Torture and Homeschooling

Dave invites me to comment on this Samizdata post and the associated Local6 News article, referring to the monstrous couple who tortured 5 of the 7 children in their care. Antoine Clarke (at Samizdata) has this to say:

There are two benefits of even the most useless schools. Children meet other children their own age, which is useful if one is not intent on becoming a hermit.

Of course there is plenty of unreported abuse that occurs in full view. In some schools abuse is ignored or even inflicted. But most basically of all, a 12 year-old child turning up weighing 35 pounds with burn marks and bruises in rags might be noticed. So having children turn up somewhere where their disappearance or injury will be noticed is a valuable function of schools. Perhaps they need to open twice a month for roll-call and then let them go home?

Oh, where to begin? With the condemnation the acts truly merit, I suppose is the best place. I have nothing but contempt for people who would do this to children, and there are no excuses nor meliorations (the Local6 article brings up a history of abuse on the woman’s part – it’s not an excuse if your life sucked to make sure other people’s lives suck, too). Apparently, they’ve been caught, and they deserve the full protection of the law until (and assuming) they are found guilty, at which point they deserve to die, as far as I’m concerned. As a father of four, I’d be glad to be the one to kill them; and I’d have no moral issues with doing it.

I don’t see any way in which homeschooling (assuming the Dollars were homeschooling, as opposed to not sending their kids to school) is connected to the abuse. That’s somewhat like saying that a person who abused their kids with pliers and pipes and also had a gun in the house abused the kids because they were gun owners. The two issues don’t connect.

I do see that people can use homeschooling as a way to hide kids who are being abused, but even ignoring teachers who abuse students, there are also the cases of severely abused kids who are in school for years without being detected as abused.

But to Clarke’s points, there are some problems that I have with them even aside from the homeschooling/torture issue. First, Clarke talks about socialization – meeting kids their own age. Well, why is that purely a government school thing? My kids know several good friends their own age – or within a few years of their own age. My kids also have relationships with several adults, which is something that government schools don’t nurture. In fact, government schools generally segregate to the year, so even having friends a few years apart is not common. When the kids grow up, they’ll meet, work with and live with people of all different ages; how does only knowing people their own age as children prepare them for this?

Second, the idea of schools as society’s guardians of proper child rearing frightens me deeply. I was going to say that teachers are paid to teach, not to tell us how to rear our children, but the truth is that teachers are largely paid to keep kids busy until they’re 18, and hey, some of them learn things. (It’s an essay for another time, so let’s see if I can get back on topic.)

Oh, yes. Education is inherently a very fad-based undertaking. Like any large body of practice in which it’s not possible to tell the results of a new technique in advance, crackpots and quacks flourish. “New math” is not the worst of it; nor is “multicultural math”. There are a lot of ways in which schools actively mitigate against education. Education is hard, and “schooling”, which is really just basic skills training plus warehousing, is much easier. Secondarily, teachers are not trained in how to raise children, just how to deal with them in a classroom. Third, teachers tend to follow a particular political (and often union-oriented) line, which is not necessarily in tune with all – or even most – parents’ ideas of how to raise children. I do not want a group of government bureaucrats to have the power to tell me how to raise my kids.

Homeschooling is no more nor less than a way to educate children. Some homeschoolers produce fantastically well-educated and well-rounded adults at the end of the process, and some make real messes. The same is true of other methods of education or schooling.

The reality of the situation is that government schools do an excellent job of producing a society in which nearly everyone is educated to a minimal level: they can read and understand and follow instructions given to them. The problem is that the government schools have not only raised the lowest rung, they’ve also lowered the rungs above the average. Training mechanics and scientists is beyond the government schools, and so is training leaders and philosophers. Some of those kinds of people will emerge anyway, and so far that’s been enough. But in our case, we want our kids to have a superior education, and the government schools cannot provide that, even in good school districts.

12 comments… add one
  • Hey, I have a question.

    These kids (at least some of them) were adopted. Adoption requires home study. How did these folks manage to pass a home study that many times? Did they not begin the abuse until after their final adoption?

