Christian Homeschooling and Child Abuse Denialism
If you’re a long-time reader, you’re likely aware my series on HSLDA and child abuse, which includes their fight against child abuse reporting, their stonewalling of child abuse investigations, and their defense of child abuse. You’ve probably also read my viral “HSLDA: Man Who Kept Kids in Cages ‘a Hero.’” If you read Homeschoolers Anonymous, you probably know that Doug Phillips, former HSLDA attorney and founder of the now-defunct Vision Forum, stated in 2009 that “We understand that the core problem with Child Protective Services is its existence.”
What you may not be aware of is that in 1985 Mary Pride published a book titled The Child Abuse Industry: Outrageous Facts About Child Abuse & Everyday Rebellions Against a System that Threatens Every North American Family.
Who is Mary Pride? If you’ve ever homeschooled, you’ve almost certainly heard of her. She has had so much influence in homeschooling circles that has been dubbed “the queen of the homeschool movement.” Historian Milton Gaither has dubbed Pride as one of homeschooling’s two most influential curriculum reviewers. Pride first published her Big Book of Home Learning in 1986 and has updated it regularly since. It now has four volumes. Pride is also the publisher of the “wildly popular” Practical Homeschooling magazine, with as many as 100,000 subscribers, and has published numerous other popular homeschooling how-to books. Pride is also the author of The Way Home, published in 1985 and credited with launching the Quiverfull movement (not to be confused with the Patriarchy movement).
And then, of course, there is The Child Abuse Industry. According to R.L. Stollar, the book is “a remarkable read that calls for a ‘Second North American Revolution’ — namely, having babies, abolishing no-fault divorce, going to church, eliminating foster care, homeschooling, re-instituting “biblical” executions of criminals, and getting rid of abuse hotlines.” Stollar is currently writing a multi-part review, which I will definitely promote when it comes out.
Here are ten quotes from Pride’s book, courtesy Stollar’s post on Homeschoolers Anonymous:
10. “The major problem is that the public has been convinced that child abuse is a major problem.”
9. “Are one out of four adult women (or one out of three, or two—the statistics keep getting wilder) really the victims of savage lust perpetrated in their youth?Isn’t it possible to organize a bridge party without staring at an abused woman across the table? Where do these wild statistics come from?”
8. “Never vote for a candidate whose campaign promises include ‘doing more for children.’”
7. “Child abuse hysteria is a self-righteous coverup for anti-child attitudes.”
6. “If [child abuse prevention programs] are allowed to proliferate, we will produce for the first time an entire generation of males who have been trained to consider raping their sons and daughters as passably normal behavior.”
5. “If sex has nothing to do with having babies, you can have sex with anyone or anything. Including children.”
4. “We need to stop allowing the unsupported testimony of childrenwho are of an age where they can barely distinguish fantasy and reality.”
3. “Don’t hotline anyone.”
2. “A retarded daughter told contradictory tales of sexual abuse by her step-brother and other male relatives… So here we have a girl who probably made up the story in the first place.”
1. “Age segregation increasingly alienates children and adults. Children are the ‘new n*****s.’” (not censored in Mary Pride’s version.)
My interest piqued by Stollar’s quotes, I cracked open my copy of HSLDA’s Chris Klicka’s 2006 book, Homeschool Heroes: The Struggle and Triumph of Homeschooling in America. I opened to the chapter on social workers.
At Risk from Social Workers
. . . Homeschoolers are at risk. They are not at risk because they have big families or teach their children at home or neglect their children in any way. They are at risk because the child welfare system has lost control. Many social workers are trained in a philosophy that is antiparent, antifamily, and antireligious.
I can’t say I’m surprised, but here it is again. Look, I know that social services isn’t perfect, and that it’s badly in need of better funding. But that’s not what this sounds like it is about. According to Klicka, the issue isn’t that social services is underfunded and understaffed, but rather that social services is antifamily. This is the same sort of line Mary Pride was promoting in her book.
HSLDA is both a policy advocacy and legal defense group. HSLDA defends member families if they have any problems in their interaction with local public schools or social services. The organization’s website describes it like this:
Why does HSLDA help member families in the initial stage of a child abuse investigation?
HSLDA’s mission is primarily to advance homeschooling rights. Sometimes homeschooling parents get reported to CPS because people misunderstand homeschooling. They may see children playing outside during school hours and think that the parents are allowing them to be truant. Other times, families are reported for other types of suspected abuse or neglect. Investigations of all such allegations begin the same way: a social worker visits the family’s home, or contacts them requesting to set up a visit.
HSLDA advises our members in these initial contacts with social workers in order to ensure that their constitutional rights are protected. Once the allegations are revealed, we continue to represent our members if the allegations relate to homeschooling.
