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Social Issues

The Courage Conference: Homeschooling & Abuse

I mentioned this in passing a bit ago, but wanted to take some time to really give this the attention it deserves. I will be presenting at The Courage Conference in Raleigh, NC on October 20-21. Here’s the description of the conference from the website:

The Courage Conference is a non-denominational event that will offer a judgement-free place for survivors of abuse (and those who love them) to gather and hear inspiring stories from other survivors about moving forward in boldness and healing. The event will also educate pastors and church leaders on the topic of abuse and introduce them to safe practices and resources for their faith community. The Courage Conference offers a unique opportunity to hear from advocates and trained professionals through inspiring keynotes talks, Q&A sessions and workshops in addition to connecting attendees with local and national resources, so you don’t have to do this alone.

I’m excited about the lineup of speakers, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk about a topic I think is not well understood. Abuse in homeschooling environments can be so headline-grabbing (children locked in closets and starved to death, chopped up and stored in freezers for years, beaten to death) that most news outlets seem to get pretty myopic. While all of those happen and definitely deserve to be addressed as the atrocities they are, the focus on what are, in actuality, a handful of cases out of millions of homeschooled children lets homeschoolers who are abusive in much more mundane ways escape notice. People can say “we’re nothing like that” or “I don’t know anyone like that” and then dismiss the need to examine their communities for the ways it might enable abuse.

These communities end up fighting any kind of oversight and frequently use the sometimes-myopic treatment of the press as a way to cry persecution. Why should they be punished with regulations and oversight because someone somewhere did something unspeakably awful? It happens again and again in the conversations I find myself in about homeschooling and the need for oversight. We end up talking past each other– they think I’m thinking of Lydia Schatz when I’m talking about my own experience and how every single child I knew in my homeschooling communities were physically abused. Not locked in closets, not starved, not murdered, but still very much abused. They feel comfortable with “self-regulation” because no one they know is an axe-wielding child murderer, and they get to ignore the other forms of abuse that may not be obvious to them.

My presentation, which I’ll be giving with Carmen Green who’s founded the Center for Home Education Policy and who you can read about here (I was background research for that article, btw), will be going over all of that for about an hour. What does abuse in homeschools actually tend to look like, and what can we do about it?

Anyway, if you can make it to Raleigh, NC in two weeks I hope to see you there. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please pass along the website. The conference still needs some funding, too. I appreciate that the organizers are trying to make this as affordable as possible, so maybe if you think educating religious leaders on abuse, trauma, and how to help is important, throw a few dollars their way?

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

Mrs. Field (almost) goes to Richmond


If you follow homeschooling groups on facebook or get the e-lerts from the HSLDA,  you’ve probably already heard about Virginia’s House Joint Resolution 92. Delegate Rust proposed HJ 92, and if it passes it will ask the Virginia Department of Education to evaluate how they implement the “religious exemption” statute.

You also might have heard about the “religious exemption.” In Virginia, homeschooling parents are able to use the religious exemption to not educate their children at all, and it is completely up to the parents whether or not their children get an education, with absolutely no oversight or accountability of any kind. In families like the Powell’s, this lack of oversight has created a situation where parents are under no obligation to even teach their children to read. That is in direct violation of the Virginia State Constitution, which states that every child has a right to an education.

This is because the wording of the religious exemption statue is so incredibly vague that school boards don’t know how to enforce it, and they are required to make a decision with no guidelines and no credible information. Because there aren’t any limits or qualifications, overtaxed school boards are required to make case-by-case decisions, and how school boards make these decisions varies from county to county. There’s also no requirement for school boards to take a child’s desire into account– for example, when Joshua Powell went to his school board begging to be enrolled in public school, the board cited the fact that his parents had a “religious exemption”– he wouldn’t be allowed to attend school even though he desperately wanted to get out. It took him many years to recover from his homeschooling experience.

All that HJ 92 is is a request for the Virginia Department of Education to look into how individual school boards make their decisions regarding the religious exemption statute, and to report those findings to the state assembly. That’s it.

