Why Are Christian Fundamentalist Parents Allowed to Deny Their Kids Basic Literacy?

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The appropriate balance between freedom and harm can be hard to strike, particularly when it comes to religious freedom. In an attempt to find this balance, religious conservatives have been granted exemptions from a wide range of civil rights laws and social obligations. In the last two decades, one of the exemptions they have secured in many states is the right to opt out of school attendance for their children.

 

Led by a group called  Home School Legal Defense Association, a network of institutions and activists have sprung up to advocate the  rights of parents to educate their children—or not—as they please. Now the largest generation of home-schooled children are coming of age, and some are telling horror stories that suggest parent privilege may have gone too far. 

 

A recent testimonial posted at  Homeschoolers Anonymous opens like this:

 

It was not so much homeschooling that traumatized me as much as my mother’s mental illness. This was hidden by homeschooling, and the pain that damaged me came from the constant exposure to her psychiatric illness. I feel like someone roasted me over a fire, leaving me with burns to rest the remainder of my life, and I didn’t even know at the time what fire was.

 

Nationally, the fight over homeschooling is  heating up, with dramatic changes to existing laws set to be discussed in both Virginia and Utah during 2014.

 

On January 8, Virginia statesman Tom Rust introduced  House Joint Resolution 92, requesting the state’s Department of Education to review Virginia’s religious exemption to compulsory school attendance. Under current rules, Virginia parents who enroll as a home school must meet basic requirements, but by filing a separate religious exemption they can excuse themselves altogether from the duty to educate their children. Rust’s resolution asks the Department of Education to examine whether the exemption, which is  the only one of its kind in the nation, violates a state constitutional provision that makes education a civil right.

 

Meanwhile, as Virginians look to narrow their state’s exemption to ensure that all kids learn the basics, like how to read, Utah Senator Aaron Osmond has announced his  plan to bring Virginia’s unfettered religious exemption to the state of Utah in the form of  Senate Bill 39. Osmond  told reporters that under his plan religious parents would still be subject to prosecution for educational neglect; however a review of Osmond’s proposal by the  Coalition for Responsible Home Education concludes that since Utah defines educational neglect according to their state’s homeschooling requirements, parents who are exempt from those standards would also be immune from prosecution for educational neglect—even if they fail to educate their children  at all.

Written By: M Dolon Hickmon
continue to source article at alternet.org

37 COMMENTS

  1. Why Are Christian Fundamentalist Parents Allowed to Deny Their Kids Basic Literacy?

    That’s a good question.

    How was it ever considered a good idea to ignore the rights of the child?

    Children are clearly vulnerable, and lack the ability to defend their own human right to education.

    Less obvious but, the more I think about it, also at issue is the rights of wider society. The rest of us, surely, have a right equal to that of the parents to have future citizens capable of taking a full part in the democracy that nurtures them, and their freedoms?

    I just don’t get how a parent’s beliefs, of any kind, can trump those needs and rights.

    Peace.

    • In reply to #2 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

      How was it ever considered a good idea to ignore the rights of the child?

      Because those who wanted it were registered voters, and those who were victims of it were not.
      Simples.

      • In reply to #4 by ANTIcarrot:

        Hi ANTIcarrot,

        .. those who wanted it were registered voters, and those who were victims of it were not.

        We’re all victims if a minority are not properly educated. We all have to carry the extra burden of ignorance, the wasted time of minds not developed and the poor decisions based on the uneducated guesswork (or worse; guided by propaganda) of those untrained in critical thinking. Those who vote, and who now see the damage done, are at fault for not opposing this state intervention in favor of religious extremists in the first place

        I’ll say it for you: Yes, I’m as guilty as any.

        We rely, of course, on the media to help us hold the politicians to account by keeping us informed …

        If for no other reason it’s reasonable to expect that the media would highight the human rights abuse that is integral to an unsupervised, unguided system with no checks and balances.

        In some ways its too easy to blame the media. We let the politicians get away with this sort of nonsense. We voters let minority interests set the agenda, we don’t keep up-to-date on what the politicians are doing and worst of all; we don’t question the politicians directly.

