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So what’s the problem with vouchers?

Betsy DeVos is now our new Secretary of Education.

H.R. 610 and vouchers for homeschools

Some say she is the most unqualified person to fill the position. She was certainly one of the most controversial. All because her vision of education includes options outside the public education system. In her view, charter schools, private schools and homeschooling are all viable alternatives and that is not a position the teacher’s unions are particularly happy with.

That sounds great for homeschoolers.

So why is this is difficult for me? I support freedom in education. I do, after all, homeschool. I think we need more options for families who are stuck in sub-standard schools thanks to their income level. Education is a path out of poverty, but our worst schools are in our poorest areas. Unfortunately, choice in education does not necessarily mean freedom in education.

But there is another problem. A more subtle one. And one that we need to deal with quickly because bill H.R. 610 has already been put before Congress. Namely, what does federal money mean to a private institution? What would it mean for homeschooling?

My first objection to this is simple. Why on earth do I need to give the federal government money in order to have it returned to me via a voucher? We have enough money to support our children. We have enough money to educate our children. To participate in co-op. To sign up for some extra-curricular activities. To send them to camp. We don’t need money from the government to do any of this. How much of my tax dollars are eaten up in the bureaucracy so that I can get a small amount back in the form of a voucher? Why not just let me keep my money to begin with? What is the real reason behind this carrot on a stick?

And that brings me to my second objection. Federal money is about control. Pure and simple. It may or may not begin that way, but in the end, accepting federal money means accepting federal control.

Consider President Bush’s faith-based initiatives. As Os Guinness writes in A Case for Civility (p. 51 – 52),

“…the project {faith-based initiatives] was self-defeating as a concept because the close relationship between government and faith-based groups almost inevitably leads, first to a growing dependency of the faith-based organization on the government, and, eventually, to the effective secularization of the faith-based group. In the words of David Kuo, President George W. Bush’s special assistant for faith-based initatives, ‘Between Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services alone, for example, more than $1.5 billion went to faith-based groups every year. But their activity had come at a spiritual cost. They were, as organizations, largely secular.'”

Or even just consider the title of the book David Kuo wrote after serving with President Bush’s faith-based initiatives: Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. He did not come away from his service of these programs full of hope about what they could do for America. He came away with a warning about the spiritual cost of mixing federal funds with religious institutions.

In the beginning, the money looks nice. In the beginning, it doesn’t even seem like there are all that many strings. You have to report yourself to the government. That alone accounts for increased regulation in eleven states. The money you receive cannot exceed your actual cost of homeschooling, but how is that determined? Does that mean you then have to keep receipts and turn them in? And how long will it be before only approved curriculum will be accepted?

The law spells out that this money follows the student and is not a grant to the institution, most likely in an attempt to get around directly funding private, religious organizations. But how long will that hold up? Hillsdale College in Michigan received no federal funding directly, but because it accepted students who had federal grants, the Supreme Court ruled against them in an almost decade long battle with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Because accepting a student who has federal money is the same as accepting federal money.

We already have models for what happens when private organizations take federal money. They become increasingly dependent on that money and, worse, they become more and more like government programs through the inevitable regulation that follows. And whether the money goes directly to the school or follows the student, we already have a Supreme Court ruling setting precedent for how much control that gives the government over the operations of otherwise private institutions.

Why would we want to accept that level of control? That’s why I believe we should keep the money out of homeschooling and keep homeschooling free.

And if you’re wondering why we can’t just refuse the money, I wrote more on that here: The Choices in Education Act: Why not just refuse the money?

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In defense of the Pearls…some thoughts

“Missy” left a comment on my entry The Pearls, abuse and a false gospel, which was apparently copied from No Greater Joy’s Facebook page where it was copied from a squidoo lens.  I’m unclear whether permission to copy this was granted in either case, but have chosen to replace the comment with a link.  It is lengthy, but worth addressing.  Take some time to read the entire thing. All block quotes, unless otherwise marked, are from the squidoo lens authored by Regina Normanson.

