The Twelve Tribes, Child Abuse, and Michael Farris

The village of Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Germany is home to the "Zwoelf Staemme" (or, "Twelve Tribes").
The village of Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Germany is home to the “Zwoelf Staemme” (or, “Twelve Tribes”).

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 11, 2013.

Last week, German authorities removed 40 children from the Twelve Tribes sect.

Police raided a Christian sect in southern Germany, taking 40 children into foster care on suspicion they were physically abused and seizing sticks allegedly used to hit them, authorities said Friday.

Members of the so-called “Twelve Tribes” sect acknowledged that they believe in spanking their children, but denied wrongdoing.

The Twelve Tribes sect, founded in Tennessee in the 1970s, boasts 2,000 to 3,000 members and has faced child abuse complaints and the removal of their children in the past. In Germany, they have run up against both the country’s ban on spanking and its ban on homeschooling. Last year, the Twelve Tribes community there, which resides in its own compound separated from the surrounding community, founded its own private school to get around the ban on homeschooling; within the last couple of weeks, that school was shut down when it was found that it did not employ the required certified teachers. Accusations of abuse cropped up at the same time, and last week Germany authorities removed the children.

Several days ago Jörg Großelümern, who runs Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit (Education Freedom Network) in Germany and is listed on HSLDA’s Germany page as one of two contacts for German homeschoolers, posted a link to the story on Michael Farris’s facebook wall along with some explanatory text. Michael Farris responded (for those who don’t know, Farris is the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association—HSLDA—and is probably the most prominent spokesperson for homeschooling in the United States). You can see the exchange as follows:

germany1

Later that day, one of Farris’s followers posted another link, voicing her dismay, and Farris again responded. You can see the exchange below:

germany2

Today, the full extent of the charges against the Twelve Tribes group have come to light. And guess what? They have it all on film. [Trigger warning for abuse.]

The little blonde-haired boy is about four years old. He simpers as a middle aged woman drags him downstairs into a dimly-lit cellar and orders the child to bend over and touch the stone floor with his hands. Another little boy watches as the woman pulls down the first boy’s pants and then draws out a willow cane.

“Say you are tired!” commands the woman in an emotionless voice. The swoosh of the willow cane is audible as it strikes the screaming child’s bottom three times. The little boy refuses to say he is tired so he is hit again and again – a total of ten times – until, in floods of tears, he finally says “I am tired.”

Within the space of a few hours, six adults are filmed in the cellar and in an underground school central heating room beating six children with a total of 83 strokes of the cane. The graphic and disturbing scenes were shown on Germany’s RTL television channel last night.

They were filmed by Wolfram Kuhnigk, an RTL journalist equipped with hidden video cameras and microphones, who infiltrated a 100-strong religious community run by the fundamentalist “Twelve Tribes” sect in Bavaria earlier this year. Kuhnigk claimed to be a lost soul to gain entry. “Seeing this systematic beatings made me want to weep, it made me think of my own two children,” he said. He collected 50 beating scenes on camera.

Samantha, a fellow homeschool graduate, posted the link to the article detailing the filmed abuse to Farris’s facebook wall, and again he replied. Here is the exchange:

germany3

Farris should have waited for the facts before speaking—and he really needs to find more reliable sources.

To be honest, one of my biggest concerns about Farris is that he seems to always give the parents the benefit of the doubt and to assume that abuse allegations are false (invented by vengeful authorities with corrupt motives, of course). Assuming that parents are innocent before even looking at the evidence means that abused children go unnoticed and ignored. (Not coincidentally, speaking before having the facts is how HSLDA attorney Scott Sommerville ended up calling child abuser Michael Gravelle a hero. Oops.)

The default should not be to assume that the parents are innocent and the charges drummed up by vengeful authorities and lying children. The default position should be to take immediate steps to protect the children and then remain cautious and wait for the facts to come in. Somehow I don’t find it surprising that Farris places the interests of the moment above its children.

“Our Founding Fathers DId Not List Education As A Right”

education

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on August 11, 2013.

I‘ve been having a discussion with a few  former homeschoolers over Libby Anne’s recent exposure of HSLDA, our homeschool legal defense.

The discussion was first over her articles on how HSLDA has scoffed over abuse, and second over her latest summary of an article from HSLDA who basically said, to a guy who got very little education, that a little education is at least better than public school.

I admit HSLDA floors me sometimes.

Anyway, this guy, rather than arguing with the facts, said this whole Libby Anne debate boils down to the question: who do the children belong to and at what age do they belong to themselves? Then he had this to say:

Our founding fathers did not list education as a right.

He then goes on to make the case that education isn’t a right after all, and that once we become of age, we can teach ourselves to read.

A few thoughts. (Besides “What the crap!”)

First, kids belong to themselves. We are obligated to take care of them. I think we could even pull that one out of the Bible, without the constitution.

Second, what’s up the constitution purity teaching in fundamental circles? Our constitution is not only not the Bible but it was also influenced by humanism. The constitution came out of enlightenment ideas. It came out of everything that fundamentalism was a reaction against. Yet fundies will say, “Children don’t have a right to education because the founding fathers forgot to mention it.”

This is not the first time I’ve been quoted the constitution.

Third, kids have a right to an education because they are people of earth. People were made to learn, to interact, to grow, to discuss ideas, and usher in new ideas. Withholding an education not only wrecks their future in the first world, but it takes away the wings of a person.

Homeschoolers — of all people — should know this.

Education isn’t just about jobs. It’s about critical thinking, it’s about independence, it’s about being a person. You wanna take away a person’s rights? Take away the heart of what it means to be an thinker.

How would you respond when someone says education isn’t a right?

A Call to Action: Together, We Can Make Homeschooling Better

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By HA Community Coordinator R.L. Stollar

Every day on Homeschoolers Anonymous, we are hearing about how appearances can be deceiving — how heartbreaking abuse happens all around us, and can hide even in the families of homeschool leaders. We read Mary’s story, our blood boiling in horror that a respected family could inflict such emotional and physical abuse upon its children. We read about people like Susie, who were left on the side of the road with a few dollars in their hand because their parents were unwilling to love them for who they are. We read with shock that Jennifer‘s family would go so far as to threaten to kill her pets and remove all her belongings just to get her to obey an ideology.

We read these stories with heavy hearts.

Yet we also read with hope and amazement that there are so many of us willing to join together and create a network of love and support for people like this. When we announced that Jennifer needed assistance, there was an overwhelming outpouring of it. When we put out a call for stories on any number of topics, there is no shortage of people willing to speak up, to make their voices heard. There clearly is a need here, and there are many who want to help.

This makes us excited about what 2013-2014 has in store for Homeschoolers Anonymous.

We started Homeschoolers Anonymous on March 16, 2013. It is a cooperative project by former homeschoolers interested in sharing our experiences growing up in the conservative, Christian homeschooling subculture. Our mission is to make homeschooling better for future generations through awareness, community building, and healing.

Today, we are four months old. In four short months, we have accrued over 400,000 views on our blog. We’ve had the privilege of being a part of some amazing things. 

We launched #HSLDAMustAct, lobbying HSLDA to create a public awareness campaign to combat child abuse. We helped Hännah Ettinger at Wine & Marble raise over $10,000 for a young woman rescued from an abusive family environment. Our awareness series have addressed some big issues, including LGBT experiences and struggles with self-injury.

Together, we are making a difference. We are changing lives.

Today I am excited to announce that Homeschoolers Anonymous is expanding to become a non-profit organization called HARO — Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.

HARO: Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.
HARO: Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.

To this end, our goal is to raise $100,000 over the next 60 days. We will be utilizing the crowd-funding platform Indiegogo to move HARO into official 501c(3) status and put into motion several concrete action plans.

What does this mean?

Crowd-funding means that we need you, the members of this community, to help us achieve our fundraising goals.

We need you to donate — once, twice, or however many times you can in the next two months. But whether you donate or not, we need you to share this call for help with your friends and family. We need you to talk it up on Facebook and Twitter and your favorite social media sites.

Creating a 501c(3) means that HARO will be a real, live non-profit. We will have tax exempt status, and (when the IRS approves it), donations to HARO will be tax-deductible. (Note: HARO is not currently a non-profit and donations to this campaign are unfortunately not tax deductible.)

We are proud to unveil some highlights from our future projects:

Homeschoolers Anonymous website

The Homeschoolers Anonymous website will get a professional makeover, greatly improving its internal structure and usability. We also plan to set up a forum with dedicated moderators.

Annual HARO Convention

This wouldn’t be a homeschool-related organization if we didn’t plan a convention, would it? In all seriousness, the internet is a wonderful tool for disseminating information, but in-person community and engagement is important as well. To this end, we will develop an annual HARO convention to begin in 2014.

The Mary Project:

Named in honor of the pseudonymous author of our most popular series, the Mary Project will undertake a public awareness campaign to fight child abuse in homeschooling communities — the campaign that we asked HSLDA to undertake and that HSLDA ignored.

Broken Arrows Initiative: 

The Broken Arrows Initiative will create a tangible and concrete support system for homeschool graduates in need, as well as lifelines for current homeschool students in unhealthy situations. Physical, legal, and financial assistance are all included in this initiative.

R.A.H.A.B.: Research Alliance for Homeschooling Attitudes and Beliefs

Concrete data is important when you’re working with any demographic, and homeschoolers are no exception.  Data helps us determine where we can do the most good and evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts.  R.A.H.A.B. will be the arm of HARO that researches and documents data pertaining to the homeschooling movement.

For more detailed information regarding each of these projects, click here.

What if you don’t hit your fundraising goal within 60 days?

Indiegogo’s “flex-funding” campaign model means that, unlike Kickstarter, it’s not all or nothing.  If we don’t make our goal, we keep what we raised, minus a 9% fee to Indiegogo. However, if we make our goal, that fee goes down to 4%!  While we plan on achieving our goal, we will work with whatever the results are.  We will start with what we have and go from there, focusing on buildling a secure, stable infrastructure, filing paperwork to be legally recognized as a 501(c)(3), and pursuing grants to round out project funding and offering assistance to those in need.

Who are the founding board members of HARO?

The four founding board members of HARO were chosen based on several criteria, not the least of which is that they have the trust and respect of many members of the communities we are building online. HARO board members not only need to have skill sets applicable to founding a non-profit, but also have demonstrated that they are invested in our future and passionate about our vision. A community fundraiser of $100,000 is a serious matter, and the public faces of this organization should be ones that you know will use that money responsibly and wisely, for the good of future homeschool generations.

The board members are:

  • R.L. Stollar
  • Nicholas Ducote
  • Andrew Roblyer
  • Shaney Lee

We will be adding a fifth board member in the next few months.

Read more about the board members here.

Isn’t this a bit audacious?

You might think this sounds audacious. If so, we agree with you. But that doesn’t faze us.