Personally, I am enthusiastically supportive of this resolution. It requires absolutely nothing of parents or homeschooling families– but it would still be able to offer us the most comprehensive look at a state homeschooling policy… pretty much in the history of modern homeschooling.

I was supposed  to be in Richmond today* with Virginian homeschoolers, meeting with the delegates who can vote this resolution out of committee, explaining why HJ 92 is so important and asking them to support it. If you’re a Virginian homeschooler or homeschool graduate  and you can get to Richmond, consider setting up a meeting with your delegate and asking him or her to support it– or just calling his or her office.

If you’re not a Virginian, you can still get involved.

You could sign this petition.

You could consider donating to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (tax deductible).

Or, you could donate to Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (not tax deductible).

If you have the time, you could start reading Homeschooling’s Invisible Children and Homeschoolers Anonymous. Share stories you think people you know would be interested in. If you know a homeschooling family, bring what you’ve learned up in conversations when you can and if you want to. If you want to get involved in more activism, there’s working groups and new networks– I can get you in touch with some if you’re interested.

Hopefully today is a good day.

*I had a sudden costochondritis flare up. The only way to treat it is to stay in bed and take ungodly amounts of Advil.

Social Issues

an average homeschooler: in summation


“Common Myths about Homeschooling”

If you search for that term, you’re going to find a lot of articles and videos– some from homeschool kids, but most from homeschooling parents. Most of these articles tend to focus on emphasizing how homeschoolers aren’t strange weirdos, that not all homeschoolers are like that. These posts try to put as much distance between themselves and whatever they perceive to be a “fringe” group that they think make the rest of us look bad. Usually, what gets identified as the “fringe” group is the sort of homeschooling culture I’ve spent the last few days describing: conservative religious (they might say “fundamentalist”) homeschooling.

However, these groups are not as fringe as they’ve been portrayed, and the problem is, what’s “fringe” changes to suit whoever is talking. Kevin Swanson, probably one of the most extreme examples of conservative homeschooling, labeled the stories in the Homeschooling Apostate article fringe“. Fringe, in the sense that many homeschooling advocates use it, doesn’t really mean “peripheral, not in the mainstream”; it means “a position that I think is more extreme than my own.”

So, Myth #1:

Conservative religious homeschooling has virtually no or very little impact on the modern homeschooling culture.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time beating this one into the ground, but I’d just like to point the people who believe this in the direction of the major state homeschooling conferences. Who is coming to these gatherings– still some of the largest and best-attended events in homeschooling culture? Vision Forum. Institute in Basic Life Principles (ATI). Many of the state conventions invite conservative or fundamentalist speakers (like CHEO inviting the Chapmans, although they have apparently withdrawn, possibly due to pressure from Homeschoolers Anonymous and other supporters).

Also, what’s still the most popular curricula? A Beka and BJUPress. Calling those “textbooks” anything but opportunities for fundamentalist indoctrination would be incredibly generous.

Who’s running most of the homeschooling culture media? Homeschooling World is probably still the most significant magazine, and their latest issues includes items like “4 spooky educational trends you should know about” and bemoaning girls who turn from “princesses” into “cowgirls,” articles on how to get your pre-schooler to memorize Bible verses daily, and other titles include words like “ominous” in reference to Common Core.

The Homeschool Legal Defense Association is one of the most powerful educational lobbying groups in America, and the agenda that they are constantly pushing represents an extremely conservative Christian position — in politics especially. Many of the avenues they pursue have nothing to do with homeschooling at all and are instead focused on keeping the US from ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and making sure the Florida legislature stays homophobic.

Myth #2:

Homeschoolers don’t need to take socialization seriously; social interactions with siblings, churches, and co-ops is more than enough.


Homeschoolers have no reason to be concerned about socialization; you’re doing your children a favor by sheltering them from the influences of The World.

Hopefully I’ve talked about that particular one enough.

