The Washington Times
October 24, 2003

Editorial: The Dark Side of CBS

The Washington Times
October 24, 2003
by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

"CBS Evening News" aired a two-part story by Vince Gonzales on October 13 and 14, titled "A Dark Side to Home Schooling" and "Home Schooling Nightmares."

In more than 20 years of advocacy on behalf of homeschooling, the Home School Legal Defense Association has seen lots of negative stories about home education. Nothing, however, compares with this series in terms of distorting the truth about home education.

The message of the CBS report was that families homeschool to hide child abuse. To make its case, CBS reported on a few horrific tragedies. Notably absent was any attempt to compare child-abuse rates in home-education households to national rates. Even more alarming was that the examples used did not support the network's case. The families highlighted in the program already were well-known to social services agencies. The existing laws were sufficient to bring the family's difficulties to the light of day.

If CBS truly had investigated this issue, the network would have come to the following conclusion: Homeschooling is not a source of child abuse or endangerment, but actually a better environment for children.

According to the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 903,000 children were victimized in America, a rate of 12.4 per 1,000, in 2001, the most recent year for which statistics are available. More than half of these victims suffered neglect (57 percent), nearly one fifth (19 percent) were physically abused, and 10 percent were sexually abused. Fatalities resulting from child abuse occurred at a rate of 1.81 per 100,000 children (about 1,300 children).

There are no statistics specifying how many of these abused children were educated at home. Certain realities are apparent, however. Our estimate of the number of children being home schooled is 2 million. Applying the rate of abuse to the homeschool population results in an estimate that there should be 24,800 children who would have been abused in 2001. This is a staggering figure. Applying the same reasoning to fatalities, there should be over 36 deaths a year of homeschooled children. Given the scrutiny of homeschooling by neighbors, relatives, and the general public, it seems impossible that abuse is occurring at anything near the national average.

One of the unfortunate consequences of this news report is that some people might believe it and use the anonymous tip procedures available to report homeschool families for abuse and neglect without any factual basis. Child Protective Services is obligated to follow-up on these reports and homeschool families may face unwarranted harassment. This already happens all too frequently to families all across America. More important, real abuse could be missed because the system may be clogged with false reports.

CBS didn't stop at reporting a distorted story; the report also suggested several regulatory ideas which would address the problems it had supposedly uncovered. One of the suggestions was to subject homeschool parents to criminal background checks. Parents who choose to raise their own children in their own home would have to undergo a thorough evaluation by a government agency. Americans rejected totalitarianism long ago.

CBS points out that in most states, teacher certification is not required for homeschool families. Why would any sensible person want to prevent dedicated and successful parents from teaching their own children at home by forcing parents to gain a government mandated teacher certification?

Numerous studies demonstrate that homeschoolers outperform their peers academically and a new study from the National Home Education Research Institute answers the question surrounding the socialization of homeschool graduates. Homeschool graduates were found to be succeeding in all walks of life.

The truth is that homeschools are not havens of abuse, but rather the leading edge of excellence in American education. CBS' failure to present a fair and unbiased view of home education reveals the dark side of CBS.