I Am A Testament To Homeschooling’s Power: R.L. Stollar
Do you want proof that homeschooling can be awesome?
Then look at Homeschoolers Anonymous.
Along with Nicholas Ducote, I have organized an online community that — in less than five months — has received national media coverage, garnered over half a million views, received both the praise and the wrath of educational activists, and engages in dynamic social media activism.
I don’t attribute that to myself. I attribute that to homeschooling.
Now, some of you might be thinking, “Well, Ryan, of course you attribute that to homeschooling! You hate homeschooling. If you didn’t hate homeschooling, you wouldn’t have organized this community. How is that a positive?”
First, I don’t hate homeschooling.
Second, sure — if I did not experience negative experiences and observe other people have similar experiences, I would not have made Homeschoolers Anonymous. I’d be on the other side of this whole debate, scratching my head and wondering, “What is everyone upset about?”
But that’s not what I am saying.
What I am saying is that the skills necessary to pull this off – the skills of community organization, advocacy, communication, debate, and social media — I directly credit to my homeschooling experience. All things considered, my parents gave me an excellent education. For example, my mother is an amazing writer and editor. She put an extraordinary amount of effort — and skilled effort, not just energetic effort — into my writing abilities. We read awesome books as kids. We were encouraged to write our own stories.
I was even encouraged to write my own plays.
I wrote a full musical when I was twelve — “The Fun Factory” — and my mom cheered me along. Which is very gracious of her, in retrospect, because the musical is highly embarrassing to me now. My dad constructed an entire theater stage — a real one, with curtains and everything! (my dad worked for a furniture construction company at the time) — for me in the backyard. Along with other kids from our homeschooling group, my siblings and I put on a full-blown production.
That’s awesome homeschooling right there, folks.
I wrote a musical, my dad built a stage, a bunch of kids were creative and self-driven, and we put on a legitimate production for our parents. We even charged an admission fee that covered the costs of the production materials and the food provided during intermission.
That’s Writing, Drama, Wood Shop, Leadership Dynamics, Music, and Economics right there.
I was encouraged to be creative. I was encouraged to think differently. I learned to write and express myself. I did speech and debate. I was taught to pour my heart and soul into research and advocacy. When I wanted to learn html so I could create websites, my parents bought me a book. When I wanted to make research books as a summer job, my parents underwrote my business. When I wrote controversial things for my research books, my parents stood by my side.
And here I am, years later, using these very things — using creativity, technology, communication, and inner drive — to do what I believe in. This drive and these skills I owe to my parents and the homeschooling environment they created.
When I critique the Christian homeschool movement with well-phrased sentences and well-placed screenshots that go viral, I am a testament to homeschooling’s power.
When I am not afraid to stand up and denounce the leaders of the movement who value ideas over children, I am a testament to homeschooling’s power.
That power is not mine to claim.
I had a severe speech impediment for years as a child. No one understood me except my older brother until I was an adolescent. I went through intensive speech therapy. And to make life even more complicated, I was abused by one of my speech therapists. And if that was not enough, I am also an introvert. I am extraordinarily sensitive. I was even a kleptomaniac as a kid. I started shoplifting when I was 6 or 7. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just a broken, confused, and scared little kid.
And yet through the love and selflessness and dedication of my parents, through personalized experiences that supported me and my unique temperament, I became a national award-winning debater who taught thousands of other kids speech and debate when I was but a teenager.
Me, the kid who couldn’t speak basic syllables correctly.
These are but a number of phrases used on HSLDA’s Facebook page in reference to Teresa Scanlan, a former homeschooler attending Patrick Henry College. These are not phrases used by HSLDA; in fact, HSLDA has championed Teresa as a homeschool success story. But these phrases are also not coming from anti-homeschoolers or liberal secularists.
They are coming from fans (or at least previous fans) of HSLDA.
Yesterday, HSLDA shared about Teresa’s life and homeschooling experience in light of her being crowned Miss America in 2011. It was obviously about marketing to some extent — “the secret behind the crown was homeschooling!,” HSLDA says. But it also was about celebrating a young woman with passion and drive.
But things got ugly.
Some of HSLDA’s fans were livid. In fact, if you were looking for evidence that the modesty and purity culture that exists within Christian homeschooling can lead to some truly dehumanizing and dangerous thoughts, look no further than what unfolded.
