Can the Homeschooling Movement Self-Police?

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ian Britton.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

A common question we encounter in our child advocacy through Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out is an understandable one: “Do you believe the homeschooling movement can self-police itself?” This question concerns the tragic yet undeniable reality of child abuse and mental illness within homeschooling. Those asking the question are wondering if homeschool parents, communities, and organizations are capable of properly responding to child abuse and mental illness. By extension, they are also wondering if some outside oversight (such as a government agency) is necessary.

My answer to this question is always two-fold. First, yes, I absolutely do believe the homeschooling movement can self-police. Having been homeschooled from K-12 and knowing many homeschoolers to this day, I have great hope and faith in the ability and tenacity of homeschoolers. I know they are capable, driven, and intelligent people. They can do just about anything if they put their minds and hearts to it. So yes, I do believe that if the homeschooling movement dedicated its minds and hearts to properly responding to child abuse and mental illness — with the same sort of zeal which the movement dedicates to opposing Evolutionism, Secularism, and Socialism — it could actually make great strides forward in making homeschooling safer for all children. I am not optimistic enough to think that self-policing in itself could entirely solve the problems of abuse, neglect, and illness within homeschooling. But I can certainly see a lot of good arising from the act.

Here’s the catch, though. The important question isn’t whether or not the homeschooling movement can self-police. The important question is whether or not the homeschooling movement will self-police.

The homeschooling movement certainly can do better internally. It has everything in place that could make this happen. It has a national alliance of homeschool leaders, the National Alliance of Christian Home Education Leadership. It has annual national and international leadership conferences where international, national, and state leaders in homeschooling come together and network. It has numerous legal defense associations like HSLDA and the National Center for Life and Liberty (NCLL). It has state organizations in every one of the United States. It has national convention companies like the Great Homeschool Conventions (GHC) and national curriculum creators like Sonlight and ACE and A Beka and Alpha Omega. It appeals generally to one authority when it comes to homeschooling statistics — Brian Ray’s National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI).

If the homeschooling movement had the will to tackle head-on the pressing, dire issues facing many homeschooled students and alumni like child abuse, mental illness, and self-injury, we would see a sea change at this very moment.

But we don’t.

And that’s the problem.

Yes, the homeschooling movement can self-police. But it currently doesn’t have the will to do so.

If Brian Ray and NHERI had the will to find out just how prevalent child abuse and mental illness and self-injury are within homeschooling, he and they could begin the process of finding out. They have the resources. They can do the research.

But they won’t. So they don’t.

If HSLDA and NCLL had the will to ensure that every single one of their member families was properly trained in recognizing and responding to the warning signs of child abuse before becoming a member, they could do that. They have the resources. They have the website tools. They can make child abuse prevention training a prerequisite for membership.

But they won’t. So they don’t.

If the Great Homeschool Conventions (and other for-profit and non-profit convention companies) had the will to make child abuse prevention and suicide prevention and mental health awareness a priority in their workshop content, they could do that. They have the contacts. They have the money. They can elevate the importance of these subjects for their customers.

But they won’t. So they don’t.

One can, of course, make the argument that some of these organizations shouldn’t have to focus on child abuse and neglect because that’s not their organizational focus. The argument fails for two reasons: First, any organization that works with or for children — every single organization — needs to proactively tackle these issues. That’s part of properly stewarding the children within their care. As ChildHope says, “All organisations working with children, either directly or indirectly, have a moral and legal responsibility to protect children within their care from both intentional and unintentional harm. This is known as a duty of care.” All of the organizations I mentioned do work either directly or indirectly with children. So they have a duty — both a secular one and a God-given one — to go out of their way to make sure they are doing everything they can to ensure the health and well-being of the children in their purview.

Second, none of these organizations are going out of their way to support or welcome other organizations that do focus on child health and safety. HSLDA hasn’t supported or sponsored a National Child Abuse Prevention Week. Convention companies haven’t sought out GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) or the Child-Friendly Faith Project or HARO to present at their conventions. The National Alliance of Christian Home Education Leadership hasn’t sought out a child advocacy organization to draft a national declaration about making child health and safety a priority. We aren’t seeing the movement that is so necessary to creating a sea change in how homeschoolers think about and respond to these pressing issues.

All of this might sound pessimistic or nihilistic. But I truly meant what I said earlier: I have great hope and faith in the ability and tenacity of homeschoolers. I know they are capable, driven, and intelligent people. They can do just about anything if they put their minds and hearts to it.

Homeschoolers just need to start putting their minds and hearts to better protecting the children they care so much about.

It’s easy for someone like Michael Farris to draw “a line in the sand” and make generic statements like, “The overuse of physical discipline is causing real harm to children” — and then make no effort make the line mean something and actively promote alternatives to those practices prevalent within homeschooling that cause that real harm to children. It’s easier still for someone like Thomas Umstattd Jr. to “stand with Michael Farris against the abuses of the patriarchy movement” — and then do nothing to actually work against abuse. 

If the homeschooling movement is really going to self-police, we need more than platitudes. We need more than empty declarations from our leaders. We need a concerted, coordinated effort from our leaders, organizations, convention companies, curriculum developers, co-ops, teachers, and parents to do the actual work necessary to better protecting children.

From Silence to Exposure: Why Did Michael Farris Speak Out Now?

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on August 30, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

Michael Farris, one of the pillars of the modern Homeschool Movement and founders of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and founding president of Patrick Henry College, released an article addressing abuses within the Christian homeschool community in his article,  “A Line in the Sand,” in which he specifically called out two fallen leaders within the Homeschool Movement:  Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips. Farris publicly condemned some of the teachings of Gothard and Phillips, saying they “damage people in multiple ways.”

