No Unbelievers Allowed: How Homeschooling Became a Christians-Only Club

Gregg Harris, YouTube.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

As a child, I remember my family was friends with another Christian homeschooling family. My parents ran a local Christian homeschooling support group. This other family, however, was part of an “inclusive” homeschooling support group. I knew this was a source of tension between my parents and the other parents. Whether accurate or not, my child-brain discerned that since the “inclusive” group was not only for Christians, it was not a “Christian” homeschooling group — and that was a problem.

At the time, I did not realize that this tension between my parents and my friends’ parents about whether to include non-Christians in local homeschooling support groups was a significant debate among homeschoolers. The fact that it was a significant debate can be traced back to one person in particular: Gregg Harris.

The influence Gregg Harris has exerted on the modern homeschooling movement cannot be overstated. He is described by journalists Kathryn Joyce and Helen Cordes as one of the “four pillars of homeschooling” (alongside HSLDA’s Michael Farris, NHERI’s Brian Ray, and The Teaching Home‘s Sue Welch). In his 2006 book Homeschool Heroes: The Struggle and Triumph of Home Schooling in America, the late Chris Klicka of HSLDA describes the exact influence Harris had on the fledgeling homeschooling movement in the 1980’s:

In 1980 Gregg Harris and his wife, Sono, elected to take a giant step and homeschool their son, Joshua… Gregg wanted to start a ministry to encourage other families to homeschool. He saw homeschooling as a means of restoring the model of the Bible-centered family, a place to train future leaders… His ministry, Christian Life Workshops (CLW), offered these two-day homeschool workshops… He urged families to homeschool in order to fulfill God’s command to train our children.

His homeschool workshops at first drew a few hundred… Pretty soon the workshops grew in attendance to nearly fifteen hundred. Over 180,000 families were trained by Gregg Harris from 1984 to 1995. At least thirty-five of the now large statewide homeschool associations got their start as Gregg shared his attendee and mailing lists. Many had their founding organizing meetings at Gregg’s workshops.

Without Gregg Harris’s early influence, I am convinced that the homeschool movement would not be the thriving Christian influence on our society that it is becoming today (21-22, emphases in original).

HSLDA’s J. Michael Smith has also noted that Harris’ “early Homeschooling Workshops inspired…many state homeschool organizations to launch annual state conferences.” According to Harris’ own website today, he has taught over a quarter of a million homeschooling families.

It is because of Harris’ overwhelming influence on both the modern homeschooling movement in general and the Christian subculture within that movement that HSLDA named their Lifetime Achievement Award the “Gregg Harris Award for Leadership.” (This is the award HSLDA bestowed upon accused rapist Bill Gothard in 2010.)

One of the primary ways that Harris influenced homeschooling, as noted above, is his transformation of homeschooling from an alternative educational method to a specifically Christian way of life. In his 1988 book The Christian Home School, Harris directly compares Christian parents who send their children to public schools to medieval Christians who sent their children into actual slaughter during the Children’s Crusade of 1212.*** “A similar slaughter is taking place today,” Harris warns, when “Christian parents send their children to the public school… The result is the same” (11). Because “God has entrusted the care, the nurture, and the education of those children primarily to [parents],” “not to the State” and “not to the Church” (11), Harris sees homeschooling as the biblical method of education.

To Harris, part of making homeschooling a specifically Christian way of life means purging local homeschooling support groups of non-Christians. In The Christian Home School, Harris urges Christian homeschoolers that, “For spiritual support, you and other like-minded Christians will clearly need to meet together in homes or churches as a separate group… We should try not to get entangled in the affairs of unbelieving families” (186-7).

Not being reported for child abuse is also an advantage of shunning “unbelieving families.” In a guest chapter for Chris Klicka’s 1995 book The Right Choice: Home Schooling, Harris argues against “inclusive,” or interfaith, homeschool support groups. He warns that non-Christians do not understand the biblical mandate to physically strike one’s children according to Proverbs. Consequently, “Biblical methods of discipline may be reported by fellow group members to authorities as ‘child abuse'” (188).

For these reasons, Harris recommends in The Christian Home School that support groups create statements of faith. “A disagreement over policy or doctrine or an aggressive intruder can mean a lot of problems for the group,” he writes. “Know who you are and what you stand for when you begin.” This means that, “A statement of faith, which should be affirmed by any potential group leader, ought to be broad enough to include Christians who disagree on nonessential matters (such as eschatology), but narrow enough to exclude people from a nonevangelical framework or who hold abhorrent opinions” (185).

In addition to non-evangelicals (e.g., Catholics), Harris also contends for the exclusion of families with “homosexual and lesbian parents.” LGBTQ parents, Harris explains, “have a history of trying to join Christian support groups and move into leadership under false pretenses.” Since “God’s Word clearly condemns these sexual perversions,” Harris argues, “to keep these people out, you need a clear statement in the founding documents” (185).

Note that these families are being excluded because of parental sexual identity. So even if the parents’ children are straight, if the parents are not straight, Harris recommends casting the whole lot out of one’s group.

Furthermore, Harris wants these LGBTQ families excluded while acknowledging they are isolated and persecuted. He points out that LGBTQ families “are attracted to home schooling because they have been socially isolated and often persecuted. They seem to assume that home schoolers are kindred spirits because of the legal battles related to home education. Needless to say, Christian home schoolers have little in common with such people, but we need to say so” (185-6). He does, nonetheless, advocate for showing LGBTQ families personal kindness: “Respond to them on a personal level, but keep them out of the group” (186).

These sorts of exclusions are what homeschooling forefather Raymond Moore referred to in his 1994 white papers in which he lambasted Harris, HSLDA, and others for causing division in the homeschooling movement. Also known as “The Ravage of Home Education Through Exclusion By Religion,” Moore’s white papers lambast all four homeschooling “pillars” for a “form of bigotry” he labels “Protestant Exclusivism.” Moore gives the following harsh description of Harris:

A “Christian” fired from a homeschool job for fraud began using a statement of faith to split states and obtain a following, His Protestant exclusivist [PE] move was joined by lawyer-preacher Mike Farris and Editor Sue Welch of TEACHING HOME magazine, making money from the move, yet it did not come from the Christ whose flag they wave. Backed by publisher who profit by formal, conventional programs, it destroys the historic unity and quality of the Movement, splitting state groups by requiring a statement of faith.

