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Social Issues

children can’t be their own best friend, actually

Well, it’s happened. I’ve seen something wrong enough, often enough, to want to write a post about it. I don’t think I’ve written a “reaction post” or a “hot take” in perhaps years. At this point, when John Piper or Tim Keller or Wayne Grudem or Douglas Wilson or the Babylon Bee or the Transformed Wife or or  or or says something asinine and ridiculous, I can just ignore it. Years ago, I couldn’t let their awfulness just be out there, uncorrected. The horror.

But, there’s a Facebook post floating around that has shown up in my news feed half a dozen times, from sources I respect, in communities I engage in or consider myself a part of. I understand why: for those of us engaging with it on a surface level and in good faith, with our typical set of assumptions (such as “children are people and we should meet their needs”), it seems innocuous enough, but it’s not. And it’s going to take more than a Facebook comment that I type out on my phone to respond adequately and thoroughly enough to satisfy me.

I want to note before I begin that basically every other homeschooling alumni who has seen this post in my circles has pointed out what are — to us glaring and obvious red flags. We have the lived experience to see through it for what it actually is.

The following has been shared by Parenting Forward, Raising Children Unfundamentalist, Untigering, and other progressive and child-oriented pages and groups. It was written by Sterna Suissa, a parenting coach who describes her framework as “parenting through emotional connection.”

Here’s the text of her original Instagram post:

It’s interesting how society has us worried about our young children needing friends. Parents feel pressure to place their kids in daycare or have constant playdates so that kids are always socializing with kids of the same age. By the time a child is a teen, the worry flips, parents worry that their teenagers only want to be with their friends.

Instead of being so worried about a lack of social interactions for our child, let’s be concerned with our child individualizing themselves and becoming their own best friend. This sets the foundation for healthy socializing.

So many of us don’t lack social skills & social interactions, what we lack is being our own best friend. Loving ourselves as is, knowing ourselves, being okay with being our own beautiful selves.

The Instagram images were accompanied by the following caption:

The first question I get when I share that I homeschool 3 of my kids is

“Well, how do they socialize?”

I then answer, “My hopes are that my children become their own best friend!”

That normally gets the person thinking. [thoughtful emoji]

I’m not too worried about their social life right now. By the time a child is a teenager they love to socialize & have so many opportunities to form friendships. The foundation for healthy socializing takes place when our child forms a relationship with us & with their own beautiful self.

How many of us lacked socializing growing up or did we lack being our own best friend? How many of us are pressured to have our young children form friendships? We feel guilty if our child isn’t socializing, believing that this is a horrible thing.


Heavy sigh.

I want to be respectful of Sterna, whose broader style and messaging seem to be things I, by and large, appear to agree with. Looking over her other Instagram posts, most seem fine and I wouldn’t quibble with her over small points of disagreement. There’s one other recent post that the framing of it makes me go hmmmm (this one, about children being “in charge of you”), but generally speaking I think she’s alright.

However, this particular post, even though she comments later that she’s trying to articulate a principle from attachment theory (children with strong, healthy attachments to caregivers have the security needed to actualize), in my opinion massively conflicts with her general principles because it is, at its most essential, far right fundamentalist homeschooling propaganda.

This is a problem I and my colleagues encounter often in our work at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. There are a lot of well-meaning homeschooling parents out there who don’t even realize that the talking points they’re parroting come from an ideology they’d probably find abhorrent– an ideology firmly committed to Dominionism, establishing a theocracy in the US, and the utter disregard for children’s rights, welfare, appropriate development, or safety. The group pushing ideas like “socializing isn’t that important, don’t worry about it,” are fighting tooth and nail for a country where they can have complete and total control over children to do literally anything they want— including sex trafficking, child labor violations, and torture. I’m not kidding, and I’m not exaggerating– and most importantly, they’ve generally succeeded in accomplishing all of that.

Oh, but that’s a genetic fallacy, right? Just because the source of this idea is from that group doesn’t make it automatically bad. Broken clocks, etc. What’s so wrong with a child being their “own best friend”?


