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World History and Cultures: Foundations

To make things a little bit easier on y’all the readers and myself the reviewer, I’m going to split each review post into a few sections. The intent of this is to allow me to spend the bulk of my time digging into the philosophy at work in these textbooks instead of dedicating more of it to fact-checking and the at-times incredulous claims they make. I will highlight any inaccuracies that I can spot, as well as anything noteworthy that I can’t spend time on but that is still worth discussing.


  • The timeline only goes back to 4,000 BCE, which is labeled “creation.”
  • Humans originated in Mesopotamia and were dispersed from there.

Wild Assertions:

  • The continents “broke apart” during one man’s lifetime from a single land mass (8).
  • Evolution leads to widespread abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, and people become evolutionists to “escape their accountability to God” (4).
  • Humanism always leads to “decline and ultimate ruin” (5).


  • History has a definite, identifiable structure and a narrative arc.
  • The Bible is factually, historically, literally accurate.
  • Everything following the Death and Resurrection of Christ is history’s dénouement.
  • The Tower of Babel sequence broke humanity into the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth.


One of the most important things I want to emphasize about studying World History and Cultures is that this is not a general survey history textbook in the sense that we would typically understand it: it is a religious history textbook. A more accurate title for it would be A History of the Christian Religion in a Global Context. It would still be full of misleading information, inaccuracies, and a stupefying amount of conjecture, but at least with a different title we would understand what it actually is in function.

However, it is also important to recognize the intention of this book, which is to provide a far-right, Christian fundamentalist interpretation of global history. Its mission is to “educate” students in a very particular, very narrow lens of viewing human events and to provide a framework for understanding current events. They’re crystal clear on this point:

The study of history is important because each generation needs to know about the people, events, and ideas of former generations in order to make wise decisions in the present …

We can learn the lessons of history and apply them to our own times and our own lives. In other words, we can begin to look at history in Christian perspective. (3-4).

The point of this textbook– the reason why Abeka commissioned it, the reasons why the authors wrote it– is to teach a generation of students to understand their position and role in modern society in a very particular way.

The primary message of the first chapter (“Foundations for the Study of History”) is that history has a definite and easily identifiable narrative arc. WHAC repeats that history has a “beginning, middle, and end” and that the Christian religion is the only means of accessing the “whys” of history. The authors will be looking to a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible to shape their historical narrative, and will be using a fundamentalist understanding of God’s sovereignty to explain the “whys” instead of bothering with silly little things data or research.

Along with declaring that the Bible is the only credible source of information on “prehistoric” times (which it teaches doesn’t actually exist, since the Bible encapsulates all of history and all of it is therefore “recorded” [7]), WHAC gives two methods for contextualizing all of human history. The first is an explanation of BC and AD, the second is that history is divided into three eras: ancient, medieval, and modern (4). Their benchmarks for these eras are localized to Europe: the fall of the Roman Empire and the Protestant Reformation. I’ve written before on Christian fundamentalism’s obsession with Western Civilization— this is just one more example of it. When a Christian fundamentalist harps on the concept of “Western civilization,” they don’t just mean a broad cultural, economic, and legal heritage: they mean white and Christian.


Since we’re dealing with the section of WHAC that is using Genesis 1-11 to “teach” about pre-historic and proto-historic times, it’s filled to the brim with about what one would expect. Adam and Eve, Noah, and Nimrod are all definitively real people, there was a global flood, etc. It’s barely worth comment.

What did draw my attention was how they explained the rise of government and nations. They explain that “The sovereignty of God over all nations is the foundation of human government,” and then argue that “God established” the “first foundational civil ordinance” [emphasis theirs] by “ordering the death penalty for murder” (4).

Well… that certainly explains a lot.

This view of government– the view that capital punishment is the foundation of government— is inherently violent. It posits that the state’s purpose is primarily punitive, that governments do not exist to protect or help anyone, but to discipline and chastise.

At this point, please remember what WHAC has already made brutally clear: we are intended to learn from history to apply it to our current context and our actual lives. Take the lesson that government exists to punish and apply it to any current situation and what do you get?

Babies being ripped out of their mother’s sobbing arms. Women miscarrying in detention without medical care. Children dying in government shelters. Jeff Sessions invoked Romans 13 to justify his atrocities (and so does WHAC: “He did command his people to be obedient to civil authority” (5).), but the actual justification comes from this entire logic chain. If you’re anything like me, you’ve seen an infuriating number of people contend that if parents didn’t want the US government to kidnap their kids, then they shouldn’t have come here. This is where that argument begins.


…there are many different kinds of people. Mankind can be divided into several large groups called races. The people of each race differ from those of other races in the color of their skin, in the size and shape of their head, in the kind and color of their hair, and in many other physical features.” (6)

We need to talk about “kind.”

