Why I Blame Homeschooling, Not Just My Parents: Reflections by Nicholas Ducote

Why I Blame Homeschooling, Not Just My Parents: Reflections by Nicholas Ducote

Nicholas Ducote is a Community Coordinator for Homeschoolers Anonymous.

"Abuse is ultimately the fault of the perpetrators, but why does everyone leave the homeschooling community blameless for how it brainwashed my parents?"

“Abuse is ultimately the fault of the perpetrators, but why does everyone leave the homeschooling community blameless for how it brainwashed my parents?”

Author edit, after posting, to clarify my call for more oversight: I recommended intra-community policing in my post. State action should be a last resort. Those that care to preserve their parental rights to homeschool need to make hold other parents accountable. Unfortunately, fundamentalist homeschooling communities are often isolated from anyone who would question the parents.  I don’t have a solution, but I know we can’t just assume the status quo will fix things. Hopefully, projects like this will scare other parents enough to make them confront other parents. But let’s be honest, do you see that happening in these sort of communities? Most of these people laugh at the idea of children having rights and would never support anything that encroaches on their ability to teach their children whatever they want.

Homeschooling, as a method of instruction, is not intrinsically bad, dangerous, or damaging. I saw many children raised in homeschooling who were not abused by religious fundamentalism – even if they were Christians. However, as a society, we have to realize that the current state of homeschooling gives parents unique power over their children. Yes, many homeschooled children are a part of co-ops, interact with neighbors, and have relatively normal social interactions. But other homeschoolers are isolated in rural areas, with no contact with neighbors, or the outside world. Abuse develops in these environments because there is no oversight from outside the parents and, if criticism if lodged, the parents are defensive. To many homeschooling parents, homeschooling (the method) is part of a larger worldview that involves rejections of secularism, science, and academic institutions.

I developed claustrophobia, a generalized anxiety disorder, and panic attacks in high school. At the time, I assumed my panic attacks were the result of the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sins. The most common trigger for my panic was sexuality. As a teenager, I would often shake uncontrollably after masturbating. Homeschooling can make children feel trapped because they are literally never away from their parents. When I was quasi-dating girls in high school, behind my parents’ back because they wanted me to court, I would have a mini-panic attack when the phone rang – scared that my parents would find out. When I got in trouble it meant a few hours with mom and dad, crying and arguing about what God told them to do, ending in me feeling completely trapped. When I woke up the next day, I had no choice but to bottle up my anger, shame, and humiliation and go “do” homeschooling. In ATI, many leaders preached about how listening to rock music would literally result in demonic possession. This is abusive to teach to children. To this day, I struggle with anxiety before I fall asleep.  I was taught, by my parents and by ATI’s leaders, that demons were very real and they could possess rebellious Christians. Many in the homeschooling movement conceptualized the “culture war” as spiritual warfare — the secular humanists were literally portrayed as the minions of Satan.

Spiritual abuse is a difficult term for many people to wrap their heads around. It may seem like we are trying to say that raising children in a religious tradition is abusive, which we are not. However, I can say that when homeschooling is mixed with religious fundamentalism, abuse almost always occurs.

There is a distinction between religious fundamentalism and mainstream religions. I once told my mom, “I would have been fine if you stayed Baptist. It’s when you drifted into fundamentalism that hurt me.”  What many people fail to realize is that most parents don’t wake up one day and decide they need to start controlling their childrens’ lives and prepare them for the culture wars. Yes, my parents are to blame for subscribing to fundamentalism, but the homeschooling community and movement are also to blame.

