Response to “The dark side of homeschooling” by Katherine Stewart

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So I was lying down with my four-year-old tonight, and was singing one of my favorite children’s songs about Jesus, to help him go to sleep. I had also sung “Castle on a Cloud,” “Angel Lullaby,” and “Happy Family.” This is a simple routine we have followed through the years, with all five of our kids, from the time they were old enough to sleep in their own room. Sometimes when a child drifts off to sleep, I linger a few minutes longer on the bed, just to enjoy the beautiful fragrance of their sleeping head, and drink in the peaceful warmth of these increasingly rare moments with our kids.

As I lay there tonight, my mind wandered over the events of the day. I had read this disturbing article by a woman in the UK who clearly has no idea about what homeschooling actually looks like in the United States. I set it aside, and meant to let it fall deservingly by the wayside. However, in this reflective moment, having just sung about Jesus to my son, it dawned on me that I have a friend who may see this article, and believe the reality to be just as the author describes. From her point of view, perhaps I am “indoctrinating” my son, even grooming a future “culture warrior,” that might one day find himself on the opposing side of her son in some future culture war. I decided to draft a response.

Ms. Stewart: “The Christian home school subculture isn’t a children-first movement….Several decades ago, political activists on the religious right began to put together an “ideology machine”. Home schooling was a big part of the plan. The idea was to breed and “train up” an army of culture warriors. We now are faced with the consequences of their actions, some of which are quite disturbing.”

Wow, from the very first lines, I am shuddering at her premise. This is a huge straw man argument. I hope she is truly writing from an honest misconception. Firstly, homeschooling in the U.S. didn’t start out as any kind of political movement from the right or the left. It used to be the default mode of education here. The conservative Christian community latched on to homeschooling, primarily out of a desire to counter the creeping secular culture making its way into public schools.

Honestly, what parent do you know that decides to have a kid, just so they can mold a future culture warrior? It’s ludicrous! The TX homeschooling pioneers of the early1980’s were mainly concerned with the education of their children. At that time, the Texas Education Association outlawed homeschooling, and eventually arrested more than a hundred homeschooling parents who chose not to follow the new policy. You simply don’t take that kind of stand out of a desire to keep an “idealogy machine” going. They did it precisely because they loved their children, and wanted to educate them from within the paradigm of their religion. No good parent would be OK with someone else’s” indoctrination,” religious or secular. You can’t raise a kid without passing your values system on to them (i.e. indoctrination), human nature doesn’t allow for it.

Stewart: “According to the Department of Education, the home schooling student population doubled in between 1999 and 2007, to 1.5 million students, and there is reason to think the growth has continued. Though families opt to home school for many different reasons, a large part of the growth has come from Christian fundamentalist sects.”

“A large part” is quite vague. In reality, there are increasingly large numbers of secular homeschoolers, throughout the U.S., and the trend continues to grow. For example, take this 2012 article in USA Today.

Stewart: “When he was growing up in California, Ryan Lee Stollar was a stellar home schooling student. His oratory skills at got him invited to home schooling conferences around the country, where he debated public policy and spread the word about the “virtues” of an authentically Christian home school education.”

Ah, so it’s not homeschooling generally that she takes issue with, just this conservative Christian sub-group that seems to be overzealous about transmitting religious values to their kids. Glad we cleared that up. The man she quotes acknowledges that he was well educated in all academics by his parents, even exceptionally so. But he can’t seem to forgive them for also transmitting their religious views in the process. Now I am not an authority on this subculture. I don’t pretend to know how much abusive coercion is going on. But Stewart is painting the whole U.S. homeschooling community as possessing this fatal, “dark” flaw, which essentially amounts to parents who are transmitting their values to their kids. She neglects the vital point that all parents do it. Period. And by the way, school teachers do it too. You simply can’t function as a teacher without giving some inkling of your values system to your students.

Stewart: “’Too frequently’, Stollar says, ‘the consequences of putting ideology over children include anxiety, depression, distrust of authority, and issues around sexuality.’ This is evident from the testimonials that appear on Home schoolers Anonymous, the website that Stollar established, along with several partners.”

Now I don’t want to diminish the suffering of these grown-up homeschooled children. I’m not a Christian fundamentalist, I’m a Mormon. And I homeschool too. It’s not unique to one community. Some parents are excessively controlling. Lots of parents don’t know how to put their kids’ needs first, simply because of an inability to be unselfish. It goes far beyond cultural lines. What I take issue with here is that Ms. Stewart feels she needs to engage in fear-mongering over a subgroup of religious homeschoolers, painting the whole community with a broad, mistrustful brush.

“Many parents start off home schooling with the intention of inculcating their children in a mainstream form of Christianity.”