There is an old joke about the student that excuses his lack of homework by saying the dog ate his completed assignment. The joke was that no one believed him, and he would still get a poor mark because the homework was his responsibility.

Of course it is his responsibility and I am not aware of a single blogger who is suggesting that Kevin and Lydia Schatz are not responsible for the abuse their children endured.  The analogy doesn’t work.  The ensuing paragraphs regarding our society’s lack of ability to take responsibility are irrelevant to the case and to the argument.  But let’s think about this for a moment.  Say the dog did eat your homework.  While it is still entirely your responsibility, will you not in future either restrain the dog or place your homework in a more secure location?

Let’s suppose that a family DID closely follow the teachings on the Pearls’ web site www.nogreaterjoy.org. If that’s the case, the parents would have read this excerpt from an article written by Michael Pearl – IN DEFENSE OF BIBLICAL CHASTISEMENT?

When is it abuse?
You are abusing the child when it starts doing harm to the child. Listen to your friends-especially to those friends that share your philosophy. Ask the opinion of people you respect. If they think you are abusive, get counsel in a hurry. Ask the opinion of your older children. If your child is broken in spirit, cowed and subdued, you have a problem. Children should be happy and cheerful, full of enthusiasm and creativity. If your children are fearful or anxious, you should get some counsel.

Yes, let’s go to that very article, where the Pearls give a warning about abuse.

There is an excellent paragraph near the top under the heading “Enjoy your children.”  It gives excellent advice I would like every parent to internalize and to practice.  You see that kind of thing in their work here and there, but it really doesn’t seem to be the focus.  One paragraph in a 44 paragraph essay?  At least it is near the top, though not referred to again.

The paragraph Normanson quotes is near the end, paragraph 41.  Up until this we have learned:

  • That Christians who use the rod moderately are “meek.”  (Apparently a bad quality).
  • That if you reject the Pearl’s teaching and question their concepts, you are not fit to be a parent.  He pities your children, even.
  • That the proper tools for whipping your child come cheaper by the dozen, and their conspicuous location about the house and around your neck will keep them in line.
  • That church friends have noses longer than the pews they sit upon (and can’t be trusted to witness how you discipline your children.)
  • That you cannot put an upper limit on the number of “licks” a child receives.
  • That you continue the whipping until the child exhibits “total submission.”  If you ever stop before this point, you have lost his heart forever.
  • That if he hides, you should pursue him slowly, laughing at his “frail attempts.”

Ironically, according to those who knew the Schatz family personally, the children were “happy and cheerful, full of enthusiasm and creativity.” They did not cower, nor were they subdued, nor did they exhibit any of the outward signs we connect with abuse.

Now to the book.

This book is not about discipline, nor problem children. The emphasis is on the training of a child before the need to discipline arises…

This was one of the first issues I had with the book. Their definition of “training.” It is such a positive word, one that should be embraced as part of normal parenthood. Everything we do is training. Everything we do is discipline. But they equate discipline with a severe spanking and training with manufacturing an opportunity to “switch” your child so that he can learn the force of your word.  Never forget that when you read “training” in their materials, it refers to a switch (however light) with the rod.

With proper training, discipline can be reduced to 5% of what many now practice…

Really? This is just me, but I’m not a fan of statistics pulled out of the air. It always makes me suspicious of other claims in a text.

If parents are frustrated to the point of anger, page 25 says:
When children see you motivated by anger and frustration, they assume that your “discipline” is just a personal matter, a competition of interest….

Page 25.  Of a 150 page book.  We’re 17% through the book, but really, this section isn’t any help.  Unless you assume that the only way to harm a child is in anger. What if poor Lydia’s discipline session went down exactly like the Pearls prescribe?  Ten licks, talk to the child, if the answer doesn’t demonstrate complete submission, repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.  And you can calmly spank a child to death.  But the Pearls stress that if you “let” the child “win,” you have lost their heart forever.

