Snake Oil Homeschooling: The False Promises of Fear and Control

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

A friend of mine recently shared with me a post from Cindy Rollins, a homeschooling mother of 9 children who blogs at Ordo Amoris. The post is entitled “Homeschooling and the Fear of Man.” It is circumstantially about Doug Phillips’ resignation and the fallout that resignation caused within the Christian homeschool movement. But more than that, it is about an overwhelming human emotion everyone can relate to:

Fear.

Fear is a powerful force. When it becomes a motivating factor for our actions, it often leads to control. We try to control our environments — and kids’ environments — because we are afraid. We are afraid of what might happen if we do not control. We are terrified of “the world” and its many “influences” — sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll; secular humanism and evolutionism and all those other spectral -isms.

Having grown up in the Christian homeschool movement and ingested these messages all my life, I really appreciated Cindy’s perspective in her post. Cindy contextualizes Phillips’ resignation within a broader picture of homeschooling “gurus” who peddle their fares among the masses:

Over time gurus age and new ones take their places. Perhaps like viruses the new gurus are stronger than the old ones. They adapt and change to survive… These are men (and women) who make their way into your homes and…lure you because you are afraid. They lure you because you want to be in control of the future. They speak to your worst nightmares and offer you hope and while you are not looking they exchange the gospel for your own lousy efforts and theirs.

I am not a parent myself. But I still understand what she is saying. My parents fought against this trend, but not always successfully. I have seen many other homeschool parents get sucked into this trend and I have seen new parents — homeschool graduates themselves — get sucked in, too. This is the sort of trend that my older brother empathized with yet resisted yesterday: “Living a life without those extra rules can be scary.”

Good, well-meaning parents want the best for their children.

Good, well-meaning Christian parents want their children to thrive in good Christian ways. Rules or formulas give a sense of security. But that desire for security goes haywire when coupled with your worst nightmares, when those nightmares lead you into artificial and stagnant legalism with the false hope of perfect kids.

Furthermore, your worst nightmares — your kid ending up a Satanist or a socialist or 16 and pregnant and twerking — are preyed upon at nearly every homeschool convention and exacerbated in so many parenting books by homeschool “gurus.” People who promise that, if you only follow their system, your kids will be spared from heartache and pain and apostasy.

Cindy minces no words and calls those promises nothing less than “snake oil”:

Even now some homeschool vendors sell their products as if there were spiritual value in them. There are only two words for this type of sales: snake oil. I just keep asking myself why. Why are we so fragile? Why do we fall for this stuff? Why do these people have such power over our minds? The Bible tells us there is no fear in love. Love conquers a multitude of sins.  But we fear and we fall over and over again for false hope.

From my interactions with now-grandparents, older and wiser parents, and new parents, I am aware of how significant this struggle is. This is probably one of the most universal concerns parents have: wanting their kids to be ok, to be mature and independent, to be healthy. And if you are Christian, your desire that your kids remain Christians can override all these other concerns. It is Christianity or bust.

The “Christianity or bust” mentality leads to unfortunately-named articles like “How to Raise a Pagan Kid in a Christian Home.” This mentality leads to false either/or situations like, “Do you teach your kids ‘be good because the Bible tells you to’ or do you teach your kids that they will never be good without Christ’s offer of grace?”

This should be a neither/nor. 

Parents should want their kids to be loving, compassionate, humble, healthy truth-seekers.

Period. 

If Christianity is true, then what better sort of kids to have prepared to embrace it? And if Christianity isn’t true, well, hey — you still have loving, compassionate, humble, and healthy kids.

There is no product, no curriculum, no educational option that will guarantee the condition of your child’s soul. I have seen friends raised with every creationist text imaginable become evolutionists. I have seen friends raised with hardly a whiff of creationism become hardcore fundamentalists. There is no guaranteed outcome. Even that stay at home daughter you know, the one who seems perfect and happy — one day her parents will be dead and she will have to figure out life for herself. That is just how life works. The person that today seems to have his or her life together might in two decades be convicted of child abuse. The person who today is doing lines of cocaine in a strip club might in two decades be changing the world. Life happens. There is no guaranteed outcome. 