In many states in the 1990s and 2000s, homeschooling parents received most of the curriculum, instruction, and indoctrination at state, regional, or national conferences. There are a myriad of institutions and groups that formed the movement, so it is impossible to point to a single root cause of the abuse in homeschooling. But I know abuse doesn’t just happen because of bad parenting. The bad parenting that people indict was being advocated on stage before thousands of people. There is a reason why so many homeschooling alumni share stories and experiences. Tens of thousands of homeschoolers attended state Christian Home Educator Fellowship (CHEF) conferences, where they were exposed to

  • The Harris family and their beliefs about Biblical courtship
  • David Barton and Little Bear Wheeler’s revisionist history
  • Evangelical leaders that scared everyone about the evils of secular humanism
  • Michael and Debi Pearl’s harsh ideas on corporal punishment and misogynistic ideas of gender roles
  • Huge book sales populated mostly by Christian fundamentalist textbooks — advocating creationism, teaching math based around the Gospel message, or other “educational tools.”

All of these ideas circulated around the homeschooling communities and trickled down to local CHEF chapters.

Parents’ responses have been mixed, but many of them see our blog as a tool to take control of their children away from them. Parents emphasize their rights to raise their children however they want. But, as a society, we have already decided that parental rights end where abuse begins. Thus, one of the main issue in this debate becomes whether or not a homeschooling environment is emotionally or spiritually abusive.

You might think this is only a problem of the past decades — that now, in this new zenith of modernity, fundamentalist homeschoolers that spiritually abuse their children are dying out. You would be wrong. Yes, there is growing momentum behind secular homeschooling, but there is no hard social science about homeschooling.  At this point, observational data is almost all that exists about homeschooling and its demographics. We know very generally how many people homeschool and for what reasons. But ten states do not even require the parents to inform them of their childrens’ “enrollment” in homeschooling.

This is the start of an important conversation about homeschooling. I am opposed to religious fundamentalism in all forms and I believe that the abuse that occurs when fundamentalism is allowed to dominate homeschooling has no place in the modern world. I’ve heard so many Evangelicals and homeschooling parents mock the Islamic madrasas for their religious instruction, but fundamentalist homeschooling isn’t different by much.

To those homeschoolers who are afraid of this exposure, it’s time to own up. These abuses happened, the community’s leaders encouraged it, and the community does not regulate itself. If the homeschooling community is not willing to regulate itself – lest a parent tell another parent their methods and ideologies are abusive! – then someone else will.

I am tired of sitting around hoping that the abusive fundamentalist culture within homeschooling will die out.  I don’t want it to die out, I want to trample it out so that no other children face the sort of abuse I, and many other, went through. Part of the means telling the honest, visceral truth about what happens in many homeschooling homes. Yes, abuse is ultimately the fault of the perpetrators, but why does everyone leave the homeschooling community blameless for how it brainwashed my parents?

The issue of abuse in homeschooling is an issue of the distortion of parental rights and the reality of systemic indoctrination.

You cannot stop the abuse without exposing the advocates.

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42 responses to “Why I Blame Homeschooling, Not Just My Parents: Reflections by Nicholas Ducote

  1. I firmly believe that many well-meaning, loving parents were indoctrinated at these conferences and other events by fear-tactics and religious guilt, where they were told the only way to be a good parent, to have a Godly child, and to be a “True Christian” was to homeschool in a specific way. Parent’s good intentions were manipulated, and too many were afraid to speak out once they started following a prescribed path of fundamentalist homeschooling, because they were afraid of consequences from their homeschool community and/or church, and in many cases, afraid of being punished by God.

    Many opinion leaders in the Christian fundamentalist community should be considered responsible for preying on the fear that every parent has (“am I doing parenting right?”) and exacerbating it by tying one method of parenting to salvation for the child, parent, and nation. No parent deserves that pressure, and no parent can live up to that responsibility. My heart goes out the many parents trying the best way that they knew, but who had been so lied to that they ultimately lost control of their parenting/homeschooling to ideologies they never imagined they would ascribe to.

    • Great explanation. Homeschooling was pitched as some sort of panacea at these conferences. And if a family couldn’t go, they could buy cassette tapes of every event.

