Our Top 21 Most Viewed Posts of 2016

By Wende Benner, HA Editorial Staff

As 2016 comes to a close, we want to look back and remember the 21 posts that received the most attention on H.A. this year. So here they are, our top 21 most viewed posts of 2016!

21. Bill Gothard Threatens Recovering Grace with a $1,00.,000 Lawsuit — 4,671 views

20. “The Golden Compass” and the Breaking of Children’s Wills — 4,780 views

19. Amended Lawsuit Against Bill Gothard: Text — 4,860 views

18. James and Lisa Pennington Respond to Identification Abuse Claims — 4,940 views

17. The Fixer — 5,111 views

16. A Brief Word of Caution Regarding Joe and Nicole Naugler, The “Off-Grid” Homeschooling Family — 5,135 views

15. Why This Simone Biles Homeschool Success Meme is Disrespectful to Homeschool Alumni (and Simone Biles) — 5,223 Views

14. The Child as Viper: How Voddie Baucham’s Theology of Children Promotes Abuse — 5,252 views

13. A Former Off-Grid, Homeschooled Child’s Thoughts on the Naugler Family — 5,670 views

12. No Unbelievers Allowed: How Homeschooling Became a Christians-Only Club — 6,481 views

11. 50 Shades of Grey or Contemporary Christian Music Lyrics? A Quiz — 7,641 views

10. 6 Things You Should Know About Voddie Baucham — 8,781 views

9. Hurts Me More Than You: Deborah and Janet’s Stories — 9,490 views

8. Blanket Training is About Adults, Not Children — 9,698 views

7. Gothard’s ATI and the Duggar Family’s Secrets — 10,485 views

6. A Story about My Mom and Panties: Fidget’s Story — 11,850 views

5. Gothard Explains Why God Allows Child Molestation: Part I — 11,955 views

4. Get Them Married: Selling Virgin Daughters — 12,576 views

3. Christian Homeschool Dads Lust After 17-Year-Old Girl, Get Her Kicked Out of Prom — 15,129 views

2. I Can’t Tell My Story Without a Trigger Warning-Elizabeth’s Story — 24,311 views

And the most viewed H.A. post of 2016 was…

1. Hurts Me More Than You: The Story of Five Sisters — 43,351 views

Happy New Year and thanks to everyone for supporting H.A. in 2016! We look forward to continuing our work in 2017.

Why This Simone Biles Homeschool Success Meme Is Disrespectful to Homeschool Alumni (And Simone Biles)

Editorial Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on August 15, 2016.

Edited by Wende Benner, HA Editorial Staff.

Meme features picture of Simone Biles with this text: But how will homeschooled kids ever compete in the real world? 

 Pretty well, I guess.

Speaking as a homeschool alumna, this meme is disrespectful to homeschool alumni—including Simone Biles—for a multitude of reasons. And yet, it’s being shared by homeschool parents across Facebook as a way to show how awesome and amazing homeschooling is. For years now, I and other alumni have been calling attention to problems in the homeschool world—children left unprepared, young adults struggling—and for years we’ve been poo-pooed and talked over by homeschool parents who would prefer to share self-righteous memes like the one above than to talk about the actual issues homeschool alumni face. You know what? I’m not letting this one slide.

First of all, Simone Biles—pictured in the above meme—didn’t want to be homeschooled. Not only that, when she actually was homeschooled—a decision she cried over—she hated it. That’s right, she hated being homeschooled.

First, look at this excerpt from an article:

To advance to the elite level and be on that cover, [Simone Biles would] have to be homeschooled, Nellie told her. There would be no prom, no after-school activities, no hanging with classmates. The decision was hers. After a weekend of crying, she told her parents she would do it. ‘I was just so lonely all the time,’ Simone says. ‘I missed, like, all my friends at school and stuff. But I mean, in the end, it worked out.’

Next, watch this excerpt from an interview.

Can you see how holding Biles up as the poster-child of homeschool success might be a bad idea? Biles was homeschooled because she had to be to compete at an Olympic level in her sport, not because she wanted to be homeschooled and not because she liked being homeschooled. Indeed, Biles “hated” being homeschooled and missed her active social life and the experiences her peers had in public high school. If she hadn’t been an Olympic-quality athlete, she never would have been homeschooled.

There’s another issue, too. Biles isn’t competing in “the real world” mentioned in the meme. She’s competing in the Olympics. Only a very small fraction of athletes make it to the Olympics, and their shelf life tends to be short—most gymnasts don’t attend the Olympics more than twice, if that. I’m as proud of Biles’ success as everyone else! I’ve watched her incredible floor routine with my jaw hanging open more than once this week. She’s amazing. But when people ask whether homeschool graduates will be able to compete in “the real world” they’re not talking about Olympics—and when 99.99% of homeschool graduates enter “the real world” they’re entering a very very different world from that currently occupied by Simone Biles.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. I have many friends who were also homeschooled. I know homeschool alumni who went to MIT, and homeschool alumni who have struggled with homelessness. I know homeschool alumni who are earning good, stable incomes, and homeschool alumni who are jumping from minimum wage job to minimum wage job trying to find something that works. I know homeschool alumni who have gone on to graduate school, and homeschool alumni who have struggled with applications to community college. I know homeschool alumni who hate academic learning, after years of filling out mindless worksheets at the kitchen table, and homeschool alumni who thrive on academic learning, having grown up with innovative, rich academic experiences.

When it comes to homeschool alumni, there is no one result. Pointing to specific homeschool success stories while ignoring homeschool alumni who are in jail, struggling with addiction, or homeless is incredibly disrespectful to those alumni. It’s also disrespectful to homeschool alumni struggling to pay for community college, desperately afraid they’re going to be fired from yet another minimum wage job, or barely staving off eviction and fearful about what their future looks like without the most basic of educational qualifications, not to mention an extreme feeling of social otherness and, in too many cases, oft-lurking depression.

Are there individuals who attended public school who experience all of the above? Absolutely! But we acknowledge that. We admit that our public schools are failing some children, and that some schools are failing more children than others. We don’t point to prominent successful individuals who graduated from public schools—Hillary Clinton, or Steve Jobs—and act like this proves something. Instead, we admit that experiences vary, and we put in hard work to improve the experiences of public school students who are being left behind.

Can homeschooling work? Yes. Can homeschooling fail? Yes! Does Simone Biles’ Olympic success tell us anything about the “real world” success of homeschoolers as a group? Absolutely not. It has now been almost four decades since the beginning of the modern homeschool movement in the late 1970s. What do actually we know about homeschooling? A lot, and almost nothing.

We know that homeschooled children can succeed, but we don’t know how homeschooled students score academically on average, and there are to-date no studies on homeschool outcomes that use random samples rather than recruiting volunteers. We know that homeschooled students score slightly better than public school students on the SAT, particularly in reading, but we also know that a surprisingly small number of homeschooled students actually take the SAT—less than 10%. Studies of homeschooled students’ college performance are mixed, some showing higher GPAs and some showing more ambiguity, but even studies with positive findings point to other concerning statistics—there are fewer homeschool alumni in college than there ought to be, and they are less likely than other students to pursue STEM fields than other students. There’s a math gap. There’s also a gendered achievement gap. And there’s a lot we still don’t know.

But homeschooling parents don’t want to talk about any of this. They’d rather talk about Simone Biles. And on some level, who wouldn’t? Celebrating a success story is far more pleasant than putting in the real work necessary to ensure that students don’t fall under the radar and disappear, only to surface later with deficient educations and a future full of dead ends. As for me, I’m here for the students who have no one rooting for them. I stand with my fellow homeschool alumni, and I’m not giving up.

Homeschooling as a Totalistic Tool

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Send me adrift.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator.

The following article is an excerpt from an upcoming long-form piece on homeschooling and human trafficking.

“I see homeschooling as a tool. Like a gardening hoe, when used correctly it can help bring life and vitality to living things….But used incorrectly, a tool can harm the very things or people it’s meant to help thrive.”