Sociologist Mitchell Stevens gives a more nuanced take on the disagreements between Harris and Moore in his 2009 book on homeschooling, Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement. In contrast to Moore’s description of Harris being “fired,” Stevens claims Harris “left” his job with Moore:

As the years passed and Christian home education flourished, other stars began to rise. Gregg Harris, who had begun his homeschool career as a conference planner for Moore, left his employer in a bitter business dispute and began his own fledgling ministry… Moore and his wife were themselves Protestant Christian, but their vision for home schooling was an ecumenical one. The next generation of believer elites had different ideas… By the dawn of the 1990s, Raymond Moore was finding himself on the outside… Ultimately Moore’s more ecumenical vision for homeschooling lost out to a distinctively Christian home education (172-3).

Over the last decade, news articles have proclaimed the religious diversification of the modern homeschooling movement. People often point to surveys that show fewer parents are homeschooling primarily for religious reasons. Nonetheless, it is estimated that anywhere from 70 to 94 percent of homeschoolers are Christian.

*** While this is the description of the Children’s Crusade given by Harris, it is not historically accurate.

Why HSLDA Finds the Proverbial Village Threatening

The following is an excerpt from R.L. Stollar’s “Children as Divine Rental Property: An Exposition on HSLDA’s Philosophy of Parental Rights.” You can read the paper in full here.

Who do children belong to? This is a much-debated question. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) insists that parents have the “sole authority” to “carefully craft” their children’s lives and minds, while denying those children any rights of their own. HSLDA thus finds other answers to that question threatening: such as children belonging to themselves, the government, or the community. These other answers redistribute rights away from parents and towards non-parental units. But one particular answer — Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “it takes a village” answer — has received a disproportionate amount of attention from the organization.

HSLDA employees seem inexplicably obsessed with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her advocacy for children’s rights. The late Chris Klicka said Clinton had “declared war on parents’ rights in America”[i] because of her support of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. HSLDA founder Michael Farris made one of the villains in his fictional book Forbid Them Not a character named “Helene Rodman,” whom he describes as “the first female president of the United States” with a “perfectly plastic smile,” a “feminist agenda,” and a desire to attack “home schooling.”[ii] Farris has freely admitted that Rodman is based on Clinton.[iii] In Forbid Them Not‘s alternate universe, “Rodman” (or Clinton) takes advantage of “a landslide election, which swept a Democratic majority into both houses of Congress” and immediately signs the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Naturally, all hell breaks loose and a Farris-esque hero named Cooper Stone (a lawyer who moved from Washington State to Loudon County, Virginia,[iv] just like Farris) must swoop in and save the day.

Other HSLDA employees have also obsessed with Clinton,[v] in particular her book It Takes a Village that called for “comprehensive early education programs for disadvantaged children and their families.”[vi] The “it takes a village” concept has long been a target of conservative Christians (beyond just HSLDA) — which is odd, because the concept is nothing new nor did it begin with Clinton. The “Children belong to their community” answer to the question “To whom do children belong?” dates back millennia. It is neither Clintonian nor Marxist — nor anything else modern, for that matter. Yet conservative Christians today (including HSLDA) fixate on Clinton as the arch-nemesis of their own values who threatens to bring Big Brother into families’ living rooms and bedrooms.

The most explicit articulation of this sentiment comes from Michael Farris’s 1999 presentation before the Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society’s World Congress of Families in Geneva, Switzerland.[vii] Farris says “it takes a village” advocates (whom Farris equivocates with child welfare workers) use terrorist-like tactics: “Those who believe that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ are willing to use coercion, threats, raw police power, and intimidation to enforce their agenda.  Parents who raise children in a manner that the village doesn’t like have learned to fear the knock on the door lest they hear the dreaded words, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help raise your children.’”

Farris relates international children’s rights efforts to these terrorist-like tactics. He specifically calls out a number of children’s rights as negative, such as: (1) “the right of the child to express his/or her opinion” concerning the child’s own education; (2) the right of a child to not be physically hit by parents; and (3) the right of “children, particularly adolescents, to pursue, medical or legal counseling without parental consent”. Children should not have these rights, Farris makes clear. And if children are granted them, Farris believes the consequences will be dire: “It is up to this generation of parents to act for the generations to come to ensure that we protect the family in the black and white of our Constitution lest the global village overtake our homes.”[viii]

These three children’s rights — the right to self-determine education, the right not to be physically hit by parents, and the right to self-determine one’s medical treatment — are consistently targeted by HSLDA. In fact, nearly every statement HSLDA has made in the past (and continues to make today) against the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child — or any other declaration of children’s rights — calls out these three rights negatively. It is worthwhile, therefore, to look at each respectively:

The right to self-determine education

The right to self-determine education is, of course, a direct threat to HSLDA’s specific form of homeschooling advocacy. HSLDA holds back little on this count: Klicka was forthright about the fact that, if children had rights, then they could say no to homeschooling — which Klicka would not tolerate. “If children have rights,” he said, “they could refuse to be home-schooled.”[ix] Thus to protect the ideal of homeschooling, Klicka denounced giving children rights. In fact, in a later article written on behalf of HSLDA by both him and former HSLDA attorney Doug Phillips, to “give children fundamental rights enforceable against their parents” was explicitly said to be a “threat.”[x] As Klicka and Phillips later define “fundamental rights” as rights such as “speech, press, religion,” one can deduce that HSLDA does not believe children should have rights to speech and religion enforceable against their parents. Indeed, the Washington Post has noted that two reasons HSLDA opposes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are “the group fears that ratifying the treaty would mean children could choose their own religion” and “a child’s ‘right to be heard’ could trigger a governmental review of any decision a parent made that a child didn’t like.”[xi]

Klicka made this explicit in The Right Choice: Home Schooling. He explained that rights such as “freedom of expression,” “freedom of religion,” “freedom of association,” and “right to privacy” “would virtually undermine parents’ rights as we know it in the United States. Parents no longer would have the basic right to control [their children],” in particular “what church they attend.” Giving “children the fundamental rights of freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of religion,” and so forth is thus “in direct opposition to of [sic] those parents’ rights.”[xii]

The right to not be physically hit by parents

The right to not be physically hit by parents is a direct threat to HSLDA’s advocacy of corporal punishment. The aforementioned quote by Chris Klicka continues as follows: “If children have rights, they could refuse to be home-schooled, plus it takes away parents’ rights to physically discipline their children.”[xiii] Klicka and HSLDA not only defend the right of parents to physically hit children, they actively fight to expand that right to include foster parents physically punishing foster children: “[Klicka] had a similar explanation for [HSLDA’s] opposition to increased federal child abuse laws — more laws would mean more likelihood that corporal punishment could be defined as child abuse…Administrators from Patrick Henry College were among those testifying before the Virginia Department of Social Services for a measure that would allow foster parents to physically discipline foster children.”[xiv]

