Counting Sheep


By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Recently Kathryn Joyce wrote a story for The American Prospect on the rise of the responsible homeschooling movement. I have never seen a piece on this movement spread as quickly as Joyce’s. It lit up Facebook and Twitter like a forest fire starving for oxygen.

If you haven’t read it, you should do so. (You should also check out responses it inspired from Hännah EttingerChris Jeub, and Kate Schell.) Don’t let the length scare you away. The piece is amazingly detailed, giving voice to a diversity of individuals previously not amplified in this conversation. And don’t let the name, “Homeschool Apostates,” cause you to hesitate. The name is an inversion of Kevin Swanson’s radio broadcast where he himself used the phrase to marginalize and dismiss us.

I shy away from Facebook wall debates when stories like this are shared by my friends. I watch them unfold, silently and from a distance. At the very least, I want to understand how our rhetoric is received and interpreted; I may not comment, but I am listening. I want to know what is being said — both positive and negative — so I can continue to improve my own communication and our shared messages.

One individual’s comment on a friend’s wall stuck with me.

I have heard this sort of comment before. In fact, I considered it ironic that this individual said it in such a way that indicated he thought himself clever. Fact is, it’s dreadfully unoriginal. Everyone in this movement has heard it a million times before. But this time it provoked new thoughts for me. The comment is as follows:

As long as millions of families homeschool, it will always be possible to find some who are outliers and thereby call into question the practice. Tis a common practice of the statistically challenged.

Ah, yes. A jazz riff on the “not all homeschoolers are like that” argument. “Not all homeschoolers are like that” is the broken record of homeschool abuse denialism. My inner sarcastic debater wants to respond like this:

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 8.43.30 PM

However, my shared humanity understands that sarcasm isn’t always the best rhetorical strategy. There are better strategies:

  • Reiterating time and time again that we do not think all homeschoolers are “like that”;
  • Reminding the skeptical voices in the conversation that, in the absence of required registration (or at least notification) of homeschoolers (which the mainstream homeschool lobby opposes), we will all remain statistically challenged because we will have no reliable statistics;
  • Pointing out that nearly all homeschool research has involved self-selective surveys that describe the participants but prove nothing about homeschooling in general.
  • Providing counter-self-selective surveys, like the 2013 HA Basic Survey which pretty much “proves” as much as most of Brian Ray’s research — namely, still nothing about homeschooling in general.

If you think the statistical side is lacking, you’re welcome to get in line. We’re right there with you. Those of us speaking up aren’t to blame for a lack of statistics.

That’s the fault of irresponsible homeschool advocates.

(What sort of statistics do you want anyways? Statistics of dead kids? Exactly how many dead kids will it take before we’re taken seriously? While we’re busy trying to make homeschooling better, you get busy figuring out how much abuse you can tolerate before you act, too. Deal?)

For today, however, we are all in the same position: we are feeling around in the dark with anecdotes and stories. You might tell different anecdotes and stories than I might. I choose to respect your storytelling. Whether you choose to respect mine is not in my control.

But at least remember that I have stories. In fact, I probably have more than most homeschool students and parents. I spent a decade of my life traveling around the United States because of homeschool speech and debate — meeting new people, making friends, competing in tournaments, and teaching thousands of homeschool teenagers. I have taught the children of national homeschool leaders.

All this while I was a teenager myself.

As a homeschooled teenager, I saw things that you parents have not seen in your own communities. I have lived a life that you parents have never lived. It is like an alternate universe. My first taste of hard alcohol was provided by the son of one of the most prominent national homeschool leaders. I have lived this life. So while I don’t have statistics for you, and while we in this movement are trying to fix that inherited problem, keep in mind that my “anecdotes” — and our stories — carry the enormous weight of experience.

Have you seen the underside of this world? Because I have. The rabbit hole goes down deep, and I have yet to reach the bottom. There are so many hurting kids, now as there was back when I was a kid. There are secrets and sorrows and fears. We have shared those secrets as friends, we have carried each other’s sorrows, we have whispered our fears like prayers.

But maybe you’re right. Maybe at the end of the day, we’re in the minority.

Maybe we are statistically challenged.

The possibility doesn’t faze me one bit.

Because I don’t look to you for a stamp of statistical approval. I don’t take my cues from your homeschool orthodoxies or your convention speakers.

I take my cues from my conscience. And my conscience says go to where the shadows lurk, to create safe places even where the wild things are.

See, a long time ago, I heard a story. It was about a shepherd who had a flock of 100 sheep. One day, one of those sheep got lost. Instead of remaining with the 99, the shepherd did not sleep, did not stop, until he found that the lost one.

I learned social justice from that story. I learned the meaning of activism. I found the meaning of revolution — that you can “change the world” all you want, you can “redeem the times” ad nauseum. But if you neglect the little ones, it’s all for naught.

See, I learned that Jesus of Nazareth was not content with 99 sheep when 99 sheep means that one gets left behind to suffer in silence and solitude.

And I saw how the Pharisees did not understand. I saw how they looked at each in bemusement, clicked their tongues at Jesus for fretting so much about that one fringe sheep, saying, “Tis a common practice of the statistically challenged.”

But Jesus dealt with human beings, not statistics.

Human beings are what I want to deal with, too.

So go ahead. Keep surveying your 99 award-winning sheep. Us “bitter apostates” will be out in the wilderness, searching for the one you abandoned.

17 thoughts on “Counting Sheep

  1. lanamhobbs December 7, 2013 / 9:12 am

    Reblogged this on Lana Hobbs the Brave and commented:
    a beautiful response to the detractors of the Homeschoolers Anonymous movement, who say there really isn’t much of a problem, and who call for statistics.


