Perhaps you are one of the many parents who approach parenting not just as something that happens to you, but as a vocation, a sacred duty, a calling. If you are, I like to think of you as “on-purpose parents.”
Whether you planned to have a family or were surprised by it, if you’re an on-purpose parent, you make it your business to raise your kids according to your deepest beliefs, your inner-knowing. You want to raise kids who are awake, aware, creative, civilized, powerful, joyful, giving, self-directed, and above all, free.
On-purpose parents like us want to show our kids how to live a free and abundant life. For us, the word “mandatory” anything feels intrusive and oppressive, after all, we’ve already taken full responsibility for our children. For a grown adult deeply committed to parenting, hearing that something is “mandatory” raises the hackles. Nevertheless, every parent in Colorado must sign an acknowledgment that school attendance is mandatory in this state.
When I signed the acknowledgement, my internal dialogue went something like this, “Hey, who’s raising these kids? Who’s reading every darned parenting book they can lay their hands on? Not you, Ms. Attendance Clerk. Who’s paying the bills? Not you, Mr. Superintendant. Who’s staying up into the night with their child suffering from an asthma attack? Not you, Mrs. School Board Member. Who’s cooking, cleaning, folding clothes, matching socks, kissing boo boos? Certainly not you, Mr. Governor.
The Government Tells Great Parents What to Do
My BFF Alexis, like me, is an on-purpose parent. She’s also an entrepreneur, a go-getter, an inspiration to woman all over the country who look to her for guidance as they reach for their fullest potential. She’s had to make the call about whether to bring the kids with her on her travels or to find someone here to care for them. She decided to bring them with her and show them the world.
And so, the kids have missed a lot of school—really, a lot. Now the school district has served her with a summons to appear for a hearing to force her to sign a contract that the kids won’t miss any more school this year, backed up by the threat of fines or jail. The summons even said the kids are failing to achieve even the simplest of academic goals (despite the note on one’s report card that said she’s doing really quite well).
Wait. What? Forcing? Can they do that? Can a school district ORDER a parent to keep their kids in school?
Alexis is a good mom. She loves her kids. She feeds them, provides for them, makes sure they have clean clothes and all the activities they could possibly need. She spends time reading to them. She never raises her voice at them. She hugs them many times every day. Yet, she’s being summoned from on high to appear before a truancy liaison who, I’m sure, is just doing her job.
I get it! I really do. I know that kids who have fallen through the cracks could change their future if they showed up at school. I get that kids who are truant are often the kids who suddenly appear at school bruised, emaciated, and emotionally overwrought. I get that truancy is a strong correlate of crime.
Truancy Enforcement in 2010
This year, every parent I know has received a warning from the school when their kid got sick and missed more than three days of school. In our area, this is a huge departure from the practices we’re accustomed to. Here, parents often take their kids out of school for life-enriching activities: music lessons, skiing, travel, participation in groups and events that occur during school hours. School absences have been the norm for these parents who are heavily involved in and direct their children’s schooling.
But no more. We’re no longer “allowed” to take our kids out of school. Instead, we must have a doctor’s note to prove that our child was sick.
Truancy Laws Impact Parental Healthcare Decisions
One of the consequences of the new enforcement is that parents who don’t want their children to be in the sick-care system now have to bring them in to see MDs to get the darned doctor’s note. Once children are in the doctor’s office, doctors will prescribe and treat ailments in the traditional sick-care manner.
Parents who object to Western medicine or who prefer alternative treatments are identified by healthcare workers. Healthcare workers make note of any objection in their charts, providing evidence of unfitness because the parent made a choice different than a doctor’s recommendation.
Many parents have made conscious decisions to avoid the traditional healthcare system for all but serious illness or injury. For these parents, the thought of giving their child an antibiotic “just to be sure” is tantamount to abuse itself because, they believe with good reason, that antibiotics harm children’s growing immune system.
Further, these parents struggle to keep their kids healthy through good nutrition, hydration, exercise and all-around good living. They resist pressure to medicate, preferring instead to treat illness naturally if at all possible. These parents, like me, distrust the healthcare system because it treats symptoms, not the causes of disease.