~ Shaney Swift[i]

Homeschooling is “an educational option that allows parents to teach their children at home instead of sending them to school.”[ii] As of 2011, the National Center for Education Statistics determined that 1,770,000 students, or 3.4% of all school aged children, were being homeschooled.[iii] It has been stereotyped as an educational option primarily chosen by conservative Christian evangelicals in the United States. This stereotype is understandable given that the so-called “four pillars of homeschooling”[iv] are all conservative Christian evangelicals who had the specific intention to direct the homeschooling movement.

Homeschooling as a Pedagogical Tool

While conservative Christian evangelicals dominate homeschooling, parents homeschool their children for a diverse number of reasons. While conservative Muslim families, for example, homeschool for many of the same reasons as conservative Christian families,[v] many others homeschool not for ideological but rather pedagogical reasons.[vi] One of the fastest growing segments of the homeschooling population is African-African families, which is notable because for a long time the homeschooling population was “more white than the student population as a whole.” Nonetheless, African-American families are increasingly homeschooling — in fact, “African Americans now make up about 10 percent of all homeschooled children.”[vii] And these families are often homeschooling not for ideological reasons but to escape white supremacy and racism in the curricula, unfair discipline methods, and low standards of achievement within the public school system.

Homeschooling is thus no more or no less than a pedagogical tool — an instrument by which children are educated, in the same way that public and private schools are instruments. How homeschooling is conducted — and whether it is both successful and nurturing on behalf of children — depends on those wielding the instrument, just as success and safety of public and private schools varies depending on their principals, teachers, and staff.

This is an important distinction because claiming link between homeschooling and any number of negative experiences (for example, child abuse) often meets widespread resistance by homeschooling leaders, organizations, and parents. Such individuals and groups assume that claiming a link exists between, say, homeschooling and child abuse must mean that link is inherent — that homeschooling qua homeschooling leads to abuse. But to claim a link exists is not necessarily to claim that link is inherent. Rather, it is simply to claim there is a link, however inherent or circumstantial the link may be. That homeschooling can play a role in a child abuse case should not be a cause to unilaterally condemn homeschooling. Rather, the fact should give rise to serious reflection as to how this link between homeschooling and abuse can be severed for both the sake of abused children as well as the health and vibrancy of the homeschooling movement itself.

Homeschooling as a Totalistic Tool

Tools can be used for multiple purposes. A hammer can be utilized to hit a nail into a board (and thus become a construction tool) or it can be used to kill a human being (and thus become a murder weapon). In the same way, homeschooling — as an instrument that allows parents to teach their children at home instead of sending them to school — can be wielded as not only a pedagogical tool (to teach children) but also as a totalistic tool (to control children). And just as homeschooling can be highly successful in teaching children, it also can be highly successful in controlling children.

It is the circumstances in which homeschooling is used for the latter purposes (totalistically, to control children) that are of interest to our current examination. By allowing individuals to determine what children are and are not exposed to, homeschooling can become the perfect method for individuals who desire to stratify and consolidate power.

That “perfect method” that homeschooling can become will be notated in this investigation with the term totalism. Totalism is a concept most significantly developed by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton in his 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Totalism as a word is related to totalitarianism, and signifies a psychological form of totalitarianism — the totalitarian monitoring and control of another individual’s behaviors and thoughts. Lifton uses the term to describe the attributes of ideological movements and organizations that aim for total control over people’s behaviors and thoughts. While these movements and organizations may vary in design and goals, they follow common patterns and cause predicable types of psychological damage to those within them.

Defining Totalism and Thought Reform

Totalistic movements and organizations desire total control usually for two reasons: (1) because of a fear and denial of the reality of death and/or (2) a reactionary fear of change. Certain people also personally have totalistic tendencies (selfish desires to control other people), and these people “are particularly attracted to movements, governments, and ideologies which manifest a characteristically totalitarian ideological and persuasive style.”[viii]

Totalistic people, movements, and organizations follow predictable patterns in their attempts to achieve control over others. One area where this is especially manifested is in child-rearing practices. In fact, “child-rearing practices that foster a polarized, black or white, all or nothing emotional and cognitive style (i.e., ‘intolerance of ambiguity’) are the primary cause of the development of Totalism.”[ix]

As one might imagine, parents and communities that foster such black and white, all or nothing atmospheres are often described as “fundamentalist” because of their valuation of fundamental doctrines over and against the humanity and self-worth of individuals. In fact, in the years since he wrote Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Lifton has begun to directly equate totalism and fundamentalism:

More recently Lifton has identified Totalism as synonymous with ‘political and religious fundamentalism’ because of fundamentalism’s tendency to define the world in absolute, i.e., dualistic, terms. Lifton has stated that ‘the quest for absolute or “totalistic” belief systems…has produced nothing short of a worldwide epidemic of political and religious fundamentalism’… ‘Fundamental,’ in Lifton’s view, ‘can create the most extreme expressions of totalism, of the self’s immersion in all-or-nothing ideological and behavior patterns.’ The core element of ideological totalism, in our view, is the radical, absolute division of humanity into dual evaluative categories such as saved/damned, real persons/false persons, human/subhuman, God’s people/’mud people,’ etc.[x]

Because totalistic people are attracted to totalistic communities, movements, and organizations, they often join together and put their totalistic aims into practice through total institutions: places of living and working where large numbers of similar people associate together, cut off from the wider world to lead an enclosed existence as dictated by the totalistic administration in charge. Philosopher Michel Foucault used the phrase complete and austere institutions to describe such places. Foucault noted that, within totalistic institutions (Foucault gave the example of the prison-state), “procedures were being elaborated for distributing individuals; fixing them in space; classifying them; extracting from them the maximum in time and forces; training their bodies; coding their continuous behavior; maintaining them in perfect visibility; forming around them an apparatus of observation, registration, and recording; constituting on them a body of knowledge that is accumulated and centralized. The general form of an apparatus intended to render individuals docile and useful…”[xi] As we shall see, this description aptly captures all sorts of totalistic communities, especially fundamentalist new religious movements.

Lifton labels these procedures — by which individuals are rendered docile and useful — thought reform. Thought reform is the goal of totalism. Totalism aims to mold the behaviors and thoughts of the individuals within its movements and organizations, and thought reform is how that molding happens. It is “the systematic application of psychological and social influence techniques in an organized programmatic way within a constructed and managed environment.” The goal of thought reform is “to produce specific attitudinal and behavior changes” and these changes “occur incrementally without it being patently visible to those undergoing the process.”[xii]

It is important to note that efforts to produce specific attitudinal and behavior changes are not necessarily inappropriate nor are they necessarily totalistic thought reform. Totalistic thought reform is different from regular attempts at change in that they involve “sequenced phases aimed at destabilizing participants’ sense of self, sense of reality, and values.” This destabilization comes from “organized peer pressure, the development of bonds between the leader or (trainer) and the followers, the control of communication, and the use of a variety of influence techniques. The aim of all of this is to promote conformity, compliance, and the adoption of specific attitudes and behaviors desired by the group.”[xiii] In other words, totalistic thought reform hopes for total control of individuals and it accomplishes that through a complex network of peer pressure, top-down management, and careful environment manipulation.

