The dark side of home schooling: creating soldiers for the culture war

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The Christian home school subculture isn't a children-first movement. Some former students are bravely speaking out


Several decades ago, political activists on the religious right began to put together an "ideology machine". Home schooling was a big part of the plan. The idea was to breed and "train up" an army of culture warriors. We now are faced with the consequences of their actions, some of which are quite disturbing.

According to the Department of Education, the home schooling student population doubled in between 1999 and 2007, to 1.5 million students, and there is reason to think the growth has continued. Though families opt to home school for many different reasons, a large part of the growth has come from Christian fundamentalist sects. Children in that first wave are now old enough to talk about their experiences. In many cases, what they have to say is quite alarming.

When he was growing up in California, Ryan Lee Stollar was a stellar home schooling student. His oratory skills at got him invited to home schooling conferences around the country, where he debated public policy and spread the word about the "virtues" of an authentically Christian home school education.

Now 28, looking back on his childhood, it all seems like a delusion. As Stollar explains:

"The Christian home school subculture isn't a children-first movement. It is, for all intents and purposes, an ideology-first movement. There is a massive, well-oiled machine of ideology that is churning out soldiers for the culture war. Home schooling is both the breeding ground – literally, when you consider the Quiverfull concept – and the training ground for this machinery. I say this as someone who was raised in that world."

Too frequently, Stollar says, the consequences of putting ideology over children include anxiety, depression, distrust of authority, and issues around sexuality. This is evident from the testimonials that appear on Home schoolers Anonymous, the website that Stollar established, along with several partners.

Stollar's own home schooling experience started off well. But over time, as his family became immersed in the world of Christian home schooling, his "education" became less straightforward and more ideological. "I particularly remember my science curriculum," he says. "We used It Couldn't Just Happen, which wasn't really a science textbook. It was really just an apologetics textbook which taught students cliché refutations of evolutionism."

Many parents start off home schooling with the intention of inculcating their children in a mainstream form of Christianity. However, as many HA bloggers report, it is easy to get sucked into the vortex of fundamentalist home schooling because extremists have cornered the market – running the conventions, publishing the curricula, setting up the blogs.
 

Written By: Katherine Stewart
continue to source article at guardian.co.uk

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  1. What I find sinister is the way the HSDLA opposes any piece of legislation that might help prevent child abuse in homeschooling families. I’ve read a lot of the stories on Homeschoolers Anonymous and mental, spiritual and physical abuse is all too common and completely unchecked.

    • In reply to #1 by SupergoofNZ:

      What I find sinister is the way the HSDLA opposes any piece of legislation that might help prevent child abuse in homeschooling families. I’ve read a lot of the stories on Homeschoolers Anonymous and mental, spiritual and physical abuse is all too common and completely unchecked.

      “Sinister” indeed.

      S G

  2. Why is it allowed? Parents are not teachers. To teach a subject(well) you need to understand it very well, the kind of understanding that comes from a university degree in that subject. Why do we think that the average parent is an adequate substitute for this? All children should have the right to a proper education. Additionally, there is a social dimension to going to school as well, which homeschooling certainly can never replace.

    • In reply to #2 by MahouShoujoMaruin:

      Why is it allowed? Parents are not teachers. To teach a subject(well) you need to understand it very well, the kind of understanding that comes from a university degree in that subject. Why do we think that the average parent is an adequate substitute for this? All children should have the right to…

      Do you really need a university degree in mathematics to teach 4th grade arithmetic? Usually, parents don’t home school their kids K-12. It’s far more common for them to just home school for a few years of grade school, then enroll their kids in a good high school for the subjects too advanced for them to teach effectively.

      Not all parents who decide to home school their kids are idiots. Some are certainly capable of providing an education surpassing anything their kids could receive in a public school, at least up to a certain grade level. Why should we prevent them from doing that?

      I would, however, wholeheartedly support regular testing of the parents and students. It’s a shame that this isn’t required anymore.

