The Blur Between “Educational” Homeschoolers and “Religious” Homeschoolers

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on April 3, 2013.

A comment left over at the Homeschoolers Anonymous Facebook Group sparked something for me – the myth that we can separate the religious influence of homeschooling from most of the general homeschool population. Here’s a criticism left on the page:

Is it really necessary to smear the practice of homeschooling with the behaviors of the conservative christians?

While you may not realize it, there are real people who feel homeschooling is appropriate for their children because they believe it provides a better education. This is very different from the religious who want to “protect” their children from the real world and have a freer rein to indoctrinate them with their beliefs.

His comment is really nothing new. People often insist that even among Christian homeschoolers that there was a clear divide between those homeschooling for educational reasons and those homeschooling for religious reasons. In fact, that was the initial criticism I got for the content on my blog. “But Lana, your perspective of homeschooling is too narrow. Only a few Christian homeschoolers are legalistic like your parents were.”

Okay, perhaps today there is a distinction. In the 90s, I never saw it in our group.

Let me illustrate with this diagram. Most people think it goes like this. Christians homeschooling for educational reasons on one side, and Christian homeschooling for religious reasons on the others:


But the thing is — going back to what I remember of homeschooling in the 90s  — almost without exception (albeit some exceptions existed), most people hanged out in the pink. They were both educational homeschoolers and religious homeschooler. And the thing was, there was no clear line between educational homeschoolers and religious homeschoolers.

You couldn’t walk into our homeschool group, and take half the people and put them on one side, and the other half and put them on the other. They were both. Sure, not everyone was that legalistic, and not everyone was quiverfull or into Christian Patriarchy, but almost without exception, we were all under the religious movement’s influence.  For those of us Christians who were in homeschooling for the long haul, it wasn’t a question of whether or not we were “religious” homeschoolers: it was a question of whether we were knee-deep, or just a little into the religious homeschooling movement. Did the influence come to our toes, our hips, or our shoulder? That was the question.

For example, because of the influence of Joshua Harris, almost all homeschool parents did not allow their kids to date. Nevertheless, there were a few families in our group who did allow dating.

Family integrated churches and home churches were popular in homeschooling, but some homeschoolers went to megachurches. Nevertheless, the mega-church homeschool family still likely did not do youth group, or if they did, likely did not date.

On the modesty note, most homeschoolers emphasized modesty. Some made their girls wear dresses only. Others, like us, just wore them a whole whole bunch. Others never bought the dresses bit or the homeschool look, but they were still very modest.  I remember, about five years ago, the gossip of the homeschool group was a homeschool girl who wore a dress with a spaghetti strap to the homeschool dance. Her dress had a high neck line — we could see nothing — yet it was the talk of the group. Clearly, everyone was under some sort of modesty spell – it was just a matter of how much.

The same went for curriculum. Everyone did not use Bob Jones, ATI, or A.C.E., but especially back in the 90s, it would have been hard to find curriculum that had no bias leanings to the Christian Right and Young Earth Creationism.

Perhaps the most pressure came from parenting itself. Even if a family did allow dating and had liberal textboook and weren’t quiverfull, for example, it was hard to be immune to the social pressure of how Christian girls and boys should look and act. This really isn’t a surprise; public school kids have peer pressure, too. But there was a stigma that good Christian homeschool girls must have manners, say Mrs. and Mr. Last Name (by the 2000s, I heard more young children address my parents with their first name), smile, act cheerful, be obedient, be respectful, and socialize well with adults. There was much more than this, of course, but it was all so superficial and based on appearances while often using spanking and other techniques to get the children in line. Again, not everyone spanked, but they were still likely under the appearance influence.

Think about it. A progressive Christian homeschooler socializes with other homeschoolers.  As soon as the child says “crap,” the other mothers will jump on the progessive mother to tell their kids not to say that word. The pressure to act like a homeschool kid is very, very real. (I’m sure today homeschool kids say crap, but back in the day, we did not, at least in front of other moms.)  I did not learn the F word until college (kind of good, though). No one leaked the word out to me because everyone was that “godly.” Everyone just kinda talked and acted alike in public (in private, another world often existed).

