An article on homeschool graduates rebelling against their fundamentalist upbringings was brought to my attention by fellow homeschool grad Dave Ketter.
The article presents a strongly negative view on the homeschooling movement, at least as embodied conservative Christian culture. The article particularly focuses on cases of abuse and isolation. And several paragraphs resonated with me.
“Mainstream American culture is not my culture,” says Heather Doney, who co-founded Homeschooling’s Invisible Children with Coleman. Doney, who grew up in an impoverished Quiverfull family in New Orleans, felt for years that she was living “between worlds,” never sure if her words or behavior were appropriate for her old life or her new one. She didn’t understand what topics of discussion were considered off-limits or when staring at someone might be disconcerting. She couldn’t make small talk, wore “oddly mismatched clothes,” and was lost amid pop-culture references to the Muppets or The Breakfast Club. When public-school friends talked about oral sex, she thought they meant French-kissing.
I should be clear that I don’t want to minimize cases of abuse. But I do want to point out that, even as some of the experiences related in the article resonate with me, I wouldn’t say that I had nearly the same experience as presented in the article. And that is the problem with the article: it presents conservative homeschooling as a monolithic entity. Thus, while each of the stories presented are important and in some ways tragic, I’m not sure they tell the whole story. Or even the majority of the story.
The article comes out from The American Prospect, a political magazine that is unabashedly liberal. While this doesn’t discount the stories and experiences of the people in the article, it does indicate that a particular vision of society is being pushed. So we should be careful to find out if the stories told actually represent the majority of homeschoolers, or even conservative homeschoolers. HSLDA has commissioned reports in the past, but clearly they have a particular vision of society to push as well. (You might take a look at Rachel Coleman’s interesting blog post on a particularly problematic display of homeschooling statistics. She also has links to other sources of data on homeschooling.)
My personal experience of homeschooling was much more moderated. Like Heather, in the quote above, mainstream American culture may not have been my culture, and while I’ve assimilated a lot, some pop-culture references still go over my head. And I still occasionally feel like I’m living between worlds. Small talk can be a problem. I may have had similar misconceptions about oral sex. But I don’t think I’ve ever worn terribly mis-matched clothes – my mother wouldn’t have let me!
What’s more, while occasionally incredibly frustrating, these problems, in my case, haven’t been incredible handicaps. I may have only made my first real friends in undergrad, but I made strong friends. Further, it remains an unknown whether going to public – or even private – school would have been better or worse for me. My parents made the decision to homeschool because they thought it would be better, and I could not ask them to have done otherwise.
“The ultimate goal is to build a lobbying counterforce to the HSLDA, challenging its message of parental rights and religious freedom with a voice that has long been absent from discussions of homeschooling: that of children,” says Kathryn Joyce, author of the Prospect article. But what is the voice of children? Not discounting the intelligence of young people the world over, I’m not sure what this means. Do children get to make decisions regarding their own upbringing? Likely not, or compulsory education laws would have to be abolished.
No, the voice here is the voice of children who have been abused, or merely resentful of not being brought up in the mainstream; important voices surely, but not the voice of all children. The movement makes a monolithic group of children, and who can argue against the children? The argument is not so much about the voice of the children as a particular vision of society, education, and upbringing. And while cases of abuse need to be recognized and resolved, and while perhaps “fundamentalist” parents need to reconsider their educational philosophy, it should be clear that this is not about the voice of children. It is about a vision where the benevolent society, through institutions such as the state, manages the upbringing of children because the proponents of that society think it best. Whether such a vision is the best vision or not is a legitimate argument, and the proponents of that vision are welcome to, even ought to, argue for it. But let’s call it what it is and not hide behind the “voice” of children.
I know people who were homeschooled who are as deep into mainstream culture as you can be, while maintaining strong conservative beliefs and lifestyle, at that. My childhood, while sheltered, would not qualify as anything near abuse. As the article in the Prospect illustrates, there are certainly people who feel they have been harmed through homeschooling. Of course all these are isolated stories, even if they present themes that appear to be broader. Until we have a broader survey and more rigorous analysis of homeschooling, however, I would find it hard to argue for or against homeschooling as a policy matter.
I would also like to see more data on the “trend” of homeschool graduates rebelling against their upbringing. For while the anecdotal evidence of the article and of some people I know might indicate a major trend, I also know people who haven’t rebelled, and so I don’t know whether or not the rebellion actually represents more than a small percentage of homeschool graduates.