A few days ago, I came across a site called Homeschoolers Anonymous that is devoted to sharing the stories of homeschooled students (and some parents) who were involved in abusive or strictly fundamentalist homeschooling and the negative effects that this homeschooling environment had on them. It is truly appalling to read. Some of the stories were about abusive home environments – that might have been abusive with or without home education. Other former students wrote about a life that was very restricted and constrained where they had a limited social environment and little exposure to competing ideas about religion, history, science, or worldview. In all cases, these former students regret being homeschooled.
Obviously, this gives me, as a homeschooling parent, pause. Will my children have the same feelings when they are young adults? Will they look back at their education and feel like they were exposed to a limited set of ideas? Will they feel like they were not allowed to explore their own feelings or have their own interests?
Over the years, I’ve seen the fundamentalist homeschool movement grow in prominence. This is the movement associated with ATI, Bill Gothard, Vision Forum, the Quiverfull movement, Bob Jones, Answers in Genesis, David Barton, and more. And it has concerned me. I actually know very few people who are immersed in this kind of overall fundamentalist lifestyle, although some of my friends do use some of the curricula noted above. I’ve seen, though, that a number of Christian state homeschool conventions have become very influenced by this fundamentalist strain of Christianity. Several years ago, in Colorado, Sonlight was disinvited to be a vendor at the Christian homeschooling convention because it was considered too “liberal” or “not Christian enough” by the Christian homeschooling group that put on the convention.
I’m particularly concerned about young women in some of these groups. Some groups teach that women don’t need higher education. Some teach that young women must live in their parents’ home until they are married, when they move into their husbands’ home. Not only are these young women taught that they have only one role in life, but it is then enforced upon them, even when they are old enough that they should be able to leave the family home and be independent.
While we have this excessive sheltering going on in one part of society, we have the opposite in other parts of society. Melissa Harris-Perry commented on MSNBC that we need to get away from the notion that kids belong to their parents so that society will have the idea that the kids belong to the community and then the community will make better investments. This isn’t a new idea. There are people who think that children should be in public school because parents can’t be trusted to teach them and because the needs of the state rank higher than those of the individual.
The thing is that kids don’t “belong” to anyone. They are placed in families by God to be raised until adulthood. But, the families are part of larger families and communities that need to work together to raise educated young adults of character.
I’m a big fan of homeschooling when it is done well. Home education is great because kids can be exposed to MORE people and MORE ideas, not fewer! Homeschooled kids should be part of the larger community, not kept away from it. And there’s certainly no need for kids to be in a public school to get a good education and exposure to people and ideas.
How have we found a balance? Here are some of the things that we’ve done (besides all the church stuff – ‘cause we’ve done LOTS of that).
Community sports – mostly when the kids were young because they’re not very sports minded now.
Tae Kwon Do
Volunteer at senior lunches and at nursing home
Classes at the high school
Discussing other ideas than what the curriculum presents, watching TV shows that present other views
Courses like World Religions
Making friends with families that have nothing to do with church or homeschooling. Not living in a little box (I hope).
Encouraging the kids to be more independent as they get older – get jobs, do their own laundry, start to buy their own clothes, get bank accounts, etc.
Does it work? I don’t know. My kids say they like being homeschooled, but they haven’t gone off to college yet. PWM and I do the best that we can. We see the problems with the fundamentalist homeschooling lifestyle and try to avoid it. We also see the problems with the idea that our kids belong to the state and encourage our political leaders to maintain our homeschooling freedoms. Thankfully, the majority of home educators are reasonable parents and not part of the fundamentalist stream. The evidence suggests that our kids will be just fine.
How do you find a balance in homeschooling? How do you keep the family primary but still be part of the larger community? And, how do you become part of the community that’s not the church?