Homeschooling: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses homeschooling, its surprising lack of regulation in many states, and, crucially, Darth Vader’s parenting skills.
Homeschooling: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 10 Episode 12
Aired on October 8, 2023

Main segment: Homeschooling in the United States
Other segments: 2023 Franklin, Tennessee mayoral election

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[Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been a busy week. As of taping, Israel is, in the words of its prime minister, “at war,” FEMA ran a test to see how effectively our phones could scare the shit out of us, and Kevin McCarthy was the victim of the first-ever intra-party coup against a speaker of the house. It left North Carolina representative Patrick McHenry — Patton Oswalt as a ventriloquist dummy — serving as temporary speaker. And he seemed pretty angry after McCarthy’s ousting.

The chair declares the house in recess, subject to the call of the chair.


John: Wow, that man is mad. Which is only slightly undermined by the fact that he’s dressed like a 4-year-old who’s going to fuck up the whole wedding. Elections for the new speaker will likely be held this week, and so far the front runners seem to be far-right Jim Jordan or Steve Scalise, who’s been described as “David Duke without the baggage.” And you know who described him as that? He did! And to describe yourself as David Duke — the former grand wizard of the KKK — without the baggage, is a “choice.” Because that man is all baggage. Without it, he’s just the cryptkeeper with a patchy bleach job. It is pretty clear that the republican party is being controlled by the absolute extremes. But not just nationally, at the local level too. And to show you just how bad it’s gotten, just look at the mayoral race unfolding in the city of Franklin, Tennessee, where their current republican mayor is facing this woman, Gabrielle Hanson, a real estate agent and current alderman. She’s branded herself as a hardcore MAGA candidate and has posted photos of herself at Mar-a-Lago. And look how happy she is there! That’s the face of someone who just dined on a well-done steak and read some classified documents on the toilet. Anyway, back in April, Hanson made news for opposing the city’s pride event, arguing its participants couldn’t be trusted around children, and offering this critique of previous performers.

In one of the pictures of Jaidynn Diore Fierce, one of the miss fits, she’s clad in an Elmo-themed drag outfit, which I’m sure to an underage individual, this could create confusion in their mind as to what’s being represented.

John: Okay, but by that logic, we should outlaw children from walking around Times Square, too, because seeing Olaf from Frozen with his head popped off, smoking a Black & Mild is way more confusing than someone wearing eyeshadow and an Elmo themed bodysuit. Also, for the record, her name is Jaidynn “Dior” Fierce, not “Dioree,” and Elmo is not remotely her finest work. Because she’s constantly serving cartoon looks. [Cheers and applause] Have you ever seen a minion serve body? Because you have now. Hanson also tried to pressure the Nashville airport out of funding a Juneteenth celebration, saying, “I don’t want my tax dollars or fees off of plane tickets going to radical agendas.” And with all due respect, you’re talking to an airport, Gabrielle. It doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t care about anyone. It’s an airport. The only food available is either dill pickle almonds or brisket nachos, with no middle ground. It’s acceptable to drink at 7 am, and they will sell your lost luggage. The airport is a cruel, unfeeling dimension, uninterested in your culture war bullshit. Now, since then, Hanson seems to have tried to broaden her base, posting photos of diverse groups of supporters, including this one, labeled as an “executive women’s club” who she said had provided “invaluable support and encouragement” with the hashtag #votehanson. But while that might seem like an endorsement from those women, watch what happened when a local reporter tracked one down and asked a pretty simple question.

Do you support Gabrielle Hanson?

I do not, I actually do not know who that is.

After some on social media noticed the pic seemed to have been taken at a restaurant in Chicago, Hanson posted an update on Facebook claiming, “these are all my friends that have relocated to Nashville, Brentwood, and Franklin and they all support me.” The women say that’s a lie.

Any message you would have for her?

I would encourage her to go make genuine friends so she can take photos with those folks if she’s looking for supporters. There’s no need to comb pictures on the internet to make up a story. None of us need that.