He’s absolutely right. A lot of damage and abuse has occurred because of the teachings of these men.

I’d like to go over his article in greater detail and also make observations based on other systems in which abuse was uncovered. Let’s start with this doozy right here:

Although some people want HSLDA to be the police force of the homeschooling movement—removing those who miss the mark in some manner—that is not our role.

Would someone please tell me when it is NOT the role of Christians to protect and defend the defenseless?  Chapter and verse, please.

Even though I have been uncomfortable with the teaching coming from each of these men for several years, it is not my place to try to remove viewpoints from the homeschooling community just because the HSLDA board or I hold a different view.

I repeat: Would someone please tell me when it is NOT the role of Christians to protect and defend the defenseless?  Chapter and verse, please.

This next sentence is important:

Our role is to defend the freedom of everyone to homeschool.

This sentence needs to be understood as an underlying theme of HSLDA. Please tuck away this statement because I will be coming back to it. This is key to the ministry work of Farris and HSLDA.

Frankly, we should have spoken up sooner. How much sooner is hard to say.

How much sooner is hard to say? That’s like saying, “I saw the ravaged bodies lying on the side of the road, but decided to walk on by and keep that information to myself. It didn’t seem like the right time to say or do anything, so I didn’t.”

The reason I used such strong imagery is because later, Farris clues us in that he really does understand the damaging effects of these errant teachings. He knows that the teachings have led to a crisis of faith in which some have rejected Christianity entirely:

I’ve come in contact with many young people who were raised in patriarchal or legalistic homes. Almost none of them are following these philosophies today. Some have rejected Christianity altogether.

It’s important to understand WHY Farris and HSLDA did not speak up sooner. Why did they leave ravaged bodies on the side of the road?

Why would someone knowingly withhold information that could protect children and wives from abuse?  Let’s look at some other situations in which people had information and chose to keep it silent.  We can see similar patterns in other popular stories related to abuse.

In the Jerry Sandusky Penn State sex abuse scandal, there were people who knew information about Sandusky and didn’t report. Why didn’t they report? What was the motivating factor in keeping quiet?

We’ve long suspected, but now have confirmed by sworn court testimony that Grant Layman, a pastor at a Sovereign Grace Ministries church, knew that Nathaniel Morales had sexually abused children before, but failed to report to authorities.  Why did this pastor, a shepherd of God’s precious flock, fail to report?

In June of 2014, Paul Tripp resigned from his position on the Mars Hill Board of Accountability and gave very little reason as to stepping down.  Yet this week, nine Mars Hill church elders (one of whom has since been fired for speaking out) published a document about their grievances with Mark Driscoll. In that document, Paul Tripp expressed very strong words about the abusive nature of Mark Driscoll and his ministry:

This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.

Why did Paul Tripp not share that bombshell of info back in June when he resigned?

Why did Acts 29 take so long at calling Mark Driscoll out and removing his name and Mars Hill Church from the Acts 29 members list?

At what point did each of these people decide enough is enough regarding known abuse?

What was it that kept them from being completely transparent earlier when they had knowledge that could have prevented more abuse from occurring?

I believe the reason why people remain silent is because they are serving their personal idol, rather than Christ. A Christ follower would respond appropriately to defend victims, even if there is a personal cost. Christ followers know there is a personal cost to being a Christian.

These men used self-preservation and defended their idols.

What was the idol in the Penn State sex scandal? I believe it was the Almighty Dollar. Sandusky represented football wins for Penn State. If it was publicized that Sandusky was a pedophile, how would that affect Penn State and their record? It was too much of a gamble. People put the thought of pedophilia aside and likely said, “it’s a personal issue,” or “someone else is surely dealing with it.”

What was the idol with CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries abuse cases?  I believe it was his doctrine and authority structure that prominent church leaders adhered to. Mahaney had charisma, he had the right New Calivinism doctrine, people loved him at conferences ($$), he also really understood one of the primary issues in those circles, “biblical” male and female roles, complementarianism. What CJ Mahaney represented doctrinally was apparently more important to them than Mahaney’s victims.

I believe the same is the case with Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill. Why has it taken people so long to call him out? Because once again, he represented their doctrine in a powerful way. Somehow, church leaders could easily dismissing his cussing, his bullying, plagiarism because the more important message to them was that he had the right doctrine – again, New Calvinism. That was the idol.

Going back to Farris and HSLDA – why is it that Farris waited so long to disclose the truth he knew long ago about Phillips and Gothard? Because it would have cost him.

Although Farris knew there were problems with the teachings of Phillips and Gothard, the bulk of their other ideologies lined up with the trajectory of Farris and his ministry’s movement. For him to call them out earlier would mean a loss of supporters and revenue, as both men had a very large following. Farris would have been forced to stand alone. The followers of Gothard and Phillips would have been left in a quandary of picking who they would follow and support, and subsequently, there likely would have been economic consequences at HSLDA. The following quote shows Farris/HSLDA was willing to support and promote errant teachings and now has regrets:

While we did not directly promote their teachings using our own resources, we did allow Vision Forum to buy ad space to promote their products and ideas. We were wrong to do so. And we regret it.

I believe Farris waited until he realized that the court of public opinion had turned against Phillips and Gothard.

For Farris to not speak out at this time would have been a liability to his ministry. He had to speak out now. Will he do more than speak? Will he use his prominent position in the Homeschool Movement to defend and protect victims?

That remains to be seen.


