How the Daughter of a Focus on the Family Executive Came Out as Gay

Editorial note: Amber Cantorna’s story is reprinted with permission. It was originally published as a Facebook note on December 26, 2015. 

I was 27 when I had finally mustered every last bit of courage to have “the talk” with my family. I had been pondering, planning and praying for months. My heart weighed heavy and anxiety took my mind down every possible outcome. I knew, as the daughter of a Focus on the Family executive, the results of my truth could be devastating. But I had reached the point where living a lie was worse than whatever lay on the other side of truth. After much counsel, preparation and prayer, I felt the time had come to tell my truth. So on April 14th, 2012 I invited both my parents and brother over and we all took a seat in the living room of my split-level apartment. I told them the journey I had been on over the past several years and then, spoke the 3 short words that would forever alter my future…

* * * * *

Though I was born in Kalispell, Montana, by my third birthday we had moved to Glendora, California where my dad had accepted a job offer at Focus on the Family. When the company then relocated to Colorado Springs in 1991, my family did as well and that is the town where I grew up.

With the values and teachings of Dr. Dobson at the core of our family’s foundation, my parents decided to home-school both my brother and I from start to finish. They made daily devotions and cultivating a relationship with God a priority from a very young age. With programs like AWANA, we memorized Scripture frequently both in the program and as a family. A typical girl, I grew up playing with American Girl dolls and having frequent tea parties. I believed that my knight in shining armor would come for me, if only I would wait for him. At my thirteenth birthday, I even had a “Purity Ceremony” in which I signed a vow to stay chaste until marriage and was given a ring that was to be worn on my finger until it was someday replaced by a wedding band. I had been taught all these grandiose ideas of what love and traditional marriage were supposed to look like and innocently embraced them all as truths.

My mom came from a musical family, so (almost from the womb) she trained us as well, investing a lot of time into fostering our musical talents. We frequently sang at retirement homes and for Christian schools; we did full concerts at smaller churches and were always ready to perform for visiting family and guests. I was very blessed to be given 13 years of classical piano training as well. By the time I was 14, I was touring Europe with a youth choir and soon after, with the Young Continentals. Performing was a huge part of my life, and I thrived on it. As a very high-achieving perfectionist, I constantly put pressure on myself to rise to the top.

However, not all of that pressure came from within. As I moved more into my teen years, I began to feel the outside pressure of upholding my family’s reputation as well. As the daughter of a man who held a high profile position at Focus and whose work was known and loved around the world, being his daughter caused me to feel the weight of maintaining the appearance of that “perfect Focus family.” Friends would often comment to me how lucky I was, but behind the mask of perfection, I found myself struggling with depression and anxiety coupled with a need to keep all those struggles hidden behind a facade.

By the time I reached my early 20s, I still had never dated a guy. I admit at times I thought maybe there was something wrong with me, but mostly I just believed what I had been taught: if you prepared yourself spiritually and wait sexually, the right man will come along at the right time. The fact that I might be gay really never crossed my radar. I truly believed that God was just shielding me from the heartache of high school romances like the ones my friends were having, and that somehow the first man I would meet and seriously date would just magically be “the one.”

But at the age of 23, things in my life took a drastic turn when I suddenly found myself falling in love with my roommate…who was a woman. What started as a simple friendship, over time morphed into what was clearly becoming more than friends. I was so aghast the first time we kissed, I wasn’t even sure what was happening. My head was spinning, in more ways than one as I tried to figure out this mysterious attraction. Though I didn’t know it at the time, that experience ended up being the beginning of a deeper wrestling, the beginning of searching and eventually, the beginning of coming out.

I knew I couldn’t just sweep this “problem” under the rug, but I was terrified. I was terrified that in studying and digging deeper, I might find what I had been taught all my life to be true: God disapproved of homosexuality and, therefore, He disapproved of me. Focus on the Family teaches that marriage is strictly between one man and one woman and I was equally as terrified that in digging deeper I might find that belief to be false. Because if God did indeed make me this way, I would become part of a minority that is stigmatized, especially in Christian circles, and that too would be life-altering. So either way, my life would never be the same.

But, as I sat one night with my journal in hand, heartbroken over the loss of my first love and all together confused as to how and why it all happened to begin with, I gathered my courage and told God I was ready to start walking the difficult road ahead. I prayed, studied and researched for months allowing everything I had believed up to that point to be re-examined. I talked to people on similar journeys and, in doing so, found those who were both completely in love with their same-sex spouse and also completely in love with God, without any conflict between the two. That was when I began to realize that there didn’t have to be a dichotomy between my faith and sexuality, as I had been led to believe. Finally, after a long and difficult climb, the Scriptures in question settled in my heart, I found the answers I needed and knew that in God’s eyes, I was not only accepted but also loved for exactly how He made me.

The odds were high, however, that my family would not feel the same. Anxiety, panic attacks and nightmares swelled as I approached the day where telling them my truth would disappoint and break the illusion of that “perfect Focus family”. As I mustered every ounce of strength I had on that chilly April day, I looked my family in the eyes and said those three small, but life-altering words, “I am gay.” With my exposed heart hanging in the air, I awaited their response. To my deep dismay, the only response that came out of my dad’s mouth was, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” and he walked out the door.

From that moment on, things went from bad to worse. In a follow up conversation we had at my parent’s house several weeks later, they compared me to murderers and pedophiles, told me I was selfish for doing this to the family without thinking about the impact it would have on them and asked me to turn in my keys to my childhood home. Over time, because of their unwavering belief in Focus on the Family’s teaching and interpretation of the Scriptures on this issue, I was quietly pushed aside and shunned from the family. Only in my worst nightmares were the consequences as drastic as what they proved to be in real life. I lost not only my immediate family, but also my relatives, my church, many of my friends, and essentially, even my hometown. Because of the toxicity I felt living in a city where it seemed my every move was being watched by some degrading eye, I ended up moving to Denver. Even though almost four years have passed, I still feel anxiety every time I drive to Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, though many of my loved ones claimed to have unconditional love, what I discovered is that their love actually came with strings attached.

My world felt as though it were spiraling out of control. I’d never felt so lost or alone in all my life. Consistent nightmares and self injury reared its ugly head in my life once again and for the first time ever, I truly could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Suicide became a viable option in my mind.

Over the coming months, there were several key people who invested in me and added value to my life and in turn, rescued me from that dark place I was in. I don’t remember an exact turning point when I decided I wanted to live, but about 10 months after coming out, the tides had turned and I was sharing my life story at community hour at the Denver church I was attending. Though I didn’t know it at the time, that day was the day I met the woman who would one day become my wife.

I didn’t pay her much attention at first, but she noticed me from the start. After several months of intentional pursuit on her part, we started dating. We both quickly knew that each other was “the one” and about a year and a half after we met, we were married.

Amber and her wife, Clara on their wedding day.
Amber and her wife, Clara on their wedding day.

Somehow along the way as my relationship with her solidified, my relationship with my parents became even more bleak. When we got engaged, my parents realized this wasn’t just a phase that would pass and the gavel came down. We cut all ties.

Not having any family at my wedding was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through, and yet, it was still the best day of my life. In front of the people who stood by me when it mattered the most, I got to consecrate my love to my wife in a sacred covenant before God. In that moment, all the labels washed away and I was able to be fully myself, completely in love with my wife and also completely in love with God. It was the perfect day.