World History and Cultures is the 10th grade history textbook from Abeka. Many schools and parents use the same publisher for more than one course– mine did, and we used the Abeka science textbook also meant for 10th graders: Biology: God’s Living Creation. In it, 10th grade students would be learning about the young earth creationist definition of “kind.”

Abeka’s definition of “kind” is drawn from Genesis 1:12, the divine instruction for creation to reproduce after its “kind.” Kinds is a roughly similar term, in creationist parlance, to “species.” Answers in Genesis says that “if two things can breed together, then they are of the same created kind.” They (and Abeka) note that some kinds can be closer than others, and that animals from different groupings can mate and produce offspring but that the offspring will often be sterile, or have other genetic problems.

When WHAC says that there are “many different kinds of people” and that these “kinds” are “divided into several large groups,” it is making this claim in the context of Biology’s definition of “kind,” which the student would probably be reading on the same day.

Obviously they are not making the claim that people of European and African descent can’t mate and produce fertile offspring. However, they are arguing for a very particular view of racial theory: it is a real barrier, a real divide, the differences between the races are concrete, measurable, definable and “plain.” They even point to some supposedly quantifiable “shape of their head,” which is evoking the racist “scientific” field of phrenology.

They are arguing that different human races exist.

Please note that WHAC does not make this claim as a cultural one, or a historical one, or a sociopolitical one, but as a biological one. Biological definitions of race– “biologically” based means of “dividing” the races– only exist in the minds of racial supremacists.* This view is not just morally bankrupt, it has led to some of the worst acts of barbarity the world has ever known.

And they have to audacity to claim that evolution and humanism only ever lead to decline and ruin?


Each chapter concludes with a review– as a homeschooler, this sort of thing was my only homework. There’s eight questions for students to answer, and it’s revealing what those questions focus on. They ask the students to use the text to define evolution, humanism, and race (where the answers would be, based on the reading, “evil, evil, and a biological reality”) and to identify the “builder of the first world empire and the meaning of his name” (answer: Nimrod, “rebel”). Half the questions focus on things that are ideological in nature: remind yourselves how bad evolution and humanism are, please look up our definitely-white-supremacist definition of race again, and oh, by the way, here’s a heaping side dish of “one world governments are rebellion against God.”

And this is just the first chapter.

The third edition shortens this chapter by a half page, but all the same elements are present. Since the Beginning focuses exclusively on telling the biblical story from Genesis 1-11, and interestingly does not include any  discussion of race.

*For more reading, please check out “The Science You Need to Know to Explain why Race is Not Biological.”

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Art by Nicolas Raymond
Social Issues

World History and Cultures: the Review Introduction

World History and Cultures in Christian Perspective (which I will abbreviate as WHAC from now on) is put out by the publishing arm of Pensacola Christian College, Abeka Book (named after Rebekah Horton, one of PCC’s founders). Not only did my family use this textbook when I was in tenth grade, this is also the textbook used at PCC in their history survey classes HI 101 and 102, which were required courses for nearly every student. When I introduced the concept of reviewing WHAC on Facebook and Twitter, a few of you asked if this is a common homeschooling textbook– and yes, it is, but Abeka curriculum is widely used in many Christian schools around the world and in the US. This fact is especially concerning considering that many of these private Christian schools benefit from scholarship and voucher programs; so, if you’re a tax-paying US citizen, chances are your tax dollars are paying for books like WHAC.

A few news outlets have already done an enormous amount of work looking into these textbooks and their widespread use; I’d encourage you to read the following articles to get a good understanding of the significance and cultural power publishers like Abeka now enjoy.

Schools without Rules” at the Orlando Sentinel by Leslie Postal, Beth Kassab, and Annie Martin

Voucher Schools Championed by Betsy DeVos can Teach whatever They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies” at Huffington Post by Rebecca Klein (normally I wouldn’t link to a HuffPo article, but Klein did an incredible job reporting this)

14 Wacky ‘Facts’ Kids Will Learn in Lousiana’s Voucher Schools” at Mother Jones by Deanna Pan

Klein found that Abeka tended to be the most popular– used in about a quarter of the Protestant schools she looked into– and the Sentinel reporters discovered that 65% of the schools they looked into in Florida used either ABeka, BJUPress, or ACE. The prevalence of these textbooks in taxpayer-funded schools should be deeply disturbing to all of us because the ideas these publishers teach are counterproductive to a democratic and free society.

That sounds conspiratorial and borderline hysterical, I know. However, it is not a coincidence that we’ve had a half dozen white supremacist domestic terrorists this year who were homeschooled using these textbooks and went to colleges like Pensacola Christian. It is not the ultimate goal of these publishers to radicalize terrorists, but it is an acceptable inevitability to the people who created these programs. The curricula exist to indoctrinate children in a “Christian perspective” of society, a perspective that explicitly includes white supremacy and Christian nationalism.

