Have you heard the latest story in the “free-range parenting” discussion?
No, no, not the family in Maryland who let their kids walk to the park. I’m talking about the Nauglers – the sweet family of 12 living “off the grid” in Kentucky whose ten children were snatched by DCS because they don’t attend school, and whose mother was jailed for resisting arrest when she wouldn’t just hand over her children.
See? Here they are:
Don’t they look sweet and happy? Well, except for the little one, but really, everyone knows family photo time sucks.
I first read about their plight on a Facebook page for a homeschooling group I’ve joined. The article posted on OffTheGridNews.com shared comments from the family’s friends describing them as “a very happy family” who was being targeted because “the government disagrees with their lifestyle and their educational choices.”
The family lives a “back to basics” lifestyle on 26 acres in rural Kentucky. They are unschoolers, a movement described here by one family friend:
“there is no set curriculum and the education is based on each child’s strength. You let your kids decide the curriculum. In unschooling, education doesn’t take a backseat. It’s listening to what they’re interested in and fascinated in.”
I know a lot of unschoolers. I’m WAY too Type A (or maybe just B+) to do it myself, but it was actually accidental unschooling (see here for that story) that led me to homeschool again after a two and a half year hiatus. The basic premise of unschooling is that, given a rich educational environment including plenty of books, resources, and experiences, a child will naturally gravitate towards the things to which she has a natural inclination or innate curiosity. Through learning about these things, and gathering the life experiences inherent in following those passions, she will naturally and organically learn, or be led to study, the requisite skills (mathematics, science, reading, history) that most of us consider necessary for an adequate education. Additionally, since the learning is self-directed and passion-driven, the child has the room and motivation to excel in any subject. It’s a lovely philosophy and I’m too much of a worrier to make it work for my family.
Still, homeschooling, even unschooling, is legal in Kentucky. In fact, I looked and KY law requires that “reading, writing, spelling, grammar, history, mathematics, and civics” be taught but expressly forbids government intervention in determining how well those subjects are taught.
So, in the example of the unschooling, goat-raising Nauglers, a day’s education could consist of: Reading: I love goats. Writing: Goats are better than lawnmowers because they fertilize the grass while cutting it. Spelling: fertilize. Grammar: “We have many goats,” not “We has many goats.” History: In 1918 a law was passed requiring all students to complete an elementary education. Mathematics: Look, the mama goat had twins! 12 goats + 2 goats = 14 goats! Civics: We should lobby for more laws protecting unschoolers, oh, and goats.
Hazzah! A full “curriculum” in 90 seconds and a whole day to explore what delights you.
Learning this, I figured there had to be something wrong with this story.
I was right.
It turns out that these adorable family photos –
are a representation of the most “civilized” part of this family’s life. Evidently, the family was brought to the attention of authorities by a neighbor who had a run-in with the father while the father was stealing water – the family has no running water. The father allegedly pulled a knife on the neighbor and told one of his ten children to “bring me my gun.”
Interestingly, that’s not a detail that was shared by the author of the “Off the Grid” post. It’s also most likely not mentioned on the family’s GoFundMe page which has now raised 40k (4x the goal) for legal defense. It’s also unlikely that that page mentions that the father of this family has been convicted of passing bad checks and other smaller crimes.
I discovered this information by Googling the story. Let’s just say my “innate curiosity and passion for knowledge” led me to investigate. I found a follow up article on DailyMail.com. I hate to be presumptuous, but I imagine Daily Mail is the polar opposite of Off the Grid. Then again, with super-super-conservatives, as both appear to be, it’s sometimes difficult to determine how many poles there are…
In any event, the Daily Mail article did provide an entirely different take on the story, as well as a compilation of other images.
Here are a couple pictures of the Naugler’s “back to basics” home:
Now, before you think I’m getting all Judgy McJudgeson up in here – I’m not. Well, not very much, anyway. Part of me thinks it’s kinda cool that these people are able to live out in the middle of nowhere – with no electricity, no running water, NO OUTHOUSE – and still have a Facebook page and smiling kids in a family photo. Another part of me wonders why we bother sending millions of dollars to other countries to help people living in exactly these conditions if there are people selling their cabins here in the US (as the Nauglers evidently did) in order to live in just such a way. But the biggest part of me, the part that has me writing this post, is just plain pissed off that people like DailyMail.com are describing these parents as “free-range parents”.
This is not free-range parenting à la the Maryland couple. This is not free-range parenting à la anyone I’ve ever met who free-range parents. That’s because THIS IS NOT FREE-RANGE PARENTING. This is feral parenting.
And unless those big blue bins are filled with books, or the family has devised some way to run the internet without electricity, this is not unschooling either. This is just plain NOT SCHOOLING.
Let’s use the right words, people, so no one gets confused.
I’ve never met the Nauglers. It’s possible (gun-toting aside) that they are delightful people raising happy, confident children in an unconventional way. The kids certainly know how to smile for the camera. I’m a big supporter of a parent’s right to raise their children anyway they see fit. But I also believe that children have a fundamental right to safety, protection, and an education that prepares them to live successfully in the world. Yes, I think DCS was right to step in and check to see if these minimum standards are being met. Who knows what the final decision will be? But I sure am glad that the verdict will not be left up to either Off the Grid News or the Daily Mail.
On the bright side, if the Nauglers do decide to begin truly unschooling their children, they have a ready made lesson full of real life, hands-on examples, about propaganda and the necessity of verifying sources.
That should cover Civics for the day.