HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “PhilosophicalPerspectives” is the author’s chosen pseudonym.
In this series: Part One — We Need Advocates | Part Two — A Tool In Someone Else’s Culture War
As a kid, I remember seeing national media stories about homeschool families like Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, who beat their daughter to death in 2010, or Banita Jacks, who in 2009 was convicted of murdering her four daughters.
I clearly remember having conversations with my mother about how “those people weren’t really homeschooling” and how our family and friends were getting it right. We talked about how they weren’t really part of any home school community, and their parents were just trying to get away from the responsibility they bore for the abuse they inflicted, by claiming the title “home schoolers.” The home school community distanced itself from these stories, claiming that the abuses of a few “nutjobs” shouldn’t impact the rights of the whole homeschool movement.
It’s been interesting to hear the same lines come up in response to the stories shared on this blog. In comments on other sites, I’ve read many things like, “you could find 30 abused kids in any school system!,” or “these kids’ parents were just crazy. That’s not what home schooling is really like!” It seems like many people invested in the homeschooling movement are reading this blog in the same way my mom read stories like the ones mentioned above — as extreme examples of abuse from people on the far fringes of the homeschool movement. I’ve read comments that go so far as to dismiss these stories outright. More people, though, lament the suffering they read about, but make comments that distance themselves from the problem. These extreme cases are hard to catch, the sentiment goes, because these families never show up to homeschool groups or 4-H clubs or churches or anywhere we (homeschoolers) might be able to intervene. “These kids were totally isolated! It’s not our fault!” they declare, explicitly or implicitly.
This is misguided.
For many of us who are sharing our stories, our families were not on the fringes of the homeschooling movement — we were at its center. Our parents were the ones running the debate leagues, and founding the AWANA programs. We were the ones winning awards, respect, and acclaim. We are the poster children of the homeschooling movement.
And yet, we suffered serious abuse and neglect, and no one intervened on our behalf.
As a survivor, I started asking why. I was (almost constantly) involved in a myriad of extracurricular activities, and none of the adults in my life intervened in the neglect I experienced. They either didn’t notice, or didn’t care.
This is what isolation looks like in the homeschooling community.
I interacted with many adults outside of the homeschool movement, in many different contexts, and I honestly don’t think any of them had an inkling of what was really going on. Homeschoolers have always been trained to put on our most adult, most mature face to the outside world. This has to with the ways we’ve been socialized and the pressure we face to be walking proof of the “success” of homeschooling — but that’s another post. Regardless, we’re excellent at being polite and reciting (often eloquently!) the ideas we’ve been taught. We therefore often make a very positive impression on outsiders — I can’t tell you how many times I was told how grown-up, how mature, how insightful I was when I was a tween. Most of the adults outside of the movement were so blown away by my irregularity (and my ability to discuss the classical origins of astronomical nomenclature) that they never asked deeper questions about my education or physical well-being, let alone about the emotional and spiritual abuse that was present in my home.
I also regularly interacted with adults within the homeschool movement, where parents should have been able to notice what was happening — and still, no one spoke up. Many of them didn’t (and still don’t) consider what many of us endured abuse — it’s just part of the process of “training up a child.” Many bought into the same vision of religious indoctrination and corporal punishment. The “us vs. them” mentality was huge, and “them” was often Child Protective Services. I’d still be surprised to hear of one home school parent reporting another. Even when the “moderate” parents didn’t agree with the techniques of the more fundamentalist ones, the “rights of the parent” continuously won out over the rights of the child. This line of reasoning is currently being used by the HSLDA to justify the refusal to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The combination of these factors created a unique culture that fosters and covers up or ignores the abuse and neglect that happens at the center of its community. The case against Sovereign Grace Ministries, an evangelical denomination that promotes homeschooling, is just one example. We’ve experienced it, and we’re hurt. There was a deep sense of community in the homeschool movement, and many of us, as kids, trusted deeply in its people and institutions. Now that I’m an adult reflecting on my experiences, I feel betrayed. The people I trusted perpetuated the systems of indoctrination that harmed me, and facilitated my parents’ neglect.
This is what isolation looks like in the homeschooling community.