I know that’s a broad claim. Unfortunately, it won’t be difficult to prove.


A lot of time and attention has been given to examples from Accelerated Christian Education booklets– if you’ve seen a screen shot or picture about a conservative Christian textbook making ludicrous claims about the Loch Ness monster or how Black children are “ugly” and white children are “pretty,” chances are it’s from ACE. Their booklets have some of the most outrageous and egregious examples, so they get a lot of space in articles about conservative Christian textbooks. Abeka is the most popular publisher, though, and part of that is due to their relative circumspection. They teach all the same ideas as ACE, but they do it in a … less spectacular way. In order to expose the white supremacy at the heart of Abeka’s history textbooks, you have to spend a lot of time digging into them.

That, plus my personal experience, is why I chose to focus on Abeka. After that, I had to pick a grade and edition. I decided to start with world history because Abeka’s goals to manipulate and indoctrinate are clearer than if I were looking at US history (and, to be honest, you can throw a rock and hit a racist US history textbook). Ultimately, I decided to focus my attention on the second edition of WHAC because that was the one most commonly used by students my age. The point of examining WHAC is to expose what an entire generation of students grew up being taught, not just to point fingers at ABeka. For fairness’ sake, I also got their newest edition. I didn’t notice any significant changes, but I will note them as I go through if they change something that matters, like correcting an inaccuracy or shifting the ideological assertions.

I also got a copy of Since the Beginning: History of the World in Christian Perspective, Creation through Twentieth Century (the 7th grade Abeka history book) from my colleague, Ryan Stollar. He’s already tweeted his way through Since the Beginning, but I thought it could be useful to see what Abeka teaches before high school, since a lot of private schools cut off at eighth grade. I’ll mention Since the Beginning on occasion, just to provide more context.


WHAC is the product of a team of people (several of whom were my professors at PCC), but the primary authors are Jerry Combee and George Thompson. Both were difficult to identify, but I finally found their bios and … to be frank, it surprised me and made me even more suspicious.

Combee has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science from Emory University, and PhD in Government from Cornell. He’s taught political philosophy at a bunch of places and was president of both Grove City College and University of Jamestown (ND). His other work is flagrantly ideological, and makes it obvious why PCC asked him to write their history textbooks.

Thompson when to Colgate University, then the University of Connecticut. His PhD is from Princeton, and all of his work has been in rhetoric and persuasion– after helping with WHAC, he went on to found an organization to teach “Verbal Judo,” a “way to defuse conflict and redirect behavior into more positive channels.” His program has been heavily utilized by US-based police forces, apparently.

Combining these two authors should make it clear that the primary purpose of World History and Cultures isn’t education, but ideological indoctrination. They didn’t seek out excellent history scholars or good research-writers, but men whose entire education and life’s work was focused on manipulation and persuasion, not the honest relaying of information and its context.

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Art by Nicolas Raymond
Social Issues

on HSLDA and homeschooling culture

When I found out about the Turpin parents and how they had starved and tortured their children, like most of my colleagues who have been fighting for more protections for homeschooled students … I was unsurprised. Horrified, sickened, heartbroken, but not surprised. This isn’t even the first time parents have starved and tortured more than a dozen kids in California since 2000. Not a week goes by that I don’t hear about yet another case of a “homeschooling” parent abusing or murdering their children.

For a lot of reasons– in my opinion, primarily the pictures that show the family in matching clothes that don’t change from year to year– the Turpin story made international news. 20/20 did a story on them, as did many other US-based national media outlets. Friends of mine that live overseas from me read about it in their newspapers. The common theme: how could this have happened?!

The answer is easy: The Home School Legal Defense Association.

I started pitching pieces about the Turpins, explaining exactly how that was possible and how they were able to get away with it for decades, and an editor at The Establishment was interested. In our conversation, she asked a lot of really great questions about HSLDA, and the piece morphed into an explanation of the political power HSLDA wields in American politics. I’ve been interviewing people, including the heads of HSLDA and Generation Joshua, for about a month now, and the article came out this morning.

I am hoping this article can become a resource, hopefully a touchstone for people trying to explain HSLDA and how homeschooling culture has become what it is: a bastion, a legal shelter, for abusers and killers. As far as I’m aware, this is the first article anywhere covering the HSLDA like this, in a way that’s accessible and can be read in about five-ten minutes.

You can read it here: “Meet HSLDA, the Most Powerful Religious-Right Lobby You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Also, if you use the Medium app, The Establishment is a really awesome online magazine and you should totally follow them.

Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw
Social Issues

socialization isn’t a freaking joke

If you’ve been around homeschooling culture for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with how they tend to make fun of “socialization.” When I was growing up as a homeschooled kid, I had “20 Snappy Comebacks” prepared in case I overheard someone asking “b-but but what about socialization?!” I’d been taught– and was firmly convinced– that when people asked about socialization it sprang from a place of ignorance about homeschooling. When you homeschool, I believed, you’re not just limited to interact with people from your grade level, but with children and adults of all ages. Through church (and, theoretically, co-ops, although I only attended one in 2nd grade), we got all the social interaction we could possibly want.

It’s ironic to me now that while I thought that other people were ignorant if they asked me about socialization (which, honest moment, they never did, probably because of how incredibly isolated I was), the fact of the matter is that most homeschoolers who dismiss socialization as a legitimate question are also being ignorant.

Socialization isn’t just “learning to talk to people like a regular human.” It’s not “having friends.” It’s not “engage in social activities.” Socialization is “the process whereby an individual learns to adjust to a group (or society) and behave in a manner approved by the group (or society).” I’ve talked about my own experience with socialization before, and one thing I can confidently say is that if we’re talking about fundamentalism, then I am socialized extremely well. I know how to walk the walk and talk the talk. I know what the acceptable behaviors and language are. I was taught to be extremely well-suited to that environment.

However, now that I’m not in fundamentalism anymore, I am not well socialized. I struggle understanding what the group parameters are, and one of the biggest struggles I face is that I have no metric whatsoever for analyzing my behavior. Was I polite? No idea. Did I hurt someones’ feelings? Not a clue. Did I do or say something weird or awkward? Can’t say. I’m slowly learning how to operate in casual social settings, but there is always a sliver of me that’s panicking the entire time that I’m going to blow it and expose myself as the weird homeschool kid.

But there’s another aspect to this “socialization” question that I’ve yet to see addressed.

Above I noted that I am extremely well socialized to operate in fundamentalist spaces, so I am intimately familiar with what’s required to achieve that and it bothers me.

Every once in a while, I’ll bump into someone commenting on how “well-behaved your children are!” Sometimes it’s people talking about how polite and happy and well-mannered all the Duggar children appear to be. A few years ago I overheard it at a not-fundamentalist church, and it was directed at a mom in a denim jumper with six kids and– no joke– No Greater Joy sticking out of her diaper bag for some reason. “Well-mannered children” is part and parcel of fundamentalist socialization, and there’s a fairly uniform code for what that means:

  • instant obedience
  • obedience with a “good attitude”
  • joyfulness
  • respectful of elders
  • lack of rebellion (individuation)
  • are faithful, diligent members of the religion

The main problem I have with the above is all those people complimenting fundamentalist parents on “well-mannered” children have no freaking idea what it takes to achieve children who behave like that. Children are supposed to be imaginative and express their identity and be unruly and rambunctious and explore and be curious and filled with wonder and sometimes be grumpy and unhappy and annoying.

The methods used to create children who are always smiling, who always obey instantly, who never go through individuation, who never talk back– they should horrify us because they are nightmarish. In order to achieve this, you have to beat infants. You have to strike your children multiple times a day with a switch or a board or a belt. Age-appropriate exploration must be prevented at all costs– either through things like blanket training or slapping a baby every time they reach for a necklace or your hair. You must subject your infant or toddler to brutal physical punishment every single time they show a disavowed form of curiosity about their environment.

For older children and teenagers, you have to completely disallow any form of individuality. They must agree with everything you teach them. Doubts and questions are forbidden. If they attempt to express their own identity, they must be bullied by other members of the fundamentalist community to immediately stamp it out.

Being socialized as a fundamentalist child means being horribly abused. It means being denied any natural part of growing up. So, yes, fundamentalist homeschool families are socializing their children– socialization, really, is inevitable– it’s just what they’re socializing them to. Fundamentalist homeschoolers are largely incapable of socializing their children to be capable, competent, contributing members of society because socializing them in fundamentalism precludes that.

Remember that next time you hear someone comment how cute and quaint and charming the Duggar family is.

Artwork by David Bliwas

This is what ATI teaches families like the Duggars

A few months ago, when the news initially broke about Josh sexually abusing his sisters and others, I wrote a post that examined some of the reasons why his parents were able to cover up what he’d done so effectively: the purity culture they raised their children in blames women for their own assaults. Specifically, they used a program created by Bill Gothard, a man known for sexually harassing women and minors (Josh Duggar received his “counseling” from Gothard’s ministry). This program is known as the Advanced Training Institute (ATI).

I was able to include some of the material that laid out ATI’s approach to counseling abuse victims, and it is horrific. Well, today I’d like to share a few more pieces of information, because it lays out all the reasons why the Duggars (or anyone like them) should not be allowed within spitting distance of TLC’s upcoming documentary.

ati 1

Salient quote:

Do you know what provokes attacks?

  • Evaluate Dress
  • Choose friends Wisely

ati 2

Salient quote:

God has established some very strict guidelines or responsibility for a woman who is attacked. She is to cry out for help. The victim who fails to do so is equally guilty with the attacker.