  2. That is absolutely right, Lynn.

    Parents are terrified: of doing it wrong, of messing up their children so they latch onto anyone or anything that promises what they so desperately desire.

    However, the parents may be lied to, but it is their responsibility to seek the truth. They are the adults. The truth sets free.

  3. Keep writing. Don’t stop. I am a 44yo mom of 3 who finally put her two sons into high school this year after 9 years of full-time homeschooling. And my daughter into 6th even though I’ve been judged and scared often. I have been to those conferences. My friends still do. These children need our help. When I started, the Internet was young. But now it topples all sorts of power structures, sometimes quickly. Keep writing. It helps me a little, too, as a mom who should of stood up in Jonathan Lindvall’s packed seminar and walked out.

  4. To this day, I struggle with anxiety before I fall asleep. I was taught, by my parents and by ATI’s leaders, that demons were very real and they could possess rebellious Christians. Many in the homeschooling movement conceptualized the “culture war” as spiritual warfare — the secular humanists were literally portrayed as the minions of Satan.

    i.e. the Gospel According to an Early Frank Peretti Novel.

      • I got my head messed up a bit in the Seventies from The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay, so why not The Gospel According to Frank Peretti?

        P.S. Peretti discontinued his “spiritual warfare” fiction because he was running into too many creepy fanboys who thought it was all REAL. This is not unknown in the “contemporary supernatural” fantasy genre; SF/Fantasy author Mercedes Lackey used to have an essay on the Web about encountering the same problem after she discontinued an “occult detective” fantasy series of hers.

  5. As much as I dislike the terrible, and I repeat, TERRIBLE, theology represented by the people/institutions you named, I’m still incredibly wary of suggesting that the answer is then to have an outside entity (I’m hearing the slight implication that the state ought to be this entity from the tone here) govern these people.

    Ah. It’s a tough one. I hate the fact that kids (and I’m among them, the panic attacks you describe are also in my experience) are dealing with these things. But there are atrocities going on in other forms of ‘fundamentalist’ homes too. Like you said, Islamic homes, sex-shaming (this comes from the gays AND the conservatives might I add) homes, Christian-fundamentalism wacko homes, black power homes, rebel flag wavers, ultra-liberal homes, ultra-conservative homes….my question is this. HOW DO YOU MODERATE THESE THINGS? And by what standard? Yours? Are you the perfectly balanced mind that ought to determine which of your neighbors decisions are best? If not, who is the standard of all things? (I’m asking these questions honestly. I, too, would have there be no more manipulation, brain-washing, or abuse.)

    I mean. Ultimately I want the freedom to do what I believe to be right. And so do you. You don’t want someone breathing down your neck telling you “wear this, don’t wear that, say this, don’t say that”, as you have here described. And yet you suggest that it’s okay for someone else to have that experience. The lines do get blurry though…nations can declare Hitler a target for crimes against humanity for the very visible, physical displays for which he has become known. But then what about emotional crimes? That’s so much harder to govern and become substantially more abstract/subjective.

    And I guess we could go the route of philosophy and duke out who had it most figured out and follow him. (If Aristotle then lets follow him, if Kant then follow him, etc.) But I don’t know how profitable that would be at this point.

    You’re asking good questions though. You have experienced true flaws of human nature. And I’m sorry.

    • Katie, You ask all of the questions that a good thinker would ask.

      The problem with any issue related to closely to family autonomy, homeschool among them, who is to “judge” or “oversee”. By whose guidelines must all families be observed?

      Seeing the problem is the first step. Healing those in need of healing comes next.
      One day we will figure out the solutions to these difficult questions.

      I, for one, would never agree to having an outside source oversee our home; I know this is difficult for some to hear as it is an intrinsic piece of the flawed nature of the power and chaos of their childhood homes…

      In the meantime, I can assure you and I personally know of many families who are doing it right…

    • I recommended intra-community policing in my post. State action should be a last resort. Those that care to preserve their parental rights to homeschool need to make hold other stents accountable. Unfortunately, fundamentalist homeschooling communities are often isolated from anyone who would question the parents.

