We already know that, in Michelle Goldberg's overactive imagination, evangelical Christians are theocrats-in-waiting, hoping to impose an actual honest-to-goodness theocracy on America. So it should come as no surprise that she seems to think homeschooling is a convenient excuse for child-abusing whackjobs to harm their kids. The way she writes about it, you'd think every other homeschooling parent was some Ariel Castro-like sicko.
In her September 20 post, "The Sinister Side of Homeschooling," Goldberg opened with a harrowing story of a homeschooled immigrant girl, Hana Williams, who died "naked, face down in the mud" outside her parents' home in Washington State, all because, "she was homeschooled" and so "her parents... had complete privacy to punish her as they saw fit." Goldberg insist that young Hana was just one out of unknown scores if not hundreds who are the victims of sadistic, violent homeschooling parents. Of course Goldberg turned to biased sources who have rather incomplete data, although she spun that deficiency in data as evidence that the problem is far more systemic than we know about:
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.
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.
While most liberal critics of homeschooling worry about a "lack of socialization" or that homeschooling doesn't give kids a breadth of course material that will prepare them for college and a high-tech, globalized workforce, Michelle Goldberg goes nuclear with charges that utterly demonize the homeschool movement.
It's appropriate this was published at a website called The Daily Beast. Goldberg's monstrosity looks nothing like balanced, objective journalism and everything like a vicious hit job.