Myth #3:

Parents don’t need any form of higher education in order to be good teachers. You do not need training to teach your own children– concerns about high school level materials are misplaced. You can receive enough help to overcome any of the difficulties you might face teaching advanced subjects like chemistry and calculus.

Although many students successfully opt to self-teach or to learn together with an interested parent, the options for children extend well beyond the family. Some families choose to get together to form study groups around a particular subject and to hire a tutor. Some students opt for community college classes. Others barter help with one subject for help in another. Classes over the Internet or the television are increasingly available options for many families, as are videos and computer software.  Learning options are excellent and varied so there is something to meet the needs of every family. [source]

Yes, there are resources for parents who do not feel comfortable teaching the more difficult high school subjects. Personally, I feel that most intelligent parents are capable of homeschooling their child through the elementary grades– however, just because they’re capable doesn’t mean they should, and I think there are parents who should not be teaching even the elementary grades.

When their children hit high school, there are all sorts of opportunities to help balance out what parents might lack– dual enrollment at a community college, distance learning, etc. You might be able to tell that there is a gigantic however coming, and you’d be right:

Although many students successfully opt to self-teach …

Even this article that focuses on “debunking” homeschooling myths admits that self-teaching is the standard. I cannot stress this enough: with extraordinarily few exceptions, fifteen-year-olds are not capable of teaching themselves high school subjects. Yes, many of us are amazing readers and our language skills supposedly test off the charts (when we’re tested, and all of those numbers are self-reported, so, grain of salt). However, that does not mean that we are capable of teaching ourselves things like literary analysis and how to looks for themes and symbols. We are especially incapable of teaching ourselves math and science, however, and that is continually presented as an “acceptable” option for homeschoolers– even though math and science is a consistent weakness in homeschooling.

This does not mean that I don’t think that no one should be homeschooled through high school. I think even high school can be done successfully, but the problem is you have to go pretty far out of your way, and many of the resources available put too much financial pressure on families that were already having a hard time buying textbooks. If you can’t, realistically, take advantage of things like paying to hire a tutor or sending your high schooler to college, then do something else.

Also, since this came up in a discussion a few posts back, giving your child a supposed “love of learning” is not a replacement for giving your child an education.

I find that particular argument to be extremely frustrating. Yes, I obviously love learning, and yes, that could be tied to my homeschooling background. However, and this is anecdotally speaking– I don’t think it’s really connected to being homeschooled. My parents helped give that to me, and they would have done that regardless of whether or not I was homeschooled. I have interacted with many homeschoolers in the last eight years who either hate learning or are so incredibly handicapped that even if they “love learning” they have none of the necessary tools to actually learn.

This idea is usually connected to what is hailed as “self-directed learning,” and unschooling advocates tend to talk about this a lot. Somehow, in these conversations, your child being “interested” in subjects and “pursuing” those interests is painted as being better than your child gaining a broad awareness and basic high school-level education. Speaking as a homeschool graduate who was permitted to pursue my own interests– I don’t use any of those skills today and I would really rather prefer being able to do algebra.

And… that about wraps up what I have to say. At least, until you all comment and get me thinking about something else I haven’t thought of yet! I’d just like to leave you with this: 20 Ways not to Respond to Homeschool Horror Stories.


Social Issues

an average homeschooler: graduate school


I’ve talked a bit before about some of my experiences at Liberty. Overall, because I was in the MA English program, my experience there was a good step forward for me. I wasn’t living on campus so I didn’t have to do things like shell out ten bucks for falling asleep in chapel and I could ignore controversies like “what do you mean we can break the rules on just Valentine’s Day?!” (something about being able to hug people for longer than 3 seconds? Kiss? I don’t really remember).

