Most of us saw the awful case of abuse — which made international headlines in May — done by David and Louise Turpin to their 13 children in California and the subsequent attempt by the state to impose restrictions on every homeschooling family.
The Turpin case causes all of us to experience a powerful, emotional response. And it should. They abused and imprisoned their children for years. What they did is a stain against the humanity of their children and themselves. The Turpins are charged with torture, child abuse, dependent adult abuse and false imprisonment, and David is charged with a lewd act on a child under the age of 14.
However, lawmakers in California decided that the Turpins were not the root problem. Instead, homeschooling itself, in their opinion, deserves the target on its back. Here’s why that’s not right:
Homeschool Regulation Already Exists
In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Coleman and Kathryn Brightbill have articulated the idea that the Turpins were able to get away with their abuse for as long as they did because homeschooling shielded them from accountability. In other words, the lack of rules led to a lack of accountability.
The problem with that thinking is that the Turpins were subject to quite a few rules. Additionally, part of the requirement of operating as a private school, as the Turpins elected to do, is that the fire marshall conducts an annual inspection.
As Matt Walsh wrote for The Daily Wire, “This was not a case of homeschool allowing abusers to cover their tracks. They didn’t cover their tracks. Plenty of people knew, or suspected, yet chose not to act. The abuse continued not because of homeschool, but because of incompetence by the local authorities and cowardice by the neighbors. No law is going to fix either of those problems.”
If they were hiding, it was hiding in plain sight.
Not only is it inaccurate to claim that the Turpins weren’t subject to government-oversight, it also misses the mark. They were subject to that oversight, but the oversight never came.
Additionally, we live in a society where we should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But the drive behind bills like AB 2756 assume that homeschoolers are guilty until proven innocent.
Abusers Don’t Favor One Schooling Type Over Another
It’s worthwhile to also note that if you consider the numbers, the reality is that homeschooled kids are not the ones to be most worried about.
It’s true that across the board, child abuse is a problem within society. The education experts at Concordia University note that, “Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually,” and, “26 percent of children in the U.S. will witness or experience a traumatic event before they turn four.”
But while in their L.A. Times op-ed Coleman and Brightbill are quick to point out the cases of proven homeschool-specific abuse, the research available says that a homeschooled child is less likely to be abused than those in the public school system.
When Doctor Brian Ray overviewed the research available on abuse of school-age children, he went through the available studies and found that the limited research shows that homeschooled kids are less likely to be abused by parents or guardians than those in the general public.
Public schools are highly regulated spaces, and yet there is often a failure to protect kids there. Ray notes Department of Justice numbers that say a mere 5 percent of child abuse cases in schools are reported to law enforcement or child welfare services.
Brian Palmer reports for Slate that about 10 percent of students suffer abuse. That means that 4.5 million kids currently in the public school system have been abused by a teacher or school employee.
Additionally, there are thousands of complaints and injuries reported every year related to childcare facilities.
The point? It’s unfair to claim that the Turpin family is representative of the entire homeschooling community or that kids in the public school system are inherently safer.
How Homeschoolers Fought the Bill
When it came time for the Assembly Education Committee to vote, hundreds of homeschool families filled the capitol; they testified for three hours against the bill.
Jonathan Keller reported for the California Family Council, “Committee Chair, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, remarked ‘this is the longest hearing I’ve ever been a part of.’ and that, “Under intense questioning from Republican Assemblyman Kevin Kiley during the Education Committee hearing, Mr. Medina (the bill’s author) admitted that the bill ‘didn’t actually do very much,’ and he struggled justifying why any member should vote for it.”
There are laws in place to prevent children from being abused, and the ones who don’t follow those laws are abusers. There is no evidence to support the argument that abusers are more likely to homeschool.
What the L.A. Times op-ed and others who claim homeschooling is a “sickening danger” are failing to recognize is that government oversight already existed and didn’t do the job. They’re allowing the rare and heinous to rob from the majority and the normal. They’re saying that the school system, where abusers also abuse, should take the place of the child abuse laws that already exist.
How Homeschoolers Can Move Forward
For the Turpin children, and all others who have faced similar stories, the road to healing will be long and challenging.
As Ashley Linkletter writes for HealthyWay, “Complex PTSD is a result of repeated, inescapable tragedies that are endured over months and years. As a result of natural coping mechanisms in the brain, sufferers of complex PTSD often have the false belief that if the trauma is never spoken about they will be okay. This belief is caused by the disconnect the survivor has placed between themselves and their trauma.”
It is likely that is the reality that will follow the Turpin children for the rest of their lives. While they’re no longer in physical danger, their emotional ability to thrive will now always suffer.
Their story is horrific. It’s a terrible picture of the very worst that mankind can do. But choosing to pile more regulation on top of the already existing regulation is unlikely to change anything except for limiting the opportunities that normal homeschoolers have access to.
The general homeschooling population has reason to celebrate with the rest of the community in California who were able to successfully defend not just their right to homeschool, but also their dignity as homeschoolers. This case should remind us all to speak up when we see injustice, whether it be to our neighbors or to our own rights.