The comments that some people are leaving on HSLDA’s post about Teresa are frankly alarming. They are misogynistic and dripping with body-shaming. They even are scarily reminiscent of rape culture — that women are responsible for men’s lust and are “asking for it.”
There is direct, no-holds-barred slut-shaming going on right on HSLDA’s Facebook page.
Check it out:
Yes, you read that right. Someone is pulling their support from HSLDA because of HSLDA’s link — which was merely a link to their original radio series about Teresa. Because old men and young men might “fix their eyes” upon Teresa dressed in a rather conservative red dress (you can’t even see her shoulders!).
Now you might wonder: how is that picture immodest? Well, it isn’t. But fear not. People encouraged other people to google her in a bikini. (Does that sound a bit hypocritical? Because it is hypocritical, and also slightly creepy.)
Not everyone on HSLDA’s page, however, was attacking Teresa. Some people tried to defend her – and then got promptly slut-shamed, too.
Yes, if you participate in a pageant, you have caused men to commit adultery and you will be “held accountable of Judgement Day.”
The comments continue:
Another defender, who is attacked:
By the way, Teresa is a Christian.
Not just “a” Christian, but a conservative Christian. In fact, she points out in her radio interview with HSLDA that many of the young women that participate in pageants are actually conservative Christians:
Actually, the majority of contestants, believe it or not, are Christian conservatives, I found, in the competition. And then the judges, in my interview, they have my resume in front of them, and they saw a lot of church activities and things on there, so during my interviews, several of them actually asked me questions about my faith.
But that does not stop people from judging her relationship with God:
It really is a train wreck. They call her a “homeschool dropout,” and attack her for wanting a career:
They compare her to a “rat turd”:
They do not hesitate to link to her Facebook profile (which, as we all know, will probably lead to further online bullying, harassment, and slut-shaming):
This is not to even mention the likely hypocrisy and double standard of some people in the homeschooling community when they only think of modesty and purity in terms of women. What about men?
Were all these people up in arms when Tim Tebow went shirtless for magazines?
Or were they parading Tebow around as a homeschool superhero? Kathryn brilliantly pointed out (not on HSLDA’s page) this double standard about equally harmless actions:
Credit must be given to those people who are defending Teresa on HSLDA’s page. This goes to show that not all homeschoolers — in fact, not all Christian homeschoolers — believe in the toxic ideas behind modesty and purity culture ideology.
I commend those people for standing up against those ideas and the people that would use those ideas to shame a young woman.
We need to push back like this. We need more homeschoolers to speak up against these ideas (and not just against the modesty and purity culture ideas). Teresa’s own experience has demonstrated that this shaming is (very sadly) nothing new to her:
When I first won, I thought, of course, that I would get criticism from the public in general about being a Christian, but it was kind of surprising to me that probably the most criticism I received was actually from conservative Christians that competing in the competition like Miss America did not line up with their morals and values.
No one deserves to be abused and harassed in this manner, regardless of their way of dress, their gender, their political or religious beliefs, or anything else. In fact, I commend HSLDA for being willing to champion a conservative Christian woman who is — through her actions — bravely overturning some of the deeply held assumptions in some conservative Christian circles. She is celebrating her beauty and her body, she is going to college, and she has high career aspirations — in fact, as HSLDA mentions in their bio of her, “her highest career goals are to run for president in 2028 or to be nominated to the Supreme Court.”
She also hopes to educate people about eating disorders.
She has expressed a desire to “educate children and adults alike as to the signs and risks of eating disorders, as well as how and where to get help for themselves or a loved one.”
It was the beginning of December last year when the words lit up my computer screen like lights on a Christmas tree:
“PATRICK HENRY COLLEGE CHANCELLOR MICHAEL FARRIS THREATENS TO SUE QUEERPHC!”
I had no idea what QueerPHC was. But I knew Patrick Henry College. It was that college I thought about going to back when I competed in NCFCA. Honestly, apart from a few friends from my debate days going to PHC, I hadn’t given as much as a passing thought to PHC in the years since.
In fact, I probably would still be unaware of happenings at PHC — still unaware of the existence of QueerPHC — if it were not for Michael Farris.