But I can tell you what is constant: kids wishing home was a safe place. Kids wishing their parents loved and accepted them.

That is what you have control over. You have control over whether you show your children love and acceptance, whether you model for them the love you see in Christ — the self-sacrifice, the unconditionality, the grace and forgiveness and patience. When you model that sort of love, you are seeing your children as human beings, as autonomous creatures rather than IKEA furniture. As Cindy says,

At no time should our goal be to make our children into artifacts. There is a difference between a soul and a product.

Raising Aria Rose: Christopher L. Stollar’s Thoughts

Even before our daughter was born, people were telling us how to raise her.

Christopher L. Stollar, his wife Natalie, and their daughter, Aria Rose.

Some said we should home school. Others advocated for public school. Then there were those who railed against day care. And vaccines. And infant formula.

To be fair, these people probably only wanted the best for our child, Aria Rose. But my wife and I started to see a dangerous pattern in this type of advice — it was given as Gospel truth. If we home schooled Aria, we weren’t letting her be a “light” in the public schools. If we sent her to public school, we were allowing her to be taught by “godless” teachers. And if my wife wanted to go back to work, we were just letting others “raise” our daughter.

Unfortunately, none of this advice has anything to do with the Gospel. While the Scripture gives general commands about parenting, it has nothing to say about specific forms of schooling, day care, vaccines or formula. And yet, as a former homeschooler, I have seen this type of thinking prevail in some religious subcultures of American Christianity — especially the modern homeschooling movement. Thankfully, I had good parents who taught me well, but look at this quote from the introduction to a K4 A Beka Book:

“The Christian home school is not a school merely for the sake of academics, but for the sake of fulfilling the church’s God-ordained role in carrying out the Christian education mandate … Just as we believe it would be wrong to place a student under the influence of godless teachers, so we believe it would be wrong to place him under the influence of godless, humanistic readers and teaching materials.”

This textbook uses Deuteronomy 6:7, Proverbs 22:6 and 2 Timothy 3:15-17 as proof. But if you look at the context of those passages, the authors are specifically referring to teaching the ancient Scriptures to children — not math or science:

  • Deuteronomy 6:7: You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise
  • Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it
  • 2 Timothy 3:15-17: From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work

Of course, this is not the first time a religious subculture has twisted Scripture for its own gain. Jesus himself called out the Pharisees for their narrow-minded interpretations of the law in Matthew 23:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees — hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”

In the previous chapter, Jesus summarized the law in two simple commands:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

That’s the true Gospel.

Nothing more. Nothing less. There is no law that states:

  • Thou shalt home school thy children
  • Thou shalt not send thy child to day care
  • Thou shalt not vaccinate thy children
  • Thou shalt only breast feed
  • Thou shalt vote Republican
  • Thou shalt attend a Protestant church
  • Thou shalt not drink
  • Thou shalt not smoke
  • Thou shalt not have oral sex
  • And thou shalt especially not challenge these laws

The good news is, groups like Homeschoolers Anonymous have been recently challenging these laws — and the hypocrites who enforce them. The community coordinator for HA, my brother R. L. Stollar, recently wrote this in a powerful story called “The Stones You Cast, The Tables You Built”:

“If we threaten your bottom line, if we call your idols into question, if we melt your golden calves and dance like David in their shimmering puddles while we reclaim our lost youth, it’s on you whether you will listen or pick up stones … And we will keep overturning those tables. We will keep overturning the tables made from the stones you cast.”

Jesus himself overturned the tables of hypocrites in the temple so that we might experience freedom grounded in love — not man-made laws. Of course, living a life without those extra rules can be scary. It’s easier to define love by our lists. I’m guilty of that, especially when it comes to raising Aria.

But the beauty of the Gospel is that I don’t have to be a perfect father.

I can fail. I can mess up. And each time I do, my true Father in Heaven is waiting to welcome me back home.