The Agonist Journal

There is good reason to believe an unofficial Helen Lovejoy society has been around since long before the pastor’s wife first appeared on The Simpson’s in 1990. Claiming to look out for the little ones can work as a safe haven for all kinds of wily schemes. We have known for at least 40 years now, child abuse is such hot pop culture property that when victims don’t exist there’s viral demand they be invented.

"The message that highly qualified professionals should be doing all of our thinking for us has become a steady drone."

Lawrence Pazder’s bestselling book Michelle Remembers landed on shelves in 1980. It was the grisly story of Pazder’s patient-wife in the sado-masochistic hands of Satanic Ritual Abusers during her childhood in the 1950’s. People Magazine pounced on the sensation. The author made the rounds of Oprah, Geraldo, Sally Jessy Raphael, 20/20 and elsewhere. But was any of it true? What kind of fiend would debunk the smoldering porn? Hungry audiences had no trouble convincing themselves there was nothing perverse in their fascination.

Jimmy’s World” was planted on the front-page of the Sunday Washington Post that same year. Suburbanites’ wildest fantasies of urban iniquity were confirmed in the tale of an 8-year-old junkie peddling dope to 4th graders—supposedly, he’d been at it for years—never mind the hokey details. It won a Pulitzer Prize six months later.

We learned then that major media management had an appetite for impossible myths that drunken fishermen wouldn’t dare spin. Both of these blockbusters fell apart after simple re-examination. Who can say how many other pieces of fictive-non-fiction have flown under the radar?

Pazder’s book did the worse damage by far. Unlike Janet Cooke’s article, Pazder’s ravings weren’t subjected to any serious fact checking for about a decade. By the time they were, prosecutors had staked out hunting grounds and were finding prey. An official count of ruined lives hasn’t been compiled. At least scores of people were convicted and combined spent hundreds of years behind bars before sanity prevailed. DA’s who were not even cashiered, much less prosecuted themselves for suborning perjury, might tell us…“but my intentions were good.”

Michelle Remembers is based on a then fairly novel concept in psychiatry called “repressive memory.” The psychiatrists recollecting how the hoax unfolded are doing a little repressing of their own these days. They claim the widespread revival of “born again” Christianity that began in the late 70’s was the culprit that sparked the panic. Does anyone recall men of the cloth being put over as “experts” on daytime TV back then? There’s no doubt that many televangelists were willing to buy it—but it took recognized “experts” to market it. Some of them made a killing. Interestingly Pazder, a Catholic, had gone to the Vatican to report on this matter in 1978. What a compelling diversion, to actual incidents of mass pedophilia, that must have been. 

Phobias—especially the unjustifiable brands—do have their selling points. There are people who gladly pay money for the thrills and chills they get obsessing over boogie men. Outing an imaginary villain as fake can leave a heartrending void in an otherwise idle mind. Accurate accountings that describe the suffering of targeted groups are never easy—or even possible—to come by. The harm done can swing wildly from undue social ostracization, loss of a job or business revenue, privileges denied, prison, pummeling in the street, tars and feathers, lynching, or even systematic state-engineered elimination. Who can imagine the emotional torment of a devoted childcare worker up against the overwhelming forces of the state, media, and “experts” working in concert to fabricate scenarios of satanic atrocity?

Stigmas with mass appeal, once conjured up by the phobia-philiacs, never die out entirely. Faux-Aussie accents can still be heard in bars mockingly whining, “the dingos ate my baby.” Lindy Chamberlain remains an infanticide in the eyes of some people the world over even today. Attempting to correct a lynch mob mentality is not a good way to remain popular among rabid strangers fueled by a few cosmopolitans.

One classic case of Helen Lovejoyitis, that Southpark creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker couldn’t invent, occurred in Prince William County, Virginia in 2014. 17-year-old Trey Sims had been sexting his then girlfriend pictures of his proudest bodily feature. Her parents got wind and sicced the authorities. Assistant Commonwealth’s attorney Claiborne Richardson II did not sit idle with youth in peril. The CA secured a warrant for photos of the teen’s…extremity. County Dick David Edward Abbott was assigned to get the skinny. The humiliated young man was forced to present his boyhood before a camera crew. The photographer wasn’t satisfied and demanded a more rigid pose. The trusty prosecutor secured a second warrant in short order. This time a prescription was ordered to arouse the proper…attention…from the subject. Even the generally pliant public found the commonwealth’s court order a bit stiff. Local citizen pressure, surprisingly, convinced the state of Virginia’s child “protectors” to back down.

