A Call for Inclusion in the Survivor Community: Sarah Henderson’s Thoughts

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HA note: Sarah Henderson blogs at Feminist in Spite of Them about her journey from Quiverfull to Feminist. The following post was originally published on her blog on January 11, 2014 and is reprinted with her permission. Also by Sarah on HA: “An Open Letter to My Former Highschool Teachers.”

There has been a bit of a ripple this weekend regarding a post that was published on Homeschoolers Anonymous. This post is written by someone who was homeschooled in a positive way, and has attained a higher level of education. He gave some recommendations for how survivors should be writing their stories. His main points are not false, he gives a solid explanation of the difference between narratives, philisophical statements, and empirical evidence. From a casual reading, his content is solid. However he goes on to explain that these claims need to be kept separate, or the movement will suffer.

We need to recognize that everyone who self-identifies as an abusive/neglectful homeschool survivor is in a different place.

If a requirement is made that people who wish to tell their stories must write them to an academic standard determined by someone who is not an abusive homeschooling survivor, we as a community run the risk of restricting possession of a voice to those who meet an academically rigorous standard. Many bloggers start out by writing their story for their own cathartic benefit, and then share it on the internet to help build the narrative.

Many bloggers, including myself, try very hard to avoid making statements without evidence, and try to differentiate between what part is our narrative, and what part is empirical evidence. Personally I do use empirical evidence in my posts, and cite it appropriately. I do not necessarily avoid making philosophical statements, because I believe that people have the right to their own opinion in matters of philosophy. Certainly the bloggers and advocates who are radically pro-homeschooling present their philosophy as truth, but I think it still clear when a statement is philosophical in nature. Some of them do sometimes present guesses and statements as empirical evidence (like this, as Heather posted on HA).

Not everything on my blog is empirically based, and I have grown in my understanding of the past since I started blogging. I have gone back and put some author’s notes in place, but I am not editing out statements and opinions that I presented early in my blogging, because this blog represents my story and understanding across time. Some other bloggers present their ideas with more and less clarity and empiricism. I do not think that these different styles and levels of accuracy take anything away from our community, but introducing the specter of the red pen might result in fewer stories being told by those who may experience new fear about their own story because they have been denied their story for their whole lifetime.

Telling a survivor story of this type goes against a lifetime of teaching to comply, conform, and protect the status quo.

We need be purposeful in our inclusion of stories, whether they match an arbitrary standard or not. People need to be able to start telling their stories no matter where they are in their healing, and it would be good to be mindful of the fact that some survivors of educational neglect may not meet an academic rigor and polish standard, but it is these stories that really really need to be added to the plethora of narratives.

A plural of narratives does not add up to empirical data. But it does add up to a plethora of narratives.

As more survivors come forward and share their narrative, it will become harder and harder to reject each narrative as an anomaly. Denial of abusive homeschooling survivorship is a serious issue, and becoming elitist and selective about sharing stories contributes to the denial. For whose benefit should all the stories be empirical and polished? A number of polished empirical articles will not in and of itself change the face of abusive homeschooling, just like a large number of narratives would not change it. But an abundance of both types of posts (usually not divided into such tidy categories) bring the need for a closer look to the attention of the survivors, and hopefully, at some point, to the attention of lawmakers.

Let’s reach out as a community for more stories that need to be told.


  • My story may not change anything, but if it gives hope to someone, I did my job!

  • To establish myself, I am an outsider. I went to public and private (Catholic) schools. I teach in the public schools. Through this lens, Keils’s thoughts appeared archaic and pedantic.

    Yes, there are lots of different forms of writing. The vast majority of Americans can tell the difference between writing forms without having to separate out narratives from reports.

    Yes, you can create problems when you mix-up anecdotes with empirical data. Empirical data, however, is rarely gleaned from blogs.

    Yes, one anecdote does not make a data trend. Societal changes rarely come from data trends. Narratives connect people through shared experiences.

  • Thankyou. It would be unconscionable to deny publication on the basis of academic standards. That would partially defeat the purpose anyway, since many stories of homeschool trauma come from those whose parents failed to adequately educate them.

  • I am not a survivor; I’m a public school educated, life long Methodist, liberal feminist gramma, trying to make sense of a subculture that has made huge political strides in what seems like such a short time and come from what seems like nowhere. And my thoughts on the idea of how to write these blogs is this: without the anecdotes, where will the impetus for studying and gathering empirical data come from?

    If we silence survivors until they meet some kind of “proper standard” for writing these blogs, how will the rank and file know this is a problem at all?

    at the risk of triggering a Godwin’s Law/Civil War variant violation, until people spoke out loud and long and so often it could no longer be ignored, slavery would have continued on for decades longer than it did. There is a problem, but it won’t be studied and the empirical data requested won’t be gathered until our culture can no longer deny there’s a problem. And THAT is where anecdotes and personal stories come into play. They are necessary. They are necessary now.

    speak out. Write your stories. Do it now.

  • Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

    ~Walt Whitman, channeling HA

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