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."
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:
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 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. (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. (973) 484-1000
  • Sen. Jim Whelan:
    (609) 383-1388   
  • Sen. Diane Allen:   (609) 239-2800
  • Sen. Thomas Kean: (908) 232-3673 or (908) 232-2073 (Westfield) | (908) 918-0414 (Summit)
  • Sen. Shirley Turner:    
    (609) 530-3277


  1. Essentially, this bill is saying that by educating your child at home, you are inherently making a poor choice that needs to be watched and monitored. If you chose to send your kid to a private school with unlicensed/uncertified/untrained teachers where there is no proof of learning required by law--you are somehow making a better educational/parenting decision (since these requirements do not apply to private schools in NJ)


  2. I have mixed feelings about this. I support the idea of heading off these types of initiatives at the pass, and sending a message that homeschoolers should not be unfairly targeted. Also, I don't think homeschoolers should have to do more than what private schools are required to do (based on what the above commenter says.)

    However, what homeschooled child isn't going to the doctor on an annual basis? I don't think that's too much to ask, considering check-ups are a basic part of health insurance plans and don't incur a co-pay. Nothing wrong with making sure your kid is healthy, since s/he won't be taking part in the hearing/vision tests, weight/height measurements, scoliosis exams, etc. that are provided in the public schools.

    As far as the education portfolios...the argument that this is not required of schooled children seems pretty weak. It kind of implies that schools don't require immense amounts of documentation on student learning. Every piece of the curriculum and every ounce of data (which is collected on a daily basis through incessant testing) is analyzed over and over by teachers, school boards, district and state leaders, consultants, etc. Keeping a portfolio of what students have learned and how they have learned it would be much easier (and much better for kids) than what is required of schools. I'd trade testing for a portfolio of learning any day.

  3. @Angela,
    I don't believe the government needs to mandate doctors visits. There are many people who are raising healthy children without taking them to the doctor every year. Additionally not all health insurance covers yearly medical exams. For instance, I am a government, union employee and mine does not. Also, most medical exams don't include hearing/vision tests or scoliosis exams.

    My argument about ed portfolios is in fact valid. Though you agree that incessant testing isn't good for kids, this is what the government forces kids to do. In many cases, they do this even if children are suffering as a result. Yes, a portfolio would be better. I have written about that frequently, however 1) Doing what is best for children is not always the focus of schools 2) There is big money to be made by testing and publishing companies by hurting children this way 3) Portfolios cost money and take money from big business.

    The point is, though it should be, school is not in the business of doing what is best for kids. If it were, students would be doing work they cared about and it would be captured in meaningful ways. This however, is a different conversation.

    When it comes to homeschooled children, these children do much better academically than public schooled children. These parents are deeply involved in student learning. Why do they need to report to big brother? What if the way they believe learning should be measured doesn't involve the type of portfolio the government says is best? And...if the government thinks this is the way to assess children effectively, why aren't they doing this with their own children? Well I answered that one above.

    Let parents do the parenting. Most home education parents would agree they don't need the government's help when it comes to learning. In fact the government's inability to do a good job in this area is why many families who can, don't choose to send their kids to public schools.

  4. 1st let me say that I love what you are doing. I thank you for your tireless efforts, and everything I say, both praise and constructive criticism, is offered with complete respect and in an effort to maintain excellence.

    I am a homeschooler of 2 young children. I briefly tried a number of “alternative education” systems and never considered placing my children into the public system for which I hold in utter and complete contempt.

    I think you and I are of like mind in that we think not only that homeschooling is good, but public education is bad. I could rail against the lunacy of public education for days. My standard statement is basically that public education is a complete failure in the 5 most overarching components of its functioning. The curriculum, the pedagogy, the safety, the governance, and the economic model all get an F (to use the moronic grading methodology of the system I am decrying). I would not believe this is the system in place in the 21st century if I was not living through it. But I digress.

    In short I am one of the most likely people to support stopping any bill that negatively impacts homeschoolers. Having said that, here are some things that stuck me in reading your commentary.
    1) There is no "1st hand" material (quotes from the bill). This is ALWAYS a red flag to me. How certain can I be that your representation of the bill is accurate (I found your post from another homeschooling blogger who, called this bill the "Anti-Homeschooling Bill" saying that it is an "attempt to shut down homeschooling in the U.S." - I feel misled by him and now question his credibility). So I respectfully submit the suggestion that you provide potential followers SOME indication that your representation of the bill is accurate.
    2) You tend to undermine your credibility with hyperbole (I do this all the time). For example you say the bill "implies these parents are more likely to be child abusers". That is hyperbolic at best, and sounds like your emotions are clouding your rationality (I’m not saying that your emotions ARE clouding you judgment). As I said, I’m prone to hyperbole (which is why I give this constructive criticism). But the govt, simply by saying that Homeschoolers must provide proof of medical exams in no way implies they are more likely to be child abusers. It implies that they don’t feel that they have good enough oversight. If you ask your kids to "stay within earshot" does that imply that they are not trustworthy, or less trustworthy that kids who don't have to stay within earshot? No way. You just want to have what you feel is proper oversight
    The govt (I think) is worried about kids that are not on their radar. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the govt is misguided by not going after the govt agency that failed. I bet the govt is just trying to protect kids that it is not sure how to and they are doing it all wrong. But to then say that they are assuming homeschoolers are more likely child molesters weakens your credibility. You have the govt on the ropes with your solid arguments so don’t do what I am not learning not to do - add a few extra arguments that are a bit of a stretch. It doesn't help the argument, it hurts it. This also applies to your comment, "Students are not at risk for being abused in school". That is not a reasonable statement. The govt may feel that kids in school are at LESS risk. But that 1 idea (Not at risk vs at less risk) turns your statement from impactful to weak - which, in turn, weakens your whole great piece.
    3) A link to the actual bill would have gone a long way to increasing credibility

    I have more thots but I have gone on too long.

    Again thank you so much for your efforts, I hope my comments help you to hone your craft and become a stronger voice for schlubs like me. We need you !!!!! Keep up the good work.