A Call for Inclusion in the Survivor Community: Sarah Henderson’s Thoughts

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HA note: Sarah Henderson blogs at Feminist in Spite of Them about her journey from Quiverfull to Feminist. The following post was originally published on her blog on January 11, 2014 and is reprinted with her permission. Also by Sarah on HA: “An Open Letter to My Former Highschool Teachers.”

There has been a bit of a ripple this weekend regarding a post that was published on Homeschoolers Anonymous. This post is written by someone who was homeschooled in a positive way, and has attained a higher level of education. He gave some recommendations for how survivors should be writing their stories. His main points are not false, he gives a solid explanation of the difference between narratives, philisophical statements, and empirical evidence. From a casual reading, his content is solid. However he goes on to explain that these claims need to be kept separate, or the movement will suffer.

We need to recognize that everyone who self-identifies as an abusive/neglectful homeschool survivor is in a different place.

If a requirement is made that people who wish to tell their stories must write them to an academic standard determined by someone who is not an abusive homeschooling survivor, we as a community run the risk of restricting possession of a voice to those who meet an academically rigorous standard. Many bloggers start out by writing their story for their own cathartic benefit, and then share it on the internet to help build the narrative.

Many bloggers, including myself, try very hard to avoid making statements without evidence, and try to differentiate between what part is our narrative, and what part is empirical evidence. Personally I do use empirical evidence in my posts, and cite it appropriately. I do not necessarily avoid making philosophical statements, because I believe that people have the right to their own opinion in matters of philosophy. Certainly the bloggers and advocates who are radically pro-homeschooling present their philosophy as truth, but I think it still clear when a statement is philosophical in nature. Some of them do sometimes present guesses and statements as empirical evidence (like this, as Heather posted on HA).

Not everything on my blog is empirically based, and I have grown in my understanding of the past since I started blogging. I have gone back and put some author’s notes in place, but I am not editing out statements and opinions that I presented early in my blogging, because this blog represents my story and understanding across time. Some other bloggers present their ideas with more and less clarity and empiricism. I do not think that these different styles and levels of accuracy take anything away from our community, but introducing the specter of the red pen might result in fewer stories being told by those who may experience new fear about their own story because they have been denied their story for their whole lifetime.

Telling a survivor story of this type goes against a lifetime of teaching to comply, conform, and protect the status quo.

We need be purposeful in our inclusion of stories, whether they match an arbitrary standard or not. People need to be able to start telling their stories no matter where they are in their healing, and it would be good to be mindful of the fact that some survivors of educational neglect may not meet an academic rigor and polish standard, but it is these stories that really really need to be added to the plethora of narratives.

A plural of narratives does not add up to empirical data. But it does add up to a plethora of narratives.

As more survivors come forward and share their narrative, it will become harder and harder to reject each narrative as an anomaly. Denial of abusive homeschooling survivorship is a serious issue, and becoming elitist and selective about sharing stories contributes to the denial. For whose benefit should all the stories be empirical and polished? A number of polished empirical articles will not in and of itself change the face of abusive homeschooling, just like a large number of narratives would not change it. But an abundance of both types of posts (usually not divided into such tidy categories) bring the need for a closer look to the attention of the survivors, and hopefully, at some point, to the attention of lawmakers.

Let’s reach out as a community for more stories that need to be told.

A Call for Precision: Benjamin Keil’s Thoughts


Benjamin Keil is a husband, father of three, and Ph.D. Candidate in the University of Kansas’ Philosophy Department.  The views expressed in this article are his own; his personal website can be found here.

Like St. Paul of old, I come to you today with two things: My bona fides and a message.  

In case you’re not quite up to speed on your pretentious archaic phraseology, bona fides are just testimonials.  If you’ve got bona fides, they show that you are an authentic messenger and that what you say is true.

Whereas St. Paul’s bona fides were meant to show that he was an authentic Hebrew (Phil. 3:4-6), my bona fides are much narrower.

I want you to know that I’m one of you.  