I was also encouraged to do things like practice deconstructionism on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and I did a post-structuralist analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka. Academically, the program was rigorous and challenging. I can’t speak for anything else about Liberty, but the MA English program was good for me. Actually being able to take a class called “Advanced Literary Criticism” when my only exposure to literary theory was that it was entirely philosophically bankrupt was amazing. Sitting in on an undergrad grammar class where the professor talked about grammar in a global context and saw English as one language among many instead of it being presented as subtly better (it’s the language of Shakespeare! Milton! The Bible!) was incredible.

Being at Liberty forced me to grow in a lot of ways.

One of the more dramatic ways was actually existing in a semi-pluralistic environment for the first time in my life. I was in class discussions with Catholics, Protestants of all stripes, an agnostic theist, an intense Neo-Reformer, socialists, feminists, conservatives … of course, we were still at a Christian university so it wasn’t as diverse as it could have been, but it was still way more diverse than anything I’d heretofore experienced.

And it was hard.

I can’t really explain how hard it was. During my first semester, many of the encounters I had with my new peers were downright humiliating. Thinking about those incidents still makes me physically ill. Some of the things I did earned me a huge amount of animosity from a lot of the people I had to work with. I created problems for myself with some of these relationships that lasted for the entire time I was there. Even my boss noticed and commented on it– although she phrased it “I’ve noticed you’ve had problems making friends.” That was also during the conversation where I came within an inch of getting fired because of the difficulties I had adapting to a place that assumed being a gigantic ass isn’t ok.

I was still at a pretty conservative Christian college, but all of a sudden I was drowning after being thrown into the deep end of the pool, and it was time to sink or swim. My first year in graduate school was probably one of the hardest times in my life– and that includes that whole time I was in an abusive relationship. I’m not exaggerating: adjusting to being at Liberty University, one of the most conservative places in America, was so difficult for me– emotionally, psychologically– that I can only really describe it in terms of trauma. I have the same trigger-type reactions to thinking about some of my experiences during my first year there that I do when I run into something that reminds me of my abuser.

Part of that is undoubtedly my experience growing up in a fundamentalist cult. I have no problems placing most the blame for these problems on growing up holding a mentality where I was right and everyone who doesn’t exactly agree with everything I believe is going to hell. Thinking things like that are going to cause problems for you when you actually meet someone who disagrees with you.

However, many of the problems that I had at Liberty can be directly attributed to the fact that I was a conservative homeschooler. Three of my professors pointed this out to me, actually– usually in conversations centered on what it means to be a college student and what is appropriate and expected. I was so oblivious to many of the problems I was giving my professors that they had to pull a 23-year-old adult into their office for a chat.

Many of the skills that seem to come naturally to many (not all) of my publicly-educated peers were so far outside of my grasp I didn’t even understand these skills existed.Things like work/life balance, how to prioritize work, how to do an appropriate amount of work … I also had to have conversations with several professors where they taught me some of these things– some had to be quite blunt and warn me that I was going to kill myself if I kept going how I had been.

I spent hours upon hours in my professor’s offices over those two years because I had to play catch-up all the time. My literary theory professor was incredibly gracious and met with me as much as I needed because he lovingly understood where I was coming from and that I needed that time and attention. My education professor responded to a ridiculous number of e-mails asking him for help for two years because I didn’t understand what it was like to be a student. My post-modernism professor was extraordinarily patient with me because it took me months to wrap my head around what post-modernism was (thank you, A Beka and Bob Jones, for nothing). People who weren’t ever my professors gave me permission to attend their classes because I didn’t have any concept of basic things like grammar.

Eventually I did figure some things out. I consider my grad school experience a success- mostly. I still cringe at the lot of stupid and idiotic things I did and said while I was there. I still flinch at some of the memories. I still hurt because of some of the things that happened. I wish I didn’t have to struggle so mightily in every class, that I wasn’t handicapped by my borderline pathetic education (although, by grad school that was just as much my college experience as it was homeschooling).