    I don’t think you ranted enough on the horror of ceding the safety and well-being of our children to the government. Look, some parents suck. Some parents deserve to have their kids taken from them. Some parents deserve to go to jail, or even to die horribly. But the correct response is *not* to say that the government must step in to keep the children safe from the parents. Once you do that you must read it as the government must step in to keep ALL children safe from ALL parents. Where do you think that would end? Really? How many things can we put under “the well-being of the children”? Mandatory screening for physical abuse? Okay. Mandatory psychological evaluation? Mandatory medical treatment? Mandatory tolerance and lifestyle education?

    It’s not that farfetched. Many people already want the above things to happen. And the vast majority of kids are well cared for by competent parents.

    I am so sorry for those kids and wish like anything that those people who call themselves parents had been caught sooner. I hope those children can find peace and healing. But I don’t think we should sacrifice the rest of our kids to the government for them.

  • Stephanie’s right in some ways. The system failed these children as much as the monsters who tortured them. But in many cases, public school is a safety net, and for more than just monstrous abuse. In good school districts, or even just with the luck to get a good teacher, the public schools provide any number of services to kids and parents, including vision and hearing screenings, basic assessment tests that can help to diagnose a treatable learning disability or point out exceptional potential that a parent might miss. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be challenged academically if it hadn’t been for the recommendation of a public school teacher who recongized that she couldn’t do enough to keep me from being bored out of my skull in the 1st grade. I have any number of friends who were great at hiding their vision problems from mom and dad, but teacher noticed, and they got glasses.

    It’s easy to hide abuse behind the doors of the home. It’s not so easy to let it get on the schoolbus.

  • Priscilla Link

    Something else to consider, in addition to the above. The US has, for most of the early and mid 20th century ( and in general still today) led the world in R&D, scientific achievements, computer, medical, tech etc. advancements – all with people who mostly went to ‘government schools’. Now, there are lots of good reasons to homeschool, and lots of reasons to keep kids out of bad schools, but let’s not pretend that our schools have never been good and that there are not schools turning out extremely fine students and scholars.
    I don’t know about you, but my parents, as educated as they were, would never have been able to teach me the things I learned in my AP biology course.

    As for our US history – it’s interesting, that even during the westward expansion (Remember the Little House books?), many children were schooled at home, of necessity. But as soon as enough families lived in one area, they pooled their resources, and opened A SCHOOL – wonder why?

    Homeschool advocates need to deal with these perspectives as well. Just as all homeshoolers are not great, all outside schooling is not sub-standard and you would make better arguments for your case if you admitted it.

  • The prairie schools you mention bear little resemblance to today’s government schools. I don’t have a problem with schools per se, just with bad schools.

    I don’t look at homeschooling as the answer to all education problems. As I noted in the post, public schooling has eliminated the bottom rung of mostly-uneducated people in society. While the government schools are (inevitably, really) sliding downwards in their ability to educate, they still perform a valuable service for those who do not have the time, or are not themselves educated and don’t necessarily want to become so, or are just happy with their kids having what the government schools offer.

    For those of us who want more, who expect our children to understand history and citizenship and economics, as well as basic math and reading, the schools offer little, and much of what is offered is negative. What set me off was the association of homeschooling and abuse. I should have steered away from the state of the schools – or more accurately, saved it for another post – because it is not really germane to the relationship between prevalence of abuse and the manner of schooling.

  • Right. The point here is not really whether or not homeschooling is good, or whether or not public schooling is good. The point is: is it a good idea to assume that since parents may be bad, it should be the government’s role to ensure that all children are safe? Who is best fit to be trusted with children – the government, or the parents? Does the unfortunate existence of a few horrible parents mean that all parents should be treated as suspect, while the government is assumed to be able to keep the kids safe?

  • Priscilla Link

    OK, back to the real question then. There are quite a lot more than a ‘few’ bad parents out there. And I mean criminally, horribly bad. Add to that the generally neglectful, casually abusive and positively cluless. How much of this you see probably depends on where you live and how much you interact with people of different social classes, educational levels, parental commitment levels and different geographic sub-areas. I see a lot of it. As I read it, the reasearch on year-round schools, for example, shows that they show no positive long-term benefit for children EXCEPT for those that are much better out of their homes for longer periods than in them. It’s heartbreaking and uncomfortable to think that there are thousands of those children (maybe a million(s)in our country, but if my experience in a somewhat conservative mid-size Southern city is at all representative, it is a truth that has to be faced.