      I don’t have a solution, but I know we can’t just assume the status quo will fix things. Hopefully, projects like this will scare other parents enough to make them confront other parents. But let’s be honest, do you see that happening in these sort of communities? Few people care about children’s rights.

  6. Awesome blog, Nick! Your reference of parents’ rights made me think of some legal scholars that advocate eliminating parents’ rights, particularly James Dwyer, a law professor at William & Mary. He says that children should be viewed as distinct legal persons with distinct interests and distinct rights. Children’s rights, rather than parents’ rights, should be the legal basis for protecting children’s interests–which would represent a shift from the current legal analysis of these issues.

    “The incongruity between parents’ rights and established principles regarding the nature and inherent limitations of individual rights compels us to seek other moral and/or legal principles to support and legitimize this anomalous set of rights. Absent such justification, we might be forced to conclude that parents’ rights, like the plenary rights of husbands over their wives in an earlier age, ultimately rest on nothing more than the ability of a politically more powerful class of persons to enshrine in the law their domination of a politically less powerful class, and on an outmoded view that members of the subordinated group are not persons in their own right.” –Dwyer, Cal. Law Review

  7. It is extremely refreshing to finally realize that I am not alone in my “rebellion” against the fundamentalist homeschooling movement. I was also raised by parents who were completely immersed in the teachings of the Harris Family, Little Bear Wheeler, the Ezzo’s, etc. We never missed a CHEF convention and I always dreaded the weeks that followed the convention because of the implementation and strict adherence to the new principles and discipline methods which had been taught. When I graduated at the CHEF Convention in 2006, I had no idea how ill-prepared I was for the outside world and the journey to understand the lasting effects has not been an easy one. Guilt, shame, and anxiety are still daily struggles. Bravo for standing up and speaking out. It is very much needed.

  8. This is perfect. I was homeschooled and raised around lots of other homeschooled families. While many of them seem well-adjusted, I am well aware of the huge flaws and terrible emotional toll that this practice took on me and probably on many others as well. I feel like the homeschooling community needs to start listening to these stories that are surfacing and take note. They need to start owning up to the possibility that their social experiments (like I Kissed Dating Goodbye) DON’T WORK and they are hurtful to their children. These sorts of things were sold to well-intentioned parents as a method to protect their children from the dangers of the world. Who wouldn’t want that? But that’s why our voices need to be LOUD to show the future of homeschooling that religious oppression and homeschool as a method of control is not healthy. It is abusive. It isn’t what it was sold to them as. And hopefully, with time, things will change.

  9. “However, I can say that when homeschooling is mixed with religious fundamentalism, abuse almost always occurs.”

    This is a dangerous use of the term “abuse,” since the term usually connotes a sort of activity which merits governmental prevention or retribution.

    Since the author freely identifies aberrant spiritual teachings as “abusive,” (like teaching that rock music results in possession), the traditional understanding of abuse would justify governmental regulation of such doctrines.

    I think it’s absurd to teach that rock (or any genre) results in demonic possession. I am sorry that you suffered anxiety as a result of such teaching.

    I think it’s a million times worse to concede, however, that we should empower the government to curtail particular teachings. This would require two affirmations. 1. The the government is competent to determine “truth” in the realm of spirituality. The implicit call for regulation here seems palatable because the author relies on the reader’s assumption that this doctrine (and others like it) are so patently “false” that it would be uncontroversial to curtail their promulgation. This, however, will not always be the case, even with other so-called fundamentalist doctrines. 2. There is a demonstrable causal relationship between teachings and spiritual harm. I believe that you suffered harm as a result of your environment. I don’t believe that such relationships can always be so neatly described that uniform regulation would be a good idea – especially when we’re talking about empowering the state to use coercion to that end.

