Homeschooling: The Dark Side
Episode III: The Henny Penny Homeschooler
Last week’s Episode II: The Homeschool Pajama Blunder was a comical look at the dangers of relaxing one’s wardrobe a bit too much. This week’s episode is much more sober.
Remember the childhood story of Henny Penny? “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Poor Henny believed something that just wasn’t true. She convinced her friends of the same fallacy, and they came out big losers in the end.
The Henny Penny mentality is alive and well among homeschool circles. In our world, Henny Penny isn’t a high-strung baryard fowl with anablephobia. She represents a segment of well-meaning homeschool families who operate under a belief that is fundamentally flawed. Their mantra is not, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” but “The state is watching! The state is watching!”
What is meant by “the state” and who are they watching?
This is the easy part. The “state” refers very simply to local or state levels of government with the authority to pass or enforce laws. The “who” in this scenario is describing homeschool families.
What is the truth behind the motivation for the Henny Penny homeschool mantra?
• Nobody wants a visit from “the state.” Fewer experiences are more unpleasant than a social worker knocking at the door. And while you might think that homeschoolers on the up-and-up should have nothing to worry about, consider this.
DHR has been called on homeschool families for a variety of reasons, most of which have nothing whatsoever to do with actual negligence toward the children or their education. Custody battles. Disputes between neighbors. Feuding homeschoolers have even reported one another. We’re seeing that play out in our own community. (This series isn’t called “The Dark Side” for nothing.)
False reporting is a gross violation of a family’s right to privacy. It diverts resources away from at-risk children. In some states it is a criminal violation. At the very least, the parties who falsely report neglect open themselves up to counterclaims for abuse of process or defamation.
• Nobody wants to be heavily regulated by “the state.” In a place like Alabama where homeschool regulation is low, families want to keep it that way. The general belief behind the homeschool movement is that parents have the right to direct every aspect of their children’s education without government interference. Each new law has the potential to add more reporting requirements or oversight, eroding freedoms that we will never hope to regain once lost.
• Nobody wants “the state” collecting data on their families. Data collection is big business in today’s world. It is collected on school children, in census records, through cell phone usage, at the doctor’s office. Go to a government-run healthcare clinic for sinus problems and you’re likely to have to answer at least one mental health survey before they’ll even discuss your throbbing headache. Even the ACT has begun to ask probing questions about their customers’ access to food and finances.
Who’s securing all this data? How will it be used? Will our particular responses be tied back to us or used in an aggregate data pool? When we don’t know or don’t like the answers, we tend toward caution.
What is the fiction behind the motivation for the Henny Penny homeschool mantra?
Fiction creeps in when we apply the definition of “state” incorrectly. “Local or state levels of government with the authority to pass or enforce laws.” Worthy activities sponsored by state-affiliated organizations are too often snubbed for fear that we’re encouraging some sort of regulation.
The name of an organization does not give it legislative or executive powers. A group called “Mobile County Homeschoolers” exists in our local community. Their name in no way, shape or form means they make or enforce laws, or help to regulate homeschoolers. That’s patently false and ridiculous. They’re just a nice bunch of people who want to communicate their location to others as part of their identity.
Let’s extend that logic a bit further to organizations or agencies that might be affiliated with the state in some way but have no legislative, regulatory or enforcement powers like Alabama 4-H or Alabama Bicentennial Schools. Do we really want to throw them in the “Bad Guy” box and slam the lid?
What is the fallout of being a Henny Penny homeschooler?
The fallout comes when we keep our own children out of programs and opportunities that benefit them and our communities. Many reputable organizations also perform community service. Being a Henny Penny in that situation has a double negative impact. Why would we turn our backs on opportunities to enrich our children’s lives and benefit our communities as well?
I was a vetted Alabama 4-H volunteer for several years and helped to charter an Arts Club. More than once I heard, “No thank you. We don’t want to be part of a state organization that collects data on our kids.” Yes, we took roll. Yes, we asked where your kids lived and how to contact you. Yes, the camp forms asked for medical information. This data was not used for nefarious purposes. If your kid has an allergic reaction two hundred miles from home, the right data would help the nurse and medical personnel know the probable cause and which pediatrician to call.
The data collected at local meetings was examined to determine the effectiveness of our programs and whether we were reaching minorities and under-served segments of the population. Parents did not have to provide any more information than what they felt comfortable giving at our monthly meetings. Empty blanks were acceptable. But somehow, the vision of the state monster lurking right outside the door was stuck in the minds of more than a few.
I serve as a homeschool consultant for two wonderful statewide organizations with public and private school enrichment programs. These groups are reaching out to the homeschool community with warm invitations for involvement. I’ve begun to sing their praises to my inner circle before the posts are up on our website about these fabulous opportunities. Guess what I’m hearing? “The state is watching! The state is watching!”
How is the Henny Penny homeschool mantra a self-fulfilling prophecy and what can we do to change that?
The goal of homeschooling our children is not to shelter them from positive experiences. It is not to deny our communities the talents and gifts that our families possess. It is absolutely not to encourage additional regulation of home education. But the Henny Penny course of action achieves all that in one fell swoop.
When is the rallying cry for additional regulation on home educators the loudest? When can we most expect “the state” to become concerned and consider tightening laws? Almost without fail that knee-jerk reaction follows a case in which a homeschool family has become unreasonably detached from society and something goes terribly wrong.
Are those extreme examples typical of homeschooling? Of course not! How do we prove that? We engage with our communities. We don’t hide under a rock! We enter that state-affiliated history fair that opened its registration to homeschoolers. We volunteer in the community. We meet with our city and county officials. We don’t let fear rule our hearts. Wisdom and discernment? Yes. Fear? No. Only then do we have concrete examples to show what homeschooling really looks like and why there’s no need to further regulate it.
If we are truly concerned about preserving homeschool freedom, shunning organizations like Alabama 4-H or Alabama Bicentennial Schools is simply barking up the wrong tree. We must stay in touch with our state and local representatives. The legislature is the key to preserving the freedoms we have and preventing future encroachment. That’s where we want to turn a watchful eye and be ready to respond appropriately to alerts about changing laws.
As far as the unwarranted DHR visits, there will always be people manipulating others for their own personal gain or amusement. Engaging the services of an attorney can go a long way towards minimizing the fallout from an encounter with such a person. See our Resources page for law agencies that work with homeshool families.
We are each free to choose the mark we make on our communities. Will we be Henny Penny homeschoolers? Or are we brave enough to engage with a world that extends the invitation to show them just what we have to offer?
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