Fox News has apparently decided to pick a fight with homeschoolers—the vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens who love their children and are providing a stellar education for them. In an article with the salacious headline “‘House of Horrors’ child abuse cases reveal how offenders nationwide use homeschooling to hide their crime,” Elizabeth Llorente makes the claim that “homeschooling unwittingly also provides a convenient and legal cover for families where children are living in squalor or are being neglected and abused.” Even while admitting that most homeschooled children are “properly educated and cared for by their parents or guardians,” she goes on to describe harrowing tales of children who were abused, neglected, and killed by parents who kept them isolated at home, ostensibly using homeschooling as a cover.
This happens every few years—someone trots out a collection of child abuse horror stories and blames the abuse on the fact that parents were permitted to keep their own children in their own homes without government surveillance. We expect this kind of rhetoric from left-wing/MSM outlets—it’s been going on for decades—but I was surprised to see the tired line of attack coming from Fox News. As is typical of these hit pieces, Llorente employs the “no one knows” logical fallacy: “Because of the lack of oversight in much of the country, experts say, the scope of abuse and neglect among children who are listed as homeschooled is unknown,” she writes. In other words, no one knows what’s going on in these homes. No one knows if these parents are beating and starving their children. No one knows if the family is keeping vicious man-eating tigers in their homes. No one knows if the children are at risk of being abducted by aliens. (We could go on ad nauseam, getting more absurd as we go, but you get the idea.) The number of homeschooled children who are being abused by their parents may be zero or it may be four million—no one knows, so we are expected to assume the worst — with no data whatsoever to back up the scurrilous allegations.
Until homeschooling parents can prove that they’re not abusing their children, it must be assumed, according to these busybodies, that there is something dark and nefarious going on in their homes. But a lack of evidence is just that—a lack of evidence. That doesn’t stop critics from employing this silly tactic to make the point that the government needs to step in to monitor families who choose to educate their kids at home.
Fifteen years ago the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio published a shocking series on homeschooling called “Homeschooling: Whose Business Is It?” I agreed, along with several other homeschooling parents, to be interviewed for the series and it became clear almost immediately that the “journalist” assigned to the story was gunning for homeschoolers—he was looking for dirt (“Why don’t you people vaccinate your children?” “Why don’t you teach your children about sex?”). So homeschoolers were not surprised when the first article dropped and the answer to the question “Whose business is it” appeared to be: “It’s the government’s business.”
With the “no one knows” smear as their premise, for five days the paper was packed with photos of dead and abused children, all of them allegedly connected to homeschooling in some way, however tenuously. Andrea Yates, the mentally ill mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub, was prominently featured as a poster child for child abuse in the homeschooling community, even though only one of her children, 7-year-old Noah, was of compulsory school age. Many, if not most of the families were categorized as “homeschoolers” simply by virtue of the fact that their children were truant from school. Most of the families had flouted the homeschooling laws in their state and simply removed their kids from school with no intention of homeschooling them. And almost without exception, the children featured in that series were known to authorities, with case files revealing multiple contacts with children’s services workers who dropped the ball by not removing children from abusive homes.
Several years after that series ran, a state lawmaker in Ohio introduced a bill that would give government social workers the right to veto a parent’s decision to homeschool. They called it “Teddy’s Law,” after Teddy Foltz-Tedesco, who was tragically killed by his step-father in January 2013. Teddy and his 10-year-old twin brothers were abused by Zaryl Bush for at least five years while the boys’ mother stood by and allowed the torture and beatings to continue.
The mother had withdrawn the boys from school—allegedly to teach them at home—after teachers began to suspect abuse. Relatives and neighbors say they reported the abuse to the children services board on repeated occasion but were rebuffed. “We called, multiple times we did,” a relative told a local news outlet. “They wouldn’t do anything. They told us we were lying.” Anytime you see one of these hit pieces claiming that homeschooling is somehow to blame for child abuse, once you look beyond the headlines, you’ll see that in almost every case the state was already involved with the families—and failed to protect the children.