John: Wow. Not only are those women clearly not your friends, you definitely just united them against you. I guarantee you, one of them dropped your post in the group chat, and the replies are still going right now. And the thing is, Hanson has been caught lying about weird shit a truly ridiculous amount of times. Earlier this year, during a podcast interview, she claimed to have predicted the covenant school shooting in Nashville, stating that she’d had a “gut” premonition about it, chalking it up to what “could have been a holy spirit thing.” What’s more, she also claimed that she’d told a police officer about that premonition when he came to her home over a different issue. The problem is, that same local reporter tracked down that officer’s bodycam video, which told a different story.

During that 23-minute video, she never mentions anything remotely like the covenant school shooting. No mention of a premonition, no mention of an active shooter, no mention of the holy spirit. And Hanson’s fabrications have gone even further in a talk radio interview questioning how actress Melissa Joan Hart happened to be near covenant at the time of the shooting to help children who were trying to escape.

Well, maybe that’s why Melissa Joan Hart was there, she must have known it was going to happen also.

John: Wait, what? “Melissa Joan Hart psychically knows when a school shooting is about to happen.” That’s not something an elected official should say in an interview, it’s what a Disney Channel exec probably screamed in 2002, after inhaling a metric ton of cocaine. [Laughter] And before we go any further, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that reporter, Phil Williams. He’s been all over this story, and we’ve featured his work on this show a bunch in the past. If you’re a politician in Tennessee, Phil has his foot on your goddamn neck. His official news Channel 5 bio features a quote from a Nashville political strategist, saying: if the press calls call a lawyer. This is a bad, bad man. You do not fuck around with Phil Williams. And it seems Gabrielle Hanson is currently in her “finding out” era when it comes to her dealings with him, because Phil’s uncovered so much weird new context around her life. Remember her bullshit outrage over the local pride event? Well, Phil discovered something her husband once did that suggests a hell of a double standard.

Children seeing images that they could not unsee was why the Franklin alderman said she tried to block a pride celebration at a Franklin park, saying in a podcast interview, it was a question of basic morality. Yet, where was her morality during Chicago’s 2008 pride parade before the Hansons moved to Tennessee? At the time, tom Hanson was running a republican campaign for congress and organizers agreed to let him in. He told the local Lgbtq newspaper, quote, “so it just came to me. I said, maybe I’ll wear an American flag speedo. And my wife said, if you do that, I’ll hold you to it.”

John: Magnificent. So, to recap, snatched Elmo? Irreparably harmful to children. Star-spangled ball-bag here? That’s apparently completely fine with her! Also — and I’m not here to police anyone else’s drag — but is he… Tucked? Could just have been cold! It was June, though. Anyway. And if all that wasn’t enough, just this week, Hanson was caught up in yet another scandal. This time, involving an eye-catching group that showed up to support and protect her at a candidate forum.

The man on the left is Sean Kauffmann, who has been described by the stop antisemitism watchdog group as, quote, “a disturbed neo-Nazi and holocaust denier with a documented history of violence and a massive cache of firearms.” Then there’s Brad Lewis. He’s the operator of the Lewis country store on the far west side of Nashville, a store known for its extreme right-wing messaging. When the store recently went on the market, Gabrielle Hanson was the real estate agent who got the listing. A recent investigation by the southern poverty law center revealed how the second floor of the store was being used as a white nationalist fight club. Lewis responded in a post on telegram, calling himself an “actual literal Nazi.”

Ms. Hanson, the people you’re with had described themselves as literal Nazis. Is this the type of people you should be associating with?

Excuse me.

They said they’re literal Nazis.