      • In reply to #7 by Nerevarine:

        Do you really need a university degree in mathematics to teach 4th grade arithmetic? Usually, parents don’t home school their kids K-12. It’s far more common for them to just home school for a few years of grade school, then enroll their kids in a good high school for the subjects too advanced for them to teach effectively.

        Not all parents who decide to home school their kids are idiots. Some are certainly capable of providing an education surpassing anything their kids could receive in a public school, at least up to a certain grade level. Why should we prevent them from doing that?

        I would, however, wholeheartedly support regular testing of the parents and students. It’s a shame that this isn’t required anymore.

        Probably not for 4th grade, no, although I do think it would be beneficial. You don’t need a degree to teach anything, but well-educated and knowledgeable teachers are preferable. I can see why someone with a degree in mathematics would not want to teach a fourth grade though. However, there is also the question of pedagogic. A professional teacher, especially at lower grades, is mainly trained in how to teach. That’s a whole academic field/science in itself. If there are any teachers lurking, I’m sure they could elaborate.

        I don’t doubt that some few resourceful parents are capable of giving their child a decent education on their own, but I doubt the average parent is. This article suggests that those who homeschool are not typically the most resourceful, knowledgeable and competent parents. It is highly problematic to allow only some few parents to homeschool, while denying the rest. Thus it is easier simply to ban it altogether. The only reasons I can think of to homeschool would be either to indoctrinate children thoroughly, as we see in this article, or because the schools available are not good enough. If the last is true, the solution should be to improve the schools, not to take children out of them.

  3. I agree there are some extremes in home schooling, but as we are homeschooling our own son, I can speak for at least in our local group here in Virginia, that the home school community has a dynamic, intellectually rigorous curriculum focused on the student’s interests and free thinking. Our kids have some of the highest test scores in the state and have won numerous academic prizes in areas of science and the humanities, outperforming many of their publicly and privately educated peers. So while there may be some whose only interest is to indoctrinate their children with a particular religious dogma, it is not the case in the majority of homeschooling parents that we have encountered.

  4. boblevel, am I wrong in assuming that you and the rest of those particular parents have degrees that advocate the knowledge you have of what you are teaching? Because I have to agree with MahouShoujoMaruin, the average parent is not qualified to teach. Even parents with degrees are likely not qualified to teach something which isn’t directly related to their areas of expertise. Yet, I know it must be possible for anyone who desires it to acquire the information needed to provide a good education. So, in short, the average parent should not be allowed to homeschool their children, but smart, competent people may indeed be good teachers. Only the social dimension which MahouShoujoMaruin mentioned may still suffer.

  5. Home schooling would have been a good antidote to a government brainwashing a generation. The catch is the home schoolers are all being fed the same nonsense, and are excluded from contact with anyone who might encourage them to think for themselves.

    Home schooled kids are bubble-raised. They have not the first clue how to deal with the rough and tumble world of peers. They learn only how to do with an overly kind or overly cruel pair of parents.

  6. The complete story has a link to this chilling article:

    Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence, Frederick Clarkson (1994)

    • Part 1. Overview and Roots, What is Reconstructionism?, Capital Punishment, Christian Historical Revisionism, A Movement of Ideas
    • Part 2. A Generation of Reconstructionists, The Timing of the Kingdom, The Significance of Reconstructionism
    • Part 3. No Longer Without Sheep, Reconstructionism and the Christian Right, The Conspiracy Factor, The Wrath of Morecraft, A Whole Generation of Gary Norths
    • Part 4. A Covert Kingdom, Conclusion
  7. The argument on this matter boils down to rights of a child vs. rights of parents, with implications for larger society. I wish that I had some coherent comment on that, but don’t. I’ll say this: My daughter-in-law is primary school teacher — 4th grade in South Carolina public schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education, but no specific training beyond the very basics in language, math and science. She is the only teacher for her class. Other than occasional random visits by specialists, she is the one providing the only classroom education her students get. I love my daughter-in-law, but a rationalist she is not. For example: I’ve seen her teaching her own young son ‘critical thinking’ by asking him whether certain things are man made or God made. I have no idea whether this is how she teaches her public school class, but don’t know why she’d vary her style except by constraint of law. My point is that just because someone is a degreed educator doesn’t necessarily mean that they are more qualified to teach a broad range of subjects than are many parents.