And that brings me back to my story. Try to cut out the “movement” from my homeschooling experience, and quite frankly, there is nothing much left. Because no matter how many positive aspects of homeschooling I can create in my mind, all of them are infiltrated somehow with legalism and religion. Libby Anne mentioned this with the idea of freedom. See, for me, there is no doubt that I had a lot of academic freedom, particularly during my high school years. But I was not free to go hang out with friends. And that’s how homeschooling was for me. I had one sweet fruit in one hand, and had a bitter one in the other. And some of my friends had more sweet ones than others, but we had bitter fruits, or at least bitter bites.

And that’s why we homeschool alumni are speaking up. We’ve seen that the influence from HSLDA and others did infiltrate the Joshua Generation (what they called us) like they wanted. We want our voices to be heard before its repeated to the third and fourth generation.

Because homeschooling can be better.

27 thoughts on “The Blur Between “Educational” Homeschoolers and “Religious” Homeschoolers

  1. Former Homeschooler from FL April 29, 2013 / 12:35 pm

    This article really hit home for me – because while my parents were extremely liberal by homeschool standards (strapless dresses, dating and public school friends were allowed) – I was under a ton of peer pressure from the homeschool community at large.

    That said, overall I loved being homeschooled, and I’d much rather my kids be called a slut for wearing a sleeveless top then be pressured into having sex.

    I don’t think there is a “perfect environment” to go grow up in.


  2. Sharon Autenrieth April 29, 2013 / 1:21 pm

    Okay. It’s my impulse to be defensive – something I’ve admitted before, on my own blog. But I want to drop the defenses and really hear from you all because I agree with you on so many of the concerns you raise – modesty culture, patriarchy, quiverfull, YEC, “the rod”, etc. At the end of your post you say that homeschooling can be better. So my question is, how? What, practically speaking, can the progressive Christian homeschoolers do make homeschooling better?


    • Lana May 1, 2013 / 2:36 pm

      I don’t know how to change the homeschool movement, but for my own family, I would do more social opportunities, cut out the fundamental textbooks, the modest and purity talks, and live and love all people. I wouldn’t try to separate myself from the culture. I’d try to bring others into my house so I could ove and help them.

      Perhaps there’s one thing they could do. They could call out spiritual abuse for what it is. When I see a homeschool group going through Created to Be His Helpmeet for teens, I’ll call it out. I don’t know if people will listen, but if one person does, I did well.


      • Sharon Autenrieth May 1, 2013 / 3:25 pm

        It sounds like you and I are on the same page already. Yes, to everything in your first paragraph. And I’ve recently become much more outspoken about the disturbing stuff within homeschool culture. I’ve been a homeschooler for a long time & I feel like I’ve earned the right to be heard. Hence my recent posts on modest culture and physical punishment. I’ve been surprised receptive many of my homeschool friends have been. In fact, I sense that others have wanted to speak out but didn’t have the courage. I don’t mind being the first one & taking the bullet if it will make things easier for the next generation of homeschoolers.


      • nickducote May 1, 2013 / 6:23 pm

        Sharon, I call that being a “lightning rod.” Glad to see others willing to take a few strikes from the homeschooling community. I too want to make homeschooling better for the next generation.


  3. cindy0803 April 29, 2013 / 4:31 pm

    I think that everyone’s personal experience is theirs even while it is also part of the whole story. One’s personal experience probably does more to shape their perspective of the whole than does their detached observation of the whole.

    FHFF had a negative experience. She has points to make, and I can attest from what I see and hear from within the religioius homeschool community, that her points have substance. For example, she mentioned that her homeschool peers were not allowed to go to youth group at church. My jaw hit the floor because I heard one homeschool mom saying recently that they would not send their son to their church youth group. It struck me as odd, but she didn’t seem to trust the youth pastor and I thought to myself that I probably wouldn’t be going to that church at all in that case. The point is, I thought it was a fluke, an anomaly. Now, I see it as being a possible “movement”?

