When We Tell Our Stories

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by Darcy. Photo by Darcy, used with permission.

The other day, Homeschoolers Anonymous shared an article on their Facebook page. It was one homeschool alumna’s statement about how her experiences with being homeschooled made her unwilling to homeschool her own children.

As is to be expected, homeschool apologists came out of the woodwork with the belief that her sharing her experiences was somehow an attack against homeschooling as a pedagogical method. I want to address this phenomenon as a fellow homeschool alumna.

The thing nobody seemed to notice in the discussion that happened was that homeschooling wasn’t under attack.

The author wasn’t crying “down with homeschooling!” or “all homeschoolers are evil brainwashed minions!” She was merely telling her story and explaining how it influenced her current choices. But the No True Homeschooler brigade was right on schedule. Which was rather baffling considering that the article itself was just one person’s story and a pretty benign one at that.

Why is it when someone says “here is my story, this is why I’ve made the current choice I have”, so many people feel the need to pick their story apart, try to analyze how the story isn’t correct, then claim their choice is faulty because their story is faulty? No one is judging you for your story and your choices. They’re just telling their own. If you’re threatened by that, perhaps it’s time for some introspection and reevaluating your own story and choices instead of trying to tear down someone else’s to make yourself feel better, feel justified, feel right.

For instance, if someone tells me “I had a horrible time in public school, I’m homeschooling my own kids and we’re doing great”, I don’t try to make them understand that public school wasn’t the problem and thus their current choice to homeschool isn’t valid. I don’t jump to the defense of public school. I nod and show empathy and understanding. I acknowledge that some people had terrible experiences in school.

It’s their story. It doesn’t threaten me. It’s not even about me.

A homeschooler who says “I had a terrible experience so I’m not going to homeschool” is not about YOU, current homeschoolers. Stop trying to make this about you and thus miss the entire point.

Someone tried to tell me that the uproar was because the author said homeschooling was a cultural problem. Actually, she didn’t. Here is what she said in the article:

“But homeschooling is part of a larger cultural problem — it’s the mental equivalent of trench warfare. Instead of engaging on the battlefield, we dig in, draw our lines and refuse to budge. American society is embroiled in conversations of racism and sexism that permeate the fabric of our cultural institutions. Donald Trump, the most polarizing (and arguably sexist) Republican candidate for president is the most popular. Police are shooting and killing black men, women and children at an alarming rate. The problems need to be engaged. Yet, instead of engaging, Americans are choosing to entrench themselves further in their ideologies.”

But people weren’t arguing about this part. They were arguing about her experiences. They were saying her parents just didn’t do it right. They were trying to negate her story and prove that their stories are actually the “right” ones and hers is wrong. They were trying to find any possible hole in her story to prove that this wasn’t True Homeschooling™ and thereby dismiss her. We’ve seen this happen thousands of times as alumni. Someone posts something about their negative experience as a homeschooled child, and the apologists jump down their throats, making all kinds of excuses, and defending homeschooling while dismissing the author’s painful experience as some fluke that shouldn’t be spoken of. With their protests, they show they care more about the reputation of homeschooling than the people that were affected by it. It’s an image to be held up at all costs, even if one of those costs are throwing broken, hurting people to the curb. Honestly, it’s getting old.

By all means, let’s have a reasonable discussion about the rather interesting idea put forth in that part I quoted. About different facets of homeschoolings, the pros and the cons, how to prevent abuse, and how to make the experience better for children and parents. About the authors claim that homeschooling can easily hide abuse. Let’s discuss those things. But people need to stop with the dismissing, the invalidating of others and their stories. If they don’t, they run the risk of being the perfect example of those the author said have dug a trench to defend their ideologies to the detriment of everything else.

HSLDA Opposes Anti-Bullying Bill

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Working Word.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 12, 2015.

HSLDA Opposes Anti-Bullying Bill is actually the title of HSLDA’s own article on a bill currently before the Iowa legislature. At least they’re being honest about it, I suppose? We’ve talked before about the ways the Home School Legal Defense Association’s lobbying veers out into topics that have nothing to do with homeschooling, but honestly, this case is out there even for them. Let’s have a look, shall we?

HSLDA opposes the anti-bullying bill now pending in the Iowa Legislature, SF 345, because of the breathtakingly broad authority it gives school officials off school grounds.

If the bill were only about running the public schools, HSLDA would probably stay on the sidelines. However, the bill is not just about running the public schools. It gives power to public schools to call law enforcement agencies, social workers, etc., if they believe any person has bullied a public school student.

So let’s get this straight. The “breathtakingly broad authority” the bill gives school officials is the “power . . . to call law enforcement agencies, social workers, etc., if they believe any person has bullied a public school student.” The bill doesn’t add anything to the criminal code. The bill is about school discipline. Yes, it states that school officials may call law enforcement or social services about incidents that occur off of school property, but that’s literally it. That doesn’t sound either “breathtaking” or “broad.”

Legal Changes

Section 5 of the bill would create a new subsection of Iowa Code section 282.28. It would be labeled as subsection 9.

Paragraph (a), the first paragraph of subsection 9, only allows schools to punish public school students. Paragraph (a) is not uniquely problematic for homeschool families.

But the second paragraph of subsection 9, paragraph (b), operates completely independently of subsection (a). Paragraph (b) contains no limits whatsoever as to whom the school can punish for bullying. It could be a homeschool student, a private school student, or any adult.

Actually, as we’ll see in a moment, this is wrong. Subsection 9, paragraph (b) is in fact dependent on subsection 9, paragraph (a). They go together, and there are limits. But there’s something else weird going on here.

The punishment in that case would be the school “referring” the matter to law enforcement, social workers, and other vaguely defined agencies. If you don’t think being investigated, intimidated, accused, or pressured by law enforcement or social workers is “punishment,” you have probably never been through it.

So wait a minute. Our legal process is designed to determine who has transgressed the law and what punishment is necessary for those who are convicted. But here, HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff is saying that the legal process itself is punishment. Look, I get that law enforcement can be corrupt or inept, and I get that disadvantaged populations may even find themselves exploited by the police, but the argument Woodruff is making is simply untenable.

But wait. Why would these individuals be reported to law enforcement to begin with?

Facing Allegations

And while paragraph (a) only gives the school power to mete out punishment if the bullying is “founded,” paragraph (b) allows the school to initiate punishment if the bullying is merely alleged. So based on nothing more than an allegation, someone with no connection with a public school could find a policeman, social worker, and others knocking at his door to investigate him.

SF 345 gives the public schools the power to punish every citizen in their district by causing them to be investigated. This is inappropriate and unwise. Therefore HSLDA opposes the bill.

HSLDA has veered into serious conspiracy territory here.

Let’s look at the bill text itself for a moment.

9. Authority off school grounds. 

a. A school official may investigate and impose school discipline in a founded case of harassment or bullying that occurs outside of school, off of school property, or away from a school function or school-sponsored activity if all of the following apply:

(1) An incident of harassment or bullying is reported pursuant to the school’s policy adopted under subsection 3, paragraph “e”.

