12 Reasons Why My Homeschool Story Doesn’t Matter

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly . It was originally published on February 10, 2013.

Homeschooling parents sometimes react badly to stories like mine. It’s generally the ones who see themselves as fighting an uphill battle with society, surrounded by enemies, feeling personally threatened when any problem within a homeschooling environment is openly discussed. I guess it should not be surprising, but I am often a bit shocked by how nasty and devoid of empathy things can get when people feel defensive. How did I become some “opponent” getting yelled at for being honest about how it really was for me and what I think the problems really are??

The people who do this often fall into a predictable pattern of trying to silence, drown out, invalidate, or scare away all potentially negative reviews, positioning themselves as a long-suffering yet expert victim trying to set the story straight, then beginning to (often viciously) attack and attempt to eviscerate the whistleblower’s credibility.

I find that kind of behavior pretty messed up to say the least, so I figured I’d just write down my responses to the 12 most common reasons why my story and my homeschool experience apparently don’t matter. The next time someone says one of these, instead of re-explaining myself, I’ll just send them a link.

1.) “You were not really homeschooled. Don’t generalize about your dysfunctional family experience.”

I may have been the only one to learn to read in that place, but we were registered as a private school with the state. We belonged to a CHEF homeschoolers group, signed a statement of faith, paid dues to HSLDA. Also, there are over 30 “survivor blogs” right here talking about pretty much the same thing. I don’t need to generalize. This is a bona fide pattern.

2.) “Plenty public school children get abused and get terrible educations.”

Because bad things happening in one place obviously makes it ok for them to happen in another…

3.) “There are crazies out there, but real homeschooling is always a good thing”

Homeschooling is very diverse, so there are many real kinds and more than a few fake ones. If by “real” you mean “most prevalent,” then no, I think it’s often a bad thing. Homeschooling was started with good intentions to liberate kids from rote learning but now the “culture war” crazies pretty much run the place. You people who are not trying to indoctrinate your kids are outnumbered.

4.) “Hey, I’m not hurting anyone over here and that other stuff is not my problem”

Here’s where I quote Edmund Burke and say “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

5.) “I know plenty conservative Christian homeschooling families who are happy/well-adjusted/successful”

I too know some who I imagine genuinely are and plenty who I thought were and later learned were just playing the part like my family was. It’s hard to tell the difference. When kids get punished every time they disobey or display a “bad attitude” they learn to give “correct” answers, think “correct” answers, and even instinctively smile when sad or disappointed. Sometimes you can only tell something is wrong by their overenthusiasm and the weird hungry look in their eyes.

6.) “You just have an axe to grind”

I used an axe once in a rather unsuccessful attempt to chop wood. I have never sharpened one. I am a fan of peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness, burying the hatchet, solving the problems. I do not want anyone’s head on a platter.

7.) “You are not a parent so don’t tell me how to be a parent”

By age 12 I’d bandaged up more skinned knees, cleaned more snotty noses, rocked and patted more hiccuping infants, and cleaned more poopy toddler butts than plenty of grown folk. I may not have popped out any offspring of my own just yet but I can give you tried and true pottytraining tips, recipes for picky eaters, and bedtime reading suggestions too.

8.) “As a parent I alone will decide what is best for my children”

My Grandad once said “children don’t come into this world to you, they come into it through you.” I will always be grateful that he stepped in where it was “not his place” simply because my siblings and I mattered to him.

In societies where we are “our brother’s keeper” (i.e kindly say something or help the vulnerable when we see someone headed in a dangerous direction), we have stronger communities and happier people. When there are no safeguards for when people (parents included) make bad decisions or struggle (and everyone does), that’s when things can get real bad. Please don’t push things in that direction because you are scared people might misunderstand and judge. Telling everyone to butt out might not hurt your family but it contributes to a standard that hurts others.

9.) “You’ve never been a homeschooling parent yourself, so what do you know?”

