“Hard Cases Make Bad Law”

Title quote: Karen Skelton, board president and director of government affairs for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, quoted in response to the activists goals mentioned in this post.

Gifted Homeschoolers Forums posted this article from the Washington Post about activists helping homeschoolers escape from their restrictive, fundamentalists parents.  According to the article, the activists are on a crusade to introduce reality to repressed homeschooled children and help those who want control over their own education.  Part of that crusade includes influencing political policy towards more regulations for homeschoolers:

“The regulation advocates want stronger oversight, methods to monitor the quality of the education and ways to protect children from the dangers that can unfold behind a family’s closed doors.”  Washington Post, .

Abuse isn’t acceptable.  In any form.

However, linking homeschoolers and abuse is also unacceptable.  Abuse happens at all levels of education, in all types of households.  Child abuse is a horrific, awful, disgusting, life-changing thing that no child should have to go through.  Homeschooling is not to blame in all the cases that the advocates list – bad parenting, strict religious fundamentalists, and child abusers are the cause.

Here’s the thing – there are already ways to protect children (in all forms of education.)  Child Protective Services constantly receive anonymous tips about children’s welfare, and they’re required (in my state, at least) to follow-up with the family after a tip.  In all of the cases of horrific abuse and neglect, just one phone call from a concerned neighbor, co-op classmate, or church member would have started the process of evaluation.

I won’t lie, I live in fear of CPS because of my special needs children.  One call, and they come out and investigate, often at the threat of removing your children if you don’t co-operate.  I don’t like the way CPS functions – guilty until proven innocent – but I recognize the need for their work.  They can be the only people able to investigate true cases of abuse and neglect, and they do a very important job.

That said, most of the cases the activists mention don’t involve horrific abuse and neglect.  The article starts out describing the plight of a homeschooler trying to go to college at age 18 – her parents took away her cell phone and laptop.  Not exactly horrific abuse.


A piece of my story

I reacted to this article with snorts of disbelief because I am a product of the same, fundamentalist homeschooling that they’re working to liberate children from.  Homeschooling shaped who I am.  It helped me in positive ways, and it caused some weird gaps in my pop culture lexicon, but it didn’t scar me for life.  It didn’t hinder me, or place me in an “antediluvian world,” (Sarah Hunt.)  Sure, we were sheltered and I was naive, but that didn’t ruin my life or cause great hardships as an adult.

I grew up doing Abeka and Bob Jones curriculum.  At the homeschool groups we attended, most of the girls wore skirts.  My sister and I did too, until one day I rebelled and bought pants instead.  To this day I hate wearing skirts because of what they represent to me.   We studied at the kitchen table – a stereotypical homeschooling family – or I worked alone in my room at my desk.  My mother figured out early on that I work best in silence – and my sister and brother were not silent.

We went to church every Sunday – an independent Baptist church.  If you know anything about Baptists, you know that the independents harboured the fringe element.  Not snake-handling fringe, but fundamentalists to an extreme.  I vividly remember our teen group going to a massive multi-church event and waiting in line to have my culottes measured (to make sure they were long enough.)  I failed the test by about an inch, and was forced to change into a spare pair they had.  Which the rebellious teen I was thought was ludicrous because my extremely modest mother had approved my outfit.

Even though my parents were fundamentalists by name, they weren’t super strict.  My father like t.v. and the internet too much to waste time on family bible study.  He liked the power structure in a fundamentalist family, and I grew up hating the trappings of religion because I saw how it was used to control.  I joke that I am a person of faith despite my past, not because of it.

We homeschooled for many reasons, religion included, but not to hide abuse.  I’m guessing that the activists would probably say that my sheltered world was abusive because it was sheltered.  And I’ll admit, my family was dysfunctional in many ways, but not because of homeschooling.  Homeschooling wasn’t the demon in the closet here.


Life as a homeschooled adult

I managed to balance my checkbook on my own.  I learned how to budget, pay bills, and pay rent.  I never signed a lease because I needed to pay rent to my mom to help pay her bills after my father divorced her.  I saved my money and bought my own computer, I worked a full-time job and made it into minor management.  I even managed to apply for college – a feat at the time because I was a homeschooler – and jump through all of their many hoops to gain admission.  I applied for financial aid on my own and worked through the intricacies of a FAFSA (and was horrified that I had to list my parents on my information despite being 23 and independent!)

I transferred college midway through to one that better fit my needs, and navigated the college course transfer – a process that involved waving state regulations under admissions personnel’s noses and forcing them to accept my previous courses.  Somehow, I managed to graduate with honors and move on in my life to a small-time career as an artist.  And I did all this despite being homeschooled.  Without help from my parents.  Without money from my parents.

Yes, I married.  I married because I finally found the guy who “got” me – my tribe.  I fell in love with a nerd, and while we did have children, that wasn’t the point of my marriage.  Love is raiding on Friday nights with your husband beside you (along with your clan) and killing the elite boss together.  I miss gaming!  Special needs children, parenting demands, and blogging rather put a damper on raiding.

Despite being sheltered and naive, I managed.  I learned, I grew, I throve.  My homeschooling life didn’t hold me back at all: my introvert tendencies did, but that’s my personality.  There was no need for activists to step in and “liberate” me from homeschooling because I didn’t need it.



