Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Self-Oversight as Christian Transparency and Self-Control

Esther Lucile Brown
Would self regulation and accountability in homeschooling truly prove to be a bad thing? Are there any stops between no requirements at all governmental control? Why is self-regulation such an impossible thought?

An Example from the History of Nursing

Though human beings have been caring for the sick as long as there have been people, the modern practice of nursing began during the Crimean War, midway through the 19th Century. The profession functioned very well autonomously after the tradition forged by Florence Nightingale. By the 20th Century however, nurses became low cost laborers who served at the discretion of physicians, and nursing care became something of an amenity that was included with room and board. Hospitals also subsumed the training of nurses, downplayed the need for academic training, and focused on practical/vocational nursing skills. This contrasted with the tradition that Nightingale and other pioneers of her era built.

In the 1940s, the National Nursing Council consulted the Russell Sage Foundation who appointed Esther Lucile Brown, a Yale trained social anthropologist, to investigate the profession. Her excellent and influential work profoundly shaped the profession through her series of books including Nursing for the Future. Along with studies of social work as a profession and the education of lawyers, she wrote an amazing book entitled, From Custodial to Therapeutic Care of Patients in Mental Hospitals. Before and during World War II, she worked to rescue a large number of refugees from Nazi prison camps by arranging placement for them within American universities. She was an amazing woman of valor and compassion who affirmed human dignity.

Along with her extensive contributions to the practice of nursing, she recommended that nursing education be moved out from under the control of hospitals and into the university setting. By making this move, nursing could again seize the autonomy under which it originally thrived, and it could self-govern. If the governance of nursing practice remained under the dictates of the hospital system, it could not preserve its own best interests (with the nurse as the chief advocate for the best interests of the patient). Nursing could then remain focused on holistic care of patients as individuals in need as opposed to more utilitarian influences of costs and profits. (A British physician once told me that they have a saying there that “the nurse is the soul of the doctor.” I was taught that while doctors attend to illnesses, it is the nurse who attends to the person.) The move to the university transformed nursing from a vocational or low-skill occupation into meaningful profession which already had a well developed code of humanitarianism and beneficent ethics.

How Does this Translate to Homeschooling?

I cannot help but think of the recommendation of Brown who urged the fledgling profession of nursing to move out from under the hospital system. It didn't happen right away, and it really took almost fifty years for the hospital school of nursing to become an institution of the past. The change was such a great one that it required two generations of work before the profession could assert itself enough to transcend the culture. Nursing as a body faced a challenge, and its leaders rose to it by setting their own standards and by developing their own voice so that they could govern their own practice.

In the previous post, I asked parents who worked to build homeschooling freedoms to consider that they could well lose the fruit of their labors if they failed to address the deficiencies in the system. Every system has strengths and weaknesses, so this call to responsible concern is not a repudiation of homeschooling. It is quite the opposite.

I feel more like Esther Brown conveying the message to start setting standards from within before someone else with a different agenda intrudes and begins to set standards from outside. Homeschooling parents could remain the “soul of homeschooling” as analogous to the saying in Britain that the nurse serves as the “soul of the physician.” They would not have to relinquish to any government agency that which they were already performing independently and privately.

I also thought of the Christian virtue of self-control – a fruit of the Spirit of which the Apostle Paul wrote of often. As individuals, we are called to be temperate and to live so that our witness brings no shame upon the name of Christ. We are called to be living epistles to be read and known of all men. I think that a reasonable place for homeschooling's “Old Guard” to start as a group begins with cooperation with the Second Generation Adult who experienced high demand homeschooling.

Would it be worth seeking out the expertise of another Esther Lucile Brown who could make unbiased observations from outside of the movement, possibly improving homeschooling to the degree that Brown's report helped the practice of Nursing in 1948?

Why is Accountability Considered to be “Anti-Homeschooling”?

