts, possibly even dangerous, like Adam Lanza (if he had, in fact, been homeschooled, which he wasn’t, but never mind that). Of equal concern is what they see as a lack of cultural diversity in most home-education environments.

Whatever it is about homeschooling that drives the Left so crazy, it couldn’t be the academic results. Homeschoolers generally do quite well on standardized tests. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, homeschooled kids typically score 15 to 30 percentile points higher than public-school students.

One can’t help but think that underneath all the talk about socialization and abuse, it’s the freedom that really bothers them. The thought of people raising their children outside the approved system is evidently too much for the left-wing mind to handle. As journalist Dana Goldstein has said, homeschooling is a violation of progressive values. It’s a threat to left-wing dominance in our education system, and therefore must be stomped out.

If doing so requires exploiting a tragedy, well, so be it.

— Matthew Hennessey (@matthennessey) writes from Connecticut.

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