Before we launched Homeschoolers Anonymous, we thought that idea was audacious as well. And here we are now, four months later, with hundreds of thousands of views. We’ve been covered byThe Daily BeastNPRMother JonesThe Guardian, and AlterNetWe’re on the brink of creating an organization that can make concrete efforts to improve homeschooling communities for future generations by educating homeschooling families about abuse and self-injury, building financial and emotional support for the next generation, and continuing to share our stories and experiences.

You can make this happen.  Donations of any amount are crucial.  Sharing the link to this page or the Indiegogo page on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc is even more so.  We need you to spread the word.

Will you help us to continue to help others?

Together, we can improve our homeschooling communities.

*****

Share the following on Facebook or Twitter:

Together, we can make #homeschooling better for future generations. Donate or share today: igg.me/at/homeschoolersanonymous #WeAreHA

When Michael Farris Threatened To Send The FBI After A Homeschool Kid

When Michael Farris Threatened To Send The FBI After A Homeschool Kid

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

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“Once upon a time, long before Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, there was a web blogging service called Xanga.”

~NBC, June 2013

******

It was the beginning of December last year when the words lit up my computer screen like lights on a Christmas tree:

“PATRICK HENRY COLLEGE CHANCELLOR MICHAEL FARRIS THREATENS TO SUE QUEERPHC!”

I had no idea what QueerPHC was. But I knew Patrick Henry College. It was that college I thought about going to back when I competed in NCFCA. Honestly, apart from a few friends from my debate days going to PHC, I hadn’t given as much as a passing thought to PHC in the years since.

In fact, I probably would still be unaware of happenings at PHC — still unaware of the existence of QueerPHC — if it were not for Michael Farris.

So in a sense, I need to thank Michael Farris for bringing QueerPHC to my attention. If Farris never threatened to sue the group, I — like a lot of people, probably — wouldn’t have known anything about it.

But threaten to sue he did. And that is why I am writing this story.

A little background information:

In July of 2012, a group of Patrick Henry College alumni got together and created a blog. Their very first blog post was on July 3, where they said:

“This is a collaborative blog produced by several Patrick Henry College (PHC) students, current and former. We, being a group of people, do have varying opinions and beliefs, but one thing we do share in common is our desire to help and encourage other Patrick Henry College students, current and former, in any way that we can.”

The purpose of the blog was to provide education and information about LGBT issues, because PHC itself did not offer such education and information:

“Patrick Henry College does not offer courses in Queer Studies, Sex Ed, or Gender Equality. However, these are issues that are of pressing importance in our culture today and are of importance to us personally. We hope to use this blog to provide information on those topics that are taboo at PHC.”

For the next few months, Queer PHC posted about a variety of issues, all without any public disturbance from PHC itself. The pseudonymous writing team of Kate Kane, Captain Jack, and Alan Scott wrote about growing up queer, people denying the existence of LGBT people, ex-gay therapy, and how the student newspaper, Patrick Henry College Herald, addressed homosexuality issues.

But then the proverbial shit hit the metaphorical fan.

Over the first weekend in December, Michael Farris, the college’s chancellor, used his own Facebook page to contact Queer PHC and threaten them with a lawsuit:

Photo from Queer PHC.
Photo from Queer PHC.

Text is,

This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College. You are hereby notified that you must remove this page at once. On Monday we will began [sic] the legal steps to seek removal from Facebook and from the courts if necessary. In this process of this matter we can seek discovery from Facebook to learn your identity and seek damages from you as permitted by law. The best thing for all concerned is for you to simply remove this page.

Find another way to communicate your message without using the term ‘Patrick Henry College’ in any manner.”

The problems with what Farris said and did are astounding. Not only is this a completely nonsensical interpretation of copyright law, not only is it slightly outrageous that Farris would pretty much threaten to “out” the individuals behind the group, but Farris used a personal Facebook page to communicate a legal threat on behalf of an entire college. Did he consult with the college’s board before making a legal threat on behalf of the college? Did they approve of the Facebook message? (Were they even aware of it beforehand?) These are important questions, especially considering what happened next.

What happened next was the Streisand effect. So incomprehensible was Farris’ strategy of internet bullying and censorship based on false legal issues that his threat suddenly exploded — Gangnam style — across the Internet.

On December 3, New York Magazine immediately scooped the story. Then the local newspaper. Then a flurry of bloggers, including Libby Anne at Patheos. Then Inside Higher Ed. Then the Chronicle of Higher Education. Even the New York Times picked it up.

Of course, as soon as the controversy started (and probably once the PHC board realized what a bizarre and inappropriate action Farris had undertaken), Farris recanted — this time through a public comment on Queer PHC’s status:

Photo from Queer PHC.

But it was too late. The PR damage had begun.

When I heard about Farris threatening a perfectly legal Facebook group with an unfounded, frivolous lawsuit, I was floored. What better way to damage the credibility and reputation of not only PHC, but the homeschooling movement, by using abusive techniques like threatening fellow professed Christians with erroneous legal action? Not only fellow professed Christians, but your own former students?

But something about what Farris did to Queer PHC didn’t feel surprising. In fact, it felt familiar.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But I was having a sense of deja vu.

Eventually, it struck me. And I went searching through my vast archive of saved emails from my old Hotmail account. And I found it.

In the early 2000s, when all of us homeschool speech and debate alumni were either still in high school or just beginning college, we socialized on Xanga. Xanga is to social media what Grandmaster Flash is to rap: really, really old school. Created in 1999, Xanga was around before Facebook, even pre-dating when most of us were on Myspace. Xanga was kind of like an public online diary: you could make posts, like other peoples’ posts, and subscribe to other people to stay connected. And that was about it.

(And yes, if you’re morbidly curious, my Xanga is still up. So feel free to search my teenage angst and amateur attempts at poetry, philosophy, theology, and public diary-writing for evidence you can use against me in the future.)

I created my Xanga profile on March 18, 2004. Most of my close friends from NCFCA and CFC had Xanga accounts as well. As this was really the beginning of social media, there weren’t really any parents using Xanga. It was primarily a teenage activity.

After a few months, two separate individuals created parody Michael Farris accounts. One was created on May 28, 2004. The other was created on July 26, 2004. (As you can see from these links, the accounts have since been scrubbed clean.) I don’t really remember much from the later account that was created, but I remember the first one because a friend of mine made it. It was clearly marked as a parody account, did not attempt to impersonate Farris to deceive anyone, and wasn’t even “offensive.” While a lot of us debaters were “punks” in one sense or another, we were still conservative Christian homeschoolers. So my friend’s parody account of Michael Farris did not involve things like dick jokes. I remember Fake Farris’s posts being along the lines of “I AM MICHAEL FARRIS AND OMG HOMESCHOOLING WILL SAVE THE WORLD!!!”

You know, immature attempts at ironic comedy that failed miserably. But again, nothing that even came close to slander. Nor identity theft. As it clearly stated it was a parody account, it didn’t even violate Xanga’s technical terms of use.

In 2004, on Xanga, you could “subscribe” to other peoples’ accounts. This would be the equivalent of “liking” or “following” a Facebook page today. Since I was one of the only people that used my real name on Xanga, and I was subscribed to the michael_farris parody account, I was the only person that Farris could recognize to contact about the account.

Oh yes, he contacted me about the parody account! Perhaps I just got ahead of myself. In 2004, Michael Farris — President of Patrick Henry College — was apparently monitoring what high school homeschool debaters were doing on a social media site. And as soon as he saw a parody account of himself, he went into militant mode.

On Wednesday, July 28, 2004, nearly a decade before he employed erroneous legal threats against Queer PHC, Michael Farris emailed me. In another way that this parallels the QueerPHC debacle, Farris contacted me with his official “PHC Office of the President” email address. The following is a screenshot of what he said, along with the text:

Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 1.50.00 AM

Text is,

From: “PHC Office of the President” <president@phc.edu>

To: <suavedrummerboy@hotmail.com>

Subject: Ryan is this you?

Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004 17:17:34 -0400

Ryan,

This is Mike Farris–the real one from Patrick Henry College.

I see you as a subscriber to a xanga website named Michael_Farris. Your posts there seem to indicate that you know who this is who is running this.

I just went through a difficult time shutting down another xanga site called “michaelfarris”.

I am prepared to take civil and criminal legal action against this person. Identity theft is a crime. It is also subject to civil action (if for no other reason) than it violates Xanga’s terms of use. I want your acquaintance to save himself a lot of legal grief.

Here’s what he needs to do. Delete absolutely everything from the site. Then, send me the password to the site so that I can take control of it so that neither he nor anyone else can ever steal my identity in this manner again. If he does this I absolutely promise I will take no action of any kind against him. If he does not do so (and do so promptly) I will go after him with vigor.

It may seem funny to some, but it is not funny in the least to me. I will turn this over to the FBI if I have to. But seems it seems pretty obvious that this person is or was an NCFCA debater I wanted to try to quietly end the problem without the need for drastic measures.

Can you help?

Mike Farris

Yes, almost a decade before Michael Farris tried to bully and threaten Queer PHC with a frivolous lawsuit because he didn’t like what they were doing, Farris also threatened a Christian homeschool kid with civil and criminal action — even going so far as to invoke the FBI. As if the FBI would’ve given a @#$% about some kid’s Xanga account in 2004. But we were young. We had no idea. I was terrified. I immediately told my friend. He was terrified as well. What Michael Farris hoped to accomplish — using inaccurate legal concepts to coerce a highschooler into turning over the account information to a perfectly legal parody account — was successful.

A decade later, Farris apparently still uses the same tactics.

The funny thing is, this email I received would’ve likely slipped away into oblivion, covered by the dust of my long-forgotten memories. But in the same way that Queer PHC’s existence occurred to me because of Farris’ threat against the group, my remembrance of the email was likewise resurrected. To some, the very fact that I am bringing it into the open might seem petty and vindictive. But I do not reveal it for those purposes.

I am publicizing this email because of the trend I have repeatedly seen from the leaders of the Christian homeschooling movement. I am remembering the censorship employed by NCFCA leaders when forensics alumni, coaches, and students attempted to protest BJU’s history of institutionalized racism. I am remembering a personal censorship, which I will talk about next week during our Resolved: series. I am remembering how Farris went after Queer PHC. I am remembering how HSLDA chose to block former homeschool students from its Facebook page for speaking up about abuse during our #HSLDAMustAct campaign.

What I experienced a decade ago, what Queer PHC experienced last year — these are not isolated incidents. They are symptoms of a problem: the problem of how this movement chooses to interact with its whistleblowers. It has groomed us to “take back the culture.” Yet when we try to do so, the movement suddenly realizes “the culture” we want to take back is not the Evil Candyland of Liberalism, but our very own home — homeschooling itself.