It is important to highlight that HSLDA does not simply defend the right of parents (natural or foster) to physically hit children. Rather, HSLDA explicitly promotes parents doing so. Michael Farris has declared that, “I am a firm believer in—dare I say it?—spanking. When the children are little I will spank either gender for deliberate disobedience of a rule that they have been taught.” Farris describes a father who will not use corporal punishment on his daughter as a “pushover” who “loves his daughter in principle, but…hates her in practice.”[xv]

In Klicka’s book The Right Choice: Homeschooling, Gregg Harris contributes a guest chapter (“How Should We Then Teach? Walking In Light Of God’s Principles Of Education”) where he instructs parents that, “Spanking is one divinely mandated method which must not be ignored,” and that if parents do not spank, their children “could become another statistic in the war on drug abuse, AIDs, and drunk driving.” Parents who do not use corporal punishment are “disobey[ing] God by discarding a clearly biblical method of child discipline.”[xvi]

The right to self-determine one’s medical treatment

The right to self-determine one’s medical treatment is a direct threat to HSLDA’s defense of parents’ religious freedom — contextually defined as the right of parents to withhold medical treatment from their children if their religion thus dictates. Religious freedom forms the cornerstone of HSLDA’s objection to mandatory vaccinations, for example. Chris Klicka has declared that, “Immunizations should not be mandated for all children [because] many parents have strong religious convictions against vaccinating their children.”[xvii] Klicka defends medical religious exemptions because, “Religious exemption statutes simply codify the protections of an individual’s right to freely exercise their religious belief as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and parallel portions of the state constitutions.” However, Klicka never explains how an individual’s right to religious expression implies a right to impose that expression on another individual — i.e., a child’s medical treatment.

Similarly, HSLDA’s current senior counsel Dee Black has expressed support for parents exempting their children from not only immunizations but other health care as well. HSLDA offers support to homeschooling parents who “claim a religious exemption from immunizations,” Black says, “and health and medical services.”[xviii] Farris believes this is appropriate because, even when it comes to complicated medical procedures of which parents have zero education or expertise, “God has delegated these kinds of decisions to parents, not to doctors, social workers, or courts.”[xix]

Since “the village” — the concept of community taken for granted by many cultures and societies throughout history — could potentially lead the recognition of one or more of these 3 rights, it takes on a purely nightmarish quality to Farris and HSLDA. This nightmare drives them to shrink the circle of necessary and desirable socialization to the nuclear family — as we see, for example, in a statement by HSLDA’s Will Estrada that, “It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes parents.”[xx]

But note: while mass mobilization on a national or international scale via government-funded programs (such as public schools, day care, health care, etc.) to recreate the “village” atmosphere lost due to the last few centuries of industrialization is indeed a relatively novel idea, so too is the idea that a nuclear family can adequately carry all the responsibilities previously carried by the “village.”[xxi] (This is why John Holt once argued that, “The family we talk so much about preserving is a modern invention.”[xxii]) While HSLDA does not hesitate to point out the former, they never provide any justification or rationale for the latter. Whether this is due to historical ignorance or intentional omission is unclear. What is clear is that they believe, contrary to actual facts, that the 20th century, American, heterosexual two-parent nuclear family concept is the historical norm.

Click here to read the rest of “Children as Divine Rental Property: An Exposition on HSLDA’s Philosophy of Parental Rights.”


[i] Chris Klicka, The Right Choice: Home Schooling, Noble Publishing Associations, 4th printing and revised edition, 1995, p. 243.

[ii] Michael Farris, Forbid Them Not, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002, p. 398-400, 448.

[iii] Michael Farris, “Parental Rights: Why Now is the Time to Act,” Court Report, Marcy/April 2006, link, accessed on December 3, 2015: “In 2002, I published a novel, Forbid Them Not (Broadman & Holman), with the premise that a thinly-disguised Hillary Clinton had been elected president. The first act of her new administration was to secure the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). I do not claim the gift of prophecy, but there is a looming possibility that I may be proven right.”

[iv] Farris, Forbid Them Not, p. 27-8.

[v] Examples of HSLDA’s singling out of Hillary Clinton include: (i) Michael Farris, “Appeals court rejects coerced entry to home,” Washington Post editorial, September 7, 1999, link, accessed on December 3, 2015. Michael Farris begins generalizing about the “it takes a village” people: “We have heard from the ‘it-takes-a-village people’ that the government’s need [sic] to protect children from abuse.” (ii) HSLDA’s autobiographical series, “1983-1998: Marking the Milestones — A Review of History: Hardwon Freedoms,” describes Clinton’s “village” concept in its “International Threats” section: “So-called child advocacy groups, such as Children’s Defense Fund—part of the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ establishment—have begun to use international bodies, like the United Nations, to gain more control over the world’s families.” See link, accessed on December 3, 2015. (iii) HSLDA, “Pray for Parental Rights,” January 5, 2005, link, accessed on December 3, 2015. HSLDA declared it is “increasingly concerned about the erosion of parental rights, especially when religious parents want to do something that offends modern secular sensibilities. There is a profound tension between the rights and responsibilities of parents, on the one hand, and the increasingly popular ‘It Takes a Village’ mentality on the other.” (iv) Michael Farris, Home School Heartbeat, “Parental Rights, Part 1 — Lessons from History,” Volume 67, Program 1, April 24, 2006, link, accessed on December 3, 2015. Farris says, “There are three direct threats to parental rights,” one of which is, “There’s a rising number of anti-parent politicians who believe, like Hillary Clinton, that ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child.” (v) Michael Farris, “New World Playpen,” American Conservative, October 1, 2009, link, accessed on December 3, 2015. Farris describes “a coalition seeking ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child” as “the faithful, who subscribe to the notion that ‘It Takes an (International) Village to Raise a Child.’” (vi) Will Estrada, HSLDA, “Whose children are they? UPDATE: HSLDA’s Will Estrada counters Melissa Harris-Perry on The Daily Caller,” link, accessed on December 3, 2015. Will Estrada, HSLDA’s Director of Federal Relations, criticizes MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry by way of criticizing Clinton: “It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes parents…This leftist ridiculous idea that children somehow belong to the state—I thought we defeated this back with socialism, back with fascism.” (vii) One of Will Estrada’s speech presentations takes direct aim at Clinton: “The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child—It Takes a Village to Raise Your Child.” See link, accessed on December 3, 2015. These are but a few of many possible examples, all of which indicate HSLDA is particularly bothered and/or threatened by not only the “village” concept in itself, but perhaps more importantly by Hillary Clinton’s specific articulation of it.

[vi] Katherine Paterson, “First, Families,” New York Times, February 11, 1996, link, accessed on December 12, 2014.

[vii] Michael Farris, “Remarks to The World Congress of Families II,” presented at the 1999 World Congress of Families, The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Chris Klicka, as quoted by Helen Cordes, “Battling for the heart and soul of home-schoolers,” Salon, October 2, 2000, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.