To analyze this post, I think it’s important to highlight how the images being shared are in response to a particular question: “Well, how do your homeschooled children socialize?” and Sterna’s response is “I’m not worried about it.” That, at its core, is why I have a problem with what she’s saying here. Regardless of how people have been interpreting her words in good faith, this post is not fundamentally about communicating the principles of attachment theory or advocating for well-actualized, emotionally healthy children (although I believe Sterna generally does advocate for those things). This post is a justification for dismissing concerns about a homeschooled child’s developing social needs.

Homeschooling parents usually crib from the same set of arguments:

  • homeschooled children socialize with “people of all ages,” which is actually better than principally associating with similarly-aged peers, really.
  • homeschooled children socialize in more organic, varied ways, which of course is better than what’s possible in a “formal schooling environment.”
  • homeschooled children have access to co-ops and churches and kids in the neighborhood, they’re constantly doing activities out and about in their town, it’s just laughable that anyone could be concerned that they might not be getting enough social interaction, tra la la.

so it’s actually somewhat disturbing to me how Sterna’s come up with a new one– one drawn from supposedly more progressive frameworks like attachment theory. You can neglect your child’s social needs as long as, y’know, they’re well-actualized! Don’t worry about it! They can be their own best friend! From the response in the comment section everywhere I’ve seen it, boy howdy are homeschooling parents gloaming onto this one, partially because of its novelty and partially because of how it, on the surface, sounds like it aligns with their more progressive child development principles.

Sterna has done here what parental rights extremists have been doing for decades: she’s conflated “socialization” with “having a social life.” When someone asks “how will a homeschooled child socialize?” they’re not really asking “but how will they make friends?” or “but how do you see other people if you’re at home most of the time?” What most people are trying to ask, I believe, is “how does a homeschooled child learn all the spoken and unspoken rules/practices/expectations of their culture? Seems like that could be somewhat difficult to do in a homeschool setting.” And guess what: they’re right to have the impulse to ask that question, because it is hard, and homeschooling parents do have to be deliberate about overcoming this obstacle.* It doesn’t mean we all have to adhere to all our cultural “rules,” but we should still know what they are. But Sterna does what nearly every single homeschooling parent I’ve ever seen does: she makes a question about culture and systems into a question about individual relationships. And she’s done so in a particularly disturbing way: friends? who needs friends, really, when a healthily attached, well-actualized child is their own best friend!

Another component I want to highlight is something many people seem to forget: she uses the bifurcation of “young child” and “teenager” a lot in her work, but the context of this post can be interpreted to mean “toddler and preschooler” when she says “young child” because of the references to “play dates” and “daycare.” For most children, even if a parent doesn’t use daycare or arrange play dates, they’ll eventually access a traditional school environment. This is not true for homeschooled children. Homeschooling parents can’t outsource getting their kids a social life to school, or school activities when they hit 5, 6 years old. For homeschooled children, if their parents don’t help them meet their social needs, those needs are never met.

There’s nothing wrong with children developing their own strong sense of self, of having strong, healthy attachments to caregivers, of being able to enjoy their own company and tolerate being alone or even brief stints of loneliness. Those are all goals I have for my own child. But there is a distinct difference between helping your child have a healthy internal life and rationalizing and justifying your desire to abandon their social needs and social development. It actually is a “horrible thing” for a child not to learn how to navigate their culture or make intimate connections with their peers. If you’re a homeschooling parent, specifically, you absolutely should “feel guilty” if your child doesn’t have friends, and isn’t learning to find themselves in their own culture. As their parent and sole educator, it is your responsibility to make sure they are safe, fed, healthy, and developing appropriately mentally, socially, physically, and emotionally.

Including by helping them find, make, and maintain friendships.

*I’ve written in more detail about homeschooling and socialization before.

Photography by Marcelo de Oliveira
Social Issues

the homeschooling reading gap

If you grew up homeschooled, were connected to a homeschooling community, or knew homeschooling families, than the anecdotal reality of a “homeschooling math gap” is probably intuitively obvious to you. Among homeschooled graduates and others who were involved in homeschooling communities in a variety of ways, it’s pretty much accepted as common knowledge that homeschooled students typically excel in reading comprehension and verbal skills, but struggle in STEM fields. Evidence for this lies even in my own experience– I was in the 98th, 99th percentile for reading and verbal, but average or below average in math and science on every standardized test I took. I have only personally encountered two people in twenty-five years who didn’t fit this pattern.