    Because both of these affirmations are clearly beyond the competency of government, it would be a dark day for liberty in America if we were willing to subject “fundamentalist” teachings to regulation and proscription. Freedom always gives rise to the potential for abuse. It’s our responsibility to spread the truth to combat those abuses in the context of liberty, not to curtail liberty in order to impose our own understanding of truth.

    • @ Rex re: “I think it’s a million times worse to concede, however, that we should empower the government to curtail particular teachings.”

      As the author says, “If the homeschooling community is not willing to regulate itself – lest a parent tell another parent their methods and ideologies are abusive! – then someone else will.”

      …then the homeschooling community better take this shit more seriously, eh?

    • It seems you missed my emphasis on intra-community oversight. My argument is that SOMEONE has to look out for the children – if the community refuses and abuses continue, a government body will eventually intervene. Government oversight is a last resort, if you want to protect parental rights, help police the community and make sure parents don’t abuse those rights.

      “To those homeschoolers who are afraid of this exposure, it’s time to own up. These abuses happened, the community’s leaders encouraged it, and the community does not regulate itself. If the homeschooling community is not willing to regulate itself – lest a parent tell another parent their methods and ideologies are abusive! – then someone else will.”

  10. Rex, how about a link between the teachings and physical harm? Should a parent who has openly endorsed the Pearl’s plumbing line method of discipline be able to completely isolate their child from all mandatory reporters?

  11. While I totally see where you are coming from, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Many of us homeschoolers stayed far away from the conventions and the bandwagons. My children have always understood that they had the choice to attend public school, and all have chosen to attend public high school with academic success and their faith intact.

    We were actually in a worse place when our children were in a Christian school, run by our church, and we and they were taught a heavy authoritarianism in that church & school. I believe my older children were damaged by that.

    Before I ever began homeschooling, I had learned these things:

    1. There is no guarantee that if I used child-rearing method “ABC” that I will end up with “XYZ” perfect Christian clones. God doesn’t work that way.

    2. There are many “right” ways to educate, and each child is a unique individual whose needs may not be, and probably aren’t, the same as their siblings, let alone children from other families.

    3. That Grace-based parenting yields better relationships.

    4. That fear-based parenting does not yield faith in either my children or myself.

    5. That I can trust God with my children, no matter where they are educated.

    6. That adhering to a man’s teachings without question is dangerous for my spiritual health as well as my families.

    I agree with your assessment of the “homeschool convention patriarchs”. But I know far too many successful homeschooled now-adults whose parents didn’t “go there” to completely throw out homeschooling.

    Lois, retiring from homeschooling this June after 17 years of homeschooling. Embarking on a new adventure! :-)

  12. @Tired: Yes, I think the homeschooling community should take this very seriously. Although I don’t agree with everything in the original post, I do believe that these kids of discussions are essential.

    @Nick: The reason I went right to government is because the language used in the original post has the tendency of drawing readers to that conclusion, and I noticed this discussion rising in the comments. I appreciate what you have to say about intra-community oversight and I think it’s critical. I also think, however, that we should never allow it to proceed to government oversight (in terms of “spiritual abuse”) for the reasons I provided.

    @Rosa: Parents should be accountable to the authorities for physical and sexual abuse. A discussion about “mandatory reporters” is a little outside the scope of the narrow point that I was trying to make. That point is: we should never give the government the ability to proscribe teachings on the basis of their potential to be used for “spiritual abuse.” Using the government to prevent physical and sexual abuse is a good idea. The question of “mandatory reporters” is the question of how to use that power wisely. I’m not sure that I’d have much to say on that topic that would be particularly interesting or unique.

    • I think it is the point though: at some point, there has to be a set of views that make certain freedoms so dangerous for others, they should be curtailed.

      Either that or we have to curtail them for everyone. Personally, i don’t think any parent should have the legal right to completely isolate their children from the larger community. I think every child should have access to unrelated adults, and to some form of private communication not accessible to their parents.