I was homeschooled K-12.  I did both NCFCA debate (as well as HSLDA debate before the change) back in high school.  (For those of you who care, my first year was the campaign finance resolution and my last last year I did that awkward LD topic about restricting economic liberty for the general welfare in agriculture.)  I even co-coached our local debate club for the “trade policy with Africa and the Middle East” topic.

Unlike some of you, though, my homeschool experience was positive.  My parents never abused me, encouraged me to go to college (I’m now finishing graduate school), and let me listen to all kinds of music.  They never made my younger sister only wear skirts and encouraged her to go to college also.  (She’s in graduate school now too!) But, like most of you, fundamentalistic-style beliefs weren’t entirely absent from my homeschool years: My parents believed in 7-day Creationism, emphasized a hermeneutic of Biblical literalism, and chose the usual sorts of homeschool curricula to help pass on their values.

All of which is to say that I come to HA as an insider, not an outsider.  

I recognize commonalities between many of the articles here and my own story.  And many of the goals expressed by HA are ones I share.  All of which, hopefully, gives me the credibility necessary to offer an admonishment:

Our movement makes three separate types of claims, and the evidence we offer for the three claims needs to be kept separate.

Let me explain the differences I’m getting at.

One type of claim that can be made is empirical – claims about the larger world or interrelationships between significant parts of the larger world.  The second type of claim involves stories.  Personal testimonials are smaller slices of the world but not less valuable – stories are how we make sense of our small and short lives.  (Perhaps that’s why autobiographies are one of my favorite non-fiction genres?)  The third type of claim is philosophical – claims about beliefs or belief systems which inform how we live our lives.

All of these are valuable and all have a significant place in our movement.  

It is important (essential!) that we have empirical evidence to bolster our movement’s claims.  It is important (essential!) that we have stories and we tell them to each other.  And it is also important (essential!) that we present and defend philosophical arguments to demonstrate the insufficiency of belief systems.  All of these types of claims are important and our movement would suffer if any one type were missing or overemphasized.

But although all three types are valuable, they are nonetheless distinct and thus should be distinguished from each other.  To demonstrate an empirical claim, you need good empirical research (replicable research from a representatively large randomized sample where the methodology is designed to block confounding effects).  To demonstrate a story, you need to convey it accurately.  And to demonstrate a philosophical claim, you need to give arguments.

Let’s look at some examples.

Suppose one claims that child abuse occurs more frequently in homeschooling contexts than in public schools.  That’s an empirical claim and to demonstrate it you’d have to operationally define homeschooling and child abuse, conduct empirical studies on the child abuse rates in homeschooling, and compare those rates with the child abuse rates in public schools.  Then you’d know where abuse occurs more frequently.

Or suppose you claim that being raised in a fundamentalistic homeschool lifestyle harmed you.  That’s a narrative story claim, and to show its truth you’d explain your upbringing and truthfully relate its negative effects on your life.

Or suppose you claim that parts of your parents’ belief system is wrong.  To demonstrate this you’d have to accurately describe your parents’ belief system, describe the best possible arguments in its favor, and then show why those arguments are incorrect.

All of this is fairly straightforward.

But our movement will suffer if we’re not clear about the kinds of claims we’re making and the evidences we’re giving for those claims.

For example, if you claim child abuse rates are higher among homeschoolers than public schoolers, you can’t demonstrate that claim by telling your life’s story.  In fact, you can’t take your life story, combine it with the life stories of ten other people from HA, and conclude that child abuse rates are higher among homeschoolers than public schoolers.  That’s anecdotal evidence, and anecdotal evidence (while very valuable in its own right!) isn’t scientific evidence and can’t be used to establish empirical claims.

If you think parts of your parents’ belief system is wrong, what you ultimately need to provide are philosophical arguments to make that case.  Relating your life story, by itself, doesn’t show that your parents’ belief system is wrong – although your life story might relate arguments, it’s the arguments themselves and not the story that does all the philosophical work.  (After all, there’s an obvious difference between an autobiographic story of how you discovered an argument, and what your reasons are for thinking the argument itself is true.)

