Homeschooled in New Zealand: TheLemur’s Story, Part One

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chris Preen.

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


In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


When I happened across Homeschooler’s Anonymous, I immediately related to the stories presented. As the first generation of the homeschool movement in the States critically considers their past, I will endeavour to start the conversation for kiwis (and Aussie too – we’re two very similar countries).

Out of a population of some four millions, there are on average 5,000 homeschool students. I was a (male) part of that statistic from attaining school age in 1997 to 2009. My brother and I were homeschooled our entire school lives. Now we’re both completing tertiary studies.

Like in America, a sizable chunk rejects mainstream education out of religious and philosophical conviction.

Our Education Act permits what’s called an Exemption (from attending a recognized school) if a parent makes a written submission in which they demonstrate a child will be taught ‘as well and as regularly’ as in a public school. Once the exemption is granted at the Ministry of Education’s behest, the Education Review Office (ERO) can review the child’s curriculum and academic abilities commensurate with public school and age expectations. I was reviewed once before I was ten. Evidently, I satisfied their criteria; I have heard of other families who received check-up visits. Unlike the more laissez-faire United States, a basic regulatory framework exists. Spanking was also recently legislated against.

I’ll begin with my parents to give you a background on my home educated experience. My mother converted to a fundamentalist Christianity, specifically Reformed Theology, while she was a registered nurse. Whereas her’s was a typical evangelical conversion, my father adopted Christianity after seeking life answers from Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri apologetics ministry in Switzerland. Schaeffer’s discursive concept (something quite foreign to the average evangelical) so enamoured him he planned on replicating it on a smaller scale back in New Zealand. After meeting in an evangelical church, they married. The next significant event was there attendance of a hard-shell American Baptist’s missionary church. This joker was a legalist of the highest order, demanding congregationists sign a Church Constitution which he could then use for punitive purposes. For a reason that escapes me, my mother did something which in his mind violated the Constitution. Although my father had signed, she hadn’t. Thus, he could not ‘discipline’ her. Rendered impotent by his own rules, he became enraged, and in my mother’s words ‘stamped himself into the ground like Rumpelstiltskin.’ At this juncture, I believe, my parents’ long, fitful journey away from legalism and the excesses of fundamentalism began.

Not long after these events, I was born. Mum decided to home educate me. She was always the dominant force in the household, and excepting financial decisions, dad generally deferred to her. The matriarchal dynamic represents one difference from what I glean my American equivalents lived. Ironically, my mother enforced an explicitly patriarchal belief system without the slightest cognitive dissonance. Two drives, I believe, explained my mother selecting the homeschool option.

Firstly, fear.

Her family was rather screwed up. My maternal grandfather harboured guilt, stemming from leaving his mother to fare for herself in England while he immigrated to New Zealand in search of better economic prospects. His children developed their own various pathologies. Mum’s brother ran her off the road one time. She determined, by hook or by crook, she would eliminate the repeat of those patterns in her offspring. Turning a very focused attention on her children was one way of achieving that.

Second, a belief schools were the inferior pedagogic option.

Their secularism, unimpressive student performance, and what she perceived to be deleterious socialization and structure closed that possibility.

Growing up, I came to accept my mother’s great emphasis on discipline. I knew stepping out of line could easily warrant ‘six of the best’ (whacks, the equivalent of ‘spank’ in the NZ lexicon). I was whacked as far back as I can recall, and I know my brother was hit at little more than two years of age. These ‘we’re doing it because we love you and if we don’t the POLICE will have to’ sessions were generally administered with a wooden kitchen spoon; the hard, tubular rod for elongating the sucking hose of the vacuum cleaner; or a stick from a tree. On days I sensed ‘danger high’, I would wear two pairs of underpants, hoping in the event of a punishment my shorts would not be pulled down. After being ‘disciplined’, I would be banished to the other end of the house for an hour or so. Mum thought being sent to your bedroom rewarded ‘disobedience’, as toys were present there. Funnily enough, I can remember being whacked there. Mum took care to draw the curtains first lest any nosey neighbours should see.

You’ve probably picked up here mum was almost always the judge, jury, and executioner of punishment. Dad did it too to a lesser extent, and then usually at mum’s behest.

She had a strict, parochial view of what was ‘acceptable’ in a Christian household.