No, most parents start off homeschooling because the current public schools are damaging their kids in countless ways, physically, academically and emotionally. Yes religious homeschoolers still make up a sizeable portion of newbies, but that is decreasingly so as the movement expands. Here is a link to almost fifty blogs belonging to secular homeschoolers, a small sample from a growing population.

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Stewart: “The fundamentalist home schooling world also advocates an extraordinarily authoritarian view of the parental role. Corporal punishment is frequently encouraged. The effects are, again, often quite devastating. ‘People who experienced authoritarian parents tend to turn into adults with poor boundaries,’ writes one pseudonymous HA blogger. ‘It’s an extremely unsatisfying and unsustainable way to live.’”

Wow, another huge generalization. She is referring to a miniscule percentage of homeschoolers, making no distinction between these authoritarian Christians and the larger group of conservative Christians that choose to teach their own.  Again, I don’t wish to diminish the pain of those who grow up in abusive situations. She just makes it sound like there is a disproportionately large population of homeschoolers who are abusing their freedom. She needs hard data to be persuasive on this point.

Stewart: “In America, we often take for granted that parents have an absolute right to decide how their children will be educated, but this leads us to overlook the fact that children have rights, too, and that we as a modern society are obligated to make sure that they get an education. Families should be allowed to pursue sensible homeschooling options, but current arrangements have allowed some families to replace education with fundamentalist indoctrination.”

Um, she needs to define “education” more precisely. And a couple of problems: 1) since when did modern society EVER put the needs of kids before its own self-interest? no one loves or knows my kid better than I do. 2) This idea that the state, or the U.N., or the collective society is better equipped to educate my kid or to serve my kid’s “best interests” is repugnant, and fertilizes the seed bed of authoritarian regimes. I don’t know if Ms. Stewart has any children of her own. If she does, how would she like it if society’s idealogy du jour was Marxism, or Radical Islam? Would she still feel that such a society possesses the authority to decide which homeschooling options she were “allowed to pursue”? I think it’s noteworthy that she equates religion and idealogy here, which suggests she views conservative Christians as militant. Our founders worked hard to preserve the utmost freedom in the hands of individuals to pursue happiness, including the discretion to teach their kids whatever they please.

Forgive me, but as a culture warrior for the Left, it sounds to me like the author just doesn’t like those of us who homeschool, and also happen to lean Right. Homeschoolers don’t begin their journey seeking out ways to become a cog in an “idealogy machine”. And as I mentioned earlier, newbies increasingly are not associated with the offending Calvinist/Reconstructionist idealogy cited, which she has misrepresented as encompassing a much larger number of Christian homeschoolers than is accurate. By the end of our homeschooling journeys, we tend to be seasoned activists for educational freedom, because our way of life is threatened by those who think the way Ms. Stewart does. Warriors for educational freedom incidentally are comprised of people of all political stripes. However, based on the comments section of Stewart’s article, numerous Brits look down on the group, and don’t think we should have the right to teach our kids at all.

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7 thoughts on “Response to “The dark side of homeschooling” by Katherine Stewart”

  1. Thanks for this post. That article by Ms Stewart was extremely biased and unfair.

    I would add this: Not all “Calvanist/Reconsructionist” homeschoolers are abusive either. None of the one’s that I know are.

    My understanding IS that Rushdoony and others were key to the early contemporary homeschooling movement, but I would think that most homeschoolers don’t even know who they are.

    And “reconstructonist” just means rebuilding. What could be wrong with rebuilding American Society by training up your own children properly and encouraging others to do the same?

    1. I’ll admit I had to read up on reconstructivism and Calvinism last night, because I personally don’t know any people who claim it. I’ve been a homeschooling parent since ’05. We lived in Texas from ’06-’08, but were transferred back to Utah. During my time in TX I never once met this type of abusive homeschooler. IT’s one of the best places to be for homeschooling, frankly, secular or religious. I went to a couple of conventions, and heard not a thing that would qualify as subversive. Yes Rushdoony would likely be listed among the pioneers. Since I’m an outsider to Christian Fundamentalism, I’d not claim to be any kind of authority. But I have dedicated much study to the contemporary movement, and I agree with you. All the best.

  2. Thanks Russell, sometimes ya just gotta say what’s on your mind. In this case I had to restrain myself from cursing. And I’m known for clean language. I hope it helps someone who may think Ms. Stewart is right.

    1. Yes I looked up and read a number of accounts on the website before I wrote my response. As I mentioned in the blog, I do not want to diminish the real suffering that all of you endure/d. What I take issue with is Ms. Stewart’s choice to paint American homeschoolers with such broad strokes, to the extent that she intimates that all Christian homeschoolers are dangerously brainwashing their children, grooming culture warriors. There will always be extreme parenting in the world. This is not unique to homeschooling.

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