The Eight Criteria

Lifton identifies eight criteria that make up that complex network: (1) Milieu Control, (2) Mystical Manipulation, (3) Demand for Purity, (4) Cult of Confession, (5) Sacred Science, (6), Loaded Language, (7) Doctrine Over Person, and (8) Dispensing of Existence. Lifton says that “the more clearly an environment exercises these eight psychological themes, the greater its resemblance to ideological Totalism; and the more it utilizes such totalist devices to change people, the greater its resemblance to thought reform [or ‘brainwashing’].”[xiv] And in the same way that we noted that totalism often is the same of fundamentalism, it is important to observe that “most of Lifton’s eight motifs of ideological totalism can be derived from a conception of close-knit, authoritarian movements with intense solidarity and adherence to a distinctly apocalyptic and dualistic worldview.”[xv]

We shall briefly examine each of the eight criteria:

(1) Milieu Control

Milieu control means the thought reform environment controls all (or as much as possible) of the human communication within it — both the information coming in and the information coming out. Lifton explains that, “Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual’s communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also – in its penetration of his inner life – over what we may speak of as his communication with himself.”[xvi]

(2) Mystical Manipulation

Mystical manipulation is the manipulation of the individuals by the totalist administration. This manipulation is done in such a way so that members feel as if their behaviors and thoughts spontaneously arose (rather than were forced by the administration). Mystical manipulation is, essentially, “the man behind the curtain” that no one knows exists. Lifton points out that this manipulation is not done simply for the sake of power. Rather, it is done because the values of the totalist environment render it “necessary.” Lifton notes that, “They create a mystical aura around the manipulating institutions – the Party, the Government, the Organization. They are the agents ‘chosen’ (by history, by God, or by some other supernatural force) to carry out the ‘mystical imperative,’ the pursuit of which must supersede all considerations of decency or of immediate human welfare.”[xvii]

(3) Demand for Purity

The demand for purity is a demand to divide the world into what is “pure” and “impure” and avoid and reject everything considered the latter. Lifton describes totalist purity as “those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure.” Dividing the world in this way creates both guilt and shame in individuals when they fail to perfectly avoid and reject what is considered “impure.” That guilt and shame then become tools of control that the totalist administration uses to manipulate people to do what the administration desires.[xviii]

(4) Cult of Confession

The cult of confession is connected to the demand for purity. The inevitable result of the demand for purity is that people will fail, hence the resulting feelings of guilt and shame. And when people do fail, they must confess those failings. A totalist administration will take advantage of this and manipulate people into all sorts of confessions both to enhance the feelings of guilt and shame as well as to gather information about individuals that can be used against them or to exploit them in the future. Lifton describes the cult of confession as confession that is “carried beyond its ordinary religious, legal, and therapeutic expressions to the point of becoming a cult in itself. There is the demand that one confess to crimes one has not committed, to sinfulness that is artificially induced, in the name of a cure that is arbitrarily imposed.” In a totalist environment, “confession becomes a means of exploiting, rather than offering solace for, these vulnerabilities.” It also becomes “a means of maintaining an ethos of total exposure – a policy of making public (or at least known to the Organization) everything possible about the life experiences, thoughts, and passions of each individual, and especially those elements which might be regarded as derogatory.” This total exposure adds a dire sense of gravity to “the environment’s claim to total ownership of each individual self within it. Private ownership of the mind and its products – of imagination or of memory – becomes highly immoral.”[xix]

(5) Sacred Science

Sacred science is created when a totalist environment elevates its basic doctrines or ideologies to the level of sacredness, or the ultimate vision for how human existence should be. Once sacred, those doctrines or ideologies are not allowed to be questioned. To question them would be to make oneself “impure.” Indeed, Lifton points out, “if one begins to feel himself attracted to ideas which either contradict or ignore [the sacred doctrines or ideologies], he may become guilty and afraid.” The guilt is from the potential violation of the demand for purity. Lifton says, “Sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself.”[xx]

(6) Loaded Language

Loaded language occurs when a totalist environment use words or phrases in new or different ways such that people outside the environment do not know what they mean. This new jargon is used over and over and they become catch phrases, mental short-cuts or what Lifton calls “thought-terminating clichés.” The phrases are pat answers that shut down inquiry. A neutral example would be employing a catch phrase like “God works in mysterious ways” in response to a serious and legitimate question about why bad things happen to good people. “God works in mysterious ways” does not adequately answer the question but it is such a common phrase that one is tempted to just shrug and say, “Well, all right then.” Lifton describes this phenomenon as compressing “the most far-reaching and complex of human problems” into “brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.” An individual who is not allowed to think outside the totalist environment’s sacred science, who is taught only to rely upon this loaded language, “is, so to speak, linguistically deprived; and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed.”[xxi]

(7) Doctrine Over Person

This criterion of thought reform is self-explanatory: the elevation of a totalist environment’s sacred science (its doctrines and/or ideologies) over and against individuals and their experiences within the environment. Individual feelings, thoughts, or experiences that seem to contradict the validity of the sacred science must be subjugated and reinterpreted in accordance with the sacred science, rather than be used as the foundation for it. Lifton describes this as “the subordination of human experience to the claims of doctrine.” He says that, “Doctrinal primacy prevails in the totalist approach to changing people: the demand that character and identity be reshaped, not in accordance with one’s special nature or potentialities, but rather to fit the rigid contours of the doctrinal mold.” Thus abstract ideas become more valuable than the diversity of human life itself because “doctrine – including its mythological elements – is ultimately more valid, true, and real than is any aspect of actual human character or human experience.”[xxii]

(8) Dispensing of Existence

The final criterion for thought reform is dispensing of existence — when a totalist environment “draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognized, and those who possess no such right.” This does not always mean actual physical life and death. Rather, a totalist environment might declare, for example, that only its members are “truly human” or “truly alive.” Or it might declare that only those who follow its sacred science will be blessed in the afterlife. This is, of course, a rather audacious claim; indeed, Lifton calls it “arrogance,” but a “mandatory” arrogance because of “the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false.”[xxiii]

As individuals or groups close themselves off to the outside world and begin using any number of these criteria, thought reform happens. This is the goal of totalism: changing the behaviors and thoughts of people so as to gain control.

Homeschooling and Totalism

Homeschooling is, as previously stated, a pedagogical tool. It is simply one of many instruments by which parents or communities can educate children. Other instruments would be public school, private school, online school, or mixed school. However, homeschooling can also be transformed into much more than a pedagogical tool. As a tool, it can have multiple types of utility. As a hammer can be both a construction tool or a tool by which one commits murder, so too can homeschooling be both a tool to teach as well as a tool to control. Indeed, when a totalist environment employs homeschooling, it can become one of the most powerful weapons in the totalist’s arsenal.

When a totalist environment is large — say, encompassing nearly every single individual in a city — other pedagogical tools can become weapons of totalism. For example, if a new religious movement makes up almost the entirety of a small, rural town, movement adherents can fill most of the influential roles in that town — public school principal, public school teachers, public school staff, law enforcement, and so forth. If that is the case, a public school can be transformed into something it is not supposed to be — a weapon to advance the desired thought reform of the new religious movement. This is rare, but it can happen (and has happened). But it also is more complicated and difficult to execute. If one desires to fuse together a child’s education with the desired thought reform of a totalist environment, homeschooling is a particularly simple and effective method.

To better understand this, let us examine four examples of homeschooling in action.

Example One:

A Muslim parent homeschools their children. This parent uses homeschooling to introduce their children to a vast diversity of information, authors, religious traditions, and political viewpoints. This parent also incorporates into their children’s education many different activities to help their children socialize: park days, science fairs, sports leagues, church events, and so forth. The children are exposed to people from many different walks of life.

Example Two:

A Muslim parent homeschools their children. This parent uses homeschooling to make sure their children are exposed to only Islam. The parent believes the Koran is the only book worth knowing, and thus the Koran is used by that parent as their children’s only curriculum. This parent believes anyone who is not Muslim is dangerous and can lead their children away from the Truth, and thus does not let their children socialize with anyone outside their faith. The children never interact with people who believe differently from their parent.

Example Three:

A Christian parent homeschools their children. This parent uses homeschooling to introduce their children to a vast diversity of information, authors, religious traditions, and political viewpoints. This parent also incorporates into their children’s education many different activities to help their children socialize: park days, science fairs, sports leagues, church events, and so forth. The children are exposed to people from many different walks of life.

Example Four:

A Christian parent homeschools their children. This parent uses homeschooling to make sure their children are exposed to only Christianity. The parent believes the Bible is the only book worth knowing, and thus the Bible is used by that parent as their children’s only curriculum. This parent believes anyone who is not Christian is dangerous and can lead their children away from the Truth, and thus does not let their children socialize with anyone outside their faith. The children never interact with people who believe differently from their parent.

