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Sinister homeschooling???? What's Your Opinion?

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Did this happen just because this child was homeschooled or were the parents like this DESPITE homeschooling?

On September 9, the parents of Hana Williams, an Ethiopian teenager living in the state of Washington, were convicted of killing her. During the last year of her life, court documents show, she had lost almost 30 pounds as she was beaten, denied food, forced to sleep in a barn, and given cold outdoor showers with a garden hose. Much of the time she was kept barefoot, although she was allowed shoes if there was snow on the ground. Sometimes she was given nothing but a towel to wear. If Williams had been in school, someone might have noticed that she was underdressed and emaciated. But she was homeschooled, and so her parents, fundamentalist Christians in thrall to a harsh disciplinary philosophy, had complete privacy to punish her as they saw fit. She died naked, face down in the mud in their backyard.

Katrina Wittkamp/Getty
Williams is far from the only homeschooled kid to be tortured or murdered in recent years. Exactly how many is hard to say—research on homeschoolers is incredibly spotty, and what exists is mostly done by homeschooling advocates. But Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman, two women who themselves grew up in homeschooling families, have documented dozens of horrific cases on their website, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which launched in May. A database of local news stories and official documents, the site is searchable by category, including Fatality, Food Deprivation, Imprisonment, Physical Abuse and Sexual Abuse. Under Sexual Abuse, to take just one of them, Doney and Coleman found almost 70 victims since 2000—and those are just cases that made the papers.

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.”

April Duvall, 33, is a member of an online support group for women who grew up in fundamentalist homeschooling families. 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.”

Indeed, when kids are homeschooled, it’s easy for the world to forget that they exist. In August, Erica Lynn Parsons, a 15-year-old girl ostensibly being homeschooled in North Carolina by her adoptive parents, was reported missing by her stepbrother; it soon emerged that she hadn’t been seen since 2011. Her birth mother is now calling for an “Erica’s law” that would provide greater oversight of homeschooling.
Right now there’s remarkably little. 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.
 Duvall, for example, says she had to teach herself out of textbooks from Bob Jones University. “If I didn’t do it, nobody made me do it,” she says. “I wanted to go to college.” Her two youngest siblings had it even worse. Their mother, Duvall says, “gave them an impossible list of housework tasks they had do before they were allowed to do schoolwork. I think she just didn’t want them to leave home, ever.”

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.

The Home School Legal Defense Association was founded in 1983, just as homeschooling was catching on among an ascendant Christian right. Many in the movement believed that public schools indoctrinated children in godless secularism and saw homeschooling as a way to give their kids an education steeped in biblical values. At first, homeschoolers faced a great deal of official resistance—some states banned homeschooling outright, while others strictly limited it. During the past 30 years, though, HSLDA has successfully fought to eliminate or drastically loosen those regulations.

Meanwhile, the practice has grown rapidly—according to the National Center on Education Statistics, the number of homeschooled kids increased by 74 percent between 1999 and 2007. No one knows how many of these kids come from deeply religious families, but it’s clear that conservative Christians constitute the single largest bloc.

Among the evangelical homeschooling subculture, there’s an assumption that “anyone who is in favor of increased regulation really wants to ban homeschooling,” says Coleman. Any attempt to curtail the authority of parents, no matter how abusive they might be, is treated as a slippery slope. Michael Farris, the founder of HSLDA, even wrote a novel, Anonymous Tip, about an innocent homeschooling family persecuted by corrupt agents of child protective services.
The power of the movement was demonstrated as far back as 1990, when Florida considered a law that would have required the names of homeschooling parents to be run through a child-abuse registry. “Homeschoolers freaked out, opposed the law, and killed it,” Coleman says. Indeed, one Florida homeschooling organization still touts that victory on its website. This sort of lobbying means that in many places, violent parents who keep their kids out of school can rule them unchecked.

In general, such parents fall into two broad categories. Some are simply trying to hide abuse and keep kids wholly under their control, like the Ohio pedophile Kenneth Brandt, who was convicted last year of raping and prostituting his adopted homeschooled sons. In other families, though, the abuse and the homeschooling stem from the same rigid religious ideology.

The parents of Hana Williams, for example, subscribed to the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl, promoters of an authoritarian, proudly patriarchal variant of Christian fundamentalism that emphasizes a wife’s total submission to her husband and children’s total submission to their parents. The Pearl’s influential book, To Train Up a Child, advocates whipping children with a thin tree branch from the time they’re just a few months old and has sold well over half a million copies. Their followers have been involved in several child killings, including the 2010 murder of 7-year-old Lydia Schatz, whose homeschooling adoptive parents were convicted of beating her to death for mispronouncing a word.

