Today is Back To School Day for many American children: tears at the bus stop (some shed by children, mostly by parents), sparkling classrooms, dedicated teachers, sharpened pencils, lots of possibilities.
For homeschoolers, this may be just another Tuesday. I have not written much about homeschooling in relation to the trial of Larry and Carri Williams. It’s a volatile, emotional topic, hard to write about without offending or losing one’s audience, no matter which side the writer or reader is on. Also, I’ve known many homeschoolers–in my experience, they are a hard-working, thoughtful, nice group of parents and kids.
The same cautions exist for me around writing about Christians, fundamentalist or evangelical: hard to write about without sweeping generalizations and without offending or angering, and I know plenty who are nice, hard-working, thoughtful parents. I enjoy a proselytizer as much as the next person, if that means “not at all.” While I don’t share or even completely understand their beliefs, we can easily enjoy each other’s company, our kids can play together, we can read the same books, and find lots of (other) common ground.
And that’s why I believe what went on in Larry and Carri’s house was not Christian-based parenting, at least insofar as Hana and Immanuel were concerned.
As to the homeschooling, I respect the choices parents make, as they are usually in the best interest of their children. Larry and Carri (Carri, mostly) had years of homeschooling experience with their 7 biological children. They had a schedule, a system. They had fulfilled all legal requirements of Washington State to homeschool.
The homeschooling families I know (some devout Christians, some so not) put effort into their kids’ socializing with non-homeschooled kids, usually via sports teams or community service activities. That seems, to me, a good balance, and that’s the model I’m most familiar with. It’s exactly the model that did not happen with Larry and Carri Williams, or, more to the point, with Hana and Immanuel.
“Isolation” is an element of torture, according to a witness early in the trial. It’s easy to see how a systematic deprivation of contact with others can break one’s spirit and trouble one’s mind, especially over time, especially for a child. The isolation of a shower room, a barn, a closet, an outhouse: how can that be other than devastating over time, and when repeated? Especially when it’s done by the people who are supposed to love and take care of you.
So it’s not the homeschooling as such that I take issue with here. It’s the isolation. Adopting two, older, Ethiopian children (one who is deaf) should have meant ensuring that the children are exposed to (if not surrounded by) others like them: Ethiopians, people of color, deaf people, adopted children, adopted adults.
We will, of course, never know whether anything might have turned out differently for Hana, Immanuel, and the entire family, if they had not kept themselves and their two adopted children isolated from the community. My understanding is that by 2011, the Williams family stopped going to their church as much, and certainly stopped bringing Hana and Immanuel; they used the nursery/music room for home-church. That’s the room with the closet that Hana was locked in, where Carri played gospel music for Hana. I can only wonder at how abandoned Hana felt.
In this context, the idea of role models for adoptees is almost laughable. All adopted children should have those role models, especially transracial ones, in order to form healthy identities and self-understanding. It’s not a small thing.
In the world of Hana and Immanuel, of course, self-understanding took an enormous back step to survival.
Six school-age biological Williams’ children are now in the care of relatives or foster families, as best I know. The oldest, Joshua, is in the US Army, and will soon be serving in Korea; he may be there now. Immanuel is in foster care, with a deaf foster mom who has taught him to sign well. He is thriving, while still facing many challenges, from what I’ve heard. I don’t know how many, if any, of the children are now in public school. If today was a Back To School Day for them, I genuinely wish them all the best.
The trial resumes at 9am tomorrow, September 4, at 9 am. The judge will give instructions to the jury, and the lawyers will present their closing arguments. The jury will then begin deliberations.
Justice for Hana, justice for Immanuel.