There have been quite a few articles related to Farris’ article and the conflict within the Christian Homeschool Movement:

• CHRE –  Why Homeschooling Needs Oversight: Responding to HSLDA and WORLD

HSLDA and CRHE’s positions on homeschooling policy differ because they serve two different audiences: HSLDA’s mission is “to defend and advance the constitutional right ofparents to direct the education of their children” (emphasis added), while CRHE’s goal is “advocating for homeschooled children.” In theory, though, policy recommendations should be able to benefit both homeschool parents and homeschooled children.

• Shawn Mathis, – Farris, HSLDA apologizes for silence about Phillips and critiques patriarchy

 In a humble act of public repentance, Michael Farris, on behalf of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) , apologized for not “speaking up sooner” about the errors of Vision Forum and Doug Phillips.

• The Christian Post – Homeschool Advocate Michael Farris Responds to Sex Scandals of Homeschool Leaders Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips

Farris had “been uncomfortable with the teaching coming from each of these men for several years” but was reluctant to speak out because he did not believe it was the role of HSLDA to police the teachings of those within the homeschooling community.

• The Raw Story – Christian leader denounces Duggar family’s patriarchal movement as ‘truly dangerous’

“With these recent scandals in view, we think it is now time to speak out — not about these men’s individual sins, but about their teachings,” Farris wrote. “Their sins have damaged the lives of their victims, and should be addressed by those with the appropriate legal and spiritual authority in those situations, but their teachings continue to threaten the freedom and integrity of the homeschooling movement. That is why HSLDA needs to stand up and speak up.”

• Right Wing Watch – Homeschooling Leader Distances Himself From ‘Dangerous’ Christian Patriarchy Movement Promoted By Duggars

Two leaders of the Christian patriarchy movement — Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard — have been hit with sexual harassment and abuse charges in the past year, which has drawn attention to the movement’s teachings — extreme even within the Religious Right — that women should be completely submissive to the men in their lives.

• World Magazine – Homeschool leader disavows ‘patriarchy’

HSLDA and Farris have faced particular pressure to repudiate Phillips and Gothard in the past year from some former homeschooled students who have claimed they were abused—physically, emotionally, or “spiritually”—by their parents. Many are represented by a website called Homeschoolers Anonymous, as WORLD reported in its recent article about homeschoolers and abuse.

• Shawn Mathis, – Will NCFIC and homeschooling groups imitate HSLDA’s apology about Phillips?

These concerns should be equally applied to radical homeschool and family integrated church leaders.

In fact, it behooves these men and their organizations to make their positions clear: will they continue to silently stand with their past relationship with Doug or will they formally and publicly distance themselves from Phillips’ errors?

HSLDA Gave This Man Their Prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award Just 4 Years Ago

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Every year the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) puts on the National Leader’s Conference, where the biggest names and leaders in homeschooling come together to network and hear educational and inspirational talks from both HSLDA’s staff as well as outside speakers invited by HSLDA. During the conference, HSLDA gives an annual award: the Lifetime Achievement Award. According to HSLDA, this honor is bestowed upon “a leader who has demonstrated valuable leadership to the homeschool community, inspired and motivated others to effective action, overcome hardships and obstacles to succeed, demonstrated a servant’s heart while exhibiting the qualities listed above, and maintained a clear witness concerning Jesus Christ and the Gospel.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award was dubbed “the Gregg Harris Award,” named after homeschool leader Gregg Harris. It was first bestowed upon its namesake in 2007. In 2008 it was given to Brian Ray  “in recognition of his pioneering work in the field of homeschool research.” In 2009, HSLDA awarded it to James Dobson. According to Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, “HSLDA presented Dr. Dobson with its Lifetime Achievement Award during its annual National Leaders Conference here in Colorado Springs.”

Which brings us to 2010, a mere 4 years ago.

Who did HSLDA bestow the “Gregg Harris” Lifetime Achievement Award on at the 2010 National Leader’s Conference?

HSLDA does not have the answer to this question on their website. However, the event page for the conference is still available. You can view it here. First, some background: HSLDA’s 2010 National Leader’s Conference was held September 22-25, 2010, at the Westin North Shore in Chicago (Wheeling, Illinois to be precise). Invited to speak at the conference attended by state and national homeschool leaders were Dr. Henry Morris (from the Institute for Creation Research) and Erwin Lutzer (from Moody Church and Worldview Weekend). HSLDA’s Michael Farris gave the plenary session.

But there was one particularly significant speaker I have yet to mention. On the afternoon of the last day, the conference attendees are divided into two groups: ladies and men. The ladies attended a “Ladies Tea,” and the men attended a “Men’s Huddle.” And who did HSLDA invite to led the “Men’s Huddles” at their conference for homeschool leaders? Bill Gothard, of course:

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HSLDA invited Bill Gothard just 4 years ago to teach state and national homeschool leaders at the 2010 National Leader’s Conference.

But that is not all.

Gothard was not simply invited to speak. He was also chosen by HSLDA to receive their Lifetime Achievement Award at that same conference. According to Kiri Kincell, a conference attendee, “During [Saturday] evening, the Greg Harris [sic] award (named after it’s first recipient) was awarded to Bill Gothard for his huge contributions to the early homeschooling movement.”

Just a reminder: this was in 2010, just 4 years ago.

This fact has not gone unnoticed. An anonymous commentator on a blog criticizing Michael Farris’s recent “Line in the Sand” article pointed to the 2010 conference:

As a former board member of a state home schooling organization, I clearly remember HSLDA, during their national conference for home schooling leaders that was held just 4 years ago in Chicago giving a lifetime home schooling achievement award to none other than Bill Gothard. HSLDA gives this award annually to those that they judge to have made significant contributions to the home schooling movement. This award has gone to men like Greg Harris and the now deceased and former HSLDA attorney, Chris Klicka. HSLDA even had Gothard conduct a Sat afternoon session at their conference that was geared toward fathers and sons…just 4 years ago!

