When most people think of homeschoolers, a particular image comes to mind: A Christian mother who is intent on making sure that her children don’t learn about the scientific theory of biological evolution through natural selection, or birth control, or climate change, or PG-13 movies.
Christian homeschoolers tend to suck all the air out of the room in any cooperative effort of homeschoolers, insisting that their religious approach be given center stage. One Christian blogger proudly writes, “There are people who will get in a huff if you say that homeschooling is a Christian movement, because they are Jewish homeschoolers, or Pagan homeschoolers, or some other brand of non-Christian homeschooler. But the fact is, the homeschooling movement in American was and is, primarily and fundamentally, a Christian movement.”
The International Center for Home Education Research observes that “most observers acknowledge that conservative Christians constitute the largest subset of homeschoolers in the United States. Whether this percentage is two-thirds, one-half, or even less of total homeschoolers, what seems beyond dispute is their disproportionate influence on public perception and rhetoric.”
As ICHER writes, it isn’t Christianity in general that dominates homeschooling communities. It’s an extremist right wing form of Christianity that does. Katherine Stewart in The Guardian writes, “Many parents start off home schooling with the intention of inculcating their children in a mainstream form of Christianity. However… 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.”
The consequences of this homeschooling extremism can be dangerous. Abuses in homeschooling families are so pervasive that a No Longer Quivering community has grown to support young people who are seeking escape and recovery. Cases of homeschooling abuse are documented at Homeschooling’s Invisible Children.
Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out explains that homeschooling is often used by abusive parents to cut off their children’s access to the world outside the home, and that few in the homeschooling movement work to ensure standards that protect children from these situations. The group writes, “The status quo of homeschool advocacy is advocacy on behalf on parental rights, against child protective services, and in favor of fundamentalist Christian agendas. Thus far no coordinated advocacy has been done on behalf of homeschooled children’s needs and rights and in favor of a healthy relationship between homeschooling communities and child protective services. There are no organizations offering education to homeschoolers on pressing issues like identifying child abuse and addressing mental illness, self-injury, and LGBT* students’ needs.”
It is possible for homeschooling to be an effective alternative to school-based education – for families that have enough resources to pull it off without relying to fundamentalist control freaks. Secular Homeschool is a web site that is building a network between families that want their children to learn outside of traditional classrooms without giving their children over to networks of religious indoctrination.
Of course, abuse can take place in any family, whether religious or secular. For the sake of all homeschooled children who are made vulnerable by withdrawal from the larger community, increased regulation for oversight and child protection that enable parents to retain the power to direct their children’s education, while making sure that abuse can be identified and quickly addressed, is urgently needed.