We’ve been married a year and a half now and our journey continues forward. There are still bumps in the road and hard days where I miss my family. The truth is, I still cherish my family values just as much today as I did growing up, but I’ve just had to learn to re-focus my family. I truly have so much to be grateful for. God has given me beauty for ashes and is continuing to be true to His promise and make all things new and beautiful in His time.

In their free time, Amber and her wife, Clara enjoy traveling as well as spending time in the Rocky Mountains with their two furry babies.
In their free time, Amber and her wife, Clara enjoy traveling as well as spending time in the Rocky Mountains with their two furry babies.

By Amber Cantorna
Speaker/Writer
Beyond: Renew Your Faith, Restore Your Hope, Reclaim Your Love

To learn more about Amber and follow what she’s doing or to book her for an upcoming speaking event, please visit her website at AmberCantorna.com and “Like” her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Beyond.AmberCantorna.

Amber now speaks and writes, sharing her story to help bridge the gap between LGBT and faith communities.
Amber now speaks and writes, sharing her story to help bridge the gap between LGBT and faith communities.

Hurts Me More Than You: Kendra’s Story

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*****

Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

*****

Kendra’s Story

My first memory is of being spanked.

For real, I can remember my parents lining my older brothers up for one at a time spankings and then debating whether or not I was old enough be spanked as well. They finally decided that yes I was and I was subsequently lifted me out of my crib (yes, my crib) and spanked me with a leather belt. I remember crying so hard I couldn’t breathe, and then being told that if I didn’t quit I would be spanked again.

To be honest that is one of the better memories I have of “spankings.” In our house any object could be used for discipline, a particular favorite one was the wooden spoon, but my mother broke so many of those on us that she had to upgrade to a thick soup spoon. She also broke several of those on us.  For a while she kept a horse whip in the house and pulled it out for behaviours she considered particularly offensive.

The spankings usually came from my mother and usually had a predictable pattern.

1. Something would enrage her, I’m not talking normal parental upset or disappointment. I’m talking 0 to 60 in .2 seconds rage.  There was never any rhyme or reason to her anger. It could be something as small as the dishes not being done, even if we hadn’t been told to do them.

2. She would begin the search for something to spank us with, anything at all, a wooden spoon, a belt, a fly swatter.

3. If something wasn’t immediately available she would throw things at us in the interim, once again anything would do, erasers, tape dispenser, kitchen implements, newspapers etc.

4. Once she located something she would spank random areas of your body until her anger subsided.

We lived in a constant state of fear, never knowing what was going to set her anger off.  These beatings persisted into adult hood and only stopped when she finally passed away.

One particular instance I can recall she was sleeping in a recliner, snoring for about an hour with the radio blaring in the background. My older brother decided to turn the radio beside her off and she woke up in a rage.  She threw the radio at him, then ripped the electric cord of the back and began to beat him with it.  That instance stuck out in my mind because by then he was old enough to fight back and I very nearly called the police to stop the ensuing brawl. I wish now that I had called them.  I also wish that I would have fought back when I became old enough, but I was too brain washed by the “good girl” image of femininity and submissiveness propagated at our local cult/church.

I remember another particularly brutal beating that my other brother received. He hadn’t paid enough attention during the two hour devotional that was forced on us that morning.  When my mother reported this to my father he was taken to my parents’ bedroom and my father produced a belt and my mother produced her famous wooden soup spoon. The sounds that came from that room were atrocious, I walked down the hall and cracked the door open to see what was happening, he was sitting in the middle of their queen sized bed curled up in a ball crying with a parent and a discipline instrument on either side.  I was told to “get out or I’d be next.”  About fifteen minutes later my father emerged for water, he looked at me (about age 9) and asked “Does he really deserve this?”  I was too scared to even talk to either parent so I shrugged my shoulders and made myself scarce.

For years I felt guilty because I hadn’t said “no, nobody deserves this.”

Until one day I realized that I was right, Nobody deserves this. No child deserves both his parents ganging up on him with a belt and a wooden soup spoon, and no nine year old child should be made responsible for such a beating, and no father should have to use his nine year old daughter’s opinion for a moral compass. No, nobody ever, ever, ever deserves that.

In the nineteen years that I lived with this behavior I was beaten with more things than I could ever name, including a metal dog leash and an iron rod and a horse whip.  I can remember wearing thick black stockings to church to hide the bruises, I can remember hearing my parents say “I love you” and silently choking back sobs because there was no way I could ever believe them.

I was in my mid-twenties before I ever realized that my parents had physically abused me. I was spoon fed Focus on the Family episodes and the Pearls’ teachings on how parents who love their children beat them.  As a child I looked with pity on children who were “spoiled brats” because they had thoughts and opinions all of their own and who “just needed a good spanking.” In fact I was married and telling my husband a story from my childhood when he pointed out to me that the story I was telling depicted abuse.

The funny thing is, I don’t really remember misbehaving as a child. I’m sure I was not perfect, but I was polite, respectful, and hard working.  I virtually home schooled myself while simultaneously doing the bulk of the cooking, the laundry, the cleaning, volunteering in our church and over achieving at whatever extracurricular activity my parents chose for me.  To some extent their abuse worked in that I was a “good girl,” the model daughter in fact.

I often wonder how my life would have been different if I would have gone to school. 

Would someone have noticed the bruises?  Would someone have told me the definition of abuse?  Would I have had a friend to confide in?  I remember at about the age of fifteen wanting to run away, but I couldn’t. I had no friends outside of our church/cult and no money to support myself with.  Maybe the abuse would have stopped at fifteen.

As an adult my father frequently tries to guilt trip me into stopping by and calling more often, but I don’t think I ever will.  Even though the bulk of the lashings came from my mother there were definitely some inappropriate episodes of discipline from him too.   I still can’t believe that any loving parent would stand by and allow their child to be treated like that, even one time, let alone systematically.  The only conclusion that a reasonable person can draw is plain and simple, they didn’t love me, they never will, for all practical purposes I consider myself an orphan.

As an adult I’m scared to turn into the monster that my mother was.

But mainly I’m just angry, angry that the people who were supposed to love me beat me and treated me like a slave, angry that anyone would treat any child in that way.  I want to go spit on my mother’s grave; I want to stand over her wielding an iron rod and screaming in her face.  I’m tempted to self-destroy my life just to show my parents how badly the messed up raising me (Although that would be pointless because my brothers are doing that for me.)    I struggle with relationships, I reached my late twenties before I ever asserted myself, and I’m scared of conflict, scared of authority, scared of everything.  I struggle with depression and guilt and anxiety, and occasionally have suicidal thoughts.

But at least I’m not a spoiled brat, right? At least I was a “good girl.”

Failing to Understand the Dynamics of Abuse: Focus on the Family on Adrian Peterson and Corporal Punishment

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 17, 2014.

Yesterday, Time Magazine’s parenting section featured an article by Focus on the Family’s Jared Pingleton. The article, titled “Spanking Can Be an Appropriate Form of Child Discipline,” addresses the controversy surrounding Adrian Peterson’s suspension from the Minnesota Vikings on pending child abuse charges after leaving open lacerations on his son. In his article, Pingleton makes a case for corporal punishment while clearly calling Peterson’s actions abuse.

Pingleton begins his article with this stand-alone sentence, in bold:

We won’t go wrong if we exercise a firm and consistent hand with a soft and loving heart.

