When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Cylena Crawford

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.

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Cylena Crawford

On January 25, 2001, 17-year-old Cylena Crawford from Elgin, South Carolina was left to feed, care for, and discipline her brothers and sisters while her mom worked and her father was otherwise occupied. That day, however, her “discipline” meant brutally beating both her 13-year-old brother Michael and 11-year-old sister Korresha — and the latter fatally so. Korresha died the following day from bleeding to death.

On January 25, 2001, Cylena Crawford brutally disciplined both her 13-year-old brother Michael and 11-year-old sister Korresha — and the latter died as a result.
On January 25, 2001, Cylena Crawford brutally disciplined both her 13-year-old brother Michael and 11-year-old sister Korresha — and the latter died as a result.

Cylena was the oldest child in the Crawford family. Her mother Sylvia worked 2 jobs to support the family and her father Lawrence was a Nazarite priest who believed in Pentecostalism. All of the Crawford children were allegedly homeschooled by Lawrence, though “he often wasn’t home” and neighbors “rarely saw the children” outside their mobile home. Cylena had four siblings: Michael (13), Korresha (11), and 2 others (a boy, also 11 years old, and a girl 9 years old). Cylena reportedly “often was left in charge.” The entire responsibility of her siblings fell to her: she fed them and, “if they got out of line, would spank them.” In 2000, the year prior to the murder, social services were called to the Crawford home due to an anonymous tip about neglect, but no neglect was able to be substantiated.

On the day of the beatings, Cylena was left in charge of her siblings as was usual. After Michael and Korresha did something wrong (it remains unclear what exactly), she started disciplining them with a 1-1, 18 inch board. However, according to reports, something went wrong: “Once she started, she got carried away with the 11-year-old.” Authorities said Cylena beat Korresha “on the head, body, arms and legs,” and Michael “in the back and about the body.”

Complicating the situation was the fact that Lawrence was home this day. Not only that, but Korresha was still alive when her mother returned as well. Despite being disoriented, Korresha told her parents about the beatings at 10 pm the same day. They did nothing, however, until the following morning when Lawrence found her unconscious on her bedroom floor. Despite being rushed to the hospital, Korresha was unable to recover. Officials said she “bled to death after blood seeped through her muscle tissues for several hours.”

What role Lawrence played in the murders is unknown. The father originally told authorities he was away when Cylena beat her siblings, but he later admitted to being home at the time. Thus on February 25, 2001, he was also charged with murder. He was sentenced in 2004 to life in prison. Cylena’s murder charges remained intact and she was admitted to a mental health hospital. Her mother Sylvia was also charged with neglect in light of the fact that Korresha was allowed to bleed profusely overnight and was not taken into the hospital until she was unconscious.

View the case index here.

If I Could Wave a Magic Wand: Arachne’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Arachne” is a pseudonym. Arachne blogs at Past, Present, and Future.

A new year is about to start. I am looking forward to it.

This is a new development. I spent years making suicide plans for New Years Eve. The holidays were the worst time of the year for me. That has changed. I survived. I never thought I would, but I did. The hell is over. Gone. Done. I can look forward now and I can be happy. Breathe, even. I guess all the therapy, psychiatric medications, hard decisions, tearful conversations with friends, and general struggles have finally paid off.

I started praying again.

It doesn’t hurt anymore. Of course, my idea of prayer is now very different from what I was raised with. Not so much with the trying to atone for my innumerable sins and the sins of the world. I feel like I have a relationship and connection to Divinity. I am loved and accepted.

I have plenty of anecdotes I could relate. There was the semi-cult at a super traditional Catholic church with a whole gaggle of denim jumper wearing homeschoolers. There was being the eldest child and being female in a strictly patriarchal large family. There was the father who broke the dining table chairs into pieces when he was angry. An emotionally manipulative and unstable mother overwhelmed with the life she believed God commanded her to live. The leather belt they both used. It goes on, but for me, those days are over and those people are no longer in my life. So what comes next?