John: Again, Phil Williams is just wrecking her. Waving a cell phone in Hanson’s face and asking, “do you hang out with Nazis or what?” And doing it loud enough for the whole row to hear. Also, what on earth did that cursed Zillow listing look like? “Great opportunity to own/operate your business in this income-generating, 3-unit mixed-use white supremacist building. First floor is a store with terrible vibes, and the second floor unit is a neo-Nazi fight club. Sold as is.” Now, Hanson denies engaging that group as security, despite the fact she walked into that meeting with a holocaust denier, while her husband was escorted in by a guy with a “proud boys” face tattoo. And she’s tried to deflect criticism over the fact she took a literal Nazi’s real estate listing. But, even in doing so, made some bold choices.

If you based me on all the clients that I’m representing currently, I would be a white supremacist, neo-Nazi, I would be a lesbian like my one client, and I would be black, too. So, that is who I would be if you’re gonna blame me for the clients that I represent, because those are the clients at this very moment that I’m representing. And I would probably be a Muslim jihadist as well, because I have a middle eastern client, too.

John: Okay, Gabs, but you did just imply one of your clients was a “Muslim jihadist,” simply based on the fact that they are middle eastern, so I’d say you’re probably more of a white supremacist neo-Nazi than you are lesbian or black. And look, in a world that made sense, this woman would obviously have withdrawn from this mayoral race in shame. But she still has supporters. There are lawn signs up for her in Franklin. And there’s a real chance she could win this election. Because while her numerous scandals are clearly almost cartoonish in their extremity, her behavior is entirely emblematic of republican politics from the local level all the way up to the top. Where, if we learned anything this week, it’s that far-right republicans maintain a vice-like grip over the entire party. And our best chance at exposing them is if a lot more reporters take a page from Nashville’s nosiest bitch. And now, this.

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Announcer: And now, people on tv sharing increasingly unhinged conspiracy theories about Taylor Swift.

Okay, the big question is, are Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce dating?

It just makes you think is there something else going on? Did Taylor team up with the NFL, something. If we are investigating. In so many conspiracy theories about this.

Is anything really a conspiracy theory these days? A coincidence?

My director thinks it’s a cover-up to conceal Taylor’s true boyfriend who he she wants to keep private.

The NFL is struggling to get women to watch football.

We are getting ready for Taylor Swift 1989 re-release. The theme for the album is the color red, Travis Kelce plays for the Chiefs. They are a big red team. He was born in 1989.

This is a promotional move.

Taylor Swift from Philadelphia originally. Maybe she’s actually trying to mess Travis Kelce up.

You think it sabotaged.

No, they’re going to get to Super Bowl. At the theory issues are eventually going to ghost him at that point.

And gross all the way to the White House. The press secretary spoke about the potential romance.

In the bracket of the national security council I could not confirm or the reports reports.

[Laughter and cheering]

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John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns school. For some, it’s the place to make lifelong friends and enjoy first crushes, while for others, and I’m not naming names, it’s not, it’s different. Specifically, we’re going to talk about homeschooling. During the pandemic, many parents were suddenly forced to do it, and while some struggled, others — like this family — absolutely thrived.

A, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z. Now you know your abc’s.

John: That’s clearly excellent, but also a pretty mean way to make other parents look like total shit. Because that’s significantly better than anything I did with my kids during the pandemic. It was much less singing certified alphabet bangers and much more “hiding in the closet, praying they wouldn’t find me.” Also, quick shout out to the baby on the counter living her best life. She has no idea what’s going on, but yet there she is in the center of it all like Mariah Carey on a new year’s broadcast. Now, that family — like many — eventually sent their kids back to school. But for some, homeschooling isn’t just a pandemic era necessity, it’s a way of life. And you may have heard a stereotype of homeschoolers being Christian conservatives who object to what kids learn in public school environments. And I admit, those people do exist. Take this man, who offers this pretty shaky rationalization for pulling his kids out of school.

I think the type of content on what they’re teaching about sex or anal sex. That my third-grade daughter should not be in a classroom where a teacher or someone else is teaching her about that.

And that was your experience in school?

