Some terms defined: When I use “homeschooling” or “movement” in this post, I am referring to the prevalent fundamentalist Christian segment of homeschooling. This is less a discussion about education regulations and child abuse than it is about the kind of communal expectations that I and many others experienced as homeschooled kids.
I didn’t know, when I woke up this morning, that I would be writing this; it is fresh and raw — please be gracious if I’m jumping about a bit. And, as always, feel free to ask questions in the comments. This is an important conversation that I hope we can all engage in and benefit from.
Kathryn Joyce has restarted a big discussion about homeschooling — specifically instances of abuse within the movement and how a number of kids from its first great generation are now as adults rising against its shortcomings — this week with her article The Homeschool Apostates. Joyce and the young leaders she quotes raise some important questions, and I overall agree with her thesis. Even if you don’t, I’d recommend reading the article.
A prominent response has come from Chris Jeub with Those Homeschool “Apostates,” and I’d recommend reading it, too. Jeub submits that Joyce is anti-homeschooling and overgeneralizing. I disagree with both of those assessments. Joyce does not suggest this is an invalid education choice nor does not claim her examples represent the majority. But despite my disagreement with those two points, I applaud Jeub’s response. He’s listening; he’s respectfully continuing the discussion; and he’s supporting acknowledging and fighting against abuse. He also asks why Joyce doesn’t use more empirical data to support her anecdotal evidence; a fair question in the realm of debate, though rather ironic in the context of a movement that avoids government interference.
There is one significant part of his post that struck me as very bizarre — and crucially indicative: he questions calling these former homeschoolers “apostates.” He suggests a better term would be “liberators.” Liberators is an apt description of the individuals and organizations Joyce references, but it is telling that he balks at the use of apostates. I’ll get back to why.
I should give some personal background here. I was homeschooled all the way from kindergarten through high school (with some classes and extracurriculars at a private school, and a community college). I have been active as neither an apostate nor a liberator, and this is the first I have written about being homeschooled. I am, overall, glad I was homeschooled; parts of it I hated, yes, but many parts I loved (listing the advantages falls outside the scope of this post, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some). I greatly appreciate my mother’s dedication to my brother and I; her heart was for us to have the best education, best childhood, possible, and I honor her for that.
My schooling was thorough; at the time, Idaho had basic standards homeschoolers were required to meet, and we far exceeded those. There was no abuse in my family. Legally speaking, I fully support homeschooling as an education option but believe state regulation is essential and good; those two statements are not incompatible.
My family was not Quiverfull — but we were surrounded by and steeped in fundamentalist, reconstructionist ideology. I picked up a lot of patriarchal and legalistic expectations from the co-ops we were part of — it is now, years later, that I am discovering my parents did not actually agree with or even notice a lot of that stuff, but I couldn’t discern that as a kid. From a young age, I had doubts about many of the theological and political ideas that come with the lifestyle but did not feel safe raising those questions.
In homeschooling communities, it is considered a faux pas at best and treachery at worst to criticize home education. There is a huge emphasis on solidarity. An unspoken threat goes something like this: If we criticize ourselves, that will invite outsiders to criticize us more severely. If we name failures, that will discredit ourselves. If we acknowledge the abuses of the few, that will give the big bad government excuses to invade and persecute us all. The HSLDA, though it has undoubtedly done much good helping families navigate rules and laws that vary state-by-state, only exacerbates this fearful mindset with isolated horror stories of parental rights and religious freedoms being violated. (I remember skimming the HSLDA newsletters and having an ominous sense that Bill Clinton was going to show up on my doorstep to bludgeon my family with an evolution textbook.) In a movement that mythologizes itself in terms of warfare and revolution, instances of federal misconduct confirm not only dystopian nightmares, but also that this is a battle — and the enemy is coming for us.
The obedience of children is highly prized in homeschooling communities. Kids must be well behaved — certainly better behaved than public-schoolers. Their obedience, after all, is the ultimate witness to the success and superiority of the lifestyle; their disobedience, the ultimate suicide.
It is promised that if parents raise their families correctly and biblically, the children will grow up to think just like them, and they will grow up to change the world (in the ways the movement leaders have predestined, of course); this is a culture war, after all, and children are the most powerful weapons, arrows against disbelief, secularism, and twerking. The greatest heartache and punishment is a child who grows up to have different values or vision than her parents.
This system does not allow for rebellion — and the fundie definition of rebellion is much broader than the dictionary’s. It can come in the form of spoken doubt, the wrong marks on a ballot, a lifted hemline.
I know just how many (not all, of course not all) homeschooling leaders and parents talk about “rebellious” children. I sat in their seminars and overheard their conversations and at times, in ways, internalized their perspectives. I have seen them judge the parenting techniques of other families based on a song the kids like, the spiritual state of an individual child based on the style of her jeans.
That Jeub, a homeschooling parent/advocate, does not see the term “apostate” as appropriate, is foreign to me. I, as a former homeschooled kid, find the name fitting, even obvious. When I initially read Joyce’s headline, before reading the article, I knew exactly what it was about and why she chose “apostate.” I knew exactly, because in the Christian homeschooling community, I have seen apostates declared for so little.
Let me be clear: I don’t hate homeschooling. I don’t hate fundamentalists. I don’t hate big families. I don’t hate God. (I don’t think Joyce does, either.) But because I suggest public schools can be an option too, that homeschooling is not the only or holiest way, because I allow for a Christianity broader than rigid gender codes, because I am publishing these thoughts, I am an apostate, I know I am.
Jeub says we aren’t apostates presumably because he doesn’t see us rejecting everything we were taught to believe, which is the general definition of an apostate. What he’s missing is that for ex-homeschooling kids, we don’t have to reject the entire system; all we have to do is ignore the commands to always, unquestioningly be silent, obey, and agree. By the rules of their game, that is cheating; that is unconscionable rebellion.
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The leaders of the movement, they started this war, and we became its child soldiers. We never enlisted. We never converted. We were soldiers and saints by default. We kids who question the community now, we are apostates whether we want to be or not; we are traitors of a narrow kingdom and defectors from a culture war.
I’m not saying all this out of anger, but out of sadness — and hope for reform. I want to embrace all my peers who were isolated, silenced, afraid and tell them they are okay and heard and sacred. I want to sit down with all the parents, grasp their hands and say, I see you want the best for your child. I see your devotion; I honor your vision. But, too, I want the parents to notice the children’s battle scars, to listen to those who have grown up as wounded warriors. I want to abolish the label of apostate, yes, but to do that, the homeschooling leaders have to recognize that we are only behind enemy lines because of how they drew the battle lines.
Our parents saw their decision to homeschool as a strategy in a noble battle; they couldn’t see the burdens warfare puts on children. Our parents defined rules, more rules and more, for a better future; they couldn’t see the damage of growing up in a box.
So for the next generation, I am joining the apostates. I am calling out power and legalism and silencing. We can do better. We can make new songs with the war drums and heal these lifelong wounds. We can replant old battlefields, and find peace.
Were you homeschooled? What was your experience with the movement, good or bad?