This article from the Washington Post was recently brought to my attention. It is about a boy from Virginia who was homeschooled but wishes he hadn’t been. He even appealed to the local school board to allow him to go to attend public school but they were unwilling to contradict his parents’ wishes. Of course, as usual the media seems to have found the most outrageous case to focus attention on.
There is so much here that one could discuss. I was a little shocked to read all the comments on the Washington Post site (I really should have known better than to even start) and to see how many people are opposed to homeschooling and seem to have very warped views of what it is and how it works. I suppose I live in a kind of homeschool-friendly bubble in which I interact weekly with so many diligent homeschoolers that I forget that not every one knows very many of us or sees how well homeschooling can work and how well “socialized” our kids are. Not that I never run into people who are skeptical of homeschooling, but even those tend to be relatively polite about it. And while we are Christians, that is not our primary reason for homeschooling nor is it that of most people around us. In fact, in our state (in lovely, albeit slightly pagan, New England) there seem to be as many liberal homeschoolers as conservative ones. So despite the perception of many, I don’t tend to see homeschooling as a fundamentalist, or even conservative, Christian thing.
Which brings me to one of the issues that this article raised. It seems that Virginia is the only state to have a religious exemption for homeschooling. That is, parents can register as having a religious objection to sending their kids to public school and then they need tell the state no more about their education. This is what the parents in the article did. So of course when their son then steps forward and says that he believes his homeschool education was woefully lacking, the spotlight is thrown on his parents religious beliefs as well as on this law which allowed it. While it may be true that Virginia is the only one to phrase it this way, as a religious exemption, there are, I hear, many states that require very little of homeschoolers so the lack of oversight is not unique.
The real question here is a legal one, can and should the local officials overrule the parents’ wishes if the child has different desires? I was heartened to see that this did not seem to be a temptation at all. No one seemed to be willing to step between this boy and his parents and to override their wishes. I understand of course that there are some really bad parents out there who will not only fail to educate their children but will abuse them physically and emotionally as well. I do believe there is a time for the larger society to step in and protect the innocent. But these do not seem to be bad or unloving parents. Are they guilty of educational neglect? Perhaps. It is hard to say. I am a little wary of trusting the view presented by the Washington Post. I also wonder how this boy’s education actually stacks up when compared with his public school counterparts from the same region. It says that this is a rural area of Virginia. Maybe I myself am being biased, but I wonder if it is a poor area if anyone is getting the best education. The boy apparently worked hard on his own and eventually made it to Georgetown. Along the way he felt his lack of education and backwardness very keenly. But would this have been any different if he had gone to the local public school?
But really the saddest thing to me is the way the boy has chosen to deal with a family issue. Now I know that he has younger siblings (he is one of 11 kids) for whom he is still concerned. He sees this as an ongoing problem with no time to waste as the years tick by for his siblings. Which seems noble. But I can’t help thinking how hard it must be on his parents, not just to hear his criticisms of how they have raised him, but to see them blasted in a national forum. Now the father is quoted in the article so he was apparently willing to be interviewed and say his piece. But as a parent myself, I can’t help thinking that even if he is putting a good face on it, it must be heart-wrenching to have one’s child do this so publicly. And is his end goal really worth all of this? I have called him a boy though the truth is he is 21, but that is still very young to be passing final judgment on one’s upbringing. Time and maturity will perhaps bring more insight. All parents make mistakes, but I think over time as we ourselves age and perhaps become parents, we realize that our own parents’ errors are not as large or unforgivable as we once imagined. I also worry about the light into which this public display has thrown homeschooling and even more importantly the family’s religion. I do not know if this son has clung to the faith of his father or not; the article does not touch on this. But I hope that if he has, he will see that he has cast it in a very negative light by coming forward in this manner. He has made large families, conservative Christianity, and homeschooling a mockery in the public eye, not to mention the pain he must be causing to his parents. I hope he can see these things clearly.
It is all just a very sad situaton to me.