No Unbelievers Allowed: How Homeschooling Became a Christians-Only Club

Gregg Harris, YouTube.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

As a child, I remember my family was friends with another Christian homeschooling family. My parents ran a local Christian homeschooling support group. This other family, however, was part of an “inclusive” homeschooling support group. I knew this was a source of tension between my parents and the other parents. Whether accurate or not, my child-brain discerned that since the “inclusive” group was not only for Christians, it was not a “Christian” homeschooling group — and that was a problem.

At the time, I did not realize that this tension between my parents and my friends’ parents about whether to include non-Christians in local homeschooling support groups was a significant debate among homeschoolers. The fact that it was a significant debate can be traced back to one person in particular: Gregg Harris.

The influence Gregg Harris has exerted on the modern homeschooling movement cannot be overstated. He is described by journalists Kathryn Joyce and Helen Cordes as one of the “four pillars of homeschooling” (alongside HSLDA’s Michael Farris, NHERI’s Brian Ray, and The Teaching Home‘s Sue Welch). In his 2006 book Homeschool Heroes: The Struggle and Triumph of Home Schooling in America, the late Chris Klicka of HSLDA describes the exact influence Harris had on the fledgeling homeschooling movement in the 1980’s:

In 1980 Gregg Harris and his wife, Sono, elected to take a giant step and homeschool their son, Joshua… Gregg wanted to start a ministry to encourage other families to homeschool. He saw homeschooling as a means of restoring the model of the Bible-centered family, a place to train future leaders… His ministry, Christian Life Workshops (CLW), offered these two-day homeschool workshops… He urged families to homeschool in order to fulfill God’s command to train our children.

His homeschool workshops at first drew a few hundred… Pretty soon the workshops grew in attendance to nearly fifteen hundred. Over 180,000 families were trained by Gregg Harris from 1984 to 1995. At least thirty-five of the now large statewide homeschool associations got their start as Gregg shared his attendee and mailing lists. Many had their founding organizing meetings at Gregg’s workshops.

Without Gregg Harris’s early influence, I am convinced that the homeschool movement would not be the thriving Christian influence on our society that it is becoming today (21-22, emphases in original).

HSLDA’s J. Michael Smith has also noted that Harris’ “early Homeschooling Workshops inspired…many state homeschool organizations to launch annual state conferences.” According to Harris’ own website today, he has taught over a quarter of a million homeschooling families.

It is because of Harris’ overwhelming influence on both the modern homeschooling movement in general and the Christian subculture within that movement that HSLDA named their Lifetime Achievement Award the “Gregg Harris Award for Leadership.” (This is the award HSLDA bestowed upon accused rapist Bill Gothard in 2010.)

One of the primary ways that Harris influenced homeschooling, as noted above, is his transformation of homeschooling from an alternative educational method to a specifically Christian way of life. In his 1988 book The Christian Home School, Harris directly compares Christian parents who send their children to public schools to medieval Christians who sent their children into actual slaughter during the Children’s Crusade of 1212.*** “A similar slaughter is taking place today,” Harris warns, when “Christian parents send their children to the public school… The result is the same” (11). Because “God has entrusted the care, the nurture, and the education of those children primarily to [parents],” “not to the State” and “not to the Church” (11), Harris sees homeschooling as the biblical method of education.

To Harris, part of making homeschooling a specifically Christian way of life means purging local homeschooling support groups of non-Christians. In The Christian Home School, Harris urges Christian homeschoolers that, “For spiritual support, you and other like-minded Christians will clearly need to meet together in homes or churches as a separate group… We should try not to get entangled in the affairs of unbelieving families” (186-7).

Not being reported for child abuse is also an advantage of shunning “unbelieving families.” In a guest chapter for Chris Klicka’s 1995 book The Right Choice: Home Schooling, Harris argues against “inclusive,” or interfaith, homeschool support groups. He warns that non-Christians do not understand the biblical mandate to physically strike one’s children according to Proverbs. Consequently, “Biblical methods of discipline may be reported by fellow group members to authorities as ‘child abuse'” (188).

For these reasons, Harris recommends in The Christian Home School that support groups create statements of faith. “A disagreement over policy or doctrine or an aggressive intruder can mean a lot of problems for the group,” he writes. “Know who you are and what you stand for when you begin.” This means that, “A statement of faith, which should be affirmed by any potential group leader, ought to be broad enough to include Christians who disagree on nonessential matters (such as eschatology), but narrow enough to exclude people from a nonevangelical framework or who hold abhorrent opinions” (185).