(All of this obviously oversimplifies for the sake of clarity – a story is almost certainly going to contain philosophical arguments [whether implicit or explicit], and empirical claims often rely on philosophical notions [for example: what, precisely, is child abuse?]  So I am aware that any one type of claim will have some interactions with the other two types.  But if one’s primary purpose is to make an empirical claim, then empirical evidence is called for.  And if one’s primary purpose is to tell a story, then no larger empirical claims can be drawn solely on the basis of that story alone or that story combined with other people’s stories.)

My goal, obviously, is to strengthen the true parts of our movement – not to detract from any one person’s story, or empirical claim, or philosophical argument.  

All are valuable and all have their place.  But unless we clearly identify the type of claim we are making, and unless we are clear on what type of evidence would support our claim, our claims will be weak.  And if there’s one thing I learned from homeschool debate, it’s that weak claims are inevitably discovered and, when discovered, should be discarded.

Reaching the Other Side: Deanna Stollar’s Thoughts


Deanna Stollar lives in Springfield, Oregon and is a former homeschooling mother of four children (including HA’s R.L. Stollar) and grandmother of two grandchildren. In the 1990’s she co-founded the San Jose, California homeschool support group SELAH (Students Educated Lovingly At Home) as well as San Jose homeschool debate club, CLASH. Deanna has written two debate textbooks for homeschool debate families, It Takes a Parent and Coaching Policy Debate. Along with her husband Terry, Deanna has spoken at numerous homeschool conventions, on topics ranging from “Creating Good Writers” to “Raising False Expectations.” In her spare time she loves to write; her work has been featured in a number of publications, most recently in A Cup of Comfort for Horse Lovers and A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.


Today at the library I watched as a mother told her kids that they needed to leave.

“Time to go home,” the Mom said. “That computer is gross. Someone else’s eyelash is on it – ugh. We don’t want to use a computer that has something like that on it.”

Her son looked dismayed, “But mom, I was in the middle of my report.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, a military determination in her eyes.

His brown hair, shoulder length in a blunt cut, he looked about twelve years old. His younger sister stood next to him. She didn’t argue with her mother, seemingly resigned to the fact they must leave — not willing to question her.


We all know how ridiculous we homeschooling parents can be at times, but I shudder when realizing how dark and cruel some homes can be where instead safety and love should exist.  It sometimes overwhelms me to think of the kind of education taking place in such homes, and often I don’t want to even read about them.

As a now retired homeschooling mom of twenty-six years, I certainly made my fair share of mistakes both as a parent and educator.

Seeing this mom, however, struck a chord in me I have not felt in a while. It sat with me for days. I kept seeing the young boy’s disappointed face and his sister’s disengaged one. From their body language, it was clear this scene of irrationality was an often occurrence for them — a mother who changed her mind on a whim, over the perceived health danger in something as simple as an eyelash imbedded in computer keys; why not use that eyelash as a springboard for an imaginary story? Did a fairy leave it there or a unicorn? Why run away in fear from it?

This scene in the library, their words, their faces, haunted me for nearly a week until it rose to the surface what was really bothering me about it: what was this woman teaching her kids everyday?

She was teaching them to be afraid: afraid of a stranger, of someone who had dirty eyelashes, of equipment shared by others. How was she equipping and preparing them for the future? She was teaching them to fear something that was not real.

She was teaching them to be afraid of the library, of others, of society, and perhaps even of learning itself.

This made me very sad. What made me even sadder was that the librarian, who also witnessed this scenario, along with me, did nothing to remedy the situation either. Maybe she concluded, as I had, why bother.  What could we have realistically accomplished by stepping into this mom’s life in that one moment? Maybe nothing, but maybe our interjections could have helped her children. They perhaps for the first time would have heard something different — a taste of freedom — and longed for it more. Our words might have stayed with them over time and been beneficial.

I will never know now what difference we might have made.