I through — through friends in other spots that had been kids at those ages because mine was only in first grade when we pulled them.

John: Well, that sounds like total bullshit. Although I guess I do basically agree with him: things that are definitely not happening, should continue not to happen. But the truth is, the homeschooling community is much broader than just right-wing parents afraid of hypothetical 3rd grade lube demonstrations. By one estimate, there are now around 2 million children being homeschooled in this country, and parents can choose that for all sorts of reasons. Maybe their kids have social or health problems, or disabilities that aren’t being accommodated. Maybe they’re families with legitimate fears about school safety, or who are in the military and move around a lot. And there’s also a growing number of black parents opting to home-school due to white-washed curriculums and zero-tolerance policies in schools that disproportionately criminalize their kids at an early age. So there are a lot of reasons to do it. And the fact is, for some kids, getting to be homeschooled can be transformative.

At 15, Victoria asked her mom Bernita to take her out of Detroit schools. She says she was being bullied relentlessly for her appearance and it didn’t seem like her administrators cared.

It made me not want to ask questions, you know, or not want to ask specific questions because I’m like, oh, am I like — they’re going to call me dumb.

When you transitioned to homeschooling, how did you start to feel about yourself?

I felt more confident. It was just like a kind of like a sunshine, like the clouds opening a little bit.

John: That’s great! That’s very nice! And I know that that’s not something you usually hear me say after a clip on this show. It’s usually a variation of “that’s horrible,” “that’s heartbreaking,” or “shut the fuck up you baby bitch lawn dart.” [Cheers and applause] So frankly, this is a welcome change of pace. The point is, the ceiling of how good homeschooling can be is admittedly very high. But the floor of how bad it can get is basically nonexistent. Because to an extent you may not realize, in many parts of the country, homeschooling is essentially unregulated. Which can result in enormous damage. So given that, tonight, let’s take a look at homeschooling. And let’s start with the fact there’s a lot we don’t know about homeschooled kids — from exactly how many there are, to what they’re learning. When I said, “there are around 2 million” of them, the reason that’s an estimate is that, depending on the state, homeschool families might not have to report what they’re doing at all. In these 26 states, parents simply have to file a notice once a year with officials to let them know they’re homeschooling their child. In these thirteen, they only have to file a notice once, with no requirement to ever check in again. And in the remaining 11, they don’t have to notify anyone at all. And when it comes to the education itself, filing a notice is typically where supervision stops, as in most states, there is no oversight, and no evaluation by anyone of the academic program and of students’ progress. And homeschooling advocates will tell you that’s not a concern, and that parents will simply come up with all sorts of innovative ways to teach their kids. Here’s one parent enthusiastically explaining how he taught his kids science.

I can’t tell you how many times, you know, in my home, at our kitchen table we’ve dissected, you know, sheep eyeballs or frogs. Kitchen — kitchen’s are great labs for this kind of thing.

Where does —

So, they’ll get together —

Where does somebody get a sheep eyeball?

[Laughs] Well, John, you can just google sheep eyeball for homeschoolers.

I didn’t know that.

‘Cause lots of people — absolutely.