So in a sense, I need to thank Michael Farris for bringing QueerPHC to my attention. If Farris never threatened to sue the group, I — like a lot of people, probably — wouldn’t have known anything about it.
But threaten to sue he did. And that is why I am writing this story.
A little background information:
In July of 2012, a group of Patrick Henry College alumni got together and created a blog. Their very first blog post was on July 3, where they said:
“This is a collaborative blog produced by several Patrick Henry College (PHC) students, current and former. We, being a group of people, do have varying opinions and beliefs, but one thing we do share in common is our desire to help and encourage other Patrick Henry College students, current and former, in any way that we can.”
The purpose of the blog was to provide education and information about LGBT issues, because PHC itself did not offer such education and information:
“Patrick Henry College does not offer courses in Queer Studies, Sex Ed, or Gender Equality. However, these are issues that are of pressing importance in our culture today and are of importance to us personally. We hope to use this blog to provide information on those topics that are taboo at PHC.”
But then the proverbial shit hit the metaphorical fan.
Over the first weekend in December, Michael Farris, the college’s chancellor, used his own Facebook page to contact Queer PHC and threaten them with a lawsuit:
This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College. You are hereby notified that you must remove this page at once. On Monday we will began [sic] the legal steps to seek removal from Facebook and from the courts if necessary. In this process of this matter we can seek discovery from Facebook to learn your identity and seek damages from you as permitted by law. The best thing for all concerned is for you to simply remove this page.
Find another way to communicate your message without using the term ‘Patrick Henry College’ in any manner.”
The problems with what Farris said and did are astounding. Not only is this a completely nonsensical interpretation of copyright law, not only is it slightly outrageous that Farris would pretty much threaten to “out” the individuals behind the group, but Farris used a personal Facebook page to communicate a legal threat on behalf of an entire college. Did he consult with the college’s board before making a legal threat on behalf of the college? Did they approve of the Facebook message? (Were they even aware of it beforehand?) These are important questions, especially considering what happened next.
What happened next was the Streisand effect. So incomprehensible was Farris’ strategy of internet bullying and censorship based on false legal issues that his threat suddenly exploded — Gangnam style — across the Internet.
Of course, as soon as the controversy started (and probably once the PHC board realized what a bizarre and inappropriate action Farris had undertaken), Farris recanted — this time through a public comment on Queer PHC’s status:
But it was too late. The PR damage had begun.
When I heard about Farris threatening a perfectly legal Facebook group with an unfounded, frivolous lawsuit, I was floored. What better way to damage the credibility and reputation of not only PHC, but the homeschooling movement, by using abusive techniques like threatening fellow professed Christians with erroneous legal action? Not only fellow professed Christians, but your own former students?
But something about what Farris did to Queer PHC didn’t feel surprising. In fact, it felt familiar.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But I was having a sense of deja vu.
Eventually, it struck me. And I went searching through my vast archive of saved emails from my old Hotmail account. And I found it.
In the early 2000s, when all of us homeschool speech and debate alumni were either still in high school or just beginning college, we socialized on Xanga. Xanga is to social media what Grandmaster Flash is to rap: really, really old school.Created in 1999, Xanga was around before Facebook, even pre-dating when most of us were on Myspace. Xanga was kind of like an public online diary: you could make posts, like other peoples’ posts, and subscribe to other people to stay connected. And that was about it.
(And yes, if you’re morbidly curious, my Xanga is still up. So feel free to search my teenage angst and amateur attempts at poetry, philosophy, theology, and public diary-writing for evidence you can use against me in the future.)
I created my Xanga profile on March 18, 2004. Most of my close friends from NCFCA and CFC had Xanga accounts as well. As this was really the beginning of social media, there weren’t really any parents using Xanga. It was primarily a teenage activity.
After a few months, two separate individuals created parody Michael Farris accounts. One was created on May 28, 2004. The other was created on July 26, 2004. (As you can see from these links, the accounts have since been scrubbed clean.) I don’t really remember much from the later account that was created, but I remember the first one because a friend of mine made it. It was clearly marked as a parody account, did not attempt to impersonate Farris to deceive anyone, and wasn’t even “offensive.” While a lot of us debaters were “punks” in one sense or another, we were still conservative Christian homeschoolers. So my friend’s parody account of Michael Farris did not involve things like dick jokes. I remember Fake Farris’s posts being along the lines of “I AM MICHAEL FARRIS AND OMG HOMESCHOOLING WILL SAVE THE WORLD!!!”