The invitation that this blog presents to the homeschooling community is to begin to take abuse, neglect, and indoctrination seriously, and refuse to look the other way. The children of homeschooling need advocates, and our parents aren’t always looking out for our best interest. Neither is the HSLDA.
To be continued.
Thank you for saying this!!!
These stories aren’t just fringe cases from nutjob families. That’s just a defensive response from members of the homeschooling community that still don’t want to own up to the systematic problems that are happening because of very real structural realities.
Also, the HSLDA is nothing more than an insurance company. Even decades ago, prominent homeschool advocates were saying that the HSLDA was destroying the reputation of homeschooling for its own financial and fundamentalist goals. This continues to this day.
It has always bothered me that HSLDA presumes to speak for ALL homeschoolers – even secular homeschoolers.
I stumbled on HA from the Daily Beast. You are all so brave. I am part of the child protection system. I want to encourage you and to tell you that we do care, but without someone willing to come forward, there is nothing we can do to help keep you and your siblings safe.
You are adults now. It is hard to stand up to your past, but you are here. Your abusers will frame this in terms of religious freedom and parent’s rights. Only you can make sure that the voice of the victim is finally heard. I do believe that people will listen.
Well said, Christine. A problem they’ll encounter is the same that Amish who leave their isolated lifestyle experience: A loss of community, often including their own families. We in the outside world must help them any way we can to achieve the goal for all Americans of all ages, races and philosophies: to live freely and fully under the laws of our beloved Constitution no matter what their religion.
Unfortunately, this type of abuse happened in fundamentalism even before homeschooling became legal and adopted more widely in the fundamentalist community. In the early to mid 1980’s, I attended a tiny Accelerated Christian Education church school which had problems that bear striking resemblance to the problems I see in some of the stories on these websites. (I did not experience some of the serious physical abuse or neglect of some of these stories, but I did experience much of the spiritual and psychological abuse problems raised by many of the writers.) The only difference is that my parents, and the other fundamentalist parents of the 1970’s and 1980’s (and maybe earlier) outsourced some of the indoctrination.
Now that I am older, (and working in child welfare for 7+ years), I can recognize the indoctrination as abuse and neglect, but most do not. Christian fundamentalist beliefs are insidious, and when they are combined with First Amendment rights, they (and any other fundamentalist beliefs for that matter) ARE hard to catch and hard to constitutionally regulate. Awareness and prevention are probably the most effective tools, (and not voting for conservative, far right political candidates, but that’s a whole different topic) and Homeschoolers Anonymous is doing a great job at that so far!
Well said Karen. These H.A. stores are both sad and uplifting: They confirm that the human drive for individual freedom will never die no matter how determined the oppressors.
I’d like to understand this more: what kind of abuses exactly are you referring to? And if another parent “reported” your parents, what would you have liked done with you? Sent to foster care? Foster care most likely would have been worse than the abuses (if they are abuses? Still confused here….) you suffered at home. I was homeschooled and participated in AWANA, HSLDA, NCFCA, homeschool co-ops, etc. and I don’t feel like I was “indoctrinated.” So, in order to discredit homeschooling entirely, you’d have to disprove it in every case…but you’ll not convince me that my childhood/teen years was “indoctrination.” Or maybe I am too indoctrinated to think on my own…?
No one here is trying to discredit homeschooling entirely. But I would recommend some deep, personal introspection. I don’t know you, but I know everyone who writes for this blog would have said much of the same that you did a few years ago. It is a journey for all of us and it starts with a truly open mind.
Are you implying I don’t have an “open” mind or that I have not thoroughly thought over my growing up years? I am 25 years old, have a B.A., am married, and have a 7th month-old baby– I’ve had several years to think it over, and I have “real-world” experience to give me perspective. If this blog is not trying to discredit homeschooling completely, perhaps the blog could post some positive homeschooling experiences? Not all homeschooling experiences were full of “indoctrination.” Now, would I change a few things about my schooling years? Of course! But who wouldn’t? One more thought: I am concerned some of these blog articles have a post-modernist tendency to blame upbringing/surroundings for personal struggles/sin (i.e. blaming shyness on not being able to attend youth group). Finally, too much introspection can be unproductive: let’s move beyond past grievances and live in the present (lest you think I say this because I’ve not experienced personal pain…I have….)