If you are not toeing the line, if you question the movement’s assumptions, if you even dare to make parody accounts — the movement wants to shut you down and silence you. And Michael Farris led the way, is leading the way, by the choices he made and continues to make.

Considering Farris’ railings against Obama’s “tyranny” as of late, I cannot help but wonder: how exactly does bullying and censorship of young people demonstrate the ideals of freedom?

The Importance Of Telling Your Own Story: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

The Importance Of Telling Your Own Story: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

The following piece was originally published by Faith Beauchemin on her blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It is reprinted with her permission.

"Story-telling is empowerment."
“Story-telling is empowerment.”

Story-telling is one of the most powerful forms of sharing truth known to humankind. A story can contain so many different kinds of truth.  A story sticks in the mind longer than a syllogism or a propositional truth claim. And the thing about stories is, we all have one.

Sometimes it takes courage to tell your own story. But it is necessary. If you don’t tell your story, chances are someone else will. And whoever tells the story gains power over it. Do you want someone else’s words expressing your personal experiences, or do you want to choose the words of your story yourself?

A couple of months ago, I came across a blog called Homeschoolers Anonymous.  It’s a forum for homeschoolers to tell their own stories.  I began reading story after story, constantly finding mirrored there many of my own experiences.  The stories told tales of spiritual, psychological and physical abuse.  They spoke about the harm of authoritarian parenting, the fact that lack of socialization really is a huge problem for homeschooled children, the pain and regret and family rifts that result from many doctrines pushed by the radical right-wing arm of the homeschooling movement.  Reading these stories I felt angry.  I cried for all of us, for the suffering and for the fact that so many of us were moving on and finding healing and somehow building lives for ourselves.  And most of all, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.  I am not alone.  We are not alone.  We speak of our personal experiences and find common ground in the very wounds and burned-over fields we had thought no one would be able to relate to.

It was so comforting to find others telling stories similar to my own because I find that I have trouble taking control of my story, even in my own head.  You see, when you grow up in a hierarchical, authoritarian Christian fundamentalist environment, you have a single narrative which your interpretation of your experiences must fit into.  That narrative is reinforced over and over again, especially since many fundamentalists are very quick to talk about other people’s lives or tell you about your own life using these terms.  “Sin,” “rebellion,” “pride,” “selfishness,” “ungodliness,” “worldliness,” “backsliding”…these are the categories I had to fit everything into if it was not in line with my parent’s ideals for the perfect Christian life.

In an authoritarian home, you’re not allowed power over your own story.  You are handed the words of an authority on all matters and you must accept them as true.  Thinking for yourself is sinful.  This is why it has taken me a long time to start framing my story in my own words.  I can see the transition in my diaries, from stilted descriptions of spiritual things which sound like they are just someone else’s words parroted back to convince myself,  or endless agonizing about why I was so sinful, to finally taking my own thoughts seriously and using words that came from my own head to describe my life.

A diary is one thing.  The residual voice in my head narrating my life in Christian fundamentalist terms can be ignored, or argued with, or told to shut up.  But sharing your story out loud is an entirely different matter.  Because when you finally do gather the courage to share your story out loud, most people want to tell you that you’re wrong, and that their interpretation of your life is truer than your own.

These homeschool alumni who bravely shared their stories are being criticized.  Homeschool advocates are trying to negate the stories collected at Homeschoolers Anonymous by claiming “My homeschool is never like that!” or “Your parents didn’t homeschool the right way.” or “Your current viewpoints are proof that your parents never taught you the things I’m teaching my kids.”  Even well-documented claims that the Home School Legal Defense Association is fighting for a parent’s-rights agenda that will be extremely conducive to child abuse are written off by a simple assertion that it’s just not true.

It’s incredibly frustrating seeing this happen. I am willing to hear parents tell stories of how great homeschooling is for their kids (though I’d be much happier to hear young adults who grew up homeschooled tell stories of how great it was, since the players in the conversation are mostly not parents and we’ve already heard from our parents countless times how good they believe homeschooling is). But I am not willing to hear anyone try to negate these stories of how bad homeschooling has been for so many people. I’m especially not willing to hear stories of outright abuse be dismissed with basically a pat on the head and an assertion that the survivor’s experience is totally unique.  If we want to dialogue constructively on a topic, we need to first allow one another the basic respect of listening to each other’s stories and believing them.

One more thought on story-telling. I don’t like hearing an authority figure telling a story about or on behalf of those they have authority over.  I don’t care what the authorities think, I want to hear the people’s stories from their own mouths.  Because story-telling is empowerment.  You want to empower yourself, of course, but you need to empower others as well.  If we all bravely commit to telling our own stories and listening to other people’s stories, we might together be able to find the next steps in human progress.  Whatever our past, there’s something in each of our life stories that can make the world a better place if we speak it and collaboratively explore what it is we have to tell.

End Child Protection: Doug Phillips, HSLDA, and the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit

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 By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

In 2009, an exclusively male group of conservative Christian leaders in the homeschooling world descended upon Indianapolis, Indiana. The event was the Men’s Leadership Summit. While its purpose was to draft a unifying vision for what they called “the Christian home education movement,” it included speeches on a variety of topics that were part of the vision.

These topics included the necessity of patriarchy: girls needing to have an entirely home-focused education,  the need to defeat “feminism” in homeschooling, and the concern that “the female sin of the internet” (framed as equal to “the male sin of pornography”) was blogging. Indeed, blogging could be the kryptonite to the homeschool Superman, the patriarchal Ubermensch. Men needed to take back their rightful place as head of their own households and as members of churches and homeschool groups through a new vision. Speakers at the summit claimed that, in doing these things, they could change the world. To the end of world-changing, submission of women and children was mandated and homeschooling was to be reframed as “discipleship,” the specific tool to accomplish world-change for generations to come.

This post is long and detailed and will include all of the information currently available about the Men’s Leadership Summit. This post will also focus on how this event’s goals transcended the narrow confines of entrenching Christian male superiority in the homeschooling world. In fact, it extended to their dream of ending public education entirely and and implementing their expansive conception of “parental rights.” It was at this summit that a former HSLDA attorney articulated a disturbing call: a call to end child protection as we know it. This call places the recent controversy between Libby Anne, the HSLDA, and Homeschoolers Anonymous’ #HSLDAMustAct campaign into an entirely new and much more urgent context.

A Brief History of the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit

The Christian Home Educations of Colorado (CHEC) is a state homeschool organization founded in 1985. Directed by Kevin Swanson since 1999, CHEC hosted a “National Leadership Summit”  in 2006. This was a men’s only event, described by Generations With Vision as “a men’s leadership meeting…for home school leaders across the nation, in order to encourage home school dads to fully embrace the vision, and to launch a vision for the future of a movement.” There is nothing of particular interest on the Internet about this first summit. The same, however, cannot be said about its sequel.

In December 12, 2008, Kevin Swanson announced on the Generations With Vision blog a new summit, a “National Leadership Summit with Kevin Swanson, Doug Phillips, Chris Klicka, Voddie Baucham, Dr. Brian Ray.”

According to CHEC, this event — even though it was in another state — was officially hosted by the Colorado organization: “CHEC host[ed] a 2nd National Leaderhip Summit in Indianapolis.” It was allegedly co-sponsored by HSLDA, but I cannot find any verification of that from the little original source material that is available. The Men’s Leadership Summit had five headlining speakers, according to Generations With Vision: “Chris Klicka (HSLDA), Dr. Brian Ray (NHERI), Douglas Phillips (Vision Forum), Voddie Baucham, and yours truly [Kevin Swanson].”

Swanson believed this summit to be remarkable because, “We have [never], in the history of the movement drawn so many visionary leaders into one room at one time to discuss the home school vision.” Furthermore, he says, everyone is attending on their own accord, because they want to: “Every leader represented (including speakers) are volunteering their own time to this meeting.”

And what was the purpose of this historical summit of exclusively male homeschooling leaders? Swanson says, “The objectives of this 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit are first, to define a vision for the future of the Christian home education movement.” Not just a “vision,” though. There is another, more important objective of the summit: “the development of a Christian Education Manifesto statement.”

This, then, should be the most important, defining moment in the entire history of the conservative, Christian homeschooling movement. All of the movement’s visionary leaders will be there, he says, and they will be creating the movement’s very own vision and manifesto. As that is the explicit, publicized purpose of this summit, all these speakers — Klicka from HSLDA, Phillips from Vision Forum and previously from HSLDA, Ray from HSLDA’s NHERI, Baucham, and Swanson — will be attending to (1) create a vision and (2) create a manifesto.

It is curious, however, that — up until two days ago — I never heard of this summit. Even more surprising is that, apart from some serious digging, this seemingly most-important homeschooling summit of all time barely exists on the Internet. The website for the event, 2009leadershipsummit.com, no longer exists. There are no recordings, no mentions of this summit on Generations With Vision (save the one I just cited), or Vision Forum, or HSLDA. I had to go a good, old fashioned web archive service just to view archives of the original event website.

To save you the hassle of finding the right archive, I will detail what the now-expired 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit website said. But I will also provide links to the archived versions for your own perusal.

The 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit was held on March 5-7, 2009. It had a mission statement: “Defining a Vision for the Christian Home Education Movement.” The website’s home page explicitly stated the purpose of the event:

“In March of 2009, Christian Home Educators of Colorado will host homeschool leaders from around the country at a national gathering in Indianapolis. The Purpose? To lay out a vision for home education in the 21st Century.”

The About page of the website goes into further detail about the summit’s “vision”:

The homeschooling movement has entered challenging times . . .Challenging times require extraordinary leadership . . .Extraordinary leadership requires dynamic vision.

The time has come to define the vision. With the explosion of school choice and the increased accessibility of state-funded options for home educators, the time has come to define the vision that characterizes the Christian Home Education movement, thus unifying both national and state leadership and solidifying the vision for generations to come. As George Washington said at the Constitutional Convention, “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair; the event is in the hand of God.”

For Such a Time as This, in a Changing Political and Socio-Economic Climate . . .

Home education is poised to bear significant effects on the how we do education, economics, church, and politics in the years to come. As leaders, we feel it is important that we be self-aware of the direction we are headed.

The goal of the 2009 Leadership summit is to define a vision for the future of the Christian home education movement. Together, we must lay down a rock-solid, biblically-based vision for home education that will withstand the attacks of our current generation and preserve this precious vision for future generations. To accomplish this goal, we are assembling the key national leaders, authors, researchers, speakers and advocates who have framed the homeschool vision over the past generation (1979-2009).

Another objective for the leadership summit will be the development of a Christian Education Manifesto statement.

The speakers listed are identical to what Kevin Swanson said on the Generations With Vision blog: Chris Klicka, Doug Phillips, Voddie Baucham, Brian Ray, and Kevin Swanson.

