Social Issues

children have the right to an education

I’ve been the Government Relations Director at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education the past few legislative sessions. While I’ve mentioned my work at CRHE off and on over the years, it’s not something I ever really dig into much– mostly because if you’re not me it’s probably not that interesting a thing to talk about. Mostly, it’s having the same conversations with different people over and over again.

It hit me a few mornings ago how repetitive huge sections of my day job are to me. Recently, I’ve been speaking with a lobbyist who is very concerned about legislation that’s come up in her state, and she asked me a question that– to me– had a very rote answer. “Parents should have the choice how to educate their children, not whether to educate them,” I said. It’s a sentiment I’ve expressed … many times, hence the pithiness, the sound-bite quality to it. Because I’ve said it so often, it feels incredibly obvious. But often when I say this, the reaction reminds me how it’s not obvious to others. Today, I heard testimony from a woman whose parents did not educate her because she’s a girl and how much education do you need to cook and make babies … and then I watched the committee not just dismiss her but label her experience a “non sequitur” and her testimony a “harangue.” “It’s just balderdash,” one senator argued … about a bill that strips out compulsory education for homeschooled students.

***

My book club has been watching The Good Place and using each episode as fertile ground for discussing ethics, religious concepts, epistemology, spirituality, etc. It’s been an amazing conversation over the last year (we meet virtually) and I highly recommend this. Yesterday was (spoilers) the episode were Michael freaks out and Eleanor has to take over as “Architect.” As we discussed it, I talked about how much I related to Michael in my work.

My job is hard, and thankless, and unpaid. Often it feels brutally Sisyphean. Testifying in hearings like the one I was in this morning is worse than screaming into the void, and the powerlessness … well my therapist has correctly identified I have a hard time dealing with feeling helpless. Except I have to try, because the stakes are often if I don’t try children are tortured and murdered without anyone attempting to stop it. It’s not stakes quite on the level of every single soul in the entire universe going to The Bad Place, but honestly, pretty close.

And I have no Eleanor. If I quit … that’s it. No one is taking my place.

I’m in a position where I can afford to do this job unpaid, and I’m incredibly thankful I can fight for homeschooled children to be safe and adequately educated. It’s a privilege and an honor, but it’s also just, frankly, a lot. I don’t know if I can keep doing this, but I also know that if I quit it’s not like I’m going to stop paying attention to news stories like the Wolfthal family in Florida, or stop knowing what I know about how often abusers pull their kids out of school in order to torture them and get away with it (hint: it is often).

***

Today, in therapy, we were discussing my job and my Very Big Feelings about it (there’s this bill that is particularly egregious this year, and its proponents are pulling out every trick in the book and fighting extremely dirty), and she asked me what my obstacles usually are.

“Well, usually it goes like so:

  1. A child is tortured and murdered in agonizing, horrifying ways.
  2. People are shocked and ask “how could this happen?” Answer: lax homeschooling statutes abusers can exploit to hide their victims and literally get away with murder.
  3. Someone decides “we have to do something. Children shouldn’t be tortured and murdered.”
  4. The homeschool lobby comes crawling out of the woodwork in numbers never before seen by most legislators in a “shock and awe” campaign.
  5. It works. Legislators or committees or caucuses panic and they table the bill.
  6. A child is tortured and murdered in agonizing, horrifying ways, somewhere else.
  7. Rinse, repeat.”

But surely someone must be working on this, my therapist insisted. Except … no, they’re not. Most child welfare advocates avoid homeschooling with a ten foot pole. To them (and I get this, to an extent), homeschoolers are only 3-4% of the population. If they’re trying to protect children from abuse, it’s better to actually pass a bill that protects 96% of the population instead of trying to protect 100% and failing. CRHE is the only organization that prioritizes the voices and needs of homeschooled childrenand we have no money and no powerful friends.

Unlike others, we haven’t been members of ALEC (the conglomerate that actually writes pretty much every Republican piece of legislation) for decades. Unlike others, we haven’t spent every day since our inception actively traumatizing every member in our community so badly that we can activate their trigger response and weaponize it any time we need it. We’re not writing reports on Presidential commissions, or hosting conferences where presidential hopefuls have to attend, or getting money from some of the most powerful politicians, schools, law firms, and churches in the country.

We have a bunch of unpaid staff and volunteers who were homeschooled ourselves and have somehow lucked into not having to worry about feeding ourselves and putting a roof over our heads and a budget that can’t even cover one part-time person at minimum wage. And not just that, but there are a lot of homeschool graduates out there who could leverage their power, their social capitol, their position, to help us … but they won’t. Because they know from experience exactly how scary it is to face the brunt of this particular community’s viciousness.

***

This has been Raw Honest Time with Samantha.

Children have the right to an education.

Such a simple, simple truth … and yet right now, it seems impossible to make that truth a reality.

Photography by Got Credit
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