About twenty years ago, I watched on a street corner as another mother screamed at her young blue-eyed, curly blond girl of three. The mother’s tone was both abusive and her reasoning completely unrealistic. Her three-year old was expressing valid fears at crossing the street and the mother refused to console her. She only berated her child. I watched for a moment then went up to the mother. I asked her if there was anything I could do to help. At first her voice was curt, annoyed with my interference, but eventually both she and her daughter calmed down and crossed the street together. As they held hands, the three-year-old girl added a skip in her gait. As they reached the other side, the little girl turned around and waved at me.

Reflecting back on that moment I wish now that I had tried to help the mother in the library. I wished I had tried to help get them to the other side, instead of being stuck in ignorance and fear, but I was too afraid to try that day — bound up in fear myself — the fear that I could not help her.

This is part of why I am glad that Homeschoolers Anonymous exists and that passionate people work hard on a regular basis to help others reach the other side of difficult and often horrifying situations.

They are making a difference, and that is a good thing indeed.

Happy 2014 HA! May it be a blessed year for you.

Love Misapplied: A Response to Chris Jeub

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on November 9, 2013 as a response to Chris Jeub’s article for HA, “Stiff-Necked Legalism.” We extended to Chris the opportunity to write a follow-up post, but he decided to respond directly on Libby Anne’s original post. You can view his response here.

I grew up hearing about Chris Jeub.

He was a big name in NCFCA homeschool debate circles, and while I never met him I did use the evidence briefs he put out. The Jeubs had 16 kids and were deep into the patriarchal and controlling ideas at the heart of the most conservative strains of the Christian homeschooling movement. In fact, they kicked their daughter Alicia out of the family and shunned her completely when she became “rebellious.” However, Chris says that he and his family have since left that whole legalistic mess.

In fact, Chris is, I think, the only current Christian homeschooling leader who has written a post for Homeschoolers Anonymous.

All of the Jeubs’ book titles have the word “love” in them. Even their blog title has the word. Their move away from legalism involved embracing love. Then why, I have to ask myself, does their approach make me so very uncomfortable? Oh right! Because the problem I had with my parents was not that they didn’t love me. They did.

The problem I had with my parents was that they didn’t accept me.

I would feel a whole lot more comfortable if instead of Love in The House and Love Another Child, the Jeubs titled their books Acceptance in This House and Accept Another Child.

I just read Chris Jeub’s recent blog post Pattern of the Fallen. Here’s an excerpt:

I consider it tragic when people walk away from God. Sometimes they leave in a huff, sometimes they’ve intellectually wrestled, sometimes they dive into crazy sin and blow up their lives. Whatever the story, they are no longer walking with God, and that’s sad.

I’ve seen a pattern, though. This may give you hope. Wendy and I see this time and time again. Any separation between man and God can be attributed to a lack of love.

. . .

One is of a former student of mine who, on the surface, is angry with God. He and I have had rich conversations, but he’s struggling with some genuine relational hurdles that he finds bothersome. Here’s what I find encouraging: this young adult has a deep heart of compassion and love for people. He’s justifiably ticked at people who treat others wrong. His doubts about God stem from the lack of love from the so-called Christians in his life. Funny, I believe God is love (1 John 4:8), so though he is denying God’s love, he’s still running with God whether he believes it or not.. . .

There is a pattern here, don’t you see it? You probably see it in your family. For me, every single squabble or fight we have (sibling vs sibling, parent vs parent, parent vs child) can be attributed to a lack of love. Wendy and I have found that when we focus on love, solutions to the fights work their way out. A quick read and application of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 solves a lot of problems in our household.

Remember: LOVE is the most excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31). This reality slaps us up now and then. The trials, heartbreaks, disillusions, confusion, and turmoil in life can often be whittled down to a lack of love in our lives. Someone along the way failed to love, it is as simple as that.

No. Just, no.

Do you know, I would rather be accepted than loved.

Want to know why? Because my parents loved me until it hurt so much that I thought the inside of my chest was going to implode—and not in a good way. I have spent hours curled into a ball sobbing because of how much my parents loved me. I have been ripped apart, shredded, and mangled by their love. Through all of this, I honestly didn’t want my parents to love me. I just wanted them to accept me.

