Update: This post is now featured at Homeschoolers Anonymous.
The Daily Beast’s coverage of Homeschoolers Anonymous has reignited the perennial debate over the homeschooling movement and parents’ rights. As a former homeschooler, this is an intensely personal debate for me: I disliked the homeschool experience and I remain deeply critical of the Christian curriculum my parents employed. My own experience is not identical to the stories detailed in the Daily Beast article. I did not grow up in a Quiverfull home and my parents eventually became wary of the movement’s fringes. As a result, they did agree to send me and my brother to private and then public school. They’re not homeschool activists in any meaningful sense. Nevertheless, this article resonates with me, and I agree with the premise put forward by the members of Homeschoolers Anonymous: that homeschooling left me totally unprepared for the real world, and facilitated religious abuse.
Before I continue I want to make it clear that I understand that homeschooling isn’t intrinsically a social evil. Done well, it can certainly prepare children to excel in higher education. Moreover, I don’t intend to argue that the alternatives are without flaw. The state of public and private schools in the US is a valid concern. I’m not going to summarize that debate here, but I’m referencing it in order to show that I do understand why parents (like my own) may make the decision to homeschool. I’m concerned by a specific branch of the homeschool movement, and its emphasis on religious indoctrination.
Certain common themes emerge from the Daily Beast story. Readers are introduced to adults who spent their formative years engaged in a battle against secularism. There is much praise for homeschooling’s ability to encourage children’s natural gifts, but as these stories demonstrate, many Evangelical and fundamentalist families encourage these gifts in order to advance a specific ideological agenda. Those of us raised in the religious right will recognize the rhetoric. We’re meant to be culture warriors, engaged in battle to return America to its Christian roots. Homeschooling is meant to create a pure environment. Christian parents are free to teach (read: train) their children in an atmosphere free of secular corruption.
For obvious reasons, this attitude toward education lends itself easily to abuse, particularly when you consider that most of these families adhere to traditional gender roles that revere the father as the head of the household. When your father is your chief disciplinarian, spiritual adviser, breadwinner and the principal of your school, a patriarchal structure is so firmly entrenched that the possibility of addressing domestic abuse is incredibly unlikely. Additionally, it reflects the belief that children are the property of their parents, that children have no rights, independent of their parents. The potential consequences this attitude poses for the children subjected to it are evident from the Daily Beast piece and from the other stories provided by Homeschoolers Anonymous.
There are additional points of concern; namely, the overlap between this fringe and Christian reconstruction. R.J. Rushdooney, truly the father of contemporary Christian reconstructionism, advocated homeschooling as an alternative to secular education. Later figures like Michael Farris continue to champion homeschooling as a religious obligation for Christian parents. Precociousness is considered evidence that homeschooling works. In the comments of the Daily Beast piece, you’ll find at least two adolescent homeschoolers engaged in a passionate defense of the movement. They repeatedly cite their personal success, and the successes of their homeschooled peers, as evidence of homeschooling’s superiority.
As a homeschool alumna, I don’t credit my own academic success to my parents’ decision to homeschool. If anything I believe I’ve succeeded in spite of it. I’ve never received accurate scientific instruction and I had to re-teach myself history and government. My decision to pursue political theory at the graduate level is partially inspired by this drive to strip my thought process of the misinformation and bias I learned as a child. Similarly, I reject the belief that my current progressive views are derived from mere rebellion, as many current homeschoolers like to assert. Those of us who object to the movement do so for valid reasons, and I hope that this Daily Beast article marks the beginning of a critical national conversation about children’s rights and the need to better regulate home instruction.