Homeschool Movement and Abuse, An Introduction

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on October 4, 2012.

The lawsuit from my former abusive church has come and gone and I have been doing some deep thinking — trying to figure out what brought us to that particular church — what made that church appealing to us? I had to acknowledge that this church, like other prior churches, was strongly pro-homeschooling. In fact, if you didn’t homeschool, you may not feel very comfortable there. So, it made me go back further, all the way back to the very beginning — before we started homeschooling and were investigating. What I have discovered is alarming:  patriarchal teachings that are often times abusive, parenting styles that are often abusive, and ideas completely outside of mainstream Christianity are going on in the homeschool movement.

My husband and I have been married 27 years and have 7 children from 25 yrs down to our 6-yr old “caboose”.  We have always homeschooled.  We have always believed that this was the best choice for our family.  We have been to many churches due to my husband’s military service and job changes.  Many people have influenced us in our homeschooling, parenting, marriage, and our Christian life journey and right now, I am angry.   I am angry about what I have discovered looking over our marriage, looking at our parenting styles over the years, looking at decisions we have made, looking at people who influenced us — people we trusted to be godly, like-minded and who wanted the best for their children and families.

If you have not been connected with the homeschool movement and click on some of these links, you might say:  ”Um, yea, you drank the Kool-Aid long ago.”  If you’ve been in the homeschool movement, you will probably be nodding along and can reminisce with me. I will take you on a wild journey going back through what I have experienced or seen in the past couple decades as a homeschooling mom.  Here is a sampling, and not in any order, of the kinds of influences, beliefs, philosophies, practices we dealt with or were familiar with among the homeschooling movement over the years:

Why did we have so many children?  How do you know when your quiver is full?  Would we have had this many children if we hadn’t listened to specific teachings?  Who invented the jumper dress?  Why did I sometimes feel guilty if I didn’t wear my denim jumper?  I no longer own a denim jumper.  Who decided Gregg Harris or Michael Farris were the spokesmen for homeschoolers?  Why did so many homeschoolers flock to the articles and books of Mary Pride?

Is it okay to refrain from sex to not get pregnant or is that saying “no” to God’s blessings of children?  Did it really mean one isn’t trusting God if taking measures to prevent pregnancy after cycles returned 6 weeks postpartum (and round-the-clock nursing)?  How many blessings of babies did I prevent by taking matters in my own hands?  Is God mad at me for my “interference” of “His plan”?

What about all of those families who stop having babies after only 4 children or 2 children — are they disobeying God?  Why don’t they want God’s blessings?  Who is targeting the homeschooling community to convince them to pop out babies to overpopulate the world with Christians babies?  Why does this same dude bombard our mailboxes right before Christmas to encourage us to buy Christmas toys (gender specific boy toys for boy and girly girl toys for girls) when their family does not celebrate this “pagan” holiday?

How did I get to the point where I believed that I may be treading dangerously if I was not a member of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association? Who would protect me if someone from school district came to my door and wanted to find out why my children weren’t attending the evil government school down the block?  How many homeschool families printed out instructions on what to say to government officials  if “they” came unannounced to our door to interrogate?  How many of us had HSLDA phone numbers in a prominent place — just in case? Where did all of this fear come from?

Why was I corrected when I said “public” school instead of their preferred “government” school?  Is there an agenda going on? Who is feeding all of this? Who decided that boys should be owning their own home businesses to support their families?  Who decided that all colleges were bad until Patrick Henry College was founded by popular homeschool leaders in the “movement” and then all of a sudden it became “okay” and even “good” to send our kids away to college?

How did the homeschool movement influence my views as far as who I voted for or how involved I was in politics? How did they convince me that I was eating improperly and I needed to grind my own wheat and make my own bread?  How did the homeschool community have the inside scoop before my traditional-schooled friends from church when it was going to become the end-of-life-as-we knew-it during the Y2K scare?  Who brought that hype to the homeschool community?  Would you like to ask me how many homeschoolers I personally know who are still going through their stockpiles of grains? Seriously!

When did I get to the point where I looked down at my friends who were Christians and either sent their children to public or private schools when “they should” be teaching their own?  How did all of this happen?  Why do so many homeschoolers balk at immunizations? Why are some homeschoolers so proud?  Homeschooled kids were the smartest because they always won the National Spelling Bees, right? Who decided that homeschoolers should be involved with speech and debate? Why are so many families going to their state capitals and involving themselves in politics — because they were going to be the movers and shakers of world in the political arenas?  And why is my husband responsible for my faith and the faith of our children? And why do we have to go through him on spiritual matters?  Does God not speak directly to homeschool kids and wives?