        This is why it’s important for us to join groups, and to organise. We have no-one that we can trust to do the right thing, to do the good thing.

        Peace.

  2. People simply do not have the right to deny children an education appropriate to the century in which they live, and the sooner the legislators recognize this very obvious point, the sooner the nonsense of granting exemption from the state-sanctioned curriculum on grounds of religion can be stopped. There are valid reasons for homeschooling, and religion is not one of them.

    • In reply to #6 by john.warnock.79:

      Its like the American version of the taliban.

      I totally agree, John, how can it be that the worlds media focusses attention (correctly) on a group of religious fundamentalists that deny the right of education to girls and yet ignores the fact that there are American children growing up with little or no education at the hands of their religious fundamentalist parents.

      I am not entirely opposed to home schooling, we know people who have chosen this option, but home schooling must be accompanied by rigorous control of standards on all the syllabus subjects.

  3. There’s always an emphasis/accent/ tendency/inclination in US social thinking and law, that children are property, and therefore it’s the parents right to do what they want with them, without reference to the rights of the child or the needs of society. Comes from biblical fundamentalism and the basis of ultra extreme property rights, I suppose.

  4. I suspect the biggest wake up call for the abusive (as opposed to genuine) homeschoolers and the support industry surrounding them will be when some of the abused bring prosecutions against the parents who abused them, and against the organisations which empower and protect the abusers.

  5. Does a state not have an obligation to intervene where a child is being abused, and if necessary take the child into care?

    Logically any instance of home-schooling should, perhaps sadly, be seen as a warning sign of a parent looking for a way to cover up abuse and therefore appropriate social services authorities should be doubly vigilant. As a minimum, there should be regular visits to check up both on the child’s health and educational progress. And intervention when necessary.

    This has all the potential to blow up as a scandal of Catholic child abuse proportions, and when it does so, victims will not be suing parents. They will be suing the states that failed to safeguard them.

  6. Well, I’m more concerned with the fact that public schools in USA in general seem to be unable to teach children basic facts and abilities they need to live successful lives. To me it seems like a class war of sorts. Only the rich can afford a good education while the rest of the population is dumbed down. I’m afraid it’s not only happening in USA. It’s such a waste of resources. Just imagine how many brilliant people that never get a chance because they are children of the wrong parents, while complete idiots (like George Bush, etc) can buy themselves a prestigious education while actually sleeping through or not even bothering to attend lectures.

    In the long term this is a recipe for disaster. The western world can’t compete with the rest of the world with regard to producing goods. That race is over. It’s just the harsh reality of living in a globalized world. The only way to maintain our current position in this world is by research and development. This is impossible to achieve without a good public education. Imagine what will happen when only a few rich people get a proper education. Imagine that these people aren’t really interested in sustainable development, but only to get as rich as they can as fast as they can. How long do you think such a society will prosper?

  7. This kind of crazy religious indoctrination is something I have seen first hand in my own family – fortunately not me personally. The repercussions of substandard, unregulated ‘education’ are ongoing. Parents deliberately take their children out of school because they have paranoid delusions that exposure to state education will somehow ‘corrupt’ the vulnerable minds of their children. They then replace this with a curriculum that is heavy on indoctrination, but very little in the way of actual education. Children are deliberately isolated from their peers and the real world. They can be subject to physical discipline and psychological abuse without anyone being aware that it is going on. [Yes, I know that state school is no picnic for many kids, but abuse or bullying is much harder to hide.] Even intelligent people like my cousins, thanks to a substandard education are unable to get jobs in the ‘outside world’ since the only thing they have been trained for is being a member of the cult. The practical aspects of leaving are just as difficult as the emotional and social ones. They are unemployable – except for the lowest paid and insecure positions, They have to learn as adults how to function in the world. It takes years and years to catch up to the point where they can start tertiary study, which they have to do while working or looking for work and trying to survive and deprogramming themselves.

    People who argue for religious freedom need to take a good long hard look at some of the results of this ‘freedom’. Children deserve to have access to a decent education that can equip them to participate in the world. Religion, class or poverty are not an excuse for us as a society to throw them away before they have even had a chance. While I understand that education systems can always be improved, parents who deliberately deny their children access to the education that is freely available should be held accountable.

