Judge Orders Mom to Cease Home Schooling

I am still trying to decide what I think about this situation:

A judge in Wake County said three Raleigh children need to switch from home school to public school. Judge Ned Mangum is presiding over divorce proceeding of the children’s parents, Thomas and Venessa Mills.

Venessa Mills was in the fourth year of home schooling her children who are 10, 11 and 12 years old. They have tested two years above their grade levels, she said.

“We have math, reading; we have grammar, science, music,” Venessa Mills said.

Her lessons also have a religious slant, which the judge said was the root of the problem.

“My teaching is strictly out of the Bible, and it’s very clear. It is very evident so I just choose to follow the Bible,” Venessa Mills said.

In an affidavit filed Friday in the divorce case, Thomas Mills stated that he “objected to the children being removed from public school.” He said Venessa Mills decided to home school after getting involved with Sound Doctrine church “where all children are home schooled.”

Thomas Mills also said he was “concerned about the children’s religious-based science curriculum” and that he wants “the children to be exposed to mainstream science, even if they eventually choose to believe creationism over evolution.”

In an oral ruling, Mangum said the children should go to public school.

He was upfront and said that, ‘It’s not about religion.’ But yet when it came down to his ruling and reasons why, ‘He said this would be a good opportunity for the children to be tested in the beliefs that I have taught them,'” Venessa Mills said.

All sides agree the children have thrived with home school, and Vanessa Mills thinks that should be reason enough to continue teaching at home.

This is one of those odd times where I can see both sides of the argument.

It is hardly unreasonable for a father to want some influence over his children’s upbringing. A child’s school curriculum and religious training play an enormous role in his intellectual and moral development.

The article didn’t state how much child support this gentleman is paying, nor does it spell out the custody arrangements. But presumably since neither parental rights nor parental obligations terminate upon divorce, he is paying child support. And it would be next to impossible for the mother to home school 3 children who are constantly shuttling back and forth between two households. So it seems reasonable to conclude the mother has full custody and the father, visitation rights.

I’m leery of the notion that paying child support “buys” the right to participate in the upbringing of your own children. Children are not commodities. On the other hand, a parental interest in child rearing doesn’t magically go away simply because two adults choose to walk away from their marriage vows.

But even though I can understand the father’s concerns, the judge’s rationale strikes me as almost spectacularly dishonest. In family courts the controlling issue is supposed to be the best interest of the child. This is so because children don’t choose to have their families broken into pieces: this unpleasant turn of events was foisted on them by their parents.

I see little rational justification for concluding the only way to provide exposure to evolution based science texts is to remove three children from a challenging curriculum which provides lots of individual attention and place them in a less challenging one where they will receive very little. It also makes little sense to uproot these kids from the secure and familiar social environment they’ve enjoyed for years (they attend a church where most families home school) and force them, in addition to dealing with the pain and loss of divorce, to adjust to yet another upheaval simply because one class the father wants them to have is missing from the curriculum.

Could the father’s concerns not be addressed by adding a evolution-based science text to their studies? If science is such a priority to the father, can he not take his children to museums? Or buy them books and videos which expose them to these concepts?

Full disclosure: I home schooled my sons for a year. The curriculum I used, though I’m an Episcopalian, was a fundamentalist Christian one. We dealt with the disparity between our beliefs and my sons’ curriculum by talking to our children about values. You know: that whole parenting/teachable moment thing?

After one year in this curriculum both my children’s test scores shot through the roof even though they’d previously attended the best private school in the area. The science and math texts in particular, though they did include some fundamentalist sermonizing, were far more rigorous and thorough than anything they experienced before or subsequently – either in public or private school. I looked at the situation a net plus: an opportunity to discuss what we believe – and why – with our children.

It’s not hard to turn this scenario on its face and imagine the judge’s ruling if the children had been in public school, the mother was not religious, and it was instead the father who objected to the evolution-based science text used in the school. Let’s assume the mother still has full custody and the father visitation rights.

Does anyone seriously believe that judge would have ordered the mother to remove the children from public school and change to an entirely faith-based curriculum simply to ensure their exposure to creationist science texts?

If you do, there’s a very large bridge I’d like to sell you. Something tells me the policy preferences of the father and judge played a far larger role in the disposition of this case than the best interest of the children.

What say you?

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