      But it seems that some forms of belief, that are legal to hold, and wouldn’t bar a person from, for example, being elected to office or serving on a jury, should be reason enough to curtail the freedom that parents currently universally hold, to remove their children from our civil society and its related protections.

  13. BTW, don’t think that I attempt to invalidate your experience. I do not. You are certainly correct about all you talk about. I’ve seen those homeschooled adults, too, and I grieve for what was done. Your writing was spot on.

    • I didn’t get that impression from your first comment. :-) I fully support homeschoolers like yourself and hope that you are a loud voice on your local community. For some homeschool children, you may literally be the only person in their life that doesn’t support a spiritually abusive atmosphere.

  14. It seems like most of these parents (regardless the ideology) that go bat shit crazy in their homeschooling, have an obsession with outward conformity to some standard rather than teaching their children to search for and love truth.

    Actual abuse happens a lot more than one would think, but I have to say that your “trapped” condition seems a little artificial. I’m not sure if at fault was your desire to please your parents or your fear to stand up to them or your inability to realize when they were wrong, but I think everyone at some point has to reach a point where those constraints no longer control them (no matter what the educational environment or religious background). Parents can certainly foster that independence or foster servile dependence, but I am just thankful that you are no longer in that place.

    It is just doubly important that having escaped one controlled, fearful life, another master does not rise up to take its place. That is the tragedy I have seen too many times. Someone escapes one repressive “regime” only to fall prey to the next.

    “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32

    • These aren’t just “bat shit crazy” parents, they are parents following the rules proscribed to them by many different homeschooling organizations. But the bat shit crazy ones get unique legal status because they are homeschooling and can very effectively isolate their children . My parents grew up Catholic, they had no basis in fundamentalism before joining the Christian homeschooling movement in the 1990s. Nearly all of their beliefs were brought home from CHEF, Vision Forum, and ATI. Unfortunately, I have a younger sister still in “that place,” and my heart breaks for anyone who has to be raised in an environment like mine – and thousands of children were and continue to be raised in this way.

      You make some pretty big assumptions about my childhood. Doesn’t every child have an ingrained desire to please his parents? Are you saying at 14 I should have realized all my 8 years of indoctrination was ridiculous? Or are you saying that I didn’t fight with my parents enough? It seems like you are trying to turn the blame on me, for somehow being caught up in the doctrines, theologies and methodologies preached at me. It wasn’t until I learned how to debate that I could process “both sides” of an issue. My schooling, and many others in this movement, was entirely one-sided with most of the information about the “other side” being misrepresented.

      I have no idea what you mean by me serving another master. I am a partner in marriage, but take responsibility for my actions. I’m not blaming my faults of failings on my parents. I’m blaming my psychological condition on them – childhood trauma often extend into the adult years. And yes, this is my truth. I am speaking it and it has sent me free.

  15. Nick, this is really interesting. I was not home schooled, but I suspect that I and many others are in the dark about what goes on there. We’ve all known home schooling families who are a bit strange, but we’re taught that in America, we all have the right to make choices, and we shouldn’t belittle others who have chosen differently than us. It’s really great that you are making people aware of those situations where someone’s right to choose is interfering with their child’s right to grow up in a healthy environment. Thanks for educating us.
    -Rachel

  16. Nick – Excellent article. Thank you. I swear I have to take a deep breath and exhale when I read these posts. They really get to me.

    As a long-time HS mom, I feel very angry about the Christian homeschooling conferences. I had NO idea about any agenda – - that they hand-selected leaders and vendors who promoted the approved agenda.

    We heard from our friends: “you’ve got to go to the homeschool convention – it’s great – I can’t imagine not going to it – it gives me the incentive to keep going and rejuvenates me for another year.” They were so hyped up by homeschooling friends. There were no other Christian conventions available and of course any secular homeschool convention would be out of the question. In our minds – if these are Christians and they are homeschooling, then we are all in this same boat together, right? How wrong we were – very wrong.