(2) The alleged incident of harassment or bullying has an effect on a student on school grounds that creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the conditions set out under subsection 2, paragraph “b”.

b. A school official’s investigation and response to an alleged incident of bullying or harassment that occurs outside of school, off of school property, or away from a school function or school-sponsored activity may include referring the matter to appropriate community-based agencies including but not limited to social services agencies, law enforcement agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

Paragraph (b) cannot operate independently of paragraph (a) because it is about the investigation process outlined in paragraph (a). Without paragraph (a), paragraph (b) cannot function. In other words, what this section says is that if an incident of harassment or bullying off of school property results in a hostile school environment for a student, the school has the authority to investigate the off-campus incident and impose school discipline accordingly—and that their investigation and response may involve contacting social services or law enforcement. That is quite literally it.

HSLDA points out that paragraph (a) specifies that school discipline can be imposed in “founded” cases of harassment or bullying, but that paragraph (b) does not use the word “founded.” But paragraph (b) is crystal clear that reporting such cases may be part of schools’ “investigation and response” to incidences of bullying and harassment that take place off of school property and create an objectively hostile school environment. This isn’t insidious, it’s smart policy. Sometimes law enforcement will be best equipped to investigate these situations.

I cannot for the life of me understand how HSLDA takes this benign provision and comes away with the conclusion that the bill “gives the public schools the power to punish every citizen in their district by causing them to be investigated.” Look, in order to create “an objectively hostile school environment,” an incident of harassment or bullying that occurs off of school property will likely involve another student. In other words, this isn’t about homeschooled students. It’s about kids bullied by fellow students off of school property.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, that a homeschooled child manages to bully and harass a public school student to the point that that student’s “school environment” becomes “objectively hostile. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for this situation to be reported to law enforcement or social services, if the circumstances warranted it? Is this seriously what HSLDA is opposing here? Are they honestly arguing that homeschooled students have a right to not be reported to law enforcement for harassment and bullying that trumps public schooled students’ right to not be harassed and bullied? For real?!

Let’s look at how the existing law defines “hostile school environment”:

b. “Harassment” and “bullying” shall be construed to mean any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the following conditions:

(1) Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property.

(2) Has a substantially detrimental effect on the student’s physical or mental health.

(3) Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s academic performance.

(4) Has the effect of substantially interfering with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.

This is the section referred to in section 9, paragraph (a). It should be fairly clear at this point why the school making a report to law enforcement or social services might well be warranted if incidences of harassment or bullying off of school property were creating a hostile school environment for a child, as defined above. I mean good gracious, “an objectively hostile school environment” can mean an environment which “places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property.”

I have to say, I am really bothered by the idea that reporting an incident of bullying or harassment to law enforcement or social services is some sort of terrible unwarranted punishment. I have friends who got death threats this week, over the internet. They reported these threats to the relevant law enforcement—and they were right to do so. It’s as though HSLDA thinks it’s reporting someone for bullying or harassment that is the real bullying or harassment.

Let’s look at HSLDA’s last line again:

SF 345 gives the public schools the power to punish every citizen in their district by causing them to be investigated. This is inappropriate and unwise. Therefore HSLDA opposes the bill.

You know, HSLDA is against mandatory universal reporting of child abuse for the same reason—they see being reported for child abuse or neglect as such a horrific experience that they would prefer depressed rates of reporting to save innocent families from being investigated even if it means some cases of actual child abuse and neglect go unreported. This is not how our legal system is supposed to work! The entire point of our legal system is to determine who is innocent and who is guilty!

Do you know what’s worse than innocent people being investigated and then cleared of all allegations? Abusers and harassers going unreported because reporting abuse is seen as worse than abuse.

My daughter is in public school. I would like to know that if a student from school is harassing her off of school grounds, the school would step in and do something about it—including calling law enforcement or social services if necessary. How HSLDA can take such an important bill and turn it into a threat to homeschoolers is utterly beyond me. What it comes down to is this: HSLDA is upset that schools may report cases of bullying or harassment that occur off of school property to law enforcement or social services. This is utterly reprehensible.

I Shall Not Live in Vain: Jael’s Story


HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Jael” is a pseudonym. Jael blogs at To Not Live in Vain. This piece originally ran on January 15, 2014.

I began home-schooling after a summer of fraught efforts, on my mother’s part, to find me a pre-kindergarten class. Later, she said she took me to forty different schools trying to determine which program would suit me best; I only remember attending two, for no more than a few weeks at each. My experiences were uncomfortable, which led my mother and father to decide that homeschooling was the best option.

My mother home-schooled me from kindergarten until seventh grade. I had some good friends that I saw at a maximum of once or twice a week, and we did some cooperative schooling with parents providing science and language classes as a group. We drifted from charter school to homeschool group, never staying one place more than a few years.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but I realize now, looking back, that these moves were probably caused by my mother’s unaddressed psychiatric issues. 

I got a first-hand look at these issues when I was about eleven. It was the year that I got my first period, in an awkward stage between adolescence and childhood. My mother started experiencing psychiatric symptoms with increasing severity – I won’t go into detail, but she made me actively fear that our family was in mortal danger for a period of several months. My father was emotionally and physically absent, working all the time, and left me entirely in her custody. My mother made sure that I had no support during this time; she separated me from all my social groups because she believed they were haunted by people who wished to harm us. She separated me from my best friend because her mother told my mother (not incorrectly, in retrospect) that my mother was acting crazy

It got to the point where one day she demanded we pack up a suitcase immediately, and we drove for hours aimlessly, going from one cultish bookstore to another, while my mother wept and my grandmother (who my grandfather had convinced to join us for this expedition, presumably to make sure my mother didn’t kill us) sat stony-faced in the front seat.

My mother threatened alternately to kill us by crashing, then to merely leave the state.

She believed our family was being persecuted, and told me so in many ways for many months, treating me as her only confidante (during the times that my father was not around, at least). When my grandparents found out what was happening, they told me that my mother was sick and not to believe her. We lived for them for a month, while they watched over their borderline daughter.

It took me a long time to finally understand that the things that my mother had predicted had not come to pass, and would not come to pass. And it made me angry, because it was difficult to understand, particularly in a family where mental illness (or sexuality, or anything really important) was never discussed. My mother was my only source of information and learning, and when paranoia struck her, and I began to identify that her fears were unrealistic, I felt betrayed. My anger bred, with periodic fights with my mother, where she ignored my legitimate needs and feelings, instead always refocusing any argument on herself. Eventually, we had a fight that had epic consequences.

I have no idea how it started, but I do remember how it ended:

“Do you want to go to public school?” she threatened me. 

I snarled back, “Yes, maybe I do.” 

She deflated, glaring at me like a wounded tiger who was giving up a fight. “Fine,” she said, and that was that. She took it as a personal slight to her ego, that I might want to be educated elsewhere. She told me I would regret it. At that point, making me go to school was the only weapon she had left that could harm me. I no longer loved her, so she could not emotionally manipulate me in the same old ways anymore.

