But They Win Spelling Bees!

At the risk of setting off another debate with the homies over regulation, this recent tragedy in D.C. does again raise the question of what sorts of regulations there should be for home-schooling.

From the NYT:

Ten states and the District of Columbia, where Banita M. Jacks was charged on Thursday with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her four daughters, have no regulations regarding home schooling, not even the requirement that families notify the authorities that they are educating their children at home.

Seems to me that you can balance the legitimate right of parents to direct the schooling of their kids, respect faith issues, and also crate a more seamless system so kids don’t get lost as they sometimes do now. To be clear, I don’t think this woman in D.C. was the “typical” home school parent and there are a lot of stereotypes about home-schooling that confuse the debate all around. But, because children are more vulnerable members of society some oversight and basic regulation — with reasonable religious exceptions — is attainable in public policy. For instance, a college degree requirement for at-least one parent, some reporting and oversight, and better data collection hardly infringes too much.

3 Replies to “But They Win Spelling Bees!”

  1. This tragedy does indeed raise the question of whether homeschoolers need increased regulation, as it should. Anytime there is a tragedy like this, reasonable human beings want to make an effort to consider what we can do to avoid this outcome in the future. As a third generation homeschooling parent, I admit I have a vested interest in maintaining homeschool freedoms, but as a human being I also have a compelling interest in preventing the suffering of children. I wrote a post yesterday that analyzes whether increased regulations might be reasonable or logical.

    The New York Times article seems to focus exclusively on the homeschooling aspect of the case. You might find more useful information in a more extensive article in the Washington Post that explains that 5 government agencies, including social services, had contact with this family.

    Surely, though, there are cases where social services does not find out about an abusive or dangerous situations involving homeschoolers. Does it then make sense to increase regulation of homeschoolers to protect children in those cases?

    I did a lot of thinking about it, as well as some research online for pros and cons. In the end, I was convinced by the following argument: If increasing parental regulation and registration is the right action to pursue, then there is a much larger population of parents who enjoy even more autonomy than homeschoolers, and who should logically be included in the increased regulations. I’m referring to the parents of infants and preschoolers, who, for better or for worse, are essentially unregulated and unsupervised in the absence of some reason to suspect that they are harming their children.

    I don’t want to wear out my welcome here(I’ve gone on too long, already!), so feel free to check out my post if you are interested in the full analysis.

    Congratulations on the Performancing Award by the way!

  2. I’m confused by both the New York Times’ argument and your own. These children were in school! They dropped out, and after attempting repeatedly to visit the home, the school social worker reported them to the DC’s Child and Family Services Agency. The CFS workers went to the home and simply accepted the mother’s word that she was homeschooling, without even verifying whether she had complied with existing DC law requiring her to notify school authorities before withdrawing her children. And this, in spite of the fact that the family had repeatedly been referred to CFS – for living in a van, for suspected drug abuse by the parents, and more.

    The tragic murders of these children would not have been prevented by further (also unenforced) regulation. Instead, they could have been prevented by appropriate action on the part of CFS: the enforcement of the existing regulation. When it was determined that Ms. Jacks had not complied with existing homeschooling law, the issue should have been pursued as an educational neglect case. The fact that at least six child welfare workers in DC are being fired over this case testifies to the fact that it was a CFS failure, not a lack of regulation of homeschoolers, that created this situation.

    The fact is, Ms. Jacks was NOT a homeschooler. She had not followed the laws already on the books, and had been repeatedly referred for investigation by several different sources. She was mentally ill and was abusing her children, and simply claiming to be a homeschooler should not have gotten her off the hook.

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