I don’t know. There’s no plan. It’s terrifying.

If I could wave a magic wand and erase the past, I would.

Trust me. In a heartbeat.  I think about it over and over. What would I have been like if I’d had a decent education? If I hadn’t been abused and controlled by the people who had total power over me, where would I be? Did I ever have a chance at being “normal”? What the fuck is normal? I will never know. At some point, I have to step away and live my life now while accepting who I am and how I was shaped.

There’s only so much I can leave behind, and I’m not saying I’ve moved on. I doubt I ever truly will. I can’t forget my entire childhood. My body is covered in scars from my struggles with self-injury. Depression and anxiety will likely stick with me, even though they are managed now. Catholic guilt fades but doesn’t seem to ever quite go away. There will be many more times when I break down and cry over the past.

All I can do now is figure out how to work with what I have now, and when I take inventory it feels incredible.

I have two wonderful kids who are being raised totally different from how I was, wonderful people in my life, a brain that has some quirky wiring but that still works pretty well, physical health, a spiritual path that has taken me places I never dreamed of going, and so much more.

I have strength. I have freedom.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

New Homeschool Parents, Be Wise: Shadowspring’s Thoughts

The following post by Shadowspring was originally published on her blog Love. Liberty. Learning. She describes herself on her blog as, “a home school mom near the end of my career home schooling and looking forward to what life has to offer next. I am a follower of Jesus and a lover of freedom, as it is for freedom that Christ has set me free (Gal 5:1).” This post is reprinted with her permission.

I am so proud of all the home school graduates I have met!

Without exception, they are all strong-willed, courageous people who are finding their own authentic way in life.  I think that no matter the quality of one’s educational experience, or the degree of emotional nurture vs. emotional neglect or abuse even, home schooling in itself transmits these qualities by its very nature.  To home school is to go against the flow of larger society, and children who are home schooled constantly hear that decision praised.  Even the religious home schools (maybe especially the religious home schools?) are continually hearing that going against what is easy and popular when conscience calls you to do so is a good thing, the right thing, the best thing.

So it is no surprise then, that these home school graduates have a strong sense of responsibility to improve the lot of those who come after them. Homeschoolers Anonymous is a web site dedicated to sharing the stories of home school graduates that will not be featured at home school conventions or plastered on the cover of Practical Homeschooling magazine.  (These stories need to be heard, too!) It was created by home school graduates, to help improve the lives of home schooled children who come after them.  Their goal is to improve things by the shining the light on areas that need improvement.  All of the stories shared there are authentic, written by home school graduates themselves.  These stories need to be told, and the home school community needs to listen and learn. 

New home school parents especially, be wise! Take notice!  Don’t just listen to the home school salespeople trying to get you to be just like them.  Do not be foolish, only listening to those whose children are still at home.  They have the option of still believing they are doing everything right and because of that, they can predict how life will turn out for their children.  Those whose children are already grown adults, that’s who you should be seeking out for advice.

You are in a much better position than earlier home school parents, because you have the opportunity to inspect the fruits of the labors of home school parents who came before you.  Make the most of that opportunity!  As scripture counsels (Proverbs 18:17, Luke 14:28-33), get all sides of a story before you decide.  Really investigate what you are trying to accomplish.  Check out what has already been done by other people so you can figure out what you want to do differently and what you want to emulate.

I realize this will be difficult, for many reasons. One is that when a family experiences “failure” — any result that is outside the advertised shiny, bright, happily subservient, doctrinally and sexually pure teenager — that family will disappear from most home school support groups.  Sometimes they are kicked out, but more often they drop out. These parents may feel ashamed that the product of their home school didn’t turn out as advertised.  They may be asked to leave, especially if the results they are experiencing don’t conform to the religious side of expectations.  A poorly educated but morally upright teen/young adult is not nearly so embarrassing to many home school support groups as a teen/young adult who is seen as morally compromised.

