In the last week, Joe and Nicole Naugler have made national news after their 10 children were removed from their homestead in Breckinridge County, Kentucky. The couple claims the kids were removed due to their preference for homeschooling (or more accurately, unschooling) and living “off the grid.” However, all available evidence suggests the kids were actually removed because their parents’ idea of “back to basics” living amounted to living conditions so squalid and unsafe that they can only be described as child neglect.
NBC News’ Chris Cato mostly let the pictures gleaned from the Naugler homestead speak for themselves. For those who don’t know, the Nauglers live in a four-walled shack; the fourth wall was added just last year. It is almost completely exposed to the elements, and there’s a tarp covering most of the area where the roof would be. You don’t need to be an expert to know this doesn’t even begin to be suitable for a family with 10 (soon to be 11) children. Other pictures gleaned from the Nauglers’ Facebook page show a homestead surrounded with several inches of mud. According to “Gary,” a member of a homeschooling family that lived in a much more adequate homestead for the first 18 years of his life, it’s all but certain that this mud is mostly animal waste.
Despite this, the Nauglers laughed off criticism of their lifestyle. Nicole said that many of her married friends almost never get to see their kids because “they both have to work all day to pay for things that I don’t think I need.” She and Joe decided to ask themselves, “What’s the bare minimum we need to survive comfortably?”
Apparently for the Nauglers, that “bare minimum” includes no running water or sewer. It also includes storing food in filthy containers and cooking over an open flame topped with rusted-over wire racks. And according to the complaint against the Nauglers, it includes a spread with piles of garbage, broken glass, and nails. Small wonder that Gary thinks that the Nauglers aren’t really homesteading, but are essentially homeless. That makes Cato’s attempt to compare the Nauglers to the free range kids in Maryland hard to understand. Comparing parents who make their kids live like this to parents who let their kids walk home alone is like comparing apples to oranges.
The Nauglers know that people have raised a lot of hackles about their parenting style. Nicole retorted that her approach to parenting is “different.” Fair enough. But regardless of how different parenting styles may be, there are still some basic necessities that have to be provided–and based on what has come out recently, the Nauglers aren’t providing them. For instance, last summer they built an outhouse that, like their shack, is almost completely exposed to the elements. I’d really like to know how Joe and Nicole felt comfortable letting their kids use this last winter, as brutal as it was. Moreover, the Nauglers admit that at least some of their kids don’t have birth certificates or Social Security numbers. I know a lot of people who try to live simply and go back to basics, but unlike the Nauglers they at least make some effort to provide decent conditions for their kids.
Cato might have been a little harder on the Nauglers had he known that they recently opened a high-end dog grooming salon a few miles from Fort Knox. They have the time and money to do that, but they make their kids live like this? It only proves that this case isn’t about homeschooling at all, as much as the Nauglers would have you believe that it is. It’s about inadequate living conditions. The local homeschooling community knows this; they’ve more or less washed their hands of the Nauglers.
Despite this, the Nauglers have managed to snow a lot of people outside of Kentucky. As of Saturday night, a GoFundMe campaign has raised over $45,000 for their legal expenses, and a close friend who owns a company that funds startups through Bitcoin donations has helped raise over $21,000 for their dog grooming business. I have to wonder if any of them have seen the pictures of the conditions at the Naugler spread. I know if I’d given any money to either of these efforts and seen those pictures, I’d be demanding a refund.