Coleman, 26, who says her own parents were followers of the Pearls, has a few theories as to why many of these cases involve adopted kids. The eldest of 12 children, she and her siblings were accustomed to harsh discipline their entire lives and knew better than to try and rebel. “Because they started with us so young, there weren’t as many long, drawn-out battles of the will,” she says. “We knew that obedience was immediate, complete, and without question.”

Adopted kids, however, don’t have such long training in submission. Further, says Coleman, they don’t have a lifetime of bonding with their parents, which “can tend to be kind of a staying hand.” (The Pearls recognize that love can interfere with their child training, which is why they warn parents not to let crying “cause you to lighten up on the intensity or duration of the spanking.”) Of course, adoptive parents usually love their kids, too, but, especially with older children, the connection isn’t necessarily immediate. Nor is tenderness likely to develop, Coleman says, “if you start out viewing that child as someone that is evil and needs to have their will broken.”

Sometimes in the wake of a homeschooling death, there will be official calls for reform. In 2011 in Florida, the adoptive parents of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona were arrested for her murder, as well as for the horrific abuse of her twin brother, Victor. Afterward, the state convened an expert panel to review how its social-service systems had failed. In their report (PDF), the panelists wrote that school officials had tried to intervene, noting their “diligence as caring professionals.” In 2010, however, the Barahonas began homeschooling, “taking away most of their visibility to outside eyes and increasing the danger that abuse and neglect would go unrecognized. This was further compounded by the lack of formal requirements relating to the monitoring of students being homeschooled.” (The Barhonas are expected to go on trial next year.)

So far, however, regulations haven’t been tightened, and it’s not clear whether the recent killings will change anything. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania state Sen. Andrew Dinniman sponsored new legislation in response to the 2012 deaths of two young homeschooled boys in Philadelphia: 6-year-old Khalil Wime, whose parents were arrested for starving and torturing him to death, and 5-year-old Dashawn Harris, reportedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend for mispronouncing the word “sad” during a homeschooling lesson. He is awaiting trial for first-degree murder.

Under Dinniman’s bill, when families with recent child-abuse complaints start homeschooling, child protective services would have to be notified. The parents wouldn’t necessarily be prohibited from pulling their kids out of school, but there would be an outside risk assessment.

The homeschooling movement reacted with outrage. “Bad Bills Threaten Homeschooling Freedom” said an alert sent out by HSLDA. The organization was indignant that families that had already been investigated for abuse would be investigated a second time “just because they had decided to homeschool their children.” As of now, legislation’s future is unclear. “We have heard some concerns in questions about the bill,” said Dinniman’s legislative director, refusing to speculate on its chances.

Because the Christian homeschooling movement is fairly new, the first generation of homeschooled students is just reaching adulthood and starting to speak out. Eventually, people like Doney, Coleman, and Duvall may organize to counter the lobbying might of the HSLDA. For now, though, homeschooling parents have all the influence. “I wish the homeschooling community admitted that abuse happens a lot,” says Duvall. “People say there are no abused homeschooled kids in their community, but there probably are.” They just don’t have a voice.



by on Sep. 21, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Replies (11-20):
by Group Admin on Sep. 21, 2013 at 1:33 PM
2 moms liked this

 If it had happened in a PS family, everyone would be asking why wasn't it caught.  Since it happened in a "hsing" family the belief is that there wasn't anyone involved in the child's life to catch it.  People like things to fit in their little boxes.  It makes them feel more comfortable to fit this into a "homeschooler" box because we homeschoolers are outside of the norm.  Since we are outside of the norm, we are defacto "weird," "strange," and can be placed into that box...that outsider box.  It feels comfortable to have us and them and place anyone who would do something like this squarely in the "them" category.  It is very wrong. 

I've seen some public school parents do some very horrendous things to their kids.  Those kids that are truly abused are often too stigmatized to tell anyone about it, so it goes on for years under the ps teachers' noses.  One of my friends was punished by kneeling on rice until it dug into her knees.  It never came out until she was grown and had kids of her own.  It's sad there are parents like that, but those parents come in all walks of life.  We need as a society to address true abuse instead of tilling at windmills.  Threatening the hsing community is just tilling at windmills since it is really a small percentage of hsing parents that fit into the category.  Just as it is a small percentage of PSing parents that fit into the abuser category as well.

by on Sep. 21, 2013 at 2:01 PM
1 mom liked this

I highly doubt that they were schooling her at all. They just used the term homeschooling in order to keep her home and control her. 

by on Sep. 21, 2013 at 3:27 PM

Oh that makes my heart hurt.