Who told me about modesty and how I should be dressing and how my daughters should be dressing?  What does modesty have to do with homeschooling?  Why do all homeschool boys look alike with similar short haircuts?   Who convinced me that my children could never “date”, but must only “court” and that my husband gets to choose our children’s future spouses?  How did, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” become such a popular book?  Who named the government as “evil” for wanting to know how our children are educated?  Why do homeschoolers assume the worst when they file their “notice to intent” with their local school district?

Why do they assume that the school district secretary doesn’t want to deal with homeschoolers and will instigate more trouble by wanting more information than required by law?  Who made up this purity ring ceremony — and that our teen daughters should wear their purity rings symbolizing their virginity until they replace it with their wedding ring?  Who started this thing where daughters shave their fathers’ beards? Below you will see an invitation to a Father Daughter Tea from Vision Forum. Fast forward to 1:37 to see daughters shaving their fathers. Um, really?

Who decided that boys should have their homes paid for before they get married?   And why are organized sports so wrong?    When did Young Earth creation become a primary issue to be a Christian and that if you didn’t believe it, you might not be Christian?   Why are scientists looked at as if suspect?  Psychology is of the devil.  What’s with all of those pictures of large families with matching clothes on the covers of homeschooling magazines?  Are my children supposed to be wearing matching clothes?  Who decided that was the right way to dress kids?  Who decided that women should only wear dresses?

And what about those who show up at conventions with head coverings — are we bad women if we don’t have them?   Who decided that family-integrated churches were better than traditional churches for our family?  Why is it that homeschoolers brag about their children being able to interact and socialize well, yet you can “pick them out” a mile away because they look and act so “different”?   Who has been instigating the us-vs-them mentality regarding so many of these topics?  Who decided that the only job that we should be teaching our daughters is to be “keepers of the home” and serving their fathers and then serving their future husbands?

Who decided a 1/4-inch plumber’s line was an appropriate tool for spanking?  Who taught us that if we had to repeat a command twice to our children, our children were being disobedient:  First-Time Obedience.   How did we let this group convince us that all infants should be able to go 4 hours between feedings.  What single man decided that fathers were an umbrella of authority over the family below God?  What same man also encouraged men and women to get vasectomies and tubal ligations reversed to allow God to control the size of their families and then paraded post-reversal children in front of the auditorium at conventions?

This is quite a diversion from spiritual abuse in the church, but I need to go there.  I now believe the homeschooling movement made our spiritually abusive church seem appealing to us.  Some of the above is just plain quirky, but other issues go much deeper affecting core spiritual beliefs and agendas.

My daughter, Hannah, is 25 yrs old and she was only homeschooled.  The first traditional school she attended was community college and last spring she became a college graduate. Her peers were from an early generation of the growing homeschool movement. More and more blogs are being published by young adults like my daughter who are “coming out” and sharing their homeschool experiences.  The stories are not pretty.    My daughter has shared some of her story.  And you can read the story I wrote about Hannah’s experience here.  In that story, you can get an idea of the controlling environment in which she lived and how she had to escape – it remains one of the most popular blog posts.

What she experienced at home has probably gone on in many homes.  I bear much responsibility for it.  I went along with it.  I have apologized to my daughter many times for it.   The abusive church we found also aligned with these philosophies of heavy-handed control of children, even adult children.  Hannah was 21 when she moved out.  She was not a child, yet we thought we owned her.

I assumed (yeah, I know about that word), that when we got into homeschooling that it was a safe community — a community where children’s best interest was at heart.  We wanted to have the primary influence in the education of our children.  That’s good, right?

But I have discovered that there is an underlying agenda in the homeschooling community that has been there all along — even years before I started — and it continues to this day. I believe that some of this underlying current — taken to an extreme — could be responsible for breaking up families, causing abuse, wreaking havoc on people’s spiritual life.

I firmly believe that God used the lawsuit in a powerful way to highlight the issue of spiritual abuse in the church.  He was there during the entire time providing amazing support for me.  My life is rich having gone through it.  But now I’m wondering if God is using another experience of my life to share here.

While I have spent countless hours writing blog posts about spiritual abuse in the church, I think there is a setup for spiritual abuse that originates in the homeschool movement. In our abusive church, we felt a “kindred spirit” (and all the homeschool moms just laughed at me with that phrase) in the church because of with like-minded teachings and beliefs. Some of these ideas need to be explored further.

I think it’s important to hear from these young adults who have lived it and are now trying to put the pieces together of their childhood together as they begin their families.


  • Made me cry. Thank you for speaking up. This posts explains so much of who I am today.