I almost want to say “well, you went to public or private school, so what do you know?,” but that would be acting like experiencing homeschooling from the parental side means nothing, which is untrue and would be just like saying that experiencing it from the kid side doesn’t count. Fact is the first generation of homeschooled kids are now in their late 20′s and early 30′s. You now have “consumer reviews.” Ignoring those and just going with the recommendations of other first-time homeschooling parents means you are missing out on valuable info and your kids may one day be giving less than stellar reviews themselves.

10.) “You are obviously not a Christian or you’d understand”

Why do you have to be a “bible-believing Christian” to have a problem with the legalistic sickness and power-drunk behavior that stems from the so-called Christian homeschooling leadership and infects vulnerable families like it did my own? It looks nothing like love and everything like fear and controlling behavior. If God is love than devout Christians should have a bigger problem with this stuff than I do.

11.) “Shh! The government will persecute us and take our kids”

There were a few truancy prosecutions in the late 70′s. Acting like that’s still reality is HSLDA fearmongering and hype to keep themselves in business. Unless you get caught actually running a homeschool meth lab project or something, nobody’s taking your kids.

12.) “All the stats/facts/studies say homeschooling is the best option”

By this I assume you are referring to studies on homeschooling done by NHERI, a “research institute” run by Brian Ray. A study where an author self-quotes without caveats using data funneled in by an advocacy group (HSLDA) and with an only 23% survey response rate may convince most journalists for now, but once an alternative story comes out (and it is) that stuff just won’t hold water. Even if they were solid stats (and they aren’t), generalizing a self-selected sample (the “prep school” equivalent of the homeschooling crop) to the general public school environment (where low-performing students can’t opt out) is comparing apples to oranges.

Because of all the work the HSLDA has done convincing lawmakers to deregulate homeschooling, we just don’t have much real data on the lower-end homeschoolers aside from case studies and personal accounts. Not collecting information on these kids has only made them invisible, not nonexistent.

*****

My life is pretty good today. I don’t need to harp on the past. The reason I speak out is to use my experience to shed light on a problem. It is for friends who grew up like I did and didn’t get the opportunities I did. It is knowing little children are living today the way I did then. We need to listen to one another, brainstorm, form coalitions to make homeschooling better, to make education and society in general better, to raise our children in the best and most informed way possible, because that’s ultimately the goal, isn’t it? So please don’t yell at me or get defensive when I tell you about my homeschooling experience. Hear what I’ve got to say, ask me questions, and share your (hopefully much better) homeschooling stories. I’d love to hear them.

10 thoughts on “12 Reasons Why My Homeschool Story Doesn’t Matter

  1. Karen Loethen March 27, 2013 / 5:44 am

    Thank you for your story.
    I have never liked Brian Ray, sadly no one else is out there putting palatable homeschool material out … I wonder why not?

    I am a homeschooling mom and I am appalled by the stories I am reading here. I am here and I am listening…

    Like

  2. Lois Brown Loar April 17, 2013 / 4:03 pm

    I really think you’re quite balanced in your approach, based on your experiences. I’ve been homeschooling my children since 1996, and this is my last year. I haven’t done much homeschooling of high school, as most of our children successfully attended or are attending public high school. My youngest starts public high school next year.

    You’re statement that Christian parents should be appalled at these stories is entirely correct. I’ve been reading on this site for the better part of a couple of hours, and yes, I am appalled. I can only imagine God’s tears for these children. I think some will be surprised where they end up as they leave this life.

    Please, keep educating those who are homeschooling parents today, warning them of the dangers. We can do a better job, as a community to both educate our children, either at school or at home, and protect children.

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    • Heidi Underhill May 28, 2013 / 5:26 pm

      yes:-)

      Like

  3. Heidi Underhill May 28, 2013 / 5:24 pm

    Thanks for your honesty. I am currently a homeschooling parent of a 11,8 and 6. I like to read lots of different stories. I want the best for my kids. I grew up in an abusive non-Christian home (my parents consider themselves Christian, but we did not go to church generally, not even on Christmas or Easter). I struggle as a parent to do the right thing by my kids. I love reading these posts so I can get a view from the other side:-) Thanks again.

