At the beginning of December a homeschool ripple spread in the St. Louis area of Missouri.Â The ripple didn’t reach the public news outlets I read over my breakfastÂ in Kansas City (and only one Google cacheÂ from November of 2004 appeared during a search), so I assume the commotion was confined to the eastern side of the state.Â The event causing the eastern ripples was an article in the St. Louis newspaperÂ about a state official who wanted the state’s homeschooling law changedÂ to includeÂ "minimal curriculum standards"Â in cases of suspected neglect.
- St. Louis Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, 3 December 2005, The home school debate
Mary McEniry, director of the state’s Office of Child Advocates for Children’s Protection and Services, calls for at least minimal curriculum standards for home schooling in cases where neglect is suspected. Her report cites two cases in which children as old as their teens essentially lacked all formal education.
The article has some ‘iffy’ statements along the lines of ‘lack of homeschool oversight,’ ‘foster system is powerless to remove the children,’ and a recommendation from a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards AssociationÂ for mandatory registration by homeschooling parents,Â but those areÂ other topics.
Earlier in the year,Â Ms. McEniry’s office, published a section on homeschooling in the October 2005 edition ofÂ the office’sÂ annual report.Â The homeschooling section was sandwiched between a report on children living in homes that are meth labs, and a report on child fatalities.
- pages 15 – 16, Office of Child Advocate for Children’s Protection and Services
Recommendation: Minimal standards need to be developed for home schooling. At the very least, parents/caretakers should have to follow some structured curriculum and be able to produce that curriculum to school or Childrenâ€™s Division authorities if the quality of home schooling is an issue in a Childrenâ€™s Division investigation. Again, this office is not against home schooling and we feel it can be enriching when conducted appropriately. Our concern is for children being educationally neglected and/or exhibiting developmental delays due to parents who are not appropriately home schooling. This is not only a social issue but also an economical one. These children will not be able to be productive, tax paying citizens if they lack sufficient education to obtain a GED and get a job.
From an outside-homeschooling viewpoint, and cash-cow aspersions aside, one can understand the concern for children who don’t seem to be progressing as ‘all normal children ought to.’Â It’s a form of cultural difference similar to the German aversion to drinking cold liquids because they’ll upset your stomach.Â A co-worker of mine in Fulda, Germany used to pop the top of her Pepsi, then sitÂ the canÂ on the radiator to warm up.Â Apparently, to her eyes,Â I hid my cold-Pepsi stomach distress very well, although not my American horror at drinking hot Pepsi.
From an inside-homeschooling viewpoint, the two incidents citedÂ (twin teenage girls, oneÂ being autistic,Â homeschooled by a mother with mental illness; and a teenage boy who said he had been abused and would killÂ a member of his family)Â raise other questions.Â
- Were the girls homeschooled exclusively all their lives?Â Were extended family members aware of the situation?Â Who cared for the girls while their mother was in the psychiatric hospital?Â If there was a significantÂ problem with the mother raising her daughters, why were they returned to her?Â
- In the case of the young man, was the abuse he felt he suffered documented?Â How didÂ his siblingsÂ appear developmentally delayed?Â If no abuse was detected in the "many" other children in the home, why is the one case so significant — aside from the homeschooling angle?Â If this were a public schooling family, and a child alleged abuse and threatened to kill family members with a shotgun, would the report have been included in the MissouriÂ child protectionÂ report?
Soon after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, letters to the editor were printed.
- St. Louis Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, 8 December 2005, Letters
Ellen Minor:Â Educational neglect is sometimes a byproduct of an abusive home, but the problem still is the abusive home. Ms. McEniry should focus on identifying abusive homes as early as possible rather than taking on the home-schooling community by adding additional, unnecessary layers of red tape.
Kevin Speis:Â Two cases don’t make a crisis.
The perceived threat to Missouri homeschooling, though, ‘didn’t have legs.’Â Ms. McEniry was fired, but for what reason is unclear to those of us outside Missouri state legislative circles.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, 6 January 2006, Home-schooling advocates praise firing of state official
Kerry Messer, who lobbies on behalf of parents who home-school their children, would not comment on whether he asked the governor to replace McEniry. But he said he was pleased about the announcement.
Jessica Robinson, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Blunt chose to replace McEniry simply because he felt Morrow would be a better fit for the job. Morrow served until 2004 as director of student development for Southwest Baptist University.
Most people, I assume, are in favor of child protection and neglect prevention, but the allegation of educational neglect, and who is responsible for it, is a boggy area fraught with quicksand.Â For instance, if homeschooling parents are to be held liable and have their children removed from the home for failure to appear to be at developmentally ‘appropriate’ levels, who is to be investigated for cases of young adults who graduate from high school, or perhaps even college, at developmentally inappropriate levels?Â If these young people are discovered in public schoolsÂ at early enough ages, would they be bussedÂ to another public school system, attend a private school, or be homeschooled?Â If they are to be privately schooled or homeschooled, who picks up the tab?
- (from the Baltimore Sun) Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, California, 16 December 2005, 1 in 20 Americans is Not Literate, a National Survey Suggests
More Americans are getting college degrees than they were about a decade ago, but skills in reading and analyzing data among the well-educated have dropped significantly, according to a national report on literacy released Thursday.
- (from the Washington Post) EconLog, The Library of Economics and Liberty, 26 December 2005, College Illiteracy
Literacy experts and educators say they are stunned by the results of a recent adult literacy assessment, which shows that the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade, with no obvious explanation.
Why is ‘educational neglect’ sauce for the homeschooling goose, but not for the mass-schooling gander?