On the other hand, they may leave the support group because of disillusionment.  When their marriage is falling apart, their teenager turns up pregnant, or is caught doing drugs, shoplifting, looking at porn, etc. then they may wake up to the fact that they have bought into and been promoting a lie and want no part in it anymore. Or they may be compelled to put their children in public school because of any number of reasons — a severely ill parent, financial constraints that require the home schooling parent to work — and so leave the home school support group.  All home school support groups require that a family be home schooling to belong, so any family that stops home schooling for any reason will not be at support group meetings sharing their stories.  You will have to search them out.

And the final reason that talking to home school graduates, and parents who have graduated all their students, to see where life takes them, is the passage of time.  You won’t hear about gay home schooled Christian teens because they don’t come out to their parents until years have passed since leaving home.  You won’t hear about atheist home schooled graduate of Christian home schools because they don’t leave the faith for years after leaving home.  In fact, you won’t hear about any of the graduates who go off script after leaving home unless their dong so actually involves criminal activity that splashes across the headlines, like the Couty Alexander story in Louisiana.

A summary of the Couty Alexander story: A home school boy dutifully marries the courtship bride his and her parents decided upon. His wife gets pregnant right away because they follow the script and don’t use birth control.  Coudy goes to work, and interacts with people outside of the home school movement for the first time.  He falls in love with a co-worker, quite unexpectedly I am sure.  He has never experienced such strong attractions before, as he was assigned his wife and wasn’t allowed to even date.  He and the co-worker begin a romance.  And somehow, truth always outs.  His young bride finds out about the affair.  Maybe he even told her himself, I don’t know.  As she is packing to leave him, the weight of the shame that will fall on him from his community overwhelms him, and in a panic, he kills his young bride.  That is a direct result of the Christian home school fantasy and the expectations he felt to fulfill them as a star of the movement.  He was never allowed to just be Couty, and figure out who he was at heart and what he wanted.  His life was dedicated to doing what his parents wanted, because somewhere along the line the Christian home school community became confident that what they wanted, God wanted.  It ended in heartache.

All of the Christian home schooled youth want to please God.  Those whose parents and churches claim to speak for God the most adamantly are the ones whose children are at most risk of leaving the faith eventually.  You can not control their environments forever, and eventually they will start to run into the mysteries of life and find the pat answers they were taught are insufficient.  You will read many stories along this vein at Homeschoolers Anonymous but you won’t hear them at your home school support group. They won’t be brought up onto the platform at home school conventions (though some were paraded there back when they were still teens at home) to tell their story today.  They will not be featured in home school magazines.

All of which is a real shame.  The inquiry for truth seems to have been abandoned by the home school movement’s leadership. They believe they know all truth, and so they just dismiss and ignore all reality that exposes their “truth” as a lie.  Instead of being smart enough to listen to the adult children, children raised by all the standards and methods the movement promoted, leadership is just doubling down on the standards and methods that have failed.  They turn deaf ears to anything that doesn’t support what they want to believe.  That isn’t right. Home schooled children deserve better!

Finally, the absolute worst stories out there, the ones we as home schoolers want to ignore and should not, are the stories of child abuse.  Sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse is happening in the home school community, and the home school community had best address it!  It’s no use trying to explain it away with the True Scotsman defense. Our adult home schooled graduates are well versed in the dynamics of logic and debate.  No, it’s happening.  It happened under our watch, under my watch.  So, what are good home school parents going to do about it?

HSLDA’s response to these stories of neglect and abuse?  Silence. Denial of being in any way responsible for these children.  Not shock, not horror, not remorse.  Instead of leading the charge to put distance between nurturing home schooling families and abusive home schooling families, something that can only happen with transparency and accountability, HSLDA is trying to make it easier for abusive parents to home school. Witness this recent attempt to remove all transparency and accountability from the home school law in Iowa.  The current regulations are not burdensome and they are working well.  Why would HSLDA be working to remove all accountability and transparency from Iowa home school regulations?