Examples One and Three are nearly identical to each other, as are Examples Two and Four. The only difference is the religion to which the parent adheres. If you are a Muslim, you might see no problem with Example Two but you might bristle at Example Four. If you are a Christian, you might see no problem with Example Four but you might bristle at Example Two. If you, regardless of your own religious beliefs, believe children should have the freedom to discover themselves and what they believe on their own terms, you likely will find both Examples One and Three appropriate and Examples Two and Four inappropriate.

Regardless of your feelings about each, we must realize that Examples One and Three are instances of homeschooling being used pedagogically — that is, to teach children about the world and empower them to learn (and love learning). Whereas Examples Two and Four are instances of homeschooling also being used for another purpose aside from pedagogy. Examples Two and Four are instances of homeschooling being used to fulfill Lifton’s first criteria of thought reform: milieu control. In these instances, homeschooling is employed to control all (or as much as possible) of the human communication children experience — which is the very definition of milieu control. In other words, Examples Two and Four are examples of homeschooling being used totalistically — to control the child’s environment (specifically, the communication within the environment) so as to achieve a desired outcome, namely, thought reform. The homeschooling itself becomes the means by which the parent hopes to mold the children’s behaviors and thoughts in accordance with the parent’s behaviors and thoughts — rather than to encourage the children to be independent and to differentiate themselves from their parent. The parent is essentially aiming to create a mini-me out of each child.

The implication of this fact, that a single parent can use homeschooling as a totalistic tool, is that thought reform can be accomplished not only within a group — like a new religious movement with a close-knit, authoritarian system — but also within an individual family. Most examinations of totalism have involved the former — namely, group totalism. But it is important to realize that individual totalism is also a phenomenon. Individual families can become a world unto themselves, where one parent — usually the father, assuming the role of Family Patriarch — rules supreme. That parent becomes the dictator of the family unit and controls every aspect of their children’s lives. The parent sets himself or herself up as God of the Universe and uses homeschooling to make sure the children are molded to his or her will and properly fearful of the consequences of straying from that will.

Regardless of whether totalism develops in an individual family or a communal group, homeschooling thus can become an all-encompassing weapon by which thought reform is achieved. Of course, homeschooling is nonetheless only one tool among many used in the service of a totalistic environment. There are other tools such as physical violence or a religious text or betrothal and marriage. Basically, anything that can keep the members of a family or group in line with that family or group’s ultimate vision for reality can be a totalist tool. But homeschooling in particular stands out because it can absorb many other tools into its folds. When homeschooling becomes a “way of life” (as opposed to simply a pedagogical tool) often these other tools are simple extensions of that way of life. Certain discipline methods, religious texts, and relationship models can become yet one more attribute of the homeschooling itself.

When homeschooling is used in this way, the wielder of the tool can be either an individual (e.g., the Family Patriarch) or a group (e.g., a new religious movement). To be most effective, it can even be wielded by both. A new religious movement may demand that all families within it use homeschooling and each family can also use homeschooling to achieve the family’s desired thought reform — which will be the exact same thought reform desired by the movement. This doubling-down ensures that if a child interacts with people outside their family — say, with the children of other movement members — the socialization will only reinforce the sacred science of the movement. The socialization occurs between children being taught the same things, and thus new viewpoints are not experienced. Peer pressure between children can even help reinforce the movement’s demand for purity, and children themselves can use guilt and shame against each other to keep other children in check. This only enhances the thought reform, as children not only have to please and be subjugated to their parents and movement leaders but also each other.

To help us better understanding how homeschooling can be a totalist tool, let us explore an example connection between homeschooling and certain instances of human trafficking. If a child grows up in a new religious movement that has effectively mastered thought reform techniques like milieu control via homeschooling, that child will have no understanding of how the outside world differs from his or her experience of the totalist world. If that child also grows up memorizing nothing but the loaded language of that new religious movement, then he or she will not even know how to develop a different language by which to question the movement — and if the child ever did learn to question, he or she would feel immense guilt and shame from thinking “impure” thoughts. And if the pressure from the child’s parent(s) to stop thinking such thoughts was not enough, the child’s very own peers would step up to the task, thinking that they were saving their friend from being not “truly human.”

A nearly perfect system of control, then, would be in place. All it would take is for the leader of the movement to declare a new vision from the movement’s deity came to him or her — say, a vision of young girls being married at the age of 12 to much older men. This leader’s vision would likely be couched in religious justifications — that we are living in apocalyptic times and must fill the earth with as many followers of the movement’s deity as possible. And if young girls are not married early, they might be led astray by the world’s wickedness.

If you were a young girl in this movement, you would now be stuck. Having grown up only knowing people in the movement, you would have no way to know that being married off at the age of 12 is something unusual. You would not know it was something illegal. Even if you learned it was allegedly “a violation of international human rights,” you probably would have been taught that “human rights” are tricks of the Devil and nothing more than sophistic language invented by the United Nations, an organization your parents taught you is a devil-worshipping, New World Order institution. So you would obey your elders and submissively accept your role as a child bride to a balding, sweaty, gray-haired man with 10 other young wives. It is, after all, what God commanded, right?

You may think that the above situation would never occur — that it is an exaggeration. But this situation has occurred many times in the last two decades, right here in the United States (as well as in other countries). Time and time again, totalist individuals and groups have intentionally and methodically used homeschooling to create an environment where severe and disturbing violations of human rights are considered not only normal, but desperately necessary. Children have grown up not knowing that they were living in nothing less than a prison, both physically and mentally — and not knowing they had the right to escape and breathe the fresh air of freedom.


The totalist use of homeschooling is not what homeschooling’s originators intended. John Holt, the liberal anti-Marxist proponent of homeschooling in the 1970’s, envisioned the exact opposite of this scenario. Holt aimed to liberate children from social and political shackles, even nuclear family structures.[xxiv] He wanted children to have the freedom to learn what and as they pleased. To Holt, homeschooling should be “a natural, organic, central, fundamental human institution” that “isn’t a school at all” but rather is “the process by which children grow and learn in the world without going, or going very much, to schools.”[xxv]

Even early religious advocates of homeschooling, such as Raymond Moore, a Seventh Day Adventist, aimed for an “ecumenical vision of homeschooling”[xxvi] that put children first. Moore believed that “homeschooling cultivated children’s natural curiosity and allowed them to learn at an individual pace, an argument that appealed to parents across religious lines.”[xxvii]

But due to later, “parental sovereignty” efforts by the conservative evangelical homeschooling lobby (led first and foremost by Michael Farris and his parental rights organization, the Home School Legal Defense Association), many states have no concrete criteria by which they can distinguish between pedagogical and totalistic homeschooling.[xxviii] For example, 48 states have no protections for at-risk homeschooled children.[xxix] These states have fallen into line with HSLDA’s goal of “total parental sovereignty,” choosing to believe “parents’ rights supersede any relationship a child has with society.”[xxx]

The consequence of this has now become evident: a road has been paved for new religious movements to take full advantage of homeschooling for their own totalistic ends, up to and including child abuse and trafficking.


[i] Shaney Swift, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “Homeschooling, The Tool My Parents Used Well,” August 26, 2013, link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[ii] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “An Introduction to Homeschooling,” link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[iii] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “Homeschooling Numbers,” link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[iv] Helen Cordes, Salon, “Battling for the heart and soul of home-schoolers,” October 2, 2000, link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[v] Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, “Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling,” March 26, 2008, link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[vi] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “Reasons Parents Homeschool,” link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[vii] Ama Mazama, The Washington Post, “Racism in schools is pushing more black families to homeschool their children,” April 10, 2015, link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[viii] Dick Anthony, “Tactical Ambiguity and Brainwashing Formulations: Science or Pseudo-Science?”, Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, ed. Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins, University of Toronto Press, 2001, p. 243-4.

[ix] Ibid, p. 247.