No ‘snivellers whiners, grumblers’ and so on, she would say. We didn’t have a TV or computer till I was 15. In fact, Dad hopping over to the neighbours occasionally to watch the Rugby enraged my mother. We were allowed little choice in what we wore, and shirts HAD TO BE TUCKED IN! (otherwise one would end up like the heathens). Peer pressure was a great evil, and thus socialization had to be curtailed.

Apostate: Lillia Munsell’s Story

Homeschoolers U

My first year at college involved no drinking, a lot of prayer circles, and five hour exams. This is not an experience I recommend to others.

I paid dearly for the privilege of a year at Patrick Henry College, the conservative Christian school frequently called God’s Harvard. PHC was founded in 2000 by Moral Majority darling Michael Farris, a constitutional lawyer who also began the Home School Legal Defense Association. Homeschooling is both an educational model and a lifestyle, growing from 800,000 in 1999 to over 2 million in 2012. As a homeschooler born at the end of an era of legal oppression, I owed a debt to Mr. Farris. I was taught I must continue his work by challenging the liberals and conquering the culture for Christ. At homeschooling conventions, young men in suits extolled the virtues of PHC, calling it a haven for homeschoolers, a place that would understand my lack of a GED and provide me with the Ivy League experience without the East Coast liberalism. My mother was immediately sold and began pushing for PHC in 2002, while the first class were still sophomores. Ten years later, I was in a Subaru Outback crammed between a printer and a mattress protector, making the drive to my shiny new fundamentalist future.

There are 1,318 miles between my childhood home and my gender-segregated PHC dorm, and I cried for at least 600 of them, but for all the wrong reasons. I should have been questioning the wisdom of leaving behind family, friends, and a newly acquired boyfriend for a school that isn’t accredited. I wish I could blame my mother for this decision—parents are the best scapegoats. But it was me who decided to embrace my childhood religion and sign a statement of faith that promised I would never have premarital sex and always deny the lie of evolution.

Depending how you count, there are five to eight passages in the Bible that refer to homosexuality, and Patrick Henry College made sure I knew each one. Midway through my first semester, a fellow freshman insisted that soy milk turned people gay. Trying not to choke on the ridiculously expensive dining hall food, I asked what he meant. “It’s the estrogen,” he explained to me with all the confidence that came from studying high school biology at the kitchen table. “It turns people gay. How else do you explain California?” I don’t know how to explain California, but this did explain the rumors about my lactose-intolerant Cuban friend who poured soy milk over his cereal and said deviant phrases like “what the hell.”

Another student refused to say the word “naked” because it was too profane. She carried around a stuffed bunny and sang opera at all hours and locations.

To many, PHC is an idyllic sanctuary of innocence nestled in the green Virginia farmland. Set back from Highway 7 on the edge of Purcellville, a small town with southern charm, terrible restaurants, and undertones of racism, the college was close enough to DC to funnel interns to work under the Bush Administration and far enough away to shield us from the liberal rallies. When Loudon County suggested extending the metro line out towards Purcellville, Mr. Farris objected because too much secularism could travel over the metal rails. The 24 hour Harris Teeter grocery store across the street was the most fun PHC students had, especially before they banned kick scooters in the isles.

To drum up numbers, free Chick-fil-a was offered to students who attended an anti-abortion rally. These were the pictures that appeared on my classmates’ instagrams with hashtag phrases like “God is good,” “protect the innocent,” and “Aslan is on the move.”

Student clubs littered stairwell bulletin boards with posters advertising their platforms. I was asked to join the Wilberforce society, a group devoted to moral reform, especially a local government ban on porn. To the best of my knowledge, they pursued this goal by picketing the one adult store near town and drafting legislation proposing a parental control that could be placed on all Loudon county internet.

“How can you tell these stories with a straight face?” My incredulous (and public schooled) friend asked me one night after I mentioned how a senior professor used the term “honey-trap” when referring to a vagina. “Because they’re true,” I shrugged. Later that year, the same professor was the keynote speaker on Faith and Reason Day, the most important event of the semester. Three hundred and fifty students sat in rapt attention as this doctor argued that divorce is a state conspiracy to destroy the family by emasculating the father. He claimed campus rape was over-reported and not a real problem, but rather a feminist ploy of crying “wolf!” and destroying godly young men. Although I heard from faculty members and students who insisted he didn’t speak for the whole school, the speech was edited and approved by the administration.