I was really scared, to enter public school, since it had been painted in such a negative light. Entering public school was a culture shock, but at least it was better than being at home, most of the time. Classes were somewhat miserable, with math and chemistry being the worst, but at least I had music to get me through middle school and high school. I found comfort in the two public school teachers who best supported the conservative, Christian perspective I had from my home-schooling years, teachers who prayed before tests and encouraged me to keep strong despite my travails, encouraging me to look towards college when I wouldn’t have to worry about my parents. Reminding me that at least I had parents.

I confided in these teachers about what happened in my family. I did the same with other authority figures that I began to trust. But I never was referred to counseling, a school social worker, or any other services. I know that if I had, at least I would have had that extra support, someone to help me understand that what happened was not related to me, and to help me cope with the realities I experienced every day.

Every time I began to trust an authority figure, I would cry and cry, and tell them what had happened.

This happened at least four times at three separate summer camps, one of which was connected to my school. These summer camp counselors did not know what to do. My teachers did not know what to do. I think I must have been asked once or twice whether or not I wanted a referral to services, and I would insist, no, I didn’t want services.

But I reached out, and reached out, and reached out, over and over and over again, in so much psychic pain. My mother was psychologically and sometimes physically abusive to me when I went home, threatening me with calling the police for talking back at her, threatening me with a knife if I was angry, threatening to take away my lifeline (the internet) constantly, and threatening to kill herself basically every chance she got. So I would retreat and hide in my room, where I would IM friends on the neighbor’s WIFI connection (thank you so much it basically saved my life) and write gothic stories about self-harming girls and roleplay.

I confided in friends about what had happened. One or two offered me books, and I refused them, scared that if my mother would see that I was reading these books, that I would be punished. I appreciated the confidence of these friends, though at the same time my mother tried to dissuade me from pursuing practically any relationship, criticizing any friend that she met that I seemed to be growing fond of.

People assumed that because I was smart, that I was doing okay, and that my issues were normal teenager stuff. Also, I was not very good at advocating for myself – still am not, by the way – and I didn’t know how to articulate the severity of the issues I was facing. At this point, I’m finishing up a graduate degree at an Ivy-league institution. I don’t want to write more than that for fear that either my mother or someone else will find this and identify me and put me in a compromising position. Even today, people presume based on my appearance – white, middle-class, female – that I was raised by a happy family. It pains me because it’s definitely not my experience.

I have lasting psychological issues that impact my life even now as a young adult in my 20s. I have PTSD, paranoid ideation, suicidal ideation, and depression despite the fact that I am no longer in contact with either of my parents.

It was not so much homeschooling that traumatized me as much as my mother’s mental illness. This was hidden by homeschooling, and the pain that damaged me came from the constant exposure to her psychiatric illness.

I feel like someone roasted me over a fire, leaving me with burns to rest the remainder of my life, and I didn’t even know at the time what fire was.

My early education was a shield that kept everyone from seeing who was doing the roasting, and of what. My father and my grandparents did not advocate to separate me from my mother, instead telling me to suck it up until I went to college.

That was the constant refrain. Wait until you’re in college. Everything will be better then.

Well, the short story is that no, it wasn’t better when I got to college, because I went to college in my home state, a quick drive from my hometown. It’s not been better until I cut off all ties from my family.

I should not have had to be in this position, as a child growing up. I had many, many adult mentors in my life – and none of them helped intervene with my family. It has become my purpose in life to help prevent my story from ever happening again – or at least, if I can stop a few more hearts from breaking, I shall not live in vain.

Today I’m Proud of Joshua Harris

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Josh Harris.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Yes.

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

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

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

3 Ways Homeschoolers Actually Socialize Differently than School Kids

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Patrick Gannon. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Patrick Gannon. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on November 10, 2014.

I recently came upon a post titled 3 Ways Homeschoolers Socialize Differently than School Kids. Curious, I clicked. I should have known better. Predictably, the post was written by a homeschooling mother who has no idea what it’s like to actually be a homeschooled child. In this post I will respond to the points made by blogger Jennifer Fitz, speaking from my experience as a homeschool alumna.

1. Homeschool kids break their own ice.

I picked up my son from his Confirmation kick-off event, a true microcosm of suburban 9th grade living.  We were delayed in departing, and I noticed he was chatting with a boy I’d never met before, who had “Chris” written on his name tag.  We got in the car.  “So I saw you were chatting with, um, Chris? Is it?  Nice kid?”

Usually the boy has a few interesting stories to share about the people he meets. This time he shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I just started talking to him when you showed up. We were so busy doing ice breakers we didn’t get to actually meet anybody.”

Yeah, homeschool kids don’t get ice breakers.  You show up at a new event with people you’ve never met, and your parents leave you to the wolves.  “Go find some kids.  Or make yourself useful somewhere.”

They always do.  It can take as long as five or ten minutes, if it’s a large group event the kids are joining midstream.  But my kids never sit in a corner neglected.  They are in the habit of introducing themselves, striking up a conversation, and finding something, anything, in common with whomever is tossed their way.

Some children are more extroverted and others are more introverted. What exactly does this have to do with homeschooling? My public schooled daughter walks right up to other kids and introduces herself. My shy homeschooled little sister does not, preferring to hang back much longer until she feels comfortable. Trust me when I say that this isn’t about homeschooling.

2. Homeschool kids spend the bulk of their time with people different from themselves.

Sitting at a lunch table with the same five friends every day, exactly the same age, same academic track, same clubs, and same fashion tastes?  Yeah, that never happens in homeschooling.  Mixed-age, mixed-neighborhood, mixed-ability social circles are the norm among homeschoolers.  Cliqueishness is a no-go, because 1) the parents lose patience with that nonsense fast and 2) on any given day, you might have to be friends with exactly that one person you would have happily excluded if only this were the lunchroom and you had the choice of your favorites.

Growing up, I never, ever had a friend who was not also able bodied, middle class, white, evangelical, and the child of two married heterosexual parents. Heading off to college came as a huge shock because I was suddenly thrown in with people who were completely different from me. But this makes sense, if you think about it. When you are homeschooled your social world is whatever your parents choose to give you. Some homeschooling parents will expose their children to a wide diversity of people, but others will keep their children in a homogenous bubble.

My daughter is only in kindergarten, but already she has been exposed to more different people than I was through high school. There are black and white kids in her class, middle class and poor kids, children with Christian and atheist parents, children with single parents and children with parents who never married, and disabled children. My public schooled daughter is experiencing more different people in kindergarten than I experienced until college.

Jennifer adds this:

From there, it only gets more different: Homeschool kids spend a lot of time with grown-ups.  Not just their parents.  Not just teachers.  (As a kid writing fiction, I could only ever think up “teacher” for a profession for my adult characters, because that was the only profession I was ever exposed to enough to have an idea of what the job entailed.)  Homeschool kids spend their formative years going wherever their parents go, doing all the adult chores that grown-ups do.   The people who live and work in their community aren’t stage hands for a me-centered teenage drama; they are the community.  Homeschool kids get used to having spur-of-the-moment adult conversation with grown-ups of every age, profession, and cultural background.

