My name is Jean Swantko Wiseman and I met the Twelve Tribes 18 years ago when the Communities were accused of child abuse and truancy. I want to tell you today that in 1979 the children of the Twelve Tribes were not truant, and in 1984, despite a massive and illegal round-up of the children in Island Pond, they were not abused. Today the charge is child labor. Our children are not oppressed by child labor.
In 1990 the Vermont Commissioner of Education came to Island Pond and visited our classrooms. He left with the comment, “We in public education could learn a lot from you people.” That man was Richard Mills. Today he sits in Albany as the New York Commissioner of Education. He saw how our children were being raised and he marveled.
I wonder what he thinks of the proposal of a New York City mayoral candidate to devote $100 million dollars to use city schools for after-hours activities for 200,000 students between the hours of 3 pm and 6 pm. The purpose of the plan is to keep kids safe and working parents secure during those three critical hours. An anti-crime coalition of law enforcement officers, crime victims, and youth experts found the after-school hours of 3 to 6 pm to be peak hours for teen crime, teen sex, teen car crashes, teen victimization, and the teen use of smokes, alcohol and drugs.
An article announcing the need for this program ran side-by-side with Monday’s New York Post article taking credit for the fact that the New York Department of Labor was “launching an investigation into the Twelve Tribes” for child labor violations. The Post even boasted such action “was on the heels of a Post report.” The irony is that the Post’s scandal was not based on any finding of violation or any factual complaint against us, but there is no denying the problem of idle teens without purpose or parenting in society at large.
Our life in the Twelve Tribes has purpose and parenting and we pay attention to our children. One of the leading causes of school violence in the United States is neglected children — children who do not get enough attention paid to them. It is a national epidemic. The life we live in the Twelve Tribes Communities is one remedy to that problem, which not many have real solutions for. Students with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) probably can’t pay attention because they don’t get any. The magnitude of the amount of Ritalin forced on school children in this country is astronomical. It is a much bigger problem than oppressive child labor.
Giving attention to children is the remedy to today’s social ills, not the source of them. That is what we do. We pay attention to our children and give them purpose. We train them in the way that they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it. We teach them diligence and to work hard. They prosper under the watchful eye of good authority.
The life we share in the Twelve Tribes Communities is the beginning of a new social order, a new way of living that demonstrates the restoration between men and women, parents and children, and between races where the barriers that divide the human race are broken down. It is normal for parents and children to work together. There is no law against parents and children loving one another. There is no law against parents caring for their children and having them right by their side. This is just common sense. Good government officials understand the spirit of the law that agrees with common sense. I could name you a list of public servants who look admirably upon us. We believe that true servants in government can recognize the difference between people doing good and people doing evil. We have always been able to find a place within the law to live in peace. In our dialogue with New York State Labor Department officials over the past few days, we found them to be no exception. They were in no way alarmed by what they saw at our facilities. We shared some information and were glad to meet each other and look forward to working together.
We welcome you to get to know the truth about us, so you can put away the lies. I offer to each of you a “Somethin’s Happenin’ Here” paper written a year ago for the 30th year Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion tour. I recommend to you in particular a couple of articles in it that will let you know who we are and where we are going as a people. One is Our House and the other is called The Movement. You will soon learn that we are neither isolationist nor racist, or maybe you already know. We do insulate ourselves from the popular culture because there is not much about it that we admire, but our purpose is the restoration of all things, relationships between humanity and God, between men and women, between parents and children, and between one race and another. The hope of our life is to produce a real and lasting unity, a life of love that brings light to the darkness that surrounds us.
I hope you will begin by taking the time to find out who we really are and not settle for anything less. By the way, we live on Main Street surrounded by neighbors, not in compounds. Anyone is free to leave and everyone is welcome to visit.
More about the education of our children:
We train our children in our own homes. We have developed our own curriculum, designed to meet our children's needs. We report our children's educational progress to the state regularly in recognition of their right to know that our children are being educated.