For the last five weeks, I have been taking a college writing course. Our final project was a research essay that we had been working on in some way or another the entirety of the class. I put the finishing touches on mine earlier today, and I thought I would share it with you.
Fundamentalist Homeschooling and Abuse
“I love that I can just stay in bed and do school in my room.” This was my typical, somewhat comedic response to public school kids who asked me what my favorite part of homeschooling was. For parents, I had a more structured, logical response, but the other kids I just wanted to make jealous, because clearly I had the better deal. As I have grown, though, I have learned that my experience with homeschooling was not the same as everyone else’s. It is not the perfect methodology I was taught it was. I have come to realize that my family lived on the fringe of a very dangerous side of the homeschooling movement. Homeschooling Fundamentalists have placed their children and themselves in the very precarious position of living on the borders of child abuse, if not inside its ugly limits.
Homeschooling is a very popular and growing movement. According to Ray (2011), “There were an estimated 1.73 to 2.35 million children (in grades K to 12) home educated during the spring of 2010 in the United States.” Because it is so vast, homeschooling is also very diverse. Thanks to research by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2012), we know that in the 2011-2012 school year, 68% of the approximate 1.8 million homeschooled were White, 15% were Hispanic, 8% Black, 4% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 5% combined or other. In addition to ethnicity, reasons for homeschooling are also diverse and include a desire to provide religious or moral instruction, a concern for the environment or academics of traditional schools, and special needs of the child (NCES, 2012).
These reasons for homeschooling may seem very sound and caring, but there are other reasons that are less admirable. There are parents who homeschool to hide physical abuse or as a form of manipulative mental abuse. Even those who start homeschooling with all good intentions may find themselves down a dangerous and unwanted path.
Before diving into the bulk of my topic, allow me some definitions. These are not technical definitions but what I mean when I use certain words.
· Physical Abuse: Any physical harm done to a child, including punishment or violence that results in lasting marks such as bruises or cuts, hair-pulling, intentional or unintentional neglect, physical torture, or confinement for more than a day.
· Sexual Abuse: Any sexual misconduct toward a minor, including sexual grooming, inappropriate touching, and rape.
· Mental or Emotional Abuse: Any mental harm done to a child, including insulting or demeaning to the end of making the child feel worthless or incapable, manipulation tactics, instilling terror or high amounts of fear, or psychological torture.
· Exploitation: Using or manipulating a child for personal gain or benefit, whether monetary or otherwise.
· Abuse: Any of the above.
Though it is not the only time abuse occurs within homeschooling families, extreme Fundamentalism seems to be a major contributor. As defined by Miriam-Webster dictionary (n.d.), Fundamentalism is “a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching.” While Fundamentalism may have had a sound beginning, in the last several years, the term has been associated with such beliefs as the strictest modesty and courting practices, complete patriarchy, high school only education for daughters, extreme pro-life (known also as quiverfull), corporal punishment, and homeschooling. It is to these types of families I am referring when I say “Fundamentalist.”
How does extreme fundamentalism relate to child abuse? It creates the perfect environment for it. Examine patriarchy for a moment. Libby Anne (2012) puts it well when she says, “Christian Patriarchy is the belief that God has ordained a specific family order, and that this family order must be followed. The husband leads, the wife submits, and the children obey.” To anyone who has grown up Christian, this probably sounds biblical. Children obeying their parents is certainly taught in the New Testament. Just look at Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20. Adherents to the patriarchy movement, however, strictly enforce the part about authority and immediate obedience and often forget that those same passages go on to say that fathers are not to provoke or embitter their children. I know from personal experience what happens when a father is unrelenting in his expectations for perfection and submission – provoked and embittered children. The authority of the man was never designed by God to be absolute, but as history has proven, people will take power wherever they can, and they will misuse it.