In 2004, on Xanga, you could “subscribe” to other peoples’ accounts. This would be the equivalent of “liking” or “following” a Facebook page today. Since I was one of the only people that used my real name on Xanga, and I was subscribed to the michael_farris parody account, I was the only person that Farris could recognize to contact about the account.
Oh yes, he contacted me about the parody account! Perhaps I just got ahead of myself. In 2004, Michael Farris — President of Patrick Henry College — was apparently monitoring what high school homeschool debaters were doing on a social media site. And as soon as he saw a parody account of himself, he went into militant mode.
On Wednesday, July 28, 2004, nearly a decade before he employed erroneous legal threats against Queer PHC, Michael Farris emailed me. In another way that this parallels the QueerPHC debacle, Farris contacted me with his official “PHC Office of the President” email address. The following is a screenshot of what he said, along with the text:
From: “PHC Office of the President” <email@example.com>
Subject: Ryan is this you?
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004 17:17:34 -0400
This is Mike Farris–the real one from Patrick Henry College.
I see you as a subscriber to a xanga website named Michael_Farris. Your posts there seem to indicate that you know who this is who is running this.
I just went through a difficult time shutting down another xanga site called “michaelfarris”.
Here’s what he needs to do. Delete absolutely everything from the site. Then, send me the password to the site so that I can take control of it so that neither he nor anyone else can ever steal my identity in this manner again. If he does this I absolutely promise I will take no action of any kind against him. If he does not do so (and do so promptly) I will go after him with vigor.
It may seem funny to some, but it is not funny in the least to me. I will turn this over to the FBI if I have to. But seems it seems pretty obvious that this person is or was an NCFCA debater I wanted to try to quietly end the problem without the need for drastic measures.
Can you help?
Yes, almost a decade before Michael Farris tried to bully and threaten Queer PHC with a frivolous lawsuit because he didn’t like what they were doing, Farris also threatened a Christian homeschool kid with civil and criminal action — even going so far as to invoke the FBI. As if the FBI would’ve given a @#$% about some kid’s Xanga account in 2004. But we were young. We had no idea. I was terrified. I immediately told my friend. He was terrified as well. What Michael Farris hoped to accomplish — using inaccurate legal concepts to coerce a highschooler into turning over the account information to a perfectly legal parody account — was successful.
A decade later, Farris apparently still uses the same tactics.
The funny thing is, this email I received would’ve likely slipped away into oblivion, covered by the dust of my long-forgotten memories. But in the same way that Queer PHC’s existence occurred to me because of Farris’ threat against the group, my remembrance of the email was likewise resurrected. To some, the very fact that I am bringing it into the open might seem petty and vindictive. But I do not reveal it for those purposes.
I am publicizing this email because of the trend I have repeatedly seen from the leaders of the Christian homeschooling movement. I am remembering the censorship employed by NCFCA leaders when forensics alumni, coaches, and students attempted to protest BJU’s history of institutionalized racism. I am remembering a personal censorship, which I will talk about next week during our Resolved: series. I am remembering how Farris went after Queer PHC. I am remembering how HSLDA chose to block former homeschool students from its Facebook page for speaking up about abuse during our #HSLDAMustAct campaign.
What I experienced a decade ago, what Queer PHC experienced last year — these are not isolated incidents. They are symptoms of a problem: the problem of how this movement chooses to interact with its whistleblowers. It has groomed us to “take back the culture.” Yet when we try to do so, the movement suddenly realizes “the culture” we want to take back is not the Evil Candyland of Liberalism, but our very own home — homeschooling itself.
If you are not toeing the line, if you question the movement’s assumptions, if you even dare to make parody accounts — the movement wants to shut you down and silence you. And Michael Farris led the way, is leading the way, by the choices he made and continues to make.
Considering Farris’ railings against Obama’s “tyranny” as of late, I cannot help but wonder: how exactly does bullying and censorship of young people demonstrate the ideals of freedom?
Yesterday we issued a challenge to HSLDA to commit to taking concrete steps to address child abuse in homeschooling. Specifically, we called for HSLDA, the public face of American homeschooling, to launch a public awareness campaign to fight abuse within our homeschooling communities.