Before you say that love includes acceptance, I’ll point out that for Chris Jeub it clearly doesn’t. Chris very clearly can’t accept the former student he mentioned. Instead, he has to spent an entire paragraph saying that his former student is an atheist because he is angry at God, and that this former student is actually really following God or he wouldn’t have a heart to help those in pain. That is not acceptance. That is so not acceptance. Speaking from personal experience, that kind of thing can feel like a slap in the face to the person on the receiving side of it.

I grew up in a family that had a lot of love. I honestly don’t think I even for a moment questioned whether I was loved. My parents told us frequently that they loved us, and they were always physically affectionate toward us. Mom read us books, baked cookies with us, did crafts with us and sewed clothes for our dolls. Dad showed us how to plant a garden, built us playground equipment, read aloud to us on winter evenings, played board games with us, and took us swimming. My parents centered their lives around us, and we always felt incredibly loved.

And in the end, that is why it hurt so much.

When I was in college, I began to form my own beliefs and to disagree with my parents. Sex? Drugs? Alcohol? No. It was things like just how God went about creating the world, whether or not God required unmarried adult daughters to obey their fathers, and whether I needed my parents’ permission to go out with a guy. But while my parents had buckets of love, they had not a drop of acceptance. They didn’t stop loving me, and in many ways that’s what hurt so much. It hurt that these people who loved me so profoundly could stand in front of me in tears and tell me how much my actions and beliefs hurt them. It hurt so much my insides shriveled. And don’t say they didn’t actually love me. They did. If they hadn’t, that period wouldn’t have been nearly so painful.

Love is a very slippery thing.

Anyone can claim to have it, and people can claim it means anything they want.

For example, I am willing to bet that most abusive parents would claim that they are acting out of love for their children. And are you really going to argue that legalistic parents don’t love their children? Really? Indeed, I’ve heard it argued that the most loving thing a parent of a gay teen can do is to refuse to accept that child’s homosexuality. Telling that child that they are accepted, it is argued, only validates that child’s sin and keeps them from coming to wholeness in Jesus. I grew up hearing from religious leaders who told parents that if they truly loved their children, they must require them to submit to parental control and punish them with the rod when they are disobedient. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the religious leaders I grew up hearing from preyed on parents’ love for their children.

So when Chris Jeub goes on and on about how the solution to dysfunctional Christian homeschooling is love, I can’t help but say no. No, it most certainly is not. If I had experienced a lack of love, my life would have been a whole lot simpler and a whole lot less painful.

The problem isn’t a lack of love. The problem is a lack of acceptance.

The problem is love misapplied.

Stiff-Necked Legalism: By Chris Jeub

HA note, October 3, 2014:

In light of recent allegations by Cynthia Jeub (one of Chris Jeub’s daughters), the HARO board is uncomfortable with hosting Chris’s content. You can view the original post and comments as a PDF here.

Kevin Swanson Has Stumbled Upon a Very Real Truth

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on October 17, 2013 with the title, “Kevin Swanson on ‘Apostate Homeschoolers.'”

It seems Homeschoolers Anonymous has made an increasingly large splash in the homeschooling world.

Prominent Christian homeschool leader Kevin Swanson himself felt the need to address the group in a recent broadcast on his Generations with Vision radio show. He gave it the title “Apostate Homeschoolers.” If you click the link to listen, the section on Homeschoolers Anonymous starts at 5:00 and goes until 10:40, when Swanson moves on to the Boy Scouts.

What does Swanson blame for the growth of the “homeschool apostates” and their increased networking and online activism? NCFCA homeschool speech and debate. Oh yes. NCFCA was started by Christian homeschool leaders to equip a generation of homeschooled children to be culture warriors, fighting against the godless secularists and working to establish a Christian America. But apparently, according to Swanson, it’s gone awry, and too many of its homeschool participants have left God’s Truth for the faulty world of man’s intellect and reason.

