Across the United States of America (U.S.), decades of advocacy campaigns from homeschooling supporters have led to the general deregulation of mandatory school attendance. With varying levels of state scrutiny and administration, parents and carers are now free to homeschool their children.
While alternative manifestations of traditional education are not inherently negative, the lack of standardisation across homeschooling practices creates several risks. Children in homeschool environments are potentially more vulnerable to abuse, as well as isolated from democratic values which promote equality and autonomy (Bartholet, 2020).
The emergence of homeschooling
Homeschooling is most often defined as parent-directed education (Bauld, 2022). In the U.S., pro-homeschooling sentiment can be traced back to the 1970s, when parents began to question the values being preached in state curricula and conventional schools’ focus on societal compliance and memory-based learning (Bauld, 2022). The emergence of homeschooling is thus a manifestation of national distrust in schools’ ability to cater to children’s individual needs (Stevens, 2003). Homeschooling is also evidence of the significant discrepancies between the views of educational lawmakers and the wider population (Stevens, 2003).
Though home-schooling has been permitted across the U.S. since 1993, individual states can develop rules and regulations on its implementation. Nationally, children’s right to education and protection against maltreatment are guaranteed (Bartholet, 2020). Every state is required to comply with mandatory education requirements, which necessitate children are not subject to “educational neglect” (Bartholet, 2020).
All states also host a child protection system and child protective services (CPS) which are responsible for implementing children’s rights laws and reporting violations (Bartholet, 2020). However, while these rights are guaranteed on paper, homeschooled children’s physical separation from formal institutions leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.
Drivers of homeschooling
In the late 1900s, religious beliefs were one of the main drivers of homeschooling across the country. Parents and carers from communities differing from the national majority, such as Amish families, were reluctant to place their children into permanent education as it contrasted their beliefs. While religion is still a relevant driver, other factors have superseded it as the primary catalyst for the boom in homeschooling.
The number of homeschooled students has tripled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (Ingraham, 2022). In 2021, over one in ten U.S. students were homeschooled, including increases across different race groups and ethnicities, with a notable increase from 3.3% in April to 16% in October for African-American children (Eggleston, 2021). It appears that national lockdowns across the country exposed many parents to the realities of ‘schooling from home’, with many deciding to make that arrangement permanent.
This decision reflects a growing distrust in public education systems across the country. As illustrated in recent political events, the U.S.’ national landscape is characterised by a bipartisan division of political views. Parents from centre to right-wing families have increasingly expressed concerns at the possibility of ‘far-left political indoctrination’ within public classrooms (Ingraham, 2022).
School curricula reflect wider society and have recently begun to include the promotion of LGBTQ rights, in particular, and broader social equality (Ingraham, 2022). Examples of this progression are the use of “gender unicorns”: a tool designed to encourage students as young as five to engage in the concept of fluid gender identity and self-expression; and the emergence of gender-neutral bathrooms (Ingraham, 2022).
The outperformance of homeschooled children
The structure of national education systems has also been called into question. Evolving social interactions and norms have led many to doubt the merits of children being confined to a desk for most of their day. These concerns are furthered by an evidenced drop in academic standards. Over 70% of U.S. children lack basic academic proficiency once they complete high school, a stark contrast to homeschooled children who statistically outperform those in permanent education (Ingraham, 2022).
While this link is not direct or causal, it is reflective of the wide divide in academic experience for children at home and at school. Across the country, ‘advanced classes’ and ‘gifted and talented programs’ are being reduced in the name of equity, limiting formalised bespoke educational opportunities even further (Ingraham, 2022).
Safety concerns are a final, perhaps obvious, driver of increasing homeschooling. The ceaseless occurrence of school shootings and increasing weaponization of educational institutions is a concern for most if not all parents in the country. Beyond arms-related violence, recent statistics point to increases in online and in-person bullying, physical and sexual assault incidents and social isolation or ‘shunning’ (Chang, 2022)
The risks of homeschooling
Despite alarming trends in schools across the country, the absence of consistent regulations and standards means homeschooling experiences are extremely variable. Studies from 2014 pointed to an equal portion of child abuse and torture cases in schools and at-home schools, in addition to overwhelming incidences of starvation and malnutrition occurring away from school settings (Coleman, 2018).
Both types of abuse are tied to a lack of monitoring and control. In other words, if states are not ensuring regular checks on homeschooling conditions, it is impossible to regulate and address the risks faced by children. The absence of oversight effectively negates the impacts of CPS across the country, which can only act on reported violations of child rights.
This concern is evidenced by consistent reports of abuse in homeschooling environments. In the renowned ‘Turpin’ case of 2018, two parents repeatedly tortured their 13 children under the guise of ‘Sandcastle Day School’ (The Guardian, 2018). The case came to light when a 17-year-old girl escaped confinement and contacted emergency authorities (The Guardian, 2018). The abusive father listed himself as the school principal and enforced strict religious rules with little to no oversight from state authorities (Carroll & Weaver, 2018).
The landmark case was followed by calls for a balance between parental rights and children’s rights (Hong, 2022). Laws in California at the time mandated registration of private schools and justifications for child exemption from public schools but did not require parents to expose their children to people outside of their homes (Hong, 2022). In this way, the laws enabled a home to be registered as a private school, with practically no monitoring or oversight.
This situation is not limited to California. Homeschooling is largely “unregulated” throughout the country, with very few obligations or requirements placed on parents (O’Donnell, 2020). ‘Homeschools’ can be run by individuals who are illiterate, not all states require the identities of children to be registered, and home visits are often irregular if they are mandated at all (O’Donnell, 2020). Collectively, the absence of regulations means children can be isolated from others and unable to contribute to society (O’Donnell, 2020).
The urgent need for oversight
If homeschooling is to be preserved, the U.S. must mandate frequent visits and monitoring (O’Donnell, 2020). The nation must also move away from a tiered system of regulations that allows parents in some states to run homeschools without notifying authorities, submitting test scores or receiving professional evaluations on student progress (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2022). Homeschooling developments in the U.S. to date have embodied a tussle between parental and government authority. Above all else, school is a forum for child development and should be regulated with the best interests of the child at its core.
It is important to go beyond appearances in order to acquire a clear description of reality and, thanks to that, advocate for improvements in children’s rights and protection, as well as promote solutions. In this sense, Humanium is on the front line in this mission. In fact, Humanium continues to promote reflections about burning issues that are not widespread and that significantly affect children’s rights. If you want to contribute to this cause, feel free to consider sponsoring a child, making a donation, or becoming a volunteer with our organization. Take action now to protect and promotes the rights of the youngest among us!
Written by Vanessa Cezarita Cordeiro
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