Finally, the accommodations: As already stated, even though the Men’s Leadership Summit is “hosted” and “sponsored” by a Colorado organization, it is interestingly held in Indianapolis. Even more interesting is where: it is not held a normal convention center. Rather it is held “at the Indianapolis Training Center in Indianapolis, Indiana,” a facility “owned by the Institute for Basic Life Principles.”

Yes, the Men’s Leadership Summit was held at one of Bill Gothard’s IBLP/ATI training centersSpecifically: Indianapolis Training Center, 2820 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208. Although now that center appears to be a new IBLP project, the “Verity Institute,” a college created by Gothard and ATI’s Trent Thompson to “help students obtain a college degree without…losing their faith.”

So in 2009, an exclusive group of male homeschool leaders got together at a conference held at Bill Gothard’s training center, to be inspired by talks by frequent HSLDA guest Kevin Swanson, then-current (now deceased) HSLDA attorney Klicka, former HSLDA attorney Phillips, current HSLDA-affiliated researcher Ray, and Heritage Defense ally Baucham. And all of this was to culminate in one thing: a grand vision, or manifesto, for the future of what they themselves term “the Christian Home Education Movement.” And none of these organizations ever mention it happening.

Shall we take a look at what happened, then?

The “Manifesto” of the Men’s Leadership Summit

There is very little primary source material available for determining what happened. However, two bloggers — John Holzmann and Karen Campbell — have preserved a few items, which are extraordinarily important. 

A Manifesto for Christian Education

The first item is “A Manifesto for Christian Education,” which was handed out by Kevin Swanson at the end of the summit. That manifesto, as recorded by Campbell, is as follows:

A MANIFESTO FOR CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

The Basic Elements

First Proposition

The beginning of wisdom and knowledge in the education of our children is the fear of God.

The Worldview

All education assumes and presents a basic worldview, and Christian education is based on a biblical, God-centered worldview.

The Purpose

The primary purpose of education is to equip our children to live to the glory of God.

The Sphere

It is the family – not the state or the church – whom God has assigned the responsibility and attendant rights to educate their children.

The Teachers

Parents are the principal and primary instructors for their children.

The Content

The training in humility -and fear, faith and character is preeminent and inseparably integrated in the intellectual development of a child.

The Core Curriculum

The Word of God is the primary textbook for our children’s education.

The Summary

Therefore, we affirm that education is discipleship, and Christian Education is Deuteronomy 6:7. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Deuteronomy 6:7

The main observation to be made about this manifesto is that, according to Swanson, education should utilize the Bible as its primary textbook. Not science books, history books, or mathematics books, but the Bible. Education equals discipleship. This demonstrates that education should not only be primarily religious, but — it seems — exclusively so. Children are also to be trained in “humility” and “fear.” And making one’s children humble and fearful is a task God has assigned not to state schools or private schools (or even church-based private schools) but to parents.

Cindy Kunsman from Under Much Grace has a good summary of this “Manifesto”: “I think it’s been another lesson in the wisdom of Solomon that there is nothing new under the sun, and there is nothing really new in patriocentricity and the Vision Forum driven CHEC…The MCE is essentially an outline of major points already contained in the Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy.” 

Transcripts of Swanson, Baucham, and Phillips presentations

The only copies of speeches from the Summit, that I can find, are preserved on John Holzmann’s blog. The Summit’s site is not up anymore; HSLDA, Vision Forum, and Generations With Vision do not have audio recordings or transcripts. At one point in time, there was a website — Resounding Voice — that sold the original audio recordings of the talk. (Resounding Voice is run by Joshua Erber, a homeschool graduate and Patrick Henry re-enactor.)

Holzmann purchased the recordings of the presentations of the Summit. He then linked to Resounding Voice so that others can also obtain the recordings. However, the links to the recordings now lead to “database errors.” And if you go on Resounding Voice’s website, there are no mentions of a Men’s Leadership Summit, there are no talks by Phillips or Ray or any of the speakers from the Summit, and — of especial note — there is not a single recording from Chris Klicka on that site in general.

So all we have to go off of to determine what was said at the Summit are presentations by Swanson, Baucham, and Phillips transcribed by John Holzmann. These presentations are divided into five parts. I will summarize Holzmann’s findings under each part’s link:

2009 Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) “Men’s Leadership Summit,” Part I

In Part One, Holzmann summarizes some of the themes throughout the conference: the Reformation; fathers are responsible for family discipline; homeschoolers should use “home discipleship not home education,” because “we out not be preparing our children for Harvard… but (instead for heaven”; gender roles via “biblical manhood and womanhood”; countering the rise of “feminism” in not just the culture at large but also within the homeschooling movement; the need to integrate religion into every school subject; the need to train daughters to be moms and supportive spouses, not leaders.

Of particular concern is this observation: “In an open forum Friday night, one of the participants at the conference asked three questions of Doug Phillips related to this obvious missing piece. One of the questions specifically asked for Phillips’ views concerning a woman’s ability to have a career in addition to being a great mom and a great spouse. Phillips’ response indicated that he believes it is unbiblical for a woman to have a career.

Holzmann ends Part One with this: “Bill Roach, CHEC’s president, introduced each speaker at the Summit. According to my source, before he introduced Kevin Swanson for Thursday Evening Session I, he said, ‘This weekend is to define what Christian Home Education is and to strategize our next moves.'”

CHEC “Men’s Leadership Summit,” Part II–“For Such a Time as This — The 1000-Year Battle Over the Hearts and Minds of the Next Generation”

Part Two is Kevin Swanson’s speech, “The 1000-Year Battle Over the Hearts and Minds of the Next Generation.” Swanson begins his speech by referencing the Father of Reconstructionism, RJ Rushdoony, and then claiming that the “Pillars of Homeschooling” — Harris, Klicka, and Farris — were the foundation for what he is about to say:

Let’s thank God for the men and women who went before us–the R.J. Rushdoonys, the Gordon Clarks, the Cornelius Van Tils–who created the materials that we are using today. I’ve also read some great materials written by Gregg Harris and Chris Klicka and Mike Farris. These guys were writing things in the 1980s that we are saying today. . . .

We here, today, stand on the shoulders of guys who went before us 20 and 30 years ago who started The Reformation of the 20th Century.

Swanson then goes to detail the problems with our world, including gems such as, “Men are not being men.” He also then says that the “Manifesto” — which, remember, was the point of this whole thing? — was going to be “put off.” But it is still necessary, for some rather bleak reasons:

By the way, we are going to put off the publishing of the Manifesto. We’re not doing it this week, because we don’t think we have cultivated it enough. We’re going to give you an outline, a preview of that Manifesto…

I think it’s about time we had such a manifesto because, number one, education is falling apart in America. Our culture is falling apart. And the culture, the social system, is a derivative of the educational system. And the political system is a derivative of the social system. And it’s all falling apart… Our world is falling apart!

…Call it what you will, existentialistic, humanistic, materialistic, whatever it is, it is enveloping our culture, our academic system, our universities, our economic system. It is raging. And if our little children even get one little toe in that river, it will suck them through and [make] them join the millions upon millions of Christian children who have been taken into this river.

To Swanson, our world is on the brink of extinction. But not just any extinction. It is the exinction of “The City of Man,” as opposed to “The City of God”:

I think we’re coming to the end of an about 1000-year project of building the City of Man.The City of Man is built by the Cains of this world, the humanists, those that refuse to fear and love and worship the living God. It is their project. And this project has been worked on for the last 1000 years.

The root of this is that we, I guess, have not integrated God into every school subject:

Guys, if you teach science, if you teach chemistry, . . . don’t you dare to do it without stopping from time to time and saying, ‘. . . Children, let’s worship [the God who made these things]. Get down on your knees and worship the God who made these things.

…Universities haven’t taught that way in hundreds of years. I’ll tell you, that’s what’s ruining chemistry and biology and science in our modern age. It’s a scary thing what’s happening. You teach science without the fear of God for a hundred years, I fear what they will do to that science. They’ll destroy it.

Swanson’s solution, naturally, is the Christian home education movement:

God says, “I want you to teach your children My truth as you sit in your house. You see, I want you to take the truth, the reality, the absolute truths, the ethics of God, the laws of God, the perspectives of God, and teach them My worldview, My truth, in the womb of relationship.” And I say we call that discipleship.And that, brothers, is the Manifesto.We are going to bring back the relevance of God. We’re going to bring back worship, bring back confessions, bring back relationships in the education of our children.

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

…So, brothers, let’s restore the concept of discipleship in our homes and in our families. Let’s take the arms of those little children and say, “Let me lead you to Jesus. Let me teach you about Christ.” Let’s nurture them in these relationships. Let’s nurture them in the algebra class. Let’s disciple them in the chemistry class. Let’s worship God in the physics class. And then we’ll shock everybody when we begin confessing our sins in the geography class.

That’s education!

CHEC “Men’s Leadership Summit,” Part III – “The Battle for Faith and Family”

Part Three is Voddie Baucham’s speech, “The Battle for Faith and Family.” Baucham begins by identifying himself with the family-integrated church movement, which is a movement, he explains, that is “committed, absolutely committed–in our structure, in our doctrine, in our practice, in our philosophy–to a very simple principle: we look men in the eye and say, “I double-dog dare you to disciple your family and we are not going to do anything structurally to put a net under you. It’s your job.”

Baucham then lists off all the normative statistics that so many of us in the homeschooling world grew to fear: how few Christians “possess a biblical worldview,” how few Christians say there is absolute truth, how the youth today are disenfranchised from Christianity, and so forth. And the zinger: “We are currently losing 70 to 88% of [the youth] by the end of their freshman year in college!”

Baucham says that questions people, including Christians, have about homeschooling — like “What about socialization?” — are rooted in evil:

They all ask the same questions. It’s a running joke in the homeschool community because nobody asks any other questions. And their questions all go back to certification, permission, and instruction. Why? Because they’re Marxist, secular humanists to the core disguised as Christians. That’s why. . . . The homeschool movement is now rife with parents who do not know their roles; do not have a vision for their families; are afraid to lead.

And then there is his ending:

When [people] say they can’t do [some]thing, I say, “You racist, you!”

And they look at me: “Wha-?!??”[

And I answer,] “If I took you to Africa or Asia or South America, and we preached the gospel and some people got saved, you’d spend two weeks there and find one of the guys with God’s hand on him, and you’d say, ‘Now, you’re the pastor and this is your church.’

“But you’re saying that God is not good enough for you. –You racist!”

CHEC “Men’s Leadership Summit,” Part IV – “A Vision for the Family”

Parts Four and Five are the most important to this exploration. They are the speeches from Doug Phillips, an HSLDA attorney for six years and the director of Vision Forum. Phillips begins his first speech, “A Vision for the Family,” by identifying the other speakers as his comrades:

They are my paisanos. They are men that we have had the privilege of being in many battles together, traveling around the country and sharing a synchronous message. Our hearts are linked together.