[x] Dick Anthony, Thomas Robbins, and Steven Barrie-Anthony, “Cult and Anticult Totalism: Reciprocal Escalation and Violence,” Millennial Violence: Past, Present and Future, ed. Jeffrey Kaplan, Routledge, 2002, p. 214.

[xi] Michel Foucault, “Complete and Austere Institutions,” The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, Pantheon Books, 1984, p. 214.

[xii] Margaret Thaler Singer, “Thought Reform Today,” Trauma and Self, ed. Charles B. Strozier and Michael Flynn, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1996, p. 70.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China, reprint edition, University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

[xv] Anthony, Robbins, and Barrie-Anthony, 2002, p. 214.

[xvi] Lifton, 1989.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] “We need to allow, encourage, and help young people create extended families of their own.” From John Holt, Psychology Today, “Free the Children; They Need Room to Grow,” October 1974.

[xxv] John Holt and Pat Farenga, “Common Objections to Homeschooling,” Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, revised edition, Perseus Books, 2003.

[xxvi] Mitchell Stevens, “Politics,” Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement, Princeton University Press, 2009, p. 173.

[xxvii] Caitlin G. Townsend, Religion & Politics, “The Troubling Push to Deregulate Homeschooling,” February 17, 2015, link, accessed on April 19, 2015.

[xxviii] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “Current Homeschool Law,” link, accessed on April 19, 2015.

[xxix] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “The Case for Oversight,” link, accessed on April 19, 2015.

[xxx] Townsend, 2015.

Autism Acceptance Month: A Call for Stories

Image courtesy of Shade Ardent, sagebrushMoon Studios.

By Shade Ardent.

April is Autism Acceptance Month, a time when the autistic community is speaking out about their experiences as autistic people.

Many of us might not have known we were autistic during our homeschooled life. Our parents didn’t believe in the mental health industry. Or perhaps they just felt we were being extra difficult with our sensory needs, or our need to repeat things. Maybe it was because they didn’t know how to seek help for us. Maybe our parents were supportive, but just didn’t know how to handle our differences. Maybe they did know, and chose to homeschool us in the hopes it would be easier for us.

Are you autistic and homeschooled? Did you find out later in your life that you were autistic? What was homeschooling like for you as an autistic child?

We would like to hear your story.

* This is not a call for stories for parents of autistic children, or for siblings of autistic homeschoolers. This is specifically to elevate the voices of autistic homeschoolers.

As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly. Please let us know your preference when you contact us.

* We will be publishing your stories as they come in, through the end of April *

If you are interested in participating in this series, please email us at HA.EdTeam@gmail.com.

Please put “Autism Acceptance Month” as the title of the email.

The Day I Ran Away: Charlie’s Story

Editorial note: Charlie blogs at Blind Horse Girl. Charlie is a pseudonym.

I remember being eleven years old, writing my mother a letter that was telling her I was running away. This was less than six months after my father had passed away, and a few months after we joined a church that I consider even to this day is both my savior and pain-filled. How I look at it depends on both the time and what I have heard from friends who still are active in both the church and world of home schooling. I haven’t told anyone about the letter, I remember the feeling though that I was going to be free, but after I thought for a second the letter was torn up and hid at the bottom of the trash can.

Maybe that would be the first time I considered telling someone, anyone about what was going in my home. I wasn’t actively being home schooled at that point in time, though I was still being taught at home in what I consider ”the fundamentalist home schooling way.” Before my father’s death I was being home schooled. My grandparents insisted that I go to regular school. I love and hate those three years. Love them because they allowed me some normalcy, but hate them because my mother found something she loved, a Pentecostal/church of god/mega church (I don’t know what else to call it, and most should at least know the type).

Home schooling though did come back like a flood, part of me thinks this is because of my choice of friends, but honestly it most likely would have happened anyway. By tenth grade, I was back to being home schooled. This time, though, involved more of what my fellow homeschool alumni are used to. Creation as science, courting, and the whole nine yards. None of which I believe in, now I am shockingly a rather happy Catholic, although that might change once I get the courage to come out of the closet on something other than a Harry Potter role playing site. Something again that makes me a sinner. Let’s just say I am a Catholic bisexual evolutionist who is visibly disabled (blind if you’re wondering). This isn’t about that though, this is supposed to be about how I got here from there.

I was what most would consider a high school dropout (though I did finish school, never got to actually get proof though), working at a horse barn making barely enough to get by. I did love having my own money, working and no future courting in sight (more than likely because I wasn’t putting myself out there, nor were we the norm). I have no father, and my mother has never been your typical active church mom.

What changed this was when I got in a horse accident resulting in legal blindness, so independent me was back allowing my mother control of her life. But looking back, My mother never really lost control. She had my legal documents, had access to both my cash, and bank account, and was pretty much allowed to tell me what to do and how to do it. When medical treatment failed, my mother insisted that my healing was to be found in the church. When it did not work, my mother turned to anger that I was disabled, because she saw me as forever in her care. The abuse that was a norm of my childhood became a norm of my adulthood.

My lack of income meant that she lost her apartment, and had us move in with a friend of hers, another follower of the faith. It was fine for the most part in the beginning, or more than likely it was my norm. When my money ran out things changed I felt as if a light switch had been flipped. I wasn’t allowed to leave the bedroom I was forced to share with my mother. My laptop was gone, something that years ago when she got it for me she promised she wouldn’t take away. Phone numbers of relatives deleted out of my phone, it seemed out of fear I would call a relative and tell them what was going on. My closest friend insisted once I told her what was going that I needed to pray for help. Out of pure desperation I contacted a friend, who I had never met from a horse forum, through Facebook on my cell phone. She insisted that yes I was being abused, and yes, they were acting crazy.  She insisted that I needed to leave, or at least contact adult protective services, considering that I am a protected class.

I remember that last day better than all the rest, something says to me that my mother heard me talking to her, more likely only some of it, because she stayed in my room, making comments about how I have been wanting to spend time with her for weeks and now I was trying to kick her out of the room. (The reason I wanted her to leave was because I wanted to call.) When I had finally gotten the courage to tell my mother I was leaving, she told me I had to wait until a certain date, something that still sends a chill through me.

I said I was going for a walk, I don’t know why they allowed me, though I am grateful they did. I left with nothing more than the long cane I barely knew how to use and the clothing on my back. I planned on walking to a local store and calling the non-emergency line to see about getting a ride to the local homeless shelter.

(Now what I did after this is was not safe, I was rather lucky to be picked up by who I was and not some other person.)

It didn’t turn out that way. My savior, as I like to think of him, pulled up and talked to me and then told me that homeless shelter doesn’t take people after dark. He offered me his couch, which I slept on until we figured how to get me to the friend I am now staying with, out of the state my mother is in.

I haven’t spoken to her since she told me she was going down to the courthouse with the woman to file for back rent, something I know is not legal, I signed nothing that said I would pay rent. My important documents have since been replaced, and I am waiting for other things to get straightened out.

My story is an odd one, and it sounds even odd to my ears (I use a screenreader), but it is all true. I don’t think anyone, let alone someone who is blind like myself, should leave in the night. But I did what I felt I had to do, I saw my way out and went for it.

I don’t fully blame my mother for being the way she is. I wish things were different, but they aren’t. I do plan on getting my GED, going to college, and maybe getting a guide dog.

I am a homeschooler who found her way out.

The Joseph Story, Like You’ve Never Heard It Before

CC image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Laurie Works’ blog. It was originally published on January 9, 2014.

Once upon a time, the story of Joseph nearly ruled my life. You know, the biblical story of the dude who had 11 brothers who betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.

I was Joseph. Sold into slavery in Egypt.

Joseph got to Egypt and was bought buy a guy named Potiphar (sweet ancient Egyptian name right there). This Joseph guy was super wily and rose in the ranks of slaves in Potiphar’s house until he was put in charge of all of them. That is, until Potiphar’s wife tried to sleep with him. She even grabbed his robe and stripped it off trying to make him stay (he must have been pretty fine, I’m just saying). But Joseph was also a goody-goody and so he ran away naked. Of course Potiphar believed his wife when she told him that Joseph had tried to seduce her (It was the best soap opera of the day, ya’ll). So Joseph was thrown in the can.