You can read the full comment here.

Let’s put this into perspective:

HSLDA’s Michael Farris just released a blistering white paper condemning Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips. In that paper, Farris declares that Gothard’s teachings “usurp the role of God,” “threaten the freedom and integrity of the homeschooling movement,” are “dangerous,” and have “harmed” “families, children, women, and even fathers.” He also admits that he and the HSLDA board have believed this for years, which is why HSLDA “did not directly promote their teachings.”

So. Let’s get this straight: HSLDA believes that Bill Gothard as a teacher is anti-biblical, freedom-threatening, dangerous, and harmful — and has believed this for years — and despite all that, invited Bill Gothard to be the teacher of state and national homeschool leaders just 4 years ago?

And then gave Bill Gothard the highest honor they could?

And then had the gall to publicly lie to all of our faces and say they “did not directly promote their teachings”?

I mean,

Either Farris and HSLDA have suddenly contracted temporary amnesia or there’s a troubling lack of both sincerity and transparency to this “line in the sand.”

Michael Farris Recommends Child Training Manual That Promotes Beating Dogs and Spanking Infants

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

At the end of Michael Farris, Sr.’s recent white paper, he recommended James Dobson’s The New Strong-Willed Child (2003).

Unlike the works of the Ezzos, the Pearls, and Bill Gothard, this Dobson volume was not a foundational piece of my childhood. So I decided it was time to give it a read-through. Saving Victoria Strong has reviewed the beginning of the book in great detail here. This critique is not intended to be comprehensive, rather a cursory look at Dobson’s child-reading philosophies.

I have to admit: I expected better content considering Michael Farris ended his essay by recommending this. I was shocked by the dehumanizing themes of control and projection of power as well as the animal-like dominance by fathers. “Love and control” were Dobson’s guiding principles. Yet there was a disturbing amount of violence justified throughout the volume. Dobson seemed to model his training methods after a wolf-pack and a wolf-pack’s “Alpha Male.”

dobsonThe introduction set up the book with an analogy about Dobson beating obedience into his “confirmed revolutionary” dachshund. Dobson admitted that “Siggie” wasn’t “vicious or mean,” but Dobson nonetheless demanded absolute obedience from the animal. One night, when Siggie obstinately refused to retire to his doggy-bed, Dobson knew the “only way to make Siggie obey was to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else worked.” He “turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me ‘reason’ with ‘ol Sig.”

While the dog angrily stood its ground, Dobson began beating it with his belt (trigger warning for animal cruelty):

“I gave him a firm swat across the rear end, and he tried to bite the belt. I popped him again and he tried to bite me.”

“What developed next is impossible to describe. The tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling. I am still embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie jumped on the couch and backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him into his bed, but only because I outweighed him two hundred to twelve” (3).

In order to avoid any confusion between people and animals, Dobson explained exactly what he means:

“Just as surely as a dog will occasionally challenge the authority of his leaders, a child is inclined to do the same thing, only more so. This is no minor observation, for it represents a characteristic of human nature that has escaped the awareness of many experts who write books on the subject of discipline.”

Unconcerned by the way he dehumanized children, Dobson offered a quick counter, “perhaps I seem to be humanizing the behavior of a dog, but I think not.”

You read that right: just as he had to have a pitched battle, beating his tiny dog with a belt, you should be prepared to control and exert your dominance over your “strong-willed” children.

Dobson followed his dog-beating story with sage advice on the “Hierarchy of Strength and Courage,” which sounds curiously like something Ron Swanson would invent in an episode of Parks and Recreation. Apparently, the only way for children to sort out their relative social position is to fight:

“Whenever a youngster movies into a new neighborhood or a new school district, he usually has to fight (either verbally or physically) to establish himself in the hierarchy of strength. This respect for power and courage also makes children want to know how tough their leaders are… I can guarantee that sooner or later, one of the children under your authority will clench his little fist an take you on. Like Siggie at bedtime, he will say with his manner: ‘I don’t think you are tough enough to make me obey.’ You had better be prepared to prove him wrong in that moment, or the challenge will happen again and again” (4).

What a model of peace-making and cooperation, Dr. Dobson! His explanation of why children defy and look for boundaries sounds like something straight from the Pearls’ toxic teachings:

“Perhaps this tendency toward self-will is the essence of original sin that has infiltrated the human family. It certainly explains why I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood, for that rebellion can plant seeds of personal disaster. The weed that grows from it may become a tangled briar patch during the troubled days of adolescence” (5).

At the end of the introduction, Dobson described another dog they owned. “Mindy,” he wrote “[was the] most beautiful, noble dog I’ve ever owned. She simply had no will of her own, except to do the bidding of her masters. Probably because of the unknown horrors of her puppyhood” (11). Oh, you mean like being chased around the room by a man beating you with a belt because you don’t want to go to your doggy-bed? Dobson did explain that his two dogs fell on opposite ends of the compliant-defiant spectrum (just like a minority of children are compliant), but he seems far too happy that Mindy acted like an abused, traumatized animal.

Clearly, it’s vitally important to discipline all the defiance out of your children so they can grow up to well-adjusted members of society. To make this abundantly clear, Dobson described Franklin Roosevelt as a “strong-willed child” who became a “strong-willed man” (8). There is no value judgment of Roosevelt as a person, or President, so one is left to assume that you should dominate your children, lest they become President of the United States. Dobson made it clear that being strong-willed is not a good quality and must be driven out of children (and dogs).

This is virtually identical to the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl, except the Pearls use Amish horse training as a model.