Phillips thus begins with identifying his message as synchronous with the messages of Swanson, Baucham, Klicka, and Ray. And what is this message? The heart of it is that his version of God is the beginning of knowledge:

The fear of the Lord not only gives us wisdom and knowledge, but it is true faith that tells us to believe when all the empirical data seems to be pointing us in the opposite direction. We must believe what God says when you cannot taste, touch or smell the victory, simply because God said it.

Phillips believes this is important because, he, like Swanson, sees our current time as an apocalypse due to very specific events:

You and I are presiding over the worst international cultural apostasy of the West in more than a thousand years. There [have] been terrible wars, terrible evil. Horrible things have happened…

Never have we had major nations, major cultures that once claimed to be Christian, fundamentally questioning whether marriage is one man and one woman for life…

It is on your watch, it is on my watch that the sodomites are redefining marriage in our land. Never before in history. First time…

More professing Christians want to thwart the womb, to pervert the natural function of the body, to separate life from love, than don’t. First time ever….

This is a judgment on our land. It’s not that America is about to have judgment; it’s that America is in the midst of judgment. This is a judgment. It is perverse. It is evil. It is wrong. And where is all this pointing to? The family!

…these judgments and horrors are the product of our worship of the false gods of our day, our idolatries . . . of self, of materialism; philosophical idolatries: evolutionism, social Darwinism, feminism, statism, Marxism, and hundreds of -isms…

In contrast to all this evil, Phillips brings up Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar as shining role models: “Jim Bob just radiates Christ.”

CHEC “Men’s Leadership Summit,” Part V – “Visionary Fathers”

In his second speech, Doug Phillips brings it all home. This is where Phillips sets forth his vision for the future of the Christian home education movement:

One of the most important things we can do is to have God’s panoramic presentation for us, looking at the past, standing in the present, with our eyes focused on the future. This is a critical component of preparing the next generation for leadership.

What does this future look like?

It involves a future where men take the reins of homeschooling back from women:

The birth of the modern homeschool movement gave us a generation of mighty ladies–ladies that fear the Lord, ladies that wanted to see great things happen to their families, ladies that walk beside their sons and their daughters and their men as well. But it was predominantly a woman’s movement.

Something must be done, before… we become like Massachusetts?

If we do not continue to grow and advance further on toward where God would take us next, we will become worse off, we will become like Massachusetts, like Boston, like New England, which, having had the glory and the blessing of the Gospel, ultimately rejected it and became one of the darkest places imaginable.

The solution is heavier doses of ideology:

Is every homeschooler that goes through a state conference getting a heavy dose of vision and presuppositional apologetics in the area of education? Because if they’re not, we are actually training them to be apostate…

I remember a day when we talked about fundamentals. And we need to be speaking about them again.

…Every subject from math to history needs to be reformed to incorporate distinctively biblical presuppositions about facts and the interpretation of facts.

We should be explaining to people that mathematics makes no sense in an atheistic universe. We should be telling them that Genesis 1 is the very first primer on basic arithmetic…

And now begins Phillips’ comments that are particularly concerning for those of us in the homeschooling community that are trying to represent moderate voices as well as stand up to child abuse:

We need to realize the state has zero jurisdiction in education. None!

….We understand that the core problem with Child Protective Services is its existence.

…At the end of the day, the problem isn’t simply Child Protective Services to get better; it is eliminating it altogether.

…It is the fathers who have a duty of lovingly leading their family, and fathers, not moms, will be overseeing the home education discipleship of their family.

…the movement within home education circles of creating an androgynous educational system where we view boys and girls as having the very same outcomes of careerism and world independence is contrary to the principles of the Word of God, which teaches that we should be training our daughters, ultimately to prepare themselves for the assumption . . . –and the assumption is, they will be married, they will be keepers at home.

…if we are not willing to talk about this, what it means is, we have been usurped by feminism.

Phillips at this point references Chris Klicka:

I’m quite confident that Chris [Klicka], my brother in HSLDA, . . . We all stand unified in recognizing that the greatest threats are not legal. Those are real and they have to be addressed, but they are not the biggest ones.

And then Phillips veers into something entirely bizarre:

We will lose this movement and this work of God, men, if we do not govern our households. And that means lovingly shepherding our wives. The less you love your wife and the less you shepherd your wife, the more you create an open door for the female sin of the internet. The male sin of the internet is pornography. The female sin of the internet is gossip-mongering…

…We don’t live in the type of communities where our wives tend to go from house to house gossiping. They tend to go from blog to blog gossiping. And they spend their day going from blog to blog gossiping. And some of you are letting them.

…The world is watching. When the lesbian, feminist, transgender publishing house Beacon Press decided to release their exposé this month on families that believe in large households, they knew exactly who to go for. Go to the internet assassins. Go to the blogosphere gossips and get the information to denounce and divide the homeschool movement directly from the wives who live on the internet, gossiping 24/7.

Phillips ends his speech by calling for casting out from the homeschooling movement those who disagree:

The homeschool movement can no longer tolerate, it can no longer handle, unassociated Christian members that are simply not willing to be part of formal biblical associations.

Why? Well, because of anthrax:

If we ever find ourself in a state of martial law; if somebody puts anthrax in one of our major water supplies; if there is a suitcase nuke, which is opened up in a major city, we could very well see panic break out.

So there you have it: the agenda of the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit. Karen Campbell provides a helpful summary of what the “Manifesto” would look like based on the presentations:

1. Destroy the entire government-run school system and abolish Child Protective Services.

2. Reject and bring an end to church-based or church-run schools.

3. Reject college or any training for daughters that might lead to them being outside of the home.

4. Kick out homeschoolers that are not willing to be part of formal biblical associations.

5. Ensure mothers are not leaders in their homes and protect them from women internet bloggers who see godly womanhood in a different light and who speak out against patriocentricity.

HSLDA’s Doug Phillips on the CPS

In light of the recent controversy between Libby Anne, HSLDA, and Homeschoolers  Anonymous’ #HSLDAMustAct campaign, I’d like to refocus now on what Doug Phillips said at the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit:

….We understand that the core problem with Child Protective Services is its existence.

…At the end of the day, the problem isn’t simply Child Protective Services to get better; it is eliminating it altogether.

Doug Phillips, a former HSLDA attorney, explicitly called for the destruction of child protective services as they currently exist. This should concern not only the homeschooling community, but also the entire United States. Phillips’ call did not go unnoticed. In fact, Karen Campbell — in writing recently about the #HSLDAMustAct campaign — references this fact:

I am not surprised in the least that this has been the posture of HSLDA. In 2009 they co-sponsored the Homeschool Leadership Summit where one of the goals listed in their manifesto was to get rid of Child Protective Services which I discussed in this podcast series on august 15 and 21, 2010. From the first time I saw that on the list, I was dumbfounded. While I do not believe the government is the solution to all of society’s ills, I do believe there are times when it must step in to protect children who are genuinely being abused. I know many godly parents who do understand this and have become involved in the foster care system in order to provide good homes for little ones in these situations. But to me, the message HSLDA is sending is that protecting the rights of parents to homeschool trumps protecting children (any children) from abuse.

Unlike Karen, I was sadly surprised to read Libby Anne’s series on the relationship between HSLDA and child abuse. While I grew up in the “Christian home education movement” and am intimately familiar with the fears we homeschoolers had of the CPS, and while I witnessed first-hand a lot of abuse experienced by fellow homeschoolers, I was oblivious to the specifics of the relationship. I never knew, for example, that HSLDA was moving from homeschool advocacy to the dismantling of some of the cornerstones of our child welfare laws: anonymous tips, mandatory reporting, and mainstream definitions of child abuse. I never knew the details of the Michael Gravelle case — that he had a history of abuse, and later divorced his wife after he assaulted her — and I did not know that Scott Somerville, an HSLDA attorney, called Gravelle a “hero.”

It is in this context of sad surprise, then, that I encounter the words of Doug Phillips and others at the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit. Phillips, an HSLDA attorney (though not any longer, since he left HSLDA to run Vision Forum), made a direct threat against child protection and advocated a dystopian —almost Orwellian — dream of what homeschooling can “achieve” for him and other adherents to Christian patriarchy.

Doug Phillips spoke of wanting to gut the egalitarian goals of our society and destroy child protection as we know it.

Does Doug Phillips Speak for HSLDA?

When you have a national event like the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit, it is difficult to determine how like-minded the speakers are. I remember that, during the California Home Education Association (CHEA) conventions that my dad ran in the Bay Area when I was a kid, there would be speakers of all sorts of ideological leanings. I particularly remember Reb Bradley, a courtship proponent, mercilessly tearing into Jonathan Lindvall, a betrothal proponent, for being “extreme.” Of course, everyone at these conventions shared a common vision for conservative Christian homeschooling. But doctrinal disagreements were everywhere.

But here is the difference between CHEA conventions and the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit: CHEA conventions did not explicitly state their purpose was to create a grand, unifying vision and manifesto for the entirety of the Christian home education movement. The speakers attending did not agree to that; the speakers attending did not constantly reference each other as ideological comrades; and the speakers attending did not have their speeches mysteriously disappear after the fact.

The question then arises, when Doug Phillips calls for the destruction of child protective services in the United States — or really, any of the other extreme positions he has — where does HSLDA stand on that?

This is particularly important with the CPS question right now. HSLDA has — to this day — not condemned another one of their attorneys, Somerville, for calling Gravelle (an incestuous child molester and self-appointed warden of his own caged children) a hero. Also, HSLDA has visibly chosen to target child protection laws instead of focus on homeschool advocacy.

To determine the relationship between Doug Phillips and HSLDA, the best thing to do is just look at what Doug Phillips and HSLDA themselves say. According to Vision Forum’s website, Phillips “served for six years at the Home School Legal Defense Association in multiple capacities including staff attorney and Director of the National Center for Home Education.”

Phillips was thus not only an HSLDA attorney. He was the Director of HSLDA’s National Center for Home Education, now called the Federal Relations Department and run by William Estrada, former director of HSLDA’s Generation Joshua program.

A quick search of HSLDA’s website shows a number of results for Doug Phillips. In 1992, Phillips was a legal staffer for HSLDA who traveled to Ontario to speak at one of Gregg Harris’ workshops. By 1993, he was the Director for Government Affairs for the National Center for Home Education, tasked with lobbying against things like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, “all child rights bills,” and corporal punishment restrictions. In fact, when President Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which Michael Farris drafted), Phillips attended the signing ceremony in Farris’ place when latter could not attend.