Talking about these experiences is complicated, because not everything, obviously, can be chalked up to “welp, I was homeschooled”– and that hasn’t been the argument I’ve been trying to make. However, being homeschooled the way I was (and the way that many children still are) gave me certain weaknesses that I’ve tried to expose here, by telling my story. Like all stories, mine is messy, and nuanced, and there isn’t any one thing to point fingers at. However, homeschooling was a part of my experience. It is one of the reasons why adulthood is still a struggle for me.

My conservative religious homeschooling experience was not entirely awful, and hopefully that’s been apparent all through this series. But, if homeschooling hadn’t been a part of my fundamentalist experience, I can’t imagine how different my life would have been. If I’d had friends who were different than me. If I’d read great books written by women. If I’d had teachers who could have encouraged and developed my passion for science. If I’d heard of ideas from the people that believed in them instead of just the straw man versions.

I can’t help thinking it would have been better.

Social Issues

an average homeschooler: college


The night before I left for college, I was a gigantic mess. I was all packed, all ready to go, when I about had a meltdown and my mother stayed up with me late that night trying to talk me out of my tree. I was panicking– absolutely positive that college was going to be nightmarish, that I was going to fail every class, and that I would never be able to adjust to a classroom environment.

Turns out, most of that worrying was for nothing. I did well in the general education courses– although I strongly suspect that it was almost entirely due to the fact that the 101 classes at this college used the exact same textbooks as what I’d used for 12th grade, so we were literally going over the same exact material. When all the review questions from the textbook are the same, turns out the tests and quizzes are largely the same, too. Also, because I was at a fundamentalist college, the classroom environment is completely unlike what you’d see at most other colleges. I believe, looking back, that if I’d tried to enroll in a private or state school, I would have floundered. I might have been able to keep my head above water, but it would have been a struggle every day.

At this school, all seats are assigned– from freshman level all the way through graduate courses. I never experienced a class discussion the entire time I was there. Almost every class was lecture-based, with a few exceptions for “lab” classes that were essentially nothing more than homework review. Given that the environment was this structured, rule-following me actually fit in quite well. I didn’t have to guess at anything, or figure anything out. As far as class was concerned, there wasn’t any protocol that wasn’t explicitly stated.

Socially, my experience was . . . interesting. My freshman year, all of the friends I made were fundamentalist homeschoolers (well, one of them attended an ACE church school). However, even though we were all from similar backgrounds, shared similar beliefs, and were all at this college for pretty much the same reason, we discovered that interacting with other people our age independent of adult supervision is freaking difficult. There was constant bickering and in-fighting, and none of us knew anything about conflict resolution, which led to me abandoning them because I couldn’t stand having a relationship like that anymore. I thought these particular people were just “drama-filled,” but it really wasn’t that. They were struggling just as much as I was, and we didn’t know anything about how to form friendships that weren’t inside the homeschool paradigm. There was certainly fun times– there were reasons we tried to be friends– but in the end, it became too difficult to keep ourselves together. We splintered off, and kept touch with each other, but having a relationship failed.

We also didn’t know basic human realities like it’s impossible for some people to be friends, or that basing a relationship on “iron sharpeneth iron” would probably ruin it. There is some interplay happening between fundamentalism and homeschooling– I won’t deny that– but our homeschooling background was a contributing factor in our relationship difficulties; I would argue that being homeschooled exacerbated problems we were already guaranteed to have from our fundamentalist upbringing.

In conservative religious homeschooling (which, like the rest of homeschooling, is certainly not monolithic, but, again, there are over-arching patterns and commonalities), even for homeschoolers involved in co-ops and groups, socialization doesn’t just mean “interacting with people.”  It doesn’t mean “have friends.” In an incredibly basic sense, “socialization” is the process of learning how to act in your culture. If I’m operating inside a fundamentalist religious culture, then I am incredibly well socialized. I know exactly how I’m expected to behave, what role I’m supposed to fill, what “language” to use, and what the societal expectations are. When it comes to interacting with American culture, though . . . I’m lost. And it’s not just that pop culture references fly over my head, that I’ve never seen an episode of The Simpsons and that I’m just now learning about things like hip-hop and Andy Warhol. It’s that I’m still struggling to understand what pluralism means, that Truth is largely  inaccessible, that freedom of religion and freedom from religion are just as important..