I decided a long time ago that if that is who God is, I want nothing to do with them. That God is an absolute monster, but that’s the sort of God that fundamentalist families like the Duggars believes exists.

ati 4

Salient quote:

A woman was startled one night by an intruder who broke into her apartment. The attacker stated his intentions, and she replied “You’ll have to kill me first because I’ve given my body and my life to the Lord.”

In this culture it is actually preferable for a woman to die than to “lose her virginity,” even through rape.

~ ~ ~

The Duggars aren’t the only family in America to follow and believe these ideas. The ATI annual conferences see thousands of attendees, and the intersections between fundamentalist Christianity and conservative politics are numerous and influential. This isn’t something we can hold up as an example of extreme fundamentalism gone so wrong it’s easy to make fun of. This shit is serious, and important, because the people who believe these things aren’t fringe. Misogyny and victim-blaming are part of the core values of the homeschooling and Tea Party movements, and that shouldn’t be dismissed.


Coalition for Responsible Home Education


I wanted to take the time to introduce all of you to a new non-profit organization. Many of my friends have sacrificed time and resources to make this a reality.

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education

OUR MISSION is to raise awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, provide public policy guidance, and advocate for responsible home education practices.

OUR VISION is for homeschooling to be a child-centered educational option, used only to lovingly prepare young people for an open future.

I encourage you to check out the website– it is amazing. People like Heather Doney, Rachel Coleman, Kierstyn King, and R. Stollar (among others) created this amazing resource, and I believe in their mission. Homeschooling can be a wonderful thing– or it can be something used to create nightmares out of children’s lives. CRHE doesn’t exist to put an end to homeschooling, or to make homeschooling more difficult. It exists to protect the children that no one else has noticed.

CRHE was created to educate and inform citizens, lawmakers, and service providers about protections homeschooled children and youth require to ensure that they receive an adequate education and preparation for adult life.  We are committed to providing resources, conducting research, and promoting policy to protect homeschooled children and youth from falling through the cracks if their parents or guardians are unable or unwilling to responsibly educate them.  We are a nonpartisan organization committed to ensuring that the interests of the homeschooled child are respected alongside the interests of the homeschooling parent.

I hope you have a few minutes to look over the website and see what they have. See if you can recommend it as a resource. Ask if homeschooling families you know have heard of it. Maybe put links on your facebook, twitter. If you’re part of a homeschool co-op, talk about it. Spread the word.

Also, please consider donating (link at the bottom of their page). I’ve never tried to use the space I have here to ask anyone for their money, but I believe that this is an organization worth supporting. They’re just beginning– which means start-up costs. Everyone involved is not getting a penny: it’s a labor of love. But, if CRHE is going to be effective, money is going to be necessary, and soon.

Thank you for taking any time you have to get the word out.

Social Issues

an average homeschooler: high school textbooks


Elementary school and junior high were marked by a lot of experimentation with curriculum. My mother got a homeschool catalog in the mail, and she’d sit down and go through it, highlighting anything she thought was interesting, and I’d pick out a few things that I thought were cool, and that’s what we’d end up doing for electives. However, once we hit high school, I was focusing pretty intently on my piano, as well as my writing, so I wasn’t very interested in electives besides those two. We stuck with the core high school curriculum, and for the most part only used A Beka and BJUPress.

I have very clear memories of my high school experience. I remember the way all the books looked, I remember specific passages and illustrations. I remember quizzes and homework problems.

10th grade was A Beka biology, grammar, and history, BJUPress geometry and literature.

The biology was absolutely ridiculous, in retrospect. They argued a few things about evolutionary missing links that when I did research years later were either exaggerations or misrepresentations. They spent a lot of time presenting their version of evolutionary theory, and what they did was give me nothing more than a straw man. They made assertions about what evolutionists think that make evolutionists look patently ridiculous– the problem is, modern evolutionists haven’t thought or expressed any of those ideas in over a century in some cases. The textbook spends an inordinate amount of time building a case for philosophical Modernism– it doesn’t really have much to do with science, but it has everything to do with conservative and fundamentalist religion.

The grammar and vocabulary books were fine, for the most part, except that A Beka has a very particular agenda to push when it comes to grammar. All of their books explicitly teach prescriptive grammar, and condemns all dictionaries past Webster’s 3rd as absolutely corrupt. The BJUPress literature book taught the same attitude, haranguing almost any author past the 18th century for their amorality and relativism. In fact, the only author I read that could at all be described as post-modern would be T.S. Elliot, and he barely qualifies. I also don’t remember much — if anything– written by someone who wasn’t a white man. So, while most of my peers read books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye or 1984, I didn’t read any of them until I got to graduate school.