In December of 2015 detective Abbott’s home was swarmed by a team from his own force. The constable had been trying to talk two different boys—11 and 13—into putting themselves in a variety of compromising positions—that included the same kinds of photo ops the gumshoe required of Sims. After a four hour standoff Abott shot himself fatally. The motives of authority figures are just as suspect as anyone else’s. It is an often forgotten point that never sinks in deeply enough.

Now, to put this event in perspective, how many adults who were teens before the modern age of communication engaged in a little showoff, and beyond, with the opposite sex? Before the world began to “care” quite so much, these kinds of “scandals” resulted in homebound restriction and humiliation, if that. Now the mere sight of said object—when the kids aren’t even close enough to play a little old-fashioned “doctor”—justifies felony charges? Queen Victoria and Mrs. Grundy, the second millennium must apologize; we were too hard on you.

Children are seldom as innocent unsuspecting adults suppose. Other adults, who spend excessive time “thinking about the children,” never are. The state of actual “childlike innocence,” that idealists like to believe their angels float around in, rarely subdues its victims before the age of 35.

It’s not paranoid to be wary of concerned citizens who long to be about catching the lads and lassies “comin thro’ the rye.” Salinger never covered Holden’s further adventures. The actual words of Burns’ song might alert readers to why JD spared us that. Weirdos are known for oddball attire—that includes goofy headgear.

The kinds of scare-crazes listed above, leaving out a passel of others, keep the experts on their toes. What happens to their markets once the world wearies of trifles, trumped up trepidation, and general hysteria? The irrationality industry is vital to many livelihoods.

One threat angry Helen Lovejoyites keep their torches and nooses handy for are the homeschoolers. Unfortunately, for the rescue-rabble, just the right kind of hate hoax or newsy distortion necessary to stir widespread panic has yet to materialize. Harvard has decided it can’t wait for convenient developments. The May-June issue of Harvard Magazine features an anecdotal and factually sparse piece by Erin O’Donnell titled “The Risks of Homeschooling.” The main one she describes is instruction in Christian religion. Any potential perils present in public schools don’t get one line.

A concurrent article by John S. Rosenberg, “Harvard Report on Investigation of Jeffrey Epstein Gifts,” is timed just right. We learn there that Epstein had the use of two campus offices he visited at least 40 times since 2010. They included two landlines and cardkeys to an entire department aptly acronymed PED. The ten-million or so the late philanthropist endowed to faculty members made Epstein a hard guy to snub. What do you suppose they talked about when conversation veered from the curriculum? An academic institution that harbored Jeffrey Epstein is in a sorry position to butt in between parents and their kids.

O’Donnell’s attack advisory doesn’t bother mentioning the Harvard Homeschooling Summit that was originally scheduled June 18th in the Law department. It’s an odd oversight in a column laden down with blind spots. The piece has 9 comments so far and not one is the least bit keen on what O’Donnell lays out. Homeschoolers, who teach less than 5% of all precollege students, generally enjoy a lot of thumbs up around social media. In this age of hyper-credentialization, law enforcement crackdowns, prejudice against free-speech and panopticonal society, it’s still never a good idea for anyone to relax, even during a crisis that renders homeschooling more sensible than ever.

Ten years ago the Romeikes, refugees from verboten homeschooling in Germany, faced a relevant legal battle in the U.S. They immigrated to Tennessee and were granted asylum by a judge. Eric Holder appealed to the 6th Circuit where the decision was reversed. When the U.S. Supreme Court denied the case a hearing things looked grim for the Romeikes. Obaman officials backed off in the end and let them stay without court rendered refugee status. That controversy shed light on some of the rationale likely to prevail at the Harvard Summit which has been postponed due to coronavirus.   

A citation from the reply brief filed by the Home School Legal Defense Association in the Romeike case explained the government’s position, shorn of legal formalities and clutter, a lot better than Holder did. It came from the book, Fundamentalist Challenges to Core Democratic Values: Exit and Homeschooling, by Catherine Ross, professor of Law at Georgetown University.

Many liberal political theorists argue, however, that there are limits to tolerance. In order for the norm of tolerance to survive across generations, society need not and should not tolerate inculcation of absolutist views that undermine toleration of difference, respect for difference should not be confused with approval for approaches that would splinter us into countless warring groups. Hence an argument that tolerance for diverse views and values is a foundational principle does not conflict with the notion that the state can and should limit the ability of intolerant homeschoolers to inculcate hostility to difference in their children-at least during the portion of the day they claim to devote to satisfying the compulsory schooling requirement.