Being forced to visit a doctor to get a note is not only humiliating to a fit parent, it puts them on the “radar” of the establishment. You might think that being on the radar should not bother a fit parent. Perhaps that would be true, if one could be assured that being on the radar would preserve and support the family unit. But we can’t know that, and that’s why many on-purpose parents shudder at the thought of being in the “System.”
Enforcement of the Truancy Laws Forces Kids into the System.
The System is the governmental radar screen that looks for wayward parents, takes children out of homes, places them in foster care, and makes parents shape up or ship out. The System is composed of each county’s child welfare office, case workers, supervisors, therapists, child-development specialists, investigators, dependency & neglect prosecutors, judges, probation officers, inside and outside therapeutic service providers. Every last one of them are well meaning, thoughtful, educated people. But their job is to protect kids.
The System traditionally has been fed by reports of abuse and neglect primarily from mandatory reporters such as doctors, day care workers, and teachers. But it may now have a new source of dependency and neglect work—truancy cases.
You would think this is a good thing. Often it is. There are kids on the streets who would be better served training their brains to become more than they imagine they can. There are kids who are so distraught with their circumstances that school seems hopeless. Many of these kids can be helped with caring intervention.
But you’ve also heard about the reporting system being used to harass and coerce. What springs to mind are parents who make false accusations against each other to get custody or hurt their former partner. In the same way, the new enforcement of truancy laws are having the effect of harassing and coercing parents to raise their kids the way the state sees fit, not the way a fit parent sees fit.
Truancy proceedings, meant to protect kids from falling through the cracks, will infringe on parents’ obligation to direct and control the education of their kids. These very good parents risk ending up on the state’s radar in both the educational and medical spheres of life. If these parents choose to raise their children in a manner that’s different from the System’s established definition of “good parenting,” they stand a much greater chance of losing their children.
Here’s an example. I have another friend who unschools her kids. Unschooling is different from homeschooling in that unschoolers have no agenda for learning. They learn the world as it comes to them and as they seek it out naturally. Her kids have never been in public school but do spend time in various homeschooling groups. Their main schooling is done through extensive travel. Her kids are smart, lively, engaged in the world. I would be hard pressed to consider these kids neglected or abused. She is taking full responsibility for her kids’ education in the way she has decided is best for them.
Because she’s off the grid, she runs the risk of being put on the grid any time she comes into contact with the state. If she needs to take her kids to the doctor or ER, gets a ticket, files a tax return, registers them for a parks and recreation classes, she’s telegraphing that her kids are not in school. The trouble is, if someone she comes into contact with gets it in their head that her kids are truant or neglected because they don’t go to school, she’s exposed to state scrutiny and the unpredictability of the System. There’s no telling what could happen if someone gets a bee in their bonnet and calls social services.
The issue is not whether the state should intervene. Obviously, truancy can be a symptom of a larger family problem warranting some kind of intervention. Truancy intervention will save some of the kids who would otherwise die at the hands of abusers. The issue is when to intervene and who decides under what circumstances it is appropriate. These decisions are left in the hands of case workers, supervisors, and prosecutors using standards few people know, understand, or trust.
Alexis now has a very important choice to make. Either way, she has to be committed to her course of action. She can homeschool her kids. Or she can have them go to school but only if they don’t miss any more days this year. There is no middle ground. When once the school district honored parents’ choices for enriching their kids’ lives and worked around the lost time at school, parents now must comply with the state’s mandatory attendance policies.
My other friend has made her choice to school her kids in a more natural, child-centered way, Thomas Edison style. I honor her courage in swimming up the cultural stream. It takes a lot of energy and commitment to do it well. Someday maybe it won’t take as much courage or fortitude to stand against the flow. But for on-purpose parents, strength of spirit comes from finding your own way. And that’s a quality we want for our children.
If money were no object, and someone in your family could homeschool your kids, would you? If you knew your kids would receive a good education, socialization, stimulation, and enrichment through homeschooling, would you? Wouldn’t you? If I could, I would. But I can’t.
Such is the life of a single mother.