Dobson wanted a compliant, docile dog (child) that obeys his every command without question. Somehow, that will prepare children for adulthood. To get this result, he advocated parents engage in physical violence and wolf-pack domination to prove how Strong and Courageous they are. The fact that he does not recognize that beating your children and animals can eliminate all their internal desires and wishes is a bad thing should alarm everyone reading him.

I personally owned an abused animal. He was a dog named Freddy. Like Mindy, he was traumatized and we got him from someone who found him on the side of the interstate. I was only five years old when we got Freddy, so I didn’t understand why he acted differently from most dogs. He was deathly afraid of water and loud voices. Looking back, he had all the hallmarks of a traumatized puppy. At times, in my  frustration I lashed out in physical anger. I can remember being confused and somewhat heart-broken by his reactions.

Ironically, around the same time, my parents began reading James Dobson, Michael Pearl, and other Evangelical/fundamentalist homeschooling child abuse advocates. I distinctly remember my early childhood suddenly punctuated by violence against animals – our cat Puddy was an early victim – and Freddy. I was merely modeling the same behavior my parents were using to train me and I saw the impact my cruelty had on my happy dog.

Modern studies of children and spanking show that young children who are spanked are more likely to lash out physically against animals and people.

I learned my lessons and Freddy and I grew to be fast friends over the next decade. Traumatized kids and traumatized animals have a special connection. Unfortunately, part of that is the shared experience of trying to escape the violence of our masters modeled after James Dobson. It disturbs me greatly that Michael Farris thinks this is a good book to recommend, given the giant controversy and deaths associated with the Pearls’ methods.

Even more disturbing: I hoped, somewhere in The  New Strong-Willed Child, I would see Dobson make it clear that spanking infants was a bad idea, but the conclusion to his volume left me almost in tears. A woman, “Mrs. W.W.,” wrote to him complaining about their very young, and very strong-willed child:

“Our third (and last) daughter is “strong-willed!” She is twenty-one months old now, and there have been times I thought she must be abnormal. If she had been my firstborn child there would have been no more in this family. She had colic day and night for six months, then we just quit calling it that. She was simply unhappy all the time. She began walking at eight months and she became a merciless bully with her sisters. She pulled hair, bit, hit, pinched, and pushed with all her might. She yanked out a handful of her sister’s long black hair” (209).

Dobson explained that she “[closed her letter by] advising me to give greater emphasis to the importance of corporeal punishment for this kind of youngster.” His reply consisted of general encouragement and offering hope for the future – nothing of consequence. I can only assume Mrs. W.W. began beating her infant before she was twenty-one months.

Five years later, this mother wrote to Dobson praising his wonderful methods. Mrs. W.W. outlined the two things that improved her daughter: spanking, sometimes creating “an hour of tantrums,” and “allow[ing] her other daughters to fight back with the younger daughter.” Within two days of her older sister “giv[ing] her a good smack on the leg… the attacks ceased.” Mrs. W.W. went on and claimed that “without [the spankings] our Sally would have become at best a holy terror, and at worst, mentally ill. Tell your listeners that discipline does pay off, when administered according to the World of God… I don’t think you went far enough in your book, loving discipline is the key. With perseverance!” (210)

There you have it. I expected, after these letters, James Dobson would offer some sort of “there is a limit to the spankings,” but no. Instead he doubled-down and wrote, “If Mrs. W. reads this revised edition of The New Strong-Willed Child, I want her to know that I had her in mind when I set out to rewrite it.” Because, we must all remember, as Dobson concludes his volume:

“If you fail to understand [your strong-willed child’s] lust for power and independence, you can exhaust your resources and bog down in guilt” (211).

An Open Letter to Thomas Umstattd Jr. and Co.: By Xoxana Sea

Thomas Umstattd Jr. Source:

“In the early days our party line was ‘Homeschooling is perfect. No regulation needed.’ This line of argumentation was good and helpful during our infancy. We needed to sweep internal problems under the rug so we could focus on external threats.”

~ Thomas Umstattd Jr.

Guys, I have been handling all this pretty well up to this point… but this Thomas Umstattd Jr. article has me just… enraged. I can’t take it. To actually admit that the movement was more important than reporting abuse…I mean, I knew it, but to have the huevos to actually say it is unspeakable. It’s not appalling. It’s worse than that. Words, they fail me. I want to write this as an open letter, but I don’t even know how to get it to them.

I want them to look me in the eye, and tell me face-to-face that their movement was more important than my life.

To act like “sure there were problems but we had to get the movement all good, now that we’re solid we can totally fix those” glosses over a couple of tiny details. That was twenty years ago–the time to fix those problems has long passed. The children are grown. There’s no going back.

That was my childhood. I will never get another one.

Now to hear it was all just a charade to shore up a movement…that nobody really believed in patriarchy, they just let a few wackos spout that to their kids because Homeschooling needed to be established! …I would compare it to a slap in the face, but see, a slap in the face was one of the nicest things that ever happened to me as a child.

I never knew anything but patriarchy. I stayed up at night crying and begging god for forgiveness and to please not kill me for the sin of causing men to stumble. In kindergarten.

There is permanent scarring in my brain from living in constant fear. There is permanent scarring in my abdomen. I will never be ok. I will never have a prom. I will never have a first kiss. I will never get to be a child. To learn that it was all just a political operation has stripped what was left of the hellish nightmare I lived in to fake walls, like a movie set, pushed down to reveal that everyone knew but me. I was only something they used.

All the pain and tears and terror and guilt and depression and harm and hate and other agony?

Just a little thing they used to get their political way.

I was a little child. An innocent little child. I could have been happy. There was no reason I shouldn’t have been. There never was any angry god demanding submission. There was never any devil trying to possess me.