I was just responding to your final comment about possibly being indoctrinated. Like I said, I don’t know you. We have middle aged people who write and comment, saying that they have only recently escaped the indoctrination.
And there are no positive stories because all the people I have asked to write about why they disagree with us have not submitted anything. It’s not from a lack of trying or limiting the articles.
I’m glad you noticed our post-modernism. Many of us studied the philosophies of Derrida and Foucault. I have found that many, many homeschooling alumni identify with the concepts of rhetorical deconstruction. We may have different definitions of “post-modernism.” It was post-modernism that helped me to escape the fundamentalist worldview and reconstruct MY beliefs. Sorry I that doesn’t make sense, not sure how to explain that better.
“Perhaps the blog could post some positive homeschooling experiences?”
Aubrey, if you are interested in sharing your experience, please email us at email@example.com and we can talk about it.
There are thousands, if not more, of positive home-school stories on the internet that can be found by searching “home-schooling.” However, there are only a handful of blogs that talk about the dark side of home-schooling, mainly because people are afraid of the hostility they will face if they speak up. That’s why HA is so important. If no one speaks up, then problems will only fester.
People cannot “move on” from the past until they have faced what happened and acknowledged how it affected them. That is what my Christian psychologist and many other psychologists say. The people on this blog are not writing to whine about their childhoods; they are writing because they want to process the past and raise awareness in the home-school community so that hopefully other children will not have to go through what they went through! One of the blog’s founders is even a home-school mom herself. The goal is not to ban home-schooling but to address the problems.
About the foster care comment, yes, there are serious problems with the foster system, but not all foster homes are terrible. Sometimes it IS better than being in an abusive home. Besides, the goal of child services is to do everything they can to keep families together and make the child’s home safe for them. They do not permanently severe a parent’s rights unless there is no other option left.
I think that most of us do NOT wish we had been in foster care instead, but rather that our parents would have realized what they were doing and made different choices. I was not in an abusive situation, but it was very harmful. The reason my situation got better in the end was because another adult was worried about me and had the courage to gently talk to me and my parents. That’s what HA is trying to do.
Aubrey, I just want to comment on your almost casual statement about the likelihood of foster homes to be worse than abuse.
I am wondering if you are speaking from actual experience with anyone involved in foster care. Somehow I doubt it.
I know a couple of foster parents, quite well. They’re my neighbors and friends. They just got done with a six-month stint of keeping two young kids who’d been taken away from their single mom. The kids had had little discipline or training, competed for adult attention, and were rather tiring even for me when I sometimes babysat. My friends worked very hard and did a great job of giving them the firm structure and steady reliable affection they needed in order to calm down a little and seem more secure (which they did.) Meanwhile the state was working to get them back with their mother, which is always their policy if at all possible, but as she was not doing a good job of getting her life together (no one told me, which is appropriate, but I imagine she has substance abuse issues) they ended up placing the kids with their grandfather, where their mother can come see them regularly, and if she does eventually get clean they can then be placed with her.
What a foster care nightmare, huh?
Through knowing them I’ve also become a little bit more familiar with the system, and the stringent rules it has to ensure proper treament of foster kids. I won’t go into detail and make this too long, but for instance: as a babysitter, I was not allowed to bathe the kids–only the foster parents were, for the kids’ safety.
The truth is, foster care is always hard for children. It’s inevitably hard because of the uncertainty. Because the state’s policy is always to try to get the kids back to their parents and to give them chances to prove they will not continue to abuse, the kids do not know whether or how long they will stay with their foster parents, and tend to have a good deal of inner conflict over whether to get attached, and what their future will be. That’s tough. I don’t think anyone would say it’s worse than some of the abuses that happened to some writers on this site, such as being deprived of food and sleep for days for doing chores inadequately. I therefore assume you are trying to say that you think foster parents are “most likely” abusive themselves.
To paraphrase you: in order to discredit foster care entirely, you’d have to disprove it in every case. I don’t think you can disprove it in the one case I’m intimately familiar with.