“[S]plinter us into countless warring groups”? Does Ross maintain that the home-schooled make up the avant garde, or even an elite division, of the forces squaring off in our culture wars? All the rage we hear and see reported seethes out of conventional institutions. “The Angry Man,” a 1968 poem by Phyliss McGinley, has the fitting line here, “Intolerance being ma’am a state [emphasis added] No tolerant man can tolerate.” Doesn’t history accustom us to “absolutist views” propagated from a central authority?  The Ross version of “tolerance” is textbook irony.  Is there any proof that “homeschoolers” are commonly “intolerant”? If the evidence is out there it is not easy to locate. As for inculcating “hostility to difference in their children,” well…

Although I haven’t read Professor Ross’ book it’s unlikely she demonstrates public school, in any way, ensures that “the norm of tolerance” survives “across generations.” If Timothy McVeigh, David Koresh, Mathew Hale or Robert Mathews were ever educated anywhere other than public school, media and academia are keeping it mum. None of them appears to have acquired intolerant views from their parents. George Lincoln Rockwell, who went to Atlantic City High, had parents in Vaudeville who disowned their son and his anti-Semitism. Jeffery Dahmer was also educated at public expense. He tolerated gays in his apartment but was often violently intolerant of their departure. The list of dangerous public enemies who learned their grammar and arithmetic at home has yet to be compiled by Harvard, Eric Holder, the NYT, CNN or anyone else—that includes Elizabeth Bartholet who, apparently, is the organizer of the Harvard Summit.

Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Adam Lanza, and Dylan Roof emerged from mainstream academia livid and foaming at the mouth. People subscribing to the Ross-Holder brain trust found a threat coming from the other direction. They were more concerned with first generation immigrants who might click right past the Logo channel or try to talk their friends out of abortions. If a single shooter of children in a school, or adults in a general rampage, failed to attend his local elementary the home-school-ophobic Harvardians need to let us know; otherwise, all their angst concerning “tolerance” might be a little misplaced.

The German government cited, in its claim against homeschoolers, the danger of insular families that would develop their own “parallel society.” The idea of the “volk” never seemed to be globally problematic before 1933—that is when Berlin decided it was its role to define them—it has not jumped that track since. Our government’s mission to define “American”—rather than be defined itself by Americans—likely plays a role in the latest wave of the homeschooling trend. The moment a new federal agency, from the SSA to the DHS, gets stirred into the alphabet soup it begins arrogating definitive powers.  

Elizabeth Bartholet authored a lengthy and comprehensive piece, Homeschooling: Parent Rights Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education and Protection, detailing her position for the Arizona Law Review. Including the word “absolutism” in the title, without even a comma between it and “parent rights,” alerts us to the author’s objectivity. The lengthy brief does make many valid points—at 80 pages it had better—it is also loaded with redundancies and wormholes of sources that need vetting.

The Home School Legal Defense Foundation’s findings, studies and one-sidedness, are impugned throughout the tract. There is little doubt about that organization’s bias; the name of the thing might be a clue. But Bartholet wastes no time getting to her own; this is just in the prelude:

This Article describes the rapidly growing homeschooling phenomenon and the threat it poses to children and society...Many homeschool because they want to isolate their children from ideas and values central to our democracy, determined to keep their children from exposure to views that might enable autonomous choice about their future lives. Many promote racial segregation and female subservience. Many question science.

At the risk of quoting Page and Plant, “Many is a word that only leaves you guessing.” And, speaking of guessing, “ideas and values central to our democracy” may strike readers as vague—especially in an era when institutions like Harvard, lobbies dressed up as “think tanks,” opaque elite conclaves, and naked corporate interests devote enormous energies to by-passing voters on critical matters of policy and law year in and year out.

The most lurid dangers described by Bartholet are cases of serious physical child-abuse. In every single case she references the state agencies were already alerted. They had ample, if not overwhelming, evidence to intercede and knew exactly where the children in question could be found. Yet, such institutions are still the remedies the law professor is willing to rely on. Then we are expected to believe huge numbers of people—with the wherewithal to keep the kids underfoot at school time—are generally psychopathic perverts. Apparently, the patience of Job is a quality FBI profilers need to consider. Her qualification for every contention is weak. This comes from page 14:

Child abuse and neglect characterize a significant subset of homeschooling families. Many families choose homeschooling precisely because it enables them to escape the attention of CPS, since teachers and other school personnel are “mandated reporters” required by law to report suspected child maltreatment.

The note, 67, supporting this starts: “A substantial amount of anecdotal evidence…” This kind of substantiation and individual interviews from subjects who can’t be traced pervade the essay. The word “some”—as in “Some parents do x”, “Some parents do y”—begins scores of sentences. But it’s the HSLDA that gives us flimsy data?