In addition to non-evangelicals (e.g., Catholics), Harris also contends for the exclusion of families with “homosexual and lesbian parents.” LGBTQ parents, Harris explains, “have a history of trying to join Christian support groups and move into leadership under false pretenses.” Since “God’s Word clearly condemns these sexual perversions,” Harris argues, “to keep these people out, you need a clear statement in the founding documents” (185).

Note that these families are being excluded because of parental sexual identity. So even if the parents’ children are straight, if the parents are not straight, Harris recommends casting the whole lot out of one’s group.

Furthermore, Harris wants these LGBTQ families excluded while acknowledging they are isolated and persecuted. He points out that LGBTQ families “are attracted to home schooling because they have been socially isolated and often persecuted. They seem to assume that home schoolers are kindred spirits because of the legal battles related to home education. Needless to say, Christian home schoolers have little in common with such people, but we need to say so” (185-6). He does, nonetheless, advocate for showing LGBTQ families personal kindness: “Respond to them on a personal level, but keep them out of the group” (186).

These sorts of exclusions are what homeschooling forefather Raymond Moore referred to in his 1994 white papers in which he lambasted Harris, HSLDA, and others for causing division in the homeschooling movement. Also known as “The Ravage of Home Education Through Exclusion By Religion,” Moore’s white papers lambast all four homeschooling “pillars” for a “form of bigotry” he labels “Protestant Exclusivism.” Moore gives the following harsh description of Harris:

A “Christian” fired from a homeschool job for fraud began using a statement of faith to split states and obtain a following, His Protestant exclusivist [PE] move was joined by lawyer-preacher Mike Farris and Editor Sue Welch of TEACHING HOME magazine, making money from the move, yet it did not come from the Christ whose flag they wave. Backed by publisher who profit by formal, conventional programs, it destroys the historic unity and quality of the Movement, splitting state groups by requiring a statement of faith.

Sociologist Mitchell Stevens gives a more nuanced take on the disagreements between Harris and Moore in his 2009 book on homeschooling, Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement. In contrast to Moore’s description of Harris being “fired,” Stevens claims Harris “left” his job with Moore:

As the years passed and Christian home education flourished, other stars began to rise. Gregg Harris, who had begun his homeschool career as a conference planner for Moore, left his employer in a bitter business dispute and began his own fledgling ministry… Moore and his wife were themselves Protestant Christian, but their vision for home schooling was an ecumenical one. The next generation of believer elites had different ideas… By the dawn of the 1990s, Raymond Moore was finding himself on the outside… Ultimately Moore’s more ecumenical vision for homeschooling lost out to a distinctively Christian home education (172-3).

Over the last decade, news articles have proclaimed the religious diversification of the modern homeschooling movement. People often point to surveys that show fewer parents are homeschooling primarily for religious reasons. Nonetheless, it is estimated that anywhere from 70 to 94 percent of homeschoolers are Christian.

*** While this is the description of the Children’s Crusade given by Harris, it is not historically accurate.

33 thoughts on “No Unbelievers Allowed: How Homeschooling Became a Christians-Only Club

  1. mara95s January 25, 2016 / 1:04 am

    The last decade I’ve noticed a rise in homeschooling non-Christian families as well. Many seem to be put off by ‘a statement of faith.’ The co-op my family belongs is inclusive. The last decade more people are homeschooling because: bullying, Common Core, behavior or cognitive issues, too much Christian culture in the schools, not enough Christian culture in the schools, time constraints, a different lifestyle (traveling or different sleep schedules) and a wide range of reasons. Some families have found it cheaper to homeschool than to send children to public schools too!

    So while Christianity is a strong sub culture in the homeschooling movement, so are other sub cultures starting to emerge. “Homeschooling Misfits: Where Fluffy Unicorn School Happens” and “The Inappropriate Homeschoolers” are definitely not Christian groups I have found membership this past year.


    • MermaidWarrior (@WarriorMermaids) January 26, 2016 / 4:30 pm

      Yeah, with growing concern about the quality of education in US public schools, we’re starting to see more parents homeschool for educational reasons over moral ones. Plus, I bet the internet makes it easier to homeschool these days.


