Why Is Calling for Homeschooling Reform Taboo?

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on April 15, 2013.

When individuals who attended public school talk about the negative experiences they had, point out that many public schools are failing or that certain practices in public schools leave much to be desired, and call for improving the schools and reforming public education, they don’t face accusations of being anti-public school, of just being bitter, of being angry at their parents, or of over-generalizing and calling all public schools universally bad. No one tries to silence them for “giving public schooling a bad reputation,” accuses them of trying to ruin things for everyone else, or says that the problem was just their shitty family situation.

So why is it that when individuals who were homeschooled talk about their own negative experiences, point out that many homeschools are failing and that certain homeschool practices leave much to be desired, and call for improving homeschooling through implementing reforms, people accuse them of being anti-homeschool, of just being bitter, of being angry at their parents, and of over-generalizing and calling all of homeschooling universally bad? Why is it that people try to silence them for giving homeschooling a bad reputation, accuse them of trying to ruin things for everyone else, and say that the problem was just their shitty family situation?

Why is it that it’s just fine to call for reform of the public schools, hip even, but it’s taboo to call for reform of homeschooling? Why is criticism of public schools widespread and expected, but criticism of homeschooling by those who were homeschooled themselves causes everyone to lose their heads?

How is “people have shitty experiences in public schools too” a sensible answer to calls for reforming homeschooling? Do we shrug and say “people have shitty homeschool experiences too” when people call for reforming and improving public schools?

Why do people respond to calls for homeschooling reform by stating that there’s nothing that can be done to curb abuse, when no one would even think of responding to calls for public school reform in that way?

Why is it that criticism of homeschooling by those who were homeschooled is panned off as some form of adolescent rebellion while criticism of public schools is practically trendy?

Why is calling for reforming homeschooling portrayed as trying to “ruin things for everyone else” while reforming public schools is seen as an effort to make things better for everyone’s children?

Why is voicing criticism of homeschooling or talking about negative homeschool experiences portrayed as being anti-homeschool while criticizing public schools or talking about negative experiences in public schools isn’t similarly portrayed as being “anti-public school”?

Why do people shrug and say that bad homeschooling is just a result of shitty parents and there’s nothing to be done while at the same time arguing that we need school reform to improve shitty schools and implementing programs to help public school kids with shitty family backgrounds?

Why is criticizing public schools and calling for public school reform seen as healthy and good while criticizing homeschooling and calling for homeschool reform is taboo? Shouldn’t we want to improve and reform both, cut down on abuse and neglect in both, and ultimately work toward the best interests of children in whatever educational methods their parents have chosen for them?

Something is very broken about how we discuss this issue.

20 Ways Not to Respond to Homeschool Horror Stories

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on April 17, 2013.

The following is a list of things that range from impolite to incredibly disrespectful that I have heard since I started speaking out about this issue. I’m (unfortunately) not making any of these up and I’ve actually had every single one of them either said to me or seen them said to others. If you don’t want to be a jerk, please don’t say any of the following:

Concerning homeschooling:

1. Tell me how good of a homeschooling experience you or someone you know had and imply that it cancels out mine.

2. Say that obviously it was just a parenting problem, not a homeschooling problem at all.

3. Say that obviously it was a religious fundamentalism problem/bible-based cult problem, not a homeschooling problem at all.

4. Say that I am not describing real homeschooling so I should not be talking about my experience like it was homeschooling at all.

5. Say that I need to be careful, that openly speaking about this will help enemies of homeschooling (nosy neighbors/government/the minions of the Antichrist) have the political cover to mess up or destroy homeschooling for the good homeschoolers.

6. Say that obviously because I am standing here today with a job/degree/spouse/all four limbs that the homeschooling I got really wasn’t too bad and therefore we all should keep calm and carry on.

7. Say that my parents only homeschooled because it was a problem with the school district and obviously any public school in my area/state/nation/world would have been worse.

8. Say that maybe my homeschooling experience was even secretly good and I likely don’t know enough about what I’d be comparing it to, with public school being so awful and all.

9. Say that you/your kid/someone you know had a much worse experience in public school/government school/a hole in the ground and so I should quit bellyaching and overdramatizing my homeschooling experience and instead just be grateful it wasn’t as bad of a story as the one you just told.

Concerning abuse:

10. Say that what happened to me was so uncommonly rare that it’s not something we need to be generally concerned about.

11. Say that you are sure that it was that my parents were uneducated/rural/brainwashed/obviously raised wrong and that’s why they did what they did, even though you know nothing about my parents’ background.

12. Say it is obvious that I am so hurt/broken/angry/bitter/emotional/weird/vengeful that I have lost track of reality, don’t know what I’m talking about on any of this, and no one should listen.

13. Say that I need to just let the past be the past, understand that parents make mistakes/are not perfect, then go forgive mine (immediately assuming that I haven’t), and stop disrespecting them by talking about this issue.

14. Say that the way life works is that your parents can raise you however they want/force you to be the person they ask/mess you up for the first 18 years of your life and then it will be your turn when you have your own kids.

Concerning religion and politics: 

15. Say that if my parents were real Christians that this never would have happened.

16. Say that this is obviously a problem with Christianity itself and all homeschoolers should respond by being secular/atheist/Buddhist/some other faith.

17. Say that you seriously doubt (or had it laid upon your heart by Jesus himself) that it is in God’s will/my best interest/society’s interest for me to be talking/thinking/spreading lies like this and you will pray/worry/be quite concerned for me.

18. Ask me if I am aware that when I talk about my story it is mainly going to be helping people who hate homeschoolers/Christians/parents/Americans/suburban white people unfairly stereotype/hurt/oppress all of your group because people will mistakenly think you are like me and my family and obviously you are nothing like us at all.

19. Accuse me of being put up to this by teachers unions/liberal brainwashing/feminism/Satan and not having actual good reasons for how I characterize a problem I lived through and/or am studying.

20. Accuse me of being anti-homeschooling, anti-Christian, and anti-family all in one fell swoop because I said what happened to me should not happen to other kids.

Now that I’ve listed all the rude, insensitive, selfish, and potentially threatening things I can think of that you should not be saying to people who have shared their horrible (or even just a little bit bad bordering on mediocre) homeschooling experience (I’m sure I left some out, so please feel free to include them in the comments), here are eight examples of something that might be a good idea to say:

1. Thank you for sharing your story.

2. I am trying to understand where/when/how this occurred. Can I ask you? How did X, Y, or Z happen/come to be/take place?

3. What helped you get out/get better?

4. What do you think could have made this situation better/not happen at all?

5. What do you think someone like me might do or keep in mind to prevent this from happening to others?

6. What do you like to do today, now that you’ve left that environment?

7. Can I share what you said with my friend/relative/pastor/neighbor/blog readers/Facebook?

8. I wish you well and hope that tomorrow/this week/life/the future will be good for you.

Also, even if this stuff is foreign to you and you really have no idea (or maybe don’t care) what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone who has had this kind of homeschooling experience, please try for a moment to imagine how it would make you feel and what it might lead you to do and then have compassion. Personally, I love to argue and I have a lot of “fight” in me, but for many people who are sharing their story, just finding the words and the strength to do so is incredibly hard. People should not, under any circumstances, be pushing someone who’s telling a survivor story to defend themselves or expect them to deal with the kind of obnoxious behavior I listed above.

Thank you.