In other words, Swanson has stumbled upon the very real truth that indoctrination fails when you teach children how to think instead of what to think.

But if ensuring that your young people retain your beliefs requires teaching them what to think without ever teaching them how to think, the problem is with your beliefs, not with the fact that certain of your young people figure out how to think and then walk away. That this is the response of the Christian homeschooling world—that perhaps teaching kids how to think was a bad idea—then what they have to offer is very sad indeed.

And just so we’re clear, this is what Kevin Swanson is now apparently afraid of:




Look how scary we are, with all of our researching and talking and thinking and socializing!

Alternative Narratives On Germany And Homeschooling: An Introduction

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

So much of the “news” one hears these days about Germany and homeschooling comes from the same sources: Fox, The Blaze, World Net Daily, the Christian Post, and WORLD Magazine. Often times it seems like these sources merely copy and paste press releases from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) rather than do their own research. I can also count on one hand how many times they did not bring up Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party or the Gestapo, or encourage their readers to think in terms of xenophobic slurs.

When I wrote my essay about how American-based organizations like HSLDA and the Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF) supported the Bavarian branch of the Twelve Tribes through the efforts and money of American Christians and homeschoolers, I was struck by the vast differences in coverage between American media and German media. I think, honestly, what I was most struck by was that — there has been an abundance of German media coverage on the homeschool question in Germany over the last decade. While that probably ought not be surprising, it was surprising for this reason: that coverage is almost universally absent in American coverage.

And here is why this is a problem: there are really, really important details in the German media coverage that get conveniently left out of the American media coverage.

Details that can make all the difference in the world in how one perceives individual situations.

I am hoping this week to provide the HA audience and a wider audience with some of this missing information. I also want to encourage Christians, homeschoolers, Americans, and so forth to think beyond the predominant narrative on what is going on in Germany — a narrative that is intimately and methodically constructed by HSLDA itself — and consider other narratives and points of view.

This week HA will not be presenting merely one narrative in opposition to HSLDA’s narrative. Rather, we will be sharing viewpoints from a diversity of sources. Some of us might actually believe Germany’s almost-ban on homeschooling is in fact silly, but at the same time believe homeschooling is not a human right. Or we might disapprove of excessive police force against German homeschoolers, but agree with Germany’s almost-ban on homeschooling. Or we might be 100% cool with homeschooling but think it is 100% not cool to use American immigration and asylum policy as a battleground for homeschool politics.

The point this week is not to force any one perspective down your throat. The point is to encourage you to consider more than HSLDA’s perspective — more than the perspective that is allowed to go unquestioned and parroted by Fox, The Blaze, WND, and so forth.


Introducing Jennifer Stahl

As we begin this week on Germany and homeschooling, I am excited to introduce Jennifer Stahl to the Homeschoolers Anonymous audience. Jennifer was homeschooled from the sixth grade forward under the Home School Legal Defense Association umbrella — and she is currently residing in Germany. She has written a number of excellent posts about German homeschool controversies on her own blog.

As a former HSLDA kid currently living in Germany, Jennifer’s voice is a fascinating and important one to consider.

As a former HSLDA kid currently living in Germany,, Jennifer Stahl's voice is a fascinating and important one to consider.
As a former HSLDA kid currently living in Germany,, Jennifer Stahl’s voice is a fascinating and important one to consider.

Here is a little bit about her: Jennifer was raised in a US Military home where she lived in six different states and in two foreign countries before getting married and moving to Germany. She is the oldest of three children and her school background varied greatly, including six years of home-schooling. Jennifer’s faith took a different direction in the last decade, towards Messianic Judaism, which has been a source of contention with her family’s fundamentalist background. After moving overseas and having her first child, she began questioning the doctrine that children are inherently sinful beings who need to be beaten regularly, obey instantly with a happy heart and never question their religious and household authority. She has also been unpacking much of the harm of purity culture, spiritual abuse, and anti-feminism while navigating cross-cultural norms. In processing these issues, she came to realize how much doctrine had been passed off as “Gospel Truth” and began blogging about this late last year.