This isn’t just anecdotal, as well. Researchers have confirmed the existence of a homeschooling math gap for decades. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (full disclosure: I’m a board member) has a study coming out soon confirming this reality again, so this is not just unsubstantiated rumor and communal lore. Homeschooled students don’t perform as well as their peers in math– not on the SAT, not on the ACT, not on standardized tests, not in portfolio work. The idea homeschooled students do better academically than their traditionally-educated peers is an example of lies, damn lies, and statistics. Brian Ray has been lying to everyone for decades, and so many people have bought it hook, line, and sinker.

As everything I’ve cited above demonstrates, it does appear homeschooled students outperform their peers when it comes to reading and verbal skills. This has always seemed like common sense to me– most homeschooled students, especially once they reach secondary grades, are “educating” themselves, primarily through reading handmedown Christofascist textbooks. Homeschooling culture often involves a lot of reading– constant Bible study, no checkout limits at public library, missionary biographies, “classical” education, the works. I myself read all of Jane Austen and almost all of Dickens before I got to college. Homeschooled students, in my experience, tend to be a literary sort. I’ve known and met tons of graduates who ran newspapers, newsletters, e-zines, livejournals, etc. A lot of us were writers– I myself turned out reams and reams of fanfiction in high school.

The tendency for homeschooled students to be “self-educated” in secondary grades is probably a significant reason why the data shows a math gap. If you can read (which, granted, not all homeschooled students can– I’ve known lots of homeschooled teenagers who couldn’t read), your parents take you to a library somewhat regularly, and you don’t have friends or music or TV or movies … guess what you’re going to spend a lot of your free time doing? I didn’t have anything else to do except practice piano and chores, and in that way my experience was not unusual. It’s a common joke how homeschooled students “talk like a book” and we often understand vocabulary words we don’t know how to pronounce.

None of that is going to help you much if you’re trying to teach yourself algebra, though. Hence: math gap.


What I would like to suggest for your consideration, however, is something the data isn’t truly capable of showing: a homeschooling reading gap. Because yes, I read a lot. Yes, I was conversant and articulate. Yes, I had decent reading comprehension skills. I even learned to speed read.

However, what I did not receive was an education in reading.

When I was taught how to write book reports at some point in the sixth grade, what I learned to do was to write a one-page summary of a book, and answer a single question at the end: what was the book’s worldview? What moral lessons had it taught me? How had it reinforced my fundamentalist Christian ideology? … all disguised in the innocuous-appearing language of how did you grow in your faith because of reading this book? That framework was my only method of interacting with literature, and it was present only as a tool of indoctrination. I did not learn about poetic imagery until senior level college classes, and never discussed concepts like theme until my graduate literature classes. Until my Utopian/Dystopian literature class in my second year of getting a Master’s degree, the most recent “literature” (not counting genre fiction or Christian romance novels) I read in its entirety was published in 1907.

The only more modern work of literature I ever encountered was an excerpt from 1984 included, I believe, in the first edition of BJUPress’ Elements of Literature. I can’t find a table of contents so I can’t confirm, but the excerpt followed Winston walking around a neighborhood at night, looking through windows and seeing people imbibing Party propaganda on their telescreens. At the end of the segment, the textbook “discussion” (ha!) questions centered on the evils of television and pushed its students to reject “the world” and a “godless worldview.” Remembering that moment in high school is … it strikes me as incredibly ironic how the publisher chose the one and only section from 1984 they could use as a fundamentalist indoctrination tool. From a book dedicated to how dangerous authoritarian systems use language to manipulate and control, a religiously authoritarian publisher chose a passage in order to use its language to manipulate their students and reinforce fundamentalist ideological control. Just…

I never had an opportunity to explore themes in literature, or read from a diverse array of perspectives, or engage critical thinking to analyze texts. I wasn’t even permitted to read books about characters I was allowed to dislike. Every book I read included a protagonist I was intended to emulate; every book was aspirational and morally correct. What I now know with two master’s programs in “reading” (ie: MA in English and seminary) under my belt is that simply reading a lot of books in isolation is not enough. It is certainly not educational. Literature happens in community– it’s meant to be discussed, shared, engaged.

