This post links to and briefly summarizes two recent child custody cases where homeschooling plays an important role. The topic is important for several reasons. First, these are the kind of cases that homeschooling advocacy groups like HSLDA know better than to get involved in, so they don’t. Because of this lack of involvement they are not the kind of cases that are generally publicized in the homeschooling community, which is a shame because they get at some important and often painful realities. Second, these cases help explain why the debate over the competing rights of parents, state, and child is not going to go away. Third, they offer a window into the real world of homeschooling that one never reads about in the how-to books. Of course we must be quick to note that the stories recounted in these court cases are by no means typical or normal. It would be a terrible mistake to generalize about the entire world of homeschooling from these troubling and sordid examples. But it would be an equally terrible mistake to pretend that such things are not going on as we work out public policy. These are not isolated instances, as this post from Roscommon Acres and the related posts at the end of it make plain. Here are the cases:
First we have In re Savannah S. et al., a case filed in July of ’09 by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. You can read the entire decision here. The decision terminated a mother’s parental rights to her four adopted children due to abundant evidence of horrific sexual abuse. Though described in a measured, legal tone, the details of the case are heart-breaking. I especially want to stress in this review one important piece of evidence provided by the mother herself. After it became clear to her that outsiders were becoming aware of what was happening to her children because of their presence in public school, the mother took action. Here are her own words:
I didn’t threaten to. I, actually, took them out of school…. Because I spoke at work to some of the other nurses and they were homeschooling [sic]. At that time, I had no idea the children were going to be removed from my home, so I thought it would be better to homeschool [sic] her, rather than to go through this, going to school and telling whatever she — you know, she told, you know. I guess it was my way of trying to solve the problem.
I doubt anyone who takes the time to read through the horrors to which these children were subjected in the home of this family will feel very comfortable arguing for the unlimited and exclusive right of this parent to raise her children as she sees fit.
Now for the second case. A few months ago I devoted a series of posts (here) to Kathryn Joyce’s fascinating book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. A recent case in Kentucky, Gertler v. Gertler, illustrates what can happen when a “Titus 2” woman decides she’s had enough patriarchy and wants out.
The full decision of the Kentucky Court of Appeals can be found here. The Gertlers were married in 1996 and have four children. The couple embraced a very rustic lifestyle, with no electricity or hot water, no medical or dental care for the kids, home-spun modest clothing made by Mrs. Gertler, and a general commitment to the principle that the wife should submit to the husband in all things.
IN 2007 Mrs. Gertler had had enough and filed for divorce, seeking sole custody of the children. A lower court granted her request, in part “because Mr. Gertler was unable to accept his wife’s equal authority in decision-making” as Kentucky law for joint-custody requires. The father appealed, arguing that the mother had, earlier in the marriage, agreed to be submissive in all things and that the “essence of good parenting” requires that the father be the decision maker and rule setter. The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s ruling that the father’s beliefs made it unlikely that he would, now or in the future, be able to work with the mother in crafting an amicable upbringing for their children and hence concurred that the mother should be given full custody. She has since re-entered the mainstream world even to the point of getting a job at the Christian school to which she now sends her children.
It’s a fascinating story, even in the terse form it’s told in the court’s ruling. Anyone out there looking for a great subject for a human interest story on women leaving the Quiverfull lifestyle might want to give Mrs. Gertler a call.