I was Joseph, thrown in the can for something I didn’t do. Trapped away in prison.

Except Joseph was one crafty sonuvabitch. He kept being his goody-goody self and got put in charge of the prison. If he didn’t get freed, he might as well be top dog, right? One day, two dudes from Pharaoh’s staff show up – the guy who tastes Pharaoh’s wine to test for poisons, and the guy who bakes his bread. Both of them had been thrown in prison for offending the Pharaoh. Obvi. Well, they both have dreams that trouble them, and Joseph being the awesome cunning man that he was, interprets their dreams. He says that the baker was gonna die and the cupbearer was going to be given back his position. With that in mind, Joseph goes “Hey cupbearer dude. Don’t forget the awesome dream interpreter who saved your life in prison, K? Tell the Pharaoh about me.”

Of course, the cupbearer forgets Joseph while reeling in his good fortune. Until the Pharaoh wakes up from a dream all pissed off. Probably afraid for his position (again), the cupbearer is like “WAIT!!! I know a guy!” Thus… Joseph magically interprets the Pharaoh’s dream, and like all his positions before… becomes second in the land only to Pharaoh. BOOM, son.

I was gonna be Joseph someday… elevated to second in the land, with lots of barns and “storehouses” that I was in charge of…


This was according to my dad, one of the best storytellers and imaginative minds of our time. Yes, you detect a bit of sarcasm… but to be honest that is probably pretty true. He is the most imaginative person I know.

Joseph was a metaphor for our “imminent” riches. (Imminent was a code word in our house, one of many which also included “it’s time to see IT“, the “magi“, “man from the east“… I could go on) Joseph had been wasting away, utterly invisible from the world, just like us in our 900ft², 3 bedroom apartment crammed with 6 people. Just like us wearing our thrift store clothing. Until one day… dun dun dun. He was REMEMBERED by the cupbearer.

Except we would be remembered by the magi man (magic man???) from the East…aka from Persia. He would suddenly remember that he had stuck my dad’s business card in a back drawer.  (The way he got my dad’s business card was through an Iranian coworker of my father’s, who took it with him to Iran around Christmas of 2003 -2004, after my dad had asked him to give it to “whomever he felt he should.”) The magi man would pull it out, look my dad up, and call with an offer to bequeath us with $1.7 billion dollars.

Suddenly like Joseph, we would be elevated to a higher echelon of society.

One of my dad’s “mentors” and favorite preachers frequently used Joseph as an example in his sermons. He referred to Joseph as something like “the dream bearer” and used Joseph to describe how God would fulfill your dreams if you only waited. In looking this preacher up again for this post, I also came across a sermon titled “If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.” (This is so hilariously ironic to me that it made me laugh) My dad listened to this man’s sermons consistently, at least once a week, for years. We were often required to listen along. I remember being a teenager, 16 years old or so, laying on my parent’s bed listening to the sermons being streamed over the internet. In our 3 bedroom apartment, the computer was located in my parents’ bedroom, because that was the only place we had room for it. So, on some Sunday mornings and many Wednesday nights, we listened to these sermons on the internet. I was required to do this and if I didn’t or tried to avoid it (by sleeping in or staying in my room) my dad would get angry and controlling.

At one point, my parents each bought an amethyst ring for themselves, because this preacher said that amethysts were “the Joseph stone” and instructed people to go out and buy one to demonstrate their commitment to their dreams. My dad bought a huge rock of an amethyst ring that he still wears fairly often.

My twin sister, myself, and my sister Rachel all had birthdays within 2 days of each other. My 16th birthday (Rachel’s 14th) was spent in Florida at a fancy anniversary dinner for this man’s 20th (25th? I’m not sure) year in ministry. We got to wear fancy prom dresses for the occasion, which made it seem like a birthday to us. At the time it was all very exciting.

This man’s sermons were also a huge subject of our nightly “family chitty-chats”. These were really made of my dad pontificating for a couple of hours before we went to bed. Rachel fell asleep most of the time. I was too terrified of my dad’s wrath, and too invested in gaining his approval, to try and do such a thing.

This was a lot of my life for 10 years or more, incidents such as these. My sponsor likes to say that my family sounded like a cult. I remember quite a bit of it if I think about it, but ever since my first 5th step almost a year ago, I’ve been remembering things spontaneously. I’ll be washing dishes, or walking through the grocery store, or on the phone at work, and all of a sudden I’m assaulted with another crazy memory of my old life. Honestly, I’m still wading through anger and resentment. My therapist said this past week that it’s probably a part of the healing process, to be angry. And when I think back to a couple of years ago when I first started trying to deal with anger at my dad – I didn’t feel ANY. Not a speck. So this is improvement. It’s like when your foot wakes up and you have pins and needles. At some point, the pins and needles will go away and I’ll be at acceptance.

It helps though to let people witness my memories.  Because I’ll never stop hearing my dad’s voice in my head, spinning delusional worlds. But at least this way I won’t be alone with the voices. They’re easier to bear when I’m not lost in them, like someone wandering through fog at night.

I plan to tell more stories from my childhood in this coming year, both here, and in the memoir I’m attempting to write. So stay tuned.

Here’s to taking a deep breath and jumping off the cliff…

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Daveynin.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Laurie Works’ blog. It was originally published on July 23, 2013.

I was talking to a friend the other day and describing some of my childhood, and I realized that I haven’t written much about it here. I’ve written about it in vague, hidden descriptions only. Like a warning sign over my heart. Maybe because that part of my life feels like a minefield. I’ve dealt with a lot of those issues, but I never know when one will explode and hit me in the face.

There’s one I’d like to describe right now though, a behavior I described to my friend earlier. I’m going to call it Learned Pretentiousness. My dad, who completely believed that we would be the recipients of billions of dollars gifted us by God, taught us this interesting behavior. The first time I can recall using it was when we did a walk-through of a 5 million dollar house that we were going to buy when “The Money” arrived (which was an imminent event, of course). I remember assuming the behavior of a rich little girl, trying to pretend like my family wasn’t living in a tiny 3-bedroom apartment where I shared a room with my twin sister. Instead, I discussed what kinds of things we would buy to put in the living room, or how we would arrange the basements, or what the room above the stable would be used for.

I was 10 years old at the time of our little walk-through (and no, The Money has still not arrived 14 years later). There were so many times I put on the “little rich girl” throughout the years that I don’t even remember all of them. My family would often frequent 5 star hotels just to sit in the lobby and pretend like we were one of them. Or, more often than not, we would visit the local corporate airport to look at the planes, and MAYBE WE WOULD BE LUCKY AND SOMEONE WOULD MEET US THERE WITH THE MONEY! You could never be sure.

One time my dad actually talked a jet chartering company into flying a large corporate jet into Denver for us to see. My dad had great powers of persuasion and is probably the most charismatic man I’ve ever met. I remember sitting on that jet feeling like I was living a complete lie but struggling, trying desperately, to pull it off like I knew what richness felt like. I was crawling with anxiety and trying to hide the fact that I so obviously didn’t belong.

The behavior actually became so ingrained that if I walk into any luxurious atmosphere now, I have to be on guard so I don’t assume it and therefore assume a personality that is not myself.

Looking back on the strangeness of my life, I can easily see why alcohol and love addiction became such a big issue for me. First of all, I had no idea what living in reality was like, since my dad and therefore my family avoided it at all costs. And second, besides my dad creating this strange, cult-like family (me, my mom, and my sisters) and convincing us to buy into this delusional idea, he was also abusive and angry if we ever crossed him. None of us dared speak up and say that he was wrong about this money idea. The closest any of us got was my twin sister repeatedly speaking her doubts about God really saying it, and my dad spending hours trying to convince her that she just had to take it on faith. She eventually bought into it more than any of the rest of us. Yet the one time I remember my mom slightly disagreeing with him about his ideas, he forbid her from taking part in family conversations until she apologized. (About a month later)

By the time I was 15, I was at least slightly aware that I wanted to escape, and that was when most of my acting out started. It was like I was a snake itching to get rid of my skin, my isolated and bizarre little life. The anxiety exploded and I grabbed men, alcohol, a knife – anything that could get me out of the feelings I had of my life imploding on top of me. Outside, I was walking into 5 star restaurants and pretending my life was grand.

