Thursday, December 1, 2011

Moms and Dads -- Not The Government -- Should Be In Charge Of Parenting

Co-authored by Heather Jones DeGeorge and Lisa Nielsen


In response to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) inability to protect 8-year-old Christiana Glenn who died last May from malnutrition, a bill was introduced to the NJ Senate that establishes a higher level of accountability for homeschoolers then it does for other children.

Unfortunately, rather than address the failure of the government agency, it misdirects attention to the fact that the child did not attend school.
This misguided bill sets the stage for a potentially dangerous precedent for other states across the nation.  In question are two parts of the bill requiring homeschooling families to comply to mandates not asked of schooled children.  
  1. Medical exams Homeschooled children would have to provide yearly medical exams.
  2. Education portfolios Homeschooled children would have to provide a portfolio of records and materials including, but not limited to, a list of reading materials used, samples of writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used or developed to assess the reading, writing, and computational skills of the student.
Here is why each part of this bill is a problem for many homeschooling families.


Requiring Medical Exams
Singling out home educated children for medical exams implies these parents are more likely to be child abusers. There is no evidence supporting this. It also makes two assumptions of schooled children.  
1) Students are not at risk for being abused in school and
2) School children don’t need such exams because their abuse will be detected.

There is no evidence that either assumption is true.  In fact there are many children advocates that battle the abuses of school upon children.  There is no reason to single out homeschooled children and falsely believe that schooled children are a-okay. We are reminded of this in the wake of the Penn State child abuse horror that, among others things brought to light that people often expect someone else to take care of things. Additionally, ask grown students who suffered abuse in the home and you will find that the “mandated reporters” in the school often look the other way.

Another question that presents itself is who pays for these mandated medical exams?  

Requiring an Education Portfolio
The bill requires proof of education annually through a portfolio for any homeschooled child to the local superintendent. Many home educating parents have choosing this learning method specifically because they don’t agree with teaching and learning methods of government-run schools and they don’t feel the government should be in the business of parenting or selecting the methods in which their children should learn. Furthermore, when compared head to head, homeschooled children fare better than those in public school both academically and in the percentage of students who attend college. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post for more on that.)

Despite the academic and college attendance superiority of homeschooled children over those in public school, this law is not in effect for schooled children. The point is that the parents of home schooled children as well as those in non public schools have chosen to unplug from a government system that they feel does not serve their children best. Home educators should not be required by that system to plug back in.

In many cases home educating parents subscribe to an academic philosophy that the local superintendent neither understands nor agrees with. For some families this is the very reason their child is no longer in the public school system. Families may be following legal private school models such as a Democratic/Free School model like Summerhill or Sudbury.  They may agree with the delayed academics model followed by countries like Finland where play is valued and children begin academics at age 7 — which is 1 - 3 years after many states recommend children begin school. Worthy of note is that Finland kicks the world’s backside in academic testing where the US falls 15th-17th.

Parents who stood up to the experts
What happens when because you have chosen a philosophy that you feel is best for your children, you are accused of educational neglect and land in a courtroom with a judge that has absolutely no background in education let alone educational research? Are homeschooling parents going to be told they are negligent for not following the advice of an education “expert” if they disagree—despite the results?

Parents like Gretchen Hererra, Heather DeGeorge, and Jo-Anne Tracy have experienced first hand “education experts” whose advice would have harmed their children.  Despite the fact that Gretchen Hererra had a medical note stating that forcing her son to engage in her school’s high stakes testing would make him ill, the school demanded he comply or be kicked out. Only recently out of the system she shared this, “Anthony's lips aren't cracked, he's not biting his fingers (skin around them), he's well rested, he's not snappy and he's overall in better spirits and it shows! I JUST started to unschool him, and this is the results so far! I had NO idea school was killing him slowly!” Heather is a licensed educator in the state of NJ with additional graduate credits in Special Education (including specific coursework in teaching children with autism). DeGeorge was told by her local district that she didn’t know enough about what her own child (then 3) in the autism spectrum needed in the way of education. Five years later, as a result of being educated in the home and being mentored closely on social situations, her son is now able to participate in a broad range of group activities and presents like most neurotypical children his age. Had home educating mom Jo-Anne Tracy followed the orders of the “experts” where her son went to school his life certainly would not have turned out as positively as it did once she took her son out of school.  At the age of nine this mom was told by “The Education Experts” that her son was ineducable.  As a result of removing her son from school he is now a thriving college student studying to become a geologist.  

Separation of Government and Parenting
This is not just about homeschooling.  This is about the government allowing people to make their own, educated decisions and staying out of it unless there is imminent harm. This is about a government who controls a woefully inadequate educational system trying to control learning choices of families who are sacrificing to provide the best possible learning options for their children. This is especially important for parents with children who have special needs or gifted children—who are woefully under-served and/or burdening the schools resources.

It is also important for parents like DeGeorge that have adopted a special needs child from the state and receive subsidy to help raise her with those needs. Their subsidy is at risk if they are in dispute about that child’s education with the local superintendent as they are already required to fill out an annual affidavit about their education to continue receiving those funds.  

There is a serious ripple effect possible if a bill like this is passed. The bill was spawned as a result of errors by the Division of Youth and Family Services which allowed children to slip through the cracks. In the case that spawned this bill, the children WERE identified and called in, but DYFS didn’t respond.  That isn’t a problem with homeschoolers.  It’s a problem with DYFS.  This now has the potential to add to their already burdened and struggling system.

Please join the Home School Legal Defense Association in speaking out to the Senate Education Committee as well as your local representatives to stop the progress on this bill.

How You Can Help to Preserve Homeschooling Law
Please engage in any or all of the below activities today.

1)  Share this article with any lists, groups, or individuals who might be willing to call members of the Senate education committee on behalf of this effort.  
2)  Tweet Keep #homeschooling & #unschooling free & legal. Don’t create unequal laws. Stop bill S3105. http://tinyurl.com/bills3105."
3) Call or e-mail the Senators serving on the Education Committee. You can feel free to use a part or all of the email I (Lisa Nielsen) sent:
To: sensweeney@njleg.org, senruiz@njleg.org, senwhelan@njleg.org, senallen@njleg.org, senkean@njleg.org, senturner@njleg.org    
Subject:  S3105 IS A HUGE MISTAKE - Keep Gov Out of Parenting Business

Dear Senators,
I am [share your background in one sentence.] I am writing to advise you to oppose S3105. This misguided bill is mistakenly targeting homeschoolers in inappropriate ways for the failures of the Division of Youth and Family Services. Read this article http://tinyurl.com/bills3105 to learn more about why many parents and educators feel the government should stay out of the business of parenting.
 
Or, frame your own message using information in this article.

Below is the necessary information to call or email each of the senators.
  • Sen. Stephen Sweeney:
    President of the New Jersey Senate.
    sensweeney@njleg.org (856) 251-9801 (West Deptford office) | (856) 455-1011 (Bridgeton office) | (856) 339-0808 (Salem office)
  • Sen. Teresa Ruiz:
    Assistant Senate Majority Leader and Chair of the Senate Education Committee, to which S3105 was referred.
    senruiz@njleg.org (973) 484-1000
  • Sen. Jim Whelan:    senwhelan@njleg.org
    (609) 383-1388   
  • Sen. Diane Allen: senallen@njleg.org   (609) 239-2800
  • Sen. Thomas Kean: senkean@njleg.org (908) 232-3673 or (908) 232-2073 (Westfield) | (908) 918-0414 (Summit)
  • Sen. Shirley Turner:   senturner@njleg.org    
    (609) 530-3277
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