  2. Bonnie January 25, 2016 / 3:52 am

    I learned about homeschooling in college when we studied Holt. It had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with raising free inquiring artistic children into amazing adults. Then the fundamental Christians took home schooling over. The isolation was too much for me. Fortunately we got some scholarships for a private school for a few years and then pieced together a patchwork of public school and community college experiences before sending them off to college. I still feel some resentment instead of pulling together for the sake of the children, they pushed me and my children out of the group. They prayed for me.


    • Alexis January 30, 2016 / 10:02 am

      lol, Bonnie! I recently offered to teach a course on a Gr 4 public school children’s book at a local Christian co-op. Imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from the leader of the group, concerned about my salvation, and was treated to an hour long reprobation. She then offered to “pray for me” and I told her “I didn’t need her prayers, thank you” and that I would “pray for her.” Crazy!


      • Bonnie January 30, 2016 / 11:18 am

        Thanks. They just don’t understand how insulting it is to assume someone has nI’m ot made conscious and vallid decision s about how to be in this universe. Like I was a poor pod little baby who didn’t know any better and so needed to be saved.


  3. crackedharper January 25, 2016 / 8:38 am

    And don’t forget Christians who dare use a public charter school to homeschool. I was tolerated in our local group, but could not hold office. I couldn’t even join any of the larger organizations.
    This article does clear things up for me. Now I know where all the weird rules and ideas were coming from.


  4. Lana January 25, 2016 / 11:47 am

    Our hs group required that we get a letter from our pastor every year. EVERY YEAR. No Catholic were allowed either. While Catholics and Mormons were excluded, one family from a non-Trinitiarian alternative religion stayed in the homeschool group for years because the pastor was the dad of the homeschool family and just signed off that they adhered to the statement of faith. All so silly.

    A couple years ago, the new homechool families got rid of the policy, and the old timers were upset.


    • Emilie February 1, 2016 / 4:54 pm

      And some states require that an “umbrella” school to sign off on homeschooling for families. And many churches took this duty over.


  5. Emilie January 25, 2016 / 2:53 pm

    I take issue with the idea that homeschooling has become more diverse over the last decade. Bonnie’s comment is a good illustration. Homeschooling was diverse until the likes of Harris hijacked the movement. They had the money needed to spread their vile. What they didn’t have at first was an internet presence. A great number of homeschoolers fought them over the internet. Successfully I might add. We didn’t care if they wanted Statement of Faith groups, conventions or curriculum. We simply wished for them to leave others alone. Not only would they not do that, they viciously attacked any who questioned them. Local groups were taken over and networking was restricted to only SOF groups, leading to isolation for those hsing families who couldn’t devote the time to find other like minded folks. For a classic look at bullying, look up the Anti Trust suit between the Pillars and Cheryl Seelhoff. Don’t fall into the trap of believing non Christian homeschoolers didn’t exist or that their intent was to subvert Christian groups all those many decades ago. You are reading bias materials. Search the internet. Sadly Home Education Magazine links no longer work where tons of early information was exchanged in order to lend support to those who were dealing with these bullies. Decades ago, email lists were extremely important. These exchanges are now mostly lost. It is a complete falsehood that homeschoolers were exclusively Christian in the early years. As we aged, we grew more knowledgeable in politics. In WA State HSLDA repeatedly attempted to paint us all as not only HSLDA members but as Christian while they testified in front of the legislature. We successfully fought that. The same is true in a number of states but it was low key and slow because of our grassroots base which had less money to use. Dig deeper.


    • R.L. Stollar January 25, 2016 / 3:19 pm

      “Don’t fall into the trap of believing non Christian homeschoolers didn’t exist or that their intent was to subvert Christian groups all those many decades ago.”

      Oh I know the history and diversity. This article is simply describing how it became seen and felt to be a Christians-only club. It obviously was more inclusive in intention if Moore decried the break-up of existing networks and coalitions and organizations.


    • Daniel De'd Ballif January 25, 2016 / 3:27 pm

      lots, of MENTAL, illness, running, a-muck:) sad, uneducated minds…ultimately. G-d, help us all !


  6. Emilie January 25, 2016 / 3:28 pm

    As for those polls and surveys, watch out who makes them. NHERI is notorious for spouting the party line. They have no clue about the scientific method. When asked about their methodology, you have to pay up. I just do not believe the numbers are that high for Christian hsers. Then again I will admit many non religious homeschoolers have no interest in helping with the number crunchers so they just don’t take those surveys.