I am scared to post this. Scared to open up this part of my life. I’ve talked about it with my therapist and my close friends. But I think only to my therapist with as much detail, with the dots and lines that include every detail of how I was trained to act. And most recently, of the shame I have carried for buying into this delusional world. Because I did. I never thought I’d have to cook my own meals. I expected to marry a rich man, even a prince. I expected to wear Chanel and have my own horse or several. I expected to be able to travel to Dubai and stay in my favorite suite in the world. I have been ashamed for the time I spent buying into it all when I was a teenager. I’ve long since stopped believing the lies, but the shame remains.

I guess one of the biggest reasons I want to post this is to give back that shame by opening up my story to the world. It’s my way of doing what my therapist described yesterday about the day I went into Cartier when I was 16. I put on a $50,000 diamond ring (or maybe it was $25,000… I can’t quite remember), fell in love with it, and my dad embarrassingly slipped in a mention to the sales person that we would be back when his “investment paid out.” (Investment meaning God would give us The Money we had been waiting for) Instead of standing there in my embarrassment, pretending that I was a spoiled little teenager, here’s what I would want to say now:

“Sorry ma’am. My dad thinks God is going to give him 1.7 billion dollars, you see. Just out of thin air. He has it all planned out and is just waiting for God to give it to him. He has a company formed in the state of Colorado so that there is a place for the money to go. I have a trustee for a trust account that has no money in it. He even thinks a man in Iran is going to gift it to him, which is illegal in fact. So as you can see the whole idea is pretty laughable. This ring is gorgeous but I will probably never buy it. Thanks for the chance to put it on.”

For Matthew

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Sally Crossthwaite.

Content Warning: gun violence, mass shooting

Laurie Works is a homeschool alum, community organizer, and spoken word poet. She is also a mass shooting survivor. In December 2007, two of her sisters, Rachel and Stephanie Works, died during the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs. This poem is her reply to the shooter, Matthew Murray, who was also homeschooled. 

Sometimes I feel like we are two sides of the same coin
some people call you the bad penny
just because it landed tails up
they say it’s bad luck.
We could have had the same parents
we were homeschooled, using the same books
from the same publishers
we both learned that evolution was a lie
that the earth was created 6,000 years ago
maybe that’s why we both had such a hard time progressing
100 miles apart, we did the same training
they told us God loved us
I heard voices and gave prophecies
they said you heard voices too
but those voices were the different ones
same coin other side
we both had demons haunting us
mine just were clothed in angel’s skin
at least you knew yours clearly
it took our lives colliding for me to fully see mine.
We collided in one moment
somehow that moment always felt like it would happen
I wonder if you must have felt that too
I wonder if you were pulled by the same invisible thread
the world knows you as the man who murdered my sisters
I know you as someone across the gulf of the same canyon
both of us were just trying to figure out how to get across
you sprayed bullets trying to build a bridge of mettle
and when the bridge wouldn’t hold
you built it instead to the other side.
I have been trying to build a bridge of mettle ever since
trying to finish the job you started without using violence as tool
but it’s hard when I’ve always been shooting myself in the foot
what good is a bridge when you can’t walk across it
what good is a bridge that you constantly tear down.
Your name means gift of God
sometimes I think that’s true while other days I want to run
from the darkness I see behind your imagined eyes
on the day the voices we heard collided
I want you to know I saw them too
the demons you were so acquainted with
i’ve been living with them for almost 8 years now
maybe they don’t erupt the same
I never turned my violence outward
always loaded my gun and turned it on myself
This year, I’m learning
that just because a coin isn’t lucky doesn’t mean it’s a bad penny
that some bridges aren’t built out of mettle
what bridges heaven and earth
is made of our most vital organ
my sister’s hearts that your metal bullets ripped through
is the bridge I now cross over
it’s not so much a bridge but a surrender
to the air between the chasm
If I’m the side of the coin that’s heads up
it’s because you were my heads up
it’s because you showed me
that strength isn’t built from violence
and the ways in which I’ve assaulted myself
Strength is made of heart melting into void
coming out the other side
like a black hole makes new stars
I’m coming out the other side
I’ll take you with me.
Maybe these new voices will sing back
and tell you what you were made of
even pennies were made strong by copper melting in a fire.

Bill Gothard Threatens Recovering Grace with a $1,000,000 Lawsuit

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Earlier today, Recovering Grace reported on their Facebook page that Bill Gothard is threatening the whistleblowing organization with a lawsuit. Glenn Gaffney of Gaffney & Gaffney PC, who is representing Gothard against the now-eighteen former employees and students suing him and the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) for sexual harassment and assault, issued a letter to RG, declaring that, “Demand is hereby made upon any and all of your clients that have posted false and defamatory statements on the Recovering Grace website to immediately remove them.” If RG does not oblige, Gaffney threatens that “those persons can anticipate a counter-claim or cross-claim against them” for the purposes of seeking $1,000,000 or more in damages.

Recovering Grace responded to the legal threats on their Facebook page, saying, “While every story that we have ever published was with the knowledge that we might one day have to defend our decisions in a court of law, it is nonetheless disturbing to see these threats in print.”

The full texts of Recovering Grace’s post and Gaffney’s letter follow, along with a screenshot of them:

Dear friends, we wanted to share with you the following letter that was forwarded to Recovering Grace by the law firm representing the plaintiffs suing Bill Gothard and IBLP. While every story that we have ever published was with the knowledge that we might one day have to defend our decisions in a court of law, it is nonetheless disturbing to see these threats in print. Your continued prayers are appreciated.


Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.51.15 PMCounsel — It is unfortunate that Plaintiffs’ attorneys feel the need to circulate these pleadings to the press. Just remember this once the Court rules on the pending motions to disqualify.

Also, demand is hereby made upon any and all of your clients that have posted false and defamatory statements on the Recovering Grace website to immediately remove them.

Those persons can anticipate a counter-claim or cross-claim against them, in conjunction with the principals behind that website, for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress seeking actual and punitive damages in an amount in excess of $1,000,000 (with such an award after expenses be payable to an appropriate not for profit organization) along with such other injunctive and equitable relief the Court deems just.

Every day those postings remain in the public domain undoubtedly will enhance the damages recovery.

Glenn Gaffney
Gaffney & Gaffney PC
1771 Bloomingdale Rd.
Glendale Heights, Il 60139

A Homeschooled Son’s Letter to His Father: Ethan’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Kevin Dooley.

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

I grew up in a homeschooled Christian family, oldest of eight children. For the past several years, conversations with my mother indicated her weariness of homeschool education and a belief that public education was no longer the great evil she once considered it to be. Despite her view, her expression of this exhaustion to my father was limited to periodic bouts of frustration that were dismissed by my father as ‘evidence that Satan doesn’t want our family to keep homeschooling’. I was, to exaggerate by understatement, mildly angered by his cavalier dismissal. Given my financial dependence on my father throughout college, though, I wasn’t in a position to risk his anger by addressing the strain homeschooling was placing on Mom. Now that I am in my last semester with a six-figure job lined up after graduation, I elected to voice my thoughts (in a much cooler voice than would have been likely in person) to my father in an e-mail, included below.


This is a long e-mail that was supposed to be a conversation in person, but I didn’t realize y’all were leaving for the wedding and timing just kind of didn’t work out.

I want to preface this with two notes. First, please understand that this is not written from some resentful / I-hate-my-childhood perspective, because it’s not. Second, I beg you to realize that my opinions are not automatically invalid because I haven’t procreated and raised offspring myself.