Not only is demanding strict and immediate obedience from children unbiblical, it is unhealthy. Robin West explains:
Child-raising that is relentlessly authoritarian risks instilling what developmental psychologists call “ethical servility”: a failure to mature morally beyond the recognition of duties of obedience. In the most devoutly fundamentalist households, ethical servility might not be regarded as a bad outcome; it may be the desired goal. (West, 2009)
When a parent demands obedience and it is not given, in the Fundamentalist system, some form of corporal punishment is used. This varies from household to household, but usually the desired end is breaking or “conquering the child's will.” (Pearl, 1994). In many cases, this is attempted by ever-increasing punishment until the child repents. The book by Micheal and Debbi Pearl called To Train up a Child is a popular fundamentalist child-rearing manual, and it has come under fire in recent years for advocating some of these practices. Following is an excerpt:
Don't be bullied. Give him [the rebellious or unrepentant child] more of the same. On the bare legs or bottom, switch him eight or ten licks; then, while waiting for the pain to subside, speak calm words of rebuke. If the crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered; he has submitted his will. If the crying is still defiant, protesting and other than a response to pain, spank him again. If this is the first time he has come up against someone tougher than he, it may take a while. He must be convinced that you have truly altered your expectations. (Pearl, 1994)
One of the biggest problems with this type of training (aside from being biblically wrong) is that it can escalate so easily. A parent who only intended to spank their child once may find him or herself beating them in an attempt to bring them into submission. If he or she believes that they and their instrument of discipline are the only things standing between their child and hell, they will be all the more committed.
In addition to an authoritarian lifestyle implemented by the father, many fundamentalist households also adhere to the belief that all forms of contraception and “natural family planning” are unbiblical. They “preached [that it is] the duty of women to submit, bear as many children as God would give them, and train them up as dedicated culture warriors, arrows in a divine quiver (Goldberg, 2013).” They essentially believe it is their duty to out populate non-Christians, so as to win the culture war. This philosophy ends, though, with children raising each other and not being cared for by their parents like they should be. Cynthia Jeub, a former reality television child and third of sixteen kids speaks about this in her blog:
I used to read about big families and how the older kids raised the younger kids, and I thought it was all nonsense. Of course I changed diapers, and of course I spent half my time babysitting. That was just life in a big family. People on the outside wouldn’t understand that we all felt like mom gave us individual attention, the dynamic just looked a little different.
Now I remember with more perspective. I know how ignored we were. I know I did more work than my parents, both around the house and in the office working on the family business. I’ll always have back pain because I learned to carry children on my hips before I properly had hips. I’ll always have memories of getting up in the middle of the night to take care of a sick or restless toddler. (Jeub, 2014)
The stories of children raised with abusive methods ranging from physical to financial and emotional are overwhelming. The problematic thing about homeschooling in these scenarios is that it effectively hides abuse. If a child does not attend school, there may not be anyone outside of the home that knows him or her well enough to see when their situation has turned abusive. There is no one to notice the bruises. Twenty-five out of fifty states have simply notification requirements or no regulation at all (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2014). In these states, a parent only needs to pull their child from school, and no one will ever notice the pain the child is in.
The lifestyle of homeschooling Fundamentalists is ripe with factors that have been linked to abuse. Alone, having a large family is not cause to suspect abuse, neither is homeschooling, patriarchy, Fundamentalism, or basic corporal punishment. Combined, however, these elements place parents in a precarious position. It only takes one slip to begin down the road to abuse, and once you are on that road, it becomes harder to see the truth of what you are doing.
Anne, L. (2012). What is Christian patriarchy? An introduction. Retrieved from:
Fundamentalism [Def. 1a]. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Online. In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved
November 23, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fundamentalism.
Goldberg, M. (2013). Homeschooled kids, now grown, blog against the past. Retrieved
November 23, 2014, from http://www.thedailybeast.com/witw/articles/2013/04/11/homeschooled-kids-now-grown-blog-against-the-past.html
Home School Legal Defense Association. (2014). State laws. Retrieved from
Jeub, C. (2014). ‘I’m sorry you lost your kids.’ Retrieved from:
National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Parent and Family Involvement in Education,
from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2012. Retrieved from:
Pearl, M. & Pearl, D. (1994). To train up a child. Retrieved from:
Ray, B. (2011). Research facts on homeschooling. Retrieved from:
West, R.L. (2009). The harms of homeschooling. Philosophy & Public Policy Quarterly, 29(3-4) 7-12.