Oh I DO know fantastic foster care parents…but I also know of bad experiences too. I’m still wondering what you would have thought was a good solution to your situation…? (You mentioned in a comment below that you liked my idea of more adults getting to know you…do you have other ideas?) Maybe I am prying too much….but what did you mom do while you and your siblings ran house and did what little school you could? I am just being honest…I have never heard of that happening (unless the “children” were old enough and school was *actually* being done…and this didn’t happen often). I’m not saying it didn’t happen…I am just wondering *how* and why* this happened…why did your mother leave you on your own? How often did this happen? What does your mother say now about it?
Just wanted to check–who are you directing these questions to? I am having a little trouble figuring out the comment system and I don’t know if your comment was meant to go below mine or not (in fact I’m not positive where this comment will end up, but just in case, this is to Aubrey) but anyway I am not one of the people who had a bad homeschooling experience and so I think your questions must be for someone else, but maybe you should specify who that is or they may not know to answer!
BTW I respect that you are genuinely trying to find out more.
Oh! Sorry Heather. I guess I was a little confused too.
I was asking the author of the article….sorry…I think I thought you were her!
Aubrey, have you ever studied any religion other than your own? Doing so would not just challenge your religious teachings but would deepen your understanding of them. Warning: Once you leave the false comfort of Plato’s cave, you won’t want to go back. Freedom of conscience/thought is its own reward.
I would be interested in hearing what warning signs one should look for in determining if homeschool children are being abused, etc. Under what circumstances *should* the authorities be notified? I was never homeschooled. However, a couple in my church homeschools their children and I worry about them. It just seems very closed off– they teach their children only a very narrow viewpoint and do not even let them know that there are other people in the world that do not share it. I believe the children are socially stunted as well. Additionally, they are strong believers in corporal punishment. I don’t believe they are hitting hard enough to leave bruises, nor are their children exactly cringing do-gooders (they are actually maybe more misbehaved than average, but not totally out of control). So I don’t think anything is happening that fits the legal definition of abuse– I just think the parenting method totally sucks. But then, that’s not my business, right? Or should I try to find out more?
It couldn’t hurt to try and befriend the children. If you are worried, just try to get to know the kids apart from their parents. If you are in church with them, hopefully there’s some level of trust. I don’t really know the answer, but this would be a start.
I would recommend getting to know the family (children AND parents). Disliking parenting strategies is not, by the way, grounds for “reporting” parents– actual abuse is….not your personal preferences. Get to know the family and befriend them– perhaps they just need a friend.
I recently found out (after writing this article) that a neighbor did attempt to report my family when I was around 10 years old for the neglect we kids suffered. Without going into too many details, some of the neglect we experienced consisted of being left entirely unsupervised (and unschooled) for a solid eight hours a day when we were aged around10, 7, and 4. As the oldest, I cooked, cleaned, and “educated” my younger siblings. My youngest brother recently told me that he has no memories of my mother or father ever teaching him anything, and the only early memory he has of his education was when I tried to teach him to read. I was 9, he was 3. I’m truly grateful to the neighbor who attempted to intervene on our behalf.
I’m not a social worker, so I can’t speak to Kristin’s question about warning signs. Honestly, many of us, I think, have been given “the talk” on how to avoid detection by Social Services. In my family, we weren’t allowed to leave the house or answer the phone before 3pm, so people would think we were in school during normal hours. We were also told horror stories of what would happen if a social worker came to the house (they’ll separate you, ask mean questions, make you say bad things about mom and dad, and they’ll take you away and you’ll never see your family again).
We knew that if anyone ever rang the doorbell, we were to hide out of sight until they went away. We were trained in how to interact with truant officers, and told never to invite any agent of law enforcement into the house under any circumstances.
So, I’m not sure how outsiders would spot the warning signs. I like Aubrey’s suggestion – I wish more adults had really gotten to know me. One characteristic of homeschooling families is that we do everything together all of the time. Everyone is a “family friend.” My parents knew everyone I knew. I wish there would have been an adult I trusted who I could confide in.
Wow! You’re story sounds so much like mine it’s eery. I am the oldest of 5 children and I personally have no memories of my mother ever teaching me anything ever. She insists she taught us all to read and how great a job she did. I believe she did. How else could I have learned to read. But I still do not remember her teaching me or my siblings. I was also caring for all 4 younger siblings basically all the time with my mother no where to be seen (and she did not work outside the home) when I was around 10 years old and possibly even earlier that. I cooked, attempted to clean (as my mother never cared about keeping the house clean, I didn’t have anything to aim for in cleanliness). I do remember waking up morning after morning after morning knocking on her bedroom door and asking if we were going to have school that day.