    On the other hand, we come from public school; my husband, myself, and my daughter up to last year. She is now in 3rd grade. We chose homeschooling because the academics at the public school are not up to our standards in addition to all the other things like bullying, crowded classrooms, etc. In our area, there is a huge homeschooling network and much (most) of it is controlled, organized, or run by religious homeschool families. I am a Christian, but I doubt if I fit the “ideal” mold for most of these families.

    We participate in a faith-based co-op AND a secular, public school homeschool partnership; though even the partnership is made up of many of the same people at my co-op or other faith based co-ops. Some of them stay away, however, because they do not want the “government” in their homeschooling lives.

    Yes, I often feel pressure to bite my tongue or not open up, but my daughter does not have that problem. When and if it becomes a problem in her life, we’ll politely remove ourselves from the negative part. At this point, there is not much difference in what is being taught at co-op than what I expect would be taught at private Catholic or other parochial schools. We say a prayer in the morning, the anatomy textbook mentions God, and some (notice I do not say ALL) of the ladies talk only about the Christian activities they do outside of co-op when we break for lunch. I keep my distance. The kids play and don’t listen. It is working right now.

    While this may not be everyone’s experience, I would like to add that I found one thing pretty shocking when I started homeschooling: Many (notice I didn’t say ALL) of the kids are some of the most ill-behaved I have encountered. I expected (silly me) that classroom management would be negligible as most of the students would be little angels. Many of the children do not seem to know how to behave in a classroom setting. I suspect they just enjoy the opportunity to visit with someone other than their siblings, but maybe not. Maybe I just expect too much.

    Anyway, what concerns me when I read the really horrible experiences some of you have faced (aside from the fact that there are other children who may be facing similar circumstances) is that these stories might somehow keep people like me from homeschooling if a legislator decides to make it their flavor of the month. Despite any challenges I have described, this has been the best year of elementary school so far, not just for me, but I think perhaps for my daughter as well.She has had opportunities that we just did not have time for while she spent 7 hours a day in school, and there are curriculum additions that are wonderful, too. She has blossomed and gained confidence and really seems to enjoy learning. Math is still not her favorite subject (breaks my heart), but she finds joy is mastering math skills.

    So, I hear the pain and resentment and anger and I am angry for all of you who had to live in a way that damaged you somehow. Keep in mind, though, that there are little spirits being crushed and trampled upon in public school as well.


    • LL April 30, 2013 / 8:44 am

      I am so glad you mentioned about homeschoolers behavior. As a public school employee (before I had children) I too, assumed that homeschoolers were going to be easy to manage and teach (in co-ops) I was so wrong! Not only were they the hardest children I have ever had to manage, it was impossible to teach them, as some children didn’t know how to write, but wanted to spend time talking about evolution vs. creation.
      Also, the conversations that the teens and pre teens were having shocked me. My husband insists that I just happened to be involved during particularly bad years with a not so great group, but I don’t think that is true.


      • Meidi May 24, 2014 / 12:20 am

        I had one really weird experience that was just the opposite of yours when I was a homeschooled teenager. I was invited to a homeschool study group by a Christian fundamentalist family in our homeschool group (my family is LDS so we are Christian too, but a very different variety). I was excited to have some rare “socialization” time away from home. I thought we would study a little and talk a lot! Instead we sat in eerie COMPLETE silence for hours while everyone did their own completely different school work. Even the little children were silent, it was so weird. When we broke for a 1/2 hour lunch the mother kept telling everyone to hurry up and eat and quit talking. I called my mom and asked her to come get me. It didn’t occur to me until years later that those children were probably afraid to talk during school time, in my family very little actual school work was done so I had developed a pretty cavalier attitude.


    • Anonymous April 30, 2013 / 7:51 pm

      You have stumbled upon one of the secrets homeschoolers like to keep to ourselves! Homeschoolers who have not previously attended public or private school CANNOT behave in a classroom.