That’s a question every home schooling parent, every home school support group leader, every home school support group member, should be asking themselves.  I know I never had anything to hide, and was in fact proud of the education and the home environment I was providing.  If you, home schooling parent, can’t say the same, you shouldn’t be home schooling.  You should make sure your children receive lots of love, good nutrition, emotional nurture and educational opportunity every day.  If you are doing that, and  I believe most home schooling parents are doing just that, then you should be open and transparent to the community in which you live about what goes on behind your closed door.

 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. ~ 1 Peter 2:12

The public needs to be able to see your good deeds.  Being transparent and accountable honors God.  Don’t seek to hide in the darkness of obscurity, be eager to show the world the wonderful work that your home school in accomplishing!  Do it for the children, because Jesus calls us to love children  (all children, not just our own) and treat them with dignity and care.  Read carefully Matthew 18:1-9.

It’s time for the home schooling community to cut out and cast away families that abuse their children!  The only way to do it is to come out in the open and show the world what’s happening in all our home schools.  The righteous will be rewarded, the wicked will be found out, and all of society will be better off for it.

Lead the way, home schooled graduates! Lead the way, new home school parents!  Don’t let the old guard lock you into making the same mistakes they (we) made.  Do it not only for your children, but for all children.  Heads up! You are the new face of home schooling.  Please let it be an open and honest face, publicly displayed, that has nothing to hide and much about which to proudly smile.

Crosspost: The Strongest Woman I Know

Crosspost: The Strongest Woman I Know

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap It was originally published on May 7, 2013.

I had intended to spend the day painting my dragon (Archangel) for my Horde army that I need to pick up the rest of on Thursday. But while in the shower, thinking about the meaning of life (as you do, and then quickly do that thing we call “washing” 2 minutes before the water turns cold) I realized that a large reason that I’m not bat-shit crazy, and the reason I attribute to my marriage being awesome and not abusive, is because my grandmother on my dad’s side was my rock.

I struggle and have always struggled with feeling worthless, like I’m nothing more than a broom with a brain and octopus arms for doing my mother’s bidding (or now, cleaning my apartment like there’s no tomorrow). I wonder, sometimes, why I’m not with some asshole of a guy, someone who is manipulative and mean, I wonder why my story is different. Why am I with this guy who’s been nothing but a catalyst of/for freedom and acceptance of me in all my nuances and idiosyncrasies. Who loves me for my intelligence and heart (as well as my boobs)?

I think, it’s because of her. My parents did a lot of lip service to self-worth and not settling for people who don’t treat you right, but they proceeded to treat me horribly. My Gramme?

She is the strongest person I’ve ever known. She was the second-youngest in a huge family, and the “all bad” child in the eyes of her mother (even though, like me, she spent her life slaving away for her family), she was neglected and abused and the most loving, accepting person I’ve ever met. She was brave and unafraid of anything, she was my original escape plan. She was the one, who, by her unconditional love and acceptance instilled in me this sense of I-deserve-to-be-treated-well-by-my-friends (family I was kinda screwed with, but my circle, I deserved to create to feel safe in).

She was the type of person who wouldn’t sit quiet if her kids were wrong, if her grandkids were hurt she would fight for them. She was my defender. I knew that if things got bad enough, I could run to her and trust her to protect me (not that I would have, but she was that kind of safe place).

When she died I was devastated. I’ve grown up around death – my first funeral was at 6 months old. My great-grandparents have passed, my uncle, two siblings, friends…my Gramme is the only one that still affects me. I still cry and get choked up when I talk and think about her (so I usually try not too, because there’s a huge gaping hole where she should be). Sometimes, 5 years later, I still do a double-take on the street because I see her dopple-ganger. If I were spiritual, I’d take it as a sign that she’s looking at me (instead of just some random elderly lady with the same haircut).

When I think about how she’d feel about me, I feel so so secure in that she’d still love me – that I could still tell her anything and she’d keep it between us, that she’d be supportive, that she’d be proud, she’d tell me I’m brave, and she would understand.