John: Okay, first, are kitchens the best lab for this kind of thing? I think probably labs are the best lab for this kind of thing. I’m just saying — maybe don’t go dissecting sheep eyeballs in the same place where you cut olives for salad. Also, do not google sheep eyeballs, despite what that man just said. I did, and I’m not even going to show you the result unblurred, because it’s too nauseating. Suffice to say, it looks like what would happen if an oyster had a butthole. But while that man was clearly willing to go to impressive lengths for at-home science lessons, not everyone has the time or the resources to develop a curriculum from scratch. That’s why there are big publishers who offer materials specifically tailored to homeschoolers. Much of that market is dominated by these three Christian textbook publishers who promise learning through a biblical filter. And look, it is absolutely a parent’s right to educate their child with religion if they so choose. But the quality of some of these books can be troubling. For instance, one current Abeka history book says that “the beginning of the 20th century witnessed a cultural breakdown that threatened to destroy the very roots of western civilization. The cause of this dissolution was an idea or philosophy known as liberalism.” Meanwhile, a workbook from Ace celebrates the confederate general Robert E. Lee as “a devoted Christian who practiced his Christianity in all his dealings with others.” And a science book from Bob Jones University claims that, “biblical and scientific evidence tends to support the idea that men and dinosaurs existed at the same time.” And if you’re wondering what that would look like, Ace had a workbook featuring this rendering — implying that not only did men and dinosaurs exist at the same time, but they were both totally cool with each other. “Hey Hank, great tucked in shirt! Do you see that dinosaur over there?” “Sure do Bob, love those jeans, by the way. Should we run?” “No way, the dinos are chill, let’s just keep wacking these leaves with that one sword knife you brought.”
But while all of that is pretty troubling, the truth is, in many states parents don’t ultimately have to teach their kids anything at all. Just watch as this former homeschool student breaks down her daily schedule.

This is my actual list of assignments. We’ve got the date at the top. I would have been 12. First, we’ve got classical music which was just turning on classical music in the morning so that everyone could hear it. We’ve got Bible listening. We’ve got handwriting and math. That’s fairly normal. We’ve got memorizing the Bible. Mmm. We’ve got memorizing poetry. The poetry was mostly hymns. We’ve got exercise. That’s good. It was usually just walking around the block. And then the whole entire rest of the list is chores and cleaning tasks.

John: It’s true! Most of her lessons just involved chores. And look at that list! That is a lot of cleaning demands! Who was her parent? This guy? I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s an absolute zaddy. Would, will, and I’ll take seconds. But as hot as he makes “doing chores” seem, it’s not an adequate alternative to education. Although I will say, even that is a preferable alternative to the single worst homeschool curriculum we found, whose creators excitedly promoted it on a podcast.

We are so deeply invested into making sure that that child becomes a wonderful Nazi, and by home-schooling we’re going to get that done.

John: Well, that’s terrifying! You never want to hear a mother lovingly utter the sentence “my kid’s a wonderful Nazi,” outside of maybe if they’re praising their son’s performance as Rolf in “the sound of music.” And even then, just say “wonderful Rolf.” What’s wrong with you? That woman and her husband actually launched their own online community, Dissident Homeschool, in 2021, after she had a quote “rough time finding Nazi-approved school material for her homeschool children.” And you know what? Good! That probably shouldn’t be an easy google. In fact, if you search for that, it should probably autocorrect to “did you mean, how do I take myself to jail?” At one point, dissident homeschool had nearly 2500 subscribers and included ideas like handwriting exercises consisting of writing out quotes from Adolf Hitler. Which I think we can agree is appalling. Handwriting exercises? That is just cruel. They should be working on their keyboard skills, through games like “Mavis Beacon teaches the final solution.” Not that, don’t actually do that. That is awful.
The channel also posted tips ensuring that their parents were in “full compliance with the law” so that “the state” wouldn’t interfere. But as you’ve already seen, in most states, they don’t have much to worry about there, because when it comes to homeschooling, basically, anything goes. So, how the fuck is that the case? Well, in large part, it’s thanks to a very powerful homeschooling lobby, whose most prominent player is the Home School Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA. And here is where I’ll concede some ground, it grew out of an environment that “was,” in many places, overly restrictive of homeschooling, with some states and local school districts effectively banning it entirely. In Texas in the early 1980’s, homeschooling families were actually prosecuted. But a turning point came after several Texas families filed a class action suit against their school districts, and ultimately won. Around the same time, the HSLDA was formed, with the aim of expanding the rights of homeschoolers in every state. And from the very beginning, it’s had a strong evangelical, conservative outlook. Its founding president and chairman, Michael Farris, has referred to public schools as a “godless monstrosity.” And here he is back in 2004, speaking to the christian coalition, and describing his long-term hopes for the next generation.