If a child is angered by the impatience and pride of parents, page 33 says:
Father, if you care for your child’s soul more than your pride, then humble yourself and ask his forgiveness (even if he is just two years old)…

Wonderful!  And if pride had nothing to do with it?  The book isn’t a torture manual.  There are good things here and there, but they aren’t the emphasis.  More like passing thoughts.  And so much emphasis is put on the rod and how you will lose your child if you do not win with it and how you are weak if you do not apply it quickly and unmercifully.

Normanson has a few more quotes demonstrating where in the book the Pearls warn against disciplining in anger, ongoing brutality, intimidating children with threats about God as well as an encouragement to be a good role model.  All excellent points.

But that still does not discount the passages which are more concerning.  The general tendency to isolate you from other Christians who may question these methods.  The focus on “winning” and “total obedience” and “complete submission.”  The refusal to put a maximum number on the amount of “licks” handed out. The stalking of children. The “switching” of infants.

To go back to the opening of Normanson’s piece on responsibility:  No, the Pearls were not physically present as Lydia was beaten to death.  I don’t think they are legally responsible for this death, but the fact that the Schatz’ are fully responsible for their own actions does not negate one very simple fact.

The Pearls would be Christian teachers.  This puts a greater responsibility on them than on most.  Scripture tells us,

Let not many of you become teachers my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. –James 3:1

Some good advice and a few warnings peppered through a text that has such an emphasis on dominating a child does not put this ministry above question.

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Thoughts on pediatricians and homeschooling

Each time we go to the doctor’s office, I am run through a predictable line of questioning.

No school today? (We homeschool.)

Oh, that’s right!  How are they doing?  (Pretty well. Insert small talk type comments about what we’re actually doing.)

So, do you want a flu shot today.  (No.)

Not filling out the form and not requesting one must have been an oversight.  Or I must be anti-vaccine because the nurse never fails to ask the next question on the list.

Are your children current on vaccinations.  (Should be.)

Because, you see, there are homeschoolers and then there are those homeschoolers.

What kind of social activities do you have the children involved in?

At this point, a few of the nurses go into their spiel about the importance of organized activities and friendships for social development and emotional well-being.  Most just go on to checking over my child, satisfied with my list of activities.  I know this is not the normal line of questioning for every parent, however, because on the rare occasion I come in with only one younger child, none of it comes up.

Then the doctor comes in and we get to go through it all again.  Except he always pulls their chart to check on their vaccination schedule and displays much more interest in the list of outside activities and encourages me to join a local homeschool group.

Talking with other homeschoolers online and off, this seems to be an occasional source of frustration.  I’ve heard more than a few complaints about the lack of trust the pediatrician displays, the frustration of defending decisions regarding vaccination or limiting outside activities, the “ignorance” regarding “socialization,” and the general annoyance of having your parenting questioned by a physician in front of the children.

Some, apparently, even have questions for the children regarding how safe they feel at home and what kinds of things they feel threatened by.  Few parents I know would be comfortable listening as the doctor broach the topic of child abuse.

I’ve never been annoyed by the questioning, however.  Amused, yes, but never annoyed. Part of it is because I’m just not really a confrontational person.  Not anymore, anyway.  Part of it is because their office really is supportive of homeschooling, and they manage to go through the questioning free of any accusatory or concerned tone.  In fact, their tone is much more like “What did you do over the weekend?” rather than “How can you do that to a child?!”  Part of it is because I expect it.  There is no shock at suddenly being asked what I’m asked at every visit, and with five children we have enough visits to the pediatrician to know what to expect.

Most of it, however, is because I want the questioning.  I pay my pediatrician for his professional opinion regarding the healthy development of my child, not to encourage my choices, nor to affirm my choices nor to even agree with my choices.  If he has cause for concern, I expect him to educate me.  If we disagree on some aspect of my children’s care, I expect him to do his best to make sure I’m making an informed decision.