I also don’t understand how to behave around my peers. I don’t know what constitutes “dominating a conversation” verses merely participating in it, and what the regular give-and-take of conversation looks like. I, like Sheldon Cooper, have no idea what the social protocol is for many situations. Conflict resolution? No idea. I don’t know how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.

And, on top of that, I spent almost all of my life interacting with people who agreed with me about everything. I did not have the experience of having a conversation with a real-life person where we disagreed about anything significant until I was 23 years old. I was not exposed to people who had substantively different life experiences, who had different understandings of the Christian religion– let alone anyone who wasn’t a Christian. I didn’t meet an out gay person until I was 21. I still haven’t actually met someone who I knew was an atheist or agnostic in real life. I’ve yet to have a conversation with someone, in person, who doesn’t believe in some form of biblical creation. The most dynamic experience I’ve ever had was having a conversation with someone who is Neo-Reformed. After we joined the church-cult, I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t white, and nearly everyone around me was horrifically racist and Islamaphobic.

That’s what we’re talking about when we say that socialization should be a concern for homeschoolers. It’s not that homeschoolers are completely isolated (which they absolutely can be), it’s that socializing your homeschooler has to be intentional, and it is not easy or automatic. Going to church is not enough. Going to a co-op that’s basically the same environment as church is not enough. You have to go out of your way, parents, to make sure that your children are being exposed to ideas–political, philosophical, religious ideas– that aren’t the ones you believe in. You children need to grow up knowing Democrats if you’re Republican, and vice versa. They need to know someone who isn’t a member of your denomination. They need to understand pluralism from first-hand experience.

Because, the second they’re not a homeschooler anymore, the second that they’re struggling to survive in a world filled with multi-culturalism and reasonable arguments for virtually every idea conceivable, they might not be able to deal with it. They could give up on everything they were taught to believe. For many homeschoolers, that typically means Christianity and conservatism.

For many conservative religious homeschoolers, one of the primary reasons to homeschool is to isolate their children, to make sure that they’re not exposed to ideas that the parents find unhealthy or dangerous. You can’t try to do that and make sure that your children are well-socialized, too. They don’t go together.

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.

Social Issues

an average homeschooler: the beginning


My first experience with school was HeadStart at a Department of Defense school, since my father was in the Air Force. I don’t have very many clear memories of this, although they’re mostly positive. I remember coloring a large squirrel, playing with blocks, and listening to stories. However, there were a few drawbacks.

One incident is actually my earliest memory of sexism. I was playing with wooden blocks–not a toy we had at home, so the only one I was really interested in at school– and I was building towers with another little boy. My parents had shown me concepts like having a wide base in order to build a tall tower, but the boy was stacking one block on top of another– not that I cared or was paying much attention, until he became angry that my tower was taller than his. I remember the teacher coming over and reprimanding me for “showing off” and how I shouldn’t do “boy things.”

I got reprimanded for “showing off” quite a bit, actually. I have always been a perfectionist and I’ve always been incredibly proud of my work. When I colored, I did it excruciatingly slowly and carefully– and turned out what I felt were “realistic” results with my childish attempts at shading and blending. Teachers would encourage me to “have more fun” and not to take things so seriously, which I remember being very confusing. I’ve also always been talkative, and I remember struggling to make friends and feeling that I was disliked, although I had a few good friends and playmates, although I don’t remember my closest friends being from school, but my neighborhood.

What my mother’s main concern about this time period was that I went to HeadStart being able to read, and then my reading skills not only did not progress, but instead regressed. I actually lost some of my ability to read, and my mother spent the summer catching me up to where I’d been before.