Of course, this is the same administration that interrogated journalism students, accused them of slander, and threatened to expel them after they circulated an independent article that criticised a professor.*** This is the same administration that ignored accusations that one of their blonde PHC poster boys had blackmailed and sexually abused two female students.

He was later elected class president and his sins conveniently swept under the rug.

One of the most disturbing things about an insulated community is the echo-chamber effect. I’ve met a lot of Christians who don’t believe in Reaganomics or distinct gender roles, but at PHC, they were considered the suspicious fringe believers. In US History, I heard arguments defending the Trail of Tears. In Economics, students leaped to condemn workplace safety laws. To be fair, many of the professors walked the narrow line of challenging these views without telling the students they were wrong. One female professor confided in me that plagiarism was an epidemic in her class, but she feared that if she reported it, the administration would fire her for being a woman and stirring up trouble.

Detachment became a coping mechanism. I realized I was in a nest of crazy, and there was nothing I could do about it. I tried to skip the mandatory daily chapel hour, but my RA caught on and confronted me, so I began sitting in the back and sneaking homework between the pages of my Bible. The cafeteria was a hive of debates about free will vs. predestination and whether slavery had anything to do with the civil war, so I never sat down to eat. The library, built in a basement and stocked with a few rows of carefully selected books, was functionally useless. With only two academic buildings and five dorms—two of which I couldn’t go in, because they were men-only—PHC lacked hiding spots. I holed up in my room and found solstice in the internet, especially when I purchased a virtual private network that shielded me from the nanny software that sent every url I visited to my RD and blocked me from buying a new bra because the product pictures were deemed “pornographic.”

I was raised to believe the Bible is completely inerrant. Although I had struggled with my faith growing up, I always came back to this idea because I thought it gave me a solid, consistent worldview. Worldview is a term fundamentalists love, thanks largely to the work of 20th century theologian Francis Schaeffer, who famously wrote, “Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realize that their presuppositions should be chosen after a careful consideration of what worldview is true.” I know this quote by heart because I used it over and over in academic papers. PHC made me reconsider my worldview by showing me its conclusion. I entered the school hopeful and convinced I was not a racist and maybe even a feminist, and I fled disillusioned with my own prejudice but also with a better knowledge of ancient Greek.

After two semesters, I left my friends and religion behind. I wrote a letter trying to explain the former, but I resisted publicly admitting the latter. To admit a lack of faith is to lose the soapbox. I will become secular, a honey-trap, a feminazi, a wolf in sheep’s clothing—a homeschool apostate, to use the term recently coined to describe the kids who have grown up and aged out of dogma. When I moved to Austin, one of the few liberal areas of Texas, one student proclaimed “that explains it,” and refused to elaborate.

I wish I could explain things that easily, but a year spent living in black and white opened my eyes to the shades in between.

*** UPDATE 2 pm Pacific, 07/28/14: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that (1) journalism students were threatened with expulsion for writing a critical piece about a professor and (2) the professor whom the critical piece was about was the same aforementioned professor who gave the Faith and Reason Day presentation.

You Can’t Lace Geography Lessons with Jesus: A Response to Israel Wayne


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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

For Israel Wayne, homeschooling is not about education. It’s about discipleship. His recently viral blogpost, “A Shift in the Homeschooling Movement,” testifies to this fact. In it, he suggests that we “shift” homeschooling towards the “lordship of Jesus.” In order to understand the post, one must understand that, for him, homeschooling must be religious or spiritual in its essence — education, academics, those are disposable accouterments to the goal of evangelizing your children.

Israel Wayne is the son of Home School Digest‘s Skeet Savage and a repeat speaker at the Homeschool Alumni National Reunion. He runs, which features writings from betrothal advocate Jonathan Lindvall and child marriage apologist Matthew Chapman. He himself has written for Above Rubies, Brannon Howse’s, and Answers in Genesis, and has authored a number of books, most notably Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview. You can read his bio at his organization Family Renewal here.

In Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview, we get a basic picture of Wayne’s perspective on homeschooling and education. Essentially, all education is religious and — as the book’s own summary so neatly states — “Beginning with proper biblical presuppositions will enable students to make sense of the world around them.”

Fail to have the proper biblical presuppositions, and students fail to make sense of the world.

