With in-person schooling looking less and less safe as the pandemic progresses, homeschooling is becoming more appealing for many parents. But those parents are going to soon find out that a lot of the material marketed for homeschooling parents is made by Christians for the purpose of spreading the Gospel. They’re also going to discover that, in some parts of the country, they can get away with teaching (or not teaching) just about anything because right-wing Christian groups like the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) have blocked any sort of government oversight ability.
In a piece for NBC News, Katherine Stewart explains how the “politicized and unregulated” world of homeschooling is a hotbed of unchecked abuse.
Consider the case of New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. In 2004 — following the horrific discovery of children who were kept out of school and were alleged to have been subjected to severe forms of physical and psychological abuse — Weinberg, then in the state Assembly, introduced legislation that would have required parents, for the first time, to notify the state that their children were being home-schooled. The bill also asked that parents submit proof of their children’s annual medical exams and provide assessments in core academic topics like reading and math.
Opponents besieged Weinberg’s office with angry phone calls and falsely claimed that the legislation would “devastate homeschooling in New Jersey.” Some activists followed her around the State House, and Weinberg began to fear for her safety. In 2011, after the death of another home-schooled child, Weinberg introduced a bill to require that home-schooled students register with their school districts, undergo yearly medical exams and submit portfolios of schoolwork. The HSLDA opposed that bill, too, and Weinberg was unable to get it passed.
In some states, it’s even worse. Stewart notes that in Oklahoma, parents who homeschool don’t have to do anything to show their kids are being educated. It’s theoretically possible for them to keep their kids illiterate and simply put them to work without any consequences.
She concludes with what ought to be a non-controversial statement:
Parents have rights, but I believe children have rights, too — to an environment free from exploitation and neglect, to a meaningful education and to a chance to make a positive contribution to the world.
This is one of the fears of the pandemic. Kids are unable to go to school because of all the safety concerns, their parents decide keeping them home and educating them that way is the best option, and the end result is a new set of problems exacerbated by the Christian Right.
Homeschooling isn’t the problem here. But there’s too much at stake for negligent parents to be able to fall through the cracks. Unless politicians are willing to stand up to those right-wing groups who care more about preserving their ability to indoctrinate than making sure children are getting the best education possible, that’s not going to change.
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