The above image is a photograph I took of Michael Farris speaking at HSLDA’s 1999 “Proclaim Liberty” Conference in Washington, D.C. I attended the conference after I and other teachers with Communicators for Christ led public speaking sessions for youth at HSLDA’s annual National Leadership Conference.
I was homeschooled my entire life, kindergarten through high school graduation, in both California and Oregon. My parents started the Bay Area homeschool support group SELAH; additionally, my father organized the statewide California homeschool conventions run by CHEA and was the president of the national homeschool speech and debate league NCFCA for a couple years. I honestly had a generally positive homeschool experience. My parents loved and respected me and we have a good relationship today. So I know homeschooling can (and should be) awesome.
However, many of my homeschooled peers experienced both casual neglect and unspeakable abuse. So I also know homeschooling is not always awesome. It’s the latter fact that has led me to support both better self-policing within the homeschooling movement as well as better legislative oversight. I know it is unpopular (and sometimes seen as betrayal) that I would support the latter. But I believe that we need common sense-based public policy that will protect homeschooled children — not only for the children’s sake, but for the sake of the health and vibrancy of homeschool parents’ rights as well.
Since Representative Chang first made her bill announcement, there has been an unfortunate amount of paranoia on the part of homeschool parents. Untrue claims about the bill requiring home inspections have been propagated by news agencies, homeschool lobbying organizations, as well as Michigan Senator Phil Pavlov and Representative Amanda Price. HB 4498 does not require home inspections and in fact requires very little: simple notification of the intent to homeschool and contact with mandatory reporters at least twice a year. The list of who qualifies as mandatory reporters is broad, flexible, and gives parents many diverse options for fulfilling this requirement. In fact, the list is simply in keeping with official recommendations by the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry that your child has wellness checks every year for medical and dental reasons. Even if HB 4498 fails to pass, I think this second requirement is something all homeschooling communities and organizations should promote as an essential part of better self-policing.
Some people object to contact with mandatory reporters because they believe it implies homeschool parents are child abusers or are “guilty until proven innocent.” This is not the case. Contact with mandatory reporters is a simple safeguard that we should all be able to get behind. When I volunteered with a homeless youth shelter program a few years ago, all the volunteers had to take a background check. That background check was not conducted because we were assumed to be child molesters. It was conducted merely as a safeguard — a safeguard that not only protected the youth but also demonstrated that the shelter program was above board. The program was making clear it was willing to do everything it could to make sure the youth were safe. HB 4498 does the same.
Laws that are put into place as safeguards do not assume the worst of people. They are simple acknowledgements that not everyone is perfect. Homeschoolers are extraordinarily fond of the phrase, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” As I have argued elsewhere in my article “Checks and Balances: The Conservative Case for Homeschool Oversight”, we need to remember that this phrase applies not just to the government but everyone, including homeschool parents. Yes, many homeschool parents are loving, compassionate, and dedicated parents. But many are not. And in the same way that we have speed limits because a few people would otherwise drive carelessly, we ought to have some protections in place for homeschooled children. Speed limits do not imply that everyone would drive carelessly if they did not exist; they imply that the United States has standards for safety to protect everyone. Homeschooled children deserve safety standards, too.
In all the pushback I have seen against HB 4498, homeschooled children and their voices are consistently missing. The fact is, children do not belong to the government — but they also do not belong to their parents. They belong to themselves. They have rights. They deserve to have the best possible education in a safe and nurturing environment. I know from first hand experience that homeschooling can provide such an education. It did for me, and it did for many of my friends. But it did not do so for all of them. It has failed many of my peers. We need to do everything in our power to make sure fewer children slip through the cracks in the future.
I hope that we can all work together — as concerned citizens, child advocates, homeschool alumni, homeschooling parents, and legislators — to make all educational methods (public, private, and home schooling) safer for children, using every tool we have at our disposal.
Representative Chang’s bill is entirely reasonable, gives parents flexibility, and will provide an extra safeguard for children. So I — a homeschool alumnus who had a good homeschooling experience, who does not hate his parents, and who does not believe children belong to the government — applaud HB 4498.
May the tragic loss of Stephen and Stoni give homeschool parents and leaders the motivation to address abuse within homeschooling as diligently and passionately as Representative Chang is.
- Detroit Free Press, “Amid deaths, leaders call for homeschool system changes”
- Libby Anne, “#makehomeschoolsafe and Michigan’s HB 4498″
- Kathryn Brightbill, “#MakeHomeschoolSafe”
- Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “Statement Supporting Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry and Michigan’s HB 4498″
Also see the Twitter rally under #makehomeschoolsafe.
What you can do to help:
In addition to sharing and promoting the above articles and hashtag, you can contact all the members of the Michigan House Education Committee and let them know you support HB 4498. The bill will start in that committee. The members’ names and contact info are linked below:
- Amanda Price
- Daniela Garcia
- Mike Callton
- Thomas Hooker
- Ed McBroom
- Patrick Somerville
- Ken Yonker
- Tim Kelly
- Lee Chatfield
- Todd Courser
- Jim Tedder
- Adam Zemke
- Harvey Santana
- Winnie Brinks
- Andy Schor
- Stephanie Chang
- Christine Greig
A form letter you can copy and paste is below:
Dear Representative _____________,
My name is __________. I am writing in support of HB 4498, a bill that provides better legislative oversight of homeschooling.
I believe that homeschooling can and should be a positive experience for children in the state of Michigan. For many of Michigan’s children, homeschooling is such an experience. But for children like Stephen and Stoni Blair, it was an experience that only helped to further hide the abuse that eventually led to their deaths.
Representative Chang’s proposal to make parental notification of the intent to homeschool necessary as well as give children the opportunity to interact with mandatory reporters twice a year is a common sensical, non-instrusive solution. As the saying goes, children are our future, and they deserve the best education possible. So I support HB 4498, and I hope you will, too.