Homeschooling is often hotly debated in terms of child development, “socializing,” and simply having the time and means to shoulder your child’s education. But among the usual parenting talking points that often dot homeschooling narratives, the question of a child’s safety isn’t even one of the top five, until some reporting proves that it very well should be.
The Daily Beast reports that the website Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which only launched in May 2013, has created a database of homeschooled children who have been abused to death based on local news stories and official documents. Launched by two women who were homeschooled themselves, Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman‘s website has been reportedly keeping an eye on the growing number of homeschooled kids who have been imprisoned and starved — by their parents.
But before we all start giving homeschooling parents the sideways glance, the granted “incredibly spotty” research we do have on homeschooling doesn’t suggest that they’re all child beaters:
Coleman, an Indiana University Ph.D. student who studies the role of children in the Christian right, does not believe that homeschooling parents are more abusive than others. Some 1.5 million Americans kids are taught at home, and there’s no reason to think that more than a small fraction of them are subject to severe violence. Indeed, Coleman says she wouldn’t even rule out homeschooling her own children. But she argues that because the practice is almost entirely unregulated in much of the country, it can make abusive situations worse, allowing parents to hide their crimes and denying kids access to outside authority. “Homeschooling enables parents to isolate children,” Coleman says. “That can enable them to abuse them.”
Regulation of homeschool is still reportedly very minimal, even in states where regulation has been implemented:
In 10 states, homeschooling is completely unregulated, and in 15 more, parents only have to notify their school district that their kids will be learning at home. There are no minimum educational standards for teachers, no curriculum review, no testing or monitoring to make sure that any education is taking place at all….Even in states with more regulation, like North Carolina, required testing is administered by parents, who are responsible for mailing the results to authorities. “The law gives its officials no right to enter homes or to inspect any records besides test scores,” says a state legal summary put out by the Home School Legal Defense Association, the nation’s premier Christian homeschooling organization.
Michelle Goldberg‘s reporting cites many cases of children being abused to death by their homeschooling parents. Among the most chilling is the story of 33-year-old April Duvall, now part of an online support group for women from fundamentalist homeschooling families. The circumstances of her homeschooling experience illuminate why abusive parents opt for significantly less regulated education for their victims:
Before her parents stopped sending her to school, she says, her father, a far-right evangelical pastor, worried that he’d get in trouble if he left marks on her after a beating. “My parents were abusive as long as I can remember, but my dad was afraid they would get caught,” Duvall says. Then, in second grade, her mother started teaching her at home, and “my dad stopped being scared that he would get caught.”
People who abuse children should always be scared that they will get caught.