    I know several people who home school their children. Back home in rural Colorado, it was mostly done because of geography — just tough & risky to send kids down snowy roads in a bus an hour each way. Here in the US Southeast, it’s most often done for religious reasons, but also because the state of public school is fairly grim. Given the large proportion of religious fundamentalists around here, many children are likely getting an education based on ideologies hostile to science and skewed hard toward right-wing views. I have seen this in one case where a friend with multiple advanced degrees teaches his son in biblical literalism and young earth creationism. At least the kid can read Greek & Latin, even if the purpose is to interpret the Bible.

    My 9 year old nephew self-identifies as non-religious. He attends a Unitarian church, and from age three went to their Montessori-based program. This program ended when the children were expected to enter first grade. He went to public school for a year, and it was essentially a lost year. The next two were at a very expensive private Christian school just because their academic record is stellar (lots of money means lots of education), and he’s done well there. I play with him on math games, and found that he has a basic understanding of long division. I asked if he’d learned that in 3rd grade, and he said, “No, but we did it at Montessori” (he was 5 the last time he was there). The private school is too expensive for his single Mom, and involves 3 hours of driving per day, so he will either be in the local public school for 4th grade, or at an engineering-based charter school if an out-of county position opens up.

    I’m just the uncle with no great influence, but I hope that he goes to the public school. At the private Christian school he’s had exposure to kids from all over the world who speak a wide array of languages but hold a narrow set of beliefs. Moreover, all of those kids are in the upper economic echelon. Also, it seems that his math & science education has been somewhat lacking there. He scored 99th percentile on verbal, but only 96th percentile non-verbal when applying for the public school gifted program. In the public school he will meet peers of many stripes. Some of them will be the children of hateful rednecks that comprise much of what passes for society here, and there will probably be exclusionary gangs and peer intimidation. That’s part of education too.

    I always liked Khalil Gibran’s analogy of children as living arrows. Some hold them in the quiver too long.

    }}}}

  8. Hey,
    When I construct a lesson, I am cognizant of my target audience. The lesson is built to hit the auditory learner, the visual learner, and the kinesthetic learner. There are opportunities for questioning and socratic type seminar time. Kids respond to a well prepared lesson. I differentiate the lesson to meet the needs of the varied intelligences and learning needs that sit before me. My lessons kick ass and I am proud of what I am. I am a teacher.

    I story tell, I act, I literally give myself to the class. Whatever it takes. We work hard; the students work hard for me and I work hard for them. I know who bosses me around and also who signs my paycheck. BUT I know who I work for and it is neither of the aforementioned.

    Enthusiasm and energy drive my classes. I am an expert in my subject; I have both a Masters and Bachelors degree in Biology. I also have a Masters in Ed. I know exactly what I am doing.

    I could not teach math. I could not teach Social Studies…. I could not teach music, art, or language….

    Having said this, of course a student who is receiving one on one attention will excel…. Why not test these home schooled kids with the same testing instrument that there public schooled peers are subjected to?

    Would you send your child to a non-musician for piano lessons?

  9. As a person deeply disturbed by the reliance on standardized tests in public schools, and the overwhelming dismissing of the humanities, and the pushing of academic work to lower and lower grades, I would love to be able to home school. Alas, I must work. But I don’t make enough to send my kids to an arts/humanities private school…

    And yes…with all the non-ideological resources out there, it is reasonable that an average parent would be able to home school successfully all through grammar and middle school. Plus you can connect with local home school coops and leverage everyone’s knowledge and have opportunities for peer / social interactions.