What I believe an unfortunate number of homeschooled students are missing out on in their humanities educations is … pretty much everything. It is nearly impossible to disguise deficiencies in math education– if you don’t understand long division, you’re not going to be able to do long division. Not understanding the quadratic equation is going to be a serious barrier to doing well on algebra tests. However, you can never read the typical high school canon; never look for themes, motifs, metaphors, and structure; never encounter an ideology different from the white supremacist and Christofascist system at your church … and a standardized test is never going to catch it. Instead, you’ll probably turn out a bit like me with a 710 on the verbal portion of my SAT and still be the most hopelessly uninformed, illiterate, naïve reader imaginable.

Photography by C. Barata McKee
Social Issues

World History and Cultures: Sumer

I am hoping that, in the future, I will be able to do more than one chapter at a time. For health reasons, though, I have to limit myself to just one for today.


Wild Assertions:

  • Pyramids, ziggurats and Maya Temples are supposedly so similar because there was a single culture that spread from the Tower of Babel.
  • Sumerians studied astrology because “they rejected the natural revelation of the one true God,” and “turned to the stars and planets for knowledge of the future” (19).
  • “the religion of the Sumerians led to hopelessness and purposelessness” (20).
  • Civilization cannot occur without “mastering the food supply” through “effective agricultural techniques” like crop irrigation (17).
  • WHAC says history cannot be preserved without a written language; however, we know that indigenous peoples in Australia have an accurate oral history that extends as far back as 10,00 years.


  • The Garden of Eden was located in the Fertile Crescent.
  • “Writing has a conservative influence on culture,” and conservatism is crucial to development of civilizations (16).
  • Cultures can supposedly be ranked and categorized, from undeveloped to “highly developed” (17).


The most cursory and briefest of glances through my “Inaccuracies” section reveals a fundamental problem with World History and Cultures: in order for it to be internally consistent and to stay true to its claim that their fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible is historically, literally accurate, they are required to lie. They cannot tell students the truth about almost anything regarding the ancient world– to be honest, they’d be forced to acknowledge either that a) their interpretation and application of the Bible is flawed or b) the Bible is not accurate.

The chapter launches with a huge whopper of a lie: the “Rise of Sumerian civilization” was in 2300 BC– a full two thousand, two hundred years too late. However, they’ve already stated that the earth was created around 4,000 BC, which is five hundred years after the beginnings of Sumer.

They also have to assume that the Garden of Eden was a physical, historically real place and that it was located in Middle East. From there, Noah had to have landed in Turkey, and his descendants had to have traveled down the rivers to Mesopotamia and spread their culture from there. The fact that calendars, languages, schools, and technologies all arose independently in multiple cultures around the world proves that their understanding of history is not possible … so they have to lie. They have to deliberately mislead their students into believing that Sumer and only Sumer was the first to achieve lunar calendars, the wheel, schools, etc.

That they are willing to do this, and to go to this extent– 10 falsehoods in a single chapter, more than one lie per page– is disturbing.


In the section where they discuss the Sumerian government, they claim that Sumer was a “primitive democracy,” and then use Samuel Kramer to argue that power was in the hands of “free citizens,” that decisions affecting the entire city were made collectively. In the next paragraph, they say that “it became necessary for the city-states to adopt a strong, monarchial [sic] form of government” (19).

Untangling this actually took some digging, but first I want to point to the logic chain here. When Sumer “faced internal dissension and external threats,” a strong monarchy “became necessary.” To break it down: civil unrest and threats to national security make “strong” leaders– kings, tyrants, dictators– both necessary and, from the surrounding context, a good thing.

Again, I’m looking around at my country right now and thinking well that explains a lot. These authors aren’t just relaying history, they’re teaching a philosophy of government that bends toward authoritarianism.