Actually, socializing with adults is very different from socializing with other children. As a homeschooled child, I never had a problem socializing with adults—I knew they would praise me for how mature and smart I was, how hard working and diligent. Other children, on the other hand? Haha, nope. I got on fine with the other homeschooled children in my social circle, but I was literally afraid of public school children. They were so different from me that I had no idea how to relate to them. They were scary. I had to enter a public high school to take the PSAT, and I was so anxious I was sick that morning—not because of the exam, I wasn’t worried about that in the least, it was the entire idea of being surrounded by public school kids. I couldn’t handle it.

Now I am not saying that every homeschooled child is afraid of public school children, or that this is the natural product of being homeschooled. Absolutely not! But Jennifer makes a mistake in generalizing from how she is socializing her son to how every other parent out there socializes their children. What kind of socialization homeschooled kids get is almost entirely dependent on their parents. Some parents are absolutely crippled by the lack of socialization they have in their homeschooled upbringing while others thrive and develop healthy social skills.

You cannot look at one homeschooled child and predict another’s experience, because the only thing different homeschooling families have in common is that the parents are in sole control of their children’s academic and social development.

3. Homeschool kids form deep, lasting relationships with the people they treasure most.

A reality of homeschool life is that you might have certain very dear friends you only see a few times a year.  Of all the many friendly-acquaintances you gather everywhere you go, a few really resonate.  They’re ones who understand you.  They’re the ones you could spend hours talking to, and when you pick back up again six months later, it’s like you just saw each other yesterday.

School friendships are a little bit like this, in that you socialize all year with whomever is at hand, but very few of those friendships carry forward once you’re no longer in the same class or club. It’s easy to imagine at school you’ve got a real friendship going, when really those friends will drop you as soon as they find something better.

The homeschooling difference is that there’s never any illusion that you’ve got five best friends sitting next to you at lunch each day.  You have to be intentional about cultivating your friendships, and you’ve got the mental space to do it in.  When you find that one good friend, you make an effort to stay in touch.  You learn to use whatever resources you have at hand to arrange a way to get together more often.  Sometimes you discover that the friendly acquaintance was only ever just that, or the friendship wanes as your values and interests diverge later in life.  But it’s not uncommon for homeschoolers to have multiple deep, lasting relationships that endure for years despite distance and long separation.

Does Jennifer have any idea how hard it was to be 16 and only see one of my closest friends four or six times a year? It wasn’t even that they lived far away, it was just that we weren’t in any of the same activities and we were completely dependent on our parents for transport. Jennifer thinks this is some sort of positive benefit of homeschooling? Does she have any idea how hard it was to go on stating that this person was one of my best friends even as I had no clue what was going on in her life because I hadn’t seen her in months? I just can’t here. Jennifer may look at the five best friends she had at lunch in middle school as only temporary friends, but at least she actually had friends she saw regularly. I didn’t.

Jennifer seems to be applying “absence makes the heart grow stronger” to children’s friendships. It does not work like that.

It’s absolutely true that out of a large group of people you will only resonate with a few. The problem was that, as a homeschool kid, I didn’t have a large group of people to draw from. I had to take whatever I got. Now yes, I had some good, solid friendships. I had to, because if I didn’t I would have had no one. But there were also times I hung on to a friendship with someone who didn’t really fit because, well, they were the only option I had. I read one study that said that homeschooled children have fewer friends than their peers, but that they value the ones they have more. Well duh, I thought.

So what if my public schooled daughter has five best friends sitting by her at lunch who will move on and change and grow different and branch off in different directions as they grow? At least she sees them more often than once every three months. And you know what? My friends from childhood grew and changed too, as did I. Being homeschooled didn’t magically make all of my friendships last forever.

If I had to come up with a list of how homeschoolers actually socialize differently than school kids, what would I include on the list?

1. They more dependent on their parents. While children who attend school see other children daily as a matter of course, homeschooled children only see other children as a result of involvement in various activities or making plans to get together with another family. These things rest solely in the hands of the parents.

2. Keeping up friendships takes more effort. I cannot even begin to count the number of times my siblings and I begged to have a friend over or to become involved in an activity so that we would see a friend. Public school children may be able to fall into friendships, but we didn’t have that option.

3. They can’t afford to be as picky. Mostly, I was friends with the children of my parents’ friends. After all, if our parents weren’t friends it was unlikely we would see each other often enough to have anything you could give the label “friendship.” In other cases, homeschooled children are forced to turn to the internet to find friends.

“What about socialization?” Homeschooled parents have been asked this question over and over again for decades. I understand finding it annoying to get this question so many times, but it’s a good question, and one homeschooling parents should take seriously. I’m really tired of reading blog posts by homeschooling parents arguing that homeschooled children are actually better than public schooled children. Trust me, I heard this growing up, too! Hearing this didn’t make me any less afraid of public schooled children, and it didn’t magic me more friends.

Look, if you are a homeschooling parent, your children’s socialization is up to you. If you do your job right, your children will have a large pool to draw their friends from, have close friends they see regularly, and be comfortable around a wide range of different people. But this is not guaranteed. It’s something you have to work for.

As a final note, I am aware that not all children who attend school simply fall into friendships, and that there are children who attend public school and are still profoundly lonely. I don’t think parents of children who attend school should assume they don’t need to pay attention to their children’s social needs. All I’m saying is that when parents homeschool, they take their children’s social needs solely into their hands, and that’s not a responsibility they should take lightly.

When Home Is Worse Than Rape: Cora’s Story

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HA note: The title of this piece is the title chosen by the author. The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cora” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warning: abusive parenting, rape.

My first memories are from when I was 3 or 4. We were living in Little Rock, Arkansas. I remember every detail about that house. We had a cocker spaniel named Lacey. She was the only person/animal that I was ever emotionally attached to for many, many years.

My memories from that time are very vague. I remember the place, and then flashes of ghosts uttering words and phrases. Feelings. Small snippets of events. I had a clown for my birthday party. I was locked in my room screaming for hours. I rode my tricycle outside. My mother yelled at my father for not hitting me enough. I became a master at hiding. Under the bed. In the top shelf of a closet. Behind a bush. I would stay in my spot for what seemed like hours. My feelings were a constant mix of fear, anger, frustration, and a strong desire to leave. From the very beginning, I wanted to be nowhere near her.

It was my fault, I was told. I was a “difficult child”. Or maybe just a child. Still, it must have been my fault just for being there, right? The grown up has “authority” so it couldn’t possibly be them, right?

We moved to New Zealand. My next memory is being chased around the living room of our house with a switch because I wasn’t cleaning up fast enough. I was 4 or 5. I screamed and picked things up and it seemed like it never stopped. I would sit in my room for hours alone, and lose myself in my own made up world. This world was misery every day. I would make up a different world.