In 1995, when the extraordinarily divisive controversy in the homeschooling community over H.R. 6 erupted, Doug Phillips was at the center. It was Phillips who received the alert from Dick Armey’s office. According to HSLDA’s timeline of the H.R. 6 situation,

Doug Phillips assembles the team of ten staffers to blanket Congress, personally delivering the letter to each of the 435 Congressional offices….Doug Phillips meets with Martin Hoyt, the Washington, D.C., representative of the American Association of Christian Schools, to discuss the dangers of the Miller Amendment… Doug Phillips meets with Horace Cooper and Dean Clancy of Armey’s staff to strategize on how to obtain broad support for the “Home School/Private School Freedom Amendment.” …Christopher Klicka and Doug Phillips hold a press conference in Houston, Texas, attended by 100 home school support group leaders and three television networks.

And if you read Phillips’ own account of the fiasco, he is almost entirely the one responsible:

I was the person who received the phone call from the office of Congressman Dick Armey alerting the Home School Legal Defense Association of a threat posed by bill H.R.6…I was given the honor of serving as Director of the National Center for Home Education…I launched a national e-mail alert and physically gathered a brigade of valiant home educators to descend upon the Capitol en masse.

If this was not clear, then: Doug Phillips was the man behind one of HSLDA’s most important legislative moments in their history of advocacy.

Also in 1995, Phillips worked alongside Farris and Klicka “with a broad coalition of pro-family groups, including Concerned Women for America and Eagle Forum, to ensure that the freshmen of the 104th Congress will fulfill their promise to completely eliminate the federal role in education.” 1996 saw Philips training homeschool lobbyists as well as featured in HSLDA’s Court Report as one of “The Dads of HSLDA.”

He also was part of HSLDA’s National Legislative Strategy Day. Along with Farris and Klicka, Phillips “briefed the home school leaders on the latest developments and strategies concerning a host of federal issues. The topics included the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act, the national registry and identification system in the Immigration bill, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, abolishing the federal role in education, and the Careers Act.”

1996 seems to be the last year that Phillips appears as an HSLDA attorney. But since then, HSLDA has made zero efforts to distance themselves from his viewpoints. In fact, almost a decade after Phillips left HSLDA to run Vision Forum, he was still featured by HSLDA as a peer. In 2007, HSLDA referred to Phillips as one of “the nation’s top leaders.” Also in 2007, Chris Klicka received an award from Doug Phillips and Vision Forum for his homeschooling advocacy. In 2008, HSLDA says of him that he is “one of the most popular conference speakers in the nation today because of his ability to encourage, inform, and inspire.” In fact, HSLDA proudly sponsored a reception at an event where he was the keynote speaker.

The official relationship between HSLDA and Doug Phillips is thus one of continued mutual admiration. There are several debates online about whether this “official” admiration is real or not. I have heard rumors that HSLDA considers Phillips to be “radical” or “extreme,” or that leaders in HSLDA consider things like ATI and Vision Forum to be “cults.” But in terms of official statements that are publicly verifiable, at no point has HSLDA distanced itself from Phillips’ ideas, and in fact on many accounts they are the same: ending public education, keep their ideas of corporal punishment legal, and so forth.

If HSLDA really was concerned with preserving child protection services, they have made no efforts to counter Phillips’ call for ending the CPS — a call made at the exact same summit where HSLDA’s research guru Brian Ray and fellow HSLDA attorney Chris Klicka spoke at, the same Klicka that Libby Anne has so well documented as being zealously dedicated in his own right to dismantling child welfare laws.

Conclusion

It has already been pointed out by Kathryn Brightbill that what Phillips said about child protective services is a sentiment shared on many levels by other HSLDA attorneys:

HSLDA seems to be arguing that even parents who are already known to law enforcement and CPS as abusive should still be allowed to homeschool. And here is another article where Christopher Klicka argues that the child abuse prevention system is too aggressive. Here is Scott Summerville claiming that parents who withdraw their kids from school to hide abuse already have social services on their trail. No suggestion that these parents should be prohibited from homeschooling if they’re withdrawing their kids to hide abuse, just an assertion that CPS will be watching.I am unable to find an instance where HSLDA has indicated that they believe that abusive parents should be prevented from homeschooling.

Brightbill wonders whether this might be part of some overarching legal strategy on HSLDA’s part:

The only thing that makes sense to me is that HSLDA is doing what they’re doing with abusers as part of a well thought out legal strategy with the end game being the Supreme Court ruling that homeschooling is a fundamental right that is subject to virtually zero regulations…The idea that HSLDA would be using children who have been abused by their parents as pawns to expand the right to homeschooling is too horrific for me to really want to contemplate. But yet, it’s also the strategy that makes logical sense if an expanded fundamental right to homeschooling is the goal.

Whether or not this is HSLDA’s intention, here is what we know: Two HSLDA attorneys attended the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit, which included some of the most dystopian, nightmarish language about the future of homeschooling that I have ever encountered. The evidence of this fact has almost gone entirely unnoticed, and all the original evidence apparently has vanished. At that conference, Doug Phillips, a former HSLDA attorney, called for the destruction of the United States’ child protection system. A then-current (now deceased) HSLDA attorney, Christopher Klicka, was there. He never repudiated Phillips’ statement, and his career indicates that he, too, desired a similar dismantling of child welfare laws. Another current HSLDA attorney, Scott Somerville, called Michael Gravelle, a child and wife abuser, a hero.

This is no longer about homeschooling. The vision and manifesto laid out at the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit should surely worry anyone with a vested interest in countering the extreme voices in the Christian home education movement. Laid out were misogynistic, educationally neglectful, and frankly dangerous ideas. And as Heather Doney points out, “This kind of perverse ideology has hurt too many unsuspecting families, too many men, women, and children already, including my own family. ”

But also laid out there was a vision that entails a fundamental redefinition of how our society thinks about child abuse. That fundamental redefinition would have extraordinary ramifications for all children in this country, just not homeschooling children. That redefinition, articulated so explicitly by a former HSLDA attorney, has only been echoed and enhanced by other representatives of HSLDA through their own words and actions.

If HSLDA fundamentally disagrees with Phillips and fundamentally disagrees with Somerville’s choice of words, then now is the time for them to speak up. For too long their silence has been complicity.

“We understand that the core problem with Child Protective Services is its existence.”

This is no longer about homeschooling and child abuse in homeschooling communities. This is about protecting every child in this country.

#HSLDAMustAct: History and Related Media

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April 17, 2013

On April 17, Love Joy Feminism’s Libby Anne — a former homeschool student, former attendee of Patrick Henry College’s summer camp on Constitutional Law taught by Michael Farris, and now-parent of two children; also, one of HA’s blog partners — began a five-part series looking at the relationship between HSLDA and child abuse. Of particular concern to many people who have read this series is that HSLDA has slowly but surely moved from homeschool advocacy to — by their own admission — reform of child welfare laws, including opposing anonymous tips, mandatory reporting, and mainstream definitions of child abuse. The five parts to this series are: (1) HSLDA and Child Abuse: An Introduction; (2) HSLDA’s Fight against Child Abuse Reporting; (3) HSLDA’s Stonewalling of Child Abuse Investigations; (4) HSLDA’s Defense of Child Abuse; and (5) HSLDA and the Deregulation of Homeschooling. Part five of the series was published on April 24.

April 20, 2013

The blogger from the Eighth and Final Square, inspired by Libby Anne’s series on HSLDA and child abuse, writes a post about her own homeschooling experience. It is entitled, “we were taught to fear the people who could help.” The author says she, too, was “instilled with a fear of CPS.” As a survivor of abuse herself, she says, “I wonder what would have happened if HSLDA wasn’t around, and the kids had been allowed to talk to CPS workers alone.”

April 22, 2013

Homeschoolers Anonymous started crossposting Libby Anne’s series on HSLDA in conjunction with a week of personal stories that explored the relationships between homeschooling, HSLDA, and the CPS: fears of the CPS, failures of the CPS, and how the CPS could have actually helped those who suffered abuse in homeschooling.

April 23 – May 2, 2013

After finishing her series on HSLDA and child abuse, Libby Anne continues to focus on issues of homeschooling, abuse, and HSLDA. She creates a legislative alert about one of HSLDA’s legislative alerts, urging people to counteract HSLDA’s efforts to stop SB 32, a bill “designed as a way to monitor and protect the well-being of children who are known to be at risk for child abuse or neglect based on prior incidences.” She argues that it is “simply false to suggest that there is nothing about homeschooling that might be attractive to neglectful or abusive parents.” She cites a plethora of horrific stories to explore the idea that, while “most homeschool parents are dedicated, responsible and loving,” “when abusive parents homeschool, the consequences for their children can be absolutely disastrous.”

May 6, 2013

On May 6, Libby Anne writes a post entitled, “HSLDA: Man Who Kept Children in Cages ‘a Hero.'” In this post, she points out that Scott Somerville, an HSLDA attorney, called Michael Gravelle, a man charged with molesting his biological daughter, putting his adopted kids in cages, and later punching and shaking his own wife, a “hero.”

Later that day, someone posts Libby Anne’s article on HSLDA’s wall:

Picture 12 May 7, 2013

The very next day after someone posts Libby Anne’s article on Somerville’s hero comment on HSLDA’s Facebook page, HSLDA chooses to respond via a Facebook status:

Picture 13

The full text of their response is as follows:

It has come to our attention that HSLDA has recently been accused of condoning child abuse. HSLDA does not and will not ever condone nor defend child abuse. 

HSLDA receives hundreds of calls each year from parents who are under investigation by CPS, often based on false, anonymous, trivial, or malicious reports. The vast majority of these are determined by CPS or a court to be unfounded and are dismissed. Because of this, we do not immediately assume that everyone who is the subject of an investigation is guilty of child abuse or neglect. 

As a service to our members, we help homeschool families navigate the legal landscape in the early stages of an investigation before all the facts come to light. This could include helping families know their constitutional rights, helping them understand the legal process, or referring them to a local attorney. If the allegations include homeschooling, we generally will either assist their local attorney to defend homeschooling or represent the family on homeschool matters.

Of the three examples mentioned in a recent article, we did not represent two of the families and in the third we were involved on the question of homeschooling alone after the other issues were resolved by the court. 

We believe that every child deserves a healthy upbringing and that parents have the high honor and duty to meet that child’s needs. For 30 years we have been zealously advocating for the right of thousands of parents to responsibly homeschool their children. To the extent that any statements we may have made could be misunderstood to suggest that we condone the abusive actions of some we repudiate them wholeheartedly and unequivocally.

Libby Anne promptly responded to HSLDA’s response: “I’ve Had Enough: My Reply to HSLDA’s Response”.

Also in response to HSLDA’s response, R.L. Stollar, co-creator of Homeschoolers Anonymous, issued a challenge to HSLDA on their Facebook page: “HSLDA, will your leaders take a public and universal stand against child abuse and launch a public awareness campaign for your members on how to recognize and report child abuse in homeschooling?”

