Tuesday, January 16, 2018

CA: The Worst Private School Horror Story Imagineable

By now you've heard about the story of the Turpins, the California couple that kept thirteen children held captive in the basement, some in shackles, all horrifyingly undernourished. Several of the children are, at this point, actually adults, having lived like this for years.

How could such a thing happen? Read this paragraph from further down the page in the New York Times coverage of the story:

California records show that Mr. Turpin had received state approval to run a private school, the Sandcastle Day School, at the family’s home, a one-story stucco house in a subdivision built in recent years. The school enrolled six students this year, in grades six through 12, and Mr. Turpin was listed as the principal.

And as of this afternoon, the "school" is still listed on the state's directory! (h/t Wendy Hirschegger)

This is a worst-case scenario, and I would not attempt to paint other private schools with the Turpin brush because, please God, this is a rare and terrible outlier.

But it is also a reminder of just how bad things can conceivably get when your state exercises no oversight over non-public schools. Does abuse happen in public schools? Sure. Do most private schools operate without horrifying abuse of this sort? Sure. But it's hard to imagine something remotely like this happening in a public school, subject to considerable oversight. And it's hard to imagine how a state like California, where private and charter schools are allowed to function with little or more state oversight, could have caught this.

This is why focusing only on the interests of the family and dismantling public institutions is a bad idea-- because some families are horrible, and if there are no government institutions watching out for the rights of the children, those rights will be buried in a home-built dungeon. This is why a stance of "We don't want to impose any government rules or oversight on private education providers" is an unacceptable stance.

Monsters thrive in the dark and shrink in the sun. Expecting monsters to illuminate themselves is simply abandoning their victims, and that is not okay.


  1. Still more evidence of the Evils of Gummint Regulation...

  2. I homeschooled briefly in California. There is *no* oversight at all. All you have to do is file a form in October saying that you are a private school with a student population of fewer than (I think) six or seven kids, and voila. You are supposed to keep attendance and have a plan for educating the children, but nothing in the form requires you to share that plan, and no agency evaluates that plan.

    I loved the homeschoolers I got to know: they were creative, committed, and not even very Jesus-y. So not taking away anything from them. And sure, monsters like the Turpin family are very rare.

    But plenty of parents would fall seriously short of devising and executing a worthwhile curriculum for their kids. Plenty would use "homeschool" as an opportunity for dopey religious indoctrination. Plenty would use it so kids could go work. Plenty of parents would suck as teachers. Plenty of parents would use the homeschool as a way to shield kids from any points of view other than the Family Way.

    So yes, when people talk about the sanctity of the family, they are not thinking about real life.

  3. An Eton-style education online? How will they reproduce the wonders of fagging,* upon which the British ruling class hone their leadership skills? I suppose they can create an app which shouts WHERE'S THAT TOAST, ELLSWORTH, I'VE GOT RUGGER PRACTICE IN TEN MINUTES at random times of day....

    *British private school system by which younger bpys act as servants to senior boys

    1. Sorry - I posted this in the wrong place - should be in response to the previous story (about Anthony Seldon's weird claim that robots will give everyone an Eton or Wellington-style online education).

  4. The Turpin story is so horrific that I immediately wondered if it would become the new whipping-boy (ha ha .. ooo sorry) case for better regulation of private and home schooling, or, somehow, against charter and for-profit schools. As you say, it seems wrong to use it for any purpose involving the education debate - like not using a mass murder as an argument for more sensible gun regulation, or per Godwin's law, like not letting a political debate devolve into calling someone a Nazi. The real people we're trying to reach tend to stop listening when we call them mass murderers, basement-torturers, or concentration camp guards.
    I couldn't help but notice that in your next piece, about DeVos' slightly-tamed rhetoric, you mention the Turpin case.