  8. Further to other comments regarding home-schooling, I think that even home-schooling for non-religious reasons is not something to be encouraged. It is healthy for children to mix with other children and not be isolated from their contemporaries.

    A situation where a child only sees his siblings, immediate family and perhaps the few kids in the local area will isolate them from opposing views, people of different backgrounds/ethnicities and limit their exposure to society in general. This may well cause problems when they get to adult life, and have to survive in an environment where not everyone is in agreement with them, and how to cope with compromise or deal with challenging and opposing views. It will help them to meet people they may not usually socialise with, and meet some lifelong friends that they may never have met while stuck in a ‘mono-idea’ household.

    • In reply to #14 by adey5:

      Further to other comments regarding home-schooling, I think that even home-schooling for non-religious reasons is not something to be encouraged. It is healthy for children to mix with other children and not be isolated from their contemporaries.

      A situation where a child only sees his siblings, im…

      This is a non-sequitur. My son was home schooled. He mixed with lots of other kids through various home schooling coop activities, scouts, sports and large extended family (of several “races” and faiths). He is now an independent film-maker, very outgoing, politically active, very busy social life and happy. He will tell anyone how much he preferred to be home schooled. And yes, he’s an atheist.

  9. “In America, children are not possessions for parents to use or destroy. Rather, children are recognized as dependent beings whose bodies and futures are held in trust by their parents.”

    Theoretically, perhaps, but not in practice.

  10. 1st off, I was homeschooled for about two years. One should look at the parents’ motives to understand the movement. They view public education (& the rest of the world for that matter) as evil. Evangelical christians feel the compulsion to insulate their children from ungodly, hoards of heathens. By doing so, children are left unprepared to function in the “real” world, both socially, economically, & mentally. Homeschooling curriculum is inadequate for learning science, math, etc. to transfer to a 4 year university.

    It’s very sad….and should be banned.!

    • In reply to #16 by SYS6656:

      1st off, I was homeschooled for about two years. One should look at the parents’ motives to understand the movement. They view public education (& the rest of the world for that matter) as evil. Evangelical christians feel the compulsion to insulate their children from ungodly, hoards of heathens….

      I agree that most of the people who home school do it for the wrong reasons and also that the first preference should always be to have kids in school with other kids because socialization is as important as learning. But keep in mind that the education system in the US is abysmal. And at least in some cities such as San Francisco there were racial preferences (I think these may no longer exist but I know they used to) for certain ethnic groups that could make it difficult for white kids to get into local/the best schools, especially if their parents weren’t poor.

      So I know from personal experience it’s possible for parents to be stuck in a situation where they can’t afford private school but the public school they would have to send their child is just abysmal so home schooling can be a reasonable option.

  11. Children need to learn social skills and school is the best place for that to occur; being isolated at home runs the risk of stultifying children, and I suspect that the motivation of parents who subject their offspring to home schooling is selfishness and elitism.

    And what’s more, I think that if religion is part of the motivation then it is dangerous for the children to be in such an environment.

  12. Selective unchecked education ‘of this kind’ is called indoctrination and kids are denied basic knowledge which could empower them, so that they don’t know they are being brainwashed…. however what they ARE taught is only to perpetuate the indentured system of slavery and servitude to the parents religion/delusion……
    and incidentally Why are ‘chattels’ still a viable legal term in this day and age ? – that term implies ownership of ‘beings’ and (not exclusively farm animals)…

  13. ‘Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child cannot be true.’ (Thomas Paine) Those Pilgrims were separatists seeking a better place in which to grow their religion. Ya think? Not really what was happening. They decided to come to America and risk everything so they could control the children who were being drawn away by the trappings of society. And so it goes. I do not have a study to quote, but firmly believe this ‘home schooling’ trend relates to their need to control the children who are being drawn away by the trappings of society. It has little to do with education and even less to do with quality.

    If the US is lucky they will eventually leave to find another place of isolation where they can control their children. If not I am afraid they will attend to their sick and paranoid ending of times.

