49 Comments

Thank you for this analysis! There's another fallacy on display here too, a flavor of the Nirvana fallacy, where people neglect to compare proposals against each other, instead comparing all but the status quo to an impossible ideal. Somewhere between 10% and 80% of students are abused in public schools, depending on how you define it. If parents are trying to pull their child out of school, I imagine odds are much higher the kid is being abused there. So if they're judged unsuitable by the state, that means forcing a child back into the situation they were trying to escape from, not some mythical place where everybody is safe.

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I was thinking something similar. The abuse rate in schools, especially public schools, is significant. How can you ignore that if you're going to make a comparison?

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Jun 25Liked by Erik Hoel

Homeschooling is definitely a mixed bag.

On one hand, you have kids reaching their maximum potential with one-on-one tutoring.

On the other, you have illiterate teenagers.

Regardless of the abuse statistics, which seems like a nothingburger, I think some sort of wellness checks on their education level wouldn't be a bad thing to implement.

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Each state is different and has different rules for homeschooling, our state required annual academic assessment. Many old time homeschoolers fought hard to keep government out of their homeschools. I hope current day homeschoolers would fight any kind of “wellness checks”! I homeschooled in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. Kiddo graduated from a well known engineering school and is employed as an Aerospace engineer.

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I homeschooled in the same time frame, and my daughter got her BA at 19 from UC Berkeley. But there are lots of children for whom "homeschooling" does equal bible classes and household chores-- and some sort of oversight would be very beneficial in those cases.

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But how do you sort through all the families homeschooling without incredible intrusion to privacy?

I don’t see anything wrong with bible classes and chores. You got to raise your kid the way you saw fit. Same for me. Why is it wrong for those families? 14th Amendment, equal protection under the law.

Where I live now there are hundreds of Amish families, all homeschool and those children are some of the healthiest, happiest I’ve ever had the pleasure to talk to.

I lived in Utah and there was some Mormon/LDS extremism, but again, who decides?

Just because their way of life doesn’t match yours, doesn’t mean it needs to be regulated.

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I would argue that equal protection under the law means that all children have the right to a genuine education. Bible verses and chores are fine in addition to math, history, literature, science, art, music, etc. However, on their own they don't constitute an education and don't provide children with the opportunities they deserve. Just as parents are required to feed and house their children, they should be required to make sure that at least a basic minimum level of educational attainment is reached.

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Jun 26Liked by Erik Hoel

I think this would justify "wellness checks" on kids who are doing poorly in school (and there are lots of kids who graduate as functionally illiterate), which would mean low-income families being regularly "checked" to see what they're doing wrong. And the fact is that just like homeschooling, conventional school can be the wrong place for kids to get their best education.

I'm not against wellness checks when there's reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect, but absent that, civil rights have to be considered.

I'm sure we agree it's a complex problem.

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We homeschool and our kids are generally way ahead of their public school grade level, but I’d still view some sort of standardized welfare check on us or them to be completely unacceptable and a massive infringement upon my rights as a citizen. And also easily weaponized.

If there is not some obvious evidence of criminal behavior or neglect, then the family is sovereign.

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I completely understand your concerns about privacy and government interference in homeschooling. It’s important to protect the rights of families to educate their children in the way they see fit.

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Some people would say neglecting bible verses and chores is academic neglect.

I hear what you’re saying but the original thought here was oversight of some element of one family’s opinion of what an education is. That’s an invitation to a government entity to tell you how to raise your kids and for me that’s not OK nor should it be encouraged or supported.

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I agree that all children deserve a well-rounded education to have opportunities for success.

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Why? You obviously don’t understand or believe in the constitution and the First Amendment. Get thee to Venezuela or North Korea & don’t pollute this country.

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That’s impressive that your daughter was able to get her BA at 19 from UC Berkeley. Oversight can definitely be important in ensuring quality education for all homeschooled children.

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What complicates this is the fact that the institution doing the "checks" regularly graduates students who are functionally illiterate. And what the institution requires of students is often a useless waste of their time.

A little more radically, I don't think an institution which insists that all kids should be learning the same subjects in the same ways at the same ages and progressing at the same rates is qualified to check on the quality of anyone's education.