The problem with this statement is that Peterson was exercising a “firm and consistent hand,” and he was disciplining “with a soft and loving heart.” After being taken to court for injury to a child and then suspended from his team, Peterson apologized for causing his son harm, but he was very clear initially that he did not see anything wrong with his actions—and for good reason. After administering corporal punishment to his son, Peterson texted this to the child’s mother:

Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.

This is exactly what Focus on the family and other groups that advocate corporal punishment promote—the argue that a parent should act from a heart full of love, but exercise a firm hand when it comes to obedience and doing what is right. Is it any wonder that Peterson felt he had done nothing wrong? Many Americans were outraged by pictures of Peterson’s son—and for good reason!—but it makesabsolutely no sense to respond to this case by stating that corporal punishment should involve “a firm and consistent hand” and “a soft and loving heart.” In Peterson’s case, it did.

A parent can have “a firm and consistent hand” and “a soft and loving heart” and still abuse their children.

Before I go on, a few words of background. My parents used corporal punishment and did everything “right,” but my experience was nevertheless negative. Today I practice positive parenting and gentle discipline with my own children. Based on my experiences and a wide array of research, I would like to see corporal punishment phased out. I consider all forms of corporal punishment ethically wrong, though it’s worth noting that I do understand that not all are equally harmful. Slapping a child on their clothed bottom in an attempt to make a point is not the same thing as striking a child with an object and leaving bruises or welts. I dislike the term “spanking” because it erases these sorts of distinctions and everyone seems to define it differently. Finally, to avoid confusion I tend to adhere to the guidelines generally followed by social services and reserve the label “abuse” for corporal punishment that causes bodily injury (i.e. bruises, welts, and worse). That is the definition I will be using throughout this post.

My concerns with Pingleton’s article are twofold. First, Pingleton others child abusers to the extent that he makes it impossible to consider that seemingly normal, loving people could be child abusers. The reality is that child abusers often get away with their actions because they can fool those around them into seeing them as kind, loving people who would never harm their children and thus can’t be child abusers. Second, Pingleton reinforces the many justifications child abusers use to defend their actions. Child abusers are rarely malicious or sadistic. More often, they believe that they are just trying to do right by their children, and that pain is how children learn. Yes, Pingleton condemns child abuse, but he seems to lack any understanding of the dynamics of abuse. If he actually understood these dynamics, he would see that his words also serve to make abusers invisible and reinforce their justifications.

Here is an example of how Pingleton others child abusers:

There is a giant chasm between a mild spanking properly administered out of love and an out-of-control adult venting their emotions by physically abusing a child.

In creating this dichotomy between abusive and nonabusive parents, Pingleton is clearly putting Adrian Peterson’s actions in the “out of control adult venting their emotions by physically abusing a child” category. But there has been no indication that Peterson was out of control (i.e. that Peterson was not in careful control of his actions the entire time) or that he was venting his emotions (Peterson has been clear that the punishment was administered to teach his child to not shove other children). Pingleton is trying to shove Adrian Peterson into a child abuse box he has fashioned many sizes too small, because he doesn’t understand who child abusers are or how they operate.

The reality is that there is no “chasm” between “mild spanking properly administered out of love” and “an out-of-control adult venting their emotions by physically abusing a child.”

Instead, there is a sliding scale. There is also no clear and obvious line between a “spanking” and a “beating.” This is what corporal punishment advocates like Pingleton miss. Adrian Peterson was not on one side of this scale or the other—he was somewhere in between. Different people put the line between acceptable parental behavior and abuse at different points on that line, as is made obvious by the fact that some Americans have defended Peterson’s actions as not abusive. This idea that there is a “chasm” between reasonable discipline and child abuse is nonsense.

We often have this caricature of a child abuser in our mind—out of control, angry—and while some abusers do fit that profile others do not. But when we believe abusers look like this caricature we have created, we create a situation where Adrian Peterson can still insist that he is not a child abuser—because he does not look like that. But the reality is that child abusers often don’t look like that at all. In fact, sometimes they look like this:

This idea that child abusers are some sort of monsters and that normal, loving people do not abuse their children a serious, serious problem.

It allows us to miss and overlook very real abuse because the perpetrators are nice, and smile, and say the right things. The reality is that abusers are very good at fooling others and looking picture perfect, and if we don’t understand that we will be likely to brush warning signs under the rug when they do appear.

Pingleton goes on:

It is vital, however, that spanking be administered within proper guidelines. The reports about the punishment meted out by Peterson to his son, and the consequent injuries his son suffered, indicate his behavior on that occasion was far outside those boundaries.

If this is what he wants to argue, Pingleton needs to drop his whole “we won’t go wrong if we exercise a firm and consistent hand with a soft and loving heart” schtick, because Peterson followed that short line of advice and did go wrong. Does Pingleton seriously think that parents who abuse their children don’t believe in being firm and consistent and administering discipline out of love? Does he not know that most parents who abuse their children say things like “this is for your own good” and “I’m only doing this because I love you”? Is he unaware that child abusers say things like “children need a firm hand” and “we have to be consistent”?

I’m glad that Pingleton recognizes that Adrian Peterson abused his child, but I’m troubled by his total lack of understanding of why it happened. He seems completely unaware that what he thinks is a caution against abuse—”we won’t go wrong if we exercise a firm and consistent hand with a soft and loving heart”—is in fact the very argument Peterson used to insist that there was nothing wrong with what he did when he left his son with open lacerations. If Pingleton wants to protect children from being abused, he needs to stop making abuse-enabling statements like that.

That Pingleton has no understanding of the dynamics of abuse is bizarre given that he is the director of Focus on the Family’s counseling program.

Pingleton goes on to give some guidelines for appropriate corporal punishment. He says that it should only be used in “cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority,” and that “a child should always receive a clear warning” first and understand why they are being punished. The punishment should take place in a private area and should be “lovingly administered” and should not involve “the potential to cause physical harm.” Afterwards, the child should be told once again why they were punished, to ensure that they understand and have learned the intended lesson.

From what I have read, it appears that the only point where Peterson did not follow Pingleton’s advice was in causing physical harm—the open lacerations. But once again, the line here is less obvious that Peterson thinks. My own mother carefully followed the guidelines Pingleton laid out, but she did on very rare occasions leave bruises or welts, and on one occasion she drew blood with a switch. She nevermeant to leave bruises or welts, and certainly never intended to draw blood that one time. But when you’re hitting your child’s soft, bare bottom with a wooden paddle or a switch cut from a tree (my mother used both), it’s harder to make sure you don’t leave bruises, welts, or cuts than one might think. And as Peterson has said many times, he never intended to leave open lacerations—he did not realize that the switch he used would do that much damage to his son’s skin.

What I’m trying to point out is that while Pingleton thinks he is drawing an obvious and simple line between abuse and appropriate discipline, the line he is drawing is not nearly as obvious or clear as he thinks. A parent following Pingleton’s guidelines for administering corporal punishment can leave marks on a child completely unintentionally. After all, striking a child naturally involves some risk of harm. Lydia Schatz’s parents used a plastic switch to administer corporal punishment. This switch broke down the girl’s muscle tissue, and when fragments of muscle tissue entered her bloodstream it caused liver failure.

Lydia’s parents never intended for this to happen and in fact had no idea it could happen, but Lydia still died.