Stollar’s challenge to HSLDA was quickly mirrored by others. Heather Doney, one of HA’s blog partners, wrote, “Demanding an Answer from HSLDA,” where she says, “We deserve to know where the HSLDA stands. We deserve to know that they are thinking about this issue and that they are doing something about it. I, for one, am requesting an answer. Don’t make us wait too long, HSLDA.”

May 7 – 11, 2013

Homeschoolers Anonymous officially launches the #HSLDAMustAct campaign on May 8.

Rebecca Gorman, a former homeschooler, creates the official Change.org petition for the #HSLDAMustAct campaign.

A new website, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, was launched by former homeschoolers to “to raise awareness of the horrific abuse and neglect that can take place when unfit caregivers use homeschooling as a cover for criminal child maltreatment.”

On May 9, HA announces the official petition in the post, “25 Reasons To Sign The #HSLDAMustAct Petition.”

Here is a full list of posts from bloggers covering the whole Libby Anne/HSLDA issue and the #HSLDAMustAct campaign since May 7:

Wide Open Ground: “Dear HSLDA and Homeschool Parents, What About My Friend Who Died?” and “HSLDA: Discourse Problem Between Fundamentalist and Outsiders”

Anthony B. Susan: “The HSLDA and Abuse: More Denial and Deflection”

Becoming Worldly: “S***t HSLDA’s Homeschool Parents Say”

Ramblings of Sheldon: “HSLDA: We Would Rather Stand Behind Abusers Than Their Victims”

The Home Spun Life: “Homeschoolers, Christians, HSLDA: We Must Do Better, Kids Are Being Abused”

No Longer Quivering: “Petition: HSLDA Address the Problem”

ThatMom: “HSLDA accused of turning blind eye to child abuse: you decide”

Kathryn Brighbill: “HSLDA and Child Abuse” and “Of Fundamental Rights, HSLDA, and Homeschooling”

Anonymous Wonderings: “On Homeschooling”

On May 10, the Christian Post took on the issue but framed it only as a Libby Anne vs. HSLDA issue: “Home School Legal Defense Association Accused of Protecting Child Abusers.” The Christian Post did not attempt to contact Libby Anne; they tried to contact HSLDA, but HSLDA did not respond. They also did not mention the petition.

May 12, 2013

As of Sunday, May 12, the #HSLDAMustAct petition has over 300 signatures from around the world. The signees are almost entirely from the homeschooling community itself. Former homeschool students, former and current members of HSLDA, and former and current homeschooling parents have all signed it. Signees are from everywhere from California to Louisiana to Pennsylvania, from the U.S. and Canada to Germany and Spain.

Also as of Sunday, May 12, HSLDA has still not responded to the #HSLDAMustAct campaign.

Conclusion

We will leave you with these thoughts from Lisa from The Home Spun Life:

“I have been a financial supporter of HSLDA for many years now and I am asking that they become more transparent with how they practice law, how they defend homeschooling, AND how they protect children in a homeschool that is abusive.

I know children are abused in a variety of types of homes. From poor to wealthy, from Christian to atheist, from public school to homeschools. Abuse happens. It’s tragic! We can’t only speak up about abuse when it happens in a public school. We have to speak up no matter where it happens. And we have to learn how NOT to respond to abuse allegations in the homeschool community.

Defending our freedom to choose our children’s education should never trump their freedom to live in a healthy and safe environment.

To the HSLDA,

As a supporter of yours, I am asking for you to clarify your mission to defend homeschool freedom. I am asking that you inform us and SHOW US how you are defending this freedom WHILE defending children in an abusive homeschool environment. HOW do you separate the defense to protect homeschool freedom WHILE NOT enabling abusive parents to further their abuse under your “protection”? HOW are YOU holding abusive parents accountable? HOW are YOU cooperating with local authorities to HELP victims?

We must do better. We must speak up.”

This Isn’t Just A Few Disgruntled People

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on May 9, 2013 with the title “HSLDA and Child Abuse.”

"HSLDA needs to see that this isn’t just a few disgruntled people but that the homeschool community as a whole believes that it’s time for them to do something about this."
“HSLDA needs to see that this isn’t just a few disgruntled people but that the homeschool community as a whole believes that it’s time for them to do something about this.”

I’ve made no secret that I don’t exactly have the most positive opinion about the Homeschool Legal Defense Association’s brand of religious fundamentalism but I never thought that HSLDA was covering for and protecting child abuse. For all of their scare tactics, and for as much as I think that a legal defense organization is unnecessary in a post-Tim Tebow world, I always assumed that the training-up-the-next-generation-of-culture-warriors aside, it really was just about keeping homeschooling legal. That if they were representing a family, it was because the family was wrongly accused.

I found out recently that I was completely wrong.

HSLDA is pursuing a course of action that is helping to protect child abusers while doing nothing to protect kids.

Blogger Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism, herself a K-12 homeschool graduate, has a series of posts exploring HSLDA and child abuse. It’s a long read but I encourage you to take your time to go read it all, it’s an informative series and it opened my eyes as to just how out there HSLDA really is on this.

Seriously, go read it, I’ll wait until you get back.

Have you read everything?

Good, let’s continue.

On Tuesday, HSLDA posted an indirect response to Libby Anne’s series by way of a message posted on their Facebook page. Their response is basically a bunch of buzzwords and denials that doesn’t address any of the actual allegations. Libby Anne responds here.

I had no idea about what HSLDA was really up to and my memories are filtered through the eyes of a homeschool kid reading the Court Report. I rather suspect that this is news to some of the people reading this as well. It makes me mad because this organization that I thought was there to protect homeschooling has ended up protecting abusers. They’d trot out the “success stories,” but they only ever care about the kids if the kids are making them look good. They don’t actually care about the safety and well-being of homeschooled kids, or if they do, their actions are an awfully funny way of showing it.

And here’s the thing.

The advice that HSLDA gives about not letting people into your home without a warrant, not talking without an attorney present, the whole nine yards, is absolutely the right legal advice that attorneys should be giving their clients. The question though, is why is HSLDA even getting involved in child abuse cases? Unless they think that parental rights and homeschooling include the right to lock your kid in a cage or beat, oh sorry, they call it spanking, your kid until you leave bruises and welts, just because a family homeschools shouldn’t mean that a child abuse investigation is automatically a homeschooling issue. HSLDA shouldn’t even be getting involved until the abuse investigation is resolved. And yet, when a friend sent me the link a few days ago to the story of a parents that beat their children until they broke bones and told me to, “prepare to raeg,” I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find out that HSLDA had represented the parents and claimed to World Net Daily that it was social workers persecuting a good Christian homeschool family.

Defending homeschooling should not mean defending abusers. That should be obvious, but apparently it’s not.

I would argue that if you really want to protect the ability to homeschool, making it clear that the homeschool community has a zero tolerance stance towards child abuse is the best way to do it. If HSLDA’s behavior in abuse cases ends up becoming synonymous in people’s minds with homeschooling, then any parent who decides to homeschool is going to be considered suspect. The best way to protect homeschooling is to stop covering for abuse and to make it clear that it will not be tolerated. Covering it up, denying, and stonewalling protects no one but abusers.

Because of this, I am joining with Homeschoolers Anonymous in saying that #HSLDAMustAct. HSLDA needs to stop covering for abusers, they need to acknowledge the problem, and they need to implement an education program to teach their members how to recognize abuse. Instead of instilling so much fear in families about child protective services that people are afraid to call, they need to educate families that abuse can happen in even “good Christian homeschool families” and that child protective services is there to protect kids in those circumstances.

It is high time for HSLDA to take proactive steps to combat abuse.

If you agree that HSLDA must act, add your name to the petition. HSLDA needs to see that this isn’t just a few disgruntled people but that the homeschool community as a whole believes that it’s time for them to do something about this. If you’re a homeschool parent, we especially need you to add your name to the list of people calling them to act. And while you’re at it, I’d strongly suggest considering cancelling your membership. If their complicity in abuse starts hitting them where it hurts—their pockets—they’re going to be more willing to act.

25 Reasons To Sign The #HSLDAMustAct Petition

25 Reasons To Sign The #HSLDAMustAct Petition

Please sign the #HSLDAMustAct petition on Change.org!

Yesterday we issued a challenge to HSLDA to commit to taking concrete steps to address child abuse in homeschooling. Specifically, we called for HSLDA, the public face of American homeschooling, to launch a public awareness campaign to fight abuse within our homeschooling communities.

We have an official petition hosted on Change.org. Please sign it and share it with your friends in person, through email, and via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

You might wonder, why should I sign this petition? To answer this question, we would like to share 25 reasons for doing so that were publicly posted on our petition’s page by signees. They come from all over, from California to as far as Germany. They are former homeschoolers, former employees and members of HSLDA, and homeschooling parents. These voices are growing by the day and they need to be heard.

So without further ado, here are 25 reasons to sign the #HSLDAMustAct petition:

*****

Sarah, UNIVERSITY CITY, MO:

This is important to me because I too was an extremely neglected and physically and emotionally abused homeschooled child.

Emily, APO, GERMANY:

As a former employee of HSLDA I am disheartened and sickened to hear of the child abuse cover ups and ignorning blatant neglect of children. This is deeply saddening to me.

Julie Anne, RICHLAND, WA:

Because it’s the right thing to do!

Jessica, BONNY DOON, CA:

I am a survivor of childhood abuse and worked in the field for years- My care goes deep, esp. when children are manipulated about the soul’s deep need to have a relationship with spirit, True Nature – God – by parents, ministers etc who use this need to abuse and distort children’s relationship with themselves, with God or no God.

Samuel, HUNTSVILLE, AL:

As a former homeschooler who did NOT deal with abuse firsthand, I DID witness how the “homeschool community” worked together to hide abuse that was occurring in families within its midst.

Ryan, SPRINGFIELD, OR:

Abuse happens everywhere, and this includes homeschooling families. HSLDA, the public face of homeschooling in the U.S., should make a public and principled stand against it.

Wesley, GRANADA HILLS, CA:

As a homeschooler who befriended children of two abusive homeschooling families, I know that these problems exist and must be addressed. Child abuse, both physical and (perhaps predominately) psychological, is a major problem in homeschooling circles and must be addressed. Parents who abuse their children do not deserve to be legally shielded from the state.

Matthew, COLORADO SPRINGS, CO:

I was a homeschooler, and I’m against child abuse!!!

Alessandra, ROANOKE, VA:

As someone who was homeschooled through highschool, and involved in HSLDA growing up, it’s important that whilst preserving the ability to homeschool, those involved in it not turn a blind eye to abuse and neglect. Fixing that problem needs to start from within the “homeschool movement.”