  14. In most cases, they are only home schooling their children so that they are not exposed to any of the science that contradicts their own beliefs.
    When children are not informed of any alternatives is when we get fanatical adult’s. Just look at Islam….

  15. Its not to complicated. I grew up in a fundamentalist church and science is not compatible with that religion. hugely incompatible. Which also makes it easier to show us skepticism and the road usually ends with atheism.

  16. I think a lot of the people commenting don’t know very much about homeschooling other then the stereotypes. Homeschooling does not mean you sit at home with your parents all day, and don’t have any other social interactions. Most of the homeschoolers I know are always out doing social activities, or on field trips. Their kids are living in the real world, not segregated in a little room based on age. These kids have great social skills, are more mature then ps kids, and have gotten to learn about the real world by seeing it, and taking part in it, not reading about it in a text book. Learning doesn’t have to take place just 5 days a week in a school. It happens everywhere. I will be homeschooling my son this year because I want him to have a better education then what the school district here can provide. I am also an atheist.

    • In reply to #25 by lisaI:

      I think a lot of the people commenting don’t know very much about homeschooling other then the stereotypes. Homeschooling does not mean you sit at home with your parents all day, and don’t have any other social interactions. Most of the homeschoolers I know are always out doing social activities, or…

      As a qualified teacher I struggle to see the merit of home schooling for any other reasons other than medical ( ie the child cannot physically attend) and these cases are rare.I don’t wish to be rude but you are painting a picture of unstructured bereft of specialist guidance and I certainly challenge the idea that getting “out to learn about the real world by seeing it, and taking part in it” has more educational merit that directed classroom activities.I mean school trips are great – fantastic way to fire imaginations and get ideas going but they are a supplement to what you learn in the class not a replacement.

      My reasoning is straight forward. No parent no matter how well qualified they are can match the range of experience and specialist knowledge of a team of teachers. If you aren’t a trained teacher you are going to lack even an understanding of educational theory – how to organise and reinforce concepts and so forth.
      As I’ve said before you probably wouldn’t attempt home dentistry so what makes you think you are qualified to take the place of an entire school staff? You won’t even recognise the mistakes you are making and the gaps in knowledge you are leaving.
      For example, do you have a fully equipped science lab? An ICT suite? What level did you study mathematics? Do you have degrees in Fine Art or literacy, economics, the humanities etc?

      I’m sorry but your post makes me think you don’t value the idea of education in the academic sense and will be handicapping your children’s prospects as a consequence. This may seem harsh but I feel the need to challenge bad ideas.

      • Mr DNA,

        I hear what you are saying. I just feel like public school is a one size fits all. Not all kids thrive that way. I don’t need a teaching degree to teach my son the basics. (After all I had to learn those myself) We have so many resources these days. Dvds on every level of math, learning apps, websites, books, ect. We use a variety of things. If he doesn’t learn from one resource, we find another. When he gets to high school we have things like Kahn Academy, tutors, classes taken through community college, homeschool enrichment, ect. As far as science, same thing. We have a local science museum that offers labs to homeschoolers. So there are many options available. If there is something I cannot answer we will research and find the answer together. I want him to be a life long learner, and know how to find answers.
        I believe having one on one attention is a major benefit to him. I am learning how he learns best and will be able to apply that to his learning.
        I will always have his best interest at heart. Having 25 children in one class with one teacher will not get him, or any child, the personalized attention to go above and beyond. So many kids graduate public school and still can’t read, write, or apply basic math skills to the real world. (No, not all)
        I don’t think all public schools are bad. (Although the ones were I live are.) Homeschooling is just another option.
        I appreciate hearing your view on this:)

        In reply to #28 by mr_DNA:

        In reply to #25 by lisaI:

        I think a lot of the people commenting don’t know very much about homeschooling other then the stereotypes. Homeschooling does not mean you sit at home with your parents all day, and don’t have any other social interactions. Most of the homeschoolers I know are always out…

        • In reply to #31 by lisaI:

          Mr DNA,

          I hear what you are saying. I just feel like public school is a one size fits all. Not all kids thrive that way. I don’t need a teaching degree to teach my son the basics. (After all I had to learn those myself) We have so many resources these days. Dvds on every level of math, learning ap…

          I’m happy to reply and give my honest opinion.

