A California home-school where parents shackled, starved and abused their children is a symptom of a larger disease.
And that disease is privatization.
David Allen Turpin and his wife, Louise Anna Turpin, were arrested after police found the couple’s 13 children living in deplorable conditions in their Perris, California, home.
Some of the children were actually young adults but were so malnourished investigators at first mistook them for minors.
It is a situation that just could not have happened had those children been in the public school system.
Someone would have seen something and reported it to Child Protective Services. But school privatization shields child predators from the light and enables a system where minors become the means to every adult end imaginable.
Let me be clear. Privatization is defined as the transfer of a service from public to private ownership and control.
In education circles, that means home-schools, charter schools and voucher schools – all educational providers that operate without adequate accountability.
We are taking our most precious population – our children – and allowing them to be educated behind closed doors, out of sight from those tasked with ensuring they are getting the best opportunities to learn and are free from abuse.
And since home-schooling operates with almost zero oversight, it is the most susceptible to child neglect and mistreatment.
Children who in traditional public schools would have a whole plethora of people from teachers to counselors to principals to cafeteria workers who can observe the danger signs of abuse are completely removed from the home-school environment.
Home-schooled children receive their educations almost exclusively from parents.
While most moms and dads would never dream of abusing their kids, home-schooling provides the perfect cover for abusers like the Turpins to isolate children and mistreat them with impunity.
It is a situation that at least demands additional oversight. And at most it requires we rethink the entire enterprise as dangerous and wrongheaded.
Charter and voucher schools at least utilize whole staffs of people to educate children. The chances of something like this happening at these institutions is much smaller. However, both types of school also are much less accountable for their actions than traditional public schools.
And that is the common factor – responsibility. Who is being held answerable when things go wrong? At traditional public schools, there is a whole chain of adults who are culpable for children. At these other institutions, the number of people in the hot seat shrinks to zero.
Much of that has to do with the regulations each state puts on privatized schools.
Just look at the regulations governing home-schooling.
In 14 states including Delaware, California and Wisconsin, parents don’t have to do anything but let the school district know they’re home-schooling. That’s it! And in 10 states including Texas, Illinois and New Jersey, you don’t even have to do that!
Kids just disappear without a trace. If no one reports them missing, we assume they’re being home-schooled.
But even in states that appear to be more exacting on paper, the reality is a virtual free-for-all.
Take my home state of Pennsylvania. To begin home-schooling, parents must notify the superintendent, have obtained a high school degree themselves, provide at least 180 days of instruction in certain subjects and maintain a portfolio of their child’s test results and academic records.
That sounds impressive. However, this doesn’t really amount to much in practice because these regulations have few teeth. Hardly anyone ever checks up to make sure these regulations are being met – and they’re only allowed to check up under certain circumstances and only in certain ways and at certain times!
Even when it comes to charter and voucher schools, most states, including Pennsylvania, go little further than that.
Frankly, most of the time we don’t know what happens in charter and voucher schools, because few state governments insist on audits, unscheduled visits or reports.
For instance, though few charter or voucher schools starve, lock up or torture students, many have zero tolerance discipline policies. Few would claim even these controversial behavior management systems sink to the level of some home-school parents who have allegedly withheld food and bound children’s hands with zip ties. But adolescents being forced to sit silently with their eyes looking forward, hands on the table or else receive loud rebukes – as they are in many charter or voucher schools – may qualify as another kind of abuse.
Moreover, all privatized schools can withhold providing a proper education. Home-school parents can refuse to teach their children not just truths about science and history but the basics of reading, writing and math. Likewise, charter and voucher schools can cut student services and pocket the savings as profit. And no one is the wiser because the state has abrogated its responsibility to check up on students or even require they be taught much of anything at all.
Meanwhile, none of this is possible in the traditional public school setting because it must operate in the light of day. It is fully accountable to the public. Its documents are public record. Decisions about how it should be run and how tax dollars are spent are made at open meetings by duly-elected members of the community.
Some, including myself, would argue that the regulations required of public schools by the state and federal government are sometimes too onerous, unnecessary or even just plain dumb. But that doesn’t change the fact that regulations are necessary. It just leaves open the question of which ones.
The bottom line is this: Public school is the equivalent of teaching children in an open room with qualified educators that have proven and continue to prove they have no criminal record and are able and ready to educate.
Privatized schools are the equivalent of teaching children in a closed room with educators who may not deserve the name and may or may not have deplorable criminal pasts.
Looked at in the abstract, no one in their right mind would conceivably suggest the latter is a better educational environment than the former. However, we have been subjected to an expensive propaganda campaign to make us think otherwise.
Look. I’m not saying public schools are perfect. Certainly students can be abused there, too. The media salaciously reports every doe-eyed teacher who stupidly has a sexual relationship with a student – whether it be at a public or privatized school. But in comparison with the worst that can and often does happen at privatized schools, these incidents at public schools are extremely rare (1 in 800,000) and of much less severity.
Though both are bad, there is a world of difference between the infinitesimal chance of being propositioned by your high school teacher and the much more likely outcome of being treated like a prison inmate at 13 by the charter school corporation or being starved, shackled and beaten by your parents!
Human beings aren’t going to stop being human anytime soon. Wouldn’t it be better to entrust our children to an environment with regulations and accountability than letting them go off in some locked room and just trusting that everything will be alright?
Our posterity deserves better than privatization.
They deserve the best we can give them – and that means fully responsible, fully regulated, fully accountable public schools.