Today, it is not preposterous to recognize what’s going on — the promotion of homosexuality, the promotion of other kinds of things that you heard from Walter Jones, you’ve heard many other times, is a deplorable reality that we cannot countenance. I can’t wait for the day when our young people vanquish the enemy by a 5-4 vote reversing Roe v. Wade. Where we vanquish the specter of same-sex marriage. That’s the standard of victory.

John: Okay, there’s a lot that’s hard to take in that clip — that that’s his wish list, that he’s already gotten half of it, and that he’s saying “vanquish the enemy,” despite looking less like a warrior and more like your tax accountant’s tax accountant’s assistant. Over the years, the HSLDA has lobbied extensively, from a hard-right perspective, on issues that have nothing to do with homeschooling, opposing everything from vaccine mandates to same-sex marriage. But it speaks to how significant a force it is that even some parents who are uneasy with its political leanings, feel they have no choice but to be members. Here’s one mom, who started a homeschooling group to offer an alternative to what she saw as a whitewashed curriculum, talking about her relationship to the HSLDA.

Whenever there’s a threat in any particular state to their right to homeschool, oh, you will see us come together. You know, it may not — we’re not going to stay together, but we will band up because we all desperately need our right to homeschool. And that’s the nuanced aspect of being in homeschool world. The people that you have to work with in order to maintain what you hold dear are also the people who crush you.

John: It’s true. The HSLDA have made themselves so powerful, many parents keep working with them even if they don’t agree with everything they stand for. It’s a dilemma otherwise known as “the Tom Cruise conundrum.” On the one hand, a billion dollars in the box office. On the other, a billion year contract to an alien mafia. It’s tricky, right? It’s tricky. What’s a bunch of young hots to do? Plus, for what it’s worth, the HSLDA — much like Tom Cruise — will probably never die. As a lobbying group, it’s been astonishingly successful. In four decades, its efforts have been credited with rolling back existing laws governing homeschooling in state after state. And the argument it will always make against any regulation is, “you’re just punishing all the parents doing things right, to address a handful who are doing it wrong.” And in theory, sure. But when you’ve got some parents running the homeschool institute of dishwashing, and others running lil Nazis ‘r’ us, it seems maybe the reins have gotten a little loose. And the lack of regulation here has serious consequences, and not just regarding quality of education. And fair warning, this is where the story gets quite a bit darker.

More than two million children are being homeschooled in the U.S. many of them living in states that have little or no regulations, making it easy for abusive parents to hide behind the system. These are the faces of just some of the homeschool children that have died of abuse and neglect Susanna Grubbs was homeschooled in Missouri. She tells us, the discipline she received was anything but gentle.

I think that, in a lot of ways, me and my siblings totally fell through the cracks. Because, I mean, with my mom’s disciplinary techniques, and my mom’s educational neglect. It’s really terrible that it — it has happened and it keeps happening. And nobody wants to stop it because parental rights are so paramount to anything else in this country.

John: Exactly. And that’s massively dangerous. Because deregulating homeschooling doesn’t just eliminate safeguards against parents who are bad teachers, it also eliminates them against parents who are bad people. For all the HSLDA’s talk of “parental rights,” it’s worth remembering: Elon Musk is a parent. OJ Simpson is a parent. Darth Vader is such a parent he made it part of his fancy name change. The point is, having a child does not inherently make you virtuous. And one of the key problems here is, child welfare laws were written before homeschooling was legal in all fifty states. So they rely heavily on the premise that a child is going to be in school and seen by other adults, as this DA explains.

A lot of child abuse gets reported through our schools. Teachers and school administrators are mandated reporters. So, you know, if a child comes to school with bruises or emaciated, that is a very common way that it gets reported.