[x] Christopher J. Klicka and Douglas W. Phillips, “Why Parental Rights Laws Are Necessary,” Educational Leadership, November 1997, Volume 55, Number 3, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.

[xi] Karen Attiah, “Why won’t the U.S. ratify the U.N.’s child rights treaty?”, Washington Post, November 21, 2014, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.

[xii] Klicka, The Right Choice, 1995, p. 247, 249, 253.

[xiii] Klicka, as quoted by Helen Cordes, 2014.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Michael Farris, How A Man Prepares His Daughters For Life, Bethany House Publishers, 1996, p. 30-1.

[xvi] Gregg Harris in Klicka, The Right Choice, 1995, p. 188, 190.

[xvii] Christopher Klicka, “Immunizations: A Parent’s Choice,” HSLDA, September 13, 2007, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.

[xviii] Dee Black, “Homeschool Affidavits: Health and Medical Services/Immunization Requirements,” HSLDA, January 6, 2014, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.

[xix] Michael Farris, “Who Makes the Really Tough Decisions: Parents? Or Doctors?”, HSLDA, November 29, 2011, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.

[xx] Will Estrada as quoted by The Daily Caller, “Homeschool advocate obliterates MSNBC host over ‘collective’ view of children,” April 14, 2013, link, accessed on December 12, 2014.

[xxi] In fact, there is growing evidence that this will only further strain the health of nuclear families. For example, see Emelie A. Olson, “Socioeconomic and Psycho-Cultural Contexts of Child Abuse and Neglect in Turkey,” Child Abuse and Neglect: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, edited by Jill E. Korbin, published by University of California Press, 1981, p. 96: “[There is] another result of the increased [modernization in Turkey]: children are valued more for ‘primary group ties, affection, and love’ and less for security in old age and utilitarian values. Ironically, as children become relatively more important as sources of love, support, and companionship to parents cut off from their family and neighborhood networks, it is possible that the parents’ unmet emotional needs may lead to increasingly high expectations and unrealistic demands on their small children and thus to more classic child abuse.”

[xxii] John Holt, Escape from Childhood, published by Holt Associates, 1996.

Today I’m Proud of Joshua Harris

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 5.12.21 PM
Josh Harris.


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on February 2, 2015.

So, have you heard the news? Joshua Harris is stepping down from his role of head pastor of Covenant Life Church and heading to Vancouver to attend seminary at Regent College. I don’t know much about Regent, though the Washington Post described it as “mainstream.” Not only that, but Josh is planning to send his kids to public school while he attends seminary. Public school. This is huge, and it’s hard to describe how much it means to me.

Josh Harris was the oldest child of Gregg Harris, a well known early Christian homeschool leader who traveled the country speaking at conferences and convincing people that homeschooling was God’s plan for families and the best way to raise children. Because of his father’s ideas, Josh did not go to either college or seminary, and instead went straight into ministry, including both writing and preaching.

Josh published I Kissed Dating Goodbye in 1997, and the book took the Christian homeschooling world by storm. Suddenly “courtship” became the word of the hour, and parents of children like myself were deciding that they would not let their children date—and indeed, would teach us that dating is akin to adultery, or worse. Josh Harris singlehandedly created the atmosphere I grew up in with regards to romance and marriage. I not only read his book, I lived and breathed it—as did countless other fundamentalist and evangelical homeschooled teens.

Ten years ago, Josh became the pastor of Covenant Life Church, a nondenominational evangelical megachurch with 3000 members, all without formal theological training. But in recent years, his church and others in its loose association became mired in scandal. The words “Sovereign Grace Ministries” may be familiar to you. The upshot of it all was that Josh and other pastors (most prominently C.J. Mahoney) were dealing with sex abuse allegations internally and not reporting anything to the authorities. Josh himself was not accused of sex abuse, and when everything started going down Josh disassociated his church from the association and made changes.

And now this. It seems that the scandal has made Josh realize that he was not adequately prepared for the position of authority he held, and that formal educational training actually has some merit. This is a huge admission to make as the son of one of the most prominent Christian homeschooling pioneers. I’m sure Josh is doing his best to mollify his father and bring him around, but in making this decision he is admitting that his father was wrong. Not wrong about homeschooling necessarily, but wrong in his opposition to formal education writ large.

And the whole sending his kids to public school while he’s in seminary thing? You have to understand that leaders like Gregg Harris made homeschooling part of the gospel. To be a true Christian, for them, was to homeschool. That and that alone was God’s will for families. I felt great trepidation about how my mother would react to me sending my own children to public school, and my mother has never been a prominent homeschooling leader on the scale of Gregg Harris. For many Christian homeschooling parents (my mother included) having a child grow up to put their own children in public school is a sign of failure. So for Josh to do what he’s doing—that takes guts.

Even going to seminary takes guts for someone like him! Why? Because of this:

For most of his career, Joshua Harris was the kind of evangelical pastor who chuckled at the joke that “seminary” should really be called “cemetery.”

There is a strong anti-seminary bent in the circles Josh runs in. Josh himself admits that he probably would not have been hired on as head pastor at Covenant Life Church if he had been to seminary. Seminary is almost a dirty word. All you need is the Bible! You don’t need to be taught by professors! Biblical criticism? Who needs that! Just listen to the Holy Spirit, read the Bible, and you’re good! And here Josh is, admitting that he does need that, and heading off to seminary.

Here is Josh’s own description of what’s going on:

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” (Maybe you saw the movie starring Brad Pitt). It’s about a man who ages in reverse—he is born old and with each passing day becomes younger.

In reflecting on my own story, I can’t help but think that I have lived a sort of backwards life. Without meaning to, I have experienced life out of the normal order and sequence of events.

At the end of last year I turned 40 years old. Yet it is only now that I am going to school. I haven’t completed any post-graduate study. I don’t even have an undergraduate degree. In fact, I have never attended a formal school full-time in my life.

I’ve been on a unique educational path my whole life. For the first 17 years of my life I was homeschooled by my mother. My father was a well-known homeschool advocate who traveled the country teaching parents the biblical principles for and advantages of home education. I was “Exhibit A” of my dad’s philosophy that you could learn by doing, be directed in study by your delights and succeed outside of the “system.”

At age 17, when most kids my age were going off to college, I started a ministry called New Attitude. I began publishing a magazine and putting on conferences for teenagers. I felt a clear sense of calling from God to speak to my generation and call them to a passionate pursuit of God. When I was 21, I wrote my first book [I Kissed Dating Goodbye], which met with a good deal of success.