    I would really like to have a word with Gregg Harris about this crazy empire he helped to create. I didn’t know he helped to organize these state-wide conventions when we were going to one of the church plants connected with his now-imploded church.

    • I heard Greg Harris speak when I was like 10 – so 15 years ago. All the radicals have been there since the beginning. I’m reading a great book now, Kingdom of Children that I recommend. It’s a sociologist that studies the evolution of the movement and the two main ideological strands – inclusive groups and Christian exclusive. groups. He also discusses how the fundamentalists controlled the national conversation and momentum. Very scary – exposure is the first step!

  17. I agree that abuse in all its forms is wrong. But you argue that abuse was encouraged and taught at home school conferences, and that argument hinges on your list of “abusive” speakers and organizations that attended this conferences.

    Can you explain to me HOW or WHY you consider these speakers and organizations abusive. I understand the Pearls’. Their teachings can certainly be construed to be abusive. But I’m curious about your basis for labeling the others as abusive.

    What makes the Harris family’s alternative to dating abusive?

    David Barton’s teachings are false, but are they abusive?

    What is wrong with disagreeing with secular humanism?

    I’m mostly curious. Your argument is that home schooling is the root cause of many cases of abuse, and that argument is based on the fact that home schooling conferences included these teachings. But you don’t say WHY you believes these teachings to be abusive. You work on the assumption that these teachings are harmful, but you don’t say why. So I’m just curious to hear some more information.

    • Don’t have time to give a big reply – traveling – but we will definitely be going into more detail about what exactly is abusive. Honestly, I will have to acquire their materials to pin down exact abusive teachings.

      Ill give a quick easy answer to the courtship issue. I’ve seen girls basically forced and pressured into marriages by their fathers. Ultimately, courtship denies women much choice. Their fathers are the gate-keepers for relationships and young men approach the father. As a young women, when you are told God’s authority flows ONLY through your father, it’s not hard to imagine a situation where girls are heavily pressured into marriages they may not really desire. Because their desires are subordinated to “God’s will,” and they are taught that they MUST submit to men. So if you don’t think pressuring your daughter to suppress her individuality to serve as a Uterus Machine to a man chosen by her father, then we may just be on different pages.

      • The description above is not an accurate portrayal of what courtship is supposed to be, according to what I have read and discussed with fathers who have “successfully” encouraged courtship in their homes. I’m interested to read Nick’s definition of “abusive” when he gets around to it.

      • What is courtship to you? Abuse is when women’s agency is limited through patriarchal rituals like courtship. Could one of your daughters marry someone you have not “approved”? Would a man interested in your daughter have to approach you first to initiate a relationship?

        (Just realized the Melissa was talking to you, not a typo making Nick into Rick)

      • Rick, why don’t you spend some times talking with the daughters who had to go through “successful” parent controlling courtships. The idealism sounds nicer than the reality.

      • I have spoken to many of these women – their stories are heartbreaking. I’m not sure if your comment was meant to disagree. I think we are on the same page?

  18. Nick,

    Thank you for this article. I am a mom who has just begun to home school my children. I am a Christian, but I guess most home school families would consider me a liberal one. The stories I have read here help me arm myself against the creeping pressure to become more fundamentalist as a Christian homeschooler. It breaks my heart to read the stories of abuse and neglect posted on this site. As a mother I have a hard time fathoming some of the situations described, but the stories remind me that I must be vigilant in my community.

    I have many reasons for keeping my kids home for school. The main reason was my desire to give them the freedom to peruse their passions at an early age, but if I am honest the abuse I suffered at the hands of the public school system plays a bigger role then I like to admit.