That was my family’s plan all along: teach me reading at a young age so that books could teach me everything else. They rarely checked my work at all. Dad worked full-time, and Mom worked extremely long hours. It still baffles me that people can be so terrified of public schools that home-schooling with no time, little money, and almost no social interaction seems like the smarter alternative.
Wow, you could be telling my story about what happened and what we were taught to say, except we were only left at home occasionally, starting when I was age 10, the eldest, same chores, cooking, etc. We were told the same thing about social workers, not answering the door, and all that. Also, I had two adults I could trust and confide in – my grandparents, and they were the ones who I did confide in and who rescued my siblings and I.
heatherjanes, thank you for your affirmation – I really appreciate it.
But how do you know what to look for? What are the signs that there is a problem? How do you approach it, what do you say or do? Over the years I have come across several families who seemed rather rigit and punitive in their child rearing – some were homeschooled, some public schooled, some Christian schooled and wondered what I could do. I didn’t see abuse but did see harshness in these families. If the children aren’t allowed to intereact with you how do you get to know them? If the parents are unwilling to socialize with you how do you get to know them?
What I have found in trying to discuss child rearing with some is that when you disagree with them you are written off as “rebelling against God”. How do you get through to these parents that they are interpreting the Bible according to their own biases and not really paying attention to what it really says? They are deciding what they believe and finding verses taken out of context to support their beliefs rather than reading the Bible with an open mind with no preconceived ideas and learning what it really says in the context in which it was written.
What is the solution and what can we do? I ask this as a grandmother who would like to intervene and help, but isn’t sure how to or when to.
Meg – those are excellent questions, and I’m really glad that you’re asking them. I wish I could provide more concrete answers, and I hope that sometime soon, we’ll be able to post a “warning signs” article, and a “what to do if you suspect abuse” article. For now, I’ll just share what I would have appreciated as a child and teenager. I wish an adult had befriended me, and asked me questions about my situation. In order to get to me, you would have had to go through my parents – but even so, I felt that there were few adults who were really rooting for me, as a person, and not just for my parents.
In terms of practical steps for doing this – I, for example, worked many hours every week at a museum in my home town, where I interacted with many adults. There would have been ample opportunity for one or more of them to get to know me. Even if you didn’t socialize with our family, you might have been able to get to know me in the context where you have contact with me. As you would have seen more, and as I would have grown to trust you, I hope I would have said something to tip you off to at least small fraction of what was going on at home.
But, the reality is, this is not what happened in my life, so I don’t know that it would have worked. I hope that you’ll keep following the blog, and that you’ll be here to read the articles on warning signs and getting out, that I hope we’ll post.
To Aubrey –
I’ll answer a few specific questions:
1. This happened every day for years.
2. I was probably about 7 or 8 when it started, and my brothers were 4 and 2. It lasted more or less through high school.
3. Mostly, she was sleeping.
4. My mom pretends this never happened.
As to why my mom left us alone – that’s a pretty difficult question for me to answer, as I was very young, and to be honest, I can’t think of any reason that would be good enough to justify it. In retrospect, I hope she had some form of undiagnosed major depression, because it makes it understandable, but not excusable.
To be honest, Audrey, there are a couple of things that frustrate me about your comments. I bring them up not to get into an argument or a flame war, but to help you understand how your interactions with people like me might be perceived. First, it feels to me like you’re more or less invested in defending my parents – which is strange, because all you know of them you heard from me, and I’ve outlined pretty clearly some pretty indefensible things they did. Your skepticism (“I’ve never heard of this happening,” “if they even were abuses”) and your desire for a reason (“I just want to know how and why”) both feel like strange requests for more evidential proof that what happened to me and my siblings qualifies as something bad according to your standards. I’ve written this publicly, so I’m down to talk about it (within limits). But you should know that questions like that often feel silencing and like you’re attacking me (or whoever is confiding in you), instead of directing your frustration or suspicion to the appropriate target, which is the abuser. The debate skills we learned don’t help us in these conversations. The first call is to listen and understand, not to interrogate.
