A Christian Homeschooling Cult?

Today, Lewis of Commandments of Men wrote a post explaining why he calls the Christian homeschool movement a “cult.” Lewis has two reasons for giving the movement this label:

1. Children are indoctrinated rather than educated.

2. Children who step out of line risk being ostracized.

Here’s a quote where Lewis explains this:

I have two nephews and two nieces (ranging in age from 20 to 3), and I love each of them as if they were my own children. If they choose a path other than one of faith in Jesus Christ, or make unusual or controversial lifestyle choices, sure, I won’t like it, but I won’t begrudge them their choices or emotionally (or in any other way) punish them for their choices. As long as their choices don’t endanger others, the choices are theirs to make. If the logic they use to reach their conclusions is faulty, and they discuss it openly, sure, I might argue the logic with them. Even so, I won’t begrudge them or punish them for their choices.

Christian homeschooling doesn’t allow the freedom to make such choices. Children within this world MUST accept the conclusions of the paradigm and curriculum – or be expendable, facing brutal emotional leveraging, ostracization, and emotional abuse.

They’re taught little and indoctrinated much.

While I’m not sure I’d use the term “cult” (I have too much of a background in religious studies to use that term lightly), I see Lewis’ point. The two aspects of the Christian homeschool movement Lewis discusses here – the tendency to indoctrinate rather than educate and the tendency to ostracize children who leave their parents’ beliefs – are indeed key aspects of what we popularly call “cults.” And Lewis is absolutely right to point out that the Christian homeschool movement does have both of these traits.

Homeschoolers in the Christian homeschool movement teach their children science from creationist textbooks and history from textbooks that promote pseudohistory. Whether it’s politics or religion, only one side of every argument and every view is given. Children in the Christian homeschool movement rarely get an honest exploration of the facts. Instead, essentially every bit of their education has a bias and an agenda. And because they’re homeschooled, these young people often have almost no honest exposure to any other views or ideas. This is what Lewis calls “indoctrination,” and it was most certainly my experience.

Lewis is also spot on with his discussion of the ostracization homeschooled children who leave their parents’ beliefs – even in little ways – face. I’m not just speaking of my own experiences either, but of the experiences of homeschoolers I grew up with, homeschooled young adults I’ve met since, and homeschooled young adults I’ve met through blogging. For some – including myself – changing your beliefs means potentially losing everything you’ve ever known. You either mime your parents’ beliefs or you are expendable, broken, ruined.

Does having some cult-like traits make a movement a cult? I don’t feel like I’m in a position to make that call, but if a movement has cult-like traits, that does at least mean that it has cult-like traits. And that matters.

Note: Lewis uses the term “Christian homeschooling movement” to make it clear that he’s not in any way calling ALL homeschoolers a cult. He’s not talking about every homeschooler or even every Christians who homeschools, but rather about those who homeschool BECAUSE they are Christian. He’s talking about the homeschoolers who follow every word of Michael Farris, Doug Wilson, Michael Pearl, Bill Gothard, or Doug Phillips. THIS is what he calls the Christian homeschool movement.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Disillusioned Ex-Homeschooler

    This is an awesome post. I really think that *this* is the crux of the problem with upbringings like mine and yours:"For some – including myself – changing your beliefs means potentially losing everything you've ever known. You either mime your parents' beliefs or you are expendable, broken, ruined."In addition, I would add that for many families it isn't just about beliefs. If you change how you *act* (even in ways that would seem laughably miniscule to any other frame of reference) or express honest *desires* (again, even about laughably insignificant things) you can lose everything too. In my experience, the cult-like control that characterizes many Christian homeschooling parents is directed at three things: children's beliefs, their emotions, and their actions. Different parents put different weight on controlling different areas. For my parents beliefs weren't the primary locus of control–actions and emotions/desires were. They didn't come down hard on points of theology. But if we so much as looked sideways at anything "worldly," *especially* if it was tied to "teenage culture," massive amounts of shit hit the fan. I remember huge, screaming, abusive altercations that took place over my sister layering her socks. (It was the 80s).Our emotions/desires were also strictly controlled. We were never allowed to tell anyone that we weren't allowed to do something. We had to tell them we didn't *want* to do it. The youth group at our church was way too worldly for my parents, and when people invited us, we couldn't say that my parents wouldn't let us go. We had to say that we didn't want to go (even though that was a lie).But for my cousins, toeing the theological lines was paramount. When my cousin decided in college that he didn't believe the Bible was inerrant, he was quite literally and completely cut off.On a related note, I noticed that the Pearls made the front page of the Times today! http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/07/us/deaths-put-focus-on-pastors-advocacy-of-spanking.html?_r=1

  • http://attackfish.livejournal.com/ attackfish

    Before he left the faith, my dad was a Mormon missionary in Italy, and he used to talk about how having people there tell him that they couldn't stop being catholic, because some administrator would find a way to kick their kids out of school or make them lose their jobs or their apartments, and everyone in town would stop speaking to him was what made him realize it was the same in places where everyone was Mormon. I know this is less extreme than the emotional blackmail leveraged by families, but it's the same process. We'll be your friend, we'll love you, we'll help you, if you just don't question. But if you disagree with us, you will lose everything. As far as I'm concerned, that right there, that conditionality, is enough reason to head for the hills.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12301770958254113165 LucrezaBorgia

    On the flip-side, there is some element of indoctrination going on in public school albeit most students wouldn't be kicked out or institutionally ostracized if their spiritual beliefs differ. Not exactly on topic of Christianity but interesting to see how public school was used to craft people into a nation is in Eugene Weber's Peasants into Frenchmen.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05734615677847353818 Rin

    Just something to think about: not all homeschoolers who are Christians happen to fall under the "Homeschool Christian" stereotype. Those who fall under the heading "Quiverfull" are drastically different from those who practice eclectic schooling or unschooling.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Rin – I'm completely aware of that, and wrote on the topic here. Also, I think when Lewis uses the term "Christian Homeschool movement" he means more than just Quiverfull, but rather, like I stated at the end of my post, all of those who homeschool their children in order to separate them from the world and indoctrinate them into their beliefs without interference.

  • Brightie

    I was homeschooled.
    I was Christian-homeschooled.
    My parents weren’t Michael and Debi Pearl people–that I know of–we definitely weren’t Quiverfull, and while my mom verbally acknowledges my dad as leader, they seem to share a great deal of responsibility, he often defers to her wishes, and neither of them believes that its Wrong for women to work outside the home.
    Yes, there was some of what could be called “indoctrination.” I get why. When people believe that someone agreeing with them means saving them from hell, of course they want to insure that agreement. And in part, it worked. I don’t agree with all of the lines in the sand my family’s authorities have drawn anymore, but I do still identify as Christian, and I think that’s a significant part of my social and emotional life.
    I don’t want my faith to be based in a lack of knowledge. And I don’t ever want to be someone who shuns, or who sees friends and family members as less human, valuable, and intelligent than herself if they don’t live the same way that she does or believe that her god is real. That’s part of why I’m here. I want to understand how people outside of my subculture think, and I also want to see what I may have taken for granted that could use fixing.