These tools were given to narcissistic people with the capacity for evil in order to get them drunk with power; once they were hooked they were told the only way to maintain their power was to support the movement. They would protest anything, make all the calls, show up to state capitols in droves just to keep their precious fix.

At least crack dealers don’t require child abuse as payment.

I don’t know how to express the rage I’m feeling right now. I was used. My nightmare was all just a game to them. And now the patriarchs go on the radio and laugh about it. Because it’s funny. Because me, little four-year-old me, huddled under a blanket in the dark, terrified and hurt and bleeding and sore and begging god to forgive me for things other people had done, is funny to them.

I’m out of words.

Beall Phillips, Wife of Doug Phillips, Accuses HSLDA’s Michael Farris of “Gross Error,” “Bully Pulpit”

Beall Phillips, wife of disgraced homeschool leader Doug Phillips. Photo source: Facebook.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

In a curious turn of events, Beall Phillips — wife of disgraced homeschool leader Doug Phillips, who was accused of sexual assaulting his family’s nanny — has come out swinging against HSLDA’s Michael Farris. Yesterday Farris released his white paper “A Line in the Sand,” where he criticized both Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, saying, “The philosophies of Gothard and Phillips damage people in multiple ways.” The white paper got the attention of both WORLD Magazine and Shawn Mathis at the Examiner.

Earlier today, however, Beall Phillips left both a public comment on HSLDA’s Facebook page as well as a public status on her own Facebook page accusing Farris of nothing less than lies and misrepresentation. (This is not the first time Beall has gone to bat for her husband. In April of this year she appeared on a local television show with her husband, declaring that, “I think God wanted to draw us together and do something much bigger than us or our family’s story.”) Beall argued there were “gross errors” in Farris’s accusations, such as:

(1) Doug Phillips never taught “that women in general should be subject to men in general,” Beall says, pointing to the fact that, “For about the last 6 years, you and I have sat around the same table for board meetings. Yes, you and I (a woman) were on the same board.”

(2) Despite Michael Farris claiming that patriarchy teaches “Women should not vote,” Beall says, “I have voted as my conscience dictated since I was 18. So do my sons and so will my daughters.”

Here is the full text of Beall’s statement (which, note, is apparently “part one” of a series of statements):

Well, Mike, your article about Doug was, at the very least, in bad taste, and your representation of what Doug and I believe and what we have taught through Vision Forum was rife with gross error.

I have known you for 23 years. I have seen you in many circumstances, some admirable, some not admirable. For about the last 6 years, you and I have sat around the same table for board meetings. Yes, you and I (a woman) were on the same board. You came to Doug’s dad’s funeral in April 2013 with some kind words. Somehow I missed the letter of compassion and concern for my family this year. You have my email address and phone number.

I know, it’s so much faster and easier and cleaner to publish an article and put it on the Internet for how many thousands of people?

How much courage does it take to kick a man who is out of business, out of ministry, and publicly humiliated?

Your caricature of our views would be humorous if it were not so grossly offensive.

Let me help you with a couple of things. I have voted as my conscience dictated since I was 18. So do my sons and so will my daughters. I’m glad for Vickie that she is not under Dennis Rodman’s authority. And I am glad that I am not under your authority. I would choose my husband again any day.

Maybe we can discuss all the other concoctions in your article over coffee sometime. My daughters might want to join us to speak for themselves. If you will sit and listen to them.

Until then, please take my family off your membership list immediately. I do not think you are qualified to represent my children or me in any capacity.

Doug has chosen not to respond, but I will not sit idly by while you use your bully pulpit to malign and misrepresent my husband, my company (yes, I, a woman, was an employee of Vision Forum) my family, and myself.

Please note, this is part one of my response as well.

(You can view a PDF of the statement archived on HA here.)

This conflict — bordering on drama – ironically goes to show the utmost importance of what people like Libby Anne and myself have been saying: Michael Farris does not understand patriarchy and that actually matters. It matters a whole hell of lot.

When someone like Farris constructs straw men of people like Doug Phillips, that helps no one. It obfuscates the real issues and alienates through misrepresentation the people that need to see the damage that their ideas have on people. It also raises the suspicion that Farris is not actually interested in dismantling patriarchy and is more interested in throwing under the bus people who are already down or those against which he already has vendettas.

Straw men do not help homeschool kids or alumni — and they do not help Farris, either, especially when someone like Beall Phillips calls his bluff. In fact, it makes our job of helping homeschool kids and alumni that much harder.

CHEC’s Kevin Swanson and Steve Vaughan on the “Little Whiners” and “Benedict Arnolds” of Homeschooling

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Yesterday we were “blessed” with the Generations Radio episode “Homeschool Educational Neglect: Media Rages Against Homeschooling.” In that episode, Kevin Swanson (former CHEC Executive Director and current Director of CHEC’s Generations With Vision program) and Steve Vaughan (CHEC Board Member) responded to Daniel James Devine’s “Homeschool debate” article published by WORLD Magazine on August 25, 2014. Here is Swanson’s own description of the episode:

We are seeing more negative reports on homeschooling than ever before.  Anecdotal evidence is fun, but does it reflect the real story? Kevin Swanson interacts with a World Magazine article that covers homeschool graduate malcontents, and discusses a biblical perspective of educational neglect. Should the state prosecute educational neglect in the case that a father fails to follow through on Deuteronomy 6:7?

Sound like fun?

Well, in case it does not, I saved you the teeth-grinding and transcribed the entire episode here.