John: Right. Because the fact is, teachers serve multiple functions at school in addition to education. They watch out for signs of abuse, they chaperone school events, and they pretend not to know why Ellie won’t sit next to Rachel, Rachel won’t sit next to Kelsey, Kelsey’s not talking to Ethan even though ethan’s having a joint birthday party with Kelsey’s brother Bryce, who just happens to be Rachel’s boyfriend since last period. And they do all of that while also trying to teach long division. Teachers are superheroes who should make a million dollars a year.

[Cheers and applause]

So you can probably see the fact that it’s possible to pull a kid out of school, with no questions asked or follow-ups allowed, could easily be exploited by abusive parents. Especially as most states don’t even screen homeschool parents for red flags. 48 States have no background-check process for parents who choose to homeschool. In fact, even if you have a prior conviction of a crime against a child, you can homeschool them. A study done in Connecticut found that of the 380 students withdrawn in six districts to be homeschooled, 138 lived in families that were the subject of at least one prior report of suspected abuse or neglect. And yet, despite this, at every turn, the HSLDA has vigorously fought efforts to put any guardrails in place. Here’s their then-president, in 2015, explaining why they fight all regulations, even ones explicitly designed to prevent child abuse.

Child abuse is a parental issue, isn’t it? Any child, whether they be a non-homeschool child — or a parent, whether they be a homeschool parent, they can abuse their children. They have the potential to do it. So, why should we — for just a few — why should we for just a few invade all of the other innocent parents? That’s prior restraint. It’s unconstitutional. It’s un-american.

Are there — are there some categories of regulations around homeschooling that you would support that you don’t think of as an invasion or a takeover?

No, not any.

John: Okay, it’s bad enough he’s arguing for a total lack of regulation there, but the fact that he openly licks the corners of his mouth before doing so somehow makes it worse. He looks like a cat went to a Zoltar machine and made a wish to be Andy Griffith. The HSLDA views any oversight whatsoever as an attack, even offering members a 24-hour hotline in case of a visit from the state. In fact, here’s the sister of that woman you saw earlier, explaining how they’d practice what to do if child protective services showed up on their doorstep.

The parent would lock the front door, would call the homeschool legal defense association on the phone, hand the phone out the kitchen window, and us kids were supposed to hide in the basement. We actually did drills on this stuff, folks. We did drills in case someone ever decided to check in on our well-being.

John: Holy shit, that’s dark. Drills are meant for practicing what to do to avoid getting hurt, not to avoid getting help. It’s why fire alarms say “pull here in case of emergency” and not “snitches get stitches.” And the thing is, because of its committed membership, the HSLDA has the power to stop any kind of oversight in its tracks. Take Raylee’s Law, named after an 8-year-old girl in West Virginia whose father pulled her out of school after he was reported for abuse. She died of neglect only a few weeks later. Eventually, legislators proposed a law that would prevent parents from withdrawing a child from school when there is a pending child abuse or neglect investigation or when a parent has been convicted of domestic violence, child abuse or neglect. It seems like it’d be easy to get passed, right? But as the legislator who proposed it found out, not so much.

There are groups I want to say, there’s like this homeschool defense fund group that came out against Raylee’s law.


That’s it. And there were quotes about how awful this bill was and it’s an attack on homeschooling and, you know, they want to move the — the goal post. That’s what you do in politics, but I always thought maybe protecting children, you wouldn’t actually go about that.

