Jesse M.: “Some of these things would most likely not have been done if they were not required”

I am grateful that a minimal amount of planning was required at the beginning of the school year and that some type of assessment was required at the end of each school year. I’m also grateful that medical checkups were required. Some of these things would most likely not have been done if they were not required.

I am in favor of homeschool oversight because homeschooled children need their rights to health, safety, and education legally protected. Without oversight, parents or guardians can claim to homeschool as a means to hide abuse, neglect, and failure. This misuse of the freedom to homeschool must be stopped. I support oversight of homeschooling because I had the benefit of some oversight in the states where I was homeschooled. Even well-intentioned, responsible parents can benefit from the guidance and structure that legal protections provide and homeschooling as a whole will have a better reputation if it is not misused. It is simply unacceptable that homeschooled children in many states do not have adequate legal protection for their health, safety and education.

Homeschooling has inherent weaknesses, such as a tendency toward isolation within the family, fewer opportunities for a child to develop independence and a self-concept separate from their family, and the risk that children will have no escape from the effects of damaging parental issues, such as depression, illness, addiction, or domestic violence. Because a homeschooled child’s family life and school life are so tied together, a dysfunction, sickness, or other crisis in the family can devastate the child’s life both academically and personally. While there are pros and cons with every form of education, homeschooled children depend on their parents to provide their education instead of professional teachers and thus do not have that alternative support system of teachers and peers to turn to at times when their parents may not be willing or able to meet their needs.

Deregulation of homeschooling in many states has given parents the ability to have an almost totalitarian control over their children. But to those who think that parents always know what is best for their children, consider this: To be a parent the only real requirement is that a person have a functioning reproductive system. This says nothing about the person’s intellectual capacity, level of education, or ability to teach. To those who think that parents are always well-intentioned and try their best, I point to the parents of all the murdered and abused children whose stories are chronicled at hsinvisiblechildren.org. Any good intentions these parents might once have had are clearly not enough. Their children needed legal protection. And many other homeschooled children still need legal protection.

I was homeschooled in New York up to age 10 and in Pennsylvania from age 10 to age 18. These are both states with the highest levels of oversight of any in the country. Yet even these levels of oversight are not actually that high, and parents can sometimes falsify records to make their homeschool look good and hide problems, for example by claiming to have homeschooled more days than they actually did, or doctoring their children’s schoolwork to make it look good for the portfolio. Since homeschooling parents in Pennsylvania can choose their evaluator, it can be a family friend who may agree to pass the family even when they discover that the child copied their work from the answer key when Mom wasn’t looking. In my experience, accountability for homeschooling parents is a good thing, because it sets clear standards so that they have goals to motivate them even if they cheat to achieve them. It also reveals problems that they may not have been aware of, but will hopefully try to address once they see how they are failing.

Reasonable oversight gives responsible parents a way to measure their efforts and stay accountable. Having a reasonable amount of oversight can benefit a homeschooling family by giving them a sense of structure and positive goals to work toward. Homeschooling is hard work. Even responsible parents are sometimes distracted, overwhelmed or short sighted. As the second oldest of twelve children, I experienced many times when my family became overwhelmed and disorganized. I am grateful that a minimal amount of planning was required at the beginning of the school year and that some type of assessment was required at the end of each school year. I’m also grateful that medical checkups were required. Some of these things would most likely not have been done if they were not required. While oversight can’t fix or mitigate every problem a homeschooling family might have, it can establish clear standards to show when a child is being neglected or abused, and when homeschooling is failing a child, whether or not the parents have good intentions.

Jesse M. was homeschooled in New York and Pennsylvania from 1989-2001. For additional thoughts and experiences of homeschooled alumni, see our Testimonials page.

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