Having myself been raised in a polygamous home I could relate to the article in the Salt Lake Tribune “ Law stays out of polygamous sect’s homeschooling ” that explores the need for improved educational opportunities for polygamous children. I was home schooled up to the fifth grade and was pulled out of school to help with domestic chores. There was a lot of fear during that time that someone would discover that my siblings and I were not in public school and that my parents were breaking the law by practicing polygamy. As children we had to learn to hide our existence. The two issues of polygamy and education overlapped creating a phobia of law enforcement and government intrusion that is deeply ingrained and polygamists’ fear of government intrusion is not unfounded. Consider the John Singer case.
John Singer was an excommunicated Mormon who did not practice but believed in the practice of polygamy and who had openly removed his children from public school in 1973. He received a letter from the Board of Education informing him that he was in violation of Utah law. This was the beginning of a stand-off with police and the courts. The school board tested his kids but John Singer felt that the testing was bureaucratic control of his family and he deeply resented it. After several years of this testing he announced he would no longer allow the testing. This resulted in a confrontation with police in which John Singer was shot and killed. John Singer had been open about his reasons for removing his kids from the public school system, chiefly because of the secular influence of public school and the permissive attitudes regarding sex, drugs, vulgarity etc. The very same reasons my own parents pulled my older siblings out of public school in 1974—only they did so secretly. John Singer’s openness about his right to educate his kids ultimately resulted in his death. My parents’ worst nightmare was playing out before them in the local news and reinforced their fears. After the John Singer case, they felt that a secret home-school was the ONLY option. They did it not because they felt they were more qualified or could give us a better education but to protect their way of life.
Polygamists already feel constrained to break marriage laws. Rather than obey the laws on education they will feel forced back into the destructive elements of secrecy that have fostered so much abuse, control and isolation in the past. I believe that enforcing student testing and mandates that make homeschooling more difficult would be a mistake and a counterproductive measure that would add to the problem. Stringent laws concerning home school would in no way give polygamous kids a better education. Polygamist families would simply go deeper into hiding.
The fact that Utah has a hands-off policy when it comes to home-school has done much to improve education for polygamous children in particular. In my experience, education of polygamous children has improved and this is mainly because prosecution of polygamy has relaxed in recent years and the culture is slowly emerging from secrecy. Without the constant threat of law enforcement polygamists feel more comfortable using resources such as online schools, correspondence schools as well as creating home-school co-ops and charter schools as alternatives to public school while still maintaining control over their children’s education. If the Board of Education is really concerned with helping polygamous children gain a better education then the answer is not strict or additional laws but more available and varied resources for home-school education.
To learn more about the John Singer case read The Death of an American, The Killing of John Singer by David Fleisher