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Imma throw this out here:

You have illiterate teenagers in public school too.

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We have a high percentage of illiterate teenagers in government schools, who are not only illiterate but also indoctrinated by the child abusers and kiddie diddlers that infant the government school systems (in addition to some wonderful dedicated teachers)

I would rather that the illiterates weren’t indoctrinated, myself.

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Thanks Erik for looking more deeply into the false link presented by the Scientific American. As a homeschool advisor and coordinator of various programs over the years I can attest that there is no single form of home education and academic performance varies widely along the spectrum of curricular choices (ranging from highly structured classical education to unschooling). It is frustrating when powerful publications overlook essentials such as base rate and in doing so taint a growing educational movement.

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your roadmap through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.”

- John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down - The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

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Jun 25Liked by Erik Hoel

And quality of homeschooling isn't tied to any specific curricular choice. As a teacher and former homeschooling mother, we knew families who had wonderful outcomes using many different approaches, including unschooling. That said, I have always been a believer that some gentle oversight (whether that comes in the form of testing or simply in interviewing homeschooled children) is a great idea to prevent cases where "homeschooled" actually means "ignored."

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Jun 25Liked by Erik Hoel

Regarding the CPS calls: I was a little surprised but upon further reflection I decided it tracked if it's including initial contacts. I know parents who have had CPS called on them for letting their kids play outside in their own yard, and we were threatened with a CPS call when we wanted to go home from the hospital after our son's birth (then there was a shift change and the new doctor had no problem with it, hooray!) All it takes are a few cranks who like feeling powerful and/or hate children. Depending where you live, there might be more or fewer of them.

Thankfully the social workers themselves who follow up have been mostly reasonable people who are annoyed by these types of calls and can easily tell that these parents are loving and their kids are safe. That might not be the case everywhere. It's still an invasive process. Who wants a stranger going through their refrigerator and looking under beds, no matter how clean your house is, much less one who has the authority to take your kids away?

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These sort of panics have been going on for a very long time. As you've pointed out, maybe SciAm needs to hire more homeschooled kids to bolster their analytics. I'm one of those homeschooling parents and it started during COVID and we found it worked, so we keep doing it.

We are one of those families where my kids get.

1:1 with us

Tutor support for certain topics

Online classes

In-person co-op

This is facilitated, in part, because Arizona recently opened up their ESA program where I get the state allocation of education funding for each of my three children to supplement their education. I can pay for the tutors, online classes, and in-person in a tailored way.

And my kids are far ahead of their peers, get to do things and go places and see things their peers can't. They also only spend about 3-4 hrs a day in their academics freeing up even more time for art, experiments, writing, and play. It's amazing.

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Jun 26Liked by Erik Hoel

I myself was homeschooled (from 6th grade on) and did pretty well with it: 1510 SAT and now a VP of Pricing for an industrial tools company. And we've homeschooled our kids, three of whom have now graduated high school (and one just graduated college, while the second wrapped up her second year.)

That said, I'd agree with the "mixed bag" comments. Homeschooling families come in all types, and some are far better at it that others. As it becomes increasingly common, it would make sense that it would also become increasingly average in performance.

However, what inspired me to comment is actually the child protective services point. Depend on how that 37% is defined, it doesn't necessarily shock me, and that's one of the reasons why among more "free range" type parents you get the strong emotions about CPS.

On the one hand, having friends and relatives who have worked as paramedics, a lot of CPS calls relate to serious neglect as a result of parents who are strung out on drugs and not paying much attention to their kids.

On the other, it can be easy to get frivolous calls for being what not that long ago would have been called a normal parent. We had CPS called on us when one of our boys was three years old, because he'd let himself out one of the doors during the day and was sitting under the tree in the front yard watching for trucks to drive by on our sleepy one lane street. Some well intentioned (eyeroll) person walking by proceeded to call both the police and CPS. The kid was back in the house before either arrived. The police shrugged it off in minutes, but CPS insisted on inspecting the whole house, seeing if we had food, seeing the kids beds, interviewing all the kids, and then interviewing both of us parents. It was a terrible experience and really upset some of the older kids having a stranger poking through their lives like that. The end result: CPS provided us with a "best practices" sheet which informed us that if our kids found it too easy to open the door and get outside, we should use a safety lock.