Both the A Beka biology book and the BJUPress geometry book made it absolutely clear that the only way a scientist can discover anything is if God allows it. Aside from it painting a dubious picture of God as well as leaving the impression that scientists are bumbling idiots stumbling around in the dark and God occasionally allows them to bump into something (a la endless lists of scientific discoveries that were made “by accident”), these books make it clear that the only possible way of finding truth is if you’re a Christian. Newton discovered his theory of gravity because he was a Christian (which, are you sure you want to claim this guy, A Beka?). There’s a whole chapter dedicated to “real Christian scientists” that is placed in direct opposition to their chapter of “evolutionist hacks.” I’m particularly bothered by this claim, because it’s feeding into Christian privilege and demeaning the hard work and abilities of most scientists.

And the history… well, calling A Beka textbooks “history” is almost laughable. I heard many of my professors and educators complain about “revisionist” history, but knowing what I know now about the material contained inside these textbooks just makes me shake my head. The Civil War is the “War Between the States” or “War of Northern Aggression,” and almost any discussion of the brutalizing horrors of chattel slavery is dismissed. They explain the concept of “Indian Giving” and paint the French-Indian War as something completely unprovoked by any of the English settlers. American history is completely white-washed. The chapter title for Africa in the World History book is un-ironically “The Dark Continent,” and the white-and-Western-centric point of view is hailed as the only truth and manifest destiny is praised. There are entire sections devoted to the evils of pluralism and multi-culturalism, and they call modern India “backwards.” In short, the only real purpose of their textbooks is indoctrination.

11th grade was more of the same, except I tried both Algebra I and chemistry. I read the chemistry textbook, but it was largely useless outside of the labs and experiments, and we couldn’t do any of those. I ended up basically reading the textbook for the first week and then not having anything else to do. This is the year when I spent most of my time reading books written by young earth creationists– I’ve always been fascinated by science, and this was the year that my frustration with school shot through the roof. As I’d gotten older, I’d gone through whole periods of wanting to be a veterinarian, a vulcanologist, a marine botanist, a cancer researcher, an astrophysicist– but this was the point when I started to realize that I couldn’t do any of that. This was the year I realized that my dreams of becoming a scientist were absolutely futile. And I knew it, because I was never going to have the science or math education to survive college.

There were a few factors playing into this– one of them being that I was being told by friends, by family, by my church, by the books I read, that women are not just limited to homemaking by the Bible, we’re limited to homemaking because we’re incapable of being anything else. I couldn’t be a scientist because women are bad at science and math.

Throw that into the pot of not being able to teach myself chemistry and algebra, and you’ve got a problem. I struggled through algebra every day, hiding in my room so I could cry in frustration because I didn’t understand anything the book was trying to teach me. I tried to ask my mother, but that turned out to be largely futile– my mother had to try to re-teach herself algebra from her foggy memories of high school every single time I asked her to help me, and she was incapable of teaching algebra to me in any other way except how she understood it. She didn’t understand algebra well enough to explain it to me in a way that I could understand. She didn’t know how to teach math.

This isn’t a reflection on my mother. My mother is brilliant. The problem is my mother was constantly fed the lie that you don’t have to know anything about teaching in order to teach your children. She didn’t know any different, and when we realized that I’d already met the math requirements under the umbrella school to graduate, we both gave up. I accepted my place as a woman and started preparing for a music degree instead of the science I’d always wanted, and my mother accepted what it seemed like I suddenly “wanted.”

My last year in high school my focus switched almost absolutely to practicing piano. I was enrolled with an incredibly demanding teacher and entering competitions like crazy, so school just sort of… fell apart. I whipped through all my English and history classes, half-assed my way through physics (we got the A Beka video tapes, but I didn’t do any of the homework and crammed for all the tests and did very badly– giving up my most recent goal of becoming an astrophysicist hurt a little too much to deal with it), took a “consumer math” course, and got accepted to a fundamentalist college.

I realize that this is more of a literature review than anything else, but I decided to talk about this facet of my high school experience today because both A Beka and BJUPress are still some of the largest distributors for homeschool textbooks, even today. Other curriculum, like Sonlight, are becoming popular, as are people just using the same textbooks as their local public school, but for the still-dominant religious homeschooling culture, A Beka and BJUPress are still popular.

Social Issues

an average homeschooler: junior high

girl with the black eye

Junior high was a difficult transitional phase. My mother and I continued fighting over school– some weeks, on a daily basis. Part of this was due to the fact that I’ve always been ferociously independent. I’m what my husband calls a “dirty rotten little rule follower,” but part of what that means to me is that I like to be left alone. You can trust me to do what I’m supposed to be doing (most of the time), and I intensely dislike being monitored. That came to the forefront, and something my mother and I struggled with all through 7th grade was my insistence that I can do this by myself. She was also dealing with my younger sister hitting 4th grade, and this is when my homeschooling experience radically changed– and when, in my impression, many homeschoolers make the same transition.