          I’m not sure what you mean by saying you had to learn the basics yourself. Do you mean that you too were home schooled?
          In any case it goes back to my earlier comment about how do you know you are doing a good job, are teaching the right material and the level that is appropriate for child’s needs?
          In my case I have had to go through a year of continuous assessment and following on from that close monitoring and further inspections to make sure I was doing the best I could. In addition I was getting the continuous support and input from other members of staff.
          One area I was advised to improve my understanding was English language. I didn’t know the complexity of homonyms, homophones, synonyms, homographs and so on and had to learn about that myself to improve my teaching, because it hadn’t occurred to me this was an important part of the English language (I wasn’t not an English teacher incidentally ).

          I understand that in America there is no requirement to teach to curriculum which means not only has the parent not been independently assessed to see if they have the skills required to guide a child – there’s no standard to be measured against in the first place.

          Another point is that DVDs and the Internet make great supplements to directed study but they are not a replacement for it. Most students need to be told what to study that’s relevant to each subject area because there is always more to learn than can be learned in the time allowed. If a student asks a question of an experienced teacher then the teacher will be rapidly able to assess whether this is relevant, irrelevant or suitable for individual research at a later date. If you don’t know the answer in advance, the break to research the answer with student can be time lost.
          Ironically, you seem to be set on home learning because you want your child to have personalized attention but you need to recognise that that this is impossible when your learning is being delivered solely through electronic media.
          I think it sounds a little bit too cosy for me – most of us need pushing or pulling ( sometimes a bit of both ) at stages of our development and I’m really unconvinced a parent is the right person to do this in many circumstances.

          The quality of the schools in your area does not validate the concept of home schooling – in fact it sets up a false dichotomy. Why can’t your child attend school and still receive additional support from home, from tutors and weekend visits to libraries etc? You can still give personalized attention after school and can and should raise hell if you think teachers are letting your child down.

          Ultimately, a school provides more than an academic training in any case. Socialization is massively important at this stage of anybody’s life and by socialization I do not mean with the small group of friends a child grows up with but the broad spectrum of the society that the individual is part of. It seems to me a great danger to a society to have groups walled off from another and a great loss to the individual. Sometimes those that teach you the most important lessons are those that you have least in common with.

          Anyway, don’t take any of this personally. I don’t know you or your circumstances and while I may know something about ideas related to the philosophy of learning I don’t profess to know the ins and outs of the American education system.

      • In reply to #28 by mr_DNA:
        Mr. DNA, would you like a list of the selective colleges my kids’ homeschooled friends are currently attending?

        In reply to #25 by lisaI:

        I think a lot of the people commenting don’t know very much about homeschooling other then the stereotypes. Homeschooling does not mean you sit at home with your parents all day, and don’t have any other social interactions. Most of the homeschoolers I know are always out…

        • In reply to #34 by zonotrichia:

          In reply to #28 by mr_DNA:
          Mr. DNA, would you like a list of the selective colleges my kids’ homeschooled friends are currently attending?

          In reply to #25 by lisaI:

          I think a lot of the people commenting don’t know very much about homeschooling other then the stereotypes. Homeschooling does not me…

          It wouldn’t change my opinion of home schooling. I think its a bad idea in principal; not that every child who goes through home schooling is doomed to academic failure. The studies that I have looked at show that students who are home schooled do better at subjects that involve a lot of independent study and worse at those that require more guidance such science and maths. Some children are going to able to motivate themselves and learn on their own as they did before schools came along but many more will flounder, research irrelevant information and fail to meet their potential.
          I’m not sure about how American colleges (universities?) select -whether grades are very important as they are here or whether parental background is a factor.
          if your friends are all blue collar / manual workers that would be more impressive than if they were the children of stock market brokers or lawyers.