John: Right, and that seems pretty reasonable. And if the HSLDA thinks trying to protect kids from being taken out of school by people convicted of child abuse is an “attack on homeschooling” they’re saying quite a bit about what they believe homeschooling to be. If Chili’s responded to a health inspector writing their workers up for pissing in the skillet queso with “this is an attack on everything chili’s stands for, don’t punish the majority of our staff for the minority who piss and shit in our presidente margaritas,” you’d have some questions about what chilli’s thinks it stands for. And for the record, that man’s bill never passed. And that story’s been repeated in state after state. As one legislative aide who’s gone up against HSLDA has said, “I’ve never seen a lobby more powerful and scary.” And a legislator in Arkansas who tangled with them says, “they told me the only legislation they wanted was what Alaska had, which was nothing.” At a certain point, it star to feel like the HSLDA is basically the homeschooling equivalent of the NRA — an extremely powerful organization that, while it represents a large number of people, pursues an outermost-fringe version of their agenda. So where do we go from here? Well, in a perfect world, we’d make sure that homeschool kids were both safe, and actually receiving a functional education. And there are smaller organizations like this one [CRHE, Coalition for Responsible Home Education], pushing for those sorts of changes. But at the barest minimum, we could require, in all 50 states, to register a child as homeschooled, so there’s at least a record that they exist. That is how low the bar is here, at the earth’s core — which I’m sure, according to at least one homeschooling textbook, is somewhere between soil and the fiery bowels of hell. But beyond that, we could pass some basic child safety protections to ensure parents can’t pull their kids out of school to escape scrutiny for abuse.
A few years ago, to its credit, Georgia passed a law that requires parents who pull kids out of school for no reason to send documentation within 45 days that they’re homeschooling their child, or proof of attendance at another school. If they don’t do that, they’re subject to a follow-up from the state. And even this republican Georgia state rep acknowledged, it was needed.

If the people in your world that you believe are most protective of you are — are torturing you or abusing you. Who’s going to — who’s going to look out for you? I mean — I don’t, you know, I don’t like government intervention in a lot of things, but I don’t, you know, the government’s the only person that I know that can intervene in this kind of case to save a child.

John: Yeah, he’s right. He’s just completely right. And agreeing with a staunch republican Georgia state rep wasn’t something I had on my 2023 Bingo card. I’ve almost got a full Bingo by the way, I’m just waiting on you know who to you know what [photo of Henry Kissinger]. And to be clear, I share his ambivalence about government intervention here. I understand that involving social services and the government in people’s personal situations poses a risk, especially to those who aren’t wealthy and who aren’t white. It’s not like I love the idea of giving the state room to poke around in people’s lives, or that I think our child protective services system is flawless, no notes. We’re almost definitely going to be doing a main story on CPS one day. But it does seem like giving parents a “get out of all scrutiny free, no questions asked” card just isn’t the answer here. Because being a parent doesn’t automatically make someone moral. And being with a parent doesn’t automatically make a child safe. And the truth is, a few extra security measures would not hurt the many parents who homeschool their children responsibly, but they’d definitely safeguard against those who use “personal liberty” as an excuse to neglect or harm their kids. The HSLDA can say all it wants that it doesn’t support Nazis or child abusers. But the fact is, the policies it relentlessly pushes for allow them to thrive. And basic reforms here shouldn’t be remotely controversial, because after all, this is about child welfare. This isn’t rocket science. It’s not even a home sheep-eye dissection — don’t google it, by the way, I cannot emphasize that enough. All of this is just basic common sense. And now, this.

* * *

Announcer: And now, the surprising importance of emojis on divorce court.

Am I understanding, because I had somebody explain to me because I didn’t get it. Is a conversation has occurred through emoji and gif in which you posted a waterfall which means you are in a state of sexual exultation.

Your honor, she’s a talented surfer who sends my husband eggplant emojis. Peach emojis.

Were you sending water splashing emojis? To your ex?


Did you send a heart kissing emoji to your cousin?

She has a bit of a sense of humor.

That ain’t funny.

When you thought the photo, do you think it’s appropriate to leave a drooling face emoji, and why was she saved on your phone as a blueberry?

She cute and sweet, so you say it’s blueberry?

Found text to a guy with a smiley face with mouth wide open and a purple thing.

I mean, smoking gun. That’s a smoking gun.

♪ ♪

[Cheers and applause]


John: That’s our show. Thank you so much for watching. See you next week. Good night!

[Cheers and applause]

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪


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