Later on in his article, Pingleton makes it very clear that corporal punishment should hurt. After explaining that parents have a responsibility to discipline their children, Pingleton quotes from the Bible:

No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

Pingleton argues that teaching children right from wrong should hurt—even that it must hurt—but that it’s for the child’s own good and will yield longterm fruits. This idea that discipline has to hurt, but will pay off in the long run—this was also part of Adrian Peterson’s justification for his actions. Whether Pingleton realizes this or not (and given his understanding of the dynamics of abuse it is likely that he does not), this is yet another argument commonly used by abusers—what they’re doing should hurt, they say, because that’s the only way the child will learn their lesson.

In his texts to his son’s mother, Peterson explained that the reason he went on for so long was that the child did not cry. He took that as an indication that he wasn’t hitting hard enough to get the message across—because getting the message across had to involve pain. Because of his belief that correcting his child’s actions must involve pain, Peterson denied that he had done anything wrong.

Pingleton ends his article with this paragraph:

Parenting is a hard job. None of us do it perfectly. And to make it even more challenging, none of our kids come with an instruction manual attached. But our children need us to do it to the best of our ability, with all the wisdom, love, gentleness and strength we can muster. We won’t go wrong if we exercise a firm and consistent hand with a soft and loving heart.

Pingleton finishes with the same sentence with which he began. He clearly wants to emphasize it. Pingleton says over and over again that abuse is a tragedy and is wrong, wrong, wrong, but he does not seem to recognize that his own words are inadvertently reinforcing child abusers’ justifications for their actions. Does he not realize that child abusers say things like “I’m only trying to make them a better person“? How is he unaware that child abusers say things like “pain is how children learn“?

Ultimately, this is one of my biggest problem with the arguments made by advocates of corporal punishment. Most of their arguments in favor of corporal punishments are the same arguments used by child abusers to justify their abuse. Their only caution against abuse appears to be clarifying that corporal punishment should be administered out of love rather than anger, but this plays into incorrect stereotypes about what child abuse looks like and is less helpful than they seem to think. Suggesting that parents use their own judgement to make sure they don’t go to far is equally unhelpful.

Most child abusers tell their children they are doing this because they love them, and most would deny that they’ve gone too far, or that they ever intend to harm their children.

How can Pingleton not see how his own words can be used to justify not only corporal punishment he considers appropriate but also actual child abuse? How can he not see that child abusers are not all evil monsters venting their anger on their children, and that suggesting that there is a huge “chasm” between child abusers and other parents serves to keep parents from self reflection and prevent people from seeing child abuse right in front of their eyes? How can he be Focus on the Family’s head of counselingand not see this?

The Romeike Family and Asylum: Why I Don’t Buy Into the Homeschool Persecution Excuse

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The Romeike Family and Asylum: Why I Don’t Buy Into the Homeschool Persecution Excuse, By Lana Hope

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on April 7, 2013.

*****

Just so you know, before you read this, I don’t think homeschooling should be illegal.

So there’s this family, the Romeike family, living in America under asylum — claiming to be under the threat of religious persecution from their home country Germany who does not allow them to homeschool. And now the US government says this family may get deported – because they weren’t exactly persecuted.

While the Religious Right is busy using this as a card to blame the Obama administration (which confused me since Obama was here in 2010 when the family was first granted asylum), HSLDA — Home School Legal Defense Association — is using the opportunity to stir up of fears of Americans losing their right to homeschool.

Focus on the Family spokesman and Truth Project founder Dr. Del Tackett yesterday declared his support for HSLDA’s efforts to defend the Romeike family. Tackett believes that the U.S. government is siding with the restrictive homeschooling laws in Germany and that this could have serious implications for American homeschoolers.

“[The U.S. government] doesn’t believe that parents have a right to educate their children,” Tackett said. “It is more in line with the National Education Association that homeschooling shouldn’t be allowed. It believes that the government can best educate ‘America’s children.’ It doesn’t want another worldview taught in this country. It wants America’s children to have one worldview and one worldview only.”

Notice the phrase “this could have serious implications for American homeschoolers.” To me, this sounds like someone is intentionally stirring up fear, and fear is what keeps HSLDA in business, an organization who is fighting to ensure that America does not sign the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child. Quoting HSLDA’s late director, “if children have rights, they could refuse to be home-schooled, plus it takes away parents’ rights to physically discipline their children.”

No, I don’t particularly trust HSLDA.

I can’t say if America will see the day that homeschooling is illegal (I see no evidence to lead me to believe this), but the significant part to me is that HSLDA and Focus on the Family have already made it clear that this is not about whether or not this family fits the requirement of an asylum case or much about this German family at all.

Instead, this is about politics and implications on our rights. This is about American homeschooling first and foremost, not the Romeike family. That’s why everyone is asked to sign the petition for the future of homeschooling that just happens to also involve the rights of a German family.

To me, that’s just a tacky way to build up more homeschool fears.

But Michael Farris, of HSLDA, made another political comment related to homeschooling rights. This is also about “religious” rights. Again, I quote HSLDA.

The U.S. government contended that the Romeikes’ case failed to show that there was any discrimination based on religion because, among other reasons, the Romeikes did not prove that all homeschoolers were religious, and that not all Christians believed they had to homeschool.

This argument demonstrates another form of dangerous “group think” by our own government. The central problem here is that the U.S. government does not understand that religious freedom is an individual right. One need not be a part of any church or other religious group to be able to make a religious freedom claim. Specifically, one doesn’t have to follow the dictates of a church to claim religious freedom—one should be able to follow the dictates of God Himself.

The United States Supreme Court has made it very clear in the past that religious freedom is an individual right. Yet our current government does not seem to understand this.

I admit I am still a little confused.

The US government already made it clear that this is not a religious issue.

Germany has not said that parents cannot teach their kids religion. Religion is even taught in school in Germany. So Farris sort of agrees for a minute, and then brings this back to God. In part, I agree — that parents should be allowed to hear from God about educational choices as long as it’s reasonable.

Simply put, by making this a religious issue, they are pounding in the religious persecution line, enforcing the poor-me stereotype that white first world Christians have it rough, and implanting fear that some day we will lose all our religious freedom, not just homeschool freedom (See Focus on the Family who is partnering with HSLDA in this, who has said that American Evangelicals are already being persecuted and will be more persecuted in my lifetime.)

Apparently the Supreme Court in Germany banned homeschooling (though exceptions are granted) because it, “counteract[s] the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.” This is what Mike Farris says about it:

This sounds elegant, perhaps, but at its core it is a frightening concept. This means that the German government wants to prohibit people who think differently from the government (on religious or philosophical grounds) from growing and developing into a force in society.

As one who grew up in Farris’ so-called Joshua Generation, I had a chuckle at what Farris says. No, evangelical fundamental homeschooling will never be a significant force at any global or even national levels, and I doubt any government feels threatened by it. But I can tell you where the force does hit. Wacko religious ideas do harm homeschool children. They harmed me, and I can almost guarantee they are harming the Romeike children over it.

I don’t agree with Germany that homeschooling should be illegal over this (but I will give it to Germany that their schools do have a high quality education). But Farris makes me laugh if he still believes somehow that conservative homeschooling is going to overtake the world. Really, how?

On the more practical note: I know the Romeike family has already stirred things up in Germany and perhaps the German government will not work with them now (I don’t know either way), but nevertheless, Germany does allow exceptions for traveling families. In my homeschool group over in Asia, we had two homeschooling families from Germany — with German passports — in our homeschool group. They simply applied for a volunteer visa overseas, and they are contributing to another culture at the same time. And they go home to visit Germany, and the government has never told them they can’t go back overseas. Just an observation.