    Like

    • nickducote May 28, 2013 / 6:23 pm

      I’m glad you find our stories useful in your own journey. We don’t want to universally condemn homeschooling, but help parents like you to do it better. And to boldly confront abuse in homeschool – other parents are often the only check on abuse.

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  4. Heidi Underhill May 28, 2013 / 5:25 pm

    I did not mention I grew up in public school and wanted domething different for my kids:-)

    Like

  5. No Name Nancy July 16, 2013 / 11:55 pm

    I couldn’t agree more, it’s so nice to hear that there are others that feel the same way I do about being homeschooled. I was homeschooled from about 3rd grade until highschool and had a very negative experience. For so long I felt so alone in my opinion and all I could find we’re positive stats and reviews by parents but nothing from the actual children who were homeschooled and now adults. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, however I really feel that the homeshool parents sometimes completely sandbag the homeschool front and no one every reallys hears the opinions from the child and isn’t this all about the children anyway??? I’m just so happy to see that others are sharing their stories and shedding some light on some of the issues with homeschooling.

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  6. Joanna Wert July 23, 2013 / 7:01 am

    I am a homeschool mom of seven, currently down to my last two. This is year twenty-five for me. It is not until recently that I have become aware of the kind of family that you are talking about. We actually took in a young man who was a friend of my son’s. His father was very abusive. At first, he just “visited” us a lot. Then little things began to come out. Finally, when he was almost eighteen, his dad put his belongings out of the house, but he was not allowed to leave. He was taking showers at a nearby gym where they belonged and getting some food and water at our house. He worked for his dad who was thousands of dollars behind in pay, but wouldn’t allow him to get another job. Miraculously, they finally released him, he came to live with us, and he landed another job. This was a very large family who went to church (the dad rarely went)AWANA, and played community and homeschool sports. Then I became aware of another very large homeschool family where the parents rarely went to church, the daughter (a friend of my daughter) hated her father, the kids were forced to choose between youth group and homeschool volleyball, etc. The mother didn’t cook. The kids were forced to stay at home (not allowed to get jobs, etc.)but given nothing to occupy their time.

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  7. Lucy Moore January 1, 2016 / 7:08 pm

    This is a problem in multiple communities in which people who were raised with abusive methods are silenced when they try to talk about it. This is a generalized take on what autistics, for one, get when they try to explain why some of the therapies they receive have caused damage to them Many of these were originally designed to make them act ostensibly like normal kids, not to help them with any emotional issues they might have, and I suspect that even some therapists who think they are not doing that either work only with nonverbal autistic kids and help them learn to communicate, cutting off services as soon as those children can communicate effectively, or they believe that certain pseudo-neurotypical behaviors (including, but not limited to, keeping your body still at the table, eye contact – not universal among all cultures and aggressive even in some neurotypical Western settings, hugging an adult on command) are an essential life and social skill, so that when you emphasize that it is important to teach autistics life skills, behaviors like these, which can be physically and/or emotionally painful for autistics to sustain and which people can socialize just fine without, are listed in the minds of the therapists as being among those essential skills. Thus, the people who force these behaviors down the throats of autistics don’t realize that they are causing distress (and, while it may be important to temporarily rein in certain types of behaviors, the expectation is usually to never do them, not just to rein them in on job interviews, dates, the like). Often, methods used to enforce these behaviors include either emotional abuse or techniques that are used in animal training (yup, even clicker training is used, and sometimes on kids who can talk).

