CBS News Links Homeschooling to Murder and Abuse
- Friday, October 17, 2003
The CBS Web site promoted the story this way:
Home schooling is becoming an educational option for more and more families across the country, but is it also keeping abused and neglected children away from the eyes of authorities? Our Vince Gonzales will take a look in tonight's Eye on America, and he'll bring us the story of a household in North Carolina where kids hidden from public sight met a tragic end.
Leading up to, and during the course of, the CBS Evening News, CBS touted their story this way: "The Trouble with Homeschooling," "Child Abuse Undetected," and "Eye on America investigates a dark side of homeschooling."
Dan Rather opened the October 13, CBS Evening News report on homeschooling with these remarks:
An estimated 2 percent of children in this country get their schooling at home. You've heard the success stories and there are many. This homeschooled child won a big spelling bee; that child, a geography bee; and most parents involved in homeschooling have their children's best interests at heart. But in an Eye on America investigation, CBS's Vince Gonzales uncovered a dark side to this largely unregulated system of education.
The Dark Side of Homeschooling?
Just what is this "dark side" that CBS uncovered? Hal Young, president of North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE), was interviewed by a CBS correspondent about two weeks ago and said this:
Originally, they (CBS) planned to use a sensational North Carolina case from 2001 to illustrate their thesis: families with abusive or criminal tendencies may go undetected if they are homeschooling; i.e., not under the daily scrutiny of the public school system. However, the producer told me on Friday that the report had been expanded to include cases from other states.
In the North Carolina case, about two years ago a teenager killed his brother and sister, then himself; the news media immediately reported this as a homeschooling family. As the case developed, it was reported that the family had relocated from Arizona, where they had a conviction on child abuse charges in the early 1990s. In the several years before the tragedy, they had been homeschooling for a time, but dropped out of compliance with the law and were presumed truant from that point.
Social services had contacted them on numerous occasions due to complaints from neighbors (unsanitary living conditions) and had threatened to remove the three children from the family. There were no parents in the home at the time of the deaths; all three victims were teenagers.
After the deaths, the parents were tried on various charges, but the only conviction was a misdemeanor for improper storage of firearms; charges of neglect or abuse were dismissed.
What a tragic story! In a tragedy like this, everyone looks to assign blame – and there is plenty of blame to go around. But were these tragic deaths caused by homeschooling as Gonzales implies in his coverage?
During the course of the report, Gonzales referred to this family, the Warrens, as a homeschooling family, even though the family had not been in compliance with the homeschool law for years. Gonzales had obviously made up his mind that this tragedy was indeed caused by homeschooling.
At one point during the CBS story, Vince Gonzales asks Marcia Herman-Giddens, a member of the state task force that reviewed the Warren case, this question: "The laws in North Carolina, do they protect children who are being homeschooled?"
Ms. Herman-Giddens replied, "I don't think they protect children because there is virtually no oversight."
The task force (on which Herman-Giddens served) concluded this: homeschool laws "allow persons who maltreat children to maintain social isolation in order for the abuse and neglect to remain undetected."
1. The Warren family had discontinued compliance with the North Carolina homeschool law and were presumed truant from that point. They were law-breakers, not homeschoolers. To blame this tragedy on homeschooling would be like blaming the public schools for every crime committed by students who had ever attended a public school. The premise is absurd. Besides, we have laws on the books to deal with truancy – whether children are truant from public schools, private schools, or homeschools.
2. The CBS Web site teaser promises that Vince Gonzales will "bring us the story of a household in North Carolina where kids hidden from public sight met a tragic end. " Yet the Warren children were obviously not kept out of public sight. The problems in the Warren home had been noticed repeatedly by neighbors who had turned them in to social services. The problems had been very public. Social services, according to Hal Young of NCHE, had even threatened to remove the Warren children from their home.
Bad logic leads to bad conclusions. According to Dan Rather, the goal of the story is to increase the regulations governing homeschooling. Remember his lead-in for the story? "CBS's Vince Gonzales uncovered a dark side to this largely unregulated system of education."
But would increased homeschool regulations have prevented the Warren family tragedy?
No. We have already established that Nissa and Kent Warren were criminals. They had broken the law in Arizona and in North Carolina. They were not currently homeschooling, so tightening up homeschooling laws would have had no bearing on them whatsoever.
The Supreme Court Has Spoken
The CBS story's basic premise is that all homeschool families must be more heavily regulated because two (non-homeschooling) parents engaged in egregious activity. Certainly, no sane, caring person could ever condone child abuse. This story is a tragedy and must be viewed as such.
But the United States Supreme Court, in Parham v. J.R. (442 U.S. 584) has already spoken on such issues, and the High Court did not decide in favor of Rather's logic.
The law's concept of the family rests on a presumption that parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life's difficult decisions. More importantly, historically it has been recognized that natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children.
As with so many other legal presumptions, experience and reality may rebut what the law accepts as a starting point; the incidence of child neglect and abuse cases attests to this. That some parents "may at times be acting against the interests of their children"…creates a basis for caution, but is hardly a reason to discard wholesale those pages of human experience that teach that parents generally do act in the child's best interest…
The statist notion that governmental power should supersede parental authority in all cases because some parents abuse and neglect children is repugnant to American tradition.
The Gruesome Sequel
On October 14, we can expect more bad logic and bad conclusions from the CBS evening news. At the end of the October 13 Eye on America segment, Vince Gonzales promises more of the same: "Tomorrow, how children nationwide have been put in danger, even killed, while homeschooling."
We need to register our complaints and dissatisfaction with the appropriate personnel at CBS News. Please visit www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/feedback/fb_news_form.shtml. When selecting the proper program, choose "CBS Evening News."
You can also call the CBS comment line at (212) 975-3247, or write to CBS at:
CBS Evening News with Dan Rather
524 West 57th St.
New York, NY 10019
Zan Tyler is the Home School Resource and Media Consultant for Broadman and Holman Publishers and Homeschool Editor for lifeway.com. She and her husband Joe have three children and have been home schooling since 1984.
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