My gramme is the reason that I am so strong. She’s where I got my stubbornness from, she’s where I got my I-will-protect-the-shit-out-of-the-people-I-love-screw-you-if-you-hurt-them impulse, she is why I value acceptance and completely unconditional love.

She is why I am so lucky. Because without her just loving me? I would have been so different. She taught me, without either of us realizing it, that I am worth loving because I am me – that people who don’t accept me for me are not worth my time. And that’s why my marriage looks the way it does, that’s why I’m lucky, that’s why I built a circle of friends who genuinely cared about me, a circle that my family couldn’t penetrate.

I am lucky because as a child, I had a tether – and when all hell broke loose, when the shit hit the fan, when the abuse left crushing and devastating imprints on my soul – I knew that someone loved me unconditionally and that was right.

That’s why my story is different. That’s why my marriage is actually healthy – the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had.

Why Is Calling for Homeschooling Reform Taboo?

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on April 15, 2013.

When individuals who attended public school talk about the negative experiences they had, point out that many public schools are failing or that certain practices in public schools leave much to be desired, and call for improving the schools and reforming public education, they don’t face accusations of being anti-public school, of just being bitter, of being angry at their parents, or of over-generalizing and calling all public schools universally bad. No one tries to silence them for “giving public schooling a bad reputation,” accuses them of trying to ruin things for everyone else, or says that the problem was just their shitty family situation.

So why is it that when individuals who were homeschooled talk about their own negative experiences, point out that many homeschools are failing and that certain homeschool practices leave much to be desired, and call for improving homeschooling through implementing reforms, people accuse them of being anti-homeschool, of just being bitter, of being angry at their parents, and of over-generalizing and calling all of homeschooling universally bad? Why is it that people try to silence them for giving homeschooling a bad reputation, accuse them of trying to ruin things for everyone else, and say that the problem was just their shitty family situation?

Why is it that it’s just fine to call for reform of the public schools, hip even, but it’s taboo to call for reform of homeschooling? Why is criticism of public schools widespread and expected, but criticism of homeschooling by those who were homeschooled themselves causes everyone to lose their heads?

How is “people have shitty experiences in public schools too” a sensible answer to calls for reforming homeschooling? Do we shrug and say “people have shitty homeschool experiences too” when people call for reforming and improving public schools?

Why do people respond to calls for homeschooling reform by stating that there’s nothing that can be done to curb abuse, when no one would even think of responding to calls for public school reform in that way?

Why is it that criticism of homeschooling by those who were homeschooled is panned off as some form of adolescent rebellion while criticism of public schools is practically trendy?

Why is calling for reforming homeschooling portrayed as trying to “ruin things for everyone else” while reforming public schools is seen as an effort to make things better for everyone’s children?

Why is voicing criticism of homeschooling or talking about negative homeschool experiences portrayed as being anti-homeschool while criticizing public schools or talking about negative experiences in public schools isn’t similarly portrayed as being “anti-public school”?

Why do people shrug and say that bad homeschooling is just a result of shitty parents and there’s nothing to be done while at the same time arguing that we need school reform to improve shitty schools and implementing programs to help public school kids with shitty family backgrounds?

Why is criticizing public schools and calling for public school reform seen as healthy and good while criticizing homeschooling and calling for homeschool reform is taboo? Shouldn’t we want to improve and reform both, cut down on abuse and neglect in both, and ultimately work toward the best interests of children in whatever educational methods their parents have chosen for them?

Something is very broken about how we discuss this issue.

We Need Advocates: Philosophical Perspectives’s Story, Part One

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “PhilosophicalPerspectives” is the author’s chosen pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One — We Need Advocates | Part Two — A Tool In Someone Else’s Culture War

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As a kid, I remember seeing national media stories about homeschool families like Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, who beat their daughter to death in 2010, or Banita Jacks, who in 2009 was convicted of murdering her four daughters.