  10. I was home-schooled by fundamentalist, evangelical, christian parents. Their primary objective was to keep us children insulated from the evils of public education. Luckily I lived very close to a public library, where I studied enough math, science, biology, chemistry & sex-ed to make up for the substandard, christian-based textbooks. I later earned a degree in computer science & applied mathematics from a public, secular university.

    It is very troubling to see so many young minds deluded into christian thinking, including curriculum that lies about American & world history, biology, social science, anatomy (physiology) and astronomy.

  11. After working in the public school my sons attended I realized that not only could I educate my children at least as effectively as those with degrees in education, but could tailor their lessons to their learning styles and interests. I disagree that to educate students well one must be trained as a teacher. My sons learn Latin, History, Math, Science, Grammar, Logic, Writing, among other subjects. As for lacking in social experiences, that is a tired old drum whose beat has been quieted with facts. The majority of home-schooled children are socialized to a degree that their public school peers rarely meet. Colleges now seek home educated children because a large percentage have learned how to think – not what to think. The trend is growing for good reason. The home-school movement may have been started by religious fundamentalists but it is being taken up by capable parents who understand that teaching is not rocket science.

    • You are probably doing a great job. I wish more parents were at all involved in their children’s education (let alone involved enough to recommend latin let alone teach it to them at home). You seem to be providing a great foundation for them. Bravo! It is, of course, a foundation. They will go to university, right? There they will be asked REAL questions by REAL teachers, right?

      As for socialization issues, I would tell all the people who break out that argument that every kid today is socially stymied by that damn phone they carry with them. Texting and facebook and all the rest of that shit has generated a group of kids who routinely misunderstand one another and are all socially deprived.

      Sooner or later in their educational pathway, your kids will be confronted by a question like this:

      If a pregnant woman is exposed to the herpes virus in the third trimester of her pregnancy, explain the implications for both humoral and cell mediated immunity for the mother and then for her unborn child.

      My Advanced Bio kids just had this as a homework.

      What do you do when you are overmatched within a topic? Can you do double derivatives and interpret them? Can you calculate instantaneous rate? Would you even know that you don’t know something?

      I agree that a person who has simply an undergraduate degree in education of a subject is woefully undereducated in the actual subject (they are over educated in education)… But, with how competitive teaching has become, we have more and more very high powered teachers. I teach with two social studies teachers who also practice law. I teach with an actuary, an industrial chemist, a molecular geneticist (me), almost all of our math teachers are also accountants…etc….

      I am proud of you for what you are doing for your kids but i am also proud to be a teacher.

      In reply to #15 by JKim:

      After working in the public school my sons attended I realized that not only could I educate my children at least as effectively as those with degrees in education, but could tailor their lessons to their learning styles and interests. I disagree that to educate students well one must be trained as…

    • A dedicated teacher is of course a huge advantage but when one of my friends, doing a Physical Education Degree, could teach my child how to throw a Frisbee better than I could it wasn’t much of a stretch to realise that the same may be true for every other subject, especially the more complicated ones than Frisbee throwing.

      Your argument was also significantly weaken by you reference to “a tired old drum whose beat has been quieted with facts” that came with…. no facts at all.

      I am inclined to think if you had the facts that you are boasting about you would have used them, no? Using facts in an argument is legitimate, saying you have facts but not using them is the same as having no facts or at least being polite enough not to wave them around without letting us see.

      I know my kids get that peer to peer interaction at school that I can’t give them where ever I am.

      As an adult I come across very few good jobs I think require no education but many adults who think they could do any job without education.

      In reply to #15 by JKim:

      After working in the public school my sons attended I realized that not only could I educate my children at least as effectively as those with degrees in education, but could tailor their lessons to their learning styles and interests. I disagree that to educate students well one must be trained as…

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