Swanson and Vaughan go after WORLD rather mercilessly, accusing them of “cutting down” and creating a “firing squad” against fellow Christians. Furthermore, they insinuate that WORLD is too daft to know how to use a concordance and may have socialists on its staff. This is all curious considering that Swanson had no problem using WORLD to advertise his “Apostate” book just a few months ago. It’s also curious because Swanson and Vaughan neglect the fact that WORLD’s own Editor-in-Chief is the Distinguished Chair of Journalism and Public Policy at Patrick Henry College, the same college at which Michael Farris is Chancellor. They further neglect the fact that WORLD is probably the most go-to news source for conservative Christian homeschoolers. So whatever “bias” WORLD Magazine has, it clearly isn’t against Farris, HSLDA, or homeschooling. That Swanson and Vaughan would immediately jump to that conclusion is indicative of their own paranoia, not anything about WORLD turning an ideological leaf on homeschooling.

If you want to read the entire transcript of the episode, you can do so here. Below are the “highlights” from it. (Be forewarned you might need to steel your mind and stomach for abuse denialism and apologisms and homophobia galore.)

My final comment before I turn you over to the minds of Swanson and Vaughan is this:

Yesterday Michael Farris and HSLDA declared to the world that they are “drawing a line in the sand.” But time and time again they say this and yet it seems like nothing but word gamesit isn’t trueit minimizes or refuses to acknowledge the atrocious and previous lack of lines, or it isn’t enough. And sometimes, like today, when I am so disturbed, heartsick, and saddened by Kevin Swanson’s hatred, cruelty, and antichrist-like behavior towards homeschool alumni, and I see that HSLDA’s “line in the sand” means nothing when it comes to standing up to someone like Swanson — and thenthen I see Swanson promoting his book “Upgrade,” a book that HSLDA’s very own president J. Michael Smith said “should be in the hands of every homeschool family in America”

Then I want to say: You really have built your lines on sand, HSLDA, haven’t you?

I think Libby Anne said it best:

Real leaders speak out against dangerous teachings or leaders when speaking out is still difficult rather than letting others do the heavy lifting and waiting to speak out until speaking out is easy.

And on that note, here are some highlights from Kevin Swanson and Steve Vaughan’s “Homeschool Educational Neglect”:

WORLD Magazine just found “the 25 people” upset and created a “circular firing squad”:

Kevin: They [WORLD] found the 25 people upset with home education…

Steve: …yeah…

Kevin: …that started the little and then they gave them a nice little publicity piece. And HSLDA, you know, did their faithful thing, they wandered up to the microphone and tried to fight for homeschooling and its reputation but…

Steve: Yeah they got a paragraph in the middle of the article. (laugh)

Kevin: They did. But, but you know what? And I realize that makes news. I realize that the 25 people upset in America make news. But they’re not interviewing the 3.2 million kids who have been homeschooled. That didn’t show up in the magazine. And I don’t see that showing up much in the magazine [WORLD] these days. But you know, here’s the problem with Christian organizations. They turn into circular firing squads.

Steve: Yeah. (laughter)

Steve: You know how that works? Everyone just stands in a big circle. Aim, fire, shoot. And everybody falls.

WORLD Magazine covering abuse and neglect is just “cutting each other down”:

Kevin: What is with WORLD Magazine, guys? I mean, come on. Aren’t we supposed to be one big family? Isn’t there supposed to be a little bit of symbiosis happening in the Kingdom of God? We are overwhelmed, we are outnumbered. The, the other side is gonna kill us when it comes to homeschool freedoms, the freedom to speak against homosexuality. The left is on the rise, baby! Barack Obama is President of the United States, the most pro-infanticide president ever to serve and what are we doing? Cutting each other down? I don’t think so! Try not to do that!

To be real abuse, abuse must be verified by 2 or 3 witnesses; it is the result of the sexual revolution:

Kevin: Let me say from the outset that sexual abuse, physical abuse — that’s verifiable, 2 or 3 witnesses, etc., etc., k? — a court or trial works through the issue and sure enough, someone was sexually abused? — that’s really, really bad.

Steve: Yeah.

Kevin: That should not happen.

Steve: Anywhere. (laughter)

Kevin: Anywhere. Thank you! And I think it’s due to the fact that we had this sexual revolution that unleashed itself in the 1950’s and 1960’s. And America and many other nations around the world have become a sexual cesspool in which homosexuality, incest, sexual abuse, all sorts of things are happening.

Spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, and educational neglect are laughing matters to to Kevin Swanson and Steve Vaughan:

Kevin Swanson: When you talk about things like spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, educational neglect — we’re talking about things that are very, very slippery. Very, very hard to get your hands around. Okay? (laughter)  And it’s fun for people to use those terms because, you know, you can just bring accusations against anybody and everybody as you use the slippery terms that are very, very hard to define.

Steve: So yeah, how would you define spiritual abuse?

Kevin: Yeah! Or emotional abuse! What IS that? What exactly is that?

Steve: “Well she spoke harshly to me and used the Bible to let me know I was wrong, so I was spiritually and emotionally abused.”

Kevin: Right, right! Someone came up to a rapist and said, “It’s wrong to rape!” (pretending to be rapist:) “Oh you’re abusing me! You’re abusing me! That’s not very grace-filled! You know, what in the world are you doing? Accusing me of sin? That’s terrible! Oh I’m so abused! I’m so abused!”

Steve: Yeah! “You need to honor your father and mother!” “Oh my!”


Kevin: “I’ve been so abused…” (laughter)

When kids are educationally neglected, it’s really just their own fault for being lazy:

Kevin: when someone says, I could have had a better education than that provided by my mother or by my father, that’s really, really, really hard to prove. How, how, how do you know that? Maybe it was a character problem on YOUR part. Maybe you didn’t obey your parents! Maybe you didn’t study your books like you were told to! And to think that you could have had a better education if you had done it this way versus that way is extremely hard to prove.

