I have a huge problem with the American organisation, the Home School Defense League Association and also with its founder, Michael Farris. This has nothing to do with the fact that the HSDLA is a right wing, Christian group. After all, I am a regular churchgoer myself and vote Conservative. Right wing Christians are fine by me! No, my objection to these people is that they equate parental discipline with the ritual beating of children. Either one is in favour of thrashing small children or one is a hopeless, lily-livered, bleeding-heart liberal who is opposed to discipline in childhood.
When I say ‘ritual beating’, it is important that readers understand that I am not talking about the odd smack delivered to a child when the parent is frazzled and angry. This happens with most parents and is regrettable but probably harmless in the long run. What I mean is a deliberate and cold blooded policy of beating the child, sometimes with the hand and often with an implement, in order to break the child’s spirit and force obedience to the will of the parent. This is loathsome.
I actually have a couple of books by Michael Farris and pretty strange reading they make. Consider What a Daughter Needs from her Dad. Now I always thought that what my daughter needed was love, understanding, guidance, teaching; stuff like that. What I apparently left out was the need to humiliate her by striking her repeatedly on the buttocks with a piece of wood. Discipline, you see! Farris even helpfully suggests the use of a wooden spoon for this vital part of childrearing. Anybody else think that there is something a little perverted about a man beating his young daughter on the backside with a bit if wood, or is it just me?
Michael Farris and the HSDLA do seem to have a bit of a thing about spanking; their favoured term for this kind of physical abuse. Whenever the USA looks as though it might be about to sign up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, (the only countries not to sign up to this are America and Somalia), the HSDLA wades in and reminds parents that this might mean an end to spanking their children. Here is Farris warning parents a couple of months ago about another ’dangerous treaty’ that the USA might get mixed up in; the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 15 of this calls for a ban on ’inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. That would be a good thing, right? No, you fool! As Michael Farris says, ‘This means that spanking will be banned entirely in the United States’. The guy really does have a thing about spanking.
Because of all this, I was surprised to find that Farris’ books are in Education Otherwise’s Amazon Store on their public website. Putting his books there is really a form of endorsement, suggesting that these are suitable for home educators to buy and read. When a man is so determined that children should be physically abused by being subjected to the degrading ritual of being struck regularly on the buttocks with a piece of wood, I feel that this alone should be sufficient grounds for ordinary people to edge past him cautiously and give him a wide berth. The books in the Amazon Store are both pretty weird. To give one example, the Bible has always been important in our family. It seemed natural that my daughter would read it often and so she did. That was of course entirely up to her. Michael Farris, in The Homeschooling Father, says that he offered his children $100 if they would read the Bible regularly for a year! Am I alone in finding that rather odd?
It is of course up to Education Otherwise which books they recommend, but I really think that Michael Farris’ works should be treated with caution. He is a strange man with an unhealthy fixation on corporal punishment and what with that and paying children to read the Bible, I hardly think that he is somebody that Education Otherwise would wish to be endorsing in any way at all.