And honestly, I expect my children to be cared for and treated differently because they are homeschooled.  Because they are unique individuals in a unique situation.  My pediatrician earned my respect and loyalty a few years ago when I brought our eldest in with some generic, non-specific concerns.  She looked healthy.  I’m not sure anyone else in the world would have looked at her and wondered if something was wrong.  All her vital signs were normal.  But she just wasn’t quite herself, and hadn’t been for some time.  The doctor took my concerns seriously, but what’s more he took into account that my daughter does not complain when she isn’t feeling well.    He did a thorough exam, drew blood and encouraged me to schedule another appointment if it persisted.

I don’t think it was coincidence that she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis a few months later when some specific symptoms finally began to develop.  But you know…I would be very disappointed if our pediatrician did not take into account my daughter’s ulcerative colitis when treating her.  If he wasn’t concerned about side effects of the medicine, interactions with what he’s prescribing, her bone density, and her general nutrition.

Why should it be any different with homeschooling?  It certainly isn’t any sort of “risk factor,” but it is a decision that comes with a unique set of parenting challenges that a good doctor should be aware of.  I would be very uncomfortable if the state were to come into my home and start asking these sorts of questions simply because I submitted paperwork to homeschool, but the pediatrician isn’t the state.  And I pay him to do it.

How do you deal with your pediatrician’s questions?

_____

Don’t forget to visit this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling, Oddities Edition!

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The Pearls, abuse and a false gospel

I’ve been reading over several posts regarding the case of little Lydia Schatz being beaten to death by her parents in the middle of the night.  Her loving, cheerful family, full of all the promises Michael and Debi Pearl make throughout their literature.  For Michael Pearl guarantees happy, obedient children in just two days.  (Blockquotes in italics are from Angry Child, posted at No Greater Joy.)

I could break his anger in two days. He would be too scared to get angry.

Too scared.  Beaten too severely.  For there is no upper limit on the number of spankings given a child.  No “three swift swats and sent to his room until supper.”  Instead, he is beaten until he is without breath to complain.  Beaten until he is utterly dominated.  And if he runs?  You walk through the house laughing at his vain attempts at escape.  And just to drive the point home, you place these “rods” conspicuously about the house and wear one ever about your neck so that the little child may always see and remember.

On the third day he would draw into a quiet shell and obey.

I’ve seen children in that shell.  It is a role many children (and adults) fall into when their lives are governed by fear.  And remember, we’re on day three.  Day three!  Two days of beatings?  Stalkings?  Standing emotionless, pushing the child away, denying affection, denying love?  For they emphasize in another essay: When they do something lovely, then you can love them. How heartwarming is the thought of conditional love?

When an abused child is first placed in protective custody, there is a brief period (usually about a month) known as the “honeymoon.”  The foster parent tends to feel like the child believes he is safe.  The child is actually in a state of shock.  The first stage of grief.  And it results in remarkably compliant children who are too scared to do anything but obey.  Sadly, Lydia did not survive long enough to retreat into a quiet shell.  Her sister Zariah almost didn’t, but thankfully has been released from the hospital.

On the fourth day I would treat him with respect and he would respond in kind. On the fifth day the fear would go away and he would relax because he would have judged that as long as he responds correctly there is nothing to fear. On the sixth day he would like himself better and enjoy his new relationship to authority. On the seventh day I would fellowship with him in some activity that he enjoyed. On the eight day he would love me and would make a commitment to always please me because he valued my approval and fellowship. On the ninth day someone would comment that I had the most cheerful and obedient boy that they had ever seen.

And how many times was that said of the Schatz children?  Different to other cases I have read and discussed here, people are coming out and saying they knew this family.  That they were a loving, caring, Christian family.  That their children were happy and well-behaved.

We’d been to their house a few times for church related functions, and once just Paul and I were there, for dinner. We ate shepherd’s pie, and the children were a delight [emphasis mine]. They showed us how to milk their goats.  The husband also had always taken time to reach out to Paul, who in person is extremely reserved and tends to be overlooked, and so Paul was fond of him as well.  Beauty for Ashes

No one saw it coming.