Who can believe it? Consider this passage from page 16:

In another study, child abuse pediatricians from five U.S. medical centers focused on a sample of cases involving horrific child torture.82 They found a powerful connection with homeschooling. Out of the school-age children, 29% were never allowed to go to school and another 47% were withdrawn for homeschooling.83 They concluded that this “homeschooling” typically occurred after closure of a previously opened CPS case and appeared designed to further isolate the child.84

Does anyone think such stats are accurate? It sounds like research from the Pazder Institute. Most of us know homeschoolers without ever hearing anything like this. We see the kids regularly in the coffee shops, on the street and at public events. They appear remarkably well adjusted. And how is it that CPS agents continually fail to follow up as these supposed instances persist? She tells us:

When scandals have erupted, involving horrific abuse suffered by children supposedly being homeschooled, the homeschooling movement has successfully fought off attempts to impose protective regulation. Thus, while some say that these scandals may finally trigger regulation, this has not occurred.

The following text doesn’t cite a single example; we must take the professor’s word for it. It would be extremely naive to doubt that there are risks to children who are homeschooled—but it is equally naïve to believe other alternatives, in any way, eliminate, or even decrease, these risks. Childhood—like life itself—is an inherently risky venture. “Utopia” is a derivative from ancient Greek meaning “no place.” Some public schools are a lot safer than others but that is no comfort to students in urban hellholes.

The Thursday May 7 New York Times features an op-ed from an 8th grader named Veronique Mintz. The young lady is finding coronavirus an educational godsend—in New York of all places. The piece is titled: “Learning Online Beats School”; it opens:

Talking out of turn. Destroying classroom materials. Disrespecting teachers. Students pushing, kicking, hitting one another and even rolling on the ground. This is what happens in my school every single day.

Anyone paying attention has known of these circumstances for ages. These kinds of reports don’t only come from students—Google searches produce page after page from teachers describing violence, disruption and general chaos throughout numerous American public schools. Peer pressure is often cited as a force in pushing otherwise cooperative students into the fray. An article by a former teacher in the NYC school system said students didn’t dare bring books home for fear of getting beat up. While these kinds of conditions remain prevalent in so many U.S. districts the whole discussion of suppressing home schooling is ridiculous.

Back in the 1970’s semi-pornographic men’s magazines—part of the alt-media of the time—began to publish hair-raising tales about juvenile reform schools. They graphically described rape, beatings, starvation, overflowing toilets, sickening hygiene, rancid food, and all kinds of horror stories. It took years for more reputable publications to take up the subject. Any actual official attention oozed out slowly with spotty results. We learned then that government can’t even provide safety—at any level—to children they have under lock and key. Mainstream media generally turned its head. It’s doing the same thing today about urban public school by any rational prioritization. It remains a subject they have somewhat neglected since the 1940’s.

It would quickly become tedious and counterproductive to rehash the statistics Bartholet accepts and the methodology she claims supports them. Of course, abuse occurs among the home schooled. Some level of “abuse” is fairly universal in any group. A genuine epidemic of what is commonly construed “child-abuse” among the home-schooled population would never enjoy the wide-berth media allows public schools. Bartholet’s anecdotal references are so scant, in comparison to the public record of child safety in public schools, as to simply discount entirely. All decent people are livid at the idea of children in the clutches of cruel adults. But the ones making a business out of being outraged are seldom trustworthy. Bullies are generally on the lookout for unpopular victims—that the local schoolyard is a good place to find them is an archetype of American lore. 

This topic goes far beyond mere physical safety and that’s where the plot thickens. We are told for example:

The legal claim [parental rights] is also inconsistent with an idea that has been central since the beginning of compulsory education—that the state has a powerful interest in educating children in ways that enable positive participation in the larger society.22 “[P]reparation for citizenship,” 23 including exposure to the values of tolerance and deliberative democracy,24 has been seen as a primary goal of public education from its origins.25 Based on both child rights and state rights, Rob Reich concludes that “at a bare minimum one function of any school environment must be to expose children to and engage students with values and beliefs other than those of their parents.” 26

Two cases of this kind are cited by Bartholet. One is that of Derek Black. This child of Don Black, a Florida KKK Grand Wizard, was homeschooled from third through twelfth grade. By Derek’s first year of college he was co-hosting a radio broadcast, The Don and Derek Black Show, 5 times a week. It was the kind of fare offered by Stormfront, an ultra-racist website Don Black founded. Derek proved not to be a hard case and disavowed all his extremist views within 2 years of college. Things might have gone differently but for the soft-sell approach the young man was plied with by Jewish friends. Today Black the younger gives talks on the dangers of propounding racism and is pursuing a master’s degree in history. While it may be of no material argumentative value one way or another, it is worth noting here that nearly all of the more intractable extremists that have become newsworthy—Spencer, Pierce, Rockwell, Brevik, Hitler et al—had more conventional educational backgrounds. In any event, Black is certainly an outlier as far as the homeschooled community goes.