That’s when I met C.J. Mahaney, who was the previous Senior Pastor of our church. In C.J. I found someone who understood me and who was willing to train me. He was a charismatic pastor (in all senses of the word) who pastored a mega-church, led a national network of churches, and embraced both reformed theology and charismatic practice.

Like me, C.J. got his start on the conference circuit before becoming a pastor. Like me he had never received formal theological training, and the group of churches he led, which grew out of the Jesus Movement in the 1970s, at that time didn’t place a high value on seminary training. So instead of attending seminary before becoming a pastor, I moved into C.J.’s basement, worked as an intern in the church, traveled the country with him and began preaching. It was on the job training and I soaked up everything C.J. taught me.

Seven years after I arrived at the church, I was set in as the hand-picked replacement for C.J. I was 30 years old, with no formal theological training and no formal training in organizational leadership, and I was the Senior Pastor of a 3,000 member church. That my friends is a crazy, backwards life!

Yes. Yes.

And so here I am, feeling proud of Josh Harris. What he’s doing is not an easy thing, but it is an important thing. He’s not the only one who feels he led a backward life. I and many others feel the same way too. As teens, we were expected to have the maturity of 30-year-old adults, and only later, as young adults ourselves, were we able to let the facade drop and finally go through adolescence.

Forging our own paths after the level of parental control homeschooling afforded our parents isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I wish Josh the best as he leaves the conveyer belt he was set on—by both his father and evangelical leaders like C.J. Mahoney—and makes his own decisions and chooses his own path.

Note: It’s probably worth mentioning that Josh has also walked back his ideas about dating and courtship. I hope to write more about this later, once I’ve had time to listen to his sermons on the topic, which seem to be available only as audio files. 

Enough Already with the Modesty and Purity Hype

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 27, 2013.

The other day my 18-yr old daughter posted this picture on my Facebook with the comment, “What I tell you every time”:


It cracked me up. But what was interesting to me was noticing the large amount of Facebook friends, also former homeschool kids, who were clicking the “like” button. It was as if they were saying, “Yea, what she said!” I loved some of the exchange in the comments.

Our good friend who acts like our adopted son, who opens our front door without knocking, and raids our fridge commented:

Was he a beautiful black man like myself?

His comment got a few likes. I laughed. My 23-yr old son replied:

Yet when guys do that it’s looked down upon…sinful…creeper status…et cetera. Oh the irony.

Ouch! I think he’s right. There does seem to be a distinction that it’s semi-okay for girls to look at guys, but not the other way around.

Several years ago in 2007, there was a modesty survey put out by homeschoolers, Brett and Alex Harris (Brett and Alex’s dad is Gregg Harris’ son, homeschooling pioneer and ther older brother is Pastor Josh Harris, of Covenant Life Church in MD).

Here’s an excerpt from the survey page:

The Modesty Survey is an exciting, anonymous discussion between Christian guys and girls who care about modesty. Hundreds of Christian girls contributed to the 148-question survey and over 1,600 Christian guys submitted 150,000+ answers, including 25,000 text responses, over a 20-day period in January 2007. For more information, click here.

It has been endorsed by Shaunti Feldhahn (best-selling author of For Women Only), Nancy Leigh DeMoss (author,Revive Our Hearts radio host), Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Shannon Ethridge (best-selling author ofEvery Woman’s Battle series), and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries). is the home of Alex and Brett Harris and online headquarters for the Rebelution, defined as “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.”

This survey started out in homeschool circles and quickly spread throughout young teens and adults in Christendom all over the internet, denominations, states, and even the world. I believe the modesty survey was well-intentioned, but the results have not been all positive. Instead, we have discovered a host of other issues that lie beneath the church’s sometimes over-emphasis on modesty and purity.

In the aftermath of the modesty survey, some young men policed the clothing of their female friends and graded the way she dressed by a modesty scale in their head. The way she dressed became a distraction, interfering with relationships. Young ladies were told that they might cause a man to stumble by the way she dressed and this created a lot of pain for young ladies who were burdened with a responsibility they really had no business carrying. And then we had the issue of what to do with young ladies who had curvy figures and no matter what clothes were worn, the curves could not be hidden. Some young ladies resorted to changing eating habits which led to eating disorders to lose weight in order to minimize those curves. Didn’t God create those beautiful curves? Wow, this modesty thing was now crossing the lines into intentionally altering one’s appearance because of not passing a “modesty” scale.

I don’t want to get into all of the problems that came out of this survey because it is very easy to do a Google search and you could spend days reading blog articles and sometimes hundreds of comments on particular popular articles. I really was hoping that after 6 years and hundreds of articles that this subject would die down.

Wouldn’t you know it, the same authors of the infamous modesty survey at the Rebelution blog just last week published a new article: The Other Side of Modesty, this time dealing with guys and how they dress. Really? Do we need to go there? I suppose maybe the young ladies might appreciate a little pushback or balance from their sisters in Christ, but come on. Can we be done with this already?

At our former church, there was almost an obsession on modesty and the topic of sexual immorality came up quite a bit. This was a common verse we heard and probably most of us have it memorized just because we heard it so often:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

I think sometimes we confuse looking with lusting. And that is important to note.

I have a funny story from several years ago. Now, this is “my” version because my young adult kids have a slightly different version. But until they have their own blogs, you get to read my version.

My daughter, Hannah, was probably around 19 yrs old or so and driving with her learner’s permit, so I was in the passenger seat, and my other daughter who was around 12 years old was in the back seat. A police officer pulled us over because of a burned out brake light. Let me be straight up. The police officer was a fine-looking human specimen and while my kids were used to hearing from the pulpit about how evil and lustful our eyes are, after the police officer went back to his patrol car, I said aloud to my daughters that I wouldn’t mind being pulled over again by that officer. If I remember correctly, there was a pause and then some surprised laughter coming from the girls. Their mother, a married woman said that? They were not expecting that comment from me and frankly, I don’t know if I was expecting that comment to slip out, either. Oh well, it came out loud and clear.

Did I cross the line? Some might think so. I don’t agree. You see, there seems to be a fuzzy line that brings confusion and can start to border on legalism, if not into full-fledge legalism. We were created in God’s image. God saw that what He created was good. At that moment, when I noticed that cop, and acknowledged what God had created was good and called it as such, some people have a problem with that because they think of verses like this:

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28

Was I looking at this guy with lust? No! He was just nice looking guy. Don’t you think everyone from teens all the way through adulthood know when we are looking at someone with lust? Everybody knows what that feels like — you know – – those feelings we get in our body, the places our mind goes. It’s a no-brainer. My brain did none of those things when I looked at that fine specimen.

