An honest look into the problems within Christian homeschooling and homeschooling pioneers' reluctance to face them.
Part I in a Series
- Part II (Scapegoating the SGA in Sex Scandals)
- Part III (Homeschool Apostates and HARO)
- Part IV (Accommodating Perspective of the SGA)
- Part V (Becoming a Safe Person for the SGA)
- Part VI (What Old Guard Parents Must Realize)
On March 20th, The Stream on Al Jazeera America featured a program about homeschooling in America. The primary focus of the discussion involved the growing popularity of the educational choice, especially among minority groups. According to the data presented on the episode, homeschooled students place in the the 56th - 89th percentile in aptitude compared to public school students who only placed within the 50th percentile. (They did not specifically note how these scores were elucidated, however.)
Featured on the program with other guests was a personal friend of mine, a young attorney and activist named Sarah Hunt. She grew up and was homeschooled in the same high demand religious group where and while I attended (while in my late 20s), though at a sister church. My husband once taught some classes at her church, and he even played trombone in the same musical with Sarah. So while I appreciate the general concerns that so called “Quivering Daughters” face (young women raised in patriarchy), I also share more intimate knowledge of the environment and many of the hidden practices to which Sarah alluded. I can attest to the problems encountered and encouraged within the group where we were once members, though she really had no freedom of choice concerning participation.
When asked about the reasons why people might find this educational choice desirable, Sarah mentioned the Christian Evangelical interest in educating children from a religious perspective while also giving them religious training at home. She also offered the additional and less popular idea that the gross lack of regulation, monitoring, and oversight offered an inducement for certain people, referring to it as a type of “Wild West.” Primary themes emerged from all of Sarah's responses throughout the episode, and I see the common denominator of isolation as the primary contributing factor:
- Social and psychological consequences
- Over 350 documented cases of child abuse and neglect
- Surprising overall lack of pursuit of higher education despite higher academic aptitude
- Educational neglect among some subsets
(For more concrete information on these specific issues,
please visit the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.)
While I am glad that the hosts approached the matter with respect for home education and sought to present it in a positive light, I am equally disappointed that the participants didn't show more concern for the “Wild West” pitfalls. I recently posted some information on the advantages that the clergy presents to predators here, and isolated homeschooling communities can provide yet another opportunity for abuse.
Sarah introduced several important points about the pitfalls:
|Attorney Sarah Hunt|
- "There isn't much oversight, so you have situations where you have isolated communities. I've worked personally with about fifteen young women who have transitioned from very strict, isolated homeschool environments where they have no formal education, no job history, and no real societal intervention points. Because maybe they're home all the time or are from a small church. […] I've helped [them] transition into mainstream society over the past ten years. I also came from a background where I was the oldest of nine children. I was homeschooled, and I was raised in a high-control religious organization. So sometimes, my interaction with the outside world was more limited, and I had to go through a lot of adjustments."
- "I was fortunate to be able to go to college. We have a difficulty, especially with some religious homeschoolers. They don't think that girls should go to college. Also, in homeschooling just in general, we have two million homeschoolers in this country. Our SAT and ACT homeschool takers – the percentage that you would expect to be isn't there. And we don't know why because there's no oversight."
- "Some of the studies that Mike cited are interesting, but the majority of studies of homeschooled students are self-selected. . . We really don't know much about homeschooling. There have only been a few random sample studies." [Blog host note: The test subjects are “cherry picked” and do not represent anything remotely like a representative cross section sample of homeschooling. And that doesn't even graze the surface of this issue.]
The other guests and the hosts conveyed the message that Sarah's personal experience was unusual – and that her concerns seemed to be overblown. Mike Donnelley with the Home School Legal Defense Association claimed that the democratic process in a decentralized republic solved the problems at the state level. He resorted to quoting interesting facts about homeschooling in general that didn't address the issues raised, then stated, “We think it's working quite well.” (It's not working well for those who experience problems. I personally know of many with issues, particularly educational neglect. Though save for a very few states, there's no means of even tracking the population for problems. But isn't it great that we live in a republic!)
When asked to respond to the specific problems and the potential benefits of oversight, Andrew Pudewa of The Institute for Excellence in Writing basically stated that there was no way to track students or derive statistics regarding homeschooling. He then basically just said that public school students also “fell through the cracks,” too, but all in all, we're much better off with home education.
In fact, he seemed to echo the argument by consensus offered by Dr. Asantewaa Oppong Wadie of the Chicago-area Indigo Nation Homeschooler's Association. Homeschooling offers certain benefits, so it's best to just stick with what seems to be working well from the more obvious outward appearances. All but Sarah seemed to sing the chorus that freedom created better academic performance and any regulation or oversight of any variety would destroy the benefits of that freedom. The risks were worth the tradeoffs and cancel out the significance of the problems. If the same problems occur among families who use the public school system, that makes the occurrence a moot point if they occur among Evangelical Christians?
Sarah Hunt also specifically pointed out the painful issue of abuse:
"We have over 350 cases of documented child abuse and neglect in homeschool settings – documented on HIS, Homeschooling's Invisible Children.org.
And I'm more concerned about the fact that there isn't in a state where a person who is a high school drop out, a person who has a criminal child abuse conviction, or a person who is a convicted sex offender has any restrictions on homeschooling. Not even parenting classes or intervening visits.
So I'm much more concerned about the safety of the homeschool children who are at risk and putting in some oversight safeguards to make sure that those children – as many of those children – can be as protected as possible."
Why do They See, Hear and Speak no Evil?
What I believe that surfaces here in this discussion has a great deal to do with the difference in perspective shared by parents who joined churches that supported homeschooling and their children who grew up in high demand environments. No parent wants to hear that their best of intentions resulted in pain, loss, or debilitation for their children – the very antithesis of what they sought for them and sacrificed to achieve. So while the Second Generation Adult (SGA) cries out to draw attention to the problems (those SGAs raised in a high demand situation such as the restrictive type of Evangelical homeschooling), their parents have a vested interest in denying and ignoring the problems. “We think it's working quite well.”
A new article just posted today at Spiritual Sounding Board, more thoroughly exploring the limitations faced by an adult who grew up in any type of high demand situation, be it religious or just because of factors in the family which promoted dysfunction. Adults emerge from these situations to realize that they lack skills, information and practical experience that people raised outside of their system – or even their own parents – take for granted.
What I believe we see as friction between the pioneer parents in homeschooling that defend the cause and the SGAs that have suffered legitimate problems arises because of the limitations of being an SGA.
From Part III of Lourdes, Lifeboats and Bounded Choice (Raised in a Totalist Institution) at Spiritual Sounding Board:
I don't know of the nature of the parenting Lourdes had, but the question highlights the problem of those children whose growth and development was hindered by their religious system and what it required of their parents and them. Lourdes classifies as a “Second Generation Adult” (SGA) – the adult who grew up under parenting that was dictated by and within a closed ideological system. The needs of “SGAs” are very different from those of the adults who make the choice as adults to yield themselves to such a system. These children who are born or inducted into a group never had the luxury of making such an independent choice. Depending on the group, many of these SGAs find that the parenting they received fell well below a “good enough” standard.
In the next post,
Read more about the tension between First and Second Generation Adult, something I believe has been played out quite obviously between Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out and Great Homeschool Conventions.