    Anyway, autistic people often face dialogues similar to this stock one:

    Autistic activist: Autistic people face this problem that –
    Non-autistics: Stop talking! You’re only focused on high-functioning people with autism!
    Autistic activist: This problem also affects autistics who are nonverbal, need 24/7 care, have comorbid diagnoses, and –
    Non-autistics: Stop talking! You only care about ADULTS with autism, not kids!
    Autistic activist: But fixing this problem would help autistic children as well –
    Non-autistics: Oh, so you only care about people with autism! You don’t care about their families at all! Stop talking!
    Autistic activist: The families of autistic people would also benefit if we could fix this issue –
    Non-autistics: Oh, so now you’re putting the pressure on SOCIETY to change? You’re glorifying a disability! I bet you don’t even really have autism!
    Autistic activist: Actually, I –
    Non-autistics: Also, it’s PERSON WITH AUTISM, not AUTISTIC. Just shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
    Autistic activist: (silenced)
    Non-autistics: You know, it’s so hard to know how to help people with autism. They never speak up and tell us what’s wrong.

    As you can see, this narrative has certain things in common with the reason stories of homeschooling abuse are silenced as well. I am autistic, and while I have not been through all those therapies, I have been through the special ed system, where quite a few teachers were emotionally abusive. I learned later from a very kind college professor and full-fledged scientist, many of these teachers went into special ed so that they could teach and get a higher salary; they did not really care about the kids at all.

    I am sure that if one was to dig deeper, they would find many more abused groups who were silenced with similar type of reasoning, but, since I am autistic and not those other groups, I cannot speak for them personally. It is up to them to say what those stories are, and they can only say that if people are willing to listen.

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    • Lucy Moore January 1, 2016 / 7:37 pm

      5.) “I know plenty conservative Christian homeschooling families who are happy/well-adjusted/successful”

      I too know some who I imagine genuinely are and plenty who I thought were and later learned were just playing the part like my family was. It’s hard to tell the difference. When kids get punished every time they disobey or display a “bad attitude” they learn to give “correct” answers, think “correct” answers, and even instinctively smile when sad or disappointed. Sometimes you can only tell something is wrong by their overenthusiasm and the weird hungry look in their eyes.

      As to this part of the article, I might be interested to know what some of you think of autistic kids who are part of therapies labeled as “fun” and say things like “ABA is fun” verbally while smiling at inappropriate times (like an autistic boy I knew of once who, when other boys said rude things, would chime in “That’s inappropriate” with a smile on his face and a false “chipper” attitude). If anybody who has been through the homeschooling system has any thoughts on the expressions of those autistic kids and whether they share a similarity with the expressions mentioned in the article, I might want to know. My own personal assessment is that they look happy in photos, but their attitudes are “blank” in a certain way, and I know it is not just the autism because there are nonverbal autistics who are more animated than that. I also thought that one man who had been raised in the conservative homeschooling system had an expression in his wedding photo that resembled that of an autistic kid who had been through compliance training (if you search that, you’ll get lots of hits, although therapists sometimes call it by other names because the term “compliance training” makes what they do pretty self-explanatory). I am not sure that is a coincidence, as he and many of those autistic children were likely both raised to be compliant and “happy”.

      If any of you who have been unhappy and homeschooled in a system that demanded you hide your distress and ended up having an autistic child after escaping the conservative Christian homeschooling system, I hope you will be careful what resources you use for autistic children and listen to what autistic adults have to say, as I doubt those of you who ran away from that kind of training will want to subject your children to a similar upbringing to what you had, albeit through a different system. Even if they are nonverbal, many of them learn to speak eventually and there various communication alternatives that any child not speaking before the age of 2 should be introduced to right away, though not all at once, of course, because that would be bad. These are referred to collectively as AAC, or augmentative and alternative communication, and they enable those who are physically unable to talk to communicate. Also, it is a good idea to listen to the boy language of autistic children as well; though strange at times, you might find you’re able to understand some of it, and that is a good place to start, as with any child.

      Anyway, I hope I’m not being too preachy here. I just want to help people who have autistic children and have been through physical and/or emotional abuse themselves avoid perpetuating the cycle in the face of there being more challenges avoiding this in autism services. If you feel I am taking over here, though, I truly apologize for that.

      Like

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