I have read of men being physically attracted to women dressed in full Muslim attire with burqa and head coverings. Isn’t that something? We need to realize that women and men, no matter how they dress, will be eye candy for someone. We’ve got two issues going on and I think if we look at these two issues in a non-legalistic way, we can find some helpful guidelines.

• Looking is not the same as lusting. It’s okay to appreciate God’s creation. The key is to do it without lusting. We all know when we have crossed that line. It does not take a rocket scientist to tell us those signs that are happening in our body. If you happened to cross that line, acknowledge it, ask God to forgive you, and move on knowing that His grace is sufficient for you and me.

• Dress modestly. I think most of us can figure out what that means and I also think that as we mature in Christ, the boundary lines may change from time to time. We all know when we are dressing with the intent to attract the opposite sex and we all know what it’s like to dress when we are going to see grandma and grandpa. This is pretty simple. We can figure this out.

As a homeschooling mom of 20+ years, I fell into the modesty/purity hype and created all sorts of rules for my kids. I regret that it had negative consequences in my family. I’ve stopped obsessing about hemlines, etc. When I stopped obsessing about my boys walking past Victoria’s Secret at the mall and turning the television channel when we saw a young lady wearing a bikini on television, amazingly, my children stopped obsessing.

So, in conclusion, I hope we can learn to treat one another with love and grace on this topic… and appreciate God’s creation

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.


[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], 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.

The Many Men and Women Behind The Curtain: Noah’s Story

The Many Men Behind The Curtain: Noah’s Story

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

"There is a homeschooling machine, whether some people want to admit it or not. There is a Man Behind The Curtain."
“There is a homeschooling machine, whether some people want to admit it or not. There is a Man Behind The Curtain.”

My family started homeschooling because they didn’t like the public schools.

This had nothing to do with God or the feared specter of Marxism. There was no prophetic mandate from above, no urge to add more offspring to Michael Farris’ cultural Illuminati. No, my parents’ reason for homeschooling was really that simple: they didn’t like the public schools. They thought the public schools were a failure.

But my story is a common one. It has a theme mirrored in so many of my friends’ stories. As time went by, my family got slowly but surely sucked into the vortex that is a particular type of homeschooling: the conservative Christian type. While a lot of people want to lay the blame at my parents’ feet, that’s not really fair. And it’s disingenuous. Because the people wanting to blame my parents are specifically not wanting me to blame homeschooling. But those people don’t know my parents. And they don’t know what my early homeschooling looked like. Those people don’t want to acknowledge that it was the homeschooling machine that changed my parents.

There is a homeschooling machine, whether some people want to admit it or not. There is a Man Behind The Curtain. Or, rather, many men (and women). Call me crazy or a conspiracy theorist. But why do all our stories bring up the same names? Gregg Harris. Michael Farris. Mary Pride. David Barton. Ken Ham. Little Bear Wheeler. Michael Pearl. Josh Harris. Etc. Etc. Etc.

You do realize that that a shit ton of money is being made by all these people, right? There is literally a homeschooling industry that is profiting off these peoples’ ideas. Their ideas are being pedaled at homeschooling conventions all over the country, month after month, year after year. Their books are being promoted in every edition of every homeschooling magazine (well, the conservative Christian magazines, but I think you know I’m talking about a particular subsection). Their ideologies are reinforced in state and local support groups, where parents that don’t follow the line get ostracized, just like the so-called “Four Pillars of Homeschooling” have long ostracized the secular homeschooling movement.

It’s really, honestly, a type of bullying. My parents experienced this from the beginning, when they tried to get into a local homeschool group when we were young. We weren’t “Christian” enough (even though we were Christians!). The other homeschooling moms talked shit about my mom until, in tears, she almost gave up on homeschooling us entirely. She eventually found a more supportive homeschooling group, but, as the years went by, she started turning into the moms she originally hated. It’s, strangely enough, just like peer pressure. As one “cool thing” like courtship became a fad, as soon as the “cool” family picked it up, everyone else had to as well. If you didn’t, if you weren’t into courtship, you became that kid in public school who got his shoes at Goodwill. You were ostracized and made fun of, rejected and abused. It’s no wonder that my parents slowly became what originally almost turned them off from homeschooling.

That’s not to say people aren’t responsible for their own actions. But my parents have honestly tried to do their best for me. I respect them and love them. But they respected and loved me not because of the homeschooling community. They respected and loved me despite the homeschooling community.

It’s really ironic, that homeschoolers hold up their practice as this alternative to the evils of bullying and peer pressure in the public schools. Because there is so much bullying and peer pressure between homeschooling parents, it’s ridiculous. Watching homeschool moms tear each other apart with their words is really scary. They’re brutal to one another.

I’m deeply grateful that I had parents that stood up for me. And I’m glad finally people are standing up for people like my parents (and in a sense, against what my parents later became), by standing up against the systematic bullying, peer pressure, and brainwashing that pervades the homeschooling world.

The conservative Christian homeschooling world, that is. I know I already said that.

But sometimes people are tone deaf.

Why I Blame Homeschooling, Not Just My Parents: Reflections by Nicholas Ducote

By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

Author edit to clarify my call for more oversight: I recommended intra-community policing in my post. State action should be a last resort. Those that care to preserve their parental rights to homeschool need to hold other parents accountable. Unfortunately, fundamentalist homeschooling communities are often isolated from anyone who would question the parents. I don’t have a solution, but I know we can’t just assume the status quo will fix things. Hopefully, projects like this will scare other parents enough to make them confront other parents. But let’s be honest, do you see that happening in these sort of communities? Most of these people laugh at the idea of children having rights and would never support anything that encroaches on their ability to teach their children whatever they want. If you suspect child abuse or neglect in a family you know, please report them to Child Protective Services. 

Homeschooling, as a method of instruction, is not intrinsically bad, dangerous, or damaging. I saw many children raised in homeschooling who were not abused by religious fundamentalism – even if they were Christians. However, as a society, we have to realize that the current state of homeschooling gives parents unique power over their children. Yes, many homeschooled children are a part of co-ops, interact with neighbors, and have relatively normal social interactions. But other homeschoolers are isolated in rural areas, with no contact with neighbors, or the outside world. Abuse develops in these environments because there is no oversight from outside the parents and, if criticism if lodged, the parents are defensive. To many homeschooling parents, homeschooling (the method) is part of a larger worldview that involves rejections of secularism, science, and academic institutions.