      • asdmom May 3, 2013 / 7:42 am

        I just stumbled on this website, and you have no idea how much hearing this has helped me. My daughter is high-functioning ASD, and very bright. She is mainstreamed in a 3rd grade classroom in a very good public school district. I do know people with ASD kids in my area who homeschool and are doing a good job, but we can’t afford it–my husband and I both work because we need the money–and we also believe strongly that she really needs to learn how to deal with all different types of people and environments. I am looking at her middle school options and had online programs recommended to me, but yikes! How is that going to help her get better at working with other people?

        Anyway, I find this very reassuring, and wish all of you well.


    • cindy0803 May 1, 2013 / 4:12 am


      I haven’t noticed the creation vs. evolution argument among the kids (YET).

      The pre-teen/young teen boys seem to be the most problematic in terms of their disregard for what a “classroom” setting is. They just want to out-joke each other. I have seen a lot of improvement over the course of the year, however. But so much opportunity was lost in the training process.

      The younger kids have gotten better, as well, with some classroom management techniques initiated, but many will still come to class without pencils, for example. And while this may seem petty, it is the end of the year, and this has happened in “writing” class.

      But I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that this is a reason NOT to homeschool. I found some very bad/disruptive behavior in public school, as well. I just expected not to have that issue to deal with in a homeschool setting. My bad.


      • nickducote May 1, 2013 / 10:13 am

        Wow, your description of young homeschooled boys in a group setting trying to “out joke” is on point. I was like that until I was probably 20. I noticed it was especially bad with the more alpha guys. We would always get into it competing over something stupid. I had a lot of catch up to play socially when I got to college


      • cindy0803 May 1, 2013 / 1:43 pm


        Do you have any insight into “why” the boys act that way? Suggestions?


      • nickducote May 1, 2013 / 6:30 pm

        It’s just immaturity, plain and simple. I always found that when I was sort of “shamed” by the teacher for being obnoxious, it was the most effective. Of course, this should be in subtle ways. One way that worked well was to stop speaking, remain silent, and just lock eyes with the trouble-maker. It made me self-conscious and everyone in the room would settle down.

        But I also think there could be ADD issues at play. I had undiagnosed ADD and I just needed to be engaged. The best learning happened when I didn’t know I was learning. I hope that makes sense…? Another thing is that often I just wanted to provoke a reaction. So don’t give them that satisfaction – of being shocked or horrified.


  4. Sarah April 29, 2013 / 8:14 pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. I’ve known a few people who had a secular homeschooling experience, even though their parents were religious, and they loved it.

    I appreciate some things about being homeschooled too, but my education was steeped in religion. Every aspect of what we did was related to Christianity. My parents tried to teach me that anyone who was not a Christian, a Calvinist, and a Republican was an utter fool. I wish I could say this was unique to my dear, screwed up family, but I saw it in all the homeschooling families I knew. I still see it in my parents. I think that homeschooling’s insularity breeds this sort of attitude. And as far as my own education is concerned, the Christian indoctrination and contempt/fear for everything ‘of the world’ cannot be teased apart from the educational aspects of homeschooling.


  5. Karen April 30, 2013 / 1:20 pm

    I’m a soon-to-be homeschool mom who was raised as an evangelical (with several years of strict fundamentalism thrown in the middle), and I’d now describe myself as a progressive Christian (episcopalian, which for some large group of people probably means “not a Christian). One thing I’ve gained from reading this site is that we should not be involved in Christian homeschool group at all. A few people I’ve talked to have said the Christian groups are fine (just ignore the conservatives), but it sounds like it really isn’t fine at all. Thankfully, there’s several secular groups in our area, although I’m not sure about the overlap with the Christian group.


    • Lana May 1, 2013 / 2:33 pm

      I’m not sure how homeschool groups are in the states today (since I graduated a few years ago now). But in my western homeschool group overseas, the majority were not religious fundamentalists. It just seems lonely not to participate in a group at all, and I saw that as the author of this article. If you decide not to join a christian homeschool group, at least consider other homeschool groups or other social groups to be apart of.