You can follow Jennifer on her blog at Yeshua, Hineni and on Twitter at @HadassahSukkot. She was recently interviewed about Christian feminism on From Two to One.


Since the Bavarian Twelve Tribes were recently filmed committing child abuse and Dirk and Petra Wunderlich were recently reunited with their children, and HSLDA members have been flooding the Germany Embassy’s Facebook page, there are likely a lot of Germans wondering about this American organization called HSLDA and about homeschooling and the like. So to start this week, Kathryn Brightbill has written “a quick and dirty primer on HSLDA,” so that interested individuals can learn more.

The battle over homeschooling in Germany has raged for well over a decade. There have been many high profile cases, ranging from the Twelve Tribes (Zwölf Stämme) to the Paderborn Seven to Melissa Busekros to the Romeike, Wunderlich, and Dudek families. Most of these high profile cases involve some form of fundamentalist Christianity, with evolution and sex education as motivating factors for homeschooling. They also involve the hand of an American organization like HSLDA or ADF — or a German-based affiliate, like Schulunterricht zu Hause and Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit.

Since it is unlikely this battle is going away any time soon, the least we can do is understand the situation and get our facts straight.

I hope that this week’s series will aid in that endeavor.

To Break Down a Child: A Call for Stories about Pearl-Style Discipline

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To Break Down a Child: A Call for Stories about Pearl-Style Discipline

By Shaney Lee, HARO Board Member


Hana Williams.

Sean Paddock.

Lydia Schatz.

What do these three children have in common? All of their deaths were linked to the abusive teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl in their book To Train Up A Child.

If you weren’t homeschooled growing up, it’s possible, even probable, that you’ve never heard the names Michael and Debi Pearl before. Their success with their publishing efforts are largely due to word-of-mouth through fundamentalist Christian churches and homeschooling communities.

It is estimated that over 670,000 copies of To Train Up A Child are in circulation. That’s at least 670,000 too many. Much of that word of mouth has largely been enabled through homeschooling communities. Their books have been prominently featured in the homeschool editions of Christian Book Distributor’s catalogues, been recommended on homeschooling forums, and handed from parent to parent at homeschooling conventions (not to mention sold in some of the booths).

The Pearls don’t just advocate spanking as a method of child discipline. They advocate a method of discipline that puts the child’s will in direct defiance of God’s will and of the parents’ will, that makes the breaking of a child’s will the ultimate goal of child discipline, and that puts parents in a position to believe that if they are not 100% successful in their discipline, they risk their child’s very soul.

And yet, when these teachings are linked to the death of multiple children, there are thousands who speak up in defense of the Pearls’ teachings.

Enough is enough.

It is time for those of us familiar with the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl to speak up and speak against these abusive methods. It’s time to show that the damage of the Pearls’ method goes beyond just a few parents who got out of control. It’s time to show that it’s justifiable for the Pearls’ teachings to be linked to these horrible outcomes.

If you were raised with the Pearls’ methods, it’s your time to speak. If you’ve read the Pearls’ books and are against what they teach, it’s your time to speak. If you are a parent who previously used the Pearls’ methods, it’s your time to speak.

Even if you’re not normally a fan of what Homeschoolers Anonymous does, I ask you to join us for this series.

Because this issue is bigger than any disagreements we might have about homeschooling. It’s about preventing another Lydia, or Hana, or Sean.

This is not about whether spanking is a legitimate form of discipline (that’s a whole ‘nother discussion in and of itself!). This is about taking a public stand against a method of teaching that is extremely harmful towards children. Any system of childrearing that views children as rebellious little souls whose wills needs to be broken — rather than as small humans who are learning to live and thrive in the world — dehumanizes children and will always be harmful in the end.

Hana, Sean, and Lydia can’t speak up for themselves. It’s up to us to do it for them, to stand up for children who still have a chance. While it is the homeschooling community that has largely enabled the Pearls, I strongly believe it is the homeschooling community that is most equipped to fight against their abusive teaching.