  17. Brutally difficult subject. At the extremes it’s really easy to recognize what we do not want our society to permit: children dead by their parents’ hands at one end, children removed from their families because of some arbitrarily decided deviance of parents’ approaches to child rearing at the other. So, there is some dividing point or line or degree or something between the extremes that we just can’t agree on. With regards to religious rejection of medical services for children of the faithful, I’m very much ashamed that I think we, as a society, have to tolerate dead children so as to avoid social intrusion and interference with basic parental rights. On the other hand, when those parental actions imperil not just their own children but all of surrounding society – vaccination denial, for example – it’s easy to grant authority to intervene. Home schooling is, in my opinion, in that grey inbetween area. But that’s not to say we, society, can’t respond much more appropriately than we do. Let’s just give the home-schooled kids high-school diplomas that are nominally equivalent to regular high-school certificates, but that indicate alternative schooling. Sure, Bob Jones University might accept those children, but I suspect that most other schools, and maybe employers too, will favor “real” high-school graduates. We really do need to indicate that parents aren’t and can’t be the equivalents of multiple highly trained professional teachers.

  18. There is also another aspect to this subject to consider. That is the massive changes in pedagogy that are the result of the “Information Age” technology. In a very short time, I think, primary schooling will be so different that this worry about home-schooling will essentially be moot.

  19. In recent years there has been an uprising in bills/amendments (e.g., person-hood amendments) aimed at granting human rights to unborn fetuses to the extend of withholding the rights of women who may become pregnant. (Recall the recent TX hospital that kept a dead woman on life support because she was 14 weeks pregnant ignoring the woman’s living will.) Religious exemption is not consistent with this line of thought. There is certainly contradiction within the Conservative party. Additionally, society as a whole benefits by educating as many children/young adults as possible. I am in favor of random and routine checks on home schools and setting minimum education standards along with yearly standard tests for home schooled children.

  20. Everyone is missing the fact that the children grew up to be adults who are then capable of making decisions as adults. Also, there are so many stories out there, it is silly to vilify homeschooling based on cherry picked evidence.
    I was homeschooled through high school. My family is very religious. I am an atheist and scientist and my family still supports who I am. Without homeschooling, I do not believe I would be where I am today. I ran with a rough (public and homeschooled) crowd in junior high and high school and if I hadn’t changed my outlook, graduated at 16 and gone straight to college, I would be like the rest of my (public schooled) friends– a couple of kids before you’re 20 and no education to speak of. The homeschooled kids at least managed to miss out on the teenage pregnancies. Instead, I graduated from an Ivy with honors at 20 years old and am in graduate school now– all of the things that my parents really wanted for me, despite being homeschooled for religious reasons.
    For a site that states the purpose is for “reason and science” this is quite biased. I understand that pulling children out of the public school system disallows state-mandated reporters to observe children and make calls on abuse, however, having been exposed to many, many, many homeschooled children, I can say that this is a rare occurrence (again, cherrypicking your evidence on a “reason and science” based website– thanks for giving science a bad name).

  21. The key word in school system is system. I’ve worked in it, so I know a little something about it. I agree with those who wish to home school their children, but I draw up short when it comes to whether they are qualified to do so. My educational background made it so that I was certainly qualified to teach my children at home, but I opted for public schooling. There was a method to my madness. I felt that the kids needed the social exposure element to become responsible adults with adequate social experience. I also reasoned that whatever I felt was lacking in their education I could easily supplement at home in a lot of different ways.

    Don’t get me wrong, I see much need for improvement in the “system” on myriad levels, but I feel it is still better than the results of home schooling alone. I also add the caveat that if you are not a well educated person to begin with, you should avoid making the attempt. See, without all the requisite knowledge and understanding, you can do more harm than good.

    Now, speaking to the issue of religious exemptions and such, I feel that anyone who home schools their children should be held to the same curriculum requirements and standards as the public educational system. If a parent wants to add other elements to the required curriculum and standards, it is their right to do so. What I’m saying here is that all education, no matter what its source, should comply with performance standards and test results and the compliance to those standards and test scores should determine whether the parent can continue to home school. We’ve had enough reductions for the purpose of “leveling the playing field”, and any less from home schooled children should not be tolerated, in spite of what anyone’s belief system happens to be.

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