The Romeikes also had the option of moving to another country in the EU and applying for a Green card to America like everyone else. Of course, they also had the option of applying for asylum, but they did run the risk that sooner or later, someone was going to say, “Hey, you are from a very first world country with a really great education system with religious private schools as an option too. You are not persecuted for your faith.”

The Romeikes’ lawyer and Farris keep pointing out that the German government will remove the Romeike kids if the family returns. But that’s only if they don’t send their kids to school. It’s not complicated.

Tribes from Burma and Syria — whose immediate lives are threatened — those are the lives who are endangered, and those are who should get the asylum spots.

Of course, after living over in Asia, I do have a soft spot for immigration, I admit. (Granted, that’s why I’m not in politics and instead work in humanitarian aid, lol.) And I’m not really into deporting people. They are here now. Nevertheless, I don’t think they should get an aslyum spot.

One closing thought I had after reading an article over at Homeschool Anonymous. Brittany writes that as a homeschool kid she was terrifed of public school. I can’t help but relate this to the unhealthy fears that the Romieke family is implanting in their kids by telling them that their “schools taught witchcraft based on a game.” (I had to laugh since my mother told me witchcraft stories to keep me from asking to go to sleepovers.) Perhaps these kind of ideas is the very reason Germany decided to make homescooling, for the most part, illegal.

You know, I get Germany a lot more than I understand the conservative ideas I grew up hearing.

Making My Own Way: Matthew’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Matthew” is a pseudonym.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two

*****

High School Years

My first year in high school was wonderful for me. Finally, I was out of the house! I made friends and felt like I could finally breathe. I won’t go into great detail about my high school experience, since that isn’t the point of this story. However, I will point out a few things that I noticed over those four years:

• I discovered that I had a real problem with social anxiety. I’m not sure if this is hereditary or caused by my childhood. After reading some of the stories on this site, I’m thinking that it was a little of both.

• I was plagued by feelings of inadequacy. I thought I was not good enough, smart enough, athletic enough, witty enough… none of it. I did come to the realization that there are things that I’m good at, but it took years. In high school, I wound up trying everything since I had no idea where I fit in – I’d never had other kids around for me to gauge my own ability.

• I was plagued by guilt. Even if I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was often overcome by guilt over my (imagined and real) transgressions. This tied a lot into the messages we were receiving at church, which at this point were downright toxic.

• I had little-to-no self-confidence. As a homeschooler, you become so used to your parents’ authority, that you don’t really know how to make your own decisions, or when you do, you constantly second guess yourself.

So while getting out of the house was a welcome relief, I still felt like I was trying to overcome my upbringing.

At Home – Part 2

While I was off enjoying my high school experience, the “shit was hitting the fan” at home… oh, and how! My oldest younger sister had started hanging out with this girl she met at the homeschooling coop, and they decided they weren’t going to let being at home slow them down. I noticed one night that my sister and this girl, who was sleeping over, were acting really strange and goofy. Turns out, they were drunk! But how did they get the alcohol? After all, my parents didn’t drink. I later learned that my 12-year-old, shy-as-can-be sister stole it from a convenience store!

For my little sister, this would kick off what would become a six year blur of cigarettes, alcohol, promiscuous sex, drugs, and whatever else. To this day, I am convinced that the combination of home schooling and extreme Christian Fundamentalism destroyed her confidence. I remember her telling me, at 11, that she had given up and could never live up to the standard — I really think that she cracked under the pressure of that atmosphere.

She got pregnant at 17, got married, moved out, and hasn’t had issues with drugs or alcohol since. She and her husband now have 5 kids, all of whom are in public school, and her oldest daughter (13) is an exemplary student. All of her kids appear to be doing well.

Because of my sister’s meltdowns, I ended up getting away with a lot that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. So in a roundabout way, I owe her a “thanks” for taking the pressure off me and humbling our parents. I did take advantage of her recklessness and flew under the radar as I started drinking at 15.

College

The drinking continued on into college. I could never shake the idea that I wasn’t good enough and that I was in a perpetual state of sin, so the alcohol helped me to ease the anxiety and mentally “check out” for long periods of time.

Then I’d get sober, feel horrible, and go cry to my Christian friends about how I was going to hell. My secular friends would shake their heads and wonder why I was so conflicted. This pattern continued until I got sober at about 26 years old.

Other things happened in college as well. My drinking habits combined with my lack of any sort of sex education made me a sitting duck when it came to STDs and unexpected pregnancy.

But despite all that, I managed to graduate.

Adulthood

Today, I don’t harbor any resentment over my upbringing, as I realize it could have been a whole lot worse! There were actually several good things that came out of it:

• Since much of my learning was from reading books and not in the classrooms, I’m very good at figuring things out on my own. This has been a very beneficial skill to have as an IT specialist.

• I don’t mind being alone. This is something I’m starting to see as a blessing. During my four year marriage (yes… I’m divorced) I was miserable most of the time. I always had to come home to a spouse who was either angry with me or trying to drag me to some function that I didn’t really feel like attending. Once I realized that marriage is not for me, I’ve been able to enjoy being a single dad, making my own way. Since as a kid, I often went out and about to do things on my own, it isn’t really much of an adjustment to do things and go places on my own today. I don’t need a large social circle.

• I’ve seen the damage that religious extremism causes and I can spot the warning signs a mile away. While I still attend church, it’s a seeker-sensitive, theology-lite congregation that just loves everyone. I take my kids on the weekends when I have them, but I don’t preach at them. Their faith is between them and God. I expect them to make mistakes and refuse to hold them to a higher standard than the one I hold for myself. I have no idea if God is real or if the Bible is completely true. If he is and his word is true, then I’m sure he’ll get my attention one way or another. But after years of unanswered prayers, a failed marriage, kids from multiple relationships, and alcoholism, I find it hard to believe that he is actively involved in our lives.

• I witnessed first-hand the despair and hopelessness of many disillusioned homeschooling parents. These are people who, by and large, poured their hearts and souls into raising Godly men and women. Seeing this convinced me that it’s best to adopt a “live and let live” parenting model and to love your children unconditionally! Even if my son winds up marching in the local gay pride parade with his boyfriend and my daughter ends up working overtime at the Diamond Club, I will still love them and welcome them in my home with open arms. Life is too short for fallouts over lifestyle choices.

Summary

Homeschooling was really just one piece of the whole dysfunctional puzzle. I’m sure that if other factors had been different, but I was still homeschooled, I might feel differently about it than I do now. That said, it is very encouraging to read accounts from other homeschoolers to confirm that many of my experiences are shared by others.

End of series.

Making My Own Way: Matthew’s Story, Part One

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Matthew” is a pseudonym.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two

*****

I have been reading the posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous with great interest for the past few weeks. After giving it some thought, I decided to share my own experiences. I can identify with much of what has been posted here, even though my story isn’t as traumatic as some of those I’ve read here.

Early Childhood

I was homeschooled from grades K – 8 and in public school for grades 9 – 12. I believe that it was my dad’s idea to send me to high school full-time. I give him credit for this since it left my parents open to criticism from members of the church we attended. Had it been solely up to my mom, I probably would have gone to public school for math and science only and been at home for all other subjects. She typically had her own ways of doing things, and her ways didn’t always line up with conventional wisdom.

My parents started homeschooling me in the early 80’s (I’m 33). If I had to guess, I would say that they were influenced to do this by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family ministry and Mary Pride’s book, The Way Home. Back in the mid-80’s, there weren’t nearly as many groups and organizations for conservative, Christian homeschoolers. However, our family managed to link up with a church that had a few other families that were educating their kids at home, so we would get together with these other families on a weekly basis for a homeschooling coop.