Quoting mem82:

That book by the Pearls is just terrible. It's a horrible thing to read. It is sad because I've read interviews with the parents that have hurt or killed their kid and a few of them were really just following that book and how it said to ignore the child's pain and to not stop until it's done. (holy run on sentence! LOL) Some of the parents are just abusive and enjoy their power some how.

Quoting BatMom.:

I completely agree.
Also, this article made me sick to my stomach. Those poor children.

Quoting PurpleCupcake:

Homeschooling is just a scapegoat in these situation because people want someone to blame.

by on Sep. 21, 2013 at 3:39 PM
1 mom liked this
Has anybody read, "A Child Called It"? He went to public school and took them forever to catch on to the abuse. 'Nuff said?
by Group Admin on Sep. 21, 2013 at 3:46 PM

 I read this story and I think the parents would have been like this anyway, though they may have been caught if the child had not been homeschooled.  It is a very sad and why some people would say we do not have the right, but it is just extremely sad all around.

by Group Admin on Sep. 21, 2013 at 3:49 PM

 It may have been caught sooner.  But it may not.  I have read the book and I was abused and went to public school, but if she had went to public school she would have been more noticeable because more people would have seen her.

Quoting Amyzclan4:

Has anybody read, "A Child Called It"? He went to public school and took them forever to catch on to the abuse. 'Nuff said?


by on Sep. 21, 2013 at 4:15 PM
I couldn't read that.

It happens all the time in any schooling situation. It's sad, but abuse is everywhere, so is neglect.

People can't say it's not in their communities because you don't always know. Even kids in school aren't always noticed if they are abused. And most likely abusive homeschoolers don't join the co op or other group things, so the people there wouldn't know.

I don't think abused homeschoolers are even schooled, I think that's part of the abuse. Unfortunately what they are learning is that they aren't valued and aren't loved :( and they are learning to just hurt people, nothing else really.

It's very sad but I don't think it has anything to do with homeschooling. Abusive parents are doesn't matter how their kids are educated (or not).
by on Sep. 21, 2013 at 4:21 PM
I've read it.

It can be hard to catch it. I worked in ps and in our state everyone is a mandated reporter. I saw things that I reported as a 'civilian' (can't think of a better word lol) and not as an employee of the district bc the principal didn't think it was abuse. I also saw teachers report things that I didn't necessarily think were abusive situations. Everyone's perception is different and many abused kids are quiet, slip under the radar kind of kids so it goes unnoticed in all kinds of situations.

I knew a teacher who had CPS called on her because she burned her kid with a tea bag, kid went to school and told the story, teachers reported it. Mom went to grab the kid with the tea bag on a spoon in her other hand, tea bag fell and landed just right in poor kids bum crack sticking out of the pants. Kid went to school and was telling the story about "being bad" so mom burned him, when she was really just trying to stop him, the burn was completely accidental, but to the kid it went together. It was all unfounded because there really was no abuse...if he was really abused, chances are he wouldn't have been sharing that story, he would have been sitting quietly hoping no one noticed him.

Quoting Amyzclan4:

Has anybody read, "A Child Called It"? He went to public school and took them forever to catch on to the abuse. 'Nuff said?

by on Sep. 21, 2013 at 6:37 PM

Honestly, I'd rather they go ahead and check.  How many times do we sit and shake our heads at the system when they knew of abusers and did nothing, resulting in the death of a child?  If we KNOW of an abuser, and said abuser takes steps to keep the child out of public, WHY should we simply assume that this is simply a clear case of a parent doing what is in their rights and NOT suspect them of more nefarious intentions?  You guys have all said this was not about homeschooling, it's not a case of homeschoolers abusing their kids, but rather of abusers taking further steps to isolate their children.  So if someone's been investigated for abuse before, and they take further steps to make their child disappear, for the sake of that child, would you not want someone to step in?  I worked with a little girl whose mother was sentenced to prison time for her crimes against this beautiful soul.  When "mom's" time was up, the state wanted to hand the child back, because a mom and child belong together.  WTF?????  I have NO PROBLEM with taking our obligation to protect children seriously.  No, I don't want the government in my business.  No, I'm not saying that homeschoolers are more likely to beat their children.  But I don't think you leave a klepto alone in a store and expect that things won't go missing.

by Bronze Member on Sep. 22, 2013 at 12:14 PM

What really pisses me off is they act like all abused kids are homeschooled. I've known plenty of kids who went to public school and obviously abused and it takes years for anyone to do anything about it, if they ever do anything about it.  

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