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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it all worked out.

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

It seems homeschooling did an excellent job.

Except it is a lie, just like the cake.

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

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

So I blamed homeschooling.

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

Like any tool, homeschooling can be misused and abused.

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

This Isn’t Just A Few Disgruntled People

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

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

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

I found out recently that I was completely wrong.

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

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

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

Have you read everything?

Good, let’s continue.

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

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

And here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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