Why the Homeschool Movement Was So Frightening

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on October 4, 2014.

The stories on Homeschoolers Anonymous have been more triggering for me lately. HA is hosting a series called “Hurts Me More Than You.” Then today Cynthia Jeub, a daughter of a well-known homeschool family with 16 children, shared her story of the abuse she and her siblings have received, and still are receiving.

My story is not Cynthia’s story, nor is my story identical to anyone else’s story. (Cynthia’s story is more wild than mine if for no other reason than she has 15 siblings and has been on reality TV.)

I was frequently spanked, and I was spanked for stupid, ridiculous stuff. For example, when I was a small child, my parents laid the paddle in front of our bedroom doors at night. If I got up, I had to take the paddle with me. So I could not go to the bathroom at night. The spankings hurt my soul, even though my mother said it hurt her more than me.

But we never got a bruise. My mom had been beaten as a child by her father, and she never spanked so hard or so many times that it bruised us, not even close.

But one does not need to be beaten to live a childhood that is a nightmare.

For example:

  • When I did not understand math, my mom would throw the textbook across the room, yell at me, and call me stupid.
  • In the afternoon, I had to listen to mom bitch about me to other homeschool moms over the phone. It hurt me to hear that I was rebellious.
  • I never knew when Mom would yell at me or throw things. For a few years, it seemed as if I was yelled at every day. It was so, so painful.
  • Mom would call me names. Stupid was one of them. Others were worse.
  • I did not have a lock in my room. Mom did not value privacy. So I never was safe in my room. She could walk in anytime and yell at me for being disrespectful.
  • Our family was the center of all the homeschool activities. People came to our house every day, to buy cows milk, to pick up the homeschool news letter, to visit.  I felt like I was always on the spot light, even though an hour before mom was yelling at me and telling me how bad I was. It was insanely hypocritical.
  • My little sister used to sleep in the bathtube. When dad was upset, he would say that we were all screwed up and he should eliminate us. My sister’s logic was that if dad lost his temper and decided to kill everyone in the family, she would survive because the bathtube would protect her from the bullets. My sister also lived in her closet whenever my parents fought.
  • I had an insane amount of chores. If I missed a dish, or the counters were not clean, I was yelled at.
  • I was isolated. I had a piano lesson one day a week and church on Sunday. A few years we had a girls group, and I often babysit for other homeschool families. But at best, we had just a few hours a week outside the home. I never was alone.

You might wonder what any of this has to do with homeschooling. My parents were abusive because they were hurt as kids themselves. This has nothing to do with homeschooling, right?

The reason I connect this to homeschooling is that homeschooling made the shit seem natural, the way that it was ought to be.

Had I gone to public school, mom probably still would have yelled at me. But maybe yelling would not have seemed so natural to me.

The homeschool narrative told me it was all my fault. My fault was that I was not responsible enough and orderly enough. I needed to be more thankful, more assertive, and more thorough in my chores. We even had damn songs to teach us this.

Cynthia Jeub tells a story where her mom came home and said: “You didn’t do the dishes?! You don’t appreciate that I was gone shopping all day. I do so much work around here, and I can’t be gone for a few hours without coming home to a mess!” I think she quoted word-for-word what my mom used to tell me. Poor mother. She got to leave the house unlike us, and the least we could have done was keep the house spotless.

Once my sister had not cleaned up the mess she and dad had made. When my mom, grandmother and I got home, my mom yelled that the dishes were not cleaned up. Then my grandmother found me and gave me a lecture for not being a helpful enough daughter. I had not even been home to have the opportunity to clean up the mess, but somehow I was in trouble for not cleaning up the mess because the kitchen was my chore.

I have noticed that teenagers often complain about their parents. Mom made me do this. Dad made me do that. But when I was a kid, my homeschool friends and I were too terrified to complain about our parents. We could not even trust each other not to tattle. So we all suffered in silence.

Another issue was that as a homeschool student, I never had a break from my parents. I was susceptible to emotional abuse every minute of every day.