Democrat Capri Cafaro thought Teddy’s tragic death would be a good opportunity to punish law-abiding homeschooling families by stripping them of their parental autonomy and handing education decisions over to agents of the state. I wrote at the time:
SB 248 is built on the faulty presumption that homeschooling parents are guilty until proven innocent of child abuse and that surveilling these families will prevent the abuse. Of course, I want all child abusers caught and punished to the fullest extent of the law, but this new law is not the answer to heart-wrenching cases like the terrible abuse of Teddy Foltz-Tedesco and his brothers. SB 248 would not have prevented the failures of the children services board that ignored repeated pleas for help from neighbors, teachers, and family members. A three-year study by the National Center on Child Abuse Prevention Research (NCCAPR) found that like Teddy, 39% of children who died from maltreatment had previously been involved with or were known to child protective services.
In the case of Teddy Foltz-Tedosco, authorities did not enforce the laws already in place that could have protected him. This was not a homeschooling problem, it was a crime against a child that was ignored by the people who had the power to stop it. New laws will not prevent abuse when the laws already on the books are not being enforced. And certainly, adding more than 100,000 children to the caseloads of already overburdened government social workers will exacerbate the problem of children who are genuinely being abused falling through the cracks.
The logic—if you can call it that—behind this law seems to be that parents cannot be trusted with their own children. Unless they are under the watchful eye of state officials, children face great peril and so there must be new laws enacted in order to mitigate the risk. This ignores the fact, of course, that children from birth to age six are the most likely to die from child abuse—they account for 76% of fatalities.
The government nannies who want to impose draconian regulations on homeschooling families can’t seem to grasp the fact that child abusers are not law-abiding citizens. If you threaten them with home inspections, they’ll figure out a way to go underground, further endangering at-risk children. A mother who beats and tortures her children and stuffs them in the freezer is not going to march her kids into the local social services office so they can submit to an interrogation. Instead, laws like the one proposed in Ohio (it was shot down after an enormous backlash from homeschooling parents) and those proposed in other states in recent years, will only harm law-abiding parents who will then have to beg government agents for approval to teach their own children in their own homes. In that same article, I wrote:
Will the next step be to subject all parents to interrogations by social workers from birth until the time they enroll their children in the safe bubble of the public school? And why stop there? After all, many children are abused at home and become experts at hiding and excusing the bumps and bruises. Shouldn’t we hire armies of government agents to keep an eye on what’s going on in the home after school? Not only that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, violent victimization rates at school were 34 per 1,000 students ages 12–14 and 14 per 1,000 students ages 15–18. Shouldn’t the government just require semi-annual interrogations of all students to solve the school violence problem?
The answer that question is a resounding “yes.” That’s what they hope to do, whether they admit it or not.
Cafaro and her compatriots realize that every homeschooled child has enormous potential to escape the brainwashed group-think that is so prevalent in our society. If they must brand homeschooling parents as child abusers in order to further their progressive goals, we already know that in their minds, the ends justify the means. They cannot afford to let 110,000 Ohio children slip from their grasp and they will take extraordinary measures to find a way to criminalize behavior that doesn’t conform to their vision.
The Supreme Court has ruled on more than one occasion that parents—not the state—have the right to direct the education and the upbringing of their children, but the “it takes a village” nannies want to change that. They know what’s best for your child and God help you if you stand in their way.
After the Akron Beacon Journal series on homeschooling hit newsstands—and after the paper realized that homeschooling families weren’t going to take the slander lying down—they invited me to debate one of the “journalists” who wrote the series at a meeting of the Akron Press Club. I’ll never forget the leading opening statement by the moderator that day: “Critics say that homeschooling does not enable students to participate in open society,” which is code for: “We can’t control them.”
Make no mistake: progressive lawmakers and liberal activists would like nothing more than to get all children in their clutches — to surveil them in their homes to ensure there are no thoughtcrimes going on. At the rate they’re going, it won’t be long until babies are sent home from the hospital with a telescreen so there are no gaps in the surveillance—Alexa, send a report to the county social worker about my child’s activities today…
These folks are not going away. They hate our autonomy, they hate our religion, and they hate our rejection of their progressive values. Homeschoolers — and all parents, really — need to remain diligent or we’ll see our rights systematically stripped away by those who want to deny us our the ability to raise our children in peace according to the dictates of our conscience and our God.
Shame on Fox News for perpetuating the myth that parents and children need to be surveilled by the state in order to ensure the kids aren’t being harmed.
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