Junior high or early high school is when homeschoolers start teaching themselves.

Granted, this is not always true, but in my experience, it almost always is. There are as many reasons for this as there are homeschoolers– some of us come from huge families, and it’s impossible for parents to give older children the attention they need. Sometimes it’s because of situations like mine, when we start feeling that we can handle it without our parents. I think my reaction is a natural part of child development– I was, after all, 13 in 7th grade. However, in homeschooling culture, rebellion is not permitted to exist, and the natural independence that children start exerting around 13 is conflated with rebellion. For many of us, our teenage years were incredibly stifling— although many of us didn’t recognize it at the time. I certainly didn’t. I was extraordinarily proud of how I wasn’t going to be “one of those teenagers” who “think they know better than their parents.”

The only way my “teenager” stage was allowed to come out was in this way– in taking over my education. I started doing all of the work by myself and occasionally going to my mother with questions. This is enough of a pattern in homeschooling that some of the major homeschooling curricula distributors have created entire programs around it.

In 8th grade, we started using the A Beka Video school, although we chose not to use them for accreditation. It was insanely expensive and my parents could barely afford it, but it seemed to suit what I needed, and it had an incredibly good reputation among homeschoolers. At first it was amazing, and I ate the whole thing up. Toward the end of the year, though, the program was brutal and exhausting. The videos are not set up for homeschooling the way we were doing it. In order to really make the videos work, a teacher needed to be there with you– doing the reviews, checking homework, administering quizzes– or you’re just going to be sitting in front of a TV for six hours.

Eventually, I grew incredibly bored with the videos. When I started fast-forwarding through all of the homework checks and the quiz grading on the tapes as well as the classroom work sessions, I realized that there was rarely anything on the tapes that was actually teaching me anything. I stopped watching any of the videos for English and math, preferring to do the work on my own, and only watched the lecture portions of history and Bible (which, anyone remember Mr. McBride’s history classes? The day I met him I told him that I would save the best lessons and watch them during sleep overs. Seriously. We did that.). In short, by the spring quarter, the videos turned out to be a gigantic waste of money for us.

It also convinced me that I would absolutely hate school– that, along with taking the 7th grade standardized test, which I got extremely good marks on. My reading ability tested out of the park, and everything else was well above average. Those, combined, fed into what I believed about homeschooling compared to public schooling– homeschoolers are smarter, better educated, and more free-thinking than public school students. Public education can only result in stifling a child’s creativity, destroy their intellect beyond repair, and give them nothing more than socialist indoctrination.

So, we turned to Alpha Omega Switched on Schoolhouse for 9th grade. That turned out to be a disaster. The science for that year was physical science of some stripe, and they were trying to teach me how to convert units– except the units in the homework problems frequently weren’t measuring the same things– seriously, you can’t convert a unit of force into a unit of volume. I was so confused I asked my mother to look at it– she rolled her eyes and we stopped using the program in the middle of the year. My mother purchased other textbooks and I spent the rest of 9th grade playing catch-up.

Junior high, though, is mostly when I started understanding how much pressure I was under. I realized that one of the reasons why homeschooling is considered superior to all other forms of education is that homeschoolers are “better-educated” and “smarter.” We test better. We’re better-read. We’re more articulate. We can socialize with adults better. We spend a lot of time de-bunking homeschooling “myths” and “stereotypes“. We write whole tongue-in-cheek pieces answering “common questions about homeschooling.” And, in junior high, I became one of them. Suddenly, it was my job to convince everyone that I was fantastic. I had to get better grades. I had to read more books. Every single time I left the house I had to be ready to mount a defense for homeschooling.

All of that convinced me more than it convinced anyone else. It wasn’t that homeschooling and public education have different strengths, different weaknesses. Homeschooling had to be better in every conceivable way. And I had to be an example of that.

Social Issues

an average homeschooler: middle school


Most of my elementary education was pretty amazing, I think. I don’t have very many clear memories, but most of it is just this fuzzy sense that it was pretty awesome and I loved it, especially when we were living in Iceland. I had a huge group of friends, I could learn whatever I wanted– in fact, I think the years we spent in Iceland were the happiest of my childhood. Part of that was we were going to an overseas military church, and that is a unique experience. The lines between church and family blurred.

When we got back to the States, though, everything was different.

One of the first unfortunate things that happened, I think, was the church we attended in New Mexico ostracized my mother in many ways because she decided to continue homeschooling us instead of enrolling us in the church school. She faced some pretty intense push back for that, for reasons I didn’t understand. How it affected my life was that I didn’t make friends with anyone at church, which deeply disappointed me. They were all friends with each other at school, so breaking into the 10-year-old’s clique proved too difficult for me to manage.