I developed claustrophobia, a generalized anxiety disorder, and panic attacks in high school. At the time, I assumed my panic attacks were the result of the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sins. The most common trigger for my panic was sexuality. As a teenager, I would often shake uncontrollably after masturbating. Homeschooling can make children feel trapped because they are literally never away from their parents. When I was quasi-dating girls in high school, behind my parents’ back because they wanted me to court, I would have a mini-panic attack when the phone rang – scared that my parents would find out. When I got in trouble it meant a few hours with mom and dad, crying and arguing about what God told them to do, ending in me feeling completely trapped. When I woke up the next day, I had no choice but to bottle up my anger, shame, and humiliation and go “do” homeschooling. In ATI, many leaders preached about how listening to rock music would literally result in demonic possession. This is abusive to teach to children. To this day, I struggle with anxiety before I fall asleep.  I was taught, by my parents and by ATI’s leaders, that demons were very real and they could possess rebellious Christians. Many in the homeschooling movement conceptualized the “culture war” as spiritual warfare — the secular humanists were literally portrayed as the minions of Satan.

Spiritual abuse is a difficult term for many people to wrap their heads around. It may seem like we are trying to say that raising children in a religious tradition is abusive, which we are not. However, I can say that when homeschooling is mixed with religious fundamentalism, abuse almost always occurs.

There is a distinction between religious fundamentalism and mainstream religions. I once told my mom, “I would have been fine if you stayed Baptist. It’s when you drifted into fundamentalism that hurt me.”  What many people fail to realize is that most parents don’t wake up one day and decide they need to start controlling their childrens’ lives and prepare them for the culture wars. Yes, my parents are to blame for subscribing to fundamentalism, but the homeschooling community and movement are also to blame.

In many states in the 1990s and 2000s, homeschooling parents received most of the curriculum, instruction, and indoctrination at state, regional, or national conferences. There are a myriad of institutions and groups that formed the movement, so it is impossible to point to a single root cause of the abuse in homeschooling. But I know abuse doesn’t just happen because of bad parenting. The bad parenting that people indict was being advocated on stage before thousands of people. There is a reason why so many homeschooling alumni share stories and experiences. Tens of thousands of homeschoolers attended state Christian Home Educator Fellowship (CHEF) conferences, where they were exposed to

  • The Harris family and their beliefs about Biblical courtship
  • David Barton and Little Bear Wheeler’s revisionist history
  • Evangelical leaders that scared everyone about the evils of secular humanism
  • Michael and Debi Pearl’s harsh ideas on corporal punishment and misogynistic ideas of gender roles
  • Huge book sales populated mostly by Christian fundamentalist textbooks — advocating creationism, teaching math based around the Gospel message, or other “educational tools.”

All of these ideas circulated around the homeschooling communities and trickled down to local CHEF chapters.

Parents’ responses have been mixed, but many of them see our blog as a tool to take control of their children away from them. Parents emphasize their rights to raise their children however they want. But, as a society, we have already decided that parental rights end where abuse begins. Thus, one of the main issue in this debate becomes whether or not a homeschooling environment is emotionally or spiritually abusive.

You might think this is only a problem of the past decades — that now, in this new zenith of modernity, fundamentalist homeschoolers that spiritually abuse their children are dying out. You would be wrong. Yes, there is growing momentum behind secular homeschooling, but there is no hard social science about homeschooling.  At this point, observational data is almost all that exists about homeschooling and its demographics. We know very generally how many people homeschool and for what reasons. But ten states do not even require the parents to inform them of their childrens’ “enrollment” in homeschooling.

This is the start of an important conversation about homeschooling. I am opposed to religious fundamentalism in all forms and I believe that the abuse that occurs when fundamentalism is allowed to dominate homeschooling has no place in the modern world. I’ve heard so many Evangelicals and homeschooling parents mock the Islamic madrasas for their religious instruction, but fundamentalist homeschooling isn’t different by much.

To those homeschoolers who are afraid of this exposure, it’s time to own up. These abuses happened, the community’s leaders encouraged it, and the community does not regulate itself. If the homeschooling community is not willing to regulate itself – lest a parent tell another parent their methods and ideologies are abusive! – then someone else will.

I am tired of sitting around hoping that the abusive fundamentalist culture within homeschooling will die out.  I don’t want it to die out, I want to trample it out so that no other children face the sort of abuse I, and many other, went through. Part of the means telling the honest, visceral truth about what happens in many homeschooling homes. Yes, abuse is ultimately the fault of the perpetrators, but why does everyone leave the homeschooling community blameless for how it brainwashed my parents?

The issue of abuse in homeschooling is an issue of the distortion of parental rights and the reality of systemic indoctrination.

You cannot stop the abuse without exposing the advocates.

Homeschool Movement and Abuse, An Introduction

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on October 4, 2012.

The lawsuit from my former abusive church has come and gone and I have been doing some deep thinking — trying to figure out what brought us to that particular church — what made that church appealing to us? I had to acknowledge that this church, like other prior churches, was strongly pro-homeschooling. In fact, if you didn’t homeschool, you may not feel very comfortable there. So, it made me go back further, all the way back to the very beginning — before we started homeschooling and were investigating. What I have discovered is alarming:  patriarchal teachings that are often times abusive, parenting styles that are often abusive, and ideas completely outside of mainstream Christianity are going on in the homeschool movement.

My husband and I have been married 27 years and have 7 children from 25 yrs down to our 6-yr old “caboose”.  We have always homeschooled.  We have always believed that this was the best choice for our family.  We have been to many churches due to my husband’s military service and job changes.  Many people have influenced us in our homeschooling, parenting, marriage, and our Christian life journey and right now, I am angry.   I am angry about what I have discovered looking over our marriage, looking at our parenting styles over the years, looking at decisions we have made, looking at people who influenced us — people we trusted to be godly, like-minded and who wanted the best for their children and families.

If you have not been connected with the homeschool movement and click on some of these links, you might say:  ”Um, yea, you drank the Kool-Aid long ago.”  If you’ve been in the homeschool movement, you will probably be nodding along and can reminisce with me. I will take you on a wild journey going back through what I have experienced or seen in the past couple decades as a homeschooling mom.  Here is a sampling, and not in any order, of the kinds of influences, beliefs, philosophies, practices we dealt with or were familiar with among the homeschooling movement over the years:

Why did we have so many children?  How do you know when your quiver is full?  Would we have had this many children if we hadn’t listened to specific teachings?  Who invented the jumper dress?  Why did I sometimes feel guilty if I didn’t wear my denim jumper?  I no longer own a denim jumper.  Who decided Gregg Harris or Michael Farris were the spokesmen for homeschoolers?  Why did so many homeschoolers flock to the articles and books of Mary Pride?

Is it okay to refrain from sex to not get pregnant or is that saying “no” to God’s blessings of children?  Did it really mean one isn’t trusting God if taking measures to prevent pregnancy after cycles returned 6 weeks postpartum (and round-the-clock nursing)?  How many blessings of babies did I prevent by taking matters in my own hands?  Is God mad at me for my “interference” of “His plan”?

