Every time I read a story about child abuse I wait for the author to drop the “H” bomb. In any story involving parental abuse of children, if there is any connection to homeschooling, no matter how tangential, the “H” bomb will be dropped. Homeschooling will be mentioned. There can be six degrees of separation between the perpetrators, the victim and homeschooling, but it will not matter. With that educational reference comes the inevitable reaction from public school advocates, members of the NEA, politicians, social workers, and friends of friends of friends who had a second cousin in Tucson who homeschooled, all crying that homeschooling needs to be more tightly regulated if not completely outlawed. They will explain that while they believe most homeschoolers are good people, there must be more regulations to prevent children from falling through the cracks. These people believe that public schools are the first and best stop-gap measure.
Regulation of homeschoolers was the central focus of attention after Banita Jacks withdrew her children from public school in 2007 allegedly to homeschool them. In fact, she murdered them. Calls for new homeschooling regulations ignored the fact that Ms. Jacks had been the subject of social services investigation long before she killed her children, long before she withdrew them from public schooling. Addressing concerns about the need for closer scrutiny of homeschoolers, “Clive R. Belfield, a professor of economics at Queens College and formerly a researcher at the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia Teachers College, said that “limited compliance and follow-up” gave abusive families “an excuse to get out of being observed” (1). “Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, said school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children” (1). Subsequent to these reported homeschooling concerns, prosecutors argued in court that Banita Jacks killed her first child, daughter Brittany Jacks, in the spring of 2007 while the girl was still enrolled in a local public school (2). Society’s watchdogs must have been Pugs. Ultimately, six welfare workers were fired by DC Mayor Adrian M. Fenty for failure to properly perform their duties in relation to the Banks murders (3). Clearly, homeschooling was not the problem.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution online reported last Friday that Georgia parents James and Anne Marie Cardona face felony child cruelty charges after police found their five and four year old daughters living in heinous conditions that demanded the children be removed and placed in the safety of adults who will properly care for them. There is no justification for the treatment these two children received from their parents. And there at the end of the thirteenth paragraph of the report came the reference I expected to see. Reporters Christian Boone and Craig Schneider dropped the H bomb. “The Cardonas claimed the girls were home schooled,” they wrote (4).
Honestly? The children were homeschooled? I’ll grant that maybe the Cardonas made the statement that their children were homeschooled, but an ounce of common sense on the part of the reporters should have prevented them from reporting something that has the effect of smearing the entire homeschooling community. The youngest child was four years old! She wasn’t old enough to be enrolled in kindergarten. Depending upon the birth date of her older sister, that girl may not have been formally enrolled in school, either. The compulsory attendance laws in Georgia state that children must be in school between 6 and 16 years of age. Reporting that the children were allegedly homeschooled painted a picture of parents keeping their children at home while their peers headed off to school each day, when in fact the children’s being at home was no different than any other child their age being at home all day with a parent. This irresponsible decision by two reporters cast a cloud of suspicion over all homeschoolers conscientiously and lovingly educating their children at home each day.