We were transferred to Iceland, and I think my first day at kindergarten was in the middle of the school year. Again, my memories of this are mostly positive. There was finger painting, which actually frustrated me because I felt that I wasn’t very “good” at it, and we did science experiments, and I think there was a school performance with singing. An interesting factor about attending a DOD school in Iceland was the cultural enrichment– every so often an Icelandic teacher would come in and teach us something about the country. Most of the time this was fairly simple– teaching us to count to 10 in Icelandic, some basic Icelandic history, some of what Iceland is known for (like their horses and fishing, the geizers and waterfalls).

However, one of the lessons was really confusing to me. The visiting teacher had us sit cross-legged on our reading mats, close our eyes, and to imagine a light coming to speak to us. She explained that the light we could see was an angel and he would allow us to talk to someone we’d known who had died. When I got home from school that day and tried to explain to my mother what I’d “learned,” her reaction was, of course, rather horrified. We’d practically held a séance in class. I didn’t go back to school, and that was when my mother officially began homeschooling me.

The first few years I don’t honestly remember much of my schooling. I have vague memories of the curriculum we used (something with a white cover and a blue shield), but I do remember the “school room” my mother set up. She converted a closet, putting in a desk, some shelves, and a large map on the wall. Sometimes we used the room, but I remember spending most of my school days in makeshift blanket forts (how awesome, right?). When I got a little bit older and started playing with the other kids in our apartment building, my mom made a little cross-stitch to hang on the door to let them know that I was doing schoolwork and couldn’t come out to play.

We had an incredibly active homeschool group in Iceland, and I remember it being very diverse. There were kids from a bunch of different churches, kids who didn’t go to church at all, and parents who were homeschooling in a bunch of different ways. Being at an overseas military base meant that your resources were limited, so you took advantage of what you had. I also continued playing with kids who were still enrolled in the DOD school– kids in my building, the children of my father’s co-workers, and because it was the military, the people I knew were Philippino, and Japanese, and African-American, and German. This time was spent eating baklava and fried seaweed, and I loved it.

Homeschooling in these early years was extremely good for me. I remember being frustrated at school because I wanted to advance further, ask more questions, and I could become incredibly– almost myopically–focused. Once I was curious about a topic– like how a bean grows in a plastic bag taped to a window– it was very difficult to keep me from dominating the next half hour, and I remember teachers being very frustrated with me because they just didn’t have that kind of time. A classroom setting, for me as a six-year-old, was not a good fit. Once I was liberated to do as much schoolwork as I wanted when I wanted and free to read anything I wanted to when I wanted to was incredible.

That actually created some interesting moments– there were days when I would whip through whole sections of my textbooks, and other days when I didn’t want to do schoolwork at all. My mother tried to get me to take it one lesson at a time, but I remember fighting with her about this and sneaking off to do more schoolwork. When I progressed to the point in my math where I was adding more than one column, my mother became incredibly confused at my answers– and then figured out that I was adding up each column separately and then answering 12+48 with 510 (carrying the one, apparently, was a confusing concept for a while).

When we moved back to the States and my mother had the opportunity to put me in public school, another DOD school, or the local church school, she decided to continue homeschooling me– and eventually my sister– because it had worked so well for me and I was obviously doing well. However, State-side homeschooling turned out to be a little different, and that’s where we started running into problems.

What I’ve found that’s a common pattern for most of the homeschoolers I’ve interacted with was that our parents had excellent reasons for starting to homeschool us. While part of why my mother started to homeschool me was religious, it turned out that the primary reason was that the typical classroom experience seemed to be holding me back, so we continued homeschooling because it seemed to be better for me.

However, what I’ve encountered is that once you start homeschooling and become entrenched in homeschooling culture, parents seem to be actively and preemptively discouraged from reevaluating that decision. Children’s educational needs change over time, and while it was obvious that homeschooling me was the best decision for me when I was young, we never really took a step back and asked if it was the best method for my later education. When I was old enough to perhaps ask the question if being homeschooled was what I wanted, I was already absolutely convinced that going to public or private school would be horribly disastrous.