Steve: Right!


Kevin: Extremely hard to prove!

Steve: Because you can’t go back and do it that way!

Kevin: You can’t! (laughter) You can’t… and even if you could have, you would have dragged your same old person, with your same old character flaws, with your same old slothfulness issue, into the public school or private school setting or other setting ‚ and you could have done worse…

Steve: Yeah.

Kevin: …than you did with your parents — trying to do whatever they could have done with you, even with all of your character issues that you’re dealing with. It’s fun to blame your parents for your OWN lack of character!

Making fun of a homeschool alumna who was regularly beaten and neglected by her parents:

Steve: Here’s the case with the WORLD Magazine article and this gal who wrote this. 31 years old. One of the things she was complaining about was that she still counts on her fingers and has to double-check the tip on her restaurant table.

Kevin: That’s 40% of public school graduates, by the way.

Steve: 31 years old now! She’s 31 years old and she set up a website and started an organization apparently counting on her fingers! And so, you know, give me a break!

Kevin: Yeah.

Steve: If you can do THIS, you can COUNT.

Kevin: And if your parents failed in 18 years, or 12 years, of education, she’s had an additional 13 years!

Steve: Right!

Kevin: So, so…

Steve: GROW UP!

(laughter) (more laughter)





Kevin: So this little whiner, talking about her bad experience with home education, um, you know she’s had 13 years to learn how to count.

Steve: Right!

Kevin: And to learn how to add. And still hasn’t happened. Sounds to me like there’s something wrong. With HER.

On WORLD Magazine not knowing what a concordance is:

I think WORLD Magazine should think biblically about these things. What does the Bible say about educational neglect? Again, look it up in the concordance! See, people aren’t used to that. Let me explain to you what a concordance is. A concordance is typically found in the back of a Bible. You can find them online. It’s called Go there. And… and you look up the word. “Educational neglect.” Look it up in the Bible. You say it’s not there? Yeah. Yeah, exactly! Why? Because it’s not an issue.

On what educational neglect REALLY is and WORLD Magazine maybe having socialist employees:

Educational neglect is the failure to teach God’s Word as you sit in the house, as you walk by the way, as you rise, as you lie down. Okay? So, so, so those are the categories in which we should be thinking, friends. And, now, here’s the next question: How do we prosecute that through the civil magistrate? That’s the next question that comes to the mind of the socialists — whether they work for TIME Magazine or whether or not they working for WORLD Magazine. I don’t know if socialists work there or not.

On educational neglect being a joke:

We’re back on the Generations Radio broadcast talking about homeschool educational neglect. Educational neglect: “when my fa—, when my parents did not get me into Harvard.” (using fake whining voice) “Why didn’t my parents get me into Harvard? What’s wrong with them?” And you know, the point is, the point is, the goal is not to get you into Harvard. The goal is to get you into Heaven.

Basic reading and math ought not be of primary importance to Christian homeschool families:

Kevin: I’m talking about Christian homeschool families. Their values are primarily first and foremost not to get their kid into Harvard or get them a good job.

Steve: Right.

Kevin: That’s not primary. It’s not being sure that the kid can read Plato before he’s 12 years of age…

Steve: Yeah.

Kevin: …and get really messed up with the wrong worldview. (laughter) That’s not the goal. See, homeschoolers bring in other values: like relationship building, character building, work, worship. These are important. So it’s not that you can count when you are 31 years of age.

On homeschool alumni being “homeschool whiners” and “traitors”:

These homeschool whiners, let’s get back to what they’re really all about. They’re jettisoning a biblical world and life view. They’re looking for more socialism. They want more governmental controls of education. They want more socialist services sticking their noses into homeschoolers around America. This is their agenda. From what I’ve read. And, and they’re traitors. Traitors to the cause. The cause of what? The cause of freedom! The cause of anybody who wants to fight for freedom against the rising tide of totalitarianism and socialism in America! I am seeing a lot of these guys. They’re bitter…

Steve: Yeah.

Kevin: …against the values represented by home education and their parents. And it’s probably due to broken relationships in the home. So they walk away from the home, all embittered against their parents and whatever stinkin’ issues their parents ever stood for. And whatever friends their parents ever hung out with. And they’re just angry, bitter people who are, have it in for home education.

On how to logic:

Steve: They’re [homeschool alumni] blaming the whole homeschooling movement. They’re taking… they’re… they’re actually committing the fallacies of… it’s, it’s a genetic fallacy. It’s a fallacy of generalization, that you take the small bit and you say that must be true of the whole. So, so since Judas was one of Jesus’s disciples and he betrayed Jesus, then ALL of the disciples must—

Kevin: —must be a bunch of nutcases—

Steve: Yeah. And so. So yeah.

Kevin: And yeah. That happens when you go irrational when, when your relationships bust up and you begin to hate everything about whatever your parents were associated with because those relationships went sour.

On the “” or “whatever that is”:

Kevin: These ex-homeschoolers to which WORLD Magazine is giving credence are pro-homosexual. They’re right there behind the emerging gay movement in Christian colleges. They’re encouraging the or whatever it is. Uh, don’t go there. I said it wrong on purpose. They’re encouraging the homosexuals showing up at the conservative Christian colleges as well and giving them as much credence as possible. Why? Because they are apostates. They’re embracing everything the Bible doesn’t. They’re embracing socialism, totalitarianism, homosexuality. If it’s ugly, if it’s wicked, if it’s totalitarian, they love it!

Homeschool alumni are “Benedict Arnolds”:

Kevin: These traitors are nothing new in the history of the world, my friends. Um, and they’re making it hard on the rest of us. But that’s what the Benedict Arnolds have always done.