This idea may come as a shock to some lawmakers, but every awful situation cannot be remedied by government regulation. Here's another simple lesson that might cause gasps in the state and federal capitols: Sometimes the government overseers, flush with power and lacking in accountability, cause more mayhem than they rectify. Sometimes there just isn't any easy solution for dealing with the human condition.
Those are important points to remember following a troubling news event from last month. In the Riverside County suburb of Perris, police found "13 brothers and sisters who appeared to have been held captive by their parents," with some allegedly found "chained and padlocked to their beds inside the dark and foul-smelling house," according to the Press-Enterprise. Detailed allegations made by prosecutors turned my stomach—and sound like something from a horror movie.
When bad things happen, we find two instinctual reactions. First, there's the natural desire to "do something." Next, policy makers—especially those with particular agendas—follow the advice of the current Chicago mayor, Democrat Rahm Emanuel: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." Unfortunately, the things that are done usually are best left undone.
In this case, David and Louise Turpin, the parents of children who are 2 to 29 years old, were apparently homeschooling their children. This has turned a story about alleged human depravity into a call for tougher oversight of homeschools, which now educate around 2 million students each year throughout the United States. There almost certainly are some bad "schools," but it's wrong to use this case to clamp down on a bright spot in education.
Assemblyman Jose Medina, the Riverside Democrat who represents Perris in the state legislature, told the Press-Enterprise that he is "extremely concerned about the lack of oversight the state of California currently has in monitoring private and home schools." He proposes an annual state inspection of homeschooling residences. Note that Medina is an ally of the California Teachers' Association, the powerful teachers' union that is no friend of homeschooling. In 2008, the CTA praised a court ruling that almost led to the criminalization of non-credentialed parents who taught their children at home.
I recall those age-old battles. California has long had a work-around for homeschools. Such schooling is not specifically protected in the education code, but homeschool parents register their schools with their respective county Department of Education as private schools. In 2002, the state wanted to take control of the certification process. At the time, it insisted that homeschooling (if parents lack an education credential) was "not authorized in California."
That's water under the bridge, and even Delaine Eastin, the superintendent of public instruction at the time and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, now supports homeschooling as an option. But is it any wonder that homeschooling parents, the vast majority of whom do exemplary work, are fearful of renewed oversight by officials who might not always be supportive of their particular educational choice? Who would want officials, and even Child Protective Services, poking around their "schools," which actually are their homes?
I understand the instinctive call for more government oversight and inspections, but who oversees the government overseers?
The CPS system isn't exactly unblemished. Orange County was forced to pay $9.6 million—its largest liability judgment ever—after a mother "alleged that social workers used fabricated evidence to cause a court to remove her two daughters from her custody for six and a half years," according to an Orange County Register report. A 2014 report from the California State Auditor found myriad problems in some county child welfare agencies. The Los Angeles County agency has been the source of serious problems for years. It's not unfounded to fear having these folks looking around your home.
A little more perspective is in order. Last year, the Associated Press reported that "Across the U.S., thousands of students have been sexually assaulted, by other students, in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools—a hidden horror educators have long been warned not to ignore." We can find all sorts of horrific incidents involving the state's system of public education. Presumably there's no lack of inspections at public schools. Indeed, public-school inadequacy and failures are the main reasons that homeschooling has grown dramatically in recent years.
It's fortunate that the authorities intervened on behalf of the kids in Perris. But it's wrong to use this situation as a pretext to empower agencies that can't even get their own houses in order. The final word goes to Home School Legal Defense Association, as quoted by KQED: "We can't prevent evil and trying to prevent it by taking away the freedom of law-abiding people is not a price our society should pay."
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.