I clearly remember having conversations with my mother about how “those people weren’t really homeschooling” and how our family and friends were getting it right. We talked about how they weren’t really part of any home school community, and their parents were just trying to get away from the responsibility they bore for the abuse they inflicted, by claiming the title “home schoolers.” The home school community distanced itself from these stories, claiming that the abuses of a few “nutjobs” shouldn’t impact the rights of the whole homeschool movement.

It’s been interesting to hear the same lines come up in response to the stories shared on this blog. In comments on other sites, I’ve read many things like, “you could find 30 abused kids in any school system!,” or “these kids’ parents were just crazy. That’s not what home schooling is really like!” It seems like many people invested in the homeschooling movement are reading this blog in the same way my mom read stories like the ones mentioned above — as extreme examples of abuse from people on the far fringes of the homeschool movement.  I’ve read comments that go so far as to dismiss these stories outright. More people, though, lament the suffering they read about, but make comments that distance themselves from the problem. These extreme cases are hard to catch, the sentiment goes, because these families never show up to homeschool groups or 4-H clubs or churches or anywhere we (homeschoolers) might be able to intervene. “These kids were totally isolated! It’s not our fault!” they declare, explicitly or implicitly.

This is misguided.

For many of us who are sharing our stories, our families were not on the fringes of the homeschooling movement — we were at its center. Our parents were the ones running the debate leagues, and founding the AWANA programs. We were the ones winning awards, respect, and acclaim. We are the poster children of the homeschooling movement.

And yet, we suffered serious abuse and neglect, and no one intervened on our behalf.

As a survivor, I started asking why. I was (almost constantly) involved in a myriad of extracurricular activities, and none of the adults in my life intervened in the neglect I experienced. They either didn’t notice, or didn’t care.

This is what isolation looks like in the homeschooling community.

I interacted with many adults outside of the homeschool movement, in many different contexts, and I honestly don’t think any of them had an inkling of what was really going on. Homeschoolers have always been trained to put on our most adult, most mature face to the outside world. This has to with the ways we’ve been socialized and the pressure we face to be walking proof of  the “success” of homeschooling — but that’s another post. Regardless, we’re excellent at being polite and reciting (often eloquently!) the ideas we’ve been taught. We therefore often make a very positive impression on outsiders — I can’t tell you how many times I was told how grown-up, how mature, how insightful I was when I was a tween. Most of the adults outside of the movement were so blown away by my irregularity (and my ability to discuss the classical origins of astronomical nomenclature) that they never asked deeper questions about my education or physical well-being, let alone about the emotional and spiritual abuse that was present in my home.

I also regularly interacted with adults within the homeschool movement, where parents should have been able to notice what was happening — and still, no one spoke up. Many of them didn’t (and still don’t) consider what many of us endured abuse — it’s just part of the process of “training up a child.” Many bought into the same vision of religious indoctrination and corporal punishment. The “us vs. them” mentality was huge, and “them” was often Child Protective Services. I’d still be surprised to hear of one home school parent reporting another. Even when the “moderate” parents didn’t agree with the techniques of the more fundamentalist ones, the “rights of the parent” continuously won out over the rights of the child. This line of reasoning is currently being used by the HSLDA to justify the refusal to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The combination of these factors created a unique culture that fosters and covers up or ignores the abuse and neglect that happens at the center of its community. The case against Sovereign Grace Ministries, an evangelical denomination that promotes homeschooling, is just one example. We’ve experienced it, and we’re hurt. There was a deep sense of community in the homeschool movement, and many of us, as kids, trusted deeply in its people and institutions. Now that I’m an adult reflecting on my experiences, I feel betrayed. The people I trusted perpetuated the systems of indoctrination that harmed me, and facilitated my parents’ neglect.

This is what isolation looks like in the homeschooling community.

The invitation that this blog presents to the homeschooling community is to begin to take abuse, neglect, and indoctrination seriously, and refuse to look the other way. The children of homeschooling need advocates, and our parents aren’t always looking out for our best interest. Neither is the HSLDA.

To be continued.