    It is easy for me to defend my decision to home school by citing the years of abuse I suffered at he hands of public school educators, but this blog reminds me that home school is not a cure all for the ills of public school. The tension and pressure moms face as educators is immense in the Christian homeschool community, to the point that I have considered checking out and completely leaving that community for a more secular one. Thank you, and everyone here for the courage to share your stories. While i cannot relate to beating my kids, or leaving them alone for hours at a time, or not feeding them, I do read every word of the small, incidental, accidental neglect with appreciation. Your stories help me to make sure that my children will not accidentally face these same challenges. It would be so easy to just listen to the rules of so-called- Christian -Leaders, but that would mean turning off the true voice of God, the voice that told me to teach my children so that they could be free, not to trade one prison for another, worse one.

    • Thank you, thank you so much for this comment. You don’t know how much it means so someone like me. I was not beaten or left unfed as some of these stories, but I was raised under Fundamentalist principles that did me much harm in the long run. I will likely be sharing my story here soon, and it gives me so much hope to see homeschoolers, even Christian ones, that are taking these stories to heart and learning what NOT to do, wlthout feeling the pressure to just give up their faith. You are going to be the new face of homeschooling, I hope. Thank you again for sharing.

  19. This happened to me but a bit differently. It has ruined my life. I grew up in South Africa and was sent to a VERY wealthy, fundamentalist school at the age of 5. I was molested at that age by an older student of the same sex. So growing up I was very confused and felt like someone stole my soul. When I was a teen I went to a christian therapist because of my emotional issues because i trusted fundamentalist. Big mistake. When I thought I was getting better I got worse. I do believe there are christians out there that are genuinely selfless in what they do for others, but for the most part, most christians and mainly the fundamentalists are out there for their own selfish gain, especially when it comes to the huge 5000 people money minded churches, where i grew up in.

  20. Thank you for writing and posting this, Nick. Your experience sounds similar to my own. I was homeschooled in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist family that was already abusive and dysfunctional. That, combined with my mother’s poorly-managed mental illness, resulted in my homeschool experience being one of severe neglect. My mother’s decision to begin homeschooling me was driven by paranoia and fear. Her lack of empathy allowed her to privilege ideology over my needs. She latched on to HSLDA propaganda, particularly their idyllic depictions of the homeschooling parent as a spiritual warrior in the culture war and the homeschooled child as protected from evils in the world. Images spun by HSLDA propaganda become the object of her gratifying obsessions and fantasies. In reality, she did nothing for my education. I spent about eight years in social isolation, taking care of the house while my mother slept all day in a depressive state and raged about psychotic delusions. My father, for reasons unknown to me, failed to inquire about my daily routine and did not interfere. My mother brushed off grandparents and more distant family members with passionate speeches about the virtues of homeschooling. Unfortunately, child protective services were never alerted to my condition.

    Needless to say, I do not have a good relationship with either parent nor am I Christian. I’ve spent the past five years working with a therapist on managing the PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety with which I left my childhood. Lately I’ve been thinking more about the worst of my “homeschooling” years. Clearly the combination of an already isolated, abusive, and dysfunctional family + fundamentalism + homeschooling created a perfect storm for my abusive, neglectful experience. However, several themes emerge that I believe are instructive for the movement as a whole: 1) Parents often fixate on HSLDA “anti-culture-war” propaganda at the expense of positive child-rearing and home educating. Popular fringe ideology promotes the idea that “protecting your child from outside evil” takes precedence over a quality education and psychological development. 2) Lack of regulatory oversight is just insanely bad for everyone. Regulations on homeschooling (e.g., registration, lesson plan approval, annual testing) likely would have prevented my mother from wanting to homeschool in the first place. Requirements stipulating the amount of work needed for a legitimate home education would have undermined her intense romanticized image of being a selfless martyr, the stay-at-home homeschool-mom. It would have imposed some reality on her otherwise unchallenged fantasy world. Her fantasy did not involve the reality of lesson planning, homework enforcement, or documenting grades and assembling transcripts.

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