Section 1: On The Theory of Homeschooling
Homeschooling has highly variable outcomes – some families end up on prime-time news for abuse and incest, some families send all their children to Harvard / Princeton / Yale. I have no problem with homeschooling per se.

To the contrary, growing up in that community gives me a unique view on its pros and cons.

To the extent that Christian parents have a duty to guide the moral development of their children, parents may (ought, even) elect to control the influences, environments, and material available to a young child. Homeschooling in the religious right originated because of a belief that public schools were dangerous, anti-moral institutions that threatened the development of Christian beliefs, and that belief is not unfounded. Public schools are not religious, and are often anti-religious.

It’s important to understand, though, that any child will inevitably be exposed to these ‘great evils’. Homeschooling does not allow a child to enjoy life sans secular influences. In some cases, it delays exposure to said influences. In some cases, those secular influences reach a homeschooled child through different channels. In many cases, though, homeschooling simply creates a unique set of ‘secular’ problems.

Homeschooling doesn’t solve the sin nature – as ideal as that would be.

In a homeschooled environment, some sins will bubble to the surface. In a public school environment, some of the same sins will arise, but it’s likely a different set will be primary concerns. The point here is that homeschooling does not eliminate the need to address human failure, it just changes the topics being addressed.

In economics, there’s a concept of diminishing marginal returns (DMR). DMR basically says that doing something for a certain amount of time has high value for each incremental action, but beyond a certain threshold, very little value is added. I think this is models the homeschool environment quite well. In early years, there is immense value from a Christian environment to build a foundation for moral thinking and behavior, but as the age timeline and the ability for self-reasoning progresses, you [generic you] reap very little incremental value from environmental restrictions.

[As an aside, I always found the quiver and arrows argument about shooting children out into the world very interesting. It was used to justify homeschooling and protecting children from the outside world until adulthood, but the process of making arrows is very different. Arrows are made from greenwood, then allowed to “season” / “mature” in an outdoor environment (while still under care of the archer) until they are ready to be shot out. Protection is not always good].

With one exception, all my Christian friends at [university name] were public schooled from day 1, and it’s arguable that their faith is more sincere than mine. This is perhaps a criticism of my focus on things of God in recent months, but is stronger evidence that the method of education is not the determinant of faith. Morals, godliness, and Christian belief stem from a God-given desire to follow those things.

As a summary: homeschooling has value, but it is not an intrinsic good. Beyond a certain point, it may be detrimental to the rigor of one’s faith and one’s ability to thrive in the outside world.

Section 2: On Finances
This is a somewhat short section, but merely exists because I think it’s important to recall one thing: the thousands of dollars the family pays in taxes every year fund, in part, a school system recognized as one of the best in the nation. From a financial stewardship perspective, electing to not utilize public resources is an unmitigated waste of those dollars. Given that family finances are increasingly stressed, prudent management of available dollars seems important.

Section 3: On Patriarchy
I am attempting to word this section very carefully to avoid giving offense. I apologize in advance if I fail to achieve this goal.

Fathers are recognized generally as ‘head of household’ within Christian tradition. Unfortunately, this tradition systematically has taught that fathers are the only heads of the household, that their decisions are final, and they are endowed with a ‘divine right’ to teach and train members of their family as they see fit.

At a very basic level, this is extra-biblical at best and abusive at worst.

It is especially pernicious because Mothers have been taught to accept the aforementioned patriarchal role without question.

[As an aside, mom knows nothing about this e-mail and i have not solicited her feedback in composing it. Any anger you have should be directed at me, not at her]

Over the years, the concept of ‘[Family Surname] Team’ and ‘family vision’ [quotes are not used ironically, merely to indicate specific phrasing used] have come to be despised by at least [second born sibling], [third born sibling], and myself because they didn’t represent a family vision – they represented your vision, which was to be accepted without question or argument, unless we wanted to face the consequences. While this is as much the fault of our immaturity as any other factor, I think it’s problematically indicative of a family trend – anything that happens must have your seal of approval, regardless of how trivial it is. And any choices that ’the family’ makes are, ultimately, just choices that you have made for us.

You have made some stellar decisions, please don’t get me wrong. This is not a blanket critique of everything that has ever happened. But the family is driven by a centralized power, and it’s abundantly evident whenever a unit of the family attempts to make an autonomous decision that you will brook no autonomy.

The ATI ‘umbrella of authority’ is transformed all too often into a suffocating blanket of my-way-or-the-highway.

Why am I talking about this? In all fairness, it’s often true that attempts at autonomous decisions by children are misguided and in need of parental ‘editing’, but the same should not, and in the case of our family, cannot be said of Motherly autonomous decisions.

I’ve seen the quality of your marriage deteriorate meaningfully for the past few years, and while that may be due to other factors, I’m convinced the largest contributor is the choke-hold you have on Mom’s ability to say, do, allow, or think anything related to the family. [second born] / [third born] and I often comment on the legitimate fear we see in her eyes whenever she allows a younger child to do anything without running it by you first – frightened anticipation of your anger at her for not fulfilling your vision for how the family ought to be.

Any marriage will have differences of opinions, that’s life. But communication, grace, and willingness to not always get your way are how marriages survive. I may not be married, but it’s not rocket science to figure that much out.

Where am I going with all this? Homeschooling is your vision for the children. I may be wrong, but I’m confident Mom no longer has a desire to homeschool. She continues her days in the car, her nights up to 2am managing different children’s classes, her constant fights with children over turning in homework and proctoring exams, in some desperate attempt to fulfill a vision that you have required her to implement. This is not healthy.

As a summary: The power dynamic in the family is driven by your fear, fear that you will lose control. If you made a genuine effort to give Mom freedom to be an independent entity, I think you would discover your vision for family education is sub-optimal.

Section 4: On College, aka, Finances (Again), Choice, and Resources
This is about college. College is expensive, as we’ve all found out.

And homeschooling can [it doesn’t have to] severely limit leadership opportunities / transcript development relative to a public school.

This has a direct financial impact on scholarships, college acceptances [different colleges have very different aid packages], and, consequently, the affordability of higher education. Presuming that blue-collar work is not the optimal adult life track for all the children, doing all that is possible to minimize college tuition is important.

Every child is different. Homeschooling through high school was great for me and I’m sure if I went to public school I wouldn’t be where I am today. But that doesn’t mean homeschooling is optimal for everyone. At the very least, children should be given the option of going to public school for high school, so that they can best position themselves for college applications.

Additionally, public schools have offices designed to educate students on college options, administer standardized tests, prepare transcripts, guide students through the application process, etc. These are professionals, people we’re already paying [via tax dollars], in the richest county in America, to send students to optimal colleges for each family.

Section 5: Action Items and Everything That Didn’t Fit in Earlier Sections
Will public schools open up a new set of problems? Probably. Will continued homeschooling kill Mom? Probably.

Will continued homeschooling eliminate the conflicts that current exist at home? Probably not. Will continued homeschooling ensure that all children love Jesus forever and ever? Probably not. [That was a bit snarkily phrased, I apologize].

Maybe no one wants to go to public school. That’s entirely possible.

But I suspect there is an interest, and I more strongly believe that certain children would massively benefit from it.

[fourth born child], [fifth born child], and [sixth born child] are all IMMENSELY intelligent, and young enough that they have years ahead to shape their high school and college opportunities. If other children went to public school, that would likely allow finances for them to play travel soccer and develop advanced skills there. [fifth born] is fascinated by computer science – if that can be fostered, he would love [elite science / tech high school nearby] as an intense scientific high school. There’s immense potential here.

I 100% support continued homeschooling up to middle school, maybe even through middle school, or perhaps through high school [again depending on individual children’s preferences].

But please, have the humility and intellectual honesty to engage with Mom in a genuine conversation about what she wants, and then implement what she wants.

The world will not end and we will not all become heathens if public schools are opened up as an option.

Who knows, maybe the reduced financial stress and replacement of “mom & dad” with “professor x” as academic task-masters will improve family relations.

Above all, this is about creating a truly family driven vision and contributing to a healthy, high functioning, family unit.


[Oldest Child]