Our curriculum was a hodge-podge of Saxon, Bob Jones, and Abeka. My memory is a little hazy on what curriculums we used for each subject, since my mom typically mixed and matched our text books from year to year. I am certain that my parents’ primary reason for homeschooling my three younger sisters and I was to pass on their religious beliefs. It may have had a little to do with my mom’s belief that she could give us a better education than the local public schools, but the main reasons were definitely religious in nature.

The church we attended started off as a group of charismatic, non-denominational Christians who just loved Jesus. Practically every member was a first generation “believer” and many had really traumatic pasts. There wasn’t too much emphasis on theology or formulating a consistent, Christian worldview, but the members were undoubtedly in love with the Lord. The pastor of this church had a particularly abusive childhood and had accepted Christ in his early 20’s. From there, he just started preaching. I don’t believe that he had a formal education at a seminary, but he was very sincere and spent his life studying the Word.

My early childhood was fairly pleasant. I didn’t mind homeschooling, mainly since I didn’t know any different, and because all my best friends were at church. Things were good up to the age of about 9 or 10. But then, slowly and subtly, the environment at church and at home began to change.

At Church

Our congregation started to get heavily involved in the Pro-Life cause and, in particular, Operation Rescue. We became very active in pickets and protests and even started sitting in front of abortion clinics. For a 10-year-old kid, the scene at these early protests and sit-ins leaves a real impression. On one side, you had the Christians, who were singing praise and worship songs while walking in a slow circle or sitting in front of the clinic. I never witnessed any of them behaving in a confrontational manner (although I did witness how they would go limp when the police would start hauling them into patty wagons).

On the other side were God’s enemies – the feminists, liberals, and atheists. These people would spew all kinds of hate and vulgarities at the Christians. As a kid, the contrast was stark. I couldn’t understand why these people were so angry at the Christians who were just trying to save the babies.

(Getting a little off track here… so back to the story.)

Not too long after getting involved in Operation Rescue, our church split up. About half the members stayed at the original church and the other half planted a new one that began meeting at an elementary school. Soon after the split, a new assistant pastor came on board. The new pastor was staunchly reformed and, within a few years, the church adopted a Reformed, Christian Reconstructionist theology. Christian Reconstructionists are fiercely post-millennial, meaning that they believe Christ will not return until all aspects of culture and government are under his “Lordship.”

What does this look like exactly? The book of Leviticus should give you some idea. The pipe dream of this movement is one where the constitution is replaced by Old Testament case laws. Public executions by stoning, slavery, and extreme patriarchy would be the “norm.” Separation of church and state would become a thing of the past. RJ Rushdooney was the patron saint of this movement.

Once our church adopted this theology, homeschooling became the main method for raising up our nation’s next generation of foot soldiers to usher in a theocratic “utopia.” Suddenly, evangelism was replaced by activism and joy was replaced by anger and paranoia. Rather than serving the community, the members became focused primarily on getting the right candidates elected into office, including a few from within our small church.

For years, my family had been the standard by which other homeschooling families in our community were measured. But then all these new homeschoolers started showing up. These families made my parents look liberal by comparison. They adhered to the courtship model and truly believed that public education was a tool of the devil. I did witness one marriage via courtship between an oldest daughter and one of the men in the church. My parents praised them as a shining example of biblical courtship.

They were divorced within a year.

At Home – Part 1

At about age 10, I started to realize that I was “different.” Kids in the neighborhood started asking me why I didn’t go to school. I’d probably give them some canned answer that my parents told me to recite when asked this question. But it still made me feel like an outsider. It also didn’t help that I had weak hand/eye coordination – I couldn’t hit a baseball! I’m sure if you’re a natural leader and athlete like, say, Tim Tebow, being homeschooled isn’t too bad. But for me, it felt like I was getting a double-whammy.

When you also take into account the fact that I was spending every day, 24/7, with my domineering mother and three younger sisters, well… let’s just say the fact I’m straight makes me living proof that homosexuality is not rooted in one’s upbringing.

Around grade 6, I had some sports-related activities going on at the local Middle School. I got to see kids goofing around, having fun, and just being kids. I was incredibly shy and did not know how to join in, but I really wanted to! I was tired of feeling like an outsider. I wanted to jockey for position in the middle school social hierarchy. I wanted to get teased or get in a fight. I wanted to flirt with girls. I was tired of spending my afternoons and summers cooped up with my mom and sisters. I wanted my own life – one that wouldn’t be under the constant supervision of my parents.

A few days later, I mustered up all the courage I had, and told my parents that I wanted to go to school. I’ll never forget my mom’s response: “NO WAY! OUT OF THE QUESTION! THAT’S FINAL!” I was crushed and cried for a few days. On top of this rejection, her and my dad laid a massive guilt trip on me for even wanting to go to school in the first place. Saying things like, “I can’t believe how ungrateful you are for all the sacrifices we have made so that your mother can stay home with you kids” or explaining to me “how disappointed God must be in me for being so ungrateful.” Then my mom would force out some tears to drive the point home.

Of course, whenever we were around my dad’s work colleagues or anyone else who was skeptical of homeschooling, I was expected to suck it up, be sociable, and tell them how great my homeschooling experience was. And I did… every time.

That rejection and those next two miserable years were the worst of my life. My parents used to be fond of telling us that we “have no idea how good we have it” as kids. But I’ll tell you, nothing I have encountered in adulthood rivaled the misery of 7th and 8th grade. It was like I died a little inside. However, worse than the initial hurt was the fact that the seeds were planted for my distrust and animosity not just of my mom, but of women in general. I really believe that those 13 years spent being micromanaged by a controlling, overbearing mother turned me off to ever wanting to live with a woman full-time again.

To be continued.

Home Education Ideologies and Literature

By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

This is a review of academic literature regarding the modern homeschooling phenomena in America. The goal is to provide a sociological framework for discussing the diversity and homogeneity of the various branches of the homeschooling movement.

While many ideological models of homeschooling have been formulated and propagated over the past fifty years of the homeschooling movement, two have risen to prominence.  Founded by John Holt, the “unschooling movement” focused on removing children from the negative influences of a school’s hierarchical social structures which, according to Holt and his adherents, impeded a child’s natural creativity and prevented them from truly learning. [i] In contrast, Dr. Raymond Moore founded the “Christian Homeschooling movement,” which argued that public schooling was objectionable because of its corrupting moral influence. [ii] In the late-80s and 1990s, Christian homeschooling expanded rapidly, while the inclusive (unschooling) brand of home education grew slowly. Mitchell Stevens authored a ground-breaking sociological work on homeschooling, Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement (2001), after immersing himself in many aspects of the movement for eleven years. [iii] He focused on these two main sub-cultures, or camps, of the social movement of homeschooling, their historical development, and how their core philosophies influenced everything from the method of instruction to the organization of institutions.