My parents would have struggled with their temper even if we had been in public school. But you know what? Without people like the Pearls. Without Bill Gothard and Doug Philips. Without the homeschool community. Without all those people, mom and dad never would have said I was “rebellious” or that I was not grateful enough.  My parents actually got involved in ATIA in the first place because dad knew they were broken, and Gothard’s IBLP taught anger management. Gothard taught us that if they taught their daughters to do this, that, and the other, and if we followed this formula, we would be happy. When I became a teenager, it all slipped out of their fingers, and the shame and pain was only worse.

My parents never would have been perfect parents, but without the homeschool narratives, it could have been better.

So when I read the narratives of other homeschool alumni, I see two trends.

1) We were led to believe that we were being punished for not living the character traits, for not being good enough, and helpful enough.

2) We suffered in silence while our families put on fronts in our community.

It was all fake shit.

Thankfully my dad woke up, started intense counseling for mom and him, and threw away the ATI books. The rod made it to the garbage. Unfortunately, it was too late for to change how he raised me.

Maybe it is not too late for homeschoolers to change the next generation.

And please do not tell me, “I’m a homeschool mom, and my family is not like this.” Good for you. That does not change the fact that for many of us, homeschooling was used to isolate us from the world while our parents could do anything they wanted and say anything they liked. It does not change the fact that our lives were chores and babysitting, and the fact that some of us got an education at all is a miracle.

We are grieved and tired.

6 thoughts on “Why the Homeschool Movement Was So Frightening

  1. HurtingAndBrokenForLife October 6, 2014 / 7:12 am

    Damn you, making me cry. Like so many other HA stories, this has hit the hardest, yet most vulnerable place deep in my heart and soul. So many regrets, but none of them were my choice. My parents, unfortunately, have never turned from their ways – apparently I am now just going to hell in a hand-basket. In spite of my best efforts and heartfelt desires, I have exactly 0 relationship with them. I was apparently too rebellious (eg. just like you – didn’t clean up my toys, so in addition to them being thrown away, I was also labelled rebellious and spanked) for them to ever move past, even 10 years after I have finally moved away and become a *relatively* healthy and quite happy individual.

    All this to ask: If you have any advice on how to forgive while never being able to forget…please pass it along! Waiting with open arms.


  2. Timber St. James October 6, 2014 / 8:19 am

    While we were paddled incredibly hard (I have no idea how no one outside our house ever heard us screaming and called the police), we didn’t get yelled at that nastily. I’m not sure which abuse has the worst effects. Seems the same to me. My wife was barely spanked at all, but verbally abused daily. For me it was the opposite.


    • gloraelin October 8, 2014 / 4:35 am

      (I have no idea how no one outside our house ever heard us screaming and called the police)

      And you just hit the nail right on the head… I don’t think I could ever speak to the neighbors from that time period ever again without bitterness, and probably losing it and screaming “why didn’t you ever save me?!”

      Just. Yeah. I had zero faith in the human race for a very long, long time.


      • Timber St. James October 8, 2014 / 8:11 am

        And you can’t call the police yourself, because the government will split us all up (the kids). So you just watch them get beaten, and you’re the oldest and a boy so you know you’ll get it the worst. You all walk and sit funny for a while.

        I always say I love people but hate humanity.


  3. Teresa October 6, 2014 / 12:04 pm

    So much of what you said could be applied to my family. So much.

    For me, I was too slow to learn to read. I remember trying to do the lessons from “teach your child to read in 100 lessons” and my mom throwing the book and screaming what stupid idiot I was when I couldn’t get it. All because I wasn’t able to learn to read till I was 7, when my older sister learned when she was 4.
    “I never know when mon would yell at me or throw things” -my childhood in a nutshell. Every so often she’d get fed up with how messy my sisters and my room was, and “help” us clean up. Which generally led to her going berserk and throwing toys at us while screaming about how ungrateful we were.
    People would always say “oh, your mom is so sweet/nice/kind!” But they never saw how she treated us kids.
    And I thought it was normal/right/godly for parents to treat kids this way.


  4. heidi0523 October 7, 2014 / 12:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I am sorry that that happened to you.


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