All of which is to say: some totally normal event, combined with a nosy stranger, can results in a CPS investigation even when there is no reason to suspect abuse. We're now one of those homeschooling families that has been investigated by CPS, and I know enough other families which have had similar frivolous visits that it doesn't shock me that that combined with the kids who truly are neglected could start to stack up to a third.

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Extreme pedantry: it's Erdős not Erdös, Hungarian has an eclectic range of umlaut vowels. (Why yes, I have Erdős number 3, why do you ask? ;))

On a less pedantic note: thanks for this. There is clearly so much class bias here in addition to facepalm worthy base rate neglect.

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author

Ty for catching that - fixed

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While your point about base rates is correct, I'm not sure that you can just say percentages of 6 percent of the population are similar to total population. I'm not saying you have the data, but to do a real base rate you'd need to figure out the demographic profile and then somehow disaggregate the total population's demographics. If, for example, total population CPS reports cluster around certain populations that are underrepresented in the Home School population, it wouldn't be quite like to like.

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Agree it's not exactly like-to-like. Ideally the investigation would have included the base rate of "Connecticut children in the same school districts who were *not* withdrawn to be homeschooled." Unfortunately they didn't. The demographics might indeed be different. One could run through those, e.g., Connecticut residents might be less likely overall to be subject to reports. But then public school members moreso. And the numbers are slightly different too, the CPS nationwide number is per kid, while the Connecticut investigation is per family, so should be higher. But it would have to be a significant effect to juke the numbers one way or another away from the national average. So just as it stands, the Connecticut investigation doesn't seem like it provides any abuse link evidence without some further very good reason why we should expect the numbers to be much much lower than national average to begin with.

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Jun 28Liked by Erik Hoel

I’m a parent in Connecticut who has had a DCF report and also pulled my kid to homeschool.

First, note that it says DCF *reports.*. Not confirmed cases of abuse.

In Connecticut, *89 percent of reports to DCF are unfounded.*

Here is what we were “reported” for: We got home late from vacation on a Tuesday night. The kids still wanted to go to a sports camp we had signed up for the next day that was at our parochial school. I had no clean clothes but some old gym uniforms stained in art class and no food but some yogurt and granola bars from the car trip. They wore the old uniforms and packed yogurt and granola for lunch. I TOLD the coach of the camp we just got home and laughed that we would be ‘more together’ tomorrow.

The next day a social worker showed up at my house to ‘investigate neglect.’

The reporter had been a 21 year old assistant coach. White. Female. Suburban. Headed off to an elite grad school. Future AWFL Karen. You know the type.

Anyway, my one daughter was so traumatized by this that over the next year she sunk into depression and to make a long story short she can’t function in school anymore and doesn’t trust other adults and we are shelling out thousands of dollars in therapy and now I homeschool all my kids through a hybrid program where thank God they at least get to see children twice a week.

Mandated reporting destroyed my children’s trust in other adults. That’s why we have to homeschool after a DCF report.

Not because we are ‘hiding abuse’ but because the system is abusive.

Absolutely F anyone who thinks that we should have to ask the permission of the same system that screwed us over to raise our own children.

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Jun 27Liked by Erik Hoel

As a former homeschool student (I never once set foot in a public or private school) who was abused, I must admit, I can’t look at this objectively. My siblings and I were abused and neglected; there is no doubt in my mind that our parent’s choice to homeschool us was connected to the abuse. It sheltered them from prying eyes who could have reported. Even when the police were called on my father, CPS was not involved. This is both a failure of CPS, legislation around the protection of children and homeschooled children specifically, and frankly, the social norms that discourage people from criticizing obviously poor parenting.

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Me too. I think this is an example of where statistics don't tell the whole story, because a lot of abuse is simply never recognized or reported, especially in cases where the abuse is mainly emotional and preventing the child from having access to outside resources. There are whole categories of abuse that are far easier to perpetrate in the US than most other countries; that alone should be enough to tell us that policy needs to change, particularly as we now have far-right politicians defending things as insane as child labor and child marriage.