More regulations aren’t the answer

Sure, there are homeschoolers who don’t have their children’s’ best interest in mind.  There are even homeschoolers that are abusers.  That’s because there are abusers who happen to homeschool.  There are plenty of abusers with children in private and public school too.

The problem is that to accomplish what the activists want, governments will have to cross strict lines – Constitutional lines about freedom of religion and the right to privacy.  They’ll have to institute a slew of invasive monitoring methods, and decide what is a “good” method of homeschooling and what is a “bad” method.

Many of us homeschoolers with special needs and gifted students decided to homeschool because public schools couldn’t meet our children’s’ needs.  This type of regulation would put us in conflict with the proven educational methods that don’t work for our kids – the accepted “good” methods.

Our state requires registration for homeschoolers and proof of progress: that doesn’t prevent abuse.  Even those states with more rigid requirements, like our neighboring Maryland (who requires portfolio reviews by a government official) wouldn’t prevent abuse.  Unless you have frequent home visits from someone like Child Protective Services, these proposed regulations would be useless.  Pointless.  Invasive.  It wouldn’t work.

I get it – they’re doing a laudable thing in trying to fix the problem.  They’re going about it the wrong way.  More regulations aren’t the answer for this problem.

I don’t know what the answer is.  I don’t understand why someone would abuse a child, and I don’t know how to stop that.  Perhaps, like Israel, we should require a span of volunteer service for all: public, private, or homeschooled.  Let everyone serve in a national Peace Corps style term of service before they go to college (or work full-time.)  The key to stopping abuse starts with our children: if we can figure out how to teach them empathy and compassion, then they won’t grow up to be abusers.

My husband swears that if we required service like this in order to vote, that our country would make far better, informed decisions at election times.  He thinks you shouldn’t be able to vote unless you’re invested in our country.  Think about it – a country run by people who care enough about their neighbors to help them out.  To give their time, their service, to volunteer to make the world a better place.  Wouldn’t that be a better way?

I don’t have all the answers.  I can tell you that what these activist want is a knee-jerk reaction to a true problem.  And like all true problems, there are no easy answers.


One of the things I disliked about the article was the emphasis on HSLDA: written of as “…one of Washington’s most effective lobbying groups.” Sure, HSLDA is a homeschooling force to be reckoned with, but they are outnumbered by non-religious homeschoolers.  Gifted Homeschoolers Forum also advocates for homeschoolers (and non-homeschool gifted children) – find out more about their focus and drive to educate and advocate for gifted children here:

Corin Goodwin, one of the founder of GHF and Board President, says  “The GHF community includes millions of individuals from across the US and around the world. We are inclusive – anyone who wants to learn more about gifted/2e kids is can participate. Our community members range from families currently homeschooling one or more of their children to those who are just interested in learning more about neurodiversity and educational options. It includes mental health professionals, education professionals, and an array of public school staff. The GHF organization is secular but we don’t ask others to leave their beliefs at the door. Everyone is welcome. Our hope is that we can support these families and encourage others to rethink their misperceptions of gifted and their paradigm of education.”


SEA (Secular, Eclectic, & Academic) also advocates for homeschoolers – secular homeschoolers, and their membership is growing quickly – their Facebook page has 12,850 members alone.  SEA is purely secular.


It frustrates me that the author of this heavily researched article automatically reached out to a religious organization – HSLDA – even though they no longer represent the vast majority of homeschoolers. The stereotype of “religious freak” still stains the homeschool community, even though many of us homeschool for completely different reasons. 







  1. The maxim dates at least to 1837, when a judge, ruling in favor of a parent against the maintenance of her children, said, “We have heard that hard cases make bad law.”


  2. Looks like another Karen commented, Mary. My kids are in their 20s. But I do have a number of friends with 2e kids and feel rather passionately about supporting customized education, just as this other Karen has described.


    • Whoops! Crazy coincidence that! Point stands – thank you for commenting in the original article with such a well-reasoned statement. I wish you had a little more exposure in the WaPo article, but reporter’ choice there.


  3. Good for you! A well written response to a truly horrible idea. We homeschool because our 8 year old is gifted and working at the 5th – 8th grade level, is on the high functioning end of the ASD spectrum, and has a learning disability. No public school that we have encountered can adequately address his needs. We didn’t start out as homeschoolers, it wasn’t even on the radar, but after three years of struggle and meltdowns and bullying, we decided to try. He’s back to being that happy, nerdy, amazing little boy that he was before the public school system tried to turn him into a neurotypical kid which he never will be. When we told the administration representatives in an IEP meeting that we didn’t want to fix him, that he was a little weird and we like him that way, they we appalled. So much for encouraging kids to be the best “them” that they can be. They refused to skip grades and when he became a handful in the classroom due to boredom, they handed him a laptop and let him do a little higher level math at the back of the room. At home he’s working at the levels that match his needs. We go to a homeschool co-op once a week for playtime and a Spanish class and we meet other homeschoolers at the park regularly. Homeschooling wasn’t what we were planning but it has been a perfect solution for this little boy. Additional legislation to regulate how we address his needs has the potential to limit his growth. Not a good idea!


    • Thank you for commenting Karen! Like you, no public school can meet our son’s needs. edit: name confusion, whoops!


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