I found this post by Libby Anne to be quite helpful and honest, noting that she's also not “anti-homeschooling” any more than I am.
Homeschooling accountability would not be “devastating” to homeschooling. If having your child either take an annual standardized test or put together a portfolio of what he or she has learned that year would be “devastating” to your homeschooling, you’re probably doing this whole homeschooling thing wrong. If you think barring convicted sex offenders and child abusers from homeschooling would be “devastating” to homeschooling, we need to have a talk. Seriously, put down your swords and read CRHE’s policy recommendations. This isn’t about educational method—even unschoolers should have no problem creating a portfolio at the end of the year. This isn’t about profiling homeschoolers—sex offenders and child abusers can’t teach in public schools, either. This is about protecting the wellbeing and interests of homeschooled children. 
And good gravy, homeschooling parents, you have got to stop placing more value on your reputation as a homeschool parent than on protecting homeschooled children from abuse and neglect. Priorities! Oh and also? Stop knocking homeschool grads who are trying to make homeschooling better for current and future generations of homeschoolers. We’re not your enemy. We’re simply putting what you taught us into practice and trying to make this world a better place.

Fear-mongering Over Accountability?

I concur with Libby Anne, and I understand that in the past, HSLDA did sponsor voluntary programs that helped parents with proficiency testing, screening for learning disabilities, and the like, but it was not profitable. Instead, they moved to just including strong standards against neglect and abuse in their membership documents which parents are required to sign. (I'm taking this veteran mom at her word, BTW, and I have no supporting documentation.) The subject came up with this friend of mine when discussing possible ways of extending help to those whom I will call “underserved” populations within Evangelical Christian homeschooling.

Why couldn't parents in each state raise funds (or get the Daddy Warbucks of homeschooling to donate them) to set up private centers in each state for screening for those families who volunteered. It would not capture the people who are seen as the fringe at the margins who are believed to need the most help, but it would be a step in the right direction. If government decided that oversight was necessary, all they would need to do would be require participation in the established program which was already run by homeschoolers. They would have the Esther Lucile Brown alternative already in place.

I identify with the underserved homeschooler here as well. There have been questions flying around about what constitutes abuse and where one intervenes. I think that one does so when it is clear that a child is troubled and fails to cope effectively. 

I was one such child in the public school system due to profound signs of depression throughout my childhood and excessive absences (due to somatic health issues all connected with stress). Though I could not seek those options until I could do so myself as a nineteen year old when I could provide my own transportation and payment, the “government school” identified me as gifted but also as high risk. They recommended that my family place me in therapy. Elements of that history validated me and helped me find the confidence to seek out support in clinical counseling when I finally had the choice and means.

Let me stress emphatically that the public school system and the psychologist who worked with me occasionally at the school never reported my parents to Child Protective Services. I viewed that therapist as a resource who gave me some hope. In my case and in this respect, the public school was not the rabid bully that they are made out to be within Homeschooling circles.

Perhaps I could have shared my sexual abuse experience with that therapist, finding help for the situatuation in the thick of the abuse. (I experienced the greatest difficulty at the same time that the school system spoke with my parents about the matter.) Instead, my parents chose to place me in the Accelerated Christian Education school system, for many of the same reasons parents today choose to homeschool. That environment was certainly better for and felt much safer for me, but it didn't address my emotional issues which persisted for me at the Christian school. I survived, but in hindsight, I wish that I'd had a safe advocate to protect me from abuse then. I would have suffered different traumas no doubt, but I also would have realized a powerful message that I was a person of great value who deserved an advocate, witness, and ally if not justice.

None of this means that I'm hard hearted over how things played out for me or that I hold any animosity towards my parents. They were perhaps more trapped emotionally by fear than I was at the time. I have empathy and compassion for them, but that differs from my desire to see other children spared isolation from resources. My parents did act in what they thought was my own best interests, and I am eternally grateful to them for that. But I would hope that with the benefit of my testimony here that it can encourage parents to seek to do even better than my own parents did.