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Well said! The isolation was brutal. The little social exposure we did have was marred by walking on eggshells due to the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. We were taught from a very young age to “never talk about how you are being raised.” Even down to being told that if we did say the wrong thing, people would come and take us away. It’s madness.

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Jun 26·edited Jun 27Liked by Erik Hoel

This was a strange issue for Scientific American to focus on. Educational neglect is a bigger issue than “abuse,” as they’re defining it, at least in my experience. I was homeschooled in the 1990s from K-12 and, despite all the good intentions, had an extremely anemic education. It took me years (plural) to catch up to where I should have been. I was *significantly* behind other kids my age who went to a “government school.”

I’ve met some homeschoolers who had the opposite experience: they were geniuses, it seemed, who got scholarships to prestigious universities, graduated two years early, etc. In my case, “graduating” meant driving myself to a testing center, taking a GED, and then enrolling at the local community college and paying for multiple semesters of remedial education to try to catch up to where I should have been.

That, I think, is an issue that’s more prevalent and worth focusing on.

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Jun 26·edited Jun 26Liked by Erik Hoel

I write occasionally for Sci Am, so it was tough to read this. I have no experience with the opinion side of the magazine. But I wanted to chime in here to say their fact-checking process for non-opinion, physical science stories in the print magazine is actually one of the most rigorous you'll find in science journalism today. Most pubs don't hire fact-checkers anymore at all. Sci Am does for print stories, not for web-only, but nobody does for web-only. Only one magazine I've written for has a more rigorous fact-checking process — their fact-checkers will actually call sources on the phone to talk to them, like real humans. I've heard tell that back in the days of yore, this was far more common.

Given that context, I still think Sci Am's news side still deserves its reputaiton for factual accuracy — at least compared to most other sources of science news. And stories with overt political tilt overwhelmingly appear the opinion section, not in the news section. Folks complaining that Sci Am is only publishing political stories clearly aren't reading the whole magazine, because the coverage of hard sciences and math is still there, and a lot of it is great.

I'd encourage readers frustrated with the editorial staff of Sci Am or any magazine to start paying attention to the bylines on the stories they actually *do* like — identify a few human writers you trust, and follow their work wherever it appears. A lot of us write for more than one publication. And maybe this is just my professional pride talking, but the writer often has a lot more to do with the quality of a work than the magazine it happens to appear in.

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Jun 25Liked by Erik Hoel

Well done, I really appreciate the additional research and time that went into this important topic. I hope one day we can restructure this system and design schools that parents don’t want to pull kids from. Community is important and we’ve reached a point where parents do not see any value coming from public schools, that is a problem.

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Jun 27Liked by Erik Hoel

It's certainly an important info SciAm missed, but one of the reasons people give for worrying about homeschooling is it places the child in a situation where they aren't having regular contact with mandatory reporters.

That means one would expect, a priori, there to be be fewer reports, because of fewer, infrequent or non existent contact with mandatory reporters. Thus the rates of reports could be identical, but the true rate of abuse could be higher in home ed kids due to under-reporting.

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Focusing on that definitely would have been a better op-ed and I think it would have been a lot more convincing. One thing to note is how according to the study on CPS report rates nationwide only ~20% of reports come from educators. While that's the largest independent chunk of reports, so homeschooling does cut out the largest single pipe in the pipeline, it also means that there would be 4/5s of the report pipeline still intact. While I certainly think one could make the case that in the most extreme circumstances homeschooling is involved for that reason, I do also think there are a surprising number of possible paths to report.

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In Connecticut around 90% of reports from ‘mandated reporters’ are unfounded.

Mandated reporting now means reporting even the normal foibles of family life and every stupid thing kids say as potential signs of “abuse” or “neglect.”

You can’t blame parents for not wanting their children to come into contact with people or a system who think they are legally mandated to “report” even the slightest stupid or off hand comment a kid makes and initiate a process that itself is traumatic on the child and their parents.