So let’s stand up for our children. They deserve better.


To contribute your story or thoughts:

As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly.

If you interested in participating in this, please email us at homeschoolersanonymous@gmail.com.

The deadline for submission is September 15, 2013.

Homeschooling, A Means to an End: R’s Story


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

I’ve been following Homeschoolers Anonymous almost from its creation when I first learned about it from Lewis Wells’ blog, CommandmentsofMen. Many of the stories written here have resonated with me, and I’ve shared quite a few on Facebook, especially those regarding HSLDA.

But a comment one of my friends left on one of my Facebook posts got me thinking.

I was homeschooled all the way through high school. When I would ask my parents why I was homeschooled, the answer they gave never involved religious reasons. I was a hyperactive child, and the preschool teacher I would have made it clear that she did not want any parental help with the 15+ little children in her class. Thus my parents decided it was in my best interest for them to teach me at home, at least for the first few years of school to ensure that I had good preparation. I think my parents planned to enroll me in public school at some point, probably once they felt the school subjects were above their reach, but that day never came. I remember asking a couple times throughout my young life when I’d go to public school, and my parents always had a different reason to delay.

To be fair, the quality of education I received was very good.

Both my parents have 4 year degrees; my father even has a science-based PhD from Stanford. I think the real concern for them was choosing a curriculum, building lessons plans, and being responsible for my younger brother’s and my education. I think as the years went by, they became more comfortable with the mechanics of homeschooling.

I’m not sure when it started, but religious fundamentalism started to creep into our house.

I know both my parents were Catholic growing up, but in college they found evangelicalism. Their faith, however, wasn’t rooted in a specific denomination; whenever we’d move to a new city they would find a church that agreed with their dogma. In one state we were Baptist, in another Presbyterian. I think they grappled with how to best instill their values in their children. I can’t recall what age I was, but I remember sitting through one of Bill Gothard’s seminars and also participating in a Growing Kids God’s Way workshop. Naturally, with these influences my parents gravitated towards a very authoritarian style of discipline.

It was several years into college before I could even entertain the thought that I may have been abused as a child.

Because of my parents’ involvement with HSLDA, they had carefully built the following mental roadblocks for me:

  • DHS is bad. Completely normal disciplinary actions are considered abuse by them, and if DHS even suspects my brother or I have been abused, they will swoop in, kidnap us, and stick us with a family that doesn’t want or care about us because we’re an inconvenience.
  • Psychologists only care about money; they will try to blame every problem on the parents and write scripts for imaginary issues.

But it all worked out.

Random people would always compliment my mother on how well behaved my brother and I were. People that knew us from church or other places were always impressed by how talented we were. I was a national merit scholar, went to university on a full scholarship, majored in engineering, and now work for a global leader in the oil and gas industry. I have a talented wife and a beautiful daughter.

It seems homeschooling did an excellent job.

Except it is a lie, just like the cake.

I mentioned earlier that my parents first decided to homeschool me because of hyperactivity; I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and took medication for it until I was around 12. My father was an excessive perfectionist, and both parents embraced an authoritarian style of parenting. By the time I got to university, I was struggling with depression and low self-esteem that oftentimes left me paralyzed with feelings of hopelessness and uselessness. While I graduated as an engineer, my grades were far from exemplary, and my current position is the result of years of work and preparation overcoming the hurdles I had graduating from high school.

Because of my lack of freedom growing up, I still have problems deciding what I want, and I am plagued with uncertainty and doubt every time I make a major decision. In short, I could not function in the real world and still have difficulty even today.

So I blamed homeschooling.

But as I began to think about my friend’s comment, I realized something: homeschooling is just a tool, a method of instruction, a means to an end. All the positive homeschooling stories combine with the negative stories to show that.

Like any tool, homeschooling can be misused and abused.

It is important to remember this as we chronicle the stories of our youth: that responsibility does not lie with the method of instruction but with the instructors themselves, whether they be our parents or those our parents look to for guidance.