In other words, according to HSLDA’s website, they advise member families any time there is a social worker at the door, but only represent member families going forward if the allegations involve homeschooling. Along these same lines, an announcement on HSLDA’s facebook page last year asserted that “HSLDA does not and will not ever condone nor defend child abuse.” But some of the stories Klicka relates from his years working for HSLDA tell a different story.
There’s this one, for instance:
A homeschool father in Michigan picked up his two-year-old child by the arms, taking her into the house while she was crying and was reported for child abuse by a nosy neighbor. I set up a meeting with the social worker and counseled the family on what htey should say. I told themI told them to explain their religious convictions concerning raising their children from “a positive standpoint” avoiding Bible verses like if “you beat him with the rod, he will not die.” Or, if you “beat him with the rod,” you will “deliver his soul” from hell. Not a good idea. Social workers just don’t understand those verses.
Instead I told them to explain their beliefs by emphasizing verses such as Matthew 18:6 that states that if you harm or offend a child, it is better that a millstone be tied around your neck and you be thrown in the deepest part of the ocean. In other words, their religious convictions demand that they not do anything that will harm their children. When the family began presenting these religious beliefs to the agent, he became visibly uncomfortable, and suddenly announced that he would close the case.
And this one:
In Fairfax County, Virginia, a pastor gave a seminar on child discipline that included the requirement in the Bible to spank. A parishioner had to discipline her child while a neighbor was visiting a few days later. She spanked the child in the other room and then explained to the neighbor a little of what she had learned from the pastor.
The neighbor, who happened to be against spanking, reported the pastor to the child welfare agency for “bruising their children and for twenty-minute spanking sessions.”
To clarify, this suggests the pastor spoke in his sermon of bruising his children and carrying out twenty-minute spanking sessions.
The social worker who then initiated the investigation told me she thought she might have a religious cult on her hands that abuses children. I expressed my disbelief to the social worker that she was seriously investigating what an anonymous source claimed she heard from a person who heard it from another person. That is thrice removed hearsay. I told her that her evidence was flimsy and set the parameters for a meeting.
In preparation for the meeting, I told the homeschooling pastor and his wife not to recount any specific incidents of spanking since the social worker had nothing on the family that would stand up in court. I told them that they should emphasize again the positive verses such as Matthew 18:6. Since the social worker had no evidence, the only evidence she could acquire would be from what information she could gather from the pastor and his wife. Since the parents carefully avoided all specific examples and spoke in general terms, the social worker had nothing and had to close the case.
Perhaps those at HSLDA would argue that they never defended someone against child abuse in court. But in this layman’s eyes, this constitutes defending child abuse. I mean, did they even ask the pastor if it was true that he bruised his children and spanked them in twenty-minute sessions? Or did they de facto believe he was innocent and not bother checking, as seems to be their habit? I’ve expressed my frustration with this before.
And there is a similar distrust of children’s testimony with Klicka as with Pride:
Another family in Bradington, Florida, was visited by social workers. Allegations were made by one of their seven adopted children, who was the only one not being homeschooled. He had made up a story and told it to his science teacher, who had then passed the information to a social worker. I was able to talk to the social worker and keep them out of the home and away from the children. The case was finally listed as unfounded. The mom said, ‘This is why I spend twenty-six cents a day. People are crazy not to join HSLDA. I have an attorney ready to help me at a moment’s notice.’
There is also advice on how to hide abuse and avoid being reported:
Know Your Family Doctor
We have had numerous situations where doctors turned homeschoolers in to social workers because they found a bruise or mark on the child . . . I learned early on that each family needs to know their doctor well. If the doctor is familiar with the patients and trusts them, they do not have to turn them over to a child welfare agency, even if they have a mark or bruise. It is completely the doctor’s discretion.
The orientation toward social services is the same in Klicka’s book as in Pride’s—one of opposition. They are the enemy. In fact, Klicka began his chapter on social workers with I Peter 5:8-9—”Be sober; be vigilant; for your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” The assumptions about the veracity of the parents’ and children’s testimony is the same—parents’ word can be trusted, children’s cannot.
We need to be careful not to assume that all homeschoolers engage in this sort of denialism and defense of child abuse. I do not know whether the themes explored here extend beyond the leaders of the conservative Christian homeschooling subculture, and we should not assume that we do. But with that subculture, this is a problem. With these sorts of narratives, how can we expect those within this subculture to even self-police, much less report suspicions of abuse?
From Pride’s The Child Abuse Industry to Michael Farris’s thrill-horror novel Anonymous Tip, this is a problem.
Oh, and also? If there are Christian homeschoolers out there who are upset by what I’ve said here, the correct response is to go about condemning the words of these Christian homeschool leaders and creating a new narrative, a narrative that affirms reporting suspicions of child abuse and doesn’t de facto trust parents’ word over that of their children. Condemning me for saying these things or arguing that I am anti-homeschooling would be the incorrect response.