Something fabulous happened in New Zealand though. I was allowed to go to school. I remember how happy I was to leave home every morning. I had friends who would cry and miss their parents when they were gone. I could never understand why. The good memories of my childhood were all away from home.

I don’t remember much of my father from that time. He was a ghost in the background. Not saying much. I remember calling him “Daddy-doo” and trying to spend time with him when she wasn’t around.

I was a “rebellious” child.

I was spanked constantly. My memories of early childhood are essentially a long sequence of being hit, with intermittent memories of other people. All of whom knew something was wrong. All of whom would talk about my crazy mother behind her back. None of whom did anything. I learned early that my father wouldn’t stand up for me.

I remember having to re-write school assignments for hours until they were approved. I remember all of my “infractions” being counted throughout the day to determine the number of hits I would get every night. I remember some of the sessions feeling as though it must have lasted at least an hour. I remember hearing everyday how bad I was. I believed her. And so I never tried to be “good”. I knew it would be useless anyway. The rules always changed. She was always mad. She was always yelling. Always. I never imagined that I had any power to change anything based on my behavior. So I didn’t try. I just found my hiding spots and made up my own stories.

We returned to the US for a while, before going back. I asked about Lacey. I had been thinking about her and missing her the entire time we were gone. The only time I experienced the sensation of missing someone until much later in life. My dad told me that they family who had been watching her decided they didn’t want to give her back, so he said they could keep her. I felt again, that he wouldn’t stand up for me.

In our second house in New Zealand I would climb down the hill behind the house and be gone for hours. No one ever noticed. Not until I took my brother with me one day. I was a nuisance, so the only way to avoid punishment was to disappear.

When we came back to the US things got worse. In the US you had to be vaccinated to go to school. You also had to be surrounded by ungodliness. So I was homeschooled. I was at home. All day. With her. They also suddenly became even more religiously conservative. I was no longer allowed to go anywhere with friends. For a while our neighbors could come over to play, until one of the boys kissed me. After that it was just me and my siblings. At home. With her.

We all got assigned the household work. I had the kitchen, the dusting, the mopping, my room and bathroom, my laundry, and occasionally her room and laundry. My brother had the vacuuming, feeding the pets, and his room and laundry. My little sister had her room and laundry. But we were all so lazy. She would nap, drive us to homeschool events, go to the store, and “organize”. We were the lazy ones. We were bad. We were lazy. We were rebellious. It was all our fault.

I started getting grounded from the few things I was allowed to do. Watch G rated movies, talk on the phone, go to church events. Didn’t lift your blinds this morning? Grounded for a month. Didn’t wash the dishes in time? Another month. And another. I just assumed it was a permanent situation, so again, I never tried. I did try speaking up though. My dad would always tell me, “your mother does so much for you, why don’t you appreciate her?” I remember writing my dad a letter describing the situation. I could tell it shook him. He said he would talk to her. She yelled at him. That was the end of it. I continued to learn that he wouldn’t stand up for me.

I told a relative when I was around ten years old that I wished she would leave and never come back.

No mother at all is better than a whirling mass of violence and anger impenetrable to reason.

In a strange turn of events she started comparing my siblings to me as they got older. Your sister got these grades and your sister wasn’t as bad as you, etc. I can only imagine how the must have felt being told that they were worse that their bad, rebellious, lazy sister.

The fear of the outside world grew. Daring to have a friend that didn’t attend our 100 person church was out of the question. Dating was out of the question. Even our relatives of the same religion weren’t conservative enough and were therefore suspect. We were warned about them. We were warned about everyone. Everything and anything happening outside of the bubble was to be feared. So we stayed at home.

By some miracle I made a friend at the age of 16 or 17. She went to church with me. Then another girl moved into town and starting going to our church. I was finally allowed to go somewhere with someone outside of the home. I started secretly dating the second girl’s cousin. Having been told all of my life that my worth was in eventually being someone’s wife, serving him, and having children and that my virginity essential to attracting a husband, I naturally informed my suitor that I wanted to wait until marriage. He agreed. Then he started pushing. And pushing. Until he held me down in the bathroom one day, and forced himself on me. I don’t remember how, but I pushed him off of me and ran to the other room. Bleeding. I told my friend. She told me it was because I was teasing him. I believed her. We both lived in a world that demanded that women be responsible for a man’s desire. The mere fact of existing and causing a man to want you means you should expect to be violated. She has grown up now, and we are both different. She is still my friend. I can’t blame her, because I hadn’t learned yet either. I would have said the same.

I never told anyone else for a long, long time. I knew my parents would also tell me that it was my fault. Dating. Being alone with a boy. Kissing a boy. Growing boobs. And I would be locked up, at home, for good. To me, the threat of being forced to be home was worse than rape. And the threat of losing what little freedom I had gained was worse to me than letting a rapist go free.

What they didn’t know and what I didn’t realize then was that rape isn’t caused by dating, or being alone with a boy, or wearing tight jeans, or any of those things.

Rape flourishes when a girl is told marriage is how she obtains worth, and virginity is how she gets married. When her virginity is stolen, she will never tell. Rape flourishes when women are told that they are at fault, and face dire consequences if they reveal their rapist. Rape flourishes when women aren’t taught about their bodies, told that they aren’t able to make their own choices, and how to identify predatory behavior or even that it is wrong. Rape flourishes when it’s always a woman’s fault when a man has desire. Rape flourishes when you teach your boys that they own and control women.

I moved out of state when I turned 18. I hit a breaking point when I realized that it wasn’t just my parents and the people at my church who were this way. I went to a small Christian college, and realized that these attitudes were the norm. This time I bucked against it all that I could.

To this day I cannot enter a church building without intense feelings of anger and mistrust. I will never allow myself to be held down again. I started talking about it little by little. With each memory another surfaced. Sometimes they hit me in waves. It’s too much, and I get physically ill. Some memories I still can’t bear to relive. So I push them back every time they come up. Someday, maybe. But not yet. I have found a man who loves me, and cares deeply for my well-being. They told me I was “brainwashed”. She told me I was “addicted to him”. I suppose, if you define unconditional love and acceptance as addiction. If you define peace, comfort, and trust as being brainwashed.

They have never accepted any personal responsibility. I have tried to bring up many of these instances. I’m told it was my fault. I was a difficult child. That an adult, who intrinsically has the power and knowledge, would physically and emotionally abuse a four year old and then blame the four year old is sick.

They have told me my departure is “heartbreaking”. I wouldn’t know.

My heart was broken by the very first memory.

A Homeschooling Adventure: Homeschooling on the Open Seas, Harmony’s Story

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I have been following Homeschoolers Anonymous for quite a while, after searching for a social group I could be part of that reflects some social issues I’ll expound upon below. I was really not expecting to find what was posted here — stories of abuse, religious restriction, brainwashing, even death. It has been an enlightening experience, and I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathies and support to everyone whose stories I’ve read.