There’s also a second thing happening here that isn’t immediately visible– you have to go fact-checking to discover this. They use the term “primitive democracy” to describe early Sumerian government. However, the “free citizens” who had political power in the first cities? They were they men who controlled the military power. They were the men with access to weapons and and who led fighting units. I won’t deny it makes sense that those sorts of men would control the political power in an early culture like Sumer, but it is interesting that WHAC describes this system as a democracy and not the “primitive oligarchy” it actually was. Not every person residing in the city-state had a political voice, and the authors think that this is enough to call a system a democracy.

No wonder they have no qualms oppressing voters, gerrymandering, or denying suffrage to whole classes of people. They think “democracy” and “oligarchy” are the same thing.


One of the main goals of this chapter is to teach that civilizations are only civilizations when they look and act like European civilizations. They give a definition of civilization that students are asked to write down verbatim several times in the section and chapter reviews:

A civilization comes into being when a people’s culture begins to include a specialized division of labor, a written language, a written code of laws, an organized form of civil government, and the developement of arts and sciences. Before any of these developments can take place, however, there must be a mastery over the food supply. All civilizations begin with the development of effective agricultural techniques. (17)

Lots of scholars argue that only one of these is necessary: writing and keeping written records. Some add other components, like social stratification or architecture. Abeka’s sticking point is “mastery over the food supply,” and they describe Sumer’s crop irrigation system at length. It’s not enough for WHAC that large groups of people can feed themselves, they have to do it in a particular way. That way looks like irrigated fields and the steady planting and harvesting of crops. It doesn’t include, for example, the way many Native American tribes practiced forestry before the arrival of European colonizers. North America wasn’t an “untamed wilderness” before the arrival of the colonizers; it just didn’t look suitably “mastered” to white people.

Abeka’s whole concept of “civilization” is deliberately exclusive, and it will be important to identify exactly who they’re excluding and why.

I didn’t identify any changes in the 3rd edition. The Fertile Crescent map in Since the Beginning is slightly more accurate; there is also more discussion of the evils of secular humanism in Sumerian culture than appears in the 10th grade version, as well as more focus on Abraham’s story.

*Some of these items are more recently discovered than the publication of World History and Cultures 2nd Edition, but have not been corrected in the latest edition.

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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

Living in the Loopholes: Home Education and Abuse

As y’all know, I spent this past weekend in Raleigh, NC presenting at The Courage Conference with my friend and colleague Carmen Green. Preparing for that took a lot more out of me than I thought it would– we both wanted to emphasize story telling instead of getting deep into the weeds on the facts and legalities, so I spent the bulk of last week digging through the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database looking for stories that illustrated each type of abuse we wanted to talk about. That took a toll, and then the conference was also emotionally draining. It was a good experience and I’m very glad I went, but the focus was on abuse and two days of that is just going to be hard.

I was looking forward to meeting Boz Tchividjian, who founded Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) and whose work I’ve talked a lot about. He was as incredible in person as I thought he’d be, and it was comforting to meet an older white man who actually gives a shit and is actively doing something to fight abuse in Christian culture. I also got to meet Linda Kay Klein, who is as impressive in person as she sounds on paper. She has a book on purity culture coming out next year (Man-Made Girls) and I’m now desperate to read it. The second I have a copy, I will be posting a review. Her talk on the modesty doctrine was funny and insightful and tender and beautiful, and I was definitely impressed with her.

You can still actually “attend” The Courage Conference if you’d like to– you can buy online tickets to see video recordings of the main speakers, and I think it’s worth the $20. Also, in coordination with The Courage Conference, I’ve made it possible for you to see the workshop Carmen and I did. If you make at least a $5 donation to my Patreon this month, I will contact you with a password to view the video after Patreon processes everyone’s transactions.

Also, here’s the PowerPoint presentation if you’d like to take a look at it.

Many thanks to everyone here who made presenting at this conference possible. Your readership and support over the years is why I continue doing this sort of work. The workshop we gave seemed to make a really big impact with the people who came– many said they’d learned a ton that they could instantly put to practical use to fight abuse. You made it possible for us to do that, so thank you.

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.