Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Political Purity Over Protection of Children?

Thirteen-year-old Daniel Hauser has returned home.

Hauser is the (homeschooled) Minnesota boy who last week disappeared with his mother, Colleen, in an effort to avoid court-ordered chemotherapy. The case has obviously sparked a lot of debate. It touches on medical ethics, parental authority and the rights of individuals to make choices out-of-step with the mainstream.

The fact that Daniel is homeschooled adds another layer to the debate. Mike the Mad Biologist posted an interesting response to my post, Full Consent. Check it out:

"My experience has been that homeschooling parents are mostly (a large majority) very much opposed to any kind of scrutiny from the outside whatsoever. The Hauser case is an example of why some is needed: Homeschooling in and of itself is not intended as a means of hiding what we would all agree to be extreme behavior (on the part of parents) but it is very easily used as such.

"It is really up to the homeschooling community to do something about this, but by and large the homeschooling community won't, because, I believe, most individuals in this community prefer their own political purity over the protection of children in their community overall, and do not care, and perhaps even relish, if they are viewed as intractable in this matter by the rest of society. "

I want you to read this and think about it. Really think about it. If you're a homeschooler, your knee-jerk reaction is probably to, well, call the guy an uninformed jerk. But his words are important because he's expressing a common concern. Whether you agree with him or not, his words reflect of the views of a significant portion of the public.

I've thought about Mike's words all morning, the one thought that keeps circling through my brain is this: his underlying assumption is that "someone else" -- the larger society, perhaps -- knows better than parents what is or is not appropriate for their children.

In my opinion (and in my case) I resist greater scrutiny of our homeschooling and family life because I don't believe that society knows better than I what I or my children need. I resist greater scrutiny because I don't even agree with the larger society about what is or is not important. Do I think it's important for my kids to learn to read? Yes. At age 6? No.

Do I relish my own political purity (or, you might say, my individual freedom) over the protection of children in the homeschooling community? No. But do I think that greater oversight of homeschooling and homeschooling families will mean greater protection for our children? No. In fact, I think that greater oversight would cause more damage to more families and children.

What do you think of Mike's comments? Why?


  1. There are always outlyers, in any community. And it is always those who make the news. I always cringe when "they" are willing to step in and make parenting decisions. But I was part of "they" for a while. I was a family law attorney before having babies, and I did a bit of Guardian ad litem work, representing children in custody cases. I did not do abuse and neglect, but knew people who did.

    Every person views every situation through their own lens and experience. So, what is spanking to one parent is abuse to another. Reasonable medical advances to one is excessive to another. Just because one judge thinks that kid should be forced into chemo doesn't make it right. On the other hand, maybe those parents really are neglectful, I don't know.

  2. Political purity? If there is one thing I have learned while homeschooling this past year is that there is no typical homeschooler. Homeschoolers cover the entire political spectrum from far right to far left (yes, the very far left)! It is this diversity which keeps homeschoolers so attuned to what is going on in the greater world, and in my opinion, homeschoolers will continue to push political buttons forever. I also see homeschoolers becoming more than 2% of the school aged population and bigger, harder issues will be coming up more and more. Is this bad? No, these discussions cause all parties to re-evaluate their positions. Homeschoolers keep the process alive and kickin', exactly what we want of our informed citizens of the future.

  3. Personally, I think Mike's comments are biased. His use of the qualifier that homeschooling parents are "mostly" opposed to scrutiny is unfair. I doubt he has numbers to prove his opinion.

    I think the Hauser story is an unusual one. Though I did not do this with my own children, who are now grown, I can see many benefits with homeschooling. If these parents are against scrutiny, then what they're really against is education. And I think that's completely out of line. I think they're whole point, for the most part, is to educate their children. They worry their children wouldn't get a proper education in public schools and maybe they can't afford private. The next best thing is homeschooling. I think it takes guts to do this. I think they very much care about protecting their children.

    I can't speak for the Hauser family. I really don't speak for the homeschooling community. I just think Mike's opinion is way off base and unfair.

    The Hauser family may be the exception, but I don't think they are in the majority. Not at all.

    If homeschoolers are against scrutiny, then why do they fight to be able to find ways to add socialization to their cause. I'm talking about recreational activities with public school systems. I'm talking about association with other homeschoolers. I'm talking about writing books about the process. If scrutiny is the fear, they would do none of this, in my opinion.
    They would just stay home and school their kids, leaving the outside world out of it altogether.

    Just my two cents.