I didn’t do myself any favors with that, though. I think part of it was that I was hurt and angry over being unconsciously rejected by the kids at church, so the “well, I don’t need you anyway!” attitude became part of the equation. At one point I got a scorpion shoved down the back of my dress and I was done. I sat by myself after church ended and refused to speak to any of them.

That was really my first taste of the “us against them” mentality I would accept as the incontrovertible order of things once I was older. I was different because I was homeschooled. That was what made us separate.

When we transferred to Florida, one of the requirements my mother had for finding a church was other homeschool families. It wasn’t the only requirement, but I remember it being one of the biggest. We visited two churches, and I think one of the biggest reasons why we ultimately chose the church-cult was that a higher percentage of the families homeschooled. This also ended up being how we were cemented into the conservative Christian culture of homeschooling.

Let me make it clear: the conservative Christian/fundamentalist homeschooling culture was always present. In Iceland, many of the homeschooling families were extremely conservative. While the church was a far cry from fundamentalist, many of the people who attended it were. My mother began wearing skirts and destroyed all her Amy Grant and Steve Green CDs because the other homeschooling mothers she hung out with did. There was enormous pressure to conform, and we did. We were introduced to Michael and Debi Pearl in New Mexico, and the homeschooling families there helped inculcate in me many of the homeschooling stereotypes– especially a love for all things Pioneer and a Little House on the Prairie.

However, the church-cult was where I would spend more time than I have anywhere else, and it was where we got sucked even further into homeschooling culture. It was there that we started hearing the message homeschooling or bust, but messages like these weren’t being preached from the pulpit. It was in pamphlets and magazines that were being passed around by all the homeschooling moms. When I was in high school, I read a book called None Dare Call it Education, a book which spends a ridiculous amount of time wailing about how liberal Massachusetts is, and how public school is wrecking our great nation.

Almost all of the homeschooling material we received focused an awful lot of time on telling us how terrible every other kind of education is and how awesome we were for doing the “right thing.” It seems like most of the messages we got were all about building public education straw men than they were about helping homeschoolers do a good job educating their children.

It didn’t help that just like I had been ostracized by the kids at church in New Mexico we started ostracizing all the kids who weren’t homeschooled. There were three families where the children went to public school, and all of them left– some more quickly than others. I have vivid memories of hanging out at one of the girl’s house and being curious about her math textbook. She was confused when I asked if I could look at her textbooks, but I remember being blown away when I saw what they looked like. I had somehow believed that public schools “dumb down” the material, but what I found in those textbooks was far more advanced than what I was learning even though we were in the same grade. I remember struggling to come up with something to say– and then being deeply troubled by how much looking at those books had wrecked my perceptions.

It didn’t take me very long to come up with plenty of plausible explanations to explain the difference away. That experience was the first time I deliberately denied evidence that public school might– just maybe– be totally fine in favor of believing that being a homeschooler meant that I was superior.

I was twelve.


Middle school is where we first ran into problems with my education. Up until that point I remember being a pretty easy kid to homeschool. But when we hit middle school, all I can remember is either being incredibly bored or hating school. Eventually it got so bad that my mom decided that going through grade 5 was pointless since it was really just a re-cycle of grade 4, so I skipped from 4th grade to 6th grade.

That was the year my mom tried to mix things up. We tried Writing Strands and Saxon Math and I started studying Greek and Latin roots and logic. In some ways, it got me excited about school again, but that interest quickly faded. Me and my mother started struggling, and my frustration started increasing again, but this time it was because I couldn’t learn concepts as quickly as I’d become used to. Things like long division took me weeks to understand, and it made me an incredibly difficult student to deal with. There were days when my mother would throw up her hands and disappear into her bedroom, shouting “call me when you graduate from college!” I became resistant and stubborn, and both 6th and 7th grade were a struggle. I hated Saxon math so much I just refused to keep doing it.

At this point we fell into what I think is a pretty common homeschool trap. I don’t have a term for it, but it happens close to the end of the year. You spend the few months leading up to May or June barely doing any schoolwork at all because you’re sick of it and you don’t want to do it anymore, but you have to do something to finish so you throw together a quick compromise: if you do xyz, complete a few papers, and finish the last quarter of tests and quizzes you can be done for the year. So you spend the last few weeks cramming in all those tests and quizzes you forgot to take (grading many of them yourself and let’s be honest we usually cheated) and then hoo-ray it’s summertime.

Some homeschooling families are more disciplined than this, I know. But, from all the conversations I’ve had in the last eight years, disciplined homeschooling environments where projects were completed in a timely fashion and tests and quizzes were taken when they were supposed to, and you completed enough actual days? That is the exception, not the rule. The rule is much more haphazard and flexible– too flexible, really. And while the flexibility of homeschooling is one of the advantages, it’s also one of its drawbacks, too. Positive and negatives in homeschooling are usually two sides of the same coin.