The other case Bartholet mentions is more bizarre. Tara Westover was raised by survivalist Mormon parents in the wilds of Idaho. It was hardscrabble and isolated. She was taught to read as a teen by an older brother and had very little contact with mainstream society growing up. Through many travails and enormous effort she graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge and has since been a visiting fellow at Harvard. No one is likely to wish her rugged journey on any eager young person. It is not a stretch to say, however, that she has broadened the perspective arriving in higher academia. Advocating for homeschooling certainly does not imply objection to legal intervention for someone like Tara as a child. But there is always a question of the state’s competence bringing adequate resources to bear. Every single case of physical harm individually described by Bartholet had already reached authorities before the bitter endings. In any event, when we get back to the reality of a nation of 330 million, these two instances are as good as irrelevant in scale.

Professor Bartholet and company find rejecting public alternatives for childhood education to be a “growing” threat. It is no coincidence that the danger came up about the time information options began to expand on the internet. The fear that a wider segment of the public is learning too much, rather than too little, cannot go unconsidered. That someone, not unlike herself, should be pushing people around ideologically is a motive observers are not ruling out. The vast majority of commenters on social media are ruling it in.  

Textbooks, Worldbook, and the local library were always a little inadequate for anyone digging deep. The early era of the World Wide Web took many a layman out of shallow water. It was laden with BS, no doubt. The better surfers could winnow wheat from chaff. Others would be intellectually addled in any case. A professoriate that feels telling the laity what’s up is their job has been steadily seething since. Google, Facebook, Instagram, and social media generally have been on it. One truth, one volk, one reich is no exaggeration. The gory details of history, our betters have ruled, are not public property. 

So, as it turns out, reaching the wider public with viewpoints from home is another trend our protectors think is unsafe. Careful examination of authority requires suppression. As we soon see—you need scrutiny, not them. Fake-news-ophopia and home-school-ophobia are pathologies that afflict the same patients…much like paranoia and grandiose delusions. And they fight diagnosis like the Guise family fought heretics.  

Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal” was published April 25th in The Atlantic. Its authors are Jack Goldsmith and Andrew Keane Woods, of Harvard Law and The University of Arizona College of Law, respectively. The subhead reads: “In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely correct, and the U.S. was wrong.” That, alone, precludes the necessity of much further elaboration.

The Chinese government might have different priorities than German nationalists of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s—but like the Nazis—it is obsessed with the task of defining its volk. The “subset” of professors at Harvard Law we are currently hearing from endorse that goal—and publicly avow we should adopt it. The message that highly qualified professionals should be doing all of our thinking for us has become a steady drone. It is exactly the opposite of what worked for the U.S. when radical Christian pastors like Henry Ward Beecher and alternative publishers like Elijah Lovejoy risked life and limb over slavery. Professors Goldsmith and Keane wouldn’t need to lead lynch mobs to destroy Lovejoy’s presses as occurred in 1836-7. They’d simply head him off at the electronic pass.

I’m not suggesting these men advocate slavery—or burning a man at the stake—but there is no question very few recognize how their positions will play out in a full historical context. A corporate panel that can rule on the truth is just another version of theocracy. This is exactly why Orwell called Winston Smith’s employer The Ministry of Truth. Any person or collective feeling entitled to decide what it is becomes instantly drunk on its own power.

What professor Bartholet, and professor Ross before her, don’t say speaks louder than what they do. It meshes with what Goldsmith, Woods, corporate media executives, politburos, and totalitarians have demanded for centuries—a stranglehold on the written and spoken word. 

The Massachusetts Bay Colony of persecuted pilgrims was only 12 years old when Roger Williams arrived there in 1631. He didn’t like what he saw from day one. It had already become state-like and begun doing what states always do—stealing land, inventing second class citizens, and deciding acceptable opinion. Like the Romeike’s, Williams decided to hit the bricks. He escaped in the night from an authoritarian regime—that would have delivered him to William Laud—and founded Rhode Island in 1636. It is worth noting that Harvard was founded in the MBC the same year; experts are just as necessary to oppressors as gendarmes.