    So, in all the discussions about schools, those kids have to be thought about too. Maybe I don’t want the government checking on my kids, but someone has got to be checking on those kids – there are so many more of them than you may want to admit.

  • thelegalalien Link

    “the US led the world in R&D, scientific achievements, computer, medical, tech etc. advancements – all with people who mostly went to ‘government schools'”

    whoever wrote this may not be aware that the majority of people in academia and R&D in the States, and especially in lower-level positions (i.e. those who actually do the work), are foreign born and educated. Academically, the public school education in the US is a joke when compared to education children receive in other countries. And it seems that things were a lot better when a school was just a one-room house.

  • That’s an interesting statistic, thelegalalien. Do you have a source for it?

  • thelegalalien Link

    see here for example:

    “This is a matter of grave concern to us,” says David Daniels, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. “Roughly half of the students in engineering graduate programs nationwide are from foreign countries.”

    and here:

    “As per figures compiled by NSF researchers Jean Johnson and Mark Regets in 1993 and reported by Gwynne (1999), 431,000 of the total 2,685,000 scientists and engineers with degrees and 101,000 out of 345, 000 with Ph.D.s in the US were born abroad. As stated by Paul Bartlett, president of Hall, Kinion & Associates, US born Caucasians form a minority in most Silicon Valley companies today”

    and, mind you, that’s engineering, it’s long time ago, and it’s faculty!

    I went to graduate school in the US in late 90s and graduated in 2000. In my incoming class in my department (biology), out of 15 students, there wasn’t a single US-born person. About 2/3 of the labs in my dept were led by US-born professors, te rest were foreigners. And in all labs, you’d have may be one American born postdoc, and the rest (average I’d say about 7) were foreigners. Same goes for the students.

    The only science department that didn’t have any foreign students was medical biology, because of the funding restrictions. Engineering has slightly less foreign students than science, then economics, and humanities / liberal arts would have few foreigners (I don’t know whether this is because of language barrier or less job opportunities).

    ask any lab rat, they will tell you the same thing.

  • thelegalalien Link

    “About 2/3 of the labs in my dept were led by US-born professors, the rest were foreigners.”

    correcting myself here: the number of professors-foreigners was even higher, eaily 1/2 or more of the faculty. I mistakingly counted the white Caucasians from other countries (UK, Australia, Germany), into my estimate for the US porfessors.

  • The only science department that didn’t have any foreign students was medical biology, because of the funding restrictions.

    I doubt it’s just the funding. Salary prospects in medical biology are pretty good and the number of jobs in medical biology is rising in this country. That’s not completely the case in non-medical engineering and sciences. For example, there are lots of unemployed EE’s and inorganic ChemE’s here right now. So Americans are behaving rationally and avoiding fields in which it’s difficult to find a job and in which income prospects aren’t that great.

    Your citations support your claims somewhat but not completely. Neither 15% of scientists and engineers nor 30% of PhD’s constitute majorities. I suppose it’s possible that the numbers of foreign-born scientists, engineers, and PhD’s have increased dramatically since the figures were compiled.

  • thelegalalien Link

    “I doubt it’s just the funding. Salary prospects in medical biology are pretty good and the number of jobs in medical biology is rising in this country. ”

    this is what I was told by school officials and people in the field. It helped me to understand why out of the eight or so schools I applied to, I wasn’t accepted to the three programs affiliated with Medical biology departments; otherwise competition and prestige were about equal in all schools. Which is ironic in a way, because in many schools, the dept that your program is affiliated with, doesn’t limit the selection of the labs to to work in, or thesis topics. In my school, students from other departments often end up taking med biology courses, working in med biology, and doing med biology research. The affiliation in this case is on paper only. Your hiring potential, on the other hand, depends on your experience and whom you know.

    “So Americans are behaving rationally and avoiding fields in which it’s difficult to find a job and in which income prospects aren’t that great.”

    it does come down to this, indeed.

    “Your citations support your claims somewhat but not completely. Neither 15% of scientists and engineers nor 30% of PhD’s constitute majorities. ”

    Numbers are less for engineering: there are much more foreigners in science and math. More importantly, the numbers quoted in the article represent faculty. In my message, I referred mostly to the lower-tire specialists (grad students, postdocs, technicians). Those are overwhelmingly foreign-born and educated, as my personal experience and that of many others show.

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