It is because of the harshness and true struggle of these stories that I have refrained from trying to tell my story. How can it compare? How can I hold myself to the same standard as these brave men and women sharing their suffering? But I think it is important to share my story, as it illustrates a detrimental effect homeschooling can have on your later life, even if it is well-meant, non-religious, free-form, and even in a setting that still amazes people to this day.

I had grown up in Colorado until I was 10, and up to that point I had been going to public school, brought up by my Dad after my mother divorced him when I was three or four. I began by going to the local basic elementary school, but I didn’t like it, so the last few years I had been going to a normal charter school. I was not an exceptionally smart kid, but I had a great imagination, and no problems making friends and keeping social with my little group. But in 2000, when I was turning 11, my dad remarried, and retired from his job to sweep us all away on an adventure of a lifetime.

His plan was to sail down the Caribbean, in a 40-ft boat, and go through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, and finally settle in New Zealand.

Even at 11, I was no stranger to travel, having been to Tahiti, the Bahamas, Venezuela, and New Zealand itself, as well as yearly camping trips to Utah or Grand Mesa in Colorado. So the idea excited me, as it would any young boy, and it was only with a faint inkling of what I was really losing that we hauled our way to Florida to begin the journey.

So, obviously, since we would be moving so much and so quickly, homeschooling was the only real option for our continuing education. Our education largely came from textbooks and workbooks, and some educational computer programs. There was no religious undercurrent — my dad had disliked going to church, and had not wanted to foist that on us as well. So we were free to read the Bible if we wanted and make our own decisions on that front. We largely taught ourselves, going through the books and doing assignments for about four or five hours a day (year round, no winter or summer breaks), going to our parents if we needed help understanding something. For extra-curricular activities, my new step-mother was teaching us Russian and art, and of course we had all the swimming we wanted.

In exchange, however, my social world had shrunk enormously.

People had been voicing their concerns to my dad (who was in charge of everything) about our social development, and he had simply voiced confidence that we would be stronger, because we would be free of peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, violence, all the dangers he had begun seeing grow in our world. I believed and accepted that rationale, and prided myself on skipping the rebellious teenager phase, and being a teetotaler until I was 23.

But the reality was that, without outside input, my development had simply been short-circuited.

There were indeed other children on other boats down in the Caribbean, and we would try to make friends with them. For the most part this worked out great, although in some cases we were forced to try to interact with people we didn’t like. But each and every one of us were going our own routes, and most friendships would only last a few months before our paths split again. So for the majority of those 5 or 6 years on the boat, we had a very inward-focused social world, and depended on the family almost entirely.

Eventually, though, our homeschool supplies became inadequate for continuing education, and it was starting to become time to think about higher education. We were about at Grenada, near the southernmost tip of the Lesser Antilles, one island away from the mainland of South America, when we decided to head back to the states. We stayed in Miami, Florida for a few years, usually at a marina or a dry dock as we restocked on educational supplies and tried to get a new, bigger boat ready for our next foray to try to get back on track.

The reality was that Dad had been growing older too, and he didn’t feel like he was in condition with growing medical concerns to risk sailing across the Pacific. If he didn’t feel like he had to be in charge, and train us and trust us to run the ship if he had to be helicoptered to a hospital, things might have been different, and I might be in New Zealand now.

But the point is to show how Dad, even if he wasn’t overtly religious, had still absorbed a lot of the patriarchal ideas from his parent’s church and his upbringing.

He had been passing that down to us as well, though we didn’t know it.

In Florida, things slowly got worse for our family. We stopped homeschooling, on hiatus while we tried to work things out, but we were more restricted than ever, because Miami was a hotbed for the peer pressure, drugs, and violence we had been warned about all of our lives. So going to normal school there was out of the question. My older sister and I got our GED’s, where I had my first glimpse of college and wanting to really feel like I wanted to go there. But we were stuck in limbo while Dad tried to work things out.

Long story short, we made a last ditch effort to make an art gallery in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and it failed. My family split apart with another divorce, with my older sister and my step-mother and her daughter remaining in Eureka Springs. I went to Tulsa with my Dad, because he had a friend there and it was a good place to continue my education.

In Eureka Springs, ostensibly I had more freedom than ever. I had a car I could drive, and a whole town of people I could socialize with, if I wanted. I had nothing but time on my hands, and nothing to do except go to town and help with the gallery every now and then. But I was more isolated than I’d ever been before- I was forced to stay in a camper in the back of a pick-up truck, because my mother and sisters had rented an apartment that didn’t allow pets, so I had to stay there with the dogs and the cats. But I hardly ever went out- I kept myself confined, worrying about the dogs, not having any motivation to leave. I was by myself most of the time- Dad was hired as a trucker to supplement the gallery’s income and keep it afloat, so he was away for weeks at a time, and my sisters lived in town. But I just couldn’t leave the camper except to get food.

When Dad and I moved to Tulsa, it was actually worse.I stayed in the trailer for a year while we waited for residency to get into college, too afraid of that peer pressure/drugs/violence world out there. When I finally enrolled for classes, at first I could not even talk to the teachers- though the homeschooling now apparently paid off, as I was literally steam-rolling through the classes, only getting B’s in Composition because I had never heard of and didn’t know how to use MLA format. But even though I was doing great academically, I was still suffering socially. I didn’t make a single friend, as I just didn’t have the courage to talk to anyone, and I had no connection to them.

I often felt like I was a time traveler, as I had missed so much of what was integral to everyone else’s development and frame of reference.

And I was dismissive of them too- it seemed like all the girls were dressing like sluts, all the guys were idiots, the teachers were liberal scum. I even refused to write a paper for a sociology class about the gender/orientation spectrum, protesting that it was complete nonsense.

From these last few sentences, you can see that I had pretty much unthinkingly adopted my dad’s point of view. Growing up in that homeschooling environment, so inwardly and family focused, had denied all other points of view. And even though Dad wasn’t aware of it, he was one of the only guiding points we had available. He was unconsciously passing along his parent’s strict, conservative religious teachings to us. It was only after I finally decided on archaeology over paleontology, and studying anthropology, that I began getting a global perspective.

I had dismissed sociology as just liberal propaganda dressed up to look scientific to push their agenda- but anthropology gave me the tool of cultural relativism to realize that Western notions of right or wrong weren’t necessarily the right one. I learned about how other cultures express sexuality, religion, and family relations. I learned more about how people worked, in a sense of all of humanity, not just Americans.

Slowly, I began to change my accepted views. I saw how ethnocentric right-wing politicians really were, pursuing an agenda focused solely within their Christian-political world-view. I explored my own sexuality, coming to terms with it and even completely changing my gender identity.

I also began seeing the need for my own independence. I needed to get out from my dad’s apron strings, and begin learning how to do things on my own. So I moved from Tulsa to Norman to attend OU, to attempt to make it on my own. But I still find myself secluded- I stay in my room, lacking the incentive or energy to go out, even to see my other room-mates. I have gone to several campus organization meetings, but most of the time I find some excuse not to go. Like before, even though my intellectual development expanded again, my social development still lags far behind.