We have an official petition hosted on Change.org. Please sign it and share it with your friends in person, through email, and via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
You might wonder, why should I sign this petition? To answer this question, we would like to share 25 reasons for doing so that were publicly posted on our petition’s page by signees. They come from all over, from California to as far as Germany. They are former homeschoolers, former employees and members of HSLDA, and homeschooling parents. These voices are growing by the day and they need to be heard.
So without further ado, here are 25 reasons to sign the #HSLDAMustAct petition:
Sarah, UNIVERSITY CITY, MO:
This is important to me because I too was an extremely neglected and physically and emotionally abused homeschooled child.
Emily, APO, GERMANY:
As a former employee of HSLDA I am disheartened and sickened to hear of the child abuse cover ups and ignorning blatant neglect of children. This is deeply saddening to me.
Julie Anne, RICHLAND, WA:
Because it’s the right thing to do!
Jessica, BONNY DOON, CA:
I am a survivor of childhood abuse and worked in the field for years- My care goes deep, esp. when children are manipulated about the soul’s deep need to have a relationship with spirit, True Nature – God – by parents, ministers etc who use this need to abuse and distort children’s relationship with themselves, with God or no God.
Samuel, HUNTSVILLE, AL:
As a former homeschooler who did NOT deal with abuse firsthand, I DID witness how the “homeschool community” worked together to hide abuse that was occurring in families within its midst.
Ryan, SPRINGFIELD, OR:
Abuse happens everywhere, and this includes homeschooling families. HSLDA, the public face of homeschooling in the U.S., should make a public and principled stand against it.
Wesley, GRANADA HILLS, CA:
As a homeschooler who befriended children of two abusive homeschooling families, I know that these problems exist and must be addressed. Child abuse, both physical and (perhaps predominately) psychological, is a major problem in homeschooling circles and must be addressed. Parents who abuse their children do not deserve to be legally shielded from the state.
Matthew, COLORADO SPRINGS, CO:
I was a homeschooler, and I’m against child abuse!!!
Alessandra, ROANOKE, VA:
As someone who was homeschooled through highschool, and involved in HSLDA growing up, it’s important that whilst preserving the ability to homeschool, those involved in it not turn a blind eye to abuse and neglect. Fixing that problem needs to start from within the “homeschool movement.”
Mari, WATERTOWN, SD:
I was homeschooled which gave my parents numerous opportunities to abuse me. Homeschooling could be a great thing — but ONLY when it is done in a public manner and ONLY when parents are held accountable for their actions.
Sarah, OVERLAND, MO:
I am so torn about this. As someone who was homeschooled K-12 and homeschools my own children, I am a huge advocate for homeschooling rights and the ability to choose our own curriculum and such. But as a foster parent, I’ve seen abuse. I have friends who have suffered abuse. We cannot protect any abuser, and while I believe in “innocent until proven guilty”, we should not be allowing child abusers to continue homeschooling their kids when we would be fighting for removal of these kids for any other parent. I’ve seen abused kids going back to their abusers. I can’t imagine how it would feel if they were also allowed no escape from the abuser to even go to school. This is a very slippery slope as CPS is called for things like not vaccinating, but it does worry me when people don’t do basic doctor visits under the guise of “autonomy”. I know from experience that most cases of abuse are discovered at school and at dr visits. If we have nothing to hide, then we cannot be defending abusers.
Kierstyn, FREEPORT, ME:
As an ex-homeschooler raised in an abusive family who *are* still members of HSLDA, I’m tired of abusers being defended in court because “homeschooling” couldn’t possibly have anything wrong with it.
Chandra, FESTUS, MO:
It is morally repugnant and hypocritical that an organization that claims to defend parents right to educate their children (predominantly for religious purposes), will not address nor speak to the atrocities and abuses that occur because of the lack of oversight on parents who chose such an option. HSLDA, though in their statement has said, “We believe that every child deserves a healthy upbringing and that parents have the high honor and duty to meet that child’s needs;” will not define abuse, nor have they ever in their 30 year existence ever condoned or supported a piece of legislation that would provide protections for children and thereby recognizing that there are abusive (and even deadly) cases that have occured in the name of home schooling. In a country whose very freedom HSLDA touts, will not grant these same freedoms to the youngest and most vulnerable citizens of this great nation. It is time for a change. This is a human rights issue, and we will not be silent until we have seen such change take place.