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Jun 25Liked by Erik Hoel

On a tangential note, while I wasn't shocked by that CPS rate, it does make me wonder about possibilities for studying a (possible?) decline in the quality of family life with regard to issues like declining birth rate. This is something I feel ought to be in the wheelhouse for pronatalists/cultural conservatives but if there's any lit on it I'm not aware.

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A lot to chew on here.

1. First of all, it's important to foreground what is left unsaid in SciAm's advocacy: namely, that one of the functions of the public school system is to monitor children for signs that their parents are not treating them in accordance with the interests of the state. This may be a defensible, even an admirable purpose, but it is not the stated purpose of public schools and it provides a lot of support for libertarian objections to government mission creep. "All citizens under age 18 must attend a government facility for 8 hours a day for interrogation regarding the conduct of their families within their private homes" sounds like North Korea or East Germany, not the USA.

2. Of course, point (1) above confirms what we already know: that the Wokies regard biological parents and nuclear families as a grave threat to their project of totalitarian ideological conformity. Only properly trained and ideologically committed cadres of ed school grads, drag queens, and other warriors for social justice who intimately understand children's needs should be allowed contact with children. Preferably in private, away from the prying eyes and counter-revolutionary judgment of their parents, where the children's gender expression and sexual preferences can be explored with their new adult friends. (I know I sound insanely paranoid, but this is just an objective recitation of the positions put forward publicly by this movement.)

3. Obviously, SciAm is just one of many previously-trusted brands and institutions that has been brought low by the collapse of journalism and the predations of private equity. It has been hollowed out and auctioned off to a new owner who walks around wearing its skin as a disguise. I remember being shocked when I first saw the new form it had taken several years ago, but these things should no longer shock us. This is the new normal. Skinsuits everywhere. Just look at the ACLU, for god's sake.

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"I know I sound insanely paranoid, but this is just an objective recitation of the positions put forward publicly by this movement."

You are not paranoid. It's not just "positions put forward publicly by this movement", it's actual laws passed in blue states with typically unanimous support from Democrats in the state legislature. For example, most blue states now have laws allowing a child to receive "gender affirming care" against the will of the parents. (Google "trans sanctuary state".)

I have been a registered Democrat for 50 years, but the Republicans are the only serious opposition to this. And if my kids weren't grown, I'd be homeschooling them.

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The transgender movement is likely a huge factor driving homeschooling and also a huge factor driving the desire to regulate homeschooling.

LGBTQ activists literally think that denying a child’s gender and sexuality choices are ‘abusive’.

It’s not even a small step to logically conclude that parents that teach religious morality of any kind or put up any guardrails around their children’s sexual or gender expression are ‘abusive’ even though teaching your children about sexuality and protecting them from the negative consequences of abusing it are some of the most basic and fundamental jobs of a parent as traditionally understood.

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I used to read Scientific American, and found it an interesting, and neutral (i.e., "scientific") mag. Was pretty surprised when, sometime in the last few years, the whole premise of the publication changed drastically. This piece doesn't surprise me, as SA has been, among other "woke" ideals, a strident megaphone for trans ideology, with articles such as:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/pseudoscience-has-long-been-used-to-oppress-transgender-people/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trans-girls-belong-on-girls-sports-teams/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/video/how-junk-science-is-being-used-against-trans-kids2/

-And home schooling, as you say, does NOT lend itself to trans indoctrination, in fact, just the opposite. So they attack the concept with the hope that more kids will be forced into the fold...

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Exactly. The real purpose of smearing homeschoolers and planting the seeds of regulations that will reduce homeschooling is that they don’t like the fact that some kids are outside the reach of their indoctrination. Gender ideology, Marxism, race essentialism, and permanent wealth and power for progressive leaders. Every totalitarian government knows the best way to remake a society with different values is to get to kids when they are young and impressionable and teach them your ideas, while preventing them from being exposed to any dissenting points of view. Occasionally it’s used for good (my grandfather was racist but my mother and most of her generation aren’t because they were exposed to different ideas in school and broader society and rejected the racist views of their parents) but most of the time it’s more like the Hitler youth or the Chinese red guard.

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