So many homeschool parents intend the best for their children. They want them prepared for the world that they see, to be good, upright people, or to protect them from the evils of the world. But, as hopefully my story illustrated, even homeschooling in the amazing setting of the Caribbean can give much different results than you could imagine, and how parents can rarely foresee the outcome of what they are really doing.

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Christian Longo

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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.


Christian Longo

On December 19, 2001, the body of a 4-year-old boy was found floating in a waterway off the Pacific Ocean in Waldport, Oregon. Two days later, divers found the body of the boy’s 3-year-old sister in the same area. Five days later, the bodies of the boy’s 2-year-old sister as well as his mother were also found. Their father, Christian Longo, had murdered all of them.

Christian Longo drowned his wife and 3 children in different Oregon rivers in December of 2001.
Christian Longo drowned his wife and 3 children in different Oregon rivers in December of 2001.

Christian Longo is the oldest of two children born to Joy Longo. Joy divorced Christian’s father when he was four and remarried Joe Longo. The family was Catholic but converted to Jehovah’s Witness when Christian was 10. According to Joe, church activities became a “focal point” of their “family life.” Christian wet his bed until he was 10. When he did not get good grades in public school, Christian hacked into the school’s computer system to change his grades. As a result, and because Christian was “easily distracted in school,” his parents withdrew him and homeschooled him through high school. According to Christian’s in-laws, however, the homeschooling was — in reality — “inadequate to prepare him for life in a world that wasn’t a warm cocoon of like-minded believers.” Christian never graduated high school, though he “dedicated himself to the door-to-door work of the Jehovah Witnesses.”

The Longo family was conservative. They taught their kids that “outside the cloister of the Witnesses, the devil was waiting.” Joe and Joy did not allow Christian to date — even after he turned 18. As a result, he left home a week after his 18th birthday. He married Mary-Jane, also a Jehovah’s Witness. He robbed a jewelry store he worked at and began using false names and stolen credit cards, even stealing a test car. He forged $30,000 worth of checks and then moved with his wife and three children — all born between 1997 and 1999 — from Michigan to Ohio. As authorities pursued him due to his criminal activities, he stole a van and moved his family once again to Oregon. Knowing he was about to be caught by authorities, he drowned his wife and 3 children in different Oregon rivers in December of 2001. He justified this in his mind with the idea that he was “sending his family to a better place.” Christian then fled to Mexico. He was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in January 2002.

In Cancun, Mexico, Christian once again used a false name, though this time the name of a real person — Michael Finkel, a writer for the New York Times. A few weeks later, on January 14, 2002, he was arrested. In 2003, Christian was convicted and sentenced to death. He is still on death row. Michael Finkel, the man Christian impersonated, wrote a story about him for Esquire in 2009.

A movie is currently being made about Christian Longo’s life, starring James Franco and Jonah Hill. James Franco will be playing the role of Christian.

View the case index here.

When Homeschooling Gets Crunchy: Darcy S.’s Thoughts


Darcy blogs at Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. Darcy is a wife and mother to two girls and two boys and lives in the mountains of central Montana.

So I’m a bit of a hippie.

I believe the popular term nowadays is “crunchy.” I’m a huge supporter of Attachment Parenting, I birthed my babies at home, breastfeed toddlers, harvest my own herbs, make my own house-hold cleaners, have lived off-grid, can milk a goat and make kefir out of the fresh milk. I don’t eat placentas, though. I have standards.

I’m a non-conformist, even among the non-conformist community.

I follow a lot of hippie/crunchy pages and blogs. I have many friends that live this lifestyle, including a great local Attachment Parenting group where I’ve enjoyed hanging out with other parents similar to me.

I’m seeing a movement, a push maybe, toward homeschooling and “unschooling” that is making me feel unsettled.

These are not religious people and most aren’t homeschooling for religious reasons at all.  I completely support responsible homeschooling and the right to homeschool, and I support the right for children to have the best education possible. But I’m seeing homeschooling completely and utterly romanticized by people in my generation who were not homeschooled, not a part of the culture of homeschooling pioneers that I grew up in and experienced firsthand. These people paint homeschooling as the best most awesome experience, many of them never having experienced it, and they all read each other’s blogs that only talk about how great it is and how bad and “unnatural” public schools are. I see people being drawn to homeschooling for reasons that seem…..off to me, and unrealistic and downright misguided. I often want to ask “Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?” but many times from the sound of the conversations, it doesn’t seem like they do.

Many of my crunchy mom friends have expressed surprise that my own kids are in public school.

They just cannot fathom that someone who was so “blessed” to be homeschooled would not “give that gift” to their own kids.

I’m at a loss what to think or say because these are not the fundy homeschoolers of my past. They’re hip, tolerant, non-religious, very nice, educated people, who have been given a pretty picture of homeschooling from blogs that only paint half the picture. I realize that the concept of homeschooling is new and exciting for them while it’s old news to me. But I feel like the picture they have of homeschooling from all these blogs is very unrealistic, and they may be setting themselves up for a harsh dose of reality.

The ideas that are flying around on crunchy virtual hang-out spots about homeschooling also sound suspiciously like everything I was taught about homeschool versus public school. There’s a lot of fear and misinformation and lines being draw in the sand. I’m seeing our schools being demonized, painted as the enemy of our children, the enemy of education and free-thinking, “social experiments” — and don’t forget to throw in a few Hitler references to make it complete.

Then there’s the dogma.

Which really baffles me because I’m used to dogma coming from religion. This meme was posted by a non-religious, progressive parenting page I follow on Facebook:


Now, this meme is old news for me.

My fundy homeschool buddies have been passing it around Facebook since Facebook began.

The fact that this is now being passed around by proponents of homeschooling and “unschooling” who are not religious and considered “progressive” is concerning. It seems that there is a new hatred of public school that is beginning to take root, and it has nothing to do with Christians. All the illogical, misinformed, sensationalist arguments against public schools that I’ve seen for years, is being repackaged, regurgitated, and spit out all over the websites of people who think they are some kind of pioneers, that this “rebellion” against formal education is all their idea. They ridicule other parents who put their kids in school, saying we must not love our kids if we send them to “government brainwashing centers” (sound familiar?). Which, of course, usually makes me laugh out loud because I’m pretty sure the homeschooling leaders of the conservative movement of the ’80’s invented that term.

Really though, all they’re doing is perpetuating the exact same dogma that has turned so many of us first-generation homeschoolers away from homeschooling.

You don’t have to be religious to be bigoted or to promote propaganda. A young child of non-religious home-schooling parents just told my daughter “Oh I don’t go to school. School is bad.” Now where have I heard that before?

I feel that I am in a unique position.

My past is colliding with my present. Alumni like me have a lot to offer to the conversation of “new wave homeschooling,” but I feel that often our concerns are brushed aside since “oh, well, we aren’t religious so we won’t have the same problems you did.”