Catherine, ALEXANDRIA, VA:
My parents abused me emotionally, physically, and spiritually for 18 years. Because I was homeschooled, they were able to do so constantly and could control every detail of my life. I’ve stayed silent for far too long, and there are many others who want to have a voice, but they are being silenced by their abusers–their parents. It’s time to shed some light on the dark side of homeschooling.
Hannah, MURRAY, NE:
As a former homeschooled student K-12 who was abused, I felt no protection and was told I should not report abuse to authorities, because my parents were told never to talk to CPS or the police by HSLDA. Now a mother, I realize the necessity of accountability for parents, including myself.
Kathryn, GAINESVILLE, FL:
As a homeschool graduate, I believe that it’s high time that HSLDA stop covering for abuse and neglect. It’s time for them to develop an abuse prevention program and to stop pretending this is not a problem.
Cheryl, ALEXANDRIA, VA:
I have spent the last 10 years of my adult life recovering from being given a tool box that does not fit in the world we live in. Scripture should never be used to oppress or to shield abusers. Stand up for the innocent, the children. It’s what Jesus calls us to.
Jai, CHARLOTTE, NC:
I was raised homeschooled. My parents were long time HSLDA members and all of us suffered severe spiritual abuse as well as mental abuse and the problems of the Quiverfull movement. I support this petition and ask that HSLDA school members in the definitions of abuse, child rights, and put forth a system for stopping it and reporting it when it occurs.
Shaney, AUSTIN, TX
As a former homeschooler, I’m appalled at HSLDA’s willingness to ignore, and even indirectly promote, child abuse. This needs to stop.
David, BEAVER FALLS, PA:
I was homeschooled and while I certainly did not live in fear of abuse, I also believe it’d be easy for negligent and abusive parents to go under the radar.
Scottie, TULSA, OK:
I have several friends and even family members who work with Child Protective Services. The information and advice HSLDA spreads in a nominal attempt to help homeschooling families defend their rights in reality only hurts their cause in the long run. Fighting CPS at every turn gives homeschoolers a bad name and makes it extremely difficult to investigate cases of actual abuse. HSLDA should be working WITH CPS and similar agencies to help root out ACTUAL cases of abuse whenever present, refuse to defend or speak well of parents who DO abuse their children, and recognize and communicate that some families SHOULD NOT homeschool their children, at least not without significan oversight and accountability.
Rachel, BLOOMINGTON, IN:
As a homeschooled child growing up, I bought the HSLDA line that Child Protective Services were out to take me and my siblings away from my parents because they were Christian homeschoolers. As a teen I read Michael Farris’s book, Anonymous Tip, which only cemented this fear. Teaching children that those who want to help them are actually out to hurt them is actually a tactic child abusers use to keep their victims under their control, and yet that is the message HSLDA gives to homeschooled children. For shame, HSLDA. For shame.
Naomi, FULTON, MO:
Even if 99% of homeschooling families were functional and happy, HSLDA must do something about the 1% where children are neglected and abused. To do otherwise is to be complicit with the crime and to send a message that HSLDA cares more about power than it does about children.
Scarlettah, LOS ANGELES, CA:
There are growing numbers of former homeschoolers telling of their abusive experiences enabled by the lack of internal and external awareness of and interest in keeping kids safe. There is a vacuum created when parental rights are preserved and elevated to the exclusion of children’s rights. Please work to protect these children, not just their parents.
Rebecca, LOS ALTOS, CA:
As a homeschooled student, I experienced and observed this problem first hand. My parents (and the rest of my homeschooling community) knew of at least one homeschooling family that had rather extreme abuse, but didn’t dare report it because of the message they received from HSLDA not to involve the government, lest it bring any additional oversight of homeschooling families. I believe that every child deserves to have their humanity respected and honored. HSLDA, stand up for children and stand up to abuse.
Thank for your support thus far. Please continue to bring awareness to this crucial matter. Make your voice known on HSLDA’s Facebook page. Tweet HSLDA at @HSLDA with the tag #HSLDAMustAct.