  2. Lana December 7, 2013 / 11:07 am

    Exactly. I wrote about this today too. All along we were a bunch of individuals hidden under a narrative that made us look whole. What Kathryn wrote about is nothing new. We always were a bunch of pieces. The difference is now we are being heard.


  3. Karen December 7, 2013 / 2:45 pm

    This is such a wonderful and beautiful statement of who and what we are. Thank you!


  4. Kris December 7, 2013 / 3:19 pm

    I think I was the one engaging with that comment on Chris’ blog..I literally gasped when I read what that man wrote. It was so callous; I knew how an AA in the South must have felt not too long ago when addressing their atrocities. I want you to know there are healthy parents/advocates behind you guys…longing to help. I have boycotted conventions for nearly a decade. I have confronted my friends who are abusers. You aren’t alone. We’re just now learning how to help. I also do not like the argument that “abuse is hard to define and is subjective so people who are innocent might get accused.” In our personal lives, we haven’t run into any people from happy, healthy backgrounds who claimed they were abused just because they thought that would be a fun idea. I am well aware of the shame and “betrayal” associated with finding your voice. I’d rather take people’s word for it and move on from there. As a homeschool mom, I am willing to have kids live with us and undergo greater scrutiny for the sake of protecting others. I also will join my voice with yours to cry out on behalf of those who are too young or frightened or oppressed to be heard. Thank you for informing, for caring and for searching. God bless you.


  5. Mhud December 7, 2013 / 3:31 pm

    There is never an excuse to ignore suffering and say it doesn’t matter. However, every solution to government involvement or oversight of individuals generally fails to take into account the propensity of *all* individuals to abuse. There is much abuse of power, authority, and justice today because there is no real way to hold government officials accountable. Judges return abused children to the abusive parents, school district superintendents target individual families and make their lives living he!!. The list goes on. Unless reform does more than shift the power from one unsupervised individual to an unsupervised system with the police power of the state at its disposal, it will not be effective and there will be even more victims. (the ** around all above is to indicate that abuse exists in every level of society and socioeconomic group as well as in every sector of business and government.)


  6. Kelly December 8, 2013 / 5:28 pm

    I think the lost sheep story really hits the issue on the head. I had a similar conversation on fb about the article (and the jeub article), and several people commented about the importance of a balanced view of homeschooling. And this is how I replied:

    “I honestly agree that moderation is key in how we personally approach homeschooling. I loved being homeschooled and will seriously consider it for my own kids one day. With that said, we do not base our laws on presumptions about average/normal behavior. Laws are always geared toward the deviant behavior. We don’t assume since only the “crazies” kill people, we don’t need laws against murder.

    And that is where I think I might (?) disagree with some of you. Like was brought up, bad parenting is the direct cause of abuse in families. Abuse can happen to children who go to any type of school. However, I do think homeschooling could be a moderating variable for the abuse. That means if there is a parent prone to abuse who homeschools his child and another parent prone to abuse who does not, the first parent would more likely get away with abuse because of the moderating effect of HS. (I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to posit some prevalent ideologies might perpetuate abuse. The ideology that sees fathers as a quasi-mediator between God and their sinful children seems particularly dangerous and frighteningly common.)

    It’s great that none of us commenting here [in the fb conversation] had negative or abusive experiences with homeschooling, and so I believe it’s important we give all children a chance to have that same experience. The extent that many homeschoolers go to prevent even the slightest bit of oversight (that would be harmless to non-abusive families) is uncalled for. Child abuse grieves me deeply, more than allowing for anonymous tips to the CPS (among other policies).

    One final, but very important note. Yes, many of us have met a “crazy” homeschooling family [claim made by previous commenter about the rareness of the problem]. The problem is they are not always obviously “crazy” from the outside; sometimes they are the ones placed on the pedestals (which probably compounds the problem). In the few homeschooling families I know where serious abuse has taken place, no one saw the problems from the outside, at least for a long time.”

    Frankly, by suggesting that since most homeschoolers are not abusive there is no need for regulation, the commonly held belief [among conservative christians] in total depravity is undermined. I do believe in total depravity, which is partly why I think more regulation/statistics are needed.


  7. Eleanor Skelton December 7, 2014 / 11:16 am

    This is the best thing I have read in a long, long time.


  8. Heidi Underhill December 7, 2014 / 8:08 pm

    I love your article.

    I know you will not love my comment.

    The problem of abuse in our country is so wide spread. You can hide it is homeschooling so well. You are so right. It needs to be exposed.

    But the problem is so much bigger then home schooling. I was never home schooled. I was kept out of school 1 day when my moms live in boy friend decided I needed to learn to tell time. He kept me home and taught me in a day. I digress.

    But I lived in abusive family for 18 years. And was in the public eye every day. I was taught to make up stories and say nothing. I actually didn’t know many things were wrong until I moved out to go to college.

    I think you should work hard in the corner of the world you know best. But I think you would be strengthened by looking at other communities of abused kids too.

    I also learned more from going to an Assemblies of God Bible college about the ways of the world from pastors kids then I ever learned in my upbringing completely outside the church.


    • R.L. Stollar December 7, 2014 / 9:00 pm

      I don’t dislike your comment! I agree that advocacy should be intersectional. Our publishing work with HA and HARO obviously focuses on homeschool children, but my daily research focuses on all aspects of children’s rights and child abuse and neglect, whether it’s in public, private, or home schools. I think the United States has a long ways to go towards respecting children as valuable and autonomous human beings, and it would indeed be foolish to put blinders on and think the only problems are in homeschooling circles.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s