I’m so glad you had positive experiences in the NCFCA, AWANA, HSLDA, etc. The goal here is not to argue that these things were universally bad – it’s to help us see past the lie that they were universally good. There was real harm done to real people, and we weren’t just the ones on the fringes.
Lastly – I want to comment on something you mentioned earlier about post-modernism and introspection. First off, the post-moderns aren’t all wrong. Circumstances and experiences form you, especially when they happen to you young. We all learn coping mechanisms from the things we experience as children. I think, though, that this blog does the opposite of blaming our struggles on our surroundings and leaving it at that. It’s naming the things we’ve experienced and how they’ve affected us (which is very positive and healthy introspection), and choosing to process through them so that they don’t dictate our future action. I suppose I could see your point about “too much introspection” if you get sucked into a downward spiral, but I don’t see any of that happening here. I think this is very healthy and necessary for healing.
Thank you for your reply. I ask questions only to understand where you’re coming from. Not to “silence” you or downplay what you feel. And, I don’t ask to “defend” your parents either– my question about your mom was only to understand how a parent in this kind of situation thinks about it years later. My guess is that her denial might indicate that she feels a little guilt about how she raised you and your siblings….
Finally, your comment about “debate skills”….I am not trying to make this a debate! I’m totally foreign to the idea that parents abused their children and and used homeschooling as a cover. And no, I’m trying trying to say “I didn’t see it therefore it didn’t happen” (I’m not that ignorant, I promise). I’m trying to let you in on my perspective a little, so we can understand each other.
Perhaps I’m being overly curious…but when I see comments from you (and others on this blog) that warn about asking “silencing questions” I become suspicious rather than understanding….like you’re trying to hide something. I realize that this is a painful subject for you, but you *are* publicly writing to an audience that is not familiar with your background….
Again, thanks for seeking to engage and understand. I answered your questions precisely because I’m writing publicly. But to respond your comment about ‘silencing questions’ – I can sense the suspicion you mention, and in writing (and talking) about painful and private topics, the choice about what to disclose and what to discuss is always mine. I don’t owe you, or anyone, further explanation, and neither does any other abuse survivor. When you respond with skepticism and ask for more information, you don’t help me trust that you’re really trying to understand my perspective – it feels like you’re trying to ‘judge for yourself’ what happened in MY life, and that’s honestly not your place.
I brought this up, by the way, not to shame or attack you, but I hope to help you (and others reading) understand what I feel when people respond like you have here. Other abuse survivors might feel similarly. As you seek to understand (especially if you have any of these convo’s in person), the best policy is to ask permission to ask questions, and give the person you’re talking to the option not to answer. If you’re skeptical, it’s best to hold that to the side, until you have more information. Suspicion an skepticism are not safe postures for someone coming out of an abusive context, and my safety is paramount in deciding to whom, where, and how I’ll speak.
The other caveat in this context, though, are the inherent limitations of the Internet. I know this isn’t a great forum for having real conversations, so thanks for listening and engaging. I’m down to talk more about how I’m processing things, but I’ve disclosed as much as I’m comfortable with.
Thanks again for coming back to this discussion.
Ok wow!!!! I could literally copy your 4 answers word for word and say that that exactly was also my life. I actually no longer speak to my mother because all she ever doea is deny and give excuses. Speaking with her about anything literally drains me of all energy. It’s mind blowing to me to know that here are other people out there who were dealing with the same exact thing as I did.
I understand what you mean about silencing questions. I grew up as a public schooler, taught to hide what went on in my home from outsiders, and surrounded by adults and kids and all kind of people. The thing with abuse is that it crosses all boundaries. Race, class, education method or status, whatever. There are abused kids every where you go home schooled or not. The abuser should not be protected, the abused should get help. I think kids from abused homes some how know instinctively to keep quiet or else – maybe I am wrong.
I am a foster parent and know many wonderful foster parents. It is really hard to help a broken child. I think people often due their best on all sides.
I think that most the time abusers were abused children and don’t know any other way to deal with stressors. I think it is really important to work through abuse issues you had as a child so you do not continue the trend.
I do like all the groups you mentioned and we are part of them all and scouts:-)