Homeschoolers Anonymous is made up of a diverse group of people. We don’t really have a “thing” that we all agree on other than this: we have seen or experienced harm within the conservative Christian homeschooling movement and we think those stories should be told. The truth should be known.
The people involved with HA are not homeschooling’s worst nightmare. Rather we are its internal whistleblowers. We are all intimately aware of the problems in homeschooling because we were there. We’re former homeschool kids, former homeschool parents, and even current homeschool parents.
We know how unpopular it is to say, “Hey, I have some problems with homeschooling,” but we care about raising awareness so people can address the issues, make things better, and begin to heal. The first step is recognizing that a problem exists.
The Homeschool Legal Defense Assocation (HSLDA) made a decision yesterday. That decision was to respond via Facebook status (screenshot is here) to criticism from a former homeschooler who has been researching the impact and goals of HSLDA advocacy. This former homeschooler, Libby Anne (a blog partner of HA), came to the conclusion that HSLDA has not handled the issue of child abuse within homeschooling environments appropriately. Instead of responding to allegations of child abuse responsibly, HSLDA passed off these abusers as wrongly “persecuted” Christian homeschoolers.
As if this was not enough, before this abuse case with the cages, Michael Gravelle had sexually molested his biological daughter, who ran away from home at age 16, which she personally disclosed in an interview. After the abuse case, Michael Gravelle punched and violently shook his wife. He was charged with domestic violence. Then a warrant was issued for his arrest because he failed to show up to his court hearing. Then Michael and his wife (not surprisingly) filed for divorce.
A man who molests his own daughter, puts his adopted kids in cages and shoves their faces in toilets as punishment, and then beats his wife is a “hero” to an HSLDA attorney?
With heroes like this, who needs villains?
Somerville made a massive error in judgment in calling this man a hero. If HSLDA does not condone child abuse, they should 100% condemn what Somerville said, and as directly as possible. At the very least. However, HSLDA said, “Any statements we may have made could be misunderstood to suggest that we condone the abusive actions of some we repudiate them wholeheartedly and unequivocally.” This does not cut it.
Perhaps Scott Somerville misspoke or truly did not realize what he was dealing with, but HSLDA is now trying to pass Somerville’s mistake off as a statement that “could be misunderstood.” At the very least HSLDA should have said “Scott Somerville was wrong to call Michael Gravelle a hero” rather than saying that such a comment had instead been “misunderstood.” If HSLDA cares about the well-being of homeschooled children, they should issue a statement saying what homeschoolers should do when they suspect abuse within the homeschooling community.
Here’s the thing with abuse, people: it’s disgusting, it’s sickening, and we need to stand up to it. Abuse happens everywhere. As homeschooling advocates are so eager to point out, abuse happens in public and private schools. Absolutely! It happens in Christian homes and non-Christian homes, nuclear families and nontraditional ones. It happens in homes of every religion and race and — for all I know — hobby type. We help no one when we just point our fingers at the “others” and not take a good, hard look at ourselves in the mirror.
Abuse happens everywhere. Which means it happens in homeschooling families. It is time to stop whitewashing this fact. It is time that we in the homeschooling community join together and fight abuse in our own communities.
This is why I issued a challenge to HSLDA yesterday on their Facebook page:
Text reads, “HSLDA, will your leaders take a public and universal stand against child abuse and launch a public awareness campaign for your members on how to recognize and report child abuse in homeschooling?”
My call for HSLDA to launch a public awareness campaign against child abuse in homeschooling was quickly mirrored by others:
It has now been over 12 hours since a number of us former homeschoolers have issued this challenge to HSLDA. HSLDA has not responded and made no effort to unilaterally condemn Somerville’s calling a child abuser a “hero” or commit to taking concrete steps to address child abuse in homeschooling.
But HSLDA did have time to post this instead:
It is time to stand together — within and without the homeschooling community — and demand that HSLDA, the public face of American homeschooling, launches a public awareness campaign to fight abuse within our communities. Make your voice known on HSLDA’s Facebook page. Tweet HSLDA at @HSLDA with the tag #HSLDAMustAct.
Whatever you believe about homeschooling, whether you are pro-regulation or anti-regulation, this is your moment. If you believe in self-policing, this is your time to prove it. If you believe in activism and making homeschooling better for the next generation, here is your spotlight.