This is reiterated in Wayne’s recent post. The post itself is long and meandering. It addresses a variety of topics, including the history of the modern homeschooling movement and how different “camps” within the Christian Homeschooling Movement have competed and/or cooperated with one another. His post also proposes “new” paths for Christian homeschoolers to consider (though, as I will articulate here, these paths are anything but new). The post has been quite popular and many people have been taken in by Wayne’s rhetoric. (In my mind, however, it should give everyone pause that Kelly Crawford — an outspoken advocate of Patriarchy — thought his article was “very well done”, considering that his article was prompted by the Doug Phillips-inspired “Patriarchy” controversy as of late.)

There is so much one could say about Wayne’s post. But for this response, I want to focus on one particular passage of his. And heads up: I am going to approach this solution of his from a Christian theological perspective. I feel it is important to engage Israel Wayne on his own turf in this instance because it is necessary to show that this turf is incorrectly grounded.

The relevant passage from Wayne’s post is as follows (emphasis added):

If we ever forget that the homeschooling movement is NOT about academics at the end of the day (they are a means, not an end), then Jesus will abandon us to our own devices. The homeschooling movement must NOT become ultimately about methods and tools (curriculum). It must be about Jesus, and His Lordship over our families.

…We need to pick a few hills that are worth dying on, and be willing to allow a few others to fall by the wayside. In my view, the authority of Scripture is a hill to die on… The Lordship of Jesus Christ over every sphere of our existence is another. We cannot merely marginalize the Lord Jesus Christ as an optional plugin to our homeschooling endeavors. He demands supremacy over His people and demands to be recognized as our rightful head.

The leaders of this movement…must continue to hold up these banners as supreme, or else our Lord will leave us to our own devices, and the homeschooling movement will denigrate into another expression of humanism.

To put it simply, Israel Wayne has constructed a false dilemma. A false dilemma is when you present as an either/or a problem that can actually be resolved in more than two ways. Here Wayne presents “academics” and “the lordship of Jesus” as distinct entities (and either we uphold the latter over the former, or the whole world will burn). Why do I say this? Well, because if they are not distinct, then pursuing academics as the end of homeschooling would not necessarily exclude pursuing the lordship of Jesus in one’s life. But in Wayne’s mind, pursuing the former as an end means one is — to one extent or another — not pursuing the latter.

This is a crucial point — Wayne rejects education as a legitimate end in itself. It is so crucial because the Christian Homeschooling Movement’s similar rejection has led to many of the problems we are seeing today. The fact that Israel Wayne continues this rejection, just as his elders did, means that he will not be able to promote any significant change in homeschooling.

This solution — eloquent though it may be — is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Lana Hope has already articulated one reason why this point is key:

The fact that homeschooling was seen as a Christian method is, in my opinion, what went wrong with baby boomer homeschool parents. It started out as an education model, but when it became about religion and the preservation of a Joshua generation, it went [sour]… The Christian homeschool movement, because it was all about religion and not academics, became about censoring certain information and stuffing Christ into other information.

Lana is spot-on here: the Christian Homeschooling Movement, as a movement, has used education to indoctrinate, not to empower. And when education becomes a tool of indoctrination, rather than being valued as an inherently empowering process, it gives rise to exactly what we at Homeschoolers Anonymous have called out for the last year: twisting homeschooling into an ideology-first movement, rather than a children-first movement.

I am not interested in debating a definition of “indoctrination” here. That’s not the point. What I conceive of as indoctrination is not limited to Christian education, Buddhist education, or even “secular” education. It is simply when education is used to pass on an ossified set of ideologies (a closed system) as opposed to being an embraced process whereby all children freely, enthusiastically, and wisely discover life on their own terms and at their own pace (an open system).

Israel Wayne clearly has no interest in education as an open system. This is evident in his “you must start from ‘proper biblical presuppositions’ or you have no chance ever of understanding the world” mindset; these so-called presuppositions automatically ensure a closed system. Yet in order to reject the concept of open system, notice what he has to do: he has to argue that education is not in itself an end. In other words, to Israel Wayne, education is not inherently valuable. It is only valuable insofar as it furthers “the lordship of Jesus” (whatever that means).

Wayne does this — and so have many others in the past and so do many others today — because everything is supposed to be subsumed under his idea of a “Christian Worldview.” Wayne’s Christian Worldview is a giant sucking sound, a Total Institution under which everything must be subjugated. It therefore sets up all other ends — in this particular case, the end of education — in diametric opposition to his end, the end of the Christian Worldview, e.g., lordship of Jesus.