    • R.L. Stollar January 25, 2016 / 3:39 pm

      Oh definitely. Incidentally, the higher number (94%) is the one not from NHERI. It’s from the Mackey study that used Census Bureau statistics.


      • Emilie January 26, 2016 / 6:29 pm

        Could you supply a link to this Mackey study?
        It still grates on me that so many folks think homeschooling is diversifying now, in 2000s when it was diverse 30 years ago. The Christian PR machine did a fine job.


      • R.L. Stollar January 26, 2016 / 6:59 pm

        Yeah, here’s the link:

        I think the idea of “diversification” is simply that Harris introduced, over less than a decade, almost 200,000 Christian families to homeschooling. (And that’s just Harris, not to mention HSLDA, Mary Pride, Sue Welch, Susan Beatty, etc.) Raymond Moore’s appearance on James Dobson’s show spiked that even more. So the homeschooling world simply got flooded by Christians. That doesn’t mean that homeschooling wasn’t diverse before, but simply that Christians suddenly overwhelmed the demographic numbers.


      • Emilie January 29, 2016 / 6:33 am

        “That doesn’t mean that homeschooling wasn’t diverse before, but simply that Christians suddenly overwhelmed the demographic numbers.” Yes, that has been what many of us have seen. It was a movement taken over and then portrayed as having Christian origins. They garnered huge financial and political gains through their use of homeschooling, often times through fear.


  7. Jenny Islander January 25, 2016 / 9:09 pm

    I’m isolated from my local homeschooling community because the last time I went to the local homeschool fair it was Godly this, Godly that, Godly everything else. Godly math! Godly card games! Oh, and Godly ways of beating your children in order to make them into good people!

    Because if we don’t shovel Bible verses (and obsessive lectures about obedience) into every last minute of homeschool time our children will do…something. Something un-Godly.

    What a weaksauce faith.


    • Jenny Islander February 1, 2016 / 5:45 pm

      Replying to myself because I just got a message from the local homeschool club, forwarded via the public school district’s homeschool coordinator. (The club is on Facebook. I do not Facebook.) Unlike the previous local homeschool club, this one doesn’t explicitly call itself Christian. But when you use a nondenominational church for the site of your first “MOM’s TEA” (sic), which features a collage/scrapbooking craft project that illustrates your “Vision (Dream),” and the point of the “MOM’s TEA” is to discuss founding a co-op so everybody please think about “how you feel gifted to help out,” then I’m going to go ahead and call it churchy. Because it is.

      I’m not a lone homeschooler because I want to be, is what I’m saying.


  8. Persephone January 25, 2016 / 11:28 pm

    I live in the community where Gregg Harris got his start. My best friend was in the local mega-church’s high school youth group with him (before FICs, of course).

    I started homeschooling eleven years ago, since school wasn’t a good fit for my oldest daughter. I looked for locks support groups, and found only one. No one would be considered for membership in the support group/co-op unless they were referred by a member in good standing.

    A couple of years later my daughter met another homeschooled girl at the local community theater. Her mom referred me for membership in the co-op. I was offended that no non-Christians were allowed to participate, even just to take classes, so wasn’t interested. The dad who called to “interview” me was downright hostile when I told him thanks, but I wasn’t interested. I never understood his attitude until now.


    • Persephone January 26, 2016 / 9:23 pm

      Oops – my friend always in youth group with Josh, not Greg.


  9. Cædmon January 26, 2016 / 8:07 am

    I was raised in a Christian homeschool family. My parents started homeschooling us my third grade year (I had spent Kindergarten through 2nd grade in a private Christian school) and I was homeschooled through highschool. My parents started homeschooling after hearing a talk (or series of talks, I don’t know the details) by Greg Harris and they never looked back. My mother had been a public-school teacher and she and my dad had a mostly healthy view of homeschooling (its not for everyone, its more of an alternative form of schooling, etc.), but I believe that we were still infected by the more strident views of the homeschooling community around us. Like getting lung-cancer from breathing in second-hand smoke.

    My wife was also homeschooled, in a a context that flirted even closer with the Gothard/ATI elements of the sub-culture, and although we have some severe criticisms of the movement, we still believe in homeschooling as an alternative (one of many) form of education.