Mari, WATERTOWN, SD:

I was homeschooled which gave my parents numerous opportunities to abuse me. Homeschooling could be a great thing — but ONLY when it is done in a public manner and ONLY when parents are held accountable for their actions.

Sarah, OVERLAND, MO:

I am so torn about this. As someone who was homeschooled K-12 and homeschools my own children, I am a huge advocate for homeschooling rights and the ability to choose our own curriculum and such. But as a foster parent, I’ve seen abuse. I have friends who have suffered abuse. We cannot protect any abuser, and while I believe in “innocent until proven guilty”, we should not be allowing child abusers to continue homeschooling their kids when we would be fighting for removal of these kids for any other parent. I’ve seen abused kids going back to their abusers. I can’t imagine how it would feel if they were also allowed no escape from the abuser to even go to school. This is a very slippery slope as CPS is called for things like not vaccinating, but it does worry me when people don’t do basic doctor visits under the guise of “autonomy”. I know from experience that most cases of abuse are discovered at school and at dr visits. If we have nothing to hide, then we cannot be defending abusers.

Kierstyn, FREEPORT, ME:

As an ex-homeschooler raised in an abusive family who *are* still members of HSLDA, I’m tired of abusers being defended in court because “homeschooling” couldn’t possibly have anything wrong with it.

Chandra, FESTUS, MO:

It is morally repugnant and hypocritical that an organization that claims to defend parents right to educate their children (predominantly for religious purposes), will not address nor speak to the atrocities and abuses that occur because of the lack of oversight on parents who chose such an option. HSLDA, though in their statement has said, “We believe that every child deserves a healthy upbringing and that parents have the high honor and duty to meet that child’s needs;” will not define abuse, nor have they ever in their 30 year existence ever condoned or supported a piece of legislation that would provide protections for children and thereby recognizing that there are abusive (and even deadly) cases that have occured in the name of home schooling. In a country whose very freedom HSLDA touts, will not grant these same freedoms to the youngest and most vulnerable citizens of this great nation. It is time for a change. This is a human rights issue, and we will not be silent until we have seen such change take place.

Catherine, ALEXANDRIA, VA:

My parents abused me emotionally, physically, and spiritually for 18 years. Because I was homeschooled, they were able to do so constantly and could control every detail of my life. I’ve stayed silent for far too long, and there are many others who want to have a voice, but they are being silenced by their abusers–their parents. It’s time to shed some light on the dark side of homeschooling.

Hannah, MURRAY, NE:

As a former homeschooled student K-12 who was abused, I felt no protection and was told I should not report abuse to authorities, because my parents were told never to talk to CPS or the police by HSLDA. Now a mother, I realize the necessity of accountability for parents, including myself.

Kathryn, GAINESVILLE, FL:

As a homeschool graduate, I believe that it’s high time that HSLDA stop covering for abuse and neglect. It’s time for them to develop an abuse prevention program and to stop pretending this is not a problem.

Cheryl, ALEXANDRIA, VA:

I have spent the last 10 years of my adult life recovering from being given a tool box that does not fit in the world we live in. Scripture should never be used to oppress or to shield abusers. Stand up for the innocent, the children. It’s what Jesus calls us to.

Jai, CHARLOTTE, NC:

I was raised homeschooled. My parents were long time HSLDA members and all of us suffered severe spiritual abuse as well as mental abuse and the problems of the Quiverfull movement. I support this petition and ask that HSLDA school members in the definitions of abuse, child rights, and put forth a system for stopping it and reporting it when it occurs.

Shaney, AUSTIN, TX

As a former homeschooler, I’m appalled at HSLDA’s willingness to ignore, and even indirectly promote, child abuse. This needs to stop.

David, BEAVER FALLS, PA:

I was homeschooled and while I certainly did not live in fear of abuse, I also believe it’d be easy for negligent and abusive parents to go under the radar.

Scottie, TULSA, OK:

I have several friends and even family members who work with Child Protective Services. The information and advice HSLDA spreads in a nominal attempt to help homeschooling families defend their rights in reality only hurts their cause in the long run. Fighting CPS at every turn gives homeschoolers a bad name and makes it extremely difficult to investigate cases of actual abuse. HSLDA should be working WITH CPS and similar agencies to help root out ACTUAL cases of abuse whenever present, refuse to defend or speak well of parents who DO abuse their children, and recognize and communicate that some families SHOULD NOT homeschool their children, at least not without significan oversight and accountability.

Rachel, BLOOMINGTON, IN:

As a homeschooled child growing up, I bought the HSLDA line that Child Protective Services were out to take me and my siblings away from my parents because they were Christian homeschoolers. As a teen I read Michael Farris’s book, Anonymous Tip, which only cemented this fear. Teaching children that those who want to help them are actually out to hurt them is actually a tactic child abusers use to keep their victims under their control, and yet that is the message HSLDA gives to homeschooled children. For shame, HSLDA. For shame.

Naomi, FULTON, MO:

Even if 99% of homeschooling families were functional and happy, HSLDA must do something about the 1% where children are neglected and abused. To do otherwise is to be complicit with the crime and to send a message that HSLDA cares more about power than it does about children.

Scarlettah, LOS ANGELES, CA:

There are growing numbers of former homeschoolers telling of their abusive experiences enabled by the lack of internal and external awareness of and interest in keeping kids safe. There is a vacuum created when parental rights are preserved and elevated to the exclusion of children’s rights. Please work to protect these children, not just their parents.

Rebecca, LOS ALTOS, CA:

As a homeschooled student, I experienced and observed this problem first hand. My parents (and the rest of my homeschooling community) knew of at least one homeschooling family that had rather extreme abuse, but didn’t dare report it because of the message they received from HSLDA not to involve the government, lest it bring any additional oversight of homeschooling families. I believe that every child deserves to have their humanity respected and honored. HSLDA, stand up for children and stand up to abuse.

*****

Thank for your support thus far. Please continue to bring awareness to this crucial matter. Make your voice known on HSLDA’s Facebook page. Tweet HSLDA at @HSLDA with the tag #HSLDAMustAct.

Together, we can make homeschooling better.

Fighting Abuse Together: #HSLDAMustAct

Fighting Abuse Together: #HSLDAMustAct

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Please sign the #HSLDAMustAct petition on Change.org!

Homeschoolers Anonymous is made up of a diverse group of people. We don’t really have a “thing” that we all agree on other than this: we have seen or experienced harm within the conservative Christian homeschooling movement and we think those stories should be told. The truth should be known.

The people involved with HA are not homeschooling’s worst nightmare. Rather we are its internal whistleblowers. We are all intimately aware of the problems in homeschooling because we were there. We’re former homeschool kids, former homeschool parents, and even current homeschool parents.

We know how unpopular it is to say, “Hey, I have some problems with homeschooling,” but we care about raising awareness so people can address the issues, make things better, and begin to heal. The first step is recognizing that a problem exists.

The Homeschool Legal Defense Assocation (HSLDA) made a decision yesterday. That decision was to respond via Facebook status (screenshot is here) to criticism from a former homeschooler who has been researching the impact and goals of HSLDA advocacy. This former homeschooler, Libby Anne (a blog partner of HA), came to the conclusion that HSLDA has not handled the issue of child abuse within homeschooling environments appropriately. Instead of responding to allegations of child abuse responsibly, HSLDA passed off these abusers as wrongly “persecuted” Christian homeschoolers.

These allegations are serious. When talking about Michael Gravelle, a man charged with abusing his biological kids and then putting his adopted kids in cages, Scott Somerville — an HSLDA attorney — called him a “hero.” This fact was documented by the Akron Beacon Journal and the Journal article has been preserved.

As if this was not enough, before this abuse case with the cages, Michael Gravelle had sexually molested his biological daughter, who ran away from home at age 16, which she personally disclosed in an interview. After the abuse case, Michael Gravelle punched and violently shook his wife. He was charged with domestic violence. Then a warrant was issued for his arrest because he failed to show up to his court hearing. Then Michael and his wife (not surprisingly) filed for divorce.

A man who molests his own daughter, puts his adopted kids in cages and shoves their faces in toilets as punishment, and then beats his wife is a “hero” to an HSLDA attorney?

With heroes like this, who needs villains?

Somerville made a massive error in judgment in calling this man a hero. If HSLDA does not condone child abuse, they should 100% condemn what Somerville said, and as directly as possible. At the very least. However, HSLDA said, “Any statements we may have made could be misunderstood to suggest that we condone the abusive actions of some we repudiate them wholeheartedly and unequivocally.” This does not cut it.

Perhaps Scott Somerville misspoke or truly did not realize what he was dealing with, but HSLDA is now trying to pass Somerville’s mistake off as a statement that “could be misunderstood.” At the very least HSLDA should have said “Scott Somerville was wrong to call Michael Gravelle a hero” rather than saying that such a comment had instead been “misunderstood.” If HSLDA cares about the well-being of homeschooled children, they should issue  a statement saying what homeschoolers should do when they suspect abuse within the homeschooling community.

Here’s the thing with abuse, people: it’s disgusting, it’s sickening, and we need to stand up to it. Abuse happens everywhere. As homeschooling advocates are so eager to point out, abuse happens in public and private schools. Absolutely! It happens in Christian homes and non-Christian homes, nuclear families and nontraditional ones. It happens in homes of every religion and race and — for all I know — hobby type. We help no one when we just point our fingers at the “others” and not take a good, hard look at ourselves in the mirror.

Abuse happens everywhere. Which means it happens in homeschooling families. It is time to stop whitewashing this fact. It is time that we in the homeschooling community join together and fight abuse in our own communities.

This is why I issued a challenge to HSLDA yesterday on their Facebook page:

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Text reads, “HSLDA, will your leaders take a public and universal stand against child abuse and launch a public awareness campaign for your members on how to recognize and report child abuse in homeschooling?”

My call for HSLDA to launch a public awareness campaign against child abuse in homeschooling was quickly mirrored by others:

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It has now been over 12 hours since a number of us former homeschoolers have issued this challenge to HSLDA. HSLDA has not responded and made no effort to unilaterally condemn Somerville’s calling a child abuser a “hero” or commit to taking concrete steps to address child abuse in homeschooling.

But.

But HSLDA did have time to post this instead:

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It is time to stand together — within and without the homeschooling community — and demand that HSLDA, the public face of American homeschooling, launches a public awareness campaign to fight abuse within our communities. Make your voice known on HSLDA’s Facebook page. Tweet HSLDA at @HSLDA with the tag #HSLDAMustAct.

Whatever you believe about homeschooling, whether you are pro-regulation or anti-regulation, this is your moment. If you believe in self-policing, this is your time to prove it. If you believe in activism and making homeschooling better for the next generation, here is your spotlight.

We are going live with #HSLDAMustAct.

Together, we can make homeschooling better.