But they already are showing signs of the same problems the original homeschoolers had, just from a completely different point of view.

Ultra-sheltering of children, polarizing, dogma, misinformation, and fear are present in this new generation as much as they were in the old. I’m worried about where this might be going, feeling like I’m watching history on repeat, a helpless bystander as some very familiar insanity is marching by me.

I guess what I want to communicate to my hippie homeschooling friends is this: by all means, homeschool your children. But let me tell you what kind of commitment that’s going to require if you want your kids to have a good education. Because all those blogs you’re reading aren’t telling the whole story. Your kids aren’t going to learn what they need to excel in the world by cooking and painting and playing outside all day. Let me tell you how my mom devoted 27 years of her life to doing nothing but educating us because in order to give us a good education, she had time for nothing else. Allow me to tell the story of how sheltering children in the name of “protection” can utterly backfire. Can we talk about what kind of attitudes surrounding homeschooling can damage the children you love and how to raise healthy kids? Perhaps I can offer the perspective of someone who was raised the way you’re dreaming of, only without the rosy glasses you seem to be looking through. And can we not hold to an “us versus them” mentality? Been there, done that, did its damage. Homeschooling can be awesome. But it can also be horrible. Can I tell you my story and the stories of my friends?

Maybe together, the alumni and the neo-homeschooler parents, we can keep some of the disastrous results of the first homeschooling movement from repeating themselves.

How I Left My Parents’ Home

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on September 2, 2013.

Several people have asked me about actually leaving my parents. It’s kind of hard to explain exactly what happened, because there was not one day when I decided to leave.

When I was 16, I was still attending a conservative church with my parents. In my family we were still expected to wear head coverings all the time, but the church we attended only expected them in churches. So in December of 2004 (when I was 16) I decided to stop wearing one at all – to me you either follow that verse 100% or not at all, and I wasn’t going to be the only one. I also secretly purchased jeans and changed into them on rare occasions when I was allowed out with church friends.

The summer of 2005 around my 17th birthday, I went for a week to visit my very secular grandparents in another province. They asked me some questions about what I wanted to do for a career.

I had not been asked that question, as my destiny was to get married and be a homeschooling mom even though I didn’t want that.

My grandparents mentioned that I couldn’t go to university without a high school diploma, and explained that I probably couldn’t even get a GED with how little schooling I’d had. This was news to me since I’d always been told our way was the best way to do anything, but it had the ring of truth.

When I got home, I looked into schools. I found I needed to have parental signatures to attend at age 17, so I privately convinced and cajoled my mom to sign, which she did, although it is my belief that she thought I would give up. My father refused to sign when he found out, and no one told him my mom signed, and the school accepted one signature and none for the bus (as I recall) because by then my mom was too scared to sign anything else. What is confusing about this is that in the summer my father drove me to take an ACT test (useless in Canada) which seemed to encourage academia, but it was with a bunch of homeschoolers so maybe it was the in thing to do for homeschoolers.

Miraculously my parents did not physically prevent me from going to school on the first day, I think because they knew it would probably be noticed if I didn’t go after all the trouble to sign up and get placed into many different classes across all four high school grades. I was expected to wear dresses. That lasted for a few weeks, and then I pulled out the secret pants. My parents tried to force me to change but I refused, and I ran out to catch the bus in a whirlwind of shame.

I quickly made friends with Christian kids at school that were mostly my age, some a bit younger. Two friends I made were sisters, and I would go to their house sometimes for ‘homework projects’. We were on the same bus route so it was easy to do, and their parents drove me home if they asked.

I was invited by other friends to a youth group at a mainstream Pentecostal church. I asked my parents for permission and they said yes sometimes and no sometimes and sometimes would drive me and other times refused when it was too late to find another ride. This was about November.

During this time I opened up a bit to the family I mentioned above with the two sisters. Once at their house I mentioned how hopeless life was with my family and that I was very upset (I didn’t really know what depression was). They told their parents, and somehow I ended up staying at their house for the weekend and just never went home (about November or early December 2005). I know that their dad went to several meetings with my dad and his church friends, and the consensus from my dad’s angle was that at 17, CAS would not force me to return home and it was better not to get the police involved to try and get me back since I was too far gone in rebelliousness anyways, and CAS might take a hard look at seven younger children who were not attending school.

I was able to get a few things from my parents’ home, but my father didn’t waste any time to completely pack up my room, junking most of it and putting lots of my stuff into the damp garage. I basically started life over with the family, I continued going to school, getting decent grades, going to church and youth group, and spending time with friends.

I’ve never really talked publicly about this before, but I need to talk about mental health here. I believe that I spent my first 17 years in some kind of survival state of mind. When I got out and was living with another family, I experienced a whole different lifestyle. The parents worked and provided for the family. I had a few chores like some laundry and dishes, but my job as a student was to do school.

There was also this whole unconditional love bit, and for the most part the emotional state of others in the home was predictable.

Children got pats on the back for doing something well. There was a certain expectation for behaviour and no one really crossed it- it just wasn’t optional. There were no out of control behaviours, because they were taught how to behave when they were younger.

One big problem I had was that I was so used to being told no that I assumed that parents just said no to be nasty. I had to learn at 17, at home and at school, that some stuff was ok and other stuff wasn’t,  and how to tell the difference. I had to learn in a flash how to use judgement because I was never taught that. My philosophy had just been ‘do whatever you need to do to stay out of trouble and try to enjoy life’. But in school and normal family life there are rules to follow so that you don’t violate the rights of others and everything runs smoothly.

I didn’t know that.

It was very hard on me to experience this “culture shock” and to realize how bad I was at relationships.

I had to go to grade 9 math, which I found very shameful. I didn’t know what the bells meant at school. I didn’t know how to share tasks at home. I realized I was very selfish after years of looking out for myself for all those years, and it was impossible to just switch that off when I was in an environment where there wasn’t too many people competing for too few resources. I also realized by comparison how chaotic, unreasonable and toxic my home environment had been. I didn’t know. And then it hit me that I still had siblings there.

It was a very difficult few years. I fell into depression for a while, but I somehow continued school because in this family school wasn’t optional so thankfully if you weren’t sick you went. The family also supported me in making regular calls to CAS over the next two years, so by the fall of 2006 my next brother and sister were enrolled in school at CAS’s recommendation, and the following fall my father was forced to leave the home by CAS for non-compliance and all the siblings were enrolled in school.

I also had many excellent teachers over my three years in high school who seemed to look for the good in students and were compassionate as long as I was trying. Between being granted some credits and earning the rest in three years, I graduated at 20 with a real diploma and I was given a plaque from the principal at commencement – a student leadership award. After graduating high school I was able to go to university and get both a BA and a post graduate degree in four years, and graduate from university on the Deans list.

I no longer have any kind of relationship with my father at all, and my relationship with my mother is complex, as do many of my siblings still live with her.

There is no one reason why I left. Obviously I had quite a bit of help, and there must have been a certain obstinate streak for me to seek out that help.

I have been free for 8 years now. It’s great.