Any study of homeschooling faces serious limitations. There is no federal legal framework governing homeschooling and states’ regulations are a patchwork of different requirements. The lack of consistent regulation is uniquely American  In ten states, nothing is required of parents in order to homeschool. Thirteen states require a simple notification of a parent’s intent to homeschool their child. In Virginia and twenty-one other states, homeschoolers are required to take standardized tests, but even these requirements vary. The lack of even basic statistical reporting in most states makes the study of homeschooling problematic when attempting to use a social scientific methodology. Even the best studies have questionable validity. In 1996, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association published a study conducted by Brian Ray, who was himself an advocate of homeschooling. Because of this bias, the results of his research are questionable. In 1995, sociologist Maralee Mayberry distributed the most comprehensive survey to date of home educators, which included fifty-six questions ranging from occupation, educational attainment, religious affiliation, household size, etc. [iv] With fewer than 1,500 respondents from Nevada, Utah, and Washington, the demographics skewed towards those who identified themselves as very religious, white, and middle class. Most researchers have to rely on convenience samples (lists from curriculum suppliers, rosters of homeschooling groups, unofficial lists compiled by local school boards), and response rates to academic studies are notoriously low – only 25% of those Mayberry contacted responded. 

Because of these limitations, much of Stevens’ book is observational. Until states gather more data on curriculum, the educational attainment of parents, and consistent standardized testing of students, most studies of homeschooling will, of necessity, lack methodological rigor. Stevens focused his study in Illinois and on two main networks of homeschoolers: the “inclusive” unschoolers and the religious “believers.” He noted that the core difference between the communities was their view on how to motivate children. The unschooling inclusives believed in using solely intrinsic motivation, which is driven by the child’s enjoyment and interest in the task, whereas the exclusive Christian homescholers believed in using extrinsic motivation, which is driven by rewards and punishments that come from outside the child (i.e. the parents). From here, the communities diverge philosophically and pedagogically. He admits that his book does not adequately address groups that serve more specific constituencies, like Islamic or Mormon home educators, parents with special needs children, or the experiences of homeschooled children, but he sought to capture the “general flow” of the movement (8). Stevens refrains from criticizing either camp, merely detailing their differences, commonalities, and how that influences their pedagogy and organizational structures.

The first sub-culture, which he terms the “inclusives,” drew their philosophical inspiration from John Holt. Holt was involved in the alternative school movement in the 1970s, but eventually decided to create his own approach to child development. Holt’s philosophy and pedagogy is typically referred to as “unschooling.” Unschooling was strictly “earth-based,” meaning parents did not focus on spiritual issues, instead encouraging practical skills and creativity. Fundamentally, Holt and his ideological offspring believe in the intrinsic goodness of children and they strive to eliminate hierarchies that subordinate children to their parents.  Holt emphasized the importance of the child’s self-determination, which he claimed was a child’s inalienable human right to “control [their] own minds and thoughts” (37). Holt explained that his “concern was not to ‘improve education,’ but to do away with it, to end the ugly and anti-human business of people-shaping and let people shape themselves” (34-5). He refrained from using words like “teach,” “educate,” and “school,” instead relying on egalitarian rhetoric. Holt argued that “we adults destroy most of the intellectual and creative capacity of children by the things we do to them or make them do.” These unschoolers first organized under the Home Oriented Unschooling Experience network (HOUSE) network in the early 1980s. HOUSE included anyone who wished to participate in its support group meetings, not even adopting by-laws until 1992.

Both Mary Pride and Gregg Harris emphasized a strict hierarchy within the family.
Both Mary Pride and Gregg Harris emphasized a strict hierarchy within the family.

The second sub-culture, which Stevens termed the “believers,” drew their inspiration from Dr. Raymond Moore. Stevens explained that this camp was an “explicitly Christian social movement” (7). Rather than giving children intellectual self-determination, like the unschoolers, Moore’s Christian homeschooling integrated Christ and the Bible into their education. For these Christians, “homeschooling is a fulfillment of God’s command that parents take responsibility for their children’s education in general” (18). A series of radio interviews conducted by Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family with Dr. Moore catapulted the Christian homeschool movement into national spotlight. In Illinois, Steve and Susan Jerome helped organize the ICHE and, in 1984, they held the first state-wide homeschooling conference. The event, held at Wheaton College (a prominent Evangelical college) outside of Chicago, featured Dr. Moore and Phyllis Schlafly. At the time, Gregg Harris served as Dr. Moore’s right-hand man.  In the late-1980s and 1990s, Greg Harris, Mary Pride, and Michael Farris became major national figure-heads and leaders in the Christian homeschooling movement. Stevens found that conservative Protestant Christians dominated the exclusive brand of homeschooling, termed “Christian homeschooling.” He used the term “Christian homeschoolers” because, in his interviews with members of this community, they frequently referred to themselves as “Christian homeschoolers” involved in a larger “Christian homeschooling movement.” Stevens noted that one of the first home education magazine, The Teaching Home, was explicitly religious. It even featured “God’s Plan of Salvation” in each issue, which instructed readers in the “Protestant Christian conversion” (121). Carol Ingram, the associate director of the National Center for Home Education in the early-90s, argued that there were no “neutral” homeschoolers. In her view of the homeschooling social movement, there was no balanced middle ground between secular homeschooling and Christian homeschooling. She explained, “We are either saved or we’re lost. We’re either in a Christian world reference or we’re in a non-Christian world reference, we’re not in a neutral world reference” (129).

Gregg Harris also focused on the importance of controlling the peer influences in your child’s life.
Gregg Harris also focused on the importance of controlling the peer influences in your child’s life.

In the Christian, heaven-based pedagogy, children were sinners that needed to be “trained up” with Christian values and protected from “contaminants” so that they were better (spiritually and academically) than the average child in public school. Both Mary Pride and Gregg Harris emphasized a strict hierarchy within the family. Usually, Christian homeschoolers recite Proverbs 22:6, which reads “train up a child in the way that he should go, so that when he is old he will not depart from it.” In many instances, training your children properly meant protecting them from “multiple contaminants,” which could include secular humanism or the influence of children from “broken homes” (51-53). Gregg Harris also focused on the importance of controlling the peer influences in your child’s life, invoking language from Proverbs,

What would happen if our children were allowed to run around unsupervised with… other children? The companion of fools would suffer harm… The more our children have the opportunity to be the companions of foolish children, the more impervious they are to our counsel. And the more they resist the experiences that we’ve had, the more things we can offer to help them avoid so much trouble.

Moore argued that the contamination of peer pressure and the institutionalized secular humanism of public education tears children away from their parents. “But with the rare exception, when a child loses a sound value system, it is never regained. So peer dependency is a kind of social cancer. Humanly speaking, to try to heal it is like putting a Band-aid on a burned roast” (52). Christian homeschooling emphasizes obedience, respect for authority, and hierarchal social arrangements. Such language encourages families to be protective of their children, lest they fall prey to temptations and immorality and never return to their parents’ values. The Mckie family, Christian homeschoolers that run a blog, provided their explanation of homeschooling [v], which emphasized complete control over the child’s environment and stimuli:

Children are like tender young plants… [and] the gardener [i.e. parents] plants the precious seed in special seed cups in his greenhouse. He provides just the right soil, lighting, moisture, and nutrition so that the seeds have the optimum environment in which to grow. As the seed begins to sprout, the gardener tends to it with love and care…As the seedling grows, the gardener is able to transplant it into larger and larger containers to make room for its growth. The greenhouse allows the gardener to control all the elements of the environment so that the plant grows into a sturdy, mature plant with deep, well anchored roots, and a strong supportive trunk. Then the gardener makes the final transplant… by the time they complete the high school years they are finally anchored in GOD’S WORD, and have learned to stand against the world.