  6. cindy0803 May 1, 2013 / 4:16 am


    It is certainly a point to be considered. It is nice that you have secular options, but many areas do not.

    If you visit a co-op (they all have visitation days for prospective members), I believe you will determine pretty quickly if it is a “right fit”.

    Keep in mind, too, that just having the title “Christian” should not indicate fundamentalist (although I know this has become a problem in our country). There are very reasonable Christian women out there who you probably have more in common with than you have differences.

    The great thing about homeschooling is that you have choices!

    Good luck.


    • Lana May 11, 2013 / 4:11 pm

      yea that’s very true, too. I’m sure it varies from homeschool group to homeschool. As I said, the fundamentalists in our homeschool group spoke louder than the non-fundamentalists. Anyone who was not evangelical was not allowed in (CAtholics weren’t allowed in either). I just keep thinking that surely things are changing…but then, so many of our parents aren’t through raising children yet.


  7. Karen Loethen May 3, 2013 / 5:03 am

    I’m always learning from you, Lana.
    I keep wanting to say, HEY, there are LOTS of great homeschoolers out here! But I see, now that that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there are many homeschoolers in the pink zone out here.

    And that is what is wrong with homeschooling.


  8. Alasandra Alawine May 5, 2013 / 11:39 am

    Sigh but you are still ignoring the secular homeschoolers. Some of us aren’t even Christians and it is very tiresome to be lumped as “Christian”/”Religious” just because you homeschool

    Luckily I was able to join an Inclusive group and we were able to keep the “religious” nonsense out of our homeschool group. Although I have to admit the Fundamentalist Christians were very tiresome trying to infiltrate the group and force their views on the rest of us. They usually left in a huff when they realized that wasn’t allowed.


    • nickducote May 5, 2013 / 2:16 pm

      You might enjoy this article, where I discuss some of the major ideological differences Unschooling and Christian homeschooling:

      One of the biggest problems in breaking down the demographics of homeschooling is that statistics vary wildly in their methodology. Nevertheless, conservative Christian homeschooling is always the largest sub-section of homeschooling in the only studies that exist. Many scholars have written about how the exclusives have achieved great organizational success compared to the less hierarchical inclusive groups.


    • Lana May 11, 2013 / 4:12 pm

      I did say “Christian” homeschoolers in my article to tell that I was, indeed, talking about Christian homeschool groups. I didn’t grow up secular and am totally not in that movement.


  9. Lynda May 6, 2013 / 9:53 am

    I homeschooled in the 90s and I still homeschool my kids. We do not have a quiverfull, just 4, and there will not be anymore than that. We homeschooled for religious reasons, just not Christian reasons. Talk about a minority–a Jewish homeschooler, in the south, in the 90s. We do not believe in creationism, my kids wore almost what they wanted, and I remember editing tons of homeschool curriculum and crossing out everything pertaining to Jesus and the new testiment. My kids were well behaved in and out of public (except for one kid.) The reason we homeschooled was mostly due to the over Christian content of the public school material and that is why I say we homeschooed for religious reasons. Unlike those who joined the “movement” Jewish homeschoolers always remain in the minority, and in smaller communities are on the outside looking in. FYI – I am a product of public school and there was plenty of over control of parents and having sweet and bittersweet in each hand. That is part of life.


    • Lana May 11, 2013 / 4:13 pm

      I think there was one Jewish homeschool family where I lived in the south!


  10. fargles December 29, 2013 / 3:02 pm

    All homeschooling is odd at best and quite antisocial. I feel for the kids whose paranoid, fearful parents subject them to that goofy nonsense.


  11. thatfeministhomeschooler August 24, 2014 / 5:21 pm

    Being a liberal homeschooler myself, I feel a lot of pressure from my conservative homeschooling community. I used to dress very conservatively (head covering, long denim skirts, etc), but now I’m fine with wearing shorts and a tank top. I’ve encountered so much gossip in the homeschooling circles about “immodestly-dressing girls” and it’s sad. :/


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