  • Pingback: On Getting Sucked In: A Homeschool Mom Speaks

  • “Like-minded” is a bit of Christianese that every home school mom will immediately recognize and the rest of the world will find it confusing. Why would it be good for anyone to only ever associate with “like-minded” people? How will you grow and learn and appreciate your fellow man if you only ever associate with “like-minded” people? The obvious answer is you don’t. You become ingrown and inbred and cut off from all the feedback that keeps people from going off the deep end in the normal course of live’s events.

    Great article. Oh yeah. You’re not the first to figure it out, but come on in the water’s fine. Welcome to the home school alum blogosphere.

    • A serious problem that occurs with being “like minded” is that it makes you overlook the abusive and bad qualities that someone has. This is how spiritual abuse occurs. I also think there tends to be an issue when the emphasis is being equally yoked and people take it to mean that anything goes as long as our relationships involve Christians. Many relationships are centered around the individuals being Christian. I’ve been in some churches where all that unites the people is their doctrinal beliefs otherwise they would hate each other.

  • shadowspring – When we were still at the spiritually abusive church, my son joined the choir at the local public high school (aka government school). This was the first time any of our kids had set foot in a public high school. I stayed and volunteered – at first because I didn’t trust “government schools” and then later because I loved it. I recently told that choir director that she may have saved my life (from the spiritually abusive church). That was my first experience out of that environment that I consider a cult and into the “world” – lol. I’m now on my 5th year of volunteering as accompanist at the local high school. You are absolutely right about that “like-minded” lifestyle being so seclusive and inbred.

  • This is so powerful for me. I have homeschooled/Christian schooled for 10 years. When I started out as a homeschooler, I was not a “born-again” Christian, but the teachings of “sheltering,” growing Godly, obedient children and being a stay-at-home mom were very appealing to me. I am very grateful for my early homeschool years because of the friends I made and the time I spent with my children. If another homeschool family had not invited us to church, I’m not sure I would have the rich relationship with Jesus I have today. However, I have always felt a sense of discomfort with the idea of separating our family from the world. The more I study the Bible, the more I sense that Jesus wants me out there being involved with my community. My soon to be 12 year old daughter, who has been homeschooled for 3 years, really wants to go to public school next year and I am letting her. I have felt such peace with this decision. Already, I have had such amazing contacts with the school. Doors have been opened and I sense I am in God’s will. I recognize all your references in your blog and have the same sense of discomfort with many of them. From my failed attempts (thank goodness) with GFI, to the purity movement, to the HSLDA, to Managers of Their Homes) to Young Earth creationism,- I have experienced all of it. But I have never felt like I fit in. But, the amazing blessing is that God has,drawn me closer to Him as I have questioned many of these things. My children and I discuss these topics,and they are allowed to disagree. I keep coming back to the most important commandment: love God and love your neighbor. If it doesn’t fit in there, it doesn’t fit. Thank you for your courage.

  • Hi Maggie:

    You are so wise. You could have taught me a thing or two, but I wonder if I would have had ears to hear. I seem to have thought I needed a formula, sadly. You have good common sense and prefer to hear from God than the ways of men. Good for you!


  • I’m very sorry for what you have been through. When we began our ‘journey’ about 10 years ago I found myself overwhelmed with just about everything homeschooled thing/group you reference in your article. I have gone through several ‘phases’ including one where I only wore skirts for about 6 months. We are located in the Bible belt to begin with so that may make a difference here too. One thing around here is I’ve never been totally against public school. I used to be a substitute teacher & my oldest attended public school through 4th grade. I was thrilled when I first joined the local ‘Christian Educators Group.’ I think some of them saw us a project but I always thought they were just being nice…I did end up feeling like we fit In for a time. I just began to witness the behavior to others & I was shocked.
    I have only 1 homeschooler left, 14 year old daughter. I do still enjoy homeschooling & will continue, but I can look back and see so many mistakes I made. Mostly it was my bad decisions. I was way too influenced by things & sometimes when they didn’t feel exactly right I’d look around and think that I must have the problem because everyone else seems to be happy. I’ve found my balance now, thankfully. We attend a non-denominational church we enjoy with no pressure, and I have my daughter involved in a co-op that is made up of a good mix of people, religion, and race. It’s not perfect, but the fact is that nothing is perfect.

  • I am so happy to have read this blog and the responses. I identified with most of the experiences listed here. Don’t be so hard on yourselves. No mom or family is perfect: home schooler or working mom. Each of us has our challenges and paths in life. The spiritual suppression I think comes from fear. They the spiritual leaders fear the straying of flocks and the flocks fear not fitting in, when God did not give us a spirit of fear. Home school can be just as dangerous as public school and public school can be just as nurturing as home school if you are following God’s plan for your life.
    I have learned many of these lessons and the sad truth is people are sinful: church people and non church people. Your life should be lead by God not by anyone/thing/concept/philosophy/religion.

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