What about all of those families who stop having babies after only 4 children or 2 children — are they disobeying God?  Why don’t they want God’s blessings?  Who is targeting the homeschooling community to convince them to pop out babies to overpopulate the world with Christians babies?  Why does this same dude bombard our mailboxes right before Christmas to encourage us to buy Christmas toys (gender specific boy toys for boy and girly girl toys for girls) when their family does not celebrate this “pagan” holiday?

How did I get to the point where I believed that I may be treading dangerously if I was not a member of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association? Who would protect me if someone from school district came to my door and wanted to find out why my children weren’t attending the evil government school down the block?  How many homeschool families printed out instructions on what to say to government officials  if “they” came unannounced to our door to interrogate?  How many of us had HSLDA phone numbers in a prominent place — just in case? Where did all of this fear come from?

Why was I corrected when I said “public” school instead of their preferred “government” school?  Is there an agenda going on? Who is feeding all of this? Who decided that boys should be owning their own home businesses to support their families?  Who decided that all colleges were bad until Patrick Henry College was founded by popular homeschool leaders in the “movement” and then all of a sudden it became “okay” and even “good” to send our kids away to college?

How did the homeschool movement influence my views as far as who I voted for or how involved I was in politics? How did they convince me that I was eating improperly and I needed to grind my own wheat and make my own bread?  How did the homeschool community have the inside scoop before my traditional-schooled friends from church when it was going to become the end-of-life-as-we knew-it during the Y2K scare?  Who brought that hype to the homeschool community?  Would you like to ask me how many homeschoolers I personally know who are still going through their stockpiles of grains? Seriously!

When did I get to the point where I looked down at my friends who were Christians and either sent their children to public or private schools when “they should” be teaching their own?  How did all of this happen?  Why do so many homeschoolers balk at immunizations? Why are some homeschoolers so proud?  Homeschooled kids were the smartest because they always won the National Spelling Bees, right? Who decided that homeschoolers should be involved with speech and debate? Why are so many families going to their state capitals and involving themselves in politics — because they were going to be the movers and shakers of world in the political arenas?  And why is my husband responsible for my faith and the faith of our children? And why do we have to go through him on spiritual matters?  Does God not speak directly to homeschool kids and wives?

Who told me about modesty and how I should be dressing and how my daughters should be dressing?  What does modesty have to do with homeschooling?  Why do all homeschool boys look alike with similar short haircuts?   Who convinced me that my children could never “date”, but must only “court” and that my husband gets to choose our children’s future spouses?  How did, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” become such a popular book?  Who named the government as “evil” for wanting to know how our children are educated?  Why do homeschoolers assume the worst when they file their “notice to intent” with their local school district?

Why do they assume that the school district secretary doesn’t want to deal with homeschoolers and will instigate more trouble by wanting more information than required by law?  Who made up this purity ring ceremony — and that our teen daughters should wear their purity rings symbolizing their virginity until they replace it with their wedding ring?  Who started this thing where daughters shave their fathers’ beards? Below you will see an invitation to a Father Daughter Tea from Vision Forum. Fast forward to 1:37 to see daughters shaving their fathers. Um, really?

Who decided that boys should have their homes paid for before they get married?   And why are organized sports so wrong?    When did Young Earth creation become a primary issue to be a Christian and that if you didn’t believe it, you might not be Christian?   Why are scientists looked at as if suspect?  Psychology is of the devil.  What’s with all of those pictures of large families with matching clothes on the covers of homeschooling magazines?  Are my children supposed to be wearing matching clothes?  Who decided that was the right way to dress kids?  Who decided that women should only wear dresses?

And what about those who show up at conventions with head coverings — are we bad women if we don’t have them?   Who decided that family-integrated churches were better than traditional churches for our family?  Why is it that homeschoolers brag about their children being able to interact and socialize well, yet you can “pick them out” a mile away because they look and act so “different”?   Who has been instigating the us-vs-them mentality regarding so many of these topics?  Who decided that the only job that we should be teaching our daughters is to be “keepers of the home” and serving their fathers and then serving their future husbands?

Who decided a 1/4-inch plumber’s line was an appropriate tool for spanking?  Who taught us that if we had to repeat a command twice to our children, our children were being disobedient:  First-Time Obedience.   How did we let this group convince us that all infants should be able to go 4 hours between feedings.  What single man decided that fathers were an umbrella of authority over the family below God?  What same man also encouraged men and women to get vasectomies and tubal ligations reversed to allow God to control the size of their families and then paraded post-reversal children in front of the auditorium at conventions?

This is quite a diversion from spiritual abuse in the church, but I need to go there.  I now believe the homeschooling movement made our spiritually abusive church seem appealing to us.  Some of the above is just plain quirky, but other issues go much deeper affecting core spiritual beliefs and agendas.

My daughter, Hannah, is 25 yrs old and she was only homeschooled.  The first traditional school she attended was community college and last spring she became a college graduate. Her peers were from an early generation of the growing homeschool movement. More and more blogs are being published by young adults like my daughter who are “coming out” and sharing their homeschool experiences.  The stories are not pretty.    My daughter has shared some of her story.  And you can read the story I wrote about Hannah’s experience here.  In that story, you can get an idea of the controlling environment in which she lived and how she had to escape – it remains one of the most popular blog posts.

What she experienced at home has probably gone on in many homes.  I bear much responsibility for it.  I went along with it.  I have apologized to my daughter many times for it.   The abusive church we found also aligned with these philosophies of heavy-handed control of children, even adult children.  Hannah was 21 when she moved out.  She was not a child, yet we thought we owned her.

I assumed (yeah, I know about that word), that when we got into homeschooling that it was a safe community — a community where children’s best interest was at heart.  We wanted to have the primary influence in the education of our children.  That’s good, right?

But I have discovered that there is an underlying agenda in the homeschooling community that has been there all along — even years before I started — and it continues to this day. I believe that some of this underlying current — taken to an extreme — could be responsible for breaking up families, causing abuse, wreaking havoc on people’s spiritual life.

I firmly believe that God used the lawsuit in a powerful way to highlight the issue of spiritual abuse in the church.  He was there during the entire time providing amazing support for me.  My life is rich having gone through it.  But now I’m wondering if God is using another experience of my life to share here.

While I have spent countless hours writing blog posts about spiritual abuse in the church, I think there is a setup for spiritual abuse that originates in the homeschool movement. In our abusive church, we felt a “kindred spirit” (and all the homeschool moms just laughed at me with that phrase) in the church because of with like-minded teachings and beliefs. Some of these ideas need to be explored further.

I think it’s important to hear from these young adults who have lived it and are now trying to put the pieces together of their childhood together as they begin their families.