On the tenth day we would be the best of buddies.

This is what is so insidious about this teaching.  Yes, insidious.  Well meaning, loving parents can be driven to abuse, torture and even murder based on a few anecdotes supported by misapplied and misinterpreted Scripture.  I reflect on the testimony of another Christian woman, one who fortunately did not go quite so far.

And to believe that this doctrine of perfection is practically attainable not only wrung the joy out of this family, extinguishing this Mama’s heart of love and grace for my children, it led to excessive, harsh, unbiblical discipline.  Holy Experience

I do not believe it is insignificant that the child that was murdered and the child that was hospitalized were both adopted, nor that little Sean Paddock was adopted.  Children with a history of abuse will not respond the same to a spanking as a child brought up in an otherwise stable home.  And thinking back on it, working as a family support worker for a foster care agency was when I first encountered the pseudo-Christian sense of “mercy” regarding the orphans of our world.

Most felt called into other ministries, or just couldn’t picture themselves in that role, but the responses of a select few were perhaps more telling than I realized at the time.

We would love to host these children in our home, but cannot until the state will let you discipline them.

Which of course refers to spanking.  Because the state does “let” you discipline a child.  In fact, they require it.  I never saw red flags go off in a caseworker’s eyes so fast as when presented with a family that did not seem to address any misbehavior.  Is the parenting repertoire in these groups really so narrow that discipline is equated with spanking and there is no other acceptable parental response to misbehavior?

Of course, those outside Christianity are quick to pounce on this case.  It is everything they seem to want to believe about Christians.

But I’m going to argue that the continued debating over the line between forcing someone to submit and overt abuse that goes on in this world completely misses the point.  When you define entire classes of people, whether children or women, as existing to submit and suggest that willfulness is an evil brought upon your family by the devil, then abuse is inevitable.  The idea itself is abusive and dehumanizing.  Everything else that follows from it is simply logical.

I’m struck, when reading right wing Christian child-rearing advice, on how much the advice resembles the tactics that wife beaters use against their victims. pandagon.net

But here’s the thing.  This teaching isn’t extremist.  It isn’t fundamentalist.  It isn’t even “right wing.”  All of these terms imply that we are somehow all on the same spectrum, with similar beliefs and a fine little line somewhere that most of us choose not to cross, while others debate about precisely where to draw it.

Michael and Debi Pearl preach a different gospel, one in which sinless perfection is possible in this world.  Without Christ, even, as he shares in the opening chapters of To Train Up a Child where he points out that it is about raising obedient children, not Christian children.  It is from this philosophy, this philosophy of 100% perfection, this perfection that Michael Pearl claims to have been living in for years, that this philosophy is derived.

Not from scripture.

Not from watching Amish men and their mules.

Not from the fact they swatted their children and they presumably turned out alright.

If you apply their perfect teaching to your imperfect children, you will achieve perfection.  No need of redemption.  Only continual conditioning, a methodology I actually find much better placed within the secular behaviorist model.  Read up a little on B.F. Skinner’s radical behaviorism and then read To Train Up a Child.

In effect, the Pearls advocate making the home into an operant conditioning chamber. Not a model of mercy and grace, love and respect.  As Spunky pointed out, they have afforded the rod all the power the Gospel normally gives to Christ:  that of redemption.

More on this case, if you can stomach it:

TulipGirl
Godly Discipline Turned Deadly (Interesting thoughts on the Christian response)
Fundamental Discipline
Tragedy in a Homeschooling Family
When Parenting Kills
Senseless Deception

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Homeschool family charged with murder, torture, child abuse

Update: It looks like the DA has made the connection between the Schatz family’s method of discipline and a certain Christian ministry.