Here’s the irony: the whole concept of “Christian Worldview” originated primarily with Francis Schaeffer, who wrote in Escape From Reason that this dualism — the very species of dualism Wayne advocates for, while saying he advocates against it — was causing the downfall of Christianity in the West. Schaeffer’s project — indeed, what the whole project of the “Christian Worldview” movement was supposed to be — was to cast aside the dualism and opposition between “faith” and “reason.” But whereas Wayne and others think this means “sell reason as a slave to faith,” Schaeffer meant it as embrace the entirety of the world as inherently valuable, informative, and empowering. This is why Schaeffer could boldly declare that, “Man is something wonderful.” Obviously that’s not what the Worldview Studies Movement has become within American evangelicalism or homeschooling curriculums. But that was Schaeffer’s goal.

When you begin with this closed system of presuppositions, you lose the very idea that human beings are made in God’s image.

You lose the fact that, no, you don’t have to start from any presuppositions at all because God gave each and every individual the same insatiable curiosity, rational thinking processes, emotional receptors, and desire to figure out life. You deny this fact and you deny a cornerstone of the biblical narrative. And doing so leads to (as Lana Hope pointed out) the stilted, articially “religious” environment that the Christian Homeschooling Movement was and continues to be, which denigrates the importance of academics and thus fails at responsible stewardship of children’s education.

There’s another way here, people. Academics can be the end of the homeschooling movement when we conceive of academics as inherently valuable, an end in themselves. Dedicating what resources you have to educate your child as best you can what if this is very definition of making Jesus lord of your life?

There is no need to conceive of “academics” and “lordship of Jesus” as distinct or opposed. In fact, I am just going to call out Israel Wayne as preaching a false gospel here. The Gospel is not about the totalitarian, totalistic imposition of Jesus on every aspect of our lives. The Gospel — as preached by Jesus — is a transformation, a process that becomes radically relevant, informing, and empowering to each individual in each individual’s unique context. In the context of a parent who has the resources to teach a child, that parent has a responsibility — call it God-given if you want — to give that child the very best education possible in the most nurturing and loving environment imaginable.

That is making Jesus lord.

And if that parent hides those educational resources out of fear of what that child may do with them, that is a rejection of Jesus as lord.

To conceive of homeschooling as “discipleship,” and education as inherently “religious,” is to reinstate the dualism whereby you can teach something like geography in a “Christian” way but also in a “non-Christian” way. No. That is pure nonsense. You either teach your child geography or you don’t. There’s no “Christian” way to teach geography, any more than there is a “Christian” way to change a tire. To say so ignores the fact that the simple act of teaching your child geography — in the context of homeschooling parenthood — is the definition of discipleship. You don’t have to artificially force “religion” into a geography lesson, like Kevin Swanson’s bizarre suggestion at the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit that, “We’ll shock everybody when we begin confessing our sins in the geography class.” And note that Swanson gives the exact same reasoning as Wayne, that education isn’t an end in itself:

We need to call [Christians] to use words like discipleship and nurture. Stop talking schools with me. Don’t talk about education with me. Let’s not talk about home education and Christian education, Christian schools. Let’s talk about discipleship. Let’s talk about a focus on faith and character. Let’s focus on the discipling of a child.

Sorry, but you can’t lace geography lessons with Jesus in the hopes of drugging your kids into Heaven.

Teach them geography well, as well as science, math, sex education, and so forth. Show them the world and do not instill fear in them.

That is making Jesus lord.

When you equip your child for life — when you teach them academics as a valuable end in itself — when you empower your child to face the storms that life will present, to wrestle with ideas, to master reasoning and humility — when you protect your child from abuse, and show your child you will protect other children from abuse as well — when you become Jesus to your homeschooling community by standing up for the abused and the marginalized — when you, like Jesus, say “Let the little children come to me,” to be safe, to be educated, to be empowered to succeed —

— that is making Jesus lord.

Homeschool parents who are afraid to educate their children thoroughly, who withhold from their children information about the world out of fear that it might “lead them astray,” need to imagine a bigger God.

When we start imagining a bigger God, when we start prioritizing children over ideology and children’s lives over our so-called “freedoms” — that’s when we’ll actually see a shift in the homeschooling movement.