Saturday, May 23, 2015

On Homeschooling (and why it isn't "the problem")

I've seen a couple of articles going around about Josh Duggar and the situation in his family, and it seems like there's a good one from Patheos that seems to condense the information into an easily understood list of information that makes perfect sense.

Except for the last point.

"Homeschooling can limit children’s ability to report abuse."

Now, to a degree, that's a statement that kind of makes sense. In a traditional school environment kids interact with all types of adults all day long - teachers, administrators, counselors, assistants, etc. They see all sorts of people who might notice a change from the norm and who might ask questions or probe enough to get a shy or threatened child to talk about what's going on at home. The ideal situation, of course, is that if a child is subjected to abuse at home that they will eventually feel as though they can or should open up about it to a trusted adult, and if they go to a public or parochial school, they will inevitably encounter more adults who can be told. Unfortunately, this ideal is pretty much irrelevant, for a couple of different reasons.

1) How many children out there either never told anyone and nobody found out about the abuse until it was too late, or are being abused and are too afraid to come forward to ANYBODY? The problem is, we don't really know. Abusers either threaten or condition the children they prey on, and all too often kids won't open up to anybody about anything - and when the abuse is emotional or sexual but not physical, kids often are brushed off as either lying or exaggerating their experiences. (Especially when the abuse is sexual and the abuser is a close friend or family member.) Given the ages of the girls involved and the subject matter at hand, there is a VERY good possibility that being in a traditional school never would have made a difference. You cannot coerce or force a child to admit to something with a serious social stigma attached when they sincerely believe that they or their family will be at risk if they reveal sensitive information.

2) How many kids anymore seriously get the chance to open up to their teacher and befriend said teacher enough to feel comfortable sharing something this intensely personal? Class sizes have exploded over the last ten years and teachers often have little down time with their children to sit and talk. Kids are ushered quickly into classrooms where they immediately begin their days and are ushered out just as quickly at the end. Older children may well be able to find the time and comfort to sit with a teacher they've known a while, but younger children rarely get this luxury and honestly don't often bond much with any of their teachers. Not to say that teachers of younger children don't make a difference, don't bond with students, and don't report incidents when they're made aware of them - they do, by all means! - but unfortunately teachers just aren't given the opportunity to learn enough about their students anymore to notice when something is off. I'm fairly sure that every single teacher I came in contact with during my time in public school would have immediately reported any sign they encountered of a child at risk of abuse, but in all honesty, I think unless there is obvious physical damage present, a teacher may not notice or be made aware enough to report it.

3) People are easily swayed by money and notoriety. Say a teacher had been made aware of what was going on - there is ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEE, be they mandated reporters or not, that they would have reported the incident in a timely fashion to someone who would have followed through, especially when the family involved is one that involves a former state representative and a well-known and publicized family who is espoused for their morality and spiritual belief. And even if they had, who's to say that the person who they reported to would have done anything about it? Everyone in the line of mandated reporters must follow through without question and immediately in order for something to be done in time to prevent further abuse. If just one link in the chain is weak, multiple children can be swiftly shoveled through the cracks. The possibility is there, yes, but assuming that things would have been different if they weren't homeschooled is tragic and places blame where it doesn't belong.

I want more than anything to only consider the good in the world, but assuming that this would have come to light sooner if they were in a traditional school setting gives even more bad light to homeschooling parents. There are thousands of families who homeschool out there who are NOT doing awful things to their children, who aren't abusive, and who aren't withholding information or purposefully teaching their kids incorrect information just because it adheres to a specific religious belief. (There are unfortunately also a number of families with children in public or parochial schools who are systemic abusers.) I would even go as far as saying that Christian homeschooling isn't the problem here (despite my disagreements with the general lack of evolutionary/scientific teachings) - it's the fact that these parents aren't teaching sex ed, they aren't teaching kids bodily autonomy. They teach an environment of "I'm in charge and you do not say no to me or your older siblings" and that fosters an unhealthy "I must say yes/comply" attitude that leaves young children thinking they can't say no to someone who is an authority over them. They don't teach kids what touches are okay and what aren't, who is okay to touch and who isn't. It's when you teach a child to be ashamed of their body and think that anything they do to themselves is sinful that you get children who grow up with an unhealthy bodily image. And given their supposedly unwavering fundamentalist upbringing, you certainly can't blame it on a lack of morals - so the fact that they are staunchly religious in and of itself isn't a good excuse.

Homeschooling, though, is not the problem here, and it should not be blamed, nor even brought up.

(General disclaimer: I am aware that the vast majority of parents, either homeschooling or making use of public or parochial school systems, are not abusive in any form. I am aware that there are and hopefully always will be more families in every environment who are loving, nurturing, and attentive than those who are not. I am aware that generalizations do not help either side and am not intending to vilify or generalize anyone into a single category - the only exception being the severe and standard lack of sex ed and mainstream scientific information and education in the fundamentalist religious homeschooling community. I do not wish to vilify public schools, as my entire family has attended public school, and I have loved and respected nearly every educator that I or my children have come into contact with over the years.

The point of this? Being in public school would not have guaranteed that this situation would have been appropriately reported and dealt with within a reasonable time, nor that the outcome would have been any different, and I am very tired of seeing people suggest otherwise.)

No comments:

Post a Comment