    All that to say, as a formerly homeschooled child who is now a homeschooling dad who (weakly. mostly) holds to the Christian faith, there is no way in this good green earth we live in that I’d ever want to be involved in an ostensibly “Christian” homeschool group. The thought is reprehensible to me. As in makes my stomach hurt and fills me with that familiar Anxiety that we Homeschooled know all too well.

    For what it’s worth.


  10. Shy1 January 26, 2016 / 5:46 pm

    This is really interesting. I began homeschooling my children back in early 80’s, inspired by the teachings of John Holt, because our local public school was awful. I would have preferred to send them to Montessori but we couldn’t afford it.

    I didn’t know anyone else who homeschooled at the time but within a few years it had caught on and a Christian homeschoolers group was begun in my city. I joined and took part in some of the extra things they offered but it was a hard group to break into, my children and I always felt like outsiders. Seems like most of the members went to one church and they kept to their own group. At this time, we heard of Greg Harris and went to hear him speak. We were intrigued by many of the things he had to say but we talked with him one on one during the break and we got a very weird vibe, ended up leaving early. Creeped out is how I’d put it. Very interesting to be hearing the rest of the story and it makes me glad we didn’t fall in with it.


    • Emilie February 1, 2016 / 5:01 pm

      Same here Shyl but I found a LOT of support with statewide groups. Email groups were just taking off so we had some good support. My kids played with the mostly Christian kids – field trips and such until one mom decided her sons had to spend more time with their Christian (but not homeschooling) friends. It was extremely difficult for my oldest. Other than that, they played with the neighbor kids. NOW, a secular group has just started up in this small rural city. I suspect they are extremely small in numbers and have very small kids. At least there is an alternative. I always have suggested to folks if they can’t find a group that fits, then start one. And, there is no reason why families can’t get together for play time who are of differing religions.


  11. roianna January 30, 2016 / 5:41 am

    My son has autism and the schools are doing a poor job of meeting his needs, so I’m going the combo 20 hours of therapy/homeschooling route. I live in the Bible Belt, however, and all of the homeschooling co-ops and most of the autism support groups are overwhelmingly Christian, which I am not. Even found a homeschooling hiking group, and both my kids like hiking, but then I clicked the link and it blatantly stated “Christian families only.” Just makes going this route lonelier.


    • R.L. Stollar January 30, 2016 / 11:07 am

      Sorry to hear about those experiences, roianna. I am sure that feels very alienating.

      You might have already found this, but in case not… here’s an online community of secular homeschoolers you could connect with: They also have a map of both inclusive and secular homeschool communities around the U.S.: Even though there’s no secular group in your area, they might know of some fellow alienated families you could connect with.


      • roianna February 4, 2016 / 9:21 pm

        Thank you for this, did not know about it!


    • Laura February 3, 2016 / 6:06 am

      We homeschooled alone for most of the 18 years. We moved to an area with a homeschool group and joined. It is a Christian group, but clashes don’t only occur between Christian and secular-minded homeschoolers. There are many denominational differences that can cause some chafing. We left the group due to that, because there is a dominating church group with a lot of kids and I often felt like I was swimming against the tide. It was much too tiring, in large part because I work f/t and my husband is home and doesn’t drive, which makes things a bit non-traditional. I am a Christian, but I’ve always been kind of a lone wolf when it came to homeschooling…even church activities, really. I don’t have time to be committed to too many things. I think it is good to find your own way for awhile and join a group for certain things rather than trying to connect to something that becomes emotionally indispensable.


      • roianna February 4, 2016 / 9:21 pm

        I think what I’m trying to counteract is my own lone wolf tendencies, lol. I learned quickly in elementary school that I wasn’t going to be accepted and got used to being on my own. I’m trying to break out of this so my children don’t feel this general estrangement I do from larger society, and also because for my son it’s important for him to socialize so he can develop the skills he needs to play with other kids. But yeah, right now I’m thinking it’s going to come through swimming lessons and the like rather than an organized homeschooling group.


  12. Brightie February 12, 2016 / 2:36 pm

    My family spent a great deal of time in a Christian homeschooling group, which had a statement of faith but accepted Catholics. Small-Brightie would’ve been horrified that there were Christian homeschool groups which didn’t – what do you mean they aren’t Christian? Were (list of historical figures and favorite authors) not Saved? We can have people in the homeschool group disagree on whether women should always wear skirts, and speaking in tongues, and dancing, and if God still speaks directly to people in modern times or if he stopped that when the Bible ended, but Catholics are a step too far?


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