He said investigators are researching a possible connection to an Internet Web site set up by “fundamentalist Christian people” that recommends use of the same whip-like implement “as an appropriate tool for biblical chastisement … to train a child from infancy to make them a happier child and more obedient to God because they are obedient to the will of their parents,” said Ramsey.  DA links fundamentalist religious ‘training’ to Paradise girl’s death

I can only guess he’s talking about No Greater Joy by Michael and Debi Pearl, which I alluded to below.  At this time, I will only say I very much appreciate the DAs sensitivity in the matter.

He said it’s not clear at this point whether the Schatzes ever visited the Internet Web site in question, which Ramsey stressed “does not endorse hurting or beating a child,” nor is connected to any specific church.  From the research he has done, the district attorney pointed out that “even within the fundamentalist Christian community” parental use of corporal punishment “is subject to a great deal of debate.”  Ibid.

And back to the original entry.

An alleged abuse case leaves one adoptive child dead, another abused and seven other children in foster care.

The younger victim was not breathing at the time of discovery but was later revived with life support at Feather River Hospital. However, she died en route after being transferred to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento.

The 11-year-old is hospitalized at Sutter.  ChicoER.com

It isn’t the family’s first time in the news, either.  While adopting three of their children from Liberia, they were interviewed by a local television station and put up a time line of their adoption.

From the reports, they were a quiet family.  A Christian, secluded, invite-half-the -neighborhood-to-dinner, and “overall odd” sort of family.  Who homeschooled.

Paradise police Sgt. Steve Rowe confirmed Lydia was allegedly beaten for mispronouncing a word.  Paradise Post

Beaten until she went into cardiac arrest?  The instrument used for this “discipline” bears an eerie resemblance to another case, one of the first really controversial topics I ever blogged about.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said the girls were allegedly beaten with a 15-inch-long piece of flexible plastic tubing commonly found in toilet tanks.

. . .

Ramsey said the remaining children have indicated that they sustained similar discipline with similar instruments. Ibid.

These stories always make me sick to my stomach.  Everyone has an interest in the interpretation of the story.  Homeschoolers want the abuse separated from education.  Christians want the religion separated from the parenting.  Those concerned about the whole child protective “industry” focus on the adopted children.  Those who have always thought homeschoolers a little odd take the chance to present homeschooling as a hiding place for abuse.  Pound Pup Legacy even goes through the effort of summarizing information on children who have died in custody or adoptive homes, noting whether the family was homeschooling and of a fundamentalist faith.  Because those are, of course, major risk factors for abuse.  They of course make no mention of education or religion where the families neither homeschool nor belong to a “fundamentalist faith.”  But in the middle of it all, a child is dead, and another appears to be in critical condition at an area hospital.

And likely, there isn’t much anyone could have done to prevent it.  I think maybe that is why we are so quick to judge, to think “how could this have happened?” to think “something should have been done.”  And from there, it isn’t far to “something must be done to prevent this in future.”  And we focus on all the superfluous, irrelevant, subjective details.

But “odd” doesn’t warrant strip searching children for evidence of bruising; “overly modest” isn’t something you call CPS about; “protective from the outside world” hardly constitutes probable cause in any sort of an investigation.  And the family was friendly and involved in the community enough to be inviting neighbors for dinner, pick fruit from their neighbors’ trees and clean their yards.  They were not completely locked away.

Just weird.

And well-behaved.

Not anything that would raise flags for even a mandated reporter.  After all, teachers somehow missed the fact a student was locked in a closet for over a year, and allowed out only to go to school.

I suppose that is why the public service announcements out here encourage you to call even if you only suspect something is amiss, with the reassurance that you can remain completely anonymous.  We don’t stop too much to think what that means for us as a society, turning neighbors into anonymous tipsters.  We just hope that CPS can sort it out, and that some child somewhere might be saved.

But the one thing that stood out to me in this story was that there was no prior history of child abuse, no list of previous CPS contacts.  Believe it or not, that seems to be the norm in child death cases, proving that even those most trained to work with abuse can still miss the signs.  Or perhaps even proving that there aren’t always signs to notice.