Unschoolers also have an aversion to the way public school impacts children’s minds, but they do not focus on philosophical and religious issues, like the secular humanism targeted by the Christian homeschoolers. Rather, Holt and the unschoolers argue that the public school system is too standardized to develop the innate curiosity and inquiry of young minds. In contrast, Moore argued that children are not “cognitively ready” to even understand why their parents make them do or believe certain things (39). This meant that parents should inculcate their children with a specific set of values and religious traditions. Moore wanted homeschoolers to insulate their children from “the world.” The Christian curriculum industry developed to meet the needs of parents wishing to educate their children with an explicitly Christian frame of reference. Stevens noted that “Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have the most to choose from when shopping for homeschool curricula… continuing a long tradition of separatist education” (54).

The leaders of the Christian homeschooling were not satisfied to let the unschoolers peacefully co-exist and they attempted to hijack the entire social movement to fit their authoritarian ideologies. Mark and Helen Hegener, editors of Home Educators Magazine, argued that “a small group of individuals, their organizations, and associations” have actively divided the national homeschooling social movement and attempted to impose “an exclusive hierarchal order” (145). HEM named Michael Farris, Sue Welch, Mary Pride, Brian Ray, Gregg Harris, and “dozens of local and state leaders,” as the primary antagonists of this attempted take-over of the social movement. In 1994, Michael Farris and HSLDA created a panic over federal legislation and they spent enormous resources to inform their membership that they should contact their representatives against the legislation. Pat Farenga and Susannah Sheffer, administrators of Holt Associates, continually fought the HSLDA’s politics of panic in the early-1990s and attempted to combat the growing influence of the Christian homeschoolers. In contrast to the HSDLA, when the HOUSE network informed its membership of the legislation, they exhorted their membership to “follow [their] own conscience[s].”  Much to the chagrin of the unschoolers, the “leaders” of the Christian homeschooling movement wanted to impose centralization of “power and control” on the social movement, with the authority squarely in their hands. They acquired much of this authority by creating panic over legislation, scaring parents into thinking their civil rights to home educate faced an existential threat.  Even Raymond Moore spoke out against the rise of “Christian exclusivism” and the subversion of the greater homeschooling movement by Gregg Harris, Michael Farris, and Sue Welch (173). The public divide between Christian homeschooling and unschooling continues today.  Recently, Farenga blogged about Homeschoolers Anonymous, condemning the “extreme authoritarian ideologies,” like military school, boarding schools, and Christian homeschooling, that leads to damaging, sometimes abusive situations.

Despite unschoolers’ objections to extrinsic motivations and the inculcation of specific values or traditions to children, Michael Farris repeatedly attempted to position himself as an advocate for all home educators. The objections in the early-1990s continued to prove an adequate description and, in 2000, Michael Farris and Scott Woodruff published an article in the Peabody Journal of Education that highlighted the academic successes of homeschooled students. [vi] Their framing of homeschooling did not even acknowledge the existence of the unschoolers. His ignorance of, or blatant disregard for, the unschooling ideology is most evident under his section “Two Trends in Home Schooling.” Where every other scholar remarked upon the divergence between ideological/religious homeschooling and the child-centered/unschooling methods, Farris claimed the two trends were “classical education” and the rise of the internet.  Classical education consisted of memorizing large passages of scripture and reading Western cannon.  His article also focuses on why home educated students fare better academically than their peers.  He argued that part of the success is because “most home school parents emphasize the teaching of values that have been honored by time and tradition” and “because of this, most home-schooled children likely will enter adulthood with a set of personal values that closely conforms to that of their parents” (Farris and Woodruff 239).  Farris never specifies his article to Christian homeschooling, rather purporting to speak for all American homeschoolers. His own monolithic view of homeschooling demonstrates the self-perception that many Christian homeschoolers have – that they are the dominant, sometimes the only, relevant homeschooling movement.

Stevens observed that local support groups, national organizations, and literatures produced by the two campus mirrored their contrasting core philosophies on human nature. Local support groups of the HOUSE network always met in a circle, while Christian homeschoolers usually meet in a religious building in a lecture-style. Stevens noted that HOUSE meetings usually involved a level of chaos and children played loudly, interacting with one another, while a circle of adults discussed their experiences. Adults in HOUSE would rarely speak from a position of authority or expertise, instead sharing their experiences with one another as peers. HOUSE network members often lacked the terms to explain their pedagogy, instead relying on metaphors – partially because their membership was so diverse and they did not wish to feign a collective voice when there was none. Another national-level inclusive group, the National Homeschoolers Association (NHA) formed in 1988, espouses values of participatory democracy and refrains from denoting any leaders. Stevens emphasized that he “never” heard the “word leader used to describe anyone in NHA” (132). Their commitment to creating an egalitarian atmosphere meant that most meetings began fifteen minutes late because no individual was responsible for the session (131). NHA members joked about being on “homeschool time.”  For the believers, however, “homeschool time” carried a very different connotation – it meant being punctual and therefore deferential to those in leadership.

In contrast with the loose, egalitarian structure of HOUSE, the Christian homeschooling movement quickly adopted hierarchies and rigid rhetorical frameworks. Christian homeschooling events gave special attention and focus to what it considered the leaders of the movement, men like Michael Farris and Gregg Harris. Stevens found that even conferences, like the 1994 National Center for Home Education Leadership Conference, “were predicated on the idea that organizationally, the homeschool world is organized as a pyramid” (126). Even small, local speaking engagements were held in churches, with the parents all facing the assumed leader, or expert, who spoke from a raised platform or pulpit. Stevens noted that speakers often “bemoaned schedule delays and frequently encouraged participants to check their watches” (131).

Despite the major differences between the inclusives and the believers, Stevens noted that all homeschoolers shared some basic ideas — namely that “their children’s self-development was worthy of virtually any sacrifice” (28). Both camps believe that their children’s education and development was too important a task to delegate to the bureaucratic, standardized public school system. In this way, the evolution of homeschooling in America follows the “great American story, a story about freedom and possibility and skepticism of established authority” (8). In 1984, leaders from the two home education camps organized the Ad Hoc Committee for Illinois Home Education Legal and Legislative Matters. In 1987, they successfully lobbied the state of Illinois to drop legislation that would require reporting to the state. All homeschoolers shared a basic interest in the legal protection of their rights to remove their children from the public school system and apply their pedagogy of choice.

Endnotes

[i] John Holt authored a number of books n early-childhood development and his theory of unschooling: Escape From Childhood (1974), Instead of Education (1976), Never Too Late (1979), Teach Your Own (1981; revised 2003 by Pat Farenga), Learning All the Time (1989).

[ii] Dr. Moore and his wife Dorothy authored a series of book on homeschooling: Raymond and Dennis Moore, “The Dangers of Early Schooling,” Harpers, 1972, Better Late than Early (1975), School Can Wait (1979), Home Grown Kids (1981), Home-Spun Schools (1982).

[iii] Mitchell Stevens, Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

[iv] Maralee Mayberry, J. Gary Knowles, Brian Ray, and Stacy Marlow, Home Schooling: Parents as Educators (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press/Sage, 1995): In this sample, 91% said religious commitment was “very important” to their lives, 97% said “God lives and is real,” 84% believed the Bible was “literally true,” and 93% believed that “Satan is currently working in the world.”

[v] Csranet.com/vlmckie/green.htm, accessed 7/2/99 and 6/28/00